8.5

Nicole Byer Just Gave Us One of the Year's Best Stand-up Specials

Comedy Reviews Nicole Byer
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Nicole Byer Just Gave Us One of the Year's Best Stand-up Specials

Double-standards abound under patriarchy, in life and in comedy, so it’s not lost on me that when I say “Nicole Byer looked fabulous” in her new comedy special, it might seem weird that I didn’t mention Roy Wood Jr.’s outfit in a previous review. Roy Wood Jr. isn’t completely drip-less, but he didn’t bring it like Nicole. The cheeseburger lingerie in the opening used for the trailer is hysterical, while the purple suit with bellbottom pants, leopard print crop top, purple ombre eyeshadow and purple lipstick match and contrast perfectly with the highlights of gold buttons and jewelry, topped off by a magnificent face-framing hairdo. The outfit contributes to Byer’s commanding stage presence by way of purple curtains behind her, pink/purple lights adorning the stage, and leopard print beneath her. Like John Mulaney’s suits, Bill Burr utilizing his stool as a prop, or Chris Rock jump-roping with his mic cord, it’s a choice that contributes to the performance. Through the color coordination and outfit choices, as well as her swagger across the stage and use of poses, Nicole Byer becomes the theatre, and the theatre becomes her.

With multiple successful podcasts, roles on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Unicorn, and the reboot of Rugrats, and a slew of other voice and live credits to her name, it is high time the world gets to experience an hour of Nicole Byer’s stand-up. In her new special she touches on the political without being overcome by it; she’s poignantly observational and occasionally prescriptive without ever being lecturous. Byer discusses the emotional toll of life in the pandemic and popular response to COVID-inspired recommendations and regulations, chiefly through anecdotes about her own experience. Her performance is highlighted by incredible voice work, including utilizing yelling and screaming in an effective way that reminds one just a bit of the Sam Kinisons of the world, though it’s always an accent and never a crutch.

She also expresses a combination of exuberance and world-weariness that comes across as incredibly authentic. Byer reminds her audience of things possibly forgotten, like uncertainty about the Post Office around the 2020 election, or Rachel Dolezal. She tells a truly incredible story about the harrowing nature of the U.S. medical system—from price to racial discrimination in the prescription of medication—and keeps it funny the whole time.

Byer also focuses on the resilient comedic topics of sex and dating, sharing her specific experiences with interracial romance at the intersection of observations about last year’s protest movement. She loops-in a Hogwarts conspiracy theory to highlight the frustration of loneliness provided and provoked by pandemic conditions. Her metaphors, analogies, and references are fantastic, as are her pantomimes and delivery. Like Bo Burnham: Inside and Roy Wood Jr: Imperfect Messenger, Nicole Byer: BBW (Big Beautiful Weirdo) will serve as an excellent time capsule for the historical moment while also illustrating its points well enough that it will still be funny after this time has passed, though it isn’t as existentially bleak as the former and is perhaps more lively than the latter.

One point against Big Beautiful Weirdo is that some of this material may be familiar to fans of her dating/long-form-interview podcast, Why Won’t You Date Me? Still, it often feels more like an elaboration of previous themes than simply duplication or restatement. It remains a knockout special and it makes me very excited to see where Byer, who will be featured in the Netflix Is A Joke comedy festival next spring, takes her stand-up career from here. Here’s to many more specials from the big, beautiful weirdo.


Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer and Paste intern. He loves videogames, film, history, pop culture, sports, and human rights, and can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.