Courtesy of WNYC/Mindy Tucker
Career

Phoebe Robinson Says She and Jessica Williams are ‘Like Brad and Angelina’

July 6, 2016

The '2 Dope Queens' co-host discusses life, career and her $47,000 student loan debt.

It has been a good year for comedian and writer Phoebe Robinson. The standup comic started a podcast called 2 Dope Queens with her creative partner Jessica Williams (known for her previous role as a correspondent on The Daily Show). Her partnership with Williams began when Robinson had a background role on a Daily Show sketch. The two bonded on-set, and Robinson invited Williams to her apartment to tape a podcast episode with her. All went well, said Robinson, “but I accidentally deleted the interview as soon as she left the apartment! That was a fun text to send.”

Their friendship survived that speed bump, and when 2 Dope Queens launched in April 2016, it became the number one downloaded podcast on iTunes almost immediately. “I did not think that on our first week we would be number one!” Robinson told Motto. “We were thrilled.”

In addition to 2 Dope Queens, Robinson is launching a solo podcast this summer called Soo Many White Guys and is releasing a book in October titled You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain (which she calls “the little sister to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Ok she’s not saying that, I’m saying that.”). Motto spoke with Robinson about her career and what she wishes she knew in her 20s.

Motto: How did 2 Dope Queens get started?
Phoebe Robinson: Jessica had mentioned her birthday and I had asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate, and she said she wanted to do standup. So I asked if she wanted to cohost this show with me that I was doing called “Blaria.” We said we’d meet up in advance and have dinner and plan our sketch, but it just didn’t happen because we got so busy—her with The Daily Show, me with standup and freelance. So the night of the show, we met 15 minutes before showtime and just asked, “OK, well what are three things we can talk about. What are three things going on with me, what are three things with you,” and then we just went onstage. You know, we both trusted each other. It didn’t seem like this could go off the rails and be bad. We ended up having a really great show!

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It kind of snowballed from there: We did UCB East for a while then decided to move it to Union Hall in Brooklyn. One night we had a great show telling stories on stage, and all of our guests were on fire, and I said, I think this could be a podcast. She agreed and I said, “Yeah, let’s just do something low-budge[t]” but she knew people at WNYC and said, I think this is a WNYC thing. We pitched them, had meetings with them and they really got our vision celebrating women, people of color, LGBT people and letting us pick the talent on the show. It’s been a really good experience.

What is it like working with a close friend, especially with the age difference?
I do always like to act like I’m 85 years old, but I think it’s really like, age isn’t even a genuine factor. We respect each other and recognize that we have great chemistry on-air and it’s been a lot of fun. We’re both different—have different personalities and complement each other really well. You learn how to compromise. It’s like a marriage in a way… Age isn’t an issue, it’s more how can we make this show the best it possibly can be.

Scheduling can be difficult because we both travel a lot and of course, not at the same time. My schedule can be a more flexible so it’s a balancing act of trying to make sure we’re doing 2 Dope Queens but also respectful of The Daily Show and things like book tours. It’s literally like what I imagine Brad and Angelina go through.

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In a super-competitive industry, how do you deal with seeing others get parts or gigs over you?
You get to a place eventually where you’re like, there’s enough for everybody. There are definitely things I’ve lost out on where I’m not right anyways or wouldn’t be able to do this thing. And there are moments where I’m like, “Aw man, this person is doing this thing why am I not doing better?” But I like being friends with people who have a lot of s—t going on. I’m surrounded by Ilana [Glazer] and she has Broad City, and Baron Vaughn has Grace and Frankie so he is working a lot.

I get inspired seeing others working hard and getting success. The goal is all your friends getting rich and famous together and then it just feels like summer camp everyday. I’m excited for all of them. This industry is so hard and any time someone gets anything you know how many hours of work they put into it and you can think, one day that will be me.

Is there anything about life that you wish you knew in your 20s?
I’ve from Cleveland and when I turned 27, that was a hard birthday for me. I was an administrative assistant at an Internet company and was doing standup. I was like actually losing money flying myself out to places to perform. My high school friends were married and had kids and were doctors and accountants. It felt like everyone was stable. I thought, “I owe $47K in student loans, what the hell am I doing? I’m going to be stuck in this place forever!”

But you have to remember that whenever things feel awful career-wise, you’re not gonna be in that place forever. Give yourself a little bit of credit! I was focusing on, “Oh I can’t afford to buy a house.” But I was pursuing my passion and meeting great people. When I’m 35, I’m not going to get someone their coffee. It’s easy to get down on yourself for not being where you’re “supposed to,” but people should cut themselves a break. We’re all working so hard that it’s hard to remember that in the moment.

Keep your eyes on your own paper. If I wanted to be married and buy a house at 27, I think I probably would have focused more on that than my career. What’s good for one person in their life might not be good for you. It’s hard to be ok with where you are in America because we’re all thinking about the next thing. You have to love yourself more!

This interview has been edited and condensed.