Comedian and podcaster Phoebe Robinson has a lot to say about living life as a black woman in America.
You can hear it in her stand-up and in the podcast 2 Dope Queens, which she co-hosts with Daily Show alum Jessica Williams. You can also hear it in Sooo Many White Guys, her spinoff podcast where she interviews actors, comedians, musical artists and other interesting people who are black, Hispanic, Asian and really anything but white, except for “token white guy” Mike Birbiglia.
Robinson takes a similar tack in her new book You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain. It’s a collection of essays about race, gender and pop culture. Morning Shift talks to Robinson about her comedy career, podcasting and her latest venture as an author.
What was it like growing up in Cleveland, Ohio?
Phoebe Robinson: I think I didn’t have the self-confidence I would’ve had if I had more people that looked like me. I didn’t feel like I was pretty; I didn’t get asked out, so I internalized it as something was wrong with me. I’ve worked through all that, so now I’m fine with it. But it did make me feel like I wasn’t doing something right and I was being myself.
As a child of the ’90s, what black women did you look up to?
Robinson: We had Martin, Moesha, Living Single—so you had all these amazing TV shows that you could see yourself, and they were playing people that worked in radio, that were lawyers, so you’re like, “Oh, yeah, we can have any kind of jobs that we wanted.” Obviously, Oprah is a big influence on every black lady ever. I’m so obsessed with her… she has this light about her. She seems so positive. She just makes you feel like you can do anything if you believe hard enough and I really like that energy about her. And I was a big Whitney Houston fan.
What are the forces that shaped your identity?
Robinson: Chris Rock, Wanda Sykes … I’m not like any of them, obviously. But what I learned from them was fearlessness. And they’re very curious people and they like to break things down and figure out why they are the way they are and I like to do that with my own comedy.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘Play’ button above to listen to the entire segment.