In January, Phoebe Robinson hosted a show at L.A. Riot, an alternative comedy festival in Los Angeles. As a working comic, Robinson is used to being the only woman or person of color on the bill, so she took the opportunity to book only women and people of color. She called the show “So Many White Guys.”
Six months and two extra o’s later, Robinson is the host of “Sooo Many White Guys,” a new podcast from WNYC Studios in which the New York-based comic/podcaster/writer interviews performers, activists, musicians, and authors — none of whom are white men, with the exception of a mystery “token white guy” who will feature in a later episode.
You probably recognize Robinson from “2 Dope Queens,” the live show-turned-podcast she hosts with former Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams. Or maybe you’ve seen her on Last Comic Standing, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, or Broad City, in which she made a brief appearance in Season 1 and served as a consultant on Season 3. (Broad City’s Ilana Glazer is an executive producer of “Sooo Many White Guys.”) When a “2 Dope Queens” producer emailed Robinson in the spring to see if she had any ideas for a new podcast, Robinson spied an opportunity to turn that cheekily titled standup showcase into a platform for the kinds of people who are often sidelined in mainstream talk shows.
“This show is celebratory,” she says over the phone. “Rather than being like, ‘White guys suck,’ it’s really just like, ‘Look at all the talent out there.’” If that claim seems obvious, well, to some people it’s not. When WNYC released a teaser for “Sooo Many White Guys” at the end of June, Robinson says, “There were quite a few upset white guys who called me racist” in their reviews on the show’s iTunes page. But two episodes in, Robinson isn’t worried.
“At first it kind of bothered me that so many people were writing mean things on iTunes and it felt like an attack,” she says. “But then I was like, ‘Thank you for those downloads, dude!’”
Robinson’s goal is to highlight the people she’s “obsessed with” in a format that allows for deeper discussions than you might see on a late-night talk show. She also tries to feature artists who aren’t overexposed. In the first installment, released on July 13, she interviews the Minneapolis-based rapper/singer Lizzo (née Melissa Jefferson) in a conversation that ranges from the Black Lives Matter movement to hair tips to Lizzo’s experience growing up in a religious family in Texas.
Robinson has been a fan since she first saw Lizzo perform on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last year. “She totally blew me away,” Robinson recalls. “Here’s this beautiful, awesome female black rapper, and her lyrics are smart, and she’s talking about the history of her family coming from slaves, and she’s also making catchy music. I was so impressed with her. And there are so many shows that will not pay attention to her.”
The Lizzo episode is indicative of Robinson’s warm, conversational interview style. (She cites Terry Gross, Marc Maron, and fellow WNYC host Alec Baldwin as influences.) A self-proclaimed “Chatty Cathy,” her interviews are loose and shaggy without shying away from serious topics. She combs through her subjects’ past interviews to avoid asking them the same questions, which she says “forces me to engage with this person and their art in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they’re having their time wasted.”
The show’s concept also allows it to sidestep a common interview trap: Reducing a subject to her gender or race. In the second episode of “Sooo Many White Guys,” Robinson and Ilana Glazer chat about sex and dating, calling your parents, and how standup differs from comedy on TV. But Robinson points out, “Ilana does interviews all the time and nine times out of ten there’s a question like, ‘How does it feel to be a woman in comedy?’ It’s just such a way to make her the other. There are so many other interesting things about her that I want to talk about as opposed to her gender.”
Robinson is currently wrapping up the final interviews for the first season of “Sooo Many White Guys”; future guests include actress Nia Long and trans activist Janet Mock. She and Williams have also started recording new episodes of “2 Dope Queens,” and she has a book of essays — called You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain — coming out in October, for which Williams wrote the forward. “I would love to do a second season of ‘Sooo Many White Guys,’ but to me that is so far away from now,” she says. “Because of the podcast and the book and all that stuff. I want to get Season 1 done and then I can maybe take a quick nap.”