Comedian-writer-actor Phoebe Robinson, of "2 Dope Queens" fame, has a new book out: “Everything's Trash, But It’s Okay." Before she comes to town Oct. 19 to talk about it, we got to talk with her.
Phoebe Robinson isn’t here for the Instagram-curated version of your life. In her second book, “Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay,” the comedienne of “2 Dope Queens” podcast (and HBO) fame gets down to the gritty details of just how trash we all can be. From “fauxfeminists” who love claiming they “just don’t get along with other women” to herself trying to sneak out a fart on the massage table, Robinson is telling on everybody in this book, including (and mostly really) herself. She gets real about money, sex, interracial dating, loving our bodies and being an ally.
The book reads like a sometimes hilarious, sometimes dead serious, argument for radical honesty and radical self-love in an era when everything is trash. But, as she demonstrates with her own story, if we can be honest, kind to ourselves, and laugh a little, it’ll be OK.
We talked with Robinson ahead of her Oct. 19 Seattle Arts & Lectures appearance at Benaroya Hall. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow.
You get so real in this book, and as I was reading it there were times where I was like “oh my goodness, not only do I vibe with this, but also I’m just like, I would never have been able to put this down on paper and send it out into the world.” How did you find the courage to do that?
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I could pretend like I just came out of nowhere and did “2 Dope Queens” on HBO and that was like my journey, you know? Well I’ve been doing comedy for 10 years, whether stand-up or writing or hosting and you know for eight, eight-and-a-half of those years, I was broke. And I think that’s something that happens to a lot of people. And I think when people do start to get more in the public eye, they can sort of, like, mythologize themselves or whatever …
If we’re all just a little more honest about it and we all sort of remove the judgment that we place on others and ourselves about, like, “I don’t have x amount in my checking account,” I think it would make things easier. And I think we would use less energy sort of beating ourselves up and more kind of motivating ourselves to kick ass and power through those tough moments.
So I’m hoping you can tell me a little bit more about the daily part of how you got through those struggles. It’s so difficult to balance confidence. The confidence/insecurity ratio, for me anyway, is often leant in the wrong direction, so if you could talk a little bit about that, I think people would love to hear it.
Security/insecurity stuff is something that everyone deals with for their entire lives, and it comes in ebbs and flows. If you understand that you’re gonna have moments when you’re feeling like you are the hottest shit that ever hit the sidewalk, even that’s gonna be balanced …
You have those days where you suck at your job or you don’t get hired for this thing. And you have to kind of be like “this is terrible right now. I’m gonna feel the terribleness of it, but this isn’t going to last forever.” And that’s the key part of it is just realizing it’s not gonna last forever, but in the moment it can feel so major.
So when you go into situations where you know it’s going to maybe challenge your confidence … when you’re about to go into that or an audition or something, are there any tools or mantras or anything that you use to kind of hype yourself up?
I love a good playlist that I’ll make. Like there’ll be some Pussycat Dolls, there’ll be some Hall & Oates, you know I’m riding a spectrum. There’ll be some Biggie — that always helps. And I think I’ve gotten to a place — and I think this is truly because there’s been so much rejection for so much of my career — where I’ve just kind of gotten like: “If this person doesn’t want to hire me or isn’t into me or doesn’t get it, that’s OK …”
I feel like just really accepting that not everyone is going to like me, not everyone is going to work with me. And taking that pressure off of feeling like you have to nail it all the time, you have to book every job or that means you’re not good enough. And it’s like you don’t have to book every job. You’re not going to and that’s OK.
How much of that was you learning through your career and just through your personal experiences and how much of that maybe comes from your parents whom you talk about a lot in your book?
So I think my parents, they’re just really good about really instilling myself and my brother with what is truly worth valuing and what isn’t. And just because you’re having a good day at the office doesn’t mean your life is perfect, and your life may be great even though you’re having a bad day at the office.
They just really wanted us to make sure that we’re not tying our self-esteem solely to exterior results, because everyone’s going to have low periods in their lives. What are you gonna do when the phone is not ringing or you haven’t dated anyone in a year or you got evicted from your apartment or whatever low point? Is the way you entirely view yourself, is that going to shatter because it’s not this perfect thing?
I feel like you’re channeling Auntie Tyra right now, the way you describe [her yelling at Tiffany on “America’s Next Top Model”] that’s like parents being like “what are you doing? I’m rooting for you. How dare you.” But also I feel like you have an actual personal story there that you’re not sharing in the book.
[My parents] are more tough love and they’re more like “we’re not just gonna join in this pity party that you’re having.”
They’re like “we’ll listen to the pity party. We’re not gonna co-sign it. We’re not gonna bring pita chips to it. And when you’re over feeling sorry for yourself, you’re feeling like you really want to talk about it, we’ll talk about it.”
But they’re not gonna just indulge in it, which I think is sometimes annoying, because it’s just like “I just wanna complain, y’all.” But then I also really get that they’re like “no I’m not. That’s just giving it more energy.” And I’m like “OK you’re right I guess.”
You have all these references to cultural items and you use some vernacular in [the book]. It’s amazing, first of all, to read. I was always wondering about the footnotes, where some things you explain, like I think you have a footnote for THOT and “Shoot your shot,” but not one for “Crip walk.” I was like, “huh.” Curious how you decide those.
But, in general, I want to know what the conversation looked like around writing in this style, because I feel like a lot of books are approached from the capital L literature, it has to look a certain way, it has to be written a certain way.
I studied writing in school. You read the classics. I love Shakespeare. Yaas yaas yaas! But you know I didn’t really realize it until I got older and really just started doing my own writing where I was just like, we’re very much taught that the European, white, masculine, male way of writing is the only sort of respectable writing and only sort worthy of praise and blah blah blah. And [I] just was kind of like, well I’m never gonna sound like Jonathan Franzen, and I definitely don’t want to sound like him. I think he’s a great writer, but sometimes I’m also like “Who. Cares. Dude?”
Some white male authors that are considered capital L literature, I’m like, “this [ish] is boring! And navel-gazing,” and I’m like, “this isn’t any more spectacular than something written by a woman of color or a queer author.” So to me, I really got to a place of like, if I am removing what I’ve been taught is the standard sort of writing and I’m just writing what feels good to me, what makes me laugh, that is just as valid.
And that’s, in certain ways, maybe more authentic, because I’m not trying to mimic what I’ve been taught. … I don’t think I’m going to win a Pulitzer for “Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay.” But I’m so happy with it and I think it really captured me at a moment in time and I think that that’s the most special thing.
That’s beautiful. Watch out, y’all, I’m gonna start writing in full-on vernacular in my news articles. I’m gonna get fired real quick.
Do it! Oh my god! Do it!
Phoebe Robinson will discuss “Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19; Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, Seattle; $60-$105; 206-621-2230; lectures.org