Soon after celebrity guest Sarah Jessica Parker takes the stage on the second episode of the new HBO comedy series, 2 Dope Queens, she kisses the foot of host Phoebe Robinson. Robinson’s eyes bug out; she runs around in an exuberant circle as a studio audience screams and cheers, trying to absorb the surreality of the moment—Carrie Bradshaw just kissed her foot!—while co-host Jessica Williams points at the anointed appendage and repeatedly yells, “Oh my gosh. Oh. My. Gosh!” It’s the kind of freewheeling scene that sums up the nature of 2 Dope Queens: exuberant, off the cuff, and deeply entertaining.
“It was literally so iconic,” Williams says, remembering her triumph in an interview.
Robinson takes things even further: “It was great because before that taping, my boyfriend—who I call British Bake Off, because he’s British and we watch the show together—he actually lotioned my foot,” she adds. “This is just like”—she pauses, searching for the right words—“white people worshiping my feet right now? This is the new America, and I love it.”
2 Dope Queens is a serialized version of Williams and Robinson’s popular WNYC podcast of the same name produced. Its four hour-long episodes, taped over the course of three days last October at the gilded Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, feature special guests such as Parker, Tituss Burgess,Uzo Aduba, and Jon Stewart. The formula is exactly the same as it is in the podcast: Robinson and Williams riff on a handful of topics (U2, haircare, subway horror stories, the sexual allure of Nicolas Cage) before a live audience. They introduce two or three stand-up comedians; then they banter a bit more and end the show by tucking into a bottle of rosé, their zeitgeist-y nightcap of choice.
At this point, the operation runs like a well-oiled machine—or rather, a “cocoa butter-moisturized machine,” Williams says. “When we first went in to our meeting with HBO, we were like ‘O.K., what do you want us to do? How do we zhush this up this up?’” (The pair are also executive producers of the series.) “HBO was great. They were like, ‘Nothing—we just want you guys to do the podcast.’”
HBO’s faith in Williams and Robinson speaks to the network’s latest strategy: paying allegiance to the fresh voices conquering the Internet. Shows like Insecure, a comedy created by Web series hitmaker Issa Rae, and High Maintenance, a glossy adapted version of the weed-centric Web series, serve as testaments to what this tactic can yield; using podcasts as TV fodder hasn’t been quite as common in the industry as mining YouTube, but 2 Dope Queens lends itself perfectly to the visual realm. Not only are Williams and Robinson seasoned performers with years of TV experience under their belts—Williams is a former Daily Show correspondent (the show’s youngest ever), while Robinson has guested on comedies like Search Party and Broad City—but they also have their fingers on the pulse of the comedy scene, presenting a fresh mix of established performers and up-and-comers on the audio version of 2 Dope Queens. It’s one of the reasons the show was an immediate hit on iTunes–and joining forces with HBO amplifies the podcast’s mission on a bigger, more expensive scale.
The show’s spectacular set looks like a hip New York rooftop. The duo have upgraded their hair and wardrobes for the occasion; Robinson joked that prepping for the show is the closest she’ll ever get to a musician trying on different outfits for a music video, or Tracee Ellis Ross—“minus, like, the D.N.A. And also, like, her wealth. And also, like, her résumé.” In the Sarah Jessica Parker episode, Robinson has her “high-fashion” moment, wearing a pair of bright, high-waisted pink pants. “I love those pants so much I wanna be buried in them,” she says.
The duo first bonded years ago, when Robinson was featured in a sketch on The Daily Show. Their joint podcast was born out of their natural chemistry, officially launching on WNYC in early 2016 and quickly becoming a must-listen, propelling the duo to greater fame. (Williams has since landed a role in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and Robinson has authored a best-selling book.) The show highlights Robinson and Williams’s kinetic synergy, and also serves as a much-needed platform for comedians from a variety of backgrounds. Appearances from straight white guys are rare.
“I think that a lot of times, people forget that people of color and women and queer people have complexities and have the dimensions that we often see represented in the media by white guys,” Robinson says. “Now you can’t say that you don’t know that, because we showed it to you.”
Jon Stewart, Williams’s erstwhile Daily Show boss, is an exception. He appears in the debut episode of the HBO offshoot, bringing with him all his curmudgeonly charm. His guest spot marked the first time Williams had seen her old friend in person since he recorded a birthday episode of the 2 Dope Queens podcast in 2016.
“It meant a lot to me that he was willing to come back—and drive down to Brooklyn,” she says, “and come take part in something I created.”
His presence had a papal quality, Robinson jokes, like he was anointing them into the HBO family. (In 2015, Stewart signed an overall deal with HBO; in the summer of 2017, the network announced that he was working on a new stand-up special, though further details are still scarce.)
Stewart aside, the ethos of inclusivity carries into the special, which is entirely directed by Tig Notaro, co-produced by Insecure writer Amy Aniobi, and features stand-up from comedians like Michelle Buteau,Aparna Nancherla,Naomi Ekperigin, and John Early. Each episode also has a fitting theme, like “Hair” or “Blerds” (black nerds). (The Stewart episode is appropriately themed “New York.”) Williams, a self-professed blerd, said she wanted space to geek out over video games and Harry Potter and science fiction. The fact that she and Robinson have carved out that space with the help of HBO is an “incredible” dream come true, Williams says. Like most comedians, Robinson and Williams have always wanted to work with the network, which has a history of backing specials by legends like Billy Crystal and Chris Rock. Robinson hopes these 2 Dope Queens episodes will serve as a “time capsule” of this time in their lives.
“I wanna soak up every moment, and I wanna do the best I can do, and I wanna just have fun with the fashion and makeup as much as I can—because let’s be real, this might never happen again,” she says. “This is a super crazy, once in a lifetime thing, so let’s just go balls to the wall with it.”
Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:The Must-See Looks from the Black Panther Red CarpetYohana DestaYohana Desta is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.