Podcast star Phoebe Robinson talks about building an empire of unheard voices amid all the white dudes.By Brian BraikerOct 4, 2016 10:40 AM
Additional reporting by Ashley Hefnawy
Phoebe Robinson was, oddly enough, forced in high school to read The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw. She announces this in the new second season of 2 Dope Queens, the podcast she co-hosts with Daily Show veteran Jessica Williams.
“It was like, ‘And the ’50s were so great for everyone!’”
“Not true,” interjects Williams. “Not true. Not true.”
“And I’m like: Did anybody fact-check this at all?” asks Robinson, who continues to mock the book. “‘Back in our day people could just walk to the mailbox!’ And I was like, which people?!”
Not Robinson’s people. She’s made her comedy career speaking out for — and passing the mic to — the voiceless minorities. Remember Robinson’s name. If she gets her way, the decade to come will be a good one for her — though not for the sacred cows she and Williams routinely slay. And, ultimately, she will be influencing the comedy we see, hear, and read for a generation to come.
“I really do want to have an empire,” she says. “I eventually want to get into executive producing where I’m helping develop other people’s comedic voices.”
She’s well on her way: In July, Robinson launched her own solo podcast talk show, Sooo Many White Guys, which has next-to-no white guys as guests and is executive produced by Broad City cocreator Ilana Glazer.
“Phoebe Robinson is tired of being the token black woman in an ocean of white dude comedians,” reads the copy on the show’s site. Her mandate is to bring exposure to minorities, women, and LGBT guests, which have so far have included “noted badass feminist” Roxane Gay and comedian Hasan Minhaj. Okay, there was one “token white guy”: Mike Birbiglia.
2 Dope Queens is a hit for WNYC Studios — it’s the fifth-highest-ranked comedy podcast on iTunes, ahead of Marc Maron’sWTF but behind Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me — and just this week kicked off its second season.
The show evolved out of “Blaria,” Robinson’s blog and stand-up show in which she described herself as being like a black Daria — the titular character from the 1990s MTV cartoon. “Blaria,” like 2 Dope Queens, was a mix of stand-up, banter, and storytelling with other comedian guests.
Her own comedic voice defies stereotype. She is warm and gleefully goofy, which plays perfectly off of Williams’ more angular bite.
“I had a little bit of a vagina-related thing happen today,” announces Robinson in a recent episode, before describing a mortifying wardrobe malfunction that could happen to anyone. In sympathy Williams admits, “My boob is always popping out.” Together the two make for a perfect millennial odd couple, a comedic study in contrasts: They both love Billy Joel but are bitterly divided over Patti LaBelle. Williams is in a committed relationship; Robinson reports on misfires from the front lines of dating.
When the two met, Robinson was consulting for The Daily Show, where Williams was a correspondent, on a bit about black hair in the military. The two hit it off — and took their infectiously unpredictable banter to the stage.
There isn’t much else like it out there — a point of differentiation that is key to its success.
Word of mouth spread, and their twice-monthly show at Brooklyn’s Union Hall would soon regularly sell out. In April of this year, WNYC launched 2 Dope Queens as a podcast.
“WNYC is really smart about finding people that they are into and they think are talented and have a particular voice that needs to be represented,” says Robinson. “Then they like just back up and let us do our thing.”
Beyond their casually hilarious repartee, the big selling point of 2 Dope Queens is their commitment to bringing on up-and-coming comedic talent, who, more often than not, happen not to be white and male. Recent guests include writer-comedian Naomi Ekperigin, trans actor-comedian Nore Davis, and stand-up comedians Aparna Nancherla and Michelle Buteau. There isn’t much else like it out there — a point of differentiation that is key to its success.
“A lot of times women of color are not presented as funny, or we are only funny in a way where we are the butt of jokes,” says Robinson. “So I want to give voice to women of color, and say ‘here is another perspective that is also valid along with the other ones that are out there.’”
And so on 2 Dope Queens you will hear a joke about Troop 69, an adult-oriented Girls Scout group, followed directly by a bit about wanting to meet Oprah. The universal experience sits comfortably alongside anecdotes that will resonate more with, well, people who aren’t white dudes.
That’s not to say they aren’t fans. Lindy West, author of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, appeared on the show because her agent — a “50-year-old white dude” — was a superfan and wanted her to do it.
“I like to be very open and vulnerable with people,” says Robinson, explaining her appeal. “I really like the audio aspect of it. Everything kind of informs each other. Where, like the book [her newly released You Can’t Touch My Hair] informs the podcast, the podcast informs my stand-up, and the stand-up informs the stuff I do with Jess. So as long as I can keep doing all of the things, I think that would be cool. All of it is making me stronger as a performer and as a communicator.”
If you haven’t had the chance, you can listen to first episode of Sooo Many White Guys here:
Phoebe and Lizzo Get Lit | Sooo Many White Guys
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