*Lately Hollywood has been peering into the careers of African American screen gems like actresses Mo’Nique, a comedian who won an Oscar for her role in the drama Precious and Zoe Saldana who starred in the Oscar nominated sci-fi blockbuster Avatar.
She may not have Oscar cred, but there’s another ostensible black female talent who deserves to be lauded for holding the attention of a frivolous industry for years. Presenting actress/comedian Niecy Nash, a “leading lady” in her own right.
When a person is so funny that their jokes can raise someone from their sick bed, and their energy is so kinetic they land a role by chance, they were born to entertain. Nash honed her natural ability by earning a degree in theater from Cal State Dominguez Hills, but alternatively made her acting debut on the big screen in Boys on the Side starring Whoopi Goldberg. For years, she paid her dues playing a variety of parts on TV (Bernie Mac Show, Judging Amy) and juggling comedy club gigs. And like Goldberg, the Palmdale, CA native gained momentum in the Hollywood jungle landing a few key roles.
Inspired by her role model, Lola Falana, Nash just so happens to have made history as the first African American to host and produce a program in the lifestyle genre, The Style Network’s #1 show, Clean House, while simultaneously starring in another popular show, Reno 911. Born Carol Denise Ensley, as a child she spent time with family in St. Louis and even though she has California Girl style her personality is as down-to-earth as they come. Currently Nash is “Dancing with the Stars” and appears as a celebrity panelist on the entertainment news show, The Insider.
At first, Nash wasn’t looking for Hollywood and Hollywood wasn’t looking for her, but it’s a union that was meant to be. In this exclusive feature, we talk about sex appeal and the part it should or shouldn’t play in keeping a woman working; that flower she wears in her hair; Princess Tiana; achieving success in Hollywood as a “non-traditional” beauty and that infamous big butt/swim suit controversy.
“Like most comedic personalities my comedy was birthed out of tragedy,” says Nash looking back to the start of her career.
“When I found laughter I was inebriated with it … I used it as a healing mechanism for other people that were broken in my family.”
It was the comedian’s bed-side stand up act that eventually helped her mom laugh herself to life after her son was shot and killed at a high school.
“If I didn’t laugh every day I felt I was doing a slow dance with death. I had to figure something out.”
It wasn’t long before she was doing stand-up and started landing a range of parts as an actress, after following the career-saving advice of a casting director.
“At my first film audition after coming out of the theater, the director said ‘what are you doing?’ I said ‘acting’ and he said, ‘could you not?’ (Laughter)
CLEAN HOUSE & THE FLOWER
For seven seasons, Nash has been a permanent fixture on daytime television as the host of Clean House where all she has to do is be herself. The home makeover show (it’s original name was “Household Colonic”) takes a dolled-up Nash and crew to the doorsteps of dysfunctional pack rats to intervene on their hoarding habits or get them to release clutter they’re emotionally attached to.
And she always reports for duty with a flower in her hair.
“I started wearing a flower in my hair to brand myself because there were no women of color in that genre of television program,” Nash explains about her signature accessory. (She later discovered a great grand mother also wore a flower in her hair regularly.)
Clean House also goes on an annual quest to find the messiest home in the country. Last year’s messiest family refused to take Nash’s advice as they sorted through their mouse-infested, trash heap of a basement. It was hard for the host not to get emotionally entangled in her work. Their living conditions were so bad she broke into tears.
Renee Simon, Vice President of Programming for the Style Network says Nash gets through the ups and downs on the show because she’s relatable:
“She says what the audience is thinking when they’re sitting at home watching those dreadful houses with all that mess. They’re going ‘what’s going on with all this mess?’ And Niecy says that. She’s the voice of the audience.”
RENO 9-1-1 & THE SWIMSUIT CONTROVERSY
Nash relates to a totally different audience in the other well known role she plays. On Comedy Central’s Reno 9-1-1 -a parody of Cops–she is hair-dresser-turned-deputy, Raineesha “Rae Rae” Williams. (Re-runs are now airing). Just as on Clean House, Deputy Williams reports for duty with flawless make-up and hair (Radiant Red lips and slick, coiled “baby hair” lining the side of her face) because she says, “You’ve gotta look cute to fight crime.”
In 2007 Reno 9-1-1 turned into a movie and Nash made a decision that became a lightening rod for controversy.
The producers wanted the cast to descend on the red carpet premiere in character. Nash thought it would be funny to wear her costume from the movie. It was a one piece G-string swimsuit that revealed a super-sized, prosthetic derrière. To salute the ample-bottomed women in her family Nash ordered an enlarged buttock for Rae Rae’s movie debut and for the first time in her career Nash had her first encounter with controversy, which she faced head on.
“They were like ‘oh my goodness do you wanna wear it?’ I’m like, there’s no fear in comedy, I’m not scared. There’s no crying in baseball. I’m like give me my damn booty and let’s go! “
Sometimes the mom boldly showed up to casting calls with her 3 children, so she wasn’t afraid to do the unexpected.
Unaware that it was a fake butt, fans and the media erupted with criticism about the inappropriateness of her attire. Nash faced the backlash head on pointing out if Pam Anderson or any of the Playboy Bunnies had done they could have gotten away with it. But, she thinks the issue was a matter of size discrimination and didn’t allow society’s opinion stop her from celebrating her culturally-rooted sense of beauty.
Says the actress who is currently appears on Dancing with the Stars, “I wanted her to look like all the women who loved me and my aunties I admired growing up and everybody in my family got the “junk in the trunk” extra except for me … so I’m like when I have the opportunity to create a character on TV I’m gonna create somebody I identify with.”
In part two of the interview we delve further into Ms. Nash’s definition about beauty, challenges she has faced in the industry, the key to her success and more details in her back story that reveal why she is bold, black and beautiful!