In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people the same 11 interesting questions.
An actor, author, and comedian best known for her honesty, passion, and thirst, Phoebe Robinson is always hustling. She burst onto the scene as one of the hosts of live show and podcast 2 Dope Queens (along with Jessica Williams), which was turned into an eight-part HBO special. She went on to host Sooo Many White Guys and Black Frasier, and toured with Michelle Obama as a moderator for the former first lady’s Becoming tour in 2019. Somehow, Robinson has also managed to write a number of books, including You Can’t Touch My Hair, and has spun off her passion for literature into her own publishing imprint, Tiny Reparations, through Penguin Random House. Her next book, Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes, is out this September, and she’s been adapting one of her previous collections of essays, Everything’s Trash, for Freeform. She’s also got a production company—also called Tiny Reparations—a deal with ABC Studios, and a new show on Comedy Central, Doing The Most With Phoebe Robinson, which finds the star breaking out of her comfort zone to tackle ropes courses with Kevin Bacon, learn magic with the Property Brothers, and make music videos with K-Pop star Eric Nam. Before Doing The Most makes its debut April 9, we sat down with Robinson to pepper her with our 11 rapid-fire questions. She took the non sequiturs in stride, regaling us with stories of her close personal friend Michelle Obama, summers at Cedar Point, and why she’s just a good old turkey sandwich.
Phoebe Robinson: I know this is probably cheesy, but I always loved going to Cedar Point amusement park with my family over the summer. I was so into roller coasters and, especially when my brother and I were younger, I used to follow him around. He was my big brother, and I would do everything that he would do. So I always liked to make sure that I did all the crazy rides that he did, and we got to eat funnel cake and everything. It’s just one of those things where you feel so much joy and you’re scared of the heights, but that’s why you do it, because you want to scream.
2. What something that’s considered a basic part of your current career that you struggled to learn?
PR: Can you give me example?
The A.V. Club: Your Ibiza co-star Vanessa Bayer, for instance, said that she has struggled to learn saying no.
PR: I mean, I feel like I had a hard time saying no, but I think that for me, the thing that I think has been difficult that I’ve just started working on the past year is not feeling like I have to work 24 hours a day or I’m not working on anything.
I think I’ve got a notion of “Oh, I’ve got to be hustling, I got to be grinding,” and if I’m not, then I’m not getting anything done. You sort of take a step back and say, “Well, does this thing need to take eight hours or can I get it done in three hours and then go watch Sex In The City and have dinner?” I feel like this “always gotta be on 24/7” is kind of low-key ignorant. It’s just like you don’t know how to manage your time. You should not be working 24 hours a day.
So I think for me it’s just sort of being able to figure out how to do things and not give myself busy work. I just like have moments to myself where I can relax or hang out with my boyfriend or just breathe, because if I’m just constantly giving, giving, giving without replenishing that cup, that’s good for no one.
3. Did you pick up any new skills, hobbies, or get into something you hadn’t before during quarantine?
PR: Does Peloton count? I’ve really gotten into lifting weights on Peloton and doing this kickboxing app. So that’s kind of been the things. I was trying to learn how to play the piano and I was able to do that for, like, two months and then I had to start writing my book. So, I’m just sort of trying to do push-ups and 20-pound chest press and all that stuff. That’s where I’m at.
AVC: Do you have a favorite Peloton instructor or class?
PR: Ooh, I love Jess Sims for strength. It’s always really hard. I always get a personal record. I am the sorest after taking her strength classes. I like Cody Rigby on the bike. Tunde [Oyeneyin] is also great. Alex Toussaint is really great and super hot. It’s nice. Look at this hot dude while he’s telling me to really push it and go up this hill. So, yeah. Those are probably some of my faves.
4. What restaurant do you not live near, but make a point to hit every time you’re in the right town?
PR: One of my favorite restaurants of all time is this Gordon Ramsay-owned restaurant in London called Pétrus. I know this sounds bougie as fuck, but my boyfriend is British, which is why I ended up going there. And so whenever we’re in London, before we pop down to Bournemouth to hang with his family, we will always make a reservation for Pétrus. It’s a fancy tasting menu, so I won’t eat all day so I can just eat everything, and it’s so delicious. It’s just so good. So good.
PR: Because moisturizing is very important to the Black community, I wish there was some way I could just press a button and cocoa butter just sort of like oozes over my skin and perfectly coats me so I don’t have to lotion ever again.
AVC: That’s a great idea. I’d love if there was a sensor you could touch, and it would say, “Your arms are good. Here’s the right amount of lotion for your legs. Here’s the other amount of lotion for your face.”
PR: Especially now with COVID, because I feel like everyone is going to be washing their hands way more. My hands get dry all the time, so I just need a little bit of help in that department.
PR: I mean, Michelle Obama, can we just? She’s the best. I don’t like to put people on a pedestal because I feel like you remove their humanity, but I will say that I think that she’s just so smart, has such a great sense of humor, and is so giving. She just has such good energy that emanates from her.
It was such a delight to interview her on her book tour. I got to do that for a few dates, and that was really, really cool. I’m smiling just thinking about her. She’s just such a wonderful human being and such a great example of how to carry yourself in a world that is topsy turvy at all times.
AVC: How did that gig work? Would you come up with different questions for different dates, or were you working off a script with points you wanted to hit?
PR: I had different questions. We did 90 minutes, but it was one of those things where it flew by so fast every night so there were always questions left over. So I would be like, “Okay, I’ll work this into the next city and then come up with a whole new round of questions that go along with those.” It was definitely like I was back in college and I was just like, “This is like my presentation. This is pass/fail. I’ve got to really bring it.” So I prepared super hard every night.
PR: You know, when you’re doing those standup shows in a biker bar in freakin’ Staten Island and you have to take a ferry to perform in front of 10 people who don’t want you there and you don’t get paid… It’s that kind of stuff, the early days of standup. I look back on it fondly because I feel like it helped me build up resilience against people not being interested in me at all, but it is one of those humbling moments because you’re performing for people who wish you didn’t exist.
AVC: I have to imagine those ferry rides would be like, “Three hours of my life for this?”
PR: I always tell people starting out in standup—like, people can do it when they’re older, but it’s just easier when you’re younger. When you’re 25 you’re like, “Okay, this is how I’m going to spend my night. That’s cool.” But now I’m in my mid-thirties. I’ve got to get home, I’ve got to put on my night creams and my serums. There’s a whole process to powering this machine down so I cannot waste an evening on Staten Island. No offense to Staten Island.
PR: I think the Winslows from Family Matters. They were just so fun and delightful, and I love Laura. She’s so cool.
AVC: That’s a great choice. Do you think you’d be friends with Urkel, or are you more interested in spending time with Stefan?
PR: I’m definitely friends with Urkel. He’s who I take to the U2 concerts because he will fully get into the fantasy. And then Stefan, I will literally be like—this was definitely my move when I was younger—really funny and show off my personality and then this guy is going to like me and then I always got friend-zoned. So I think Stefan would friend-zone me because I wouldn’t have the skills to flirt with him.
9. What’s the first piece of art, or earliest piece of media, that inspired you to go into your field?
PR: The thing is that I never envisioned that I would ever do standup. I just ended up taking a class when I was 23, and that’s how I got started. I mean, when I was a kid, I was always a big movie watcher. I still watch a lot of movies now, but when I was a kid it was nonstop. So I think maybe it was just watching movies and TV shows and being like, “One day, I can do something like that,” even though I was so scared to pursue it. I think I was probably just a child of the ’90s, so I’d watch everything from Moesha to Melrose Place—which, why did my parents allow that?—to The West Wing, Living Single, all these great shows from the ’90s. I think that’s what inspired me.
PR: Honestly, I have to say, I think Vanessa [Bayer] is one of the funniest people I know. We chat a lot. We’ll send each other video messages on Marco Polo. She makes me laugh so much that my boyfriend will stop what he’s doing to watch her Polos to me because they’re so funny. She and I just have a great rhythm together because we’re both a little trashy. For instance, when we shot Ibiza overseas, on our day off Gillian [Jacobs] would say, “Let’s check out the culture, let’s do this, blah, blah, blah.” Vanessa and I would just be like, “We just want to go to the mall.” We’re just not there for the culture or to learn anything. I think we just both love that kind of lazy, ignorant side to ourselves. So she’s definitely one of the funniest people I know.
PS: I mean, first we’ve got to pick the bread. I’m a carbs girl, so we’ve got to get the bread right. I think I’m a little fancy, a little boug, so I think I’m a brioche bun. Is that ignorant? Has anyone said they’re a brioche bun? But it’s got to be toasted. People who don’t toast their bread, I’m like, “Get the fuck out of my face.” That was an aggressive stance, but that’s what’s in my heart. Lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, lots of cheese, like sharp, sharp cheddar cheese. It’s got to make your face go, “Oh, shit, that’s sharp.”
I feel like I’m kind of a traditional sandwich person. I just like roasted cracked pepper turkey. Maybe throw some pickles on there. If you’re feeling sassy you’ve got to have some red onions, too, and then a little salt and pepper. I think you need a healthy amount of mayo. I know some people do not like mayonnaise, but I feel like anyone from the Midwest really likes mayonnaise. It’s just a part of the culture. So, yeah, I think that’s my deli sandwich. I don’t know if that’s going to be a high seller, but, you know, that’s what I’m sticking with.