What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they’re comedians? No, that’s not it. It is a fact, though, that America’s biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York’s vibrant comedy scene. It’s called Meet Me In New York.
Have you ever thought of yourself as just like Daria, the animated MTV teenager who watches the world around her with a healthy dose of wit and satire. Phoebe Robinson has. Robinson has crafted a website, podcast and live monthly stand-up show in New York City called Blaria (the live show happens on the last Tuesday of each month at the UCBeast). She’s also a contributor to Glamour magazine.
Robinson is inching ever closer to the spotlight this year. After previously finishing as a finalist in NBC’s Stand-Up For Diversity competition and touring colleges with that, and appearing in the Bridgetown and Women in Comedy festivals, Robinson this year has written on the upcoming season of MTV’s Girl Code, and is one of the competitors on NBC’s Last Comic Standing.
Time to give this Glamour gal her close-up!
Name: Phoebe Robinson
Arrival date: Aug. 24, 2002. I’m officially a New Yorker now, baby!
Arrived from: Cleveland
When and where did you start performing comedy? Six years this July. Fulfilling my “best black girlfriend to a Katherine Heigl looking chick” role, I was dragged kicking and screaming by one of my besties into a Caroline’s on Broadway stand-up class so she wouldn’t have to take it by herself. I’m still doing stand-up and she quit years ago. Ain’t that how it always goes?
What was your best credit before moving here? Still fitting in my training bra even though I was almost 18. #KeepingMyCarbonFootprintLow
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? I wanted to work in film and marry Robert DeNiro, so we could be a power couple. “Power couple?” I know. I was a gross human being.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? Hmm, I can’t remember. Probably a year or two into comedy when I’d do these trifling bringers shows and if I brought more than the required people to perform, the MC would give me like ten or fifteen bucks.
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? People tell me it’s crazy that I started here because it’s so, so, so hard. But it’s like, just living in this city is tough. Like going to Walgreens and seeing that the ethnic hair care aisle no longer carries the shampoo I like to use will ruin my freakin’ life for 37 seconds. But I survive it — my hair might look like Buckwheat’s for a bit — but I survive it and if I can do that, then I can handle this scene. Haha. That was ridiculous. Serious answer time? The NYC comedy scene is really hard and mean and inspiring and makes you feel so small and makes you want to give up. It’s everything all at once and no matter where else I perform or scene I check out, I will never feel as many conflicting and all-consuming feelings as I do here. In short, the NYC scene makes me go “why I do this” in two ways: 1) “Why do I put up with all the shit, the scraping by, the attitudes of people, the incremental progression? For stand-up? For this?” and 2) “This — an audience member laughing super hard, a veteran comic hanging around to listen to my set, meeting other blerds aka black nerds who do stand up — all of that is why I do this.”
Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here? The night of the Presidential election. I originally planned on watching it by myself at home because I was so stressed and overwhelmed by it. Like just thinking about the fact that a person of color was going to achieve something like that was just…look, every kid is told, “You can be anything you want when you grow up,” but, and I don’t know how it was for other people of color, but for me, when I would hear that, I’d think to myself, “Eh, not really anything. There are some things that are not for us, not for me. My “otherness” doesn’t really allow for “anything.” Anyway, it was just a really emotional night for me and I just needed space for self-reflection. Then I saw Will.I.Am‘s goofy ass hologram interview with Anderson Cooper and I was like, “Uhh, I can’t watch this shit by myself.” I was laughing so hard and I wanted to be around other people so we could look at each other and go, “Did you see that?!” I mean, that interview was literally the dumbest thing and completely sums up how I feel about CNN in so many ways: utterly pointless and an has embarrassing lack of self-awareness, especially because they were trying to make an unnecessary black dude hologram hold the same importance of A BLACK MAN BEING ELECTED PRESIDENT. Anyway, I went over to my former roommate’s apartment and watched Obama give his speech. I started tearing up, was cheering and screaming. I had called my parents and like every black person I knew. LOL. Then afterwards, my former roommates and I went out into the streets of Brooklyn and people were singing, banging pots and pans, people in their cars would slow down and honk their horns and go crazy with us. It’s probably in my top 5 NYC moments. Ever.
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? Have a life outside of comedy. Comedy can be all-consuming and that’s utterly unhealthy. Like go date some people. Get lost. Have your wallet stolen. Cuss a chick out outside of Chase bank. Cry in public on the subway. Live in a shitty apartment. Do all these things that make up a life, that will give you something to look back on when you’re old as fuck. In terms of comedy, watch as much stand-up as you can, never phone it in on stage, have a support system, and don’t be a dick.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? Still in love. Creator and star of my own TV show. Shooting indie films. Not living paycheck to paycheck. Being a good auntie to my brother and his wife’s soon-to-be-kid. Have most if not all my student loans paid off. And I would like to have written a book.
Some great life and career advice there! Keep an eye on Phoebe Robinson, people.
Perhaps you remember seeing Robinson in this scene from the first episode of Broad City on Comedy Central!
And here’s a clip of Robinson’s stand-up from last year:
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com