"It feels like the future of comedy and entertainment": The magic of "2 Dope Queens"

Salon talks to Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, the 2 Dope Queens, about their inclusive HBO comedy specials

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published January 31, 2018 6:59PM (EST)

Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson in "2 Dope Queens" (HBO/Mindy Tucker)
Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson in "2 Dope Queens" (HBO/Mindy Tucker)

Every moment with Jessica Willliams and Phoebe Robinson, better known as the 2 Dope Queens, feels like hanging out with your closest friends. The mark of any successful performer is their ability to make people feel an intimate familiarity with them, of course, but the Queens take it to another level.

“It's cool to be noticed in the airport when I have slight B.O. flying home to Cleveland and I’m like, ‘My apologies,” Robinson remarked, out of nowhere.

“’Slight’ is so specific,” Williams replied, leading Robinson to explain, “I’m a sweat-er. I sweat a lot.”

Williams refused to let it go. “I feel blessed,” she said. “I honestly feel blessed not to sweat. I am. It's just not an issue. Also, it's my one thing that I feel like I can brag about where it's like, ‘I don't sweat that much. Aso, I have big nail beds. And so that's it. Anyway. Please continue.”

This is how the 2 Dope Queens kicked off a recent interview with Salon.

We share this because we care, but also to demonstrate the convivial warm chemistry that makes Williams and Robinson’s dynamic appeal to millions podcast listeners. Because it only takes a few moments with the pair to suss out what it is that makes them so dope: Not only are Williams and Robinson quick-witted comedians, they also love to warmly affirm the best traits of their guests and, by proxy, their audience.

“I just love when our fans are like I feel like you guys are my best friends and I feel like when I'm with you guys I feel like I'm hanging out with my girlfriends,” Williams explained.  And it's like hell yeah, that's like one of the reasons why we started to do this podcast and it really is one of the best things ever to get recognized for that specifically.”

On Friday at 11:30 p.m., Williams and Robinson bring the magic of “2 Dope Queens” to HBO, which has granted them four comedy specials directed by Tig Notaro. And if the specials surface memories of “Def Comedy Jam” or “Queens of Comedy,” that’s intentional.

“We wanted this show to be something that highlights women, queer people, people of color, and have that be a celebration because those voices aren't represented enough in the comedy landscape,” Robinson said.

Part stand-up showcase and part talk show, each episode “2 Dope Queens” takes place on a stage designed to resemble the borough’s coolest rooftop hangout.  Individual hours are built around specific themes, with the Queens taking on “New York” in week one, followed by “Hair,” “Hot Peen” and “Black Nerds,” but Williams’ and Robinson’s shared gift of riffing gives each episode a freewheeling comedy that infects everyone involved.

And what would a New York rooftop party be without a few extraordinary guests? Williams’ former boss at “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart, pops in for the opening installment. “Divorce” star Sarah Jessica Parker drops by in week two, with Tituss Burgess and Uzo Aduba swinging by for the subsequent outings.

Celebrity cameos are by no means a new addition to “2 Dope Queens”; the podcast has featured the likes of Kevin Bacon (with whom Robinson appeared in the Amazon series “I Love Dick”), LeVar Burton, Marc Maron, Vanessa Bayer and Jon Hamm.

Even so, Robinson admitted that neither she or Williams had any idea that the podcast they launched in 2016 would transform into an HBO special so quickly. “But I think that us having a show, and Issa Rae having ‘Insecure,’ and [Donald Glover] having ‘Atlanta,’ and Mindy Kaling not only having her own show but now producing other shows, it really feels like there is a shift where the landscape is starting to become more diverse. I think that is the greatest thing.”

The “2 Dope Queens” specials are the latest example of Williams’ and Robinsons’ growing fame. Not long from now, in fact, people may think of these four hours as something of a countdown to launch: Williams’s and Robinson’s careers are on the verge of taking off in a very big way.

Beyond her work as a former senior correspondent on “The Daily Show,” the half-hour’s youngest ever, Williams starred in “The Incredible Jessica James” and is set to appear in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” She’s also set to produce and star in her own Showtime pilot.

Robinson also has a Netflix movie due out this year, “Ibiza,” in which she co-stars with Vanessa Bayer and Gillian Jacobs and is developing her best-selling “You Can't Touch My Hair (And Other Things I Still Have to Explain)” into a TV project.

Aside from “2 Dope Queens,” Robinson also toplines another podcast, “Sooo Many White Guys,” which she co-produces with “Broad City” star Ilana Glazer, which launched in 2016.

The stars’ “2 Dope Queens” relationship actually started 2015, when they met at one of Robinson’s stand-up shows.

Out of that emerged a live comedy show named after Robinson’s blog “Blaria LIVE!” which evolved into their current brand while maintaining the duo’s original objective to showcase up-and-coming performers from underrepresented demographics, specific LGBTQ comedians and people of color. And their live stage format blossomed into a podcast hit, with 48 episodes “2 Dope Queens” preceding their HBO specials, recorded in October and November at Brooklyn's Kings Theatre.

Robinson said the difference between what they do on “2 Dope Queens” and other interview shows is that the conversations featured don’t feel like celebrities promoting projects. “Someone like Sarah Jessica Parker who's been interviewed millions of times, I think she really enjoyed that we made it not feel like a ‘stuff’ situation,” she said.  We just taught her about black hair. I don't think she's ever been in a situation where someone was like, "What do you know about black hair?" And she's like, ‘I don't know that much but I would love to learn.’”

That, she said, makes the cameo component of “2 Dope Queens”  and “organic companion piece to the stand up comics who come on and they are just killing it joke after joke. All these different things check all the boxes on a variety show comedy special."

Combining that experience with the specials’ filming in the Kings Theatre, Willliams added, made it feel like they finally arrived. “That's such a big part of our show that we tape it in Brooklyn because that's where we both live. It was just really nice to be home.”

Especially at this moment in time. Citing the presales success of “Black Panther” and the outstanding box-office of the 2017 summer blockbuster “Girls Trip,” Robinson said, “it's kind of forcing people to be like you can't ignore us any longer. You can't turn away.”

“And even when you look at our audience that we've built together it's such a mixed bag,” Williams added “We have beautiful cocoa Khaleesis, we have white guys, we have Latinas, we have members of the LGBTQ community. It's so awesome when we walk out onstage and we get to see all walks of life reflected back at us. It feels like the future of comedy and entertainment. The future looks bright.”

“A new day is on the horizon, as Oprah says,” Robinson declared, tossing in, “My best friend Oprah. Sorry, Gayle. I'm actually her best friend.”

“You should fact check that and make sure,” Williams added.

“Never been to Oprah's house,” Robinson continued, “but we are best friends.”*

Williams concludes, “I love that the footnote of this article is going to be like Oprah's team did not confirm this comment.”

Who knows? As these ladies have proven, a lot can change in a year or two.

*However, at present, Oprah’s team did not confirm this comment.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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