Arts

Banter comes naturally to the besties of ‘2 Dope Queens’

Jessica Williams (left) and Phoebe Robinson
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Jessica Williams (left) and Phoebe Robinson

Everybody has that one friend who knows exactly what clothes look perfect on her, who she should (and shouldn’t) date and which A-list celebrities she’d become besties with if they ever got the chance to hang out.

Comedians Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson are not only that friend to each other, they’re also longtime collaborators who have turned their repartee into a hit podcast, “2 Dope Queens.”

The show, which is recorded live at the Bell House in Brooklyn, has gained a following for Williams and Robinson’s riffs on popular culture and their daily adventures, and for emphasizing female and LGBT comedians as well as performers of color.

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Now Williams (an alumna of “The Daily Show”) and Robinson (who has written for “Portlandia” and acted on “Search Party”) are taking “2 Dope Queens” to the next level: a four-episode HBO series, which made its debut this month and features their banter on the stage of the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, with help from their stand-up comedy pals and celebrity guests such as Jon Stewart and Sarah Jessica Parker.

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In a recent interview, the duo spoke about some starry-eyed encounters with their cultural heroes and how the #MeToo movement has affected comedy.

Q. How did the two of you meet and start working together?

Robinson: I was doing background work for a “Daily Show” piece she was doing on black women’s hair, which is very apropos for us.

Williams: It’s our brand. I had known about her because I came up at UCB (Theatre) LA and she came up at UCB New York. My birthday was coming up, and she was like, “What’s something you’ve always wanted to do?” I was like, “Well, I’ve always wanted to try stand-up.” She invited me to co-host her live show, and we just had a ton of fun. We were like, “Whoa.”

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Robinson: It was like a great first date. I changed my status to “It’s complicated.”

Q. Given all the time you spend together, how do you keep things spontaneous for your shows?

Williams: We’re always trying to surprise each other. Sometimes we save stories about ourselves for when we’re doing a show.

Robinson: We recorded a podcast where we both, within the same week, had racist experiences with cab drivers in New York. We were like, “Let’s save this for the stage.” Sometimes it syncs up, like periods. When she met J.K. Rowling, she told me a little bit, but she was like, “I want to save it for when I do the podcast.”

Q. How was it to meet J.K. Rowling?

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Williams: I wanted to be cute but chic. I wanted to imply that I was a wizard, so I wore this little two-piece. It was wild and hilarious. But also, she [Phoebe] met Bono.

Robinson: We did a show at Bonnaroo and U2 was headlining. The night before, we got invited to this charity dinner, and they were like, “Bono might be there.” So I’m like, “I’m going to dress like a tasteful ho.” I’m not trying to break up a marriage, but I do want a second glance. He didn’t attend, but we met some other people who were like, “They’re doing a sound check tonight. Do you guys want to come?” I immediately started crying.

Williams: We were going to see “Wonder Woman.” I had definitely already bought the tickets. It was immediately like, “Oh, cool, our date is canceled.”

Robinson: I’ve got to go see this dude. It was unfeminist. [Shows off a photo of Bono embracing her.]

Q. How did you pitch this series to HBO?

Robinson: First of all, we were like, “We’re going to be greedy and ask for four specials. And also during Black History Month.”

Williams: Also, we’d like a hair budget.

Robinson: We were like, “Maybe we’ll change this and add all this stuff to it,” and HBO was like, “Can you guys just do what you do in the podcast?” They liked our banter back and forth and the fact that we have female comedians, people of color, queer comedians on.

Q. Since you focus on performers who are underrepresented in comedy, did you feel more pressure about whom you chose to be in these specials?

Robinson: We just wanted to make sure it was a grab bag. I feel like we had 12 stand-ups on and no one’s set sounds like anyone else’s. Everyone has a very distinct point of view, and that was ultimately the most important thing for us.

Williams: We’re funny, but for every couple of black ladies that are funny, there are a million other black ladies that are also very funny. So it’s cool to be like, “Hey, homies, come hang out.” More like that than, “Come on, we’re going to give you a shot, kid.”

Q. A lot of sexual misconduct by prominent male comedians and other entertainers has been exposed in recent months. How has that affected you and your colleagues?

Robinson: I’ve experienced harassment. I’ve had male comedians be very inappropriate. And when people are revealed to be what’s been rumored, but they’ve been protected for so long, it is good to see that person extracted out. There’s so many careers that didn’t happen because women are like, “I can’t deal with this harassment. I’m going to leave this industry.” What’s happening right now — dismantling these icons we’ve built up — is really good, especially when it’s men who are fighting really hard to be feminists, but they’re secretly doing very inappropriate behavior. That’s distracting to the actual feminist movement.

Q. How do we make sure the gains of the #MeToo movement are preserved?

Robinson: What’s important is to have more women creators behind the scenes, being producers and being in charge. That will ultimately help push this boys’ club, locker-room mentality out the door. You’re not going to be protected, so you have to act appropriately.

Q. When your celebrity guests are brought out on “2 Dope Queens,” you seem as excited as your audience. Were you especially thrilled to meet Sarah Jessica Parker?

Williams: We’re geeking out just as much as everybody else. If somebody walks out that you genuinely love like that, and you’re not excited, you’re doing it wrong.

Robinson: I’m still wearing her perfume. I’m trying to get her to be our friend. We’ve got to wear her perfume, buy her shoes.

Williams: Get the cookies from Costco that she likes.

Robinson: I can’t believe she shops at Costco. Was that a lie?

Williams: She would never lie to us.

Interview has been edited and condensed.