When the 2 Dope Queens, Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson introduced the first comedian to perform in the first of their four HBO specials, Michelle Buteau sauntered onto the stage. General audiences might not have known who Buteau was, but 2 Dope Queens podcast listeners immediately recognized her as the “3rd Dope Queen,” as officially declared by Robinson. She has long been a part of the popular podcast’s regular rotation of guest comedians, and thanks to WNYC Studios, the same production company behind 2 Dope Queens, she now has her own weekly show.
Late Night Whenever with Michelle Buteau is billed as a late night-style show that, much like The Tonight Show and The Late Show, will feature monologues, musical accompaniment, and interviews with celebrity guests. Unlike its televised inspiration, however, its podcast format means that listeners won’t be limited by time. That is, they won’t have to watch new episodes at a certain time, and they won’t have to keep up with what’s happened in a particular moment. For as Buteau explains to us, she wants Late Night Whenever to be as evergreen as possible. She also wants it to bring everyone together, just “like Thanksgiving.”
How did Late Night Whenever come about?
I had this homemade sex tape that I made that was circulating… just kidding. God, I feel like if there is any sort of Emmys for podcasts, I’d be like, “I need to thank the 2 Dope Queens,” because I did their show and some producers from WNYC Studios thought I was great. They asked me, “Have you ever thought about doing a podcast?” I’m like, “No honey, I think about making money.” So yeah, they approached me and I was kind of in from the beginning. I do stand-up and I host and I act and I was doing a lot of co-hosting stuff on VH1 and around town for morning shows at the time. But hosting my own show? I was like, “I would love to do my own thing! Oh, I don’t have to fit into the brand of a TV station? Yes, even better!” So that’s how it all came about.
It seems like they’ve given you free rein to make this your own thing.
They have, which is great. I love that WNYC Studios really lets the artists they work with lean into their own voices. They’re like, “Let’s dig deep and rip it apart. What else do you wanna say?” And I’m like, “Oh my God, this feels like group therapy that’s actually covered by insurance!” It’s been great so far.
Was the late night concept something you pitched them?
Oh yeah, I thought that if I ever had an opportunity to do my own show — and I could actually somehow pull it off — it would be something like a late night show. I’ve always wanted to host a late night-style thing instead of something for the daytime. I’m too sassy for daytime television, but I have too many feelings for late night. Late Night Whenever feels like a perfect combination of all of that.
Thanks to social media, it seems late night programs have to struggle to keep up with what’s happening. Is Late Night Whenever going to do the same?
No. I can barely keep up with paying my taxes and find something that fits, honey. Life is too crazy. That’s one thing I miss with both daytime and late night talk shows — the fun personal stories hosts and guests would tell each other. The stuff that wasn’t, or didn’t feel like it was, too scripted or prepared. I don’t want to hear about how Ryan Seacrest didn’t know that New Yorkers sell Christmas trees on the street. It’s like, “Calm down, bitch!” I would rather hear about the worst Christmas someone has ever had or heard of, you know? In that way, I really appreciate having an evergreen show, because you can listen to it today or two years from now, and you’re still going to think, “I didn’t know that about her and I feel the same way!”
That makes perfect sense. I’m still catching up with podcasts I only discovered recently that have been posting episodes for years.
I know, right? I mean, it just kind of all worked out, which is weird. I think that with a lot of stuff I’ve done, I’ve tried to force it because I wanted that paycheck. But this? I don’t know. This just feels really fun and natural.
Keeping that in mind, how does this compare to past projects? I ask because it sounds like it’s a lot less stressful than most things.
For sure. I mean, with TV executives… The only reason why I think marijuana should be legal is because TV executives and others like them can sometimes be batshit. Just kidding! Kind of. But really, everyone is so anxious to get it right and hit the numbers they need or want, and it’s like they forget that the artists need room to breathe and grow into their spaces — whether they’re in a hosting role or some other position. There’s room for that at WNYC Studios because they’re going to edit you, of course, so you don’t have to get it exactly right the first time. You just have to do it. That’s really been fun and freeing, to be honest.
You gave thanks to 2 Dope Queens, and Phoebe Robinson is one of your first guests. Were you seeking hosting advice from her or Jessica Williams, or anyone else you know in the business? What were you told?
No, not really. I feel like we all have such different styles when it comes to hosting and doing stand-up. If anything, it was more about… It’s so funny. It’s more about, “This is how you handle the haters.” Because you know that whenever you put yourself out there on a much bigger platform, there are going to be more people that come at you. You’re definitely leaving yourself open to more people criticizing you. If anything, that’s what we talked about, but we’re all very able-bodied bitches, just going around town with their brown titties making shit happen. I don’t know if I answered your question, but that answer feels right.
You did! [laughs] You’re taping episodes in advance, and you’ve already got a few in the can. What has the process been like so far?
Creating a show is very different than booking one, because you’re sort of tap-dancing around everything and trying to figure out what everybody needs, and not just yourself. It really is like planning your own wedding. You envision it, and you know the vibe you’re going for. I think the best thing is to be over-prepared, and then the minute someone calls your name and you get on stage, when those lights hit your face, you just throw all that shit all away and have some fun. It’ll be in your mind, in your back pocket, or on your note cards, and I think not enough people listen in those situations. You have to listen. Everybody either wants to make a really big joke, say something funny, or hit all the questions, and I think the best moments are when people are just listening to each other. Does that make sense? I’m not awake just yet so I’m not sure.
It does. I was actually surprised when they scheduled this for the morning, because I know most comics aren’t partial to early mornings. They’ve been out late doing stand-up the night before.
I’m on the struggle bus, but I have two dogs so I have to wake up before they shit all over the house.
My girlfriend’s a teacher, so no matter what we’re both up at 5 in the morning.
Oh my God.
There is not enough federal funding to wake up that early.
[laughs] This is a late night-style show, so there’s a monologue and guests and all that. Are you writing everything yourself, or do you have a writing staff helping you?
Girl, I wish. This is public radio! [laughs] We ain’t got the budget for that. We ain’t even got a budget for hair, okay? You don’t have a budget for a black girl’s hair honey, so of course I’m writing all this shit. I’m a one-man band. That’s right, I’m the performer in the subway who’s hitting the drums while playing the guitar and the harmonica at the same time. But it’s fun, though. I do stand-up mostly so the great thing about these monologues is, I’m able to use all the stuff I can’t necessarily fit into a speedy, punchy bit. They’re more like long and short stories, little anecdotes about various things, and stuff like that. It’s sort of a ghetto Carrie Bradshaw situation, where I’m like, “I was really thinking…” It’s been really fun, because I’m able to find a home for all this material I couldn’t use before. I have a lot of stuff that doesn’t always translate to stand-up and I’m like, “What am I, Prince? Just sitting on all his private gold?” I must release this out into the universe.
I imagine it’s also a great testing ground for new stand-up, too.
The great thing about having 17 years of stand-up under my plus size belt is I know it doesn’t all have to get a laugh, but as long as it makes people think and feel a certain way, then I’ve done my job. This is what I love about Wendy Williams. It’s just her in a chair talking to people, as if she’s talking to friends. I don’t want to say that’s my vibe because we’re totally different, but I think there’s a real joy in that. It comes across way more sincere.
You’ve had a lot of great guests already, and lots more to come. Is there anyone in particular you’d love to talk to?
You know what? The door is open to all and to any — to all the freaks and geeks who want to come on the show, promote their stuff, and have the kind of fun conversation they can’t have on Colbert’s program because they can say “fuck Trump” and shit like that. The guests are great, but it’s really about the vibe that I’m going to create. It’s about the tone of the show, so in that way, I really think it’s about more the audience than the guest.
How have the audiences been at the tapings so far?
I’m learning a lot about public radio. Sometimes it feels like I’m in Vermont because it’s just a bunch of older white people, and then there’s some 2 Dope Queens fans mixed in. Or there are fans of my guests and my musical sidekick Rob Lewis. He’s a big name in the music industry, so some people are there to see him. He just finished a tour with the New Kids On The Block and there was like a whole… I should try not to laugh when I say this, but there were a lot of New Kids fandom among the people who came just to see him. I think it’s a weird, wild mix of woke New Yorkers who are just like, “What this?”
You’re bringing everybody together.
Like Thanksgiving, honey.
Real quick, you’re one of the comedians Netflix taped for its upcoming 15-minute specials. How did that go?
It was so fun. I really feel like I’m in this fun, wonderful, strong, not-giving-a-fuck phase now that I’m 40, and it’s definitely reflecting in my work. So between the 2 Dope Queens and the Netflix sets, all of these wonderful things are happening to me. They usually happen when you don’t give a fuck what everybody else thinks, when you’re just trusting your gut. I’m really excited to see it.
Michelle Buteau’s Late Night Whenever will drop new episodes every Tuesday here. Listen to the debut episode with Leslie Odom Jr. and Jason Jones below.