As one half of comedy’s 2 Dope Queens, Phoebe Robinson has spent the past two years working toward leveling the podcast playing field for comedians who aren’t white dudes. Alongside former Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams, Robinson invites women, queer comedians, and people of color to guest on the show, which rocketed to success right when it launched on WNYC in 2016. Now, Robinson and Williams are taking 2 Dope Queens to HBO, where the pair will host not one but four hour-long comedy specials, with the first one landing on the network—and all its corresponding internet properties—tonight. The A.V. Club talked to Robinson about what Queens newbies can expect, her love for Bono, and why everyone in Hollywood wears fake hair.
The A.V. Club: The last time we talked was in late 2016, around when your book came out. How has your life been since then? It seems like it’s been a wild ride.
Phoebe Robinson: Oh, you know, I’ve gotten a couple of jobs or two… No, really, I think between the book and 2 Dope Queens, this has really been kind of the strangest 18 months. Everything has opened up in so many ways. I think with the book, people could see me as a writer, which is cool, and helped me get writing jobs on Portlandia and other stuff.
With 2 Dope Queens, it’s gone from a podcast to four HBO specials, which is kind of nuts because getting even one HBO special is so tough. They have such a high standard for comedy, so the fact that we got four? We’re really keeping the specials like the podcasts—just keeping the essence of it.
It’s been really a wild ride, but I’ve been having the best time. I’ve been working a lot, and I have a boyfriend now, so things are looking up. I’m having a good run. I don’t know when it’s going to end, but I’m going to enjoy every second of it.
AVC: I was going to say: You have a boyfriend, you watched all of Game Of Thrones, you’ve done a movie in Europe…
PR: I don’t know if watching Game Of Thrones is an achievement, but I appreciate you including that in the things that I’ve done this year. So thank you for acknowledging that.
AVC: Just from your Instagram, it seems like you’re hustling 24/7. You’re always at events, you’re always hyping your stuff.
PR: Thank you! I am a workaholic—my family will agree with that. Also, I’ve been doing comedy for 10 years, and eight and a half of that I’ve been wildly broke with crazy student loan and credit card debt. So to actually be at a point where I can write a book or act in stuff or do 2 Dope Queens and have people care is really cool. So I’m just kind of reveling in every moment.
Also, as much as I’m happy that things are really cool, I’m still, right now, in my kitchen, in a robe from Target heating up a box of Amy’s Thai red curry for lunch. So as much as things have changed, they’re still pretty much the same in other regards.
AVC: If someone has never listened to 2 Dope Queens or has never seen the show, what can they expect from the specials? Or, if you are a 2 Dope Queens diehard, did anything change for HBO?
PR: I would say, if you’ve never listened to the podcast, it really is just two black women hanging out—talking about hair, talking about different racist encounters they’ve had, talking about interracial dating, and making lots of pop culture references.
What’s been great about 2 Dope Queens is that Jessica and I, when we started—this was even before the podcast, when it was just a live show at [Upright Citizens Brigade]—we really just wanted it to reflect that this is how two friends sound hanging out. We’re not trying to be super polished; we’re just trying to make each other laugh.
A lot of times in comedy and also in podcasting and television, there are different kinds of voices that can be celebrated. So you can have Insecure exist, you can have a 2 Dope Queens exist, you can have The Mindy Project exist—very distinct, funny voices from women and from people of color. It’s something people have been missing, and with our show, we’re just adding to that. It’s going to be a fun hangout. For people who have been a fan of the podcast, we really try to keep it the same: Jess and I hanging out, chatting, coming up with silly jokes, and then having amazing comics of color, female comedians, and queer comedians on. Some are young, some are up-and-coming—I’m up-and-coming as well.
Then we still have our celebrity interviews, which have been super fun. Those have really resonated with a lot of the listeners because Jess and I have this secret skill of getting celebrities to open up and chat with us about stuff that’s not just, like, “Tell me about your book” or “Tell me about your fashion line.” It’s really about, like, “Let’s hang out for 15 minutes and have a super fun chat.” We just want to capture an instant friendship and play off of that. I feel like the celebrities have all shined so much because the audience is going to see a different side of them than the audience has seen before, which I think is really cool.
AVC: Why is it important to you to have different voices on your show? And not just on 2 Dope Queens, but on Sooo Many White Guys as well.
PR: I’ve been doing stand-up for 10 years, and, as you know, and as pretty much all the members of The A.V. Club know, it is very whi-hi-hi-hi-hite. So trying to get a half-hour special up somewhere, or doing a stand-up set on late night, a lot of times, it’ll just be straight white male comedians. I was lucky enough to do Seth Meyers in 2015, and he was phenomenal, and that was one of the best days of my life, but, for me, I was just noticing there are so many funny people that I know who are amazing and incredible and just aren’t getting the attention I think they deserve.
With 2 Dope Queens, with stand-up, and also with Sooo Many White Guys, the interview stuff that I do, I really am a fan first. Some of the people are people who I’m lucky to be friends with, like Michelle Buteau, and others are people that I am so impressed by—like having Melissa Harris-Perry on, or having Ilana [Glazer] and Abbi [Jacobson] on. They are such powerful bosses that I really just wanted to open up the conversation and have it not be like, “So you’re a woman in power” or “Janet Mock, you’re trans,” and then we’re only going to talk about that, so she has no other layers to her. It’s really important to me to highlight and make the audience feel like they’re getting to know a person in a real way.
There are just so many brilliant voices out there. I’m not the funniest person out there, I’m not the best interviewer. I’m not the best at anything, but I really just am a big fan of everyone. I’m really driven by trying to make sure that representation is out there.
I did an interview yesterday with Awkwafina, and she was saying that, growing up, she didn’t see a lot of people that looked like her. There was Margaret Cho, and Lucy Liu, and The Joy Luck Club, but she said, “There were not a lot of people out there, so it made me feel like my dreams of being a performer weren’t necessarily possible.” So I feel like if someone listens to an interview I did on Sooo Many White Guys and hears John Early saying, “I can be gay and do really super fun, cheerful comedy and really be myself,” they’ll think, “If he can do that, I can, too.” That’s really one of the most important aspects of what I’ve been trying to do in comedy.
AVC: It does seem like a lot of media is moving toward more diversity in its voice. It’s not that there’s one show about black women anymore, for instance. There are multiple. It’s acknowledging that all black women—or all women, or all black people—aren’t the same.
PR: Yeah, that’s actually amazing. I remember when Bridesmaids came out—what was it, five years ago maybe? I don’t even know, but people were like [Stammering.], “What? Five women? And they’re really funny?” And we’re just like, “Yeah.” Like, you’re shocked by this?
Truly, this time around, I feel that people understand that there are dimensions to women, and there are dimensions to people of color, and dimensions to queer people. You can have Jane The Virgin, but that doesn’t need to be the only show with Latinos on it.
People are not only recognizing the different dimensions of different groups of people, but they’re also recognizing the buying power of different groups, especially when you have Girls Trip make $100 million at the box office. I think Gina [Rodriguez] brought up at the SAG Awards that Latinos are a huge buying audience for movies, and a lot of times, they are the reason why movies are so successful, because they go to see so many. And so people are starting to recognize money and realize that you can’t ignore an audience anymore, because not only are you losing out on telling great stories, but people who only care about the bottom line and having money in their bank account, they’re like, “You’re going to have to cater to audiences that don’t look like you. And you’re going to have to support them and listen to them.” They’re going to start dictating more of the market than they have in the past, which is incredible.
AVC: You mentioned that, on 2 Dope Queens, you guys like to talk about hair. I just wanted to say that, in the promos for the specials, your hair looks amazing.
PR: Oh, my god, thank you so much!
AVC: You’re really going for it.
PR: We try. We just wanted to have fun, and for people who don’t know me or don’t follow me on Instagram, I change my hair up all the time. Hair is like putting on a different outfit.
There’s an air of mystery about black hair—it’s been so politicized. Culturally speaking, there’s appropriation that happens with respect to the black hair community, so I think Jessica and I went, “You know, we’re going to normalize it.” Black women change their hair up all the time. We’re not going to make a big deal of it; we’re not going to ask for permission. It’s just like, “This is what we do, this is who we are.” And it was just cool that we had an opportunity to show that and have it be a really cool moment.
AVC: There’s a weird stigma, I think, about wearing wigs. Outside of the black community, it’s for old ladies and people who lose their hair. But wigs are fun! You can have new hair every day.
PR: Absolutely. And it’s also, like, “Hello, everyone in Hollywood is wearing wigs.” None of this is 100 percent real. You would be bald at the end of one year if you constantly let people style your hair. So, yeah, everybody’s wearing fake hair. 2018: fake hair, know what I mean? [Laughs.]
AVC: You’re an outspoken U2 fan. Have you met Bono yet?
PR: I have met Bono a few times. Truly nuts and amazing. Honestly, I freaked out, but I kept it composed, and it was cool. I feel like Bono and I are having a growing friendship that is probably one-sided, LOL, but it was really nice meeting him.
My two heroes—outside of my parents, obviously—are Bono and Oprah because, not only are they really good at their careers, but they’re super philanthropic. That’s what I aspire to be, so meeting Bono—he was just so nice and was like, “Thank you for bringing awareness to my charities and for using humor and blah, blah, blah,” and I can’t believe he was even aware of what I’m doing in my life. So that was really cool.
Oprah called me after my first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair, came out, and that was, like, beyond. I feel like, “LOL, Oprah called me.” Meeting people that you’re inspired by and them recognizing that you’re doing something worthy is awesome, and obviously you don’t want to focus too much on outside validation, but it really feels cool to have people that you respect, respect you back.
AVC: I’m glad you said that Oprah is philanthropic and deserving of respect. After her Golden Globes speech, when people were calling for her to run for office, I saw someone online say, “She just plays make-believe for a living,” and I got so mad. She’s so much more than that.
PR: I think that if anyone does their research, they’ll see how much good she’s been doing for, I don’t know, 30 years. To reduce it to, well, she’s a talk show host—it’s never been a barrier to entry for the cultural landscape. She’s opened schools, she raises money, she’s helping to send people to college. Even Oprah’s Book Club helped people get really excited about books in a way they might not necessarily have been in the ’90s and early 2000s. If she wants to run for president, I’m not her adviser, even though I’ll support her no matter what, but I think, when she passes—and I hate to even say that because I’m like, “Oprah will never die,” but everyone dies—but when she passes, I think people will actually look back and be like, “Oh, this was actually one of the most important cultural figures of our lifetime.” And I think they’ll realize we took her for granted. She’s truly one of a kind.
AVC: Is Bono going to be on Sooo Many White Guys?
PR: You know, that is the ultimate dream. Bono, if you’re reading this, I know you have a Google Alert on me, LOL. But I would love to have him on and chat with him about his career and religion and his charity work. That would be the dream if he did something like that. That’s the end. It’d be like, that’s the end. That’s the Peak White Guy I’d ever want to meet. I would love to do that.
AVC: I was pretty impressed when you got Tom Hanks.
PR: Truly my favorite interview I’ve ever done. You can tell from the episode, but some of it we cut out because we were chatting for over an hour. He is so funny and such a goofball. You forget that he started out doing comedy. And then I sat down and talked with him and it’s like, “This guy is hi-larious.” He needs to do more comedies, okay? Stop trying to win Oscars—you’re hysterical. He was so delightful and fun, and he recorded the outgoing message on my phone, which is great. Not only did he record it, because I was like, “This is unprofessional of me to ask you to do this,” but he did multiple takes for me. He was like, “Let me just give you something so you have options.” I’m like, “Tom, you’re busy! What are you doing?”
AVC: You did a big tour at the end of last year with Ilana Glazer. How did that go?
PR: Ilana and I, we did a stand-up tour called YQY—Yaaas, Queen, Yaaas—and this was the first time either of us had done a stand-up tour. I’ve opened for Abbi and Ilana in the past when they had the Broad City tour, but that was more of a duo thing and not stand-up-based at all—I just did some sketches. And then I opened for Wyatt Cenac a few years ago as well.
It was really cool because Ilana and I met, I want to say, nine years ago. We did a stand-up show in Morningside Heights at the Karma Lounge in the basement of this hookah bar. She had this really cool and funny joke about Sex And The City and I was like, “Ooh, I like this girl.” And so we’ve been really close friends ever since.
She had been missing doing stand-up as regularly as she was before Broad City, and I was like, “I think it’s time for me to get out on the road and test if I can do 45 minutes a night every night.” And so we both were like, “Let’s go out on the road together. We’ve never headlined a tour.”
We did 22 shows in two weeks, which was… a lot. We were tired by the end, like, “This is crazy.” We sold out every single show, and the audiences were so diverse, and smart, and beautiful, and constantly seeking answers. So it was really nice to perform for that kind of audience.
I think the biggest thing that Ilana and I walked away with was more confidence in our stand-up. Stand-up comedy is so male-dominated that you can think, “Oh, because I don’t do stand-up the way that guys do, I’m not doing it right,” or, “I’m not good or I’m not funny.” I think us being out there crushing it every night, working really hard, by the end of two weeks, we had each shaped our 45 minutes into something that we were really proud of. So it really felt great to do that, and to do it with one of your best friends and have an amazing time.
We want to do it again. We have to figure it out because we’re both busy, but we both had an incredible time. It renewed my love for stand-up, because after 10 years in comedy I realized, “You know what? I can do this. I don’t need to keep questioning it.”
AVC: Why do you think people want to connect with you personally? It seems like people want to be your friend, not just your fan. Is it because you’re open on podcasts and social media? Is it because you’re a woman?
PR: I don’t know if it’s gender-based or more just the fact that the world is so social-media-heavy—most performers have Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook—especially young performers who were reared when social media was being established. I think there is of course an element of people being like, “Oh, I know you and I’ve seen your boyfriend,” and it’s like, “Yeah, you know… kind of.” You see us at home, watching Game Of Thrones, or traveling around the country because of his job. But you don’t fully know him, and you don’t fully know me.
What’s good is, even though people feel a connection to me, I don’t think anyone’s been inappropriate. No one’s gotten creepy about it. I think people just appreciate my openness and my willingness to be educated about stuff.
The way the culture is, people just have more access to performers—you’re not so protected and private all the time, which maybe can make it feel like there’s not that air of mystery about that person anymore. But in another way that’s kind of cool, because you can really feel the person’s energy in their work, and you can understand them in a way that you might not have been able to before.