If there is one moment that best embodies 2 Dope Queens on HBO, it would be when hosts Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams invite “hair icon” Sarah Jessica Parker on the show to talk about black hair. The scene is just as awkward and random as you’d expect as you watch Parker take great pain to find the right words to describe what she loves about our hair, except that it doesn’t end with Carrie Bradshaw being dragged off the stage. In fact, the moment highlights Robinson and Williams’s penchant for addressing and dismantling what is considered taboo or controversial to have an honest, thoughtful conversation about sociopolitical matters.
Not only does 33-year-old Robinson welcome the dialogue, she encourages it. Taking her and Williams’s wildly popular podcast to primetime television was a decision that at first made her nervous, then excited her as she prepared to headline a variety series unlike any other. With 2 Dope Queens, the Ohio native is helping normalize the presence of smart, fabulous, hilarious black women in late night TV to talk about things from “which white people need to apologize to us first?” to the wonderful moment when Robinson’s #Britishwhitebae offered to lotion her “ashy” feet. And that’s not all—they bring along a dazzling array of diverse stand-up talent including Baron Vaughn, Aperna Nancherla, Michelle Buteau, and Sheng Wang to offer their own candid observations on the world around them.
Robinson jumped on the phone to talk to us about the new series, navigating social media, and disrupting the white boys club in comedy:
HB: Congrats on 2 Dope Queens! How important for you was it to create a positive, inclusive environment that was also woke AF for TV?
Phoebe Robinson: I think because Jessica started out in improv and I was doing stand-up two years ago, we would see very white, very male faces. With the stand-up portion of the 2 Dope Queens special, I just noticed that these comedians don’t have the attention they deserve. It’s important for us that not only are we providing a platform for ourselves, but for other people who we think are amazing. I think a lot of people in comedy, the gatekeepers, are like, “oh, we don’t know how to find diverse talent. We don’t know how to find people who are different.” I always hate that, like you’re not looking at all the amazing people around you who are worthy and valuable and are hilarious. With Queens, it’s just been easy to book this. Everyone’s great.
HB: What made you want to move the podcast to TV?
PR: We were doing the podcast for a while, and we all thought we were going to do well, but we’re also so surprised to see how much people really enjoy not only the chemistry between Jessica and I, but also the stand-up and our interview style with guests. And one night we were just like, “I think that this could be a really fun TV show. I think this could be a variety show.” I told Jessica that, and she agreed. And we rounded everyone up and said, “this could be something different that hasn’t quite been on TV before.” I must give HBO credit, because ever since they’ve been around they’ve always had a keen eye on what’s different, what’s an audience that’s deprived of content and how can we be a facilitator of that. And I think they saw something with Jessica and I that was along the lines of Insecure and all this other stuff coming out in which people of color are not only in front of the camera but also behind the camera. They were just immediately on board.
HB: Did you feel any pressure to respond to a certain political moment in pop culture?
PR: I think the show existing is its own statement. But I think whatever Jessica and I talk about the show—whether it’s racism, or sexism in New York, or even something light like celebrities we have crushes on—we’re constantly bringing ourselves to the stage. Our stand-ups like John Early are very involved with what’s going on in the world, so I think the easy part is finding smart, intelligent people who will execute the way they do best. I don’t think it’s been tough for us to do it. I think we’re just grateful to have people around us who want to talk about these things.
HB: You seem to have a very devoted and diverse audience that appreciate your unapologetic blackness no matter what.
PR: If something is created by a straight white dude, did they think about how it was going to be relatable to other people? Was Jerry Seinfeld to make his show relatable? That’s just not a question he gets asked. So, when Jessica and I got into this, we want to do what we find funny. I just want to make her laugh on stage, and vice versa. I think this notion that anyone who doesn’t represent the patriarchy as we know it, they’re considered “other” or hard to understand. We’re all human, even if I’m talking about ashiness in the black community. So even if certain audiences don’t understand the experiences because they haven’t had them, I think they can empathize with people. They can really understand the comedy of it. I think we’ve gotten to a place where white people watch Insecure. Asian people watch Jane, the Virgin. Good is good, and I think it’s great that that could be celebrated.
HB: That reminds me of the moment when you brought on Sarah Jessica Parker to talk about black hair.
PR: She’s not the only person that’s scared about black hair. I think that’s why a lot of people touch it, because they don’t know how to respond to it. So, it was cool to have that moment and have her be vulnerable and say, “no, I don’t know anything about black hair. No one’s ever talked about it with me. Let’s get into it.” It was cool because the audience was nervous, and Jessica and I were like, “This is fine. She’s asking questions so that she could be more knowledgeable.” I wish moments like that would happen more in real life.
HB: As soon as that moment happened, I immediately looked at SJP and thought to myself, “what in the world is she going to say?” It was a very pure moment when you didn’t know what to expect and she was obviously curious and complimentary about it. To see that moment in this era of black hair is very indicative of what the show is.
PR: Yeah, I think instead of everyone being nervous to talk about different cultures, let’s just like get into it and open it up. When things are no longer a mystery, then everyone could be treated with respect as opposed to not acknowledging it, so they don’t say anything stupid. I’m glad that you really like that moment, because that to me is one of my favorite moments from the taping as well.
HB: I think it also just allowed space for her to say something that she might have regretted later, especially important given the way in which we engage in this reactionary social media era. You were encouraging her to say the first thing that came into her mind because it was not a space in which you would judge her.
PR: Yeah, it’s like “I want to try to say this, but I might say the wrong thing. I’m not trying to offend anyone. I’m trying to find the tools to equip myself to discuss this in the first place. I think in this era where everyone’s like, “I’m woke,” I’m like, you don’t know everything. No one knows everything. I don’t know everything about the LGBTQ community, so I’m learning. It’s like, I don’t know this thing and I want to know about it and become smarter about it. It’s creating a space where people aren’t snapping at someone when they get one thing wrong. Like today, I saw someone I know on Instagram post something simply stating, “Hey women, make sure to get your cervix checked” like a PSA. And someone immediately wrote, “you know, not all women have cervixes.” You know what she was trying to do! And then it turned into she’s being exclusionary, but this person’s trying to raise awareness. People are so quick to find a flaw in what people say without realizing that this person is trying to affect positive change.
HB: You are a comedienne, showrunner, movie star, and a New York Times bestselling author. What would you like to conquer next?
PR: I would love to keep working in TV. I would love to have my own TV show. I would love to do more movies. I’d love to write and direct like Ava Duvernay and Jordan Peele. If they can do it, I can do it. I’m working on my second book right now titled, Everything’s Trash but It’s Okay. So maybe do some stuff in publishing, maybe have my own imprint and publish people of color, queer people, women who I think don’t get the same opportunities because publishing is also overwhelmingly white. I’d also like to be more politically and socially active. I do some work with the Red campaign and would love to continue doing that because while it’s nice to get in hair and makeup and promote myself, I do think I have a responsibility to have it not all be about me. I want to use my platform for something good.
2 Dope Queens premiered on HBO Friday, February 2.