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‘2 Dope Queens’ continue their reign on HBO

| Monday, February 5, 2018

JOSEPH HAN | The Observer

At the heart of the podcast “2 Dope Queens” is the friendship between comedians Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams. Their podcast, which evolved from a live comedy show in Brooklyn, serves as a showcase for other talented comics, but the glue holding the show together is the gleeful chemistry between Robinson and Williams. On the show, the pair banters about subjects as varied as their experiences with racist cab drivers to Robinson’s undying love for Bono.

Now the duo are bringing “2 Dope Queens” to HBO as a four-part comedy special directed by stand-up comic Tig Notaro. Yet Robinson was worried that the intimacy that defines the podcast would get lost in the move to television. “For me personally,” she explained in an interview with Vulture, “I was just worried that transitioning from a podcast, which is a very intimate sort of experience — people tell me they listen to my podcast while they’re at the gym or on road trips — so you’re in someone’s ear, to being on television.”

It is safe to say that their HBO series retains the infectious energy of the podcast, albeit amplified with a larger production budget. Filmed live at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, Robinson and Williams brag in the first episode about their hair and makeup budget as they take the stage, which is built to resemble a New York City rooftop, replete with patio furniture, potted plants and a silhouetted skyline. “We got that HBO money,” Robinson starts singing, as Williams chimes in, “Got some money for our hair.”

The first episode, which debuted on HBO on Friday night, centers loosely on the theme of “New York,” with the subsequent three set to tackle “Hair,” “Hot Peen” and “Black Nerds.” Robinson and Williams begin the show by discussing the white people who need to apologize to them — including Thomas Jefferson and a man on a Southwest flight who didn’t believe Robinson was in the first boarding group — and their first New York apartments. The New York theme serves as more of a jumping-off point than a strict through-line, yet it is the enthusiasm of Robinson and Williams that carries the show.

In its HBO incarnation, “2 Dope Queens” remains an excellent showcase for stand-ups, with short sets in the first episode from Michelle Buteau, Mark Normand and Baron Vaughn. Buteau, in particular, delivers a great set, with uproariously funny material about her marriage and her Trump-supporting doctor. The first episode also features a conversation with Jon Stewart, with Robinson and Williams asking about his first jobs in New York and his life since leaving “The Daily Show.” Their interviews are charming for their spontaneity — Robinson and Williams at one point accidentally try to ask Stewart different questions at the same time, which only contributes to the feeling that you’re listening in on a real conversation.

The most strained attempt at a viral late night show segment is a game in which the duo ask Stewart to taste test various New York pizza slices. While the game resembles the forced fun of Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show,” it’s saved by Stewart disgustedly throwing one of the slices across the stage. On the whole, however, “2 Dope Queens” remains wildly funny and proves that Robinson and Williams deserve to be on late-night television beyond this four-episode run.

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About Matthew Munhall

Matthew thinks everyone should listen to Charly Bliss.

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