Niecy Nash-Betts is stepping off her comedy lane — take that, critics

It was the worst date Niecy Nash-Betts can remember. At the time, she was a young person desperate to break away from Compton and forge a career in entertainment. Unfortunately, the guy she was dating got a little too handy and had to teach a lesson.

“He wouldn’t take no for an answer and I knew it. I was alone and scared and I feel like I became an Oscar-winning actress in that moment,” she recalls. “I knew how to throw vomit. That quickly brings it to a halt. And one, two, three, there you have it, all over all. And he said, ‘Get out, get out.’ And I was like, ‘Gosh, I dodged a bullet.’

She’s been dodging bullets ever since. Not real ones, but rather the slingshots and darts of naysayers who told her to “stay in her comedy lane,” as she recalled in her acceptance speech at last month’s Critics Choice Awards, where she was named Supporting Actress in a limited award won series for Netflix “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”.

Nash-Betts plays Glenda Cleveland, the unfortunate neighbor who lived across the street from the infamous serial killer but resides next door on the show. Besieged by the stench of rotting flesh and bloodthirsty screams in the night, she repeatedly dials 911, only to be ignored by the police. Within 14 months at the address, Dahmer killed 12 men.

A woman stands in her apartment and looks worried in a scene "Dahmer - Monsters: The Story of Jeffrey Dahmer."

Niecy Nash-Betts plays Glenda Cleveland, a real-life neighbor of the serial killer, in Dahmer: Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.


“Glenda and I definitely share a sense of being unheard and overlooked,” says Nash-Betts. “The interesting thing about this version of this story is that this theme is timeless. We are still in rooms and places that resonate today, where people are simultaneously overlooked and over-monitored.”

Not only did police overlook Cleveland’s grievances, they were occasionally complicit, bringing sedated 14-year-old victim Konerak Sinthasomphone back to Dahmer after he escaped, believing the two were just having a love affair. In reality, Cleveland wasn’t there that night, but her daughter was. Also fictional is the chilling scene in which Cleveland’s complaint to the building’s supervisors leads to Dahmer’s eviction. To get her to remember the complaint, the killer pays her a visit and brings her a sandwich with a mysterious looking meat.

“Evan and I have been doing this dance for a while. So the fear, the fear, the pain was already burned in. That scene was just putting the cake in the oven,” she says of working with Evan Peters, who won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Dahmer and how Nash-Betts is a SAG Award nominee.

“It was tough because you want to appear in front of Evan’s character like you’re not scared and you’re so flat-footed about what you do and how you do it. But the audience needs to know that I’m scared to death,” she says of the scene, a long drawn-out two-handed game brimming with deadly tension. “I couldn’t ask for a better scene partner to unpack this material. That was by far one of the toughest gigs I’ve ever had to do.”

And she has done a lot. She played author Richie Jean Jackson on Ava DuVernay’s Selma and traumatized mother Deloris Wise on DuVernay’s TV series When They See Us, just two of her many dramatic roles. Nash-Betts has spent most of her career in comedy, first in stand-up and later in comedy shows like Reno 9-1-1, where she plays the swaggering Deputy Raineesha Williams, and Claws, in which she stars as killer manicurist Desna Simms.

She currently plays rookie agent Simone Clark on The Rookie: Feds opposite her real “Hersband”, Jessica Betts, whom she married in 2020. It is Nash-Bett’s third marriage, her first to a woman.

“When it comes to matters of the heart, all bets are off because the heart wants what it wants,” she says of their relationship. “People who really know me and know that I’m such a philanthropist and in love with love may have been a little less surprised than people who don’t know me. But my only responsibility is to live my truth loud and flat footed. My responsibility isn’t to try to manage how other people view that part.”

Once pigeonholed as a comedian, she’s finally proven to the industry that she can do it all. She attributes her success to hard work, intuition and the favor of the bank. “I never got a job and never got anyone else a job. And I think the mutuality of the universe continues to bless me because I’m always trying to be a blessing to others.”

And to those who advised her to stay in her lane, she had this to say at the Critics Choice Awards: “To everyone who doubted this black woman and told me what I could and couldn’t do, I want to say… In your face!” Niecy Nash-Betts is stepping off her comedy lane — take that, critics

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