How do you top a surprise interview with ex FLOTUS Michelle Obama? Well, for starters, you could release a second season of your televised podcast on HBO. At least that’s how Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams bid a royal farewell to 2 Dope Queens.
When 2 Dope Queens began as a WNYC podcast in 2015, the two comedians covered race, sexuality, politics, and gender with such levity and wit that they seemed like old pros, but Robinson revealed that she and Williams developed producing skills by “learning on the fly.”
A few years later, the comedians taped a four-part special for HBO, filmed live at Brooklyn’s Kings Theater, which proved to be a big enough hit to bring it back for another round in 2019. This time, the comedians punched up the set design, advancing from a Brooklyn rooftop set to a sleek and chic space that looks quite futuristic onscreen. And since they couldn’t fit everything they wanted into those first four episodes—which were focused on themes such as “hair” or “black nerds”—they used their second season to address even more concepts that they had always wanted to cover on the show, premiering February 8.
“When we got to HBO we sort of understood what it takes to be a producer,” Robinson said at the season 2 live taping in December. “We had to make sure we were leaving our stamp on the product. We each have strengths and weaknesses and I think we really are able to use that to our advantage,” she continued.
Listeners fell in love with 2 Dope Queens for the hosts’ riotous commentary on relationships, micro-aggressions in the workplace, being black women who often wear different hair styles, binge watching Game of Thrones, and for the ease with which Williams and Robinson could get celebrity guests like Jon Hamm or Gabrielle Union to open up in interviews. It was a feel-good podcast that wasn’t afraid to touch on sensitive topics, but ultimately—crucially—it made people laugh.
“I didn’t think I was going to be doing comedy, I thought I was going to write serious drama, movies,” Robinson confessed. “I like that my job is a job where I get to make people feel better or distracted from the really tough shit that’s going on in their lives. I see a lot of people trying to use whatever their skill sets are towards something good and positive in the world and that makes me feel like everything is going to be okay,” she continued.
There are probably too many comedy podcasts out there in the pod-sphere, but it is still rare and refreshing to see two black women hosting a show where they can talk freely about their nerdy interests—whether that was Robinson’s love of U2 or Williams’s identification with Daria—and that’s what made 2 Dope Queens such a gem. The hosts both know that because of the waves they made in podcasting, there will be similar attempts in the future from young comedians who look up to them. “My advice would be to find people that really make you laugh and inspire you, and to work with them,” Williams declared. “Even as a person of color, if you don’t see people that look like you in the space you’re trying to be in, that’s okay, and it doesn’t mean you’re not valid or doing the right thing,” she said.
As tough of a pill to swallow as it may be, especially for the show’s super-fans, all good things must come to an end, and the two hosts knew that with their burgeoning careers, they would no longer be able to make a show as “dope” as it should be if they were each busy with book tours and film festivals. “We just don’t like to half-ass anything,” Robinson said on the phone. “If we’re not going to be able to deliver amazing quality episodes that our fans deserve and expect, then we don’t wanna half-ass it. That’s a great champagne problem to have,” she continued before clarifying, “It does suck, but I’d rather go out on top than dragging it. I think we made the right decision to honor what we made.”
Williams echoed that sentiment. “Both of our careers are really taking off,” she said, referring to her turn in Jordan Peele‘s upcoming Twilight Zone reboot series, and her role in the horror-comedy Corporate Animals, which recently premiered at Sundance Film Festival. “It makes sense to end it right now,” she went on.
And for anyone questioning the authenticity of their relationship, Robinson confirms that she and Williams are just being themselves whenever they take the stage. “That’s something people really like about 2 Dope Queens: it doesn’t feel like Jess and I are pretending to be our personalities, it feels like we are who we are. We’re being silly, goofy, and vulnerable, and that’s honest,” she went on.
Before 2 Dope Queens went to HBO, the podcast was taped biweekly in front of a live audience in Brooklyn, which Williams admitted made the creative process exhausting. “I think I learned about resilience and doing things even when you are tired,” Williams admitted. “We were doing the show every other week, and that would be no matter if I had a job somewhere else, I’d have to come back for the show,” she said. “So I think I learned to really commit to doing things and making it work and being part of a team,” she went on.
For each episode of the HBO series, the comedians worked together to choose the themes first—with topics ranging from “music” to “fashion” this season—then found the right guests to match. “We managed to do an entire music episode without violating any music copyright laws, which, to me, is really impressive because I love to break out into song,” Williams laughed.
Guests like Janet Mock, Lupita Nyong’o (who was “competitive in a way that I really liked because I’m super competitive,” according to Williams), and Keegan-Michael Key sat down for interviews with the hosts and played games on-camera. Both comedians expressed gratitude for being able to book the stars on the show. There was also the bonus excitement of Daniel Radcliffe appearing on the “Nostalgia” episode, an especially thrilling experience for a self-proclaimed Harry Potter nerd like Williams (who has been so public about her fandom that it landed her a role in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald). Williams, who had only met Radcliffe in passing before interviewing him on the show, lit up with excitement at the prospect of completing a friendship compatibility test with one of her idols. “I don’t know how I managed to keep my cool,” the actress admitted with a laugh. “He has a very chill presence, and was really down to be there,” she went on. “It made for really great, touching, awesome TV to have him on the show. We’re such fans of his work,” Robinson echoed.
As for other guests that the comedians have interviewed, either on the podcast or on the televised series, Robinson revealed that the biggest surprise guest for her was LeVar Burton. “I was like, ‘Wait, what? You’re a freaking legend! Roots, Reading Rainbow, Star Trek. You listen to our silly ass podcast?’ That was really cool,” she said, before launching into an anecdote about the “pinch me” moment of working with the cast of Girls Trip for a recorded episode of the show. “Tiffany [Haddish] couldn’t do it because she was shooting The Last O.G. that night, but to have them on—Jada, Regina, and Queen, or La, as I like to call her—having them on was such a cool Black Girl Magic moment. Jess and I watched so much of their work growing up,” Robinson said.
As for the comedians’ surprise series finale interview in Washington, D.C. with Obama, Williams insisted that the former First Lady had a “what you see is what you get” attitude. “I was very taken with how chill she was! She’s so grounded and lovely and sweet,” she said. “I’m sure she’s been through so much privately that we wouldn’t even begin to know, but she really, truly was just down to earth. I felt like I was talking to, I don’t know, like a relative of mine, like an auntie. She’s unbelievable.”
In the same way that Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer will go their separate ways (but not totally “break up”) when Broad City comes to an end this spring, Robinson and Williams will face the task of successfully transitioning from comedic duo known for one particular body of work to individuals with their own voices. “We would want our next thing together to not be so tied to what 2 Dope Queens is, but the door is always open to do anything cool as long as it’s an idea we’re both in love with,” Robinson remarked, and Williams added that she would want to see the audience reception to their farewell episodes first. Count us in.