PHOEBE ROBINSON LOVES pop culture. The comedian, who co-hosts the 2 Dope Queens podcast with Jessica Williams and who’ll be in town at Live Wire! Radio this week, grew up on episodes of The West Wing and Inside the Actors Studio. She’s harnessed the power of pop culture in her new book You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain.
Rich with pop culture references from Sex and the City to The Sandlot, it’s not unusual for an insightful anecdote to start with something like, “Remember on Grey’s Anatomy when Izzie stole a heart for Denny, a heart transplant patient she fell in love with, but he died anyway?”
As with comedy, Robinson believes pop culture can be a vehicle for change. “People debate about Beyoncé emerging as a feminist, but a lot of young girls may not have paid attention to it until she started talking about it,” she says. “Is it kind of annoying that it needed to be a pop star before some people got on board with feminism? Yeah, but at the end of the day there’s a young girl saying ‘I want to be a feminist now, I’m going to read bell hooks.’”
In addition to being a pop culture compendium, the book is also a memoir. Robinson’s hair—which has always shaped her identity—is a jumping-off point for a host of experiences tied to race, gender, and show biz, like the time a white director called her “uppity” (and then proceeded to make his apology all about himself), or a humiliating reality TV stint where she was judged based on her headshot and cautioned against sounding “too smart.”
And should you think political correctness is “killing” comedy, Robinson is one of many comedians proving you can be both respectful and funny. “I talk about dating stuff but I also turn my ‘funny laser’ onto sexism in the workplace or microaggressions that people of color go through,” says Robinson. Her audience trusts her “because I take my time coming to the conclusion I’ve come to—it’s not just me being silly and goofy without any regard for how people actually feel.”
This is apparent in her book, which Robinson injects with laughs, even when covering heavy topics. She offers advice as to how to avoid being the “token black friend” (yell “don’t you Legend of Bagger Vance me!”), drops truth bombs like “Racist behavior [doesn’t only happen] within a three-block radius of Paula Deen’s house,” and shares important life lessons: Love yourself, stop apologizing for who you are, and no one—no one—is a Carrie. You Can’t Touch My Hair achieves the impressive feat of being an accessible, fun read covering some serious issues; half of it is hilarious and the other half (see: the title) makes you think, “It sucks this needs saying at all.”
Robinson channels her combo of social justice and humor (and all those hours with James Lipton) on her new podcast, Sooo Many White Guys, where she real-talks about racism and sexism with folks like Hari Kondabolu, Janet Mock, and Roxane Gay.
Robinson says her book tour “will be a healthy mix. You’ll see sides of me that you don’t see on 2 Dope Queens.” Expect some tasteful “vajeen” jokes, some U2 adoration (Robinson is an unironic fan), and the soul-searching that’s made her the dope queen she is today.
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain
by Phoebe Robinson