2 Dope Queens's Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams Get Candid About Hair
Ever since Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams first met—on a Daily Show segment about black hair in the military—hair has been the glue that's held their friendship together. Since that fateful day, the actress-comedians have unpacked the weighty topic along with a slew of others, from gender discrimination to the trials and tribulations of living in New York, with their special brand of unbridled, culturally relevant humor on their 2 Dope Queens podcast and Brooklyn-based live comedy show of the same name.
Now, for the first time ever, the pair is bringing their laugh-out-loud rapport to the small screen with four hour-long HBO specials, one of which stars Sarah Jessica Parker and focuses on "hair journeys" (translation: the personal trajectory of one's hairstyles). Ahead of the premiere episode on Feb. 2 at 11:30 p.m., Robinson and Williams sat down with InStyle at the Sundance Film Festival to discuss hair, in all its glory.
What exactly is a hair journey?
PHOEBE ROBINSON: It's from when you were first born and have, like, three hairs on your head, to when you're five and your parents give you this cute-ass haircut, to when you're in middle school and you literally look like a mess, then you come back as an adult and you look cute, like we do. You figure out in your twenties what your style is. Everyone has the ups and downs, even Angela Davis or Jennifer Aniston. They've all had hits and misses with hair. We like to celebrate figuring it out.
JESSICA WILLIAMS: Puberty was the biggest monster. That's what I think about the most when I wake up in the middle of the night. That's why we talk about respecting the journey—whether your hair was a certain way that you didn't like, or you dated some dweeb that you're embarrassed about. No need to laugh, just respect the journey.
When did you become obsessed with hair?
JW: Black hair bonds me to all the other black women that I know. It's our crown, in a way. Your hair is deeply personal. What I like is that I don't feel judged—we're always encouraging whatever hairstyle the other person wants to do. You want to do Janet Jackson? Go for it. You want to do Zoë Kravitz? Let's do that.
PR: Hair like an outfit—you can change it out and change it up. Sometimes you want to wear your fro out, sometimes you want to throw a wig on. Do whatever you want. Whatever makes you feel good, that's what you do.
What do you like about each other's hair?
JW: This color is really twerking, aka working, for you. It's such a rich color. And the curls are jazzy.
PR: I was really going for Carrie Bradshaw season three before she cheated on Aiden. When I first met Jess, she had these really long locks for a long time that I thought were her signature. Then when she left Daily Show, she's really mixed it up. She's had purple hair, she's doing the fro right now, she's had a doo-wop inspired thing. Now that she's a free agent, she's really playing and exploring.
JW: This is my late-night retirement beard. [Laughs]
What does your hair look like natural?
PR: My natural hair is an afro. It's like a low-budget Tracee Ellis Ross. If she had a pair of irregular jeans in her line, that's what I am. I'm not the high-quality afro, but I am making it work.
JW: I'm a certified comb-breaker. I have been notoriously known to break combs with my natural hair. It has a lot of shrinkage. Normally it's pretty big, but as soon as I get it wet, it gets half an inch bigger. It doesn't want to be tamed, it's thick, there's a lot of it, and it's always been that way.
Do you enjoy getting your hair done?
JW: I hate getting my hair done, actually. I've always been more of a tomboy—I wanted to run and play and never deal with it. My mom and my older sister got their hair done every other week, so growing up, they would ask me why I didn't want to go. Sometimes it takes, like, eight hours. It's really bananas. I like things that seem more natural, so I don't have to worry about it. Set it and forget it.
PR: I don't mind getting my hair done. When I was a kid, I'd watch Living Single or Martin with my mom and she'd do my hair. I used to get my hair straightened until I was 18 and then I stopped and vowed to never do anything to my hair again. It was really damaging my hair, and I thought my hair should be fine the way that it is—I shouldn't have to do this thing that leaves burns on my scalp, or, if one drop of rain falls, I'm literally diving under a car in the street like an action movie. I change my hair up all the time: I've had dreadlocks, I've shaved my head. I once read an entire Nora Ephron book at a hair salon. I thought, "This is Obama's America. I'm getting braids done while reading some old white lady book." I really enjoy it, but sometimes when it's an eight-hour process, I need to stretch my legs.
Is there any hairstyle you deeply regret?
JW: Middle school bangs. The press and curl. I would press my hair texture, so it would be straight with a little bit of a bump at the end that would either go inward or outward. I was just trying to fit in and assimilate into what the girls in my school looked like that didn't look like me. I wasn't honoring what my hair wanted to do. It feels really good to be able to do that now as I'm getting older. It wasn't the right fit for me.
PR: It looked hella Civil Rights-y. I went to a prep school, where you had the uniform with the bangs. It could've been 2002 or 1962—you would not be able to tell the difference.
What's been your favorite hair moment?
PR: I had a blonde weave.
JW: That was hot.
PR: I got really into Game of Thrones, hella late after everyone else did, so it was Khaleesi-inspired hair. I felt powerful, even though I was just doing comedy and not riding a dragon.
Who are your hair icons?
PR: Lenny Kravitz. I always love his hair. I feel like Lenny and I have been on similar hair journeys. I was so obsessed with Halle Berry as a kid, but I thought, "I'm never going to be as pretty as her left toenail."
JW: Brandy was a big one for me. She would do shoulder-length, she would do long, she would do short. Braids have come back, but she's been doing them through and through.
Is there any hairstyle you wouldn't try?
PR: Anything that Björk does I probably can't pull off.
JW: Shaving my head into a bunch of patches and getting some weird saying inscribed in there, like, "I love farts."
PR: I don't think anyone has ever asked to have that done.
JW: That might be one of the worst things you could ever do.
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What was it like working with Sarah Jessica Parker?
JW: It was always nice seeing her early on in Sex and the City, because she had this beautiful, thick, bouncy curly hair that differentiated her from other actors and actresses.
PR: And she smells great.
JW: Can confirm that.