How 2 Dope Queens Jessica Williams & Phoebe Robinson Are Changing Comedy

They're a pair of Black women that describe attractive men as "hot peen" and encourage white folks to join them in using cocoa butter to battle their ashiness. And now, they're headlining an HBO comedy series.
In 2016, Broad City alum Phoebe Robinson and Daily Show veteran Jessica Williams joined forces to debut their podcast 2 Dope Queens. After two seasons and dozens of live Brooklyn tapings of the friends riffing on everything from work to love to life's daily annoyances — also featuring a tribe of Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ stand-up comedians — HBO tapped the duo to turn their hilarious show into a four-night special.
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The late-night series will feature special guests like Williams' former Daily Show colleague Jon Stewart, as well as The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Tituss Burgess, Orange Is The New Black's Uzo Aduba, and fellow HBO'er Sarah Jessica Parker for a hair-themed episode. (For that one, Robinson and Williams brought out breakfast for themselves and the audience so that everyone could have the pleasure of saying they'd brunched with SJP herself.)
But despite the big names, fans of the original 2DQ need not worry about the show straying too far from its roots. "The HBO special will be the same old us," Williams says. "We just got, like, a major hair and makeup budget. Hair and makeup makes everything fucking awesome!"
Read more from our chat with the headliners below.
2 Dope Queens is known not just for being one of iTunes' most popular podcasts, but also one of the most inclusive. How did it become an HBO special?
Phoebe Robinson: "You know, it was because every night we were crushing, just body surfing out the building after our tapings! No, I'm just kidding. We met in July 2014 and really hit it off, and then we started the podcast in 2016, and we just kept going. We had a string of really good shows featuring some really awesome comics, so I was like, 'Jessica, I think this is a TV show!' We wanted more people to know about 2 Dope Queens. And she totally agreed with me, so we circled it to everyone on our teams and decided to pitch it to HBO. At first we tried to add all these extra elements to jazz it up, because we thought what we had on the podcast wasn't enough for television. But in the end HBO didn't want us to change a thing because we had already honed our voices over the years. So it's really great."
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Why do you think 2 Dope Queens resonates with so many people?
Jessica Williams: "Some of the best compliments we get is when a woman on the street is like, '2 Dope Queens is just like me when I'm with my friends!' That's dream feedback. We try to make sure we enjoy each other — like, sometimes Phoebe will call me to tell me something that happened to her and I'm like, 'No! Save it for the show!' so we have those real reactions and energy on stage. I think people respond to that honesty and authenticity, and the fact that we always bring on celebrity guests and comics who are people of color or members of the LGBTQ+ community. We're including everyone."
PR: "There's an audience of people who sound like Jessica and I and look like Jessica and I, people who truly enjoy fun comedy and funny banter between two Black women. And that's not always shown in media. You often see Black women portrayed on TV as working hard; women who are tough and serious, but just like Issa Rae is also showing the world, there are Black women who are dorky, and silly, and goofy, who fall in love and have all of these complicated layers. All people are fully dimensional. So even if you don't look or sound like us, you've also experienced crappy customer service or a really bad date, so you can relate."

"If this was maybe 30 years ago, it would just be Issa Rae, and networks would have to say 'Sorry, Phoebe and Jessica, we already have Issa, so we don't need you.' But now there’s enough room at the table for everyone."

—Phoebe Robinson
It seems like Black women are finally having a moment in popular culture right now. Do you feel like 2 Dope Queens is a part of that?
PR: "I don't want be like 'I feel like we're changing the tide!' But I do have to acknowledge that this is one of the first-ever podcasts that has made its way to TV in a comedy space, and headed by two Black women at that, so I have to recognize that we are part of the conversation now. I think it’s just cool that there are so many different kinds of Black women who are able to have the spotlight now. If this was maybe 30 years ago, it would just be Issa Rae, and networks would have to say 'Sorry, Phoebe and Jessica, we already have Issa, so we don't need you.' But now there’s enough room at the table for everyone."
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JW: "We are absolutely part of this moment, simply because we are Black women. We try to make sure we bring that personal magic to everything we do, whether its 2 Dope Queens or my new Showtime comedy series that I'm working on. I think adding to the Black girl magic out there is inherent, because that is us. So hopefully no matter what we do, we are bringing that wherever we go because of who we are."
We're talking a lot about #MeToo and Time's Up in the entertainment industry right now. Is sexual harassment or abuse of power something you've witnessed firsthand in the comedy space?
PR: "Yes, and it's in every sort of work environment. But yes, we've seen certain people I won't mention in comedy who are now dealing with their own bad behavior coming to light. I think what's good now is that people are no longer afraid to call that behavior out. I think for the most part, people were scared of losing their jobs. But now men know if you misbehave, you will lose your job. Every industry is realizing it can't just be a bunch of guys protecting each other; that's not gonna fly anymore. And now we have women in charge. Abbi [Jacobson] and Ilana [Glazer] are at the head of Broad City, Issa Rae is running Insecure, Mindy Kaling was doing The Mindy Project. There are more women in positions of power who can set the tone. Even Jessica and I producing this special lets everyone know that there are new sheriffs in town, and everyone's gonna be respectful. If not, you’re not gonna work here."
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Photo: Mindy Tucker/HBO.
The solution everyone keeps offering to getting more women in the entertainment industry seems to be a vague "let's hire more women." But how do we do that?
JW: "We created these specials and produced them with Amy Aniobi, who's a writer on Insecure, as our head writer, and the comedy legend Tig Notaro as director. We had to actively try to make sure that we had really awesome strong powerful women and members of the LGBTQ+ community involved in making these specials. Not to say 'Oh, we’re the best and doing it correctly,' but I do think we've shown by example that a lot of it is purposefully fostering positive and inclusive work environments. And even just on the podcast, every single episode had to feature a queer person or person of color as a guest. We wanted to show that we're not all minorities anymore; we can be the stars in our own narratives."
PR: "I think people need to stop being lazy. Theres no other way to put it. And stop thinking about hiring a person of color or queer person as a favor or act of charity. There are so many worthy and talented people out there, so anyone in a position of power needs to re-imagine their cookie cutter format or mold and re-examine who they think is 'worthy' to begin with."
What's next for both of you?
JW: "Well, we're rolling these episodes out. And I just wrapped up working on the Fantastic Beasts sequel, and I'm going to shoot a movie I'm excited about in four months. I'm also executive producing my own show on Showtime, which I'm so excited about. Other than that I really want to learn the electric guitar. So yeah, I'm working, still playing the Sims video game, and living my best life."
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PR: "The podcast is on hiatus for now because we’re both so busy! I'm trying to finish my second book Everything's Trash But It's Okay which comes out in October. And then I have a movie on Netflix called Ibiza that's coming out in May with Gillian Jacobs and Vanessa Bayer. And I may do a book slash standup tour? Who knows! We're both very busy. But would we love to do more HBO specials? Absolutely. If they’re game, we're super game."
What is the impact you hope 2 Dope Queens will have, five or 10 years from now?JW: "I hope people will say 'Oh wow, I wasn't even a big stand-up fan but that show introduced me to super funny comedians like Michelle Buteau and Naomi Ekperigin.' And hopefully those people will want to watch our episodes over and over again. With a glass of rosé and their fancy cocoa butter on their feet, propped up, relaxing and enjoying this world we worked really hard to build."
2 Dope Queens debuts on HBO Friday, February 2 at 11:30 p.m., with the following three episodes airing on February 9, February 16, and February 23.
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