“Being black women has been our superpower,” says 2 Dope Queens co-host Jessica Williams. Along with fellow podcaster-turned-comedy mistress of ceremonies Phoebe Robinson, Williams is currently promoting the first of four new HBO specials set to air Fridays in February. And considering the sheer magnitude of the production, it seems this superpower is no joke. The series is split into four thematic episodes, the first premiering February 2nd at 11:30 pm ET. Focusing on New York, the special features Williams’ former The Daily Show boss Jon Stewart and area comedians Michelle Buteau, Mark Normand, and Baron Vaughn.
As Robinson and Williams are quick to point out, however, adapting their hugely popular 2 Dope Queens podcast for television wasn’t an impossible feat, largely due to the company they kept. The move to HBO has aided their endeavors, allowing them to add the production finesse of executive producer and head writer Amy Aniobi (Insecure) and the direction of Tig Notaro (One Mississippi). But the pair already had a significantly complex and diverse system of support in place. Across 48 official episodes (and dozens of bonus entries), the original podcast boasted a mostly female production staff and roster of guest comedians and interviewees. The HBO specials are no different, which was entirely by design.
“We always loved the showcase format because we love stand-up,” says Williams of the format, which they utilized to ensure as many talented, diverse performers were given the chance to appear as possible. “When we started, we always wanted to make sure that we were showcasing stand-ups, and we always tried to get persons of color or people from the LGBTQ community.” Robinson agrees, adding that adapting the show (and sticking to the original formula) wasn’t all that difficult since HBO already knew what it was signing on for. “We really lucked out that HBO saw what the magic was,” she explains. “They knew we had this selection process for getting these amazing comics who happen to be diverse and smart and hilarious. They really appreciated what we wanted to do, and that gave us the confidence to just be like, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.'”
“They recognized how we would talk to people like Sarah Jessica Parker on the show, which isn’t going to be the same as how someone like Terri Gross would talk to her,” Robinson continues, though not, it should be noted, in a fashion disparaging to Gross. Rather, her point here is that the network acknowledged 2 Dope Queen‘s inherent value, and simply wanted to add cameras, staging, and make-up. Also, the likes of Aniobi and Notaro. “They were both fans of the podcast, and working with them it made it a well-oiled machine. They’ve been great,” says Williams. “If you’re already a fan of the podcast, the main difference is now you can see it. But if you’re new to the show, then it’s great for us because this is what we were already doing, but with a bigger budget. I also wore a pushup bra this time.”
2 Dope Queens‘ HBO arrival is serendipitously in time with the ascent of cultural movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up. Consider one of the more insidious aspects of the allegations against comedian Louis C.K., which the New York Times reported and the comic himself confirmed: that female comics and comedy writers felt pressured to leave the business altogether. 2 Dope Queens does the exact opposite by emphasizing performers who happen to be women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community. It provides them with a space to show the world who they are, and Williams and Robinsons know it. That’s what 2 Dope Queens has always been, and that’s what they want it to be on television.
“Even back when we started doing the podcast,” says Williams, “we just wanted to make sure we had women and people of color and members of the LGBTQ community on the show. There should always be somebody representing them because I think, as black women, that whether or not you’re trying, a lot of what you do is inherently political. Just because of who you are. Just because of your identity. So with HBO, we just set out to do the show we had always done on the podcast. No matter what’s happening in the news, who the president is, or whatever, we wanted 2 Dope Queens to be what it’s always been, for everyone it’s been that for.” This, as Williams continues, is where she really digs into her claim that she and Robinson’s “being black women” is essentially a “superpower” of sorts. “What’s great about being a black woman, and especially in 2 Dope Queens, is we’re able to seamlessly navigate between jokes that are somewhat political. There is power in being a black woman.”