The hilarious podcast ‘2 Dope Queens’ gets an equally hysterical TV special
It’s hard not to fall in love with Jessica Williams (“The Incredible Jessica James”) and Phoebe Robinson (“Broad City”). The two best friends — both outspoken New York-based comedians who host the aptly titled podcast “2 Dope Queens” — not only have infectious personalities and a magnetic rapport, but are also intensely attuned to almost everything happening in pop culture. Whether it’s dishing about the latest Hollywood gossip, introducing new comics to the stage or illuminating issues important to Black women, Williams and Robinson have accrued a healthy amount of deserved attention through “2 Dope Queens.” And what better way to realize that potential than through a deliciously profane and immensely entertaining four-part HBO comedy special?
Like “2 Dope Queens” the podcast, “2 Dope Queens” the HBO special gives Williams and Robinson a platform to talk about the timeliest topics, but also manages to finesse their chemistry just as effectively on-screen. Part of what makes the HBO adaptation of “2 Dope Queens” so successful is how much spirit Williams and Robinson fill within an hour.
On their podcast, Williams and Robinson would spend the first few moments delivering some cheeky observational humor — usually about Bono or Beyoncé — before transitioning into the rest of the show, all of which is live and replete with celebrity interviews, stand-up sets from up-and-coming and established comedians or Williams and Robinson exchanging more witty, incisive banter. This structure works to their advantage visually as well; HBO’s cinematic production values bolster “2 Dope Queens”’s appeal — matching the queens’ brand of topical, niche humor with the iconic ornateness of the Kings Theatre and a colorful stage resembling a Brooklyn rooftop in the summer.
The first part, “New York,” captures this aesthetic charm in its opening sketch, wherein a stubborn, oblivious attendant brushes off Williams and Robinson for not having tickets to their own show. As they Google themselves to confirm their identities, Williams and Robinson refer to this situation as “Black-on-Black aggression,” a phrase the two often jokingly use when making light of racial disparity within the Black community. Though very brief, the bit alone demonstrates Williams and Robinson’s comedic talent and timing, especially considering the former was a “Daily Show” correspondent and the latter has a healthy pedigree of sketch comedy experience.
“New York” continues to enthrall, as Robinson and Williams welcome their audience with the same rowdy, high-ball energy they incorporate into their podcast. They invite a string of stand-up comics — Michelle Buteau (“Key and Peele”), Mark Normand (“Horace and Pete”) and Baron Vaughn (“Grace and Frankie”) — each of whom offers an equally dynamic and distinctive set of personal stories and observations on New York culture. Williams’s old boss Jon Stewart (“The Daily Show”) makes an appearance, his segment dedicated to discussing New York “moments” and taste-testing New York pizza, which wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying if it were just recorded.
While “New York” has a stronger opening, the second episode, “Hair,” is centered on a more grounded issue — Black hair and the complex discourse surrounding it. “Hair” also includes a consistently funnier lineup of stand-up acts — Aparna Nancherla (“BoJack Horseman”), Rhea Butcher (“Take My Wife”) and Sheng Wang (“Fresh Off the Boat”) — and the unexpected arrival of fan favorite Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City”). Parker’s earnest attempt to learn more about Black hair from Robinson and Williams drives her segment away from being an awkward display of “white cluelessness” — an issue that Robinson and Williams discuss and exploit in their podcast, sometimes to a fault.
For those familiar (and even unfamiliar) with “2 Dope Queens” as a podcast, the HBO special does an admirable job of bringing Robinson and Williams’s moxie to television, even if it doesn’t experiment with the podcast’s structural formula. The first two episodes are both fairly breezy for an hour, though they occasionally lag during extended jokes that lose steam pretty quickly. Still, “2 Dope Queens” remains a testament to Robinson and Williams as an unstoppable comedic duo, as pop culture commentators and as badass forces of nature.