Jessica Williams On Being Black In Comedy: 'There's Room For Nuance In Our Experience'

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For Phoebe Robinson, 33, and Jessica Williams, 28, their paths to co-hosting the wildly popular 2 Dope Queens podcast were atypical.

“Growing up I never wanted to do comedy,” says Cleveland native Robinson, a former consultant on Comedy Central’s Broad City and staff writer on MTV’s Girl Code. “I thought I was gonna work in film and write serious movies that were gonna win Oscars.”

Raised in L.A., Williams began acting at 15 and starred in the short-lived Nickelodeon series Just for Kicks. “I wasn’t exactly the aesthetic of the roles made for Black women, where you had everybody who was beautiful, traditionally thin,” remembers Williams. “Especially since I’ve been six feet tall since I was 15.”

Things shifted when Williams switched to sketch comedy, appearing in the Web series UCB Comedy Originals and CollegeHumor Originals. In 2012 she became the youngest correspondent in the history of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. There she met Robinson, a stand-up comic, who was brought in for a segment on Black women in the military. The pair quickly became friends and Robinson invited Williams to co-host her then live show, Blaria (aka Black Daria), where their comedic storytelling caught the attention of WNYC Studios. By that time Blaria had morphed into 2 Dope Queens, another live monthly showcase for stand-ups—especially those with “vajeens” and melanin. In 2016 WNYC Studios launched 2 Dope Queens as a podcast.

The millennials’ conversation-style humor has now garnered them not one but four HBO specials.

“Jess and I really wanted to keep them like the podcast,” says Robinson. Next month 2 Dope Queens, written by Insecure producer and writer Amy Aniobi, will air each week starting February 2. The program begins with quirky banter between Williams and Robinson and then transitions into routines from three comedians.

“People of color are so different,” says Williams, who starred in Netflix’s film The Incredible Jessica James. “Now, in Black narratives, people are asking to be represented as a little bit more offbeat or queer or just different. There’s room for nuance in our experience. That’s the point of having awesome and diverse stand-ups and storytellers.”