Black comediennes have a special place in my heart. From Whoopi Goldberg and Mo’Nique to Tiffany Haddish and every other melanin-heavy sista onstage, there’s incredible depth and a tooth-and-nail fight in how they got to where they are. It’s inspiring, to say the least.
So when the opportunity came to speak with 2 Dope Queens’ Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, I jumped at it. These two women discovered they had a comedic chemistry that has afforded them a popular podcast, which, in turn, landed them an HBO deal. If that’s not the stuff dreams are made of, I don’t know what is!
I chatted with each queen separately, and when I talked to Robinson, I told her my rich-woman fantasy of having a chef make all my meals delicious but without calories. She gushed over one of her rich-lady fantasies (Robinson’s not rich, but she is debt-free) coming true: having a stylist to dress her in all the fabulous clothes she likely would never have put herself in. On her meeting Oprah when she and Williams open for “Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations” at the Apollo on Feb. 7, Robinson said, “This moment will make me pregnant and also kill me.”
And Williams? That queen had me almost in tears as she told me that she’s a fan of mine! What!? “You crack me up on Instagram,” she explained.
When you’re a fan of both of theirs, it’s surreal to have them know you and appreciate the work you do. Williams and Robinson are amid their personal glow ups. The comedic duo have four (count them) HBO specials launching Feb. 2 at 11:30 p.m. EST, and it’s all because they decided one day to get onstage together and do comedy four years ago.
Are you feeling inspired to get up, get out and get your dream in real life yet? I know I am. Check out my chat with two of the dopest queens on your screens.
The Root: When was the first time you knew you’d struck comedy gold with one another?
Phoebe Robinson: I used to run this show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade called Blaria, for Black Daria, and she co-hosted it one time with me as a goof because she told me she wanted to do stand-up, and I was like, “This could be a fun thing you do on your birthday.”
We were onstage, and we were having so much fun. It just felt like we were like at brunch, two extra cast members in Waiting to Exhale. We were both like, “This feels special. Let’s do this show again.” We didn’t realize how great our chemistry was.
I was all about podcasts, and I was like, “I think this could be a podcast.” Just be like super low-budget, record ourselves and put it in iTunes. Jessica, rightfully so, said no. So we kept doing it and eventually met with WNYC, and they got what we were doing. We wanted to amplify voices that didn’t sound like an Ira Glass. Once WNYC got on board, it’s been a whirlwind, even though it’s been a few years.
We met in July 2014, so to come to this point now where we have four HBO specials out, it feels crazy and fast, but we put a lot of work into this. It feels earned.
Jessica Williams: It just felt like a really good date. We were at UCB East and that show was great, and we were like, “Well, that was great! We should do it again.”
So we just kept doing it, and then after that, we moved to a bigger venue, and then we moved to an even bigger venue, which is the Bell House, which is where we put our last shows. Then we moved from there to the Kings Theater. That’s a 3,000-seat venue, and we did four shows there!
It has been amazing to see how much things have changed. To go to HBO and not only get one special, but four, it’s really wonderful, and I think it’s a sign. It’s kind of a sign of how people have responded to us, which is great.
TR: What’s your favorite thing that Jessica/Phoebe has done in comedy?
PR: Her The Daily Show piece she did about Beyoncé at the Super Bowl. It was cute and fun. When people were shocked that Beyoncé would care about political issues, I was like, “She’s black; of course she cares.” Jessica was like, “Hello! She’s always been black. Just because you dance around to ‘Single Ladies,’ don’t forget she’s involved in the black community.” It was refreshing to see a black person say that. I think there’s something powerful about a black woman commenting on black female issues.
JW: So much! She’s such a great stand-up. We’re always trying to surprise each other onstage. I love when she abbreviates words and it doesn’t fly. I love when she drags me for something, and I love dragging her. I love when we give each other shit.
TR: Congrats on the HBO deal. You got money! What’s the biggest purchase that you’ve made so far?
JW: My first big purchase was a Clare V. bag. I got two at once. It is my favorite bag. They are definitely expensive. All of it is extravagant. It’s a really nice purse.
PR: I have three things, though, because the three different categories. The first thing I did last year, I paid off all of my student loan debt. Yeah. That was huge. I was like, “Before you have fun, you need to get your finances in order.” So I got rid of all my debt. I have no debt.
I’m very happy because my goal was to be debt-free by 35, and I’m 33, so I’m like, “OK, I’ve made my finances a priority.” And, then, the second thing, my boyfriend’s British. He wanted to take me to London for my birthday for the weekend, and there’s this YSL bag that I saw that I saved up for all year, but it felt extravagant to buy a purse. I kept going back and forth with it.
My friend Michele Buteau said: “You just paid off for your debt. I think it’s OK to treat yourself to one thing. As long this is, like, one thing and not 10.” So I got the YSL bag and I use it every day.
And the third thing is, I’m in the process of buying an apartment. So I’m like, I got to be smart; real estate is where you invest your money. So I’m like an Oprah in training. I’m trying to buy my first apartment, and in New York, your money does not go far, OK!
TR: How does it feel watching your actual dreams come true?
JW: I didn’t have a backup plan. When I was young, I set out to do comedy and be an actress. I didn’t question it or think about, “Oh, what do people think about black women in comedy?” I never would have imagined having [been] on The Daily Show; that I’d do my own movie, The Incredible Jessica James; that I’d start a podcast; that I’d have four specials with HBO and now doing my show at Showtime. It really is just a dream come true.
I couldn’t have dreamed that it would be as wonderful as it is now. I feel very blessed. The hardest thing I had to do today was write for my own show and sit on my couch and be interviewed by someone who I’m a fan of ... you!
TR: You’ve had some moments with Oprah. What does that feel like to you?
PR: The backstory on this, I have, air quote, met her twice. She read my first book, which I was like, “LOL!” When my agent called me, I was like, “Hilarious that’s she’s reading my book.” It doesn’t make any sense! I say that word “penis” a lot in this book, and Oprah’s going to read the word “penis.” Turned out, she really loved the book. She called me and left a voicemail, and then we got to chat about the book.
It was really cool of her to be like, “I really like your work. You’re so talented and so funny and a great voice to have out in comedy and publishing.” Is this my life?
Getting that moment to chat with her, she is so kind and gracious. She didn’t have to read the book. She wants to be a part of the conversation and wants to pay attention to the content that’s out there.
TR: We’re in a climate where women are speaking out with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Because you both are dope queens, why do you think women need to be reminded of that right now?
PR: The patriarchal structure has been basically beating and abusing and shoving, kicking women truly since the beginning of time, and so I think what’s great right now is that women are finding and believing in their power. With each generation, we’re having [the] self-confidence to know that we can stand up for ourselves, and it’s not being selfish. Protecting yourself is not selfish; protecting yourself is not hating men. Protecting yourself is a matter of your own survival.
And I think with #TimesUp and #MeToo, it’s really women in a very extremely public way going, “This kind of behavior that’s been going on for centuries is acceptable no longer.” And I am really inspired by that because I have a 4-year-old niece and I think that life is going to be drastically different for her than it was for my mom. Women are feeling empowered to own their pain and move past it and survive it and still be whole, have joy and still enjoy life and ... feel like whatever bad thing happened doesn’t have to define you.
JW: It’s just who we are. Oftentimes as a black woman, what you do ends up being a political statement because of who we are. What we always wanted to do was be the star of our own narrative and create platforms for other people that we love, who are incredibly funny, to be the stars of their own narratives. The best feedback I get are women on the street who say we remind them of their best friends. The truth is universal, and people try to make it seem that if black women do something, it’s just for black women.
TR: Do you feel you have a responsibility to black women to represent us properly?
JW: It’s a responsibility that I take on willingly. I think a part of becoming successful is stopping, looking around and saying, “Who can I pull up with me?” That’s what we should do as people of color. That’s what white male allies can do, too.