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“Let me give you a tour.” Phoebe Robinson insists on showing me around before we settle into her Industry City, Brooklyn, office, home to her newly formed production company, Tiny Reparations. For nearly three years, the comedian was best known as one half of the chart-topping podcast turned HBO series 2 Dope Queens (opens in new tab), on which she professed her love for Billy Joel, “Jon Hamm sandwiches,” and Sex and the City. But today, a different side of Robinson is on display—a capital-B Boss, radiating with pride in what she’s built: a vibrant office for her team, decorated with mementos of her idols, like U2 (she’s been to 19 concerts and counting); her sometimes collaborators, like Michelle Obama (Robinson moderated five of the former first lady’s Becoming tour stops); and, well, herself. It’s hard to miss the two portraits of Robinson that reign over the space, one of her cheekily holding her thumb and index finger to her lips and another National Portrait Gallery–size depiction of her in Renaissance clothing. There’s no question who’s in charge here.
“Early on, when I’d do [stand-up at] the smaller little indie rooms, somebody would be like, ‘We don’t want to have back-to-back black people because that’s gonna make the show feel weird.’ Or ‘Oh, there’s too many women on the show.’ You hear that, and that can be irritating and defeating,” she says. “But then you just get to a place where you’re like, ‘I can only be the best version of me.’ Like, I can’t do Seinfeld. I can’t do Larry David. But I can do Phoebe Robinson. And I can figure out where my lane is and what I can focus on.”
Right now, that focus is her new Comedy Central show. The 35-year-old is executive-producing and starring in a 10-episode series, airing this summer, called Doing the Most With Phoebe Robinson, in which pop-culture luminaries teach her new skills. Think a ropes course with Kevin Bacon and a music-video shoot with Korean-American pop star Eric Nam. The show is produced by Tiny Reparations and Embassy Row. Robinson also secured a multiyear production deal between Tiny Reparations and ABC Studios last year.
“I think conversation has been lost a little bit as an art form, so I wanted to bring that back and do it in a way that’s fun,” explains Robinson. “I’m not trying to make anyone cry. Like, this isn’t Barbara Walters, you know what I mean? I always say I’m like a low-budget Oprah...Nordstrom Rack version.”
The show thrives on Robinson’s innate authenticity, goofiness, and ability to let her guard down. There’s no playing it cool when you’re trying to conquer your fear of heights with the whole world watching. That pressure has become an opportunity for Robinson to learn more about herself and what she wants to do with her platform. While she claims she doesn’t have “a lot of life experiences or skills,” here she is making an impact on an industry that doesn’t have a solid track record of welcoming black female comedians. Her company’s staff is currently made up entirely of people of color, and she plans to keep diversity a priority in her writers’ rooms.
“At certain points, you want to be like, ‘The industry needs to change in this way and that way.’ But when you’re in a position [to do so], it’s time to take action. It’s really cool to be able to say, ‘I’m not just saying the sound bites that make me sound cool. I’m actually living what I want to do.’” She adds, “[I want] to make everyone feel like they’re heard and that they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves.”
This isn’t actually Robinson’s first time calling the shots; she’s been making her mark on the comedy world solo for more than a decade, writing two books, the New York Times best-selling You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain (opens in new tab) (2016) and Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay (opens in new tab) (2018), and creating four seasons of her Sooo Many White Guys (opens in new tab) podcast. She recently wrapped an international stand-up tour, Sorry, Harriet Tubman.
“Stand-up is the weirdest job,” Robinson explains. “It’s just you being onstage by yourself. You’re like, ‘Everyone pay attention to me. I have something funny to say!’ And they’re like, ‘Okay, hoe.’”
As much as she’s found success through stand-up, she doesn’t plan to be onstage for decades. In addition to producing and hopefully directing, Robinson would love to write a romantic comedy (she thinks When Harry Met Sally is the best rom-com of all time) and get her own scripted show on the air. Eventually, she wants to create a show based on her office coordinator, Mai, as a love letter to her. Robinson’s only sort of kidding.
Yet, despite having so many goals she still wants to achieve, the comedian already possesses the rare feeling of having made it. “Certainly I want to master comedy and get even better and stronger, but if this is the peak, I’ve accomplished what I want to accomplish. I get to work with amazing people every single day, and I think that’s probably the most important thing,” she says. “I’m learning how to do things better and more efficiently, and that makes me excited. So, yeah, we have made it.”
Correction: The original version of this article stated that Robinson’s show is the first project to come out of a multiyear production deal between Tiny Reparations and ABC Studios. This is incorrect—the show is produced by Tiny Reparations and Embassy Row. We regret the error.
This article originally appears in the Summer 2020 issue of Marie Claire. The interview and shoot was conducted in late January, before COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic.
Photographer: Tyler Joe (opens in new tab) Fashion Editor: Ryan Young (opens in new tab) Hair: Sabrina Rowe for Oribe (opens in new tab) Makeup: Delina Medhin using Tom Ford (opens in new tab) Location: The Russian Tea Room (opens in new tab) Producer: Sameet Sharma
Rachel Epstein is an editor at Marie Claire, where she writes and edits culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also manages the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game, finding a new coffee shop, or analyzing your cousin's birth chart—in no particular order.
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