Nicole Byer Is the Host that Food Television Needs
In Season 2 of Netflix's 'Nailed It,' she's back to fix your baking disasters—and the boring traditions of cooking shows.
Photo courtesy of Netflix
If you haven’t been watching the highly addictive Netflix show Nailed It , you’re missing out on the ultimate anti-cooking show. It’s unpretentious, self-deprecating, and has been called the cooking show for people who don’t like cooking shows.
Hosted by New York comedian Nicole Byer, Nailed It is notorious for cutting through the culinary pretentiousness that’s rampant across food TV shows. Perfection goes out the window, and the more you screw up, the better. How it works: The show follows three amateur bakers who compete on the half-hour show—which recently kicked off its second season—and are challenged tomake near-impossible creations, like orange-faced Donald Trump bust cakes.
The contestants present their haphazard, time-strapped creations to win a prize of $10,000. Judged by Byer and her co-host, French pastry chef Jacques Torres, it isn’t just a pretty cake fail—it comes down to taste plus the creativity factor, as one contestant famously put a cooking instrument as decoration in his cake.
Byer, who has been a judge on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, is gaining steam as the future of food show hosts for her zero-fucks-given, freewheeling style. We spoke to her over the phone last week, when she was in bed at lunchtime eating a bagel, to talk about stand-up and spatulas.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Nicole. Nailed It is not the place to channel your inner Martha Stewart. So how does it turn the idea of baking perfection upside down?
Nicole Byer: It’s an inclusive baking show for people who don’t know how to bake and are baking. We exist to let people know it’s OK to not be amazing. You have to make these things on the show and it’s fun.
What is the judging process like?
I’m not a baker and I don’t know anything about baking and I don’t claim to. So, I look to my co-host Jacques and he’ll say, “There isn’t enough buttercream” and I’ll say, “Ah, that’s what it was!” Or he’ll say its dry and I’ll second that opinion. Things either taste good or they don’t. I’m the everyday person tasting cakes that everyday people are making.
Do you have any favorite anecdotes from the second season?
We had a guest make a barbecue cake, it was supposed to be grilled—it was the wildest thing I’ve ever seen. He put a real spatula in his cake instead of making one out of Rice Krispies treats and it was a real joy to watch someone do that.
I think this show helps us all feel better about our own horrific kitchen creations. You’re not laughing at contestants; you’re encouraging them. Why?
I’m encouraging them because this is their first time they’ve ever attempted to do this, and nobody is perfect the first time they try to do anything. If you want to bake, keep baking. A year or two from now, maybe you will make something fabulous. I try not to laugh at people because we give them two hours to do something experts do. For people to laugh in your face and say, ‘you fucking suck!’, that’s not funny and that’s not nice. I think the humor comes from people working really hard on something and saying, ‘This is what came out.’ And its funny, it’s silly, I think.
You compare cooking to stand-up comedy, in that if you went to an open mic and saw an amateur comedian, you can’t shit on that. Are there parallels between comedy and cooking?
If you went to an open mic and did five minutes of material for the very first time, it [feels like] a very long time, because you’re alone and asking yourself, ‘Is this funny?’ Especially the first time you do it. I don’t know anyone who would shit on someone for doing that. Once you do your five minutes of comedy 20 times, you’ll figure out what’s funny. I guess it is the same thing with baking—it might take 20 times, but the 20th time, it will be good.
Did you ever think you would end up hosting a show like this?
No, never in my life did I think I would host a baking competition show. I don’t think anyone gets into comedy to host a baking show. It’s not an avenue that would open for you. It’s been a wild ride and I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to do this—it’s so fun!
What’s it like judging with a pro chef like Jacques?
He calls me his little puff pastry, we’re just fucking around behind the judges table and I’m doing what I think is funny. When we first met the first day of shooting, I was worried he wouldn’t like me because I know so little about baking and cooking. Then we meshed well together. It’s funny watching him watch contestants fail. He tells me, “All I want to do is help,” and he can’t.
Has the show taught you anything about cooking you didn’t know before?
I learned that frosting and buttercream are two different things.
Why is it important to support amateur bakers?
Because everyone is an amateur until they’re a professional. Making food is a labor of love—it’s a nice thing to do for your loved ones to show you care about them, that you took the time to make them something. But for me, I don’t cook. I would much rather hop in my car and go to a restaurant.
Thanks for speaking with us!