Art

Phoebe Robinson Says It Like You Meant It

Multi-hyphenate talent Phoebe Robinson is on her third book and her first solo HBO special. We caught up with the comedian and essayist to talk about what it's like to climb into the driver's seat.

Muna Mire

Photography by Alvin Kean Wong

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Tibi suit, Mia Becar shoes and Jennifer Fisher rings. Styling by Ryan Young. Hair by Sabrina Rowe. Makeup by Delina Medhin.

Phoebe Robinson is on her mogul shit. The 36-year-old comedian, essayist and actor is branching out in multiple directions, finally cultivating the seeds she’s diligently planted on her decade-plus journey in comedy. She’s about to go view the location where she will tape her first hour-long stand-up special, Robinson tells me over Mediterranean-style eggs. It’s early for me, but I’m already on my second cold brew. We’re sitting in an Israeli restaurant in Park Slope, a stone’s throw from the apartment Robinson shares with her partner, British Baeoff. She’s set to give two performances in mid August inside the dome at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “My two executive producers, Mai and Jose, styled the set while I was in LA shooting my pilot,” she tells me, absolutely beaming. Like every stand-up, Robinson missed performing for a live audience during the pandemic. But, unlike most stand-ups, she’s returning to live performance in the biggest way possible. Robinson is fulfilling her lifelong dream: to film an hour-long stand up special, which will air on HBO Max. “I always wanted to have a special. I just really was obsessed with Wanda Sykes, because she’s such a perfect stand-up, and she had a special on HBO. I was like, ‘That’s going to be me one day.’”

Robinson’s stand-up is deeply millennial. She is the self-deprecating queen of the confessional. She’s relatable, and she frequently makes herself the punchline. But it would be a miscalculation to see her comic sensibility as anything but optimistic, if occasionally humbled by reality. Robinson is notedly also one of the foremost arbiters of lady thirst online—if you’ve seen her #ThirstThursdays on Instagram, I need not say more. A recent post starring Chris Evans of accidentally-posting-his-dick-online fame elicited a warm chuckle from me.

Robinson moved to New York from Ohio to attend Pratt Institute in the early aughts, studying screenwriting and graduating in 2006. Her family, by the way, are utterly wholesome: her parents are supportive Midwestern vegans and her elder brother is a civil servant, an Ohio state representative. Robinson worked briefly for a New York-based production company before impulsively taking a stand-up class at Carolines in 2008 and falling in love. Shortly after, she decided to pursue a comedy career. A few years later, in 2011, Robinson began the Blaria (Black Daria) blog—a proving ground where she would hone her comic voice and court a young millennial audience online.

Robinson wears SemSem dress, Stuart Weitzman shoes, Annie Costello Brown earrings and Jennifer Fisher rings.

In a way, the latest phase of Robinson’s career is a return to her blogging days. She’s always been a Swiss Army Knife talent: a writer of comic essays, a stand-up performer, an actor and, for the first time now, she’s stepping into the role of publisher. Robinson has just launched her own imprint called Tiny Reparations Book under Plume, a division of Penguin Group. Robinson’s elevator pitch: a highly curated selection of literary fiction, nonfiction and essays from underrepresented writers. Of course, part of being a mogul is being the boss. Not a boss, the boss. “I feel like I’ve learned so much because you’re like, ‘Oh, I want to be a boss,’ but you don’t think about picking the best health-care packages or managing employees’ expectations,’” Robinson tells me.

The imprint dovetails with yet another of Robinson’s projects: her production company (also called Tiny Reparations) under ABC Studios. All of her content—an upcoming pilot for Freeform, the interview show she hosted on Comedy Central, her stand-up special— has come to be through her own production company. The imprint will serve also to integrate Robinson’s books, including her latest collection of essays, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes. She is now in creative control of her own content at every level, and she can build a pipeline for developing books for television through her production company—“That’s the goal,” she tells me. Like many creatives before her, Robinson’s prolificity came from all the rejection she’s faced. She was turned down from every late-night show she applied to. “I thought to myself, ‘The best way I’m going to have a career is if I double down on my voice, because I can’t mimic other people’s voices,’” she says. “I think I have all these different skill sets because I had the time to develop them and make mistakes and figure it out and get rejected.” Lucky for us, she’s just getting started.

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