Once upon a time, comedian and author Phoebe Robinson used to write Scandal recaps for glamour.com. Today, though, she’s sitting in a swanky hotel room with her BFF and 2 Dope Queens cohost Jessica Williams to promote their new HBO specials. “It’s a dream, it really is,” Robinson says. “I feel like Barack Obama when he was inaugurated, even though that’s not accurate.”
Robinson might be joking, but it’s an appropriate analogy given that 2 Dope Queens started as a grassroots podcast years earlier. “It’s just nuts,” she says. “It’s so cool.” Tonight HBO debuts the first of four hour-long specials focused on Blerds (Black Nerds), Hot Peen, New York, and Hair. Robinson and Williams have also recruited famous friends like Sarah Jessica Parker, Uzo Aduba, Jon Stewart, and Tituss Burgess to join them, in addition to unknown comedians looking to follow in the duo’s footsteps. Says Williams, “It’s a showcase for those talents, and I don’t think you really see that right now in this TV or comedy landscape.”
But before you watch Robinson and Williams take the stage, the friends opened up to Glamour about their journey, Hollywood’s shifting culture, and what it really means to support other women.
Glamour: Some people must think you got your own show on HBO pretty effortlessly and skyrocketed to fame, but it’s never that simple. What are some of the unspoken truths to get to where you are?
Phoebe Robinson: Even before we had our podcast, we started out at [improv troupe] United Citizens Brigade East, and I had an email list where I tell people to come to the show. [We also had our podcast, 2 Dope Queens, but] podcasts don’t make a lot of money. They are truly a labor of love, so we were just promoting and spreading the word. We eventually got to bigger venues, but it was a lot of hard work. It looks super fun and easy because…
Jessica Williams: Obviously, we’re fashion queens. We look cute! We have our wigs together.
Phoebe: [Laughs.] Yeah. But at the end of the day, it is about the work, long hours, and making a lot of decisions. This is cool doing the press, but it took years to get to this point.
Jessica: And it’s doing shows when you’re in a bad mood or you don’t feel like doing it, but you have to show up. You end up having fun, but no matter what happens, it’s doing the mental work to make sure we’re in the right mind-set so that we always get the good show. People ask you where your progress comes from, and really it’s like a seed in the ground. You water it and all the while it’s growing and then finally after many, many years the tree starts to grow. That’s kind of our story.
Jessica: Was that too goofy?
Phoebe: Did you just text Gwyneth [Paltrow] and ask her what you should say?
Jessica: I’m like, “Gwynie…” but no, there’s something about you plant a seed and you wait for a long time. It doesn’t mean that it’s not growing.
Phoebe: Not to be cheesy, but I really do feel like the end result is not the goal. It’s learning and it’s the journey about how to be producers, how to edit, and having fun in that, because now the product is here, and we don’t know how people are going to react to it. We hope that people love it and everybody goes…
Jessica: There could be massive protests.
Phoebe: [Laughs.] Yeah, but Michael Fassbender could call me and be like, “I just watched the episode, and I thought it was really funny.”
Jessica: Or Daniel Radcliffe reaches out to me on Twitter and is like, “I love the specials!” I’d be like, “LOL. Thank you.”
Phoebe: And Bono could text me and be like, “I’m so sorry I wasn’t the music supervisor on the specials.”
Jessica: And I’d jump in and be like, “Excuse me, Bono, that wasn’t an offer.”
Phoebe: But the journey we’ve been on is truly the biggest reward.
Glamour: I overheard you tell another journalist that these specials are not like any other we’ve seen. How so?
Jessica: This show is not like any other because it’s two black ladies saying whatever the hell we want to and enjoying each other. Not only that, but we also have stand-up [comedians] in these specials that are either people of color, or women, or members of the LGBTQ community, so it kind of is…and we have a few white guys.
Phoebe: Just two, max.
Jessica: Two, max.
Phoebe: Oh wait, three. ‘Cause Jon Stewart.
Jessica: Oh yeah, I guess he counts. So it’s sort of a showcase for those talents, and I don’t think you really see that right now in this TV or comedy landscape, so we’re excited to present that.
PHOTO: Mindy Tucker/HBO
Glamour: Let’s talk about celebrity culture, and the shift that’s happening in Hollywood. What are your thoughts on the impact of #MeToo and Time’s Up?
Phoebe: Gabrielle Union spoke to this, which I love, and it’s that she hopes all women’s stories and voices are going to be heard, instead of the select [few] of a certain class, of a certain race. I think what’s great right now is that people won’t continue ignoring swaths of people and hope that the problem is going to go away.
Jessica: For a lot of actresses, their careers were dependent on previously the favor of a man. I think it really hinged on a lot of superficial things, or whether they would put out. It just, I think, hinged on the whims of men, so what I’m really excited about with this movement is that it takes away a lot of their power, at least I hope it does. I’m really happy for the women that have had to be in this industry for that long and go through that. A lot of them felt like they had to be silent because it wasn’t the right time. I think now, especially with the power of social media, the time is right. It’s the right time and place to have this conversation. But it makes me sad to think about what they were going through before then. I also think that all movements take time, but I just couldn’t imagine coming up in the industry at that time and not having an outlet…. I mean, there were women that were completely blackballed probably that we will never know because of that situation. The fact that we can have something like the Golden Globes and sit up there and roast everybody for sexual harassment is really awesome. So I’m really proud of this.
Phoebe: I think what’s good is that men are now realizing that life is not a buffet where you just get to pick and choose whatever you want.
Jessica: It’s not Sizzler.
Phoebe: It’s not Sizz; it’s not Cici’s Pizza. [Laughs.]
Jessica: Where you can grab whatever salad you want or chicken nuggets.
Phoebe: Or whatever pie you want. So I think it’s good that men are starting to ask these questions. Men are now starting to think, I should be thinking before I act. I should be thinking before I say something. I think that that’s great that men are starting to finally look at [themselves]. I’m hoping that, going forward, men are going to keep looking at themselves the way that we as women look at ourselves, every day, analyzing every thought, every movement, our safety, not saying the wrong thing because we don’t want to be labeled difficult or bossy or mean, and all the pressure we face. Men are now starting to realize, “I need to check my behavior first.” I think that’s great.
Glamour: Lastly, I love how close of friends you are, which brings me to the fact that at a time when everyone says you have to support other women, no one tells you the specifics behind that notion. So how do you each support each other?
Phoebe: Whenever we both have a project coming out, we’ll post about it [for the other] on social media. When I wrote on Portlandia, Jessica sent me a nice bottle of champagne when I was in L.A. It was a really nice thing.
Jessica: Phoebe is very thoughtful about things too. She’s even sent my mother flowers!
Phoebe: I love sending flowers! It’s the best.
Jessica: Yeah, it’s like friendship romantic things that keep putting emotional deposits in the other person’s piggy bank. That’s something my mom taught me.
PHOTO: Mindy Tucker/HBO