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Nicole Byer Talks ‘Magical Negroes’, David Alan Grier And Whoopi Goldberg



Nicole Byer is quite literally the H.N.I.C in the satirical comedy The American Society Of Magical Negroes.

The film, written directed by Kobi Libii follows a young Black artist (Justice Smith) and his mentor Roger (David Alan Grier) as they navigate a secret society of Black people with magical powers, whose entire existences are dedicated to keeping white people comfortable.


The much buzzed about film tackles the ‘Magical Negro’ trope (coined by Spike Lee) with clever humor and pointed social commentary thanks to a supporting cast including Byer, Aisha Hinds and Drew Tarver.

Related: Justice Smith Says ‘Magical Negroes’ Role Was Made For Him

We caught up with Byer just ahead of the film’s March 15 release to talk about what makes her so magical, code-switching and her love for fellow comedian, Whoopi Goldberg, whose name she hilariously uses as her zoom profile.

How did you get attached to this project?

NB: I got an email that was like, here’s the movie. Here’s the part they want you to play. Read it, see how you feel, and the title was so polarizing that I was like, well, I gotta see you know what’s going on. And then I read it, and I think Kobi just wrote a really wonderful script that I was like I wanted to see how it was gonna come to life.

Did you help craft this character and improv a bit?

NB: I got to be super super involved, like Kobi and I had a meeting where I asked about tone. I asked about what his expectations were. And I mean, I got to just create her from the ground up, which is really fun. Her voice is pitch down a little lower. The way she holds herself is different. I wanted her to enter the room, and I wanted everyone to look at her, but like I didn’t want that to feel out of the ordinary. I got to wear a harness and fly, and in the costume fittings we were like, oh, not this! Yes, this! And the Cape was so incredible. Like it was top to bottom, the collaboration on the film as a whole was truly just it was just a dream.

Have you ever felt pressure to dim our light or code switch to make others feel comfortable?

NB: I don’t code switch, really, because I sound the way I do. I’ve had people say you sound like a white girl, but I’m like what is being white sounds like. And honestly, I’m just like kind of a person who’s too much already, so I don’t know how to turn it off. I’m just me but that being said that doesn’t mean I don’t go out for auditions where I’m the sidekick that you know nobody cares about her backstory. All of her story has to do with, you know the white protagonist? But I’m also really lucky that I don’t audition for a lot of that stuff anymore.

Do you remember at what point then,  when you felt confident enough and empowered to fully walk in your ‘black girl magic’?

NB: I’ve always been too much like growing up and in school my teachers didn’t like me because I was just a busy body. I was in other people’s business. I was not listening, so I’ve just always been this person, and I guess when I got in my like twenties, when I started doing improv more regularly, I was like, oh being a bright like, outspoken, loud person is celebrated. I started doing sketch comedy, and when I moved to New York is more or less when I was like, Oh, okay, I don’t have to like keep trying to shape myself into this thing that I’m not.

Speaking of sketch comedy, David Alan Grier is a legend and comedic genius. Did you get a chance to spend time with him on set, get some advice?

NB: He’s a legend like I’ve watched him for so long, and to be able to to be like, oh, I have a credit with him was so, it just blew my mind, it was so insane. But I don’t have like imposter syndrome. I feel like whenever I’m put in a room with somebody that I think is immensely talented. I’m like, okay. I earned my way into this room. Someone believes that I belong in this room, and it just felt really incredible. And then, like on downtime, we talked about the industry, and, like comedy and touring and doing stand-up. And he was so humble and down to earth and full of wisdom. And truly just delightful.

Lastly, is there a reason why your zoom name is Whoopi Goldberg?

NB: You know it started out as a joke, and then I just never changed it. And honestly, my email says it, too, and I get a response from my agents much faster.

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