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Hanging With '2 Dope Queens' As Popular Podcast Gets HBO Special


2 Dope Queens is a popular podcast that is coming to HBO as a TV show. It's a program where the hosts riff on pop culture, gender, race and comedy. Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson recently caught up with our TV critic, Eric Deggans. They told him a lot of the show's power comes from the chemistry between two young black women speaking openly and honestly about their lives.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams, your two dope queens.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: There is nothing quite like hanging with the 2 Dope Queens, which is obvious from the moment that both hosts take the stage in their HBO special and Williams talks about how her boyfriend, who is white, helps her with her hair.


JESSICA WILLIAMS: I love when he greases my hair because it does feel a little bit like "Ghost" when, like, Swayze comes back.


WILLIAMS: And it's, like, not too tight, not too hard.


WILLIAMS: It does feel a little bit like reparations.

ROBINSON: Yeah (laughter).


DEGGANS: Robinson also talked about her boyfriend, who she calls #britishbakeoff because he's also white, and how he helped her get ready for the stage.


WILLIAMS: That is insane.

ROBINSON: And then he got on his knees and he lotioned my feet.

WILLIAMS: That is so hot.


ROBINSON: I was like, this is literally Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. Like is...

WILLIAMS: That's it.

It's like permission to be yourself.

DEGGANS: That's Williams, who spent four years as a correspondent on "The Daily Show" describing the impact of her banter with Robinson that kicks off every episode. She says because they embrace their own nerdiness and awkwardness, telling stories about loving "Harry Potter" and Michael Fassbender, that fans realize their own quirks are pretty cool, too.

WILLIAMS: My favorite response that I get about our show is women coming up and grabbing us and being like, I love your podcast. It - when I listen to you guys, it feels like I'm hanging out with my best friends. And I feel like I know you guys. And I'm really - and that's like, hell, yeah. That's, like, such a - what a gift to be able to be truthful and present yourself and have people respond so positively to it.

DEGGANS: The stories between Williams and Robinson, laced with loads of pop culture references, are just the preamble to a show that also features a wide diversity of standup comics and celebrity interviews. For the HBO specials, the pair recruited comic Tig Notaro to serve as director, placing the Dope Queens on a sprawling stage made to look like a rooftop in Brooklyn. The celebrity guests are A-list and very New York with Jon Stewart helping judge different kinds of pizza and Sarah Jessica Parker trying to ask a question about black women's hair.


SARAH JESSICA PARKER: Well, I don't know how it stay - how you can have really incredible...


ROBINSON: Everyone shut your mouth.

WILLIAMS: This is a safe space.

ROBINSON: Shut your mouth.

WILLIAMS: This is a safe space.

ROBINSON: She's our friend.

WILLIAMS: This is a safe space.

PARKER: You know that I'm about to ask...

ROBINSON: She's our friend.

PARKER: ...The very thing you don't know either.

ROBINSON: We're - right. Drag them.

WILLIAMS: Yes, drag them.

DEGGANS: Robinson, a comic and author who's worked on the TV show "Broad City," worried whether the podcast would translate to TV, at least at first.

ROBINSON: Anytime you change platforms, you're worried about whether the platform was part of the magic. You just don't know. And I think TV only enhanced what we did with the podcast.

DEGGANS: The two met back in 2014 when Robinson was a background actor for a "Daily Show" piece. Eventually, Williams joined Robinson in co-hosting a showcase for standup comics, which became the 2 Dope Queens podcast in 2016. The pair have since used 2 Dope Queens to feature comics of color and LGBTQ performers who might have a tough time getting exposure otherwise. Along the way, they learned that by telling their truth as black women, they spoke to a larger human truth that everyone could enjoy. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.