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Nicole Richie Is Parodying Her Life While Living It

Nicole Richie. Photo-Illustration: Quibi

Who is Nikki Fre$h? Nicole Richie. Okay, fine, but then who is Nicole Richie? Ever since her breakout on the pioneering reality show The Simple Life, from 2003 to 2007, and the tabloid attention that went along with it, Richie has been increasingly making the answer to that question elusive. Starting with The Simple Life, Richie has used comedy to obscure the border between fact and fiction. On her show Candidly Nicole, which aired on VH1 from 2014 to 2015, she played a character with her same name and interests, but the show was filled with sort of Borat-style pranks on people who didn’t realize she wasn’t being genuinely herself.

Nikki Fre$h, as a project, is the most complex version of this pursuit yet. It’s a Curb Your Enthusiasm–style Quibi show about Richie recording a socially conscious trap album about being closer to nature. You could say Richie is playing a parody of herself, with songs about crystals and bees, but at the same time, she earnestly committed to recording the album, called Unearthed, and truly believes every word she’s saying. As one of Vulture’s TV critics wrote upon its release, “Possibly a masterwork?”

On Vulture’s Good One podcast, Richie talks about the origins of Nikki Fre$h, using comedy as a shield, what it was like sticking her arm up a cow’s butt on The Simple Life, and more. You can read some excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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How Starting a Garden Led to Her Comedy-Rap Album

I started an edible garden about six or seven years ago, and it was just something that I really connected to, and I fell in love with the idea of planting something and watching it grow. So I started posting all my harvests on Instagram because that’s what Oprah did. I started getting a lot of likes. I would say by the third [post], I was like, Sounds like I need a stage name. I named myself Nikki Fre$h, which I felt lent itself very well to being a musical icon and a gardener. The name definitely came first. I’ve been calling myself Nikki Fre$h for a very long time. It started out as this inside thing with my friends.

Before I even considered actually doing something with it, I was playing music to my vegetables, because that does help them grow. And for me, I was born in the ’80s. I love ’90s music. I love ’90s hip-hop and R&B. That’s what I was really listening to, and it felt like they were really responding to that. So I was like, I have to figure out a way to bring this back.

It started out as this inside thing with my friends. I really wanted to do this comedy album. So I talked to Joel, my husband, about it a little bit. And when you talk to your husband about something at home, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” But I was like, I have to set a meeting with him. So that’s what I did. I called his office. I set a meeting with him and his brother and the music team. I walked in the office. I was the only girl there. And I brought in a Wendell Berry book and a Rupi Kaur poem and recited “the sun and her flowers,” which is my favorite Rupi Kaur poem. After I was done, I said, “This is the inspiration for this rap album that I want to do.” Everyone was being very supportive. So we sat and talked about making it happen and how we were gonna do it.

So I just started going into the studio and writing a little bit. Then I sat down with Quibi, which I was very excited to meet with them. I’m a huge fan of Jeffrey Katzenberg and just really liked and understood the concept of doing these quick shows. I had done a show Candidly Nicole that started out as a web series. So, you know, when I talked to them about doing a show that was around five or seven minutes, I decided to create a show around the character of Nikki Fre$h. To really give the music some backstory of like, Who is she? Where is she coming from? Is she me or is she not? Is she sane or is she not? I still don’t have the answers to those, but it’s good they’re out there.

On the Honesty and Distance of Humor

Your humor is the only thing that you have that’s authentically you. So if I went around town telling a Jerry Seinfeld joke, those jokes wouldn’t land, you know? I think that many people’s jokes come from something personal. I recently watched Judd Apatow’s MasterClass where he’s like, “All of my comedies, I write as dramas first.” And I definitely understand that in a concept. I think it’s like, taking something that you care about will give root to what you’re creating, and then drawing comedy around that will feel authentic and natural and may not be necessarily somebody’s style, but if it feels real and if it feels true, then that’s all that you can do.

I do use my comedy as a shield for sure, because I think once The Simple Life came out, I’d be on the street and people were, “Hey, bitch!” So I think instead of me being like, “No, I need to show you who I really am,” I was like, “Yeah, bitch, love it!” I can turn that on so fast. It holds a deep separation from me and the person who thinks that they know me instead of being like, “No, you don’t know me.” I’m like, “Yes, I’m going to give you that side,” because it’s not the whole side.

On Her Most Memorable Simple Life Moment

I would say sticking my hand up a cow’s ass. I’ll tell you that I don’t necessarily remember the day, but I will never forget the feeling. My arm will go into remembering it just by me talking about it, because you really have to use force. They don’t want you to go in there, obviously. So you have to commit. It’s not just like, Oh, I’m going to test it and see what happens. Like, you have to decide and really go in there. And I never want to do that again.

But I do clean my chickens’ butts, because I get my chickens when they are two days old. So the first four weeks of their lives, they’re actually inside and they’re under a light. And every day you have to unplug their butts because they’re all fuzzy back there. You have to unplug them every morning.

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Nicole Richie Is Parodying Her Life While Living It