Ground Zero Performance Café was bursting Tuesday night as students from all corners of the USC campus flocked to see comedian, actor and television host Nicole Byer’s stand-up comedy show. Colorful hanging lights, upbeat throwback tunes and lively conversation cut through the usually dimly lit performance space. Resounding applause erupted as Byer took the stage.
To kick off the show, Byer jumped headlong into a selection of personal anecdotes ranging from her travels through rural America while on tour, a traumatizing experience with a game of “Power Hour” in Chicago, which ended in the destruction of a public toilet and some reflections on the consistently ridiculous relationships found in Disney princess movies: older women hating on younger women, catfishing and men who refuse to grow up and fail to understand what it is women truly want. In Sleeping Beauty’s case, as Byer put it, men should know to never come between women and their naps.
“We [women] already know what men want,” Byer said. After a slight pause and mischievous smile, Byer launched into a slew of penis jokes that had the audience howling with laughter.
The event was hosted by the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment as part of its Body Love Month initiative. SAGE recognizes that everyone’s experience with their body is unique and aims to represent many diverse viewpoints at their events.
“We try to make [our events] as accessible as possible with regards to all sorts of identities, disabilities [and] perspective,” said Gwen Howard, SAGE’s Body Love Director. “We want to make sure that everyone gets the message.”
With such a diverse professional background, Byer fits the bill when it comes to bringing a fresh perspective to the table. In addition to her comedic abilities, Byer is best known for her appearance on MTV’s “Girl Code” and for her role as the host of Netflix’s bake-off show “Nailed It!” where, Byer jokes, “contestants compete to serve me poison.” Outside of her work on television, Byer has three podcasts, “90 Day Bae,” “Best Friends! With Sasheer Zamata” and “Why Won’t You Date Me?”
Byer is one of the more high-profile guests that SAGE has brought to campus for Body Love Month, and the group believes that she is an important voice and grounded presence in the era of body acceptance.
“She speaks so authentically, or at least from a place where she doesn’t seem to censor herself based on what might be conventional,” Howard said. “She represents a lot of what I think is a really realistic and feasible way for USC students, [and other] college students, to start embracing their bodies for what they are. There’s a lot of pressure to conform, obviously, but it goes so much deeper than that. It’s not just about, ‘I don’t feel pretty.’ It’s about, ‘what subliminal messages am I sending to myself about how I feel I look?’”
The show’s momentum picked up during its second half when audience members were treated to a story of Byer pushing herself outside her comfort zone by taking a twerking class in which she happened to be the only black woman in the class. Byer said she took it in stride because she “sucks up white women power,” and despite learning that she did not have the natural twerking rhythm, she still viewed it as a fun and entertaining experience.
While the audience’s overall reaction during the show was positive and every joke was met with chuckles, Byer garnered the most laughs from her reflections on single life. She shared her thoughts on observing couples in the wild, tricking men into relationships with “chill vibes” and the curious interactions one can have on dating apps. At one point, Byer asked the audience members to share their own traumatic online dating experiences, leaving audience members and Byer cringing and practically rolling on the floor in fits of laughter.
To end the show, Byer shared a recent “rock bottom” moment in which she got drunk off of travel-size vodkas on a red-eye flight and ended up eating Shake Shack in an airport bathroom stall while crying and singing to herself, much to the horror of fellow travelers.
From this experience and the others she shared with the crowd — although not exclusively focused on discussing body acceptance — Byer’s overarching message was clear: You have to own it.
“Not everything she does is about her identity,” Howard said. “It’s a big piece of it, and it will color everything she does, but she’s also frickin’ funny, and I think that’s also important — to bring high-quality entertainment and have fun talking about things that need more of a platform.”
For those who were familiar with her work before the show, Byer’s performance was thoroughly enjoyable and just what they expected.
“I always knew her comedy was very personal and raunchy, so it wasn’t terribly surprising,” said audience member Imani Davis, a senior majoring in political science and law, history and culture. “She sounded the same way she does when she’s cracking jokes on her podcast.”
After this event, SAGE hopes the conversation about body love will continue beyond October.
“The purpose of Body Love Month is to start the conversation and the rest of the year is for continuing it,” Howard said. “We hope that people engage with us in this space and come to our events this week and next week and hopefully we can spark some change.”