Niecy Nash, the actress and host who shot to fame thanks to gigs on Reno 911! and Clean House, has been one of the most charming people on the small screen for over a decade. But in addition to being a delight on-camera (she gives one of the best, most delicate performances on TV in HBO’s Getting On), Nash is equally captivating offscreen, as she proved on NPR’s Fresh Air.

In the interview—which is absolutely worth listening to in full—Nash discusses how she became an actress, growing up in Compton, and the blessings she’s found on the “other side” of tragedy.

On when she decided to become an actress:

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When I was 5 years old, I was watching television with my grandmother. And I saw the most gorgeous black woman I had ever seen in my little five years of living. She had a long red dress on and her eyelashes looked like butterflies. I said Grandmama, who is that? She said, baby, that’s Lola Falana. I said, oh, that’s what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be black, fabulous and on TV.

On the death of her little brother when she was 22:

Oftentimes what happens is that the thing in your life that causes you the most pain is also the same thing that ends up bringing you so many blessings on the other side of it. And I will say that when my brother was murdered in ‘93, my mother went into a very severe depression. And she said, I’m getting in the bed and I’m never getting back out. And all I knew was that I could make my mother laugh.

On falling into comedy:

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I never saw myself being a comedian. I wanted to be Cicely Tyson. If you equate it to someone of this day, it would be a Viola Davis. And but I couldn’t book any work. And after I stood on that fireplace, I heard a voice as audible as my own speak to me and say, Niecy, don’t be selfish. It’s other people outside who are suffering. You need to go outside and spread this around.

On landing her role on Reno 911!:

I had never heard of improv - I didn’t even know what it was. I lied my way into the audition...I showed up just comfortable in my skin and I just always figured, if I don’t know how to do something, what I do know is that I can fake it ‘til I make it.

On how success hasn’t changed her family:

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I had one of my children ask me when they were younger, mommy, are we rich? I said, who is we? ... I want them to appreciate things. There’ll be a little bit more pause and hopefully some concern for humanity, care for others, you know, saving, that sort of thing. At least, that’s what I’m trying to do.


Contact the author at bobby@jezebel.com.

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Image via Getty.