Phoebe Robinson: Dope Queen Coming Through

Phoebe Robinson of 2 Dope Queens Sits with Brooklyn Magazine

Photos by Jesse Dittmar
Hair by Naivasha Johnson
Make-up by Delina Medhin
Shot at Loosie Rouge

Phoebe Robinson enters stage left. Author (Yas). Writer (Yas). Producer (Yas). Actress (Yas). Brooklyn (Yas). Dope Queens (Yas). Stand-up comic (yep you guessed it, YAS). How to properly introduce a queen you ask? Well of course by acquainting you to her accolades.

It was a sweltering August when I got to sit down with Phoebe Robinson at Loosie’s Kitchen & Café in Williamsburg. She had just flown in that morning from vacation in Oregon with her boyfriend, coined “British Baekoff,” and got right to work.

The Park Slope resident is no stranger to New York having first landed here in 2002. At that time, she was a student at the Pratt Institute focusing on screenwriting. Though initially wanting to pursue a career in screenwriting and producing, a friend wanted to try a stand-up class at Carolines and Robinson had stage experience from doing improv during college so there was no harm in trying it out.

That July of 2008 they spent eight weeks practicing material on stage and doing open mics to ultimately work up to a graduation show. “When I took the stand-up class, I figured it could be fun, whatever, and then I’ll just move on. At the end of it, I realized this is exactly what I should be doing.” At the time, Robinson had a regular 9-5 just like us, mustering through unglamorous admin work for 5 ½ years before she finally quit her day job. Then it was grind time: doing freelance writing, web videos, working on the craft, being broke for a long time and hating it, hoping one day this would change. Ten years in and that resiliency has paid off.

Her sophomore book and latest essay collection, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay, is out now and she leaves no topic untouched. From details of meeting Bono, who she proudly boasts in a recent picture on her Instagram (@dopequeenpheebs), to her not-so-secret crush on Michael B. Jordan, and of course, the dumpster fire that is our world.

But that’s not all that Robinson has been up to this past year. What started off as a podcast with BFF Jessica Williams and former “The Daily Show” correspondent, 2 Dope Queens evolved into a four-episode HBO series which features their seamless repartee in front of a live audience, rather than in the confinements of your headphones.

I asked what’s the best thing about working with a partner like Jessica, to which she responded, “Our comedy chops developed faster and with practicing with another person, we just got funnier. This show we did in July, was a lot of fun and we killed it. So it’s great to see how far we’ve come in the past 3 years we’ve worked together…. And [a partner] pushes you to be better, it’s like looking in a mirror. You have to bring your A game and it’s nice to have someone remind you of your strengths and weaknesses.”

Surround yourself with like-minded people. Surround yourself with people more talented than you, people who push and drive you rather than those that just coast through life.

With such great chemistry on and off the stage, it’s no wonder the two have amassed to such success and exactly the reason why HBO has since renewed the duo for a Season 2.

In addition to 2 Dope Queens, Robinson secured another on-screen gig this past summer by starring in Netflix’s Ibiza alongside Gillian Jacobs and Vanessa Bayer. The trio travels to Ibiza, get into quite the shenanigans, all while her best friend falls for a DJ, played by Richard Madden.

As the year comes to a close, she’s most excited for:

  1. Trump’s Impeachment (really excited)
  2. meeting British Baekoff’s mom when she heads to the UK for Christmas
  3. SLEEP
  4. Hitting up the same restaurant she went to for her birthday where a low-budget Jude Law hit on her man
  5. Seeing friends like Michelle Buteau, Ilana Glazer, Baron Vaughn continue to kickass
  6. Midterm Elections

As playful as she can be, Robinson loves how impassioned and mobilized people are becoming, and her brother is even running for state rep in Ohio.

“It’s really cool to see people really believe that they can make a difference and they want to do so. It’s not enough to complain about stuff, they want to be a part of the solution.”

Robinson is an advocate for learning subjects outside your main focus. At Pratt she studied art history and was going to minor in it, but decided to focus on her screenwriting instead. Nevertheless, she ventured on her own to learn more about art.

“Do things for the sake of learning and pleasure. Social media and society in general might pressure you to be the best at a certain thing; do things because it intrigues you, or it challenges you.”

Challenging herself is exactly the momentum she’s maintained. Robinson’s been published by Glamour, New York Times, Vanity Fair, Bitch, boasted her “Blaria” blog in Huffington Post, created and starred in Refinery29’s Woke Bae, and hosts her solo podcast “Sooo Many White Guys.” So what’s next? Let’s see… she’s working on developing her own show for Amazon – which she will star in –  with the help of Amy Aniobi (a writer/producer for HBO’s Insecure) and Ilana Glazer who she’s known for decades will also executive produce. Next year will definitely include more standup and in February you can expect Robinson to be featured in “What Men Want” which stars Taraji Henson who gains the ability to hear men’s thoughts.  

Robinson found beauty in not being the star of it all. “You can come in, see what your place is, and explore how you fit into it as a whole.”

Her best advice:

  1. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Surround yourself with people more talented than you, people who push and drive you rather than those that just coast through life.
  2. Celebrate your wins, and those around you. Support one another, it’s admirable to see comedians forming a network and building each other up.
  3. Have fun and don’t worry about failing because you might stumble upon something great when you’re trying out something new. Auditioning and getting rejected is all a part of the process.
  4. The 2 Dope Queens podcast debuted at number one on the iTunes podcast charts the first day it came out, and it was born out of “let’s just have fun and do a show together.”
  5. Study, study, study is a huge part of it as well. Both of Robinson’s books are essay collections, and prior to the first book, she read 15-20 essay collections to ensure a sense of the ins and outs of the style, what her voice would be, and where she would fit in it all.
  6. Anything you want to do, if you want to do it well, you have to study, you have to know your shit, and you also understand that you will never know it all, but there is always room to improve.

Though others may be opposed to it, Robinson is a fan of watching other perform. Comics that can write on stage and develop a bit is just the sort of skill set she’s working towards. When looking at a comedian like Tig Notaro, who is so dry and sarcastic, Robinson is able to recognize her own sarcastic nature, but applauds that Notaro does it at such a commendable level that she couldn’t. Then you have people like Dave Chapelle, who can tell these stories that weave in fact and fiction simultaneously, if Robinson is still doing stand-up 20 years into her career, she hopes to achieve that skill level too. She’s a woman who practices what she preaches and loves to see those concrete goals she can work towards.

I see nothing but clear skies as Robinson continues to shoot for the moon. The 34-year-old is humbled by her past experiences and it shines through her personality. There is one lovely,  idiosyncratic attribute about her that is so outstanding, it’s Robinson’s signature vernacular: she’s brimming with a whole lot of “yas,” a whole lot of “queen,” and definitely a fair share of abbreviations and neologisms. Phoebe Robinson is live and direct, and here to take over.

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