At 37 years old, Phoebe Robinson has accomplished more than most. She’s starred in blockbuster hits Ibiza (2018) and What Men Want (2019), and has published three books, in addition to creating her own publishing imprint, Tiny Reparations. With fellow actress and comedian Jessica Williams, she created and co-hosted the 2 Dope Queens podcast (later turned HBO series) and also created her solo podcasts Sooo Many White Guys and Black Frasier.
Now, she’s tackling a different beast in the form of her new Freeform series Everything’s Trash. This isn’t the first time she’s been on the TV screen (her comedy special, Sorry Harriet Tubman, aired on HBO in October of last year), but this is the first time she’s done a scripted comedy series, which she just so happens to have written, executive produced, and star in.
It’s been a long time coming for Phoebe. In 2015, she tried to get her own show, but it wasn’t until she partnered with showrunner Jonathan Groff in 2019 that it finally happened. “It’s been a long process, but it’s really exciting,” says Phoebe. “The feedback has been really nice and kind, which I appreciate. It really feels like we had a vision for the show, and were able to bring that into fruition.”
Based on her 2018 book, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay, the Freeform show Everything’s Trash follows Phoebe Hill, a 30-something outspoken podcast star making her professional mark while living a broke and delightfully messy life in Brooklyn. But when her older brother launches a political campaign (her IRL brother, Phil Robinson, is a member of the Ohio House of Representatives), she’s forced to start her adulting journey with the help of her family and friends.
Historically, Black women characters have often had to have it all together, creating a limiting view of Black women as people. Phoebe herself has said Black women haven’t felt as free to be trash, but her show is now turning that standard on its head, albeit unintentionally. “The work that I try to do is not in reaction to someone saying something,” she says. “It’s more about what I find funny, what the writers in the room find funny. I really wanted to tell a story about a particular Black woman, living in New York trying to make it work having her friends and brother by her side and showcase different kinds of love.”
And that includes self-love and owning who you are. In the second episode of Everything’s Trash, Phoebe’s character is chosen to be on the cover of a magazine. In an effort to portray “Black Sexcellence,” she ends up buying a $1,200 dress with her credit card, despite being broke and taking pictures with an owl (something she sees other Black stars doing online). The result is naturally hysterical, but also lesson-learning as at the end of the episode, Phoebe comes clean to her podcast listeners, admits how broke she is, and comes to terms with being okay in representing that.
It was something Phoebe had to deal with personally in her own life, citing “a tinge of shame” in being so popular while having student loan debt after 2 Dope Queens came out. But since then, she’s evolved (she’s no longer in debt), finding confidence in herself and being okay to show the world who Phoebe really is, which she says is reflected in her TV character as well.
“[You change] with time and experience,” she says. “Your 20s are different than your 30s. I have really grown in confidence in myself, and I know what I want to do with my life, and I have a good support system. With the character in the show, we see her journey of maturation, which is really exciting. But she’s not like, ‘I have to change who I am completely to be an adult.’ She really still wants to be herself so it’ll be great to explore that in the series.”
For the real-life Phoebe, part of that confidence building and growth stemmed from focusing on herself, which can be especially difficult when you factor in the myth that is social media. But of that, Phoebe says the secret is to simply, “pay attention to your own life.” She adds, “Social media is really highly curated, so it’s best to focus on what you want to do and surround yourself with people who are grounded. My preference is to be present in my life.”
Your 20s are different than your 30s. I have really grown in confidence in myself, and I know what I want to do with my life…”
With so much trashiness, if you will, in the world, it can be a challenge to be present. But that was one of the reasons Phoebe created Everything’s Trash – as a way for people to find joy – even if it’s just for 30-minutes on your TV screen. As for what Phoebe does to spark joy, she recalls a time when they were shooting the show, and she rented a karaoke machine. “We do karaoke nights and be really silly and drink wine,” she says. “They’re ways for everyone to find just even little pockets and moments of joy, whether it’s cooking a meal for yourself or writing your gratitude journal.”
Another thing that brings Phoebe joy? Weekly “Thirsty Thursdays” on her Instagram where she posts her latest man crush. She’s even gotten a DM response from Milo Anthony Ventimiglia from NBC’s This Is Us showing his appreciation for the honor. “I’m always talking about hot celebs, so I was like, ‘Let’s just try and do this – it’d be fun.’ I just like to be silly.”
In my (unbiased of course) opinion, Phoebe has made a name for herself as being one of the funniest writers and comedians in the industry. Something she’s done by being true to herself and sticking with it. In a 2018 interview with NPR, Phoebe noted how “exhausting” it can be to work in comedy, calling it “a very white male, straight male-dominated industry.”
She was previously told in 2015, when she wanted to release her first book, that books written by funny Black women weren’t relatable, but she didn’t let that stop her. She’s released three books since then (You Can’t Touch My Hair, Everything’s Trash and Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes) and recently extended her deal with ABC signature, where she will continue to develop and produce projects across all Disney platforms for the studio. “I always thought that I’d be able to do this,” Phoebe says. “I didn’t go ‘well, they’re right’ Just because one person said something negative. I’ve always been really focused on doing the work that I want to do, and finding my audience.”
Since she started in 2008, she’s grown as a comedian, not just in terms of how successful she is, but in her outlook on comedy. When she was doing 2 Dope Queens, she recalls people would tell her they would listen to the podcast with a sick parent. “That’s just not something you’re thinking about when you’re doing comedy,” she said. “You realize that, yes, your stuff is funny, but people are turning to it as a way to feel better about the state of their lives. It makes you go, ‘Oh, I should appreciate this more, and have more fun.’”
In addition to appreciating her craft, Phoebe also has a newfound appreciation for setting boundaries. And how could she not? With her doing so much right now, there’s power in saying no. And if there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s Phoebe’s world. We’re just living in it.
“I’m taking time off, which is good, and telling people I’m too busy right now and need time for me,” Phoebe says. “Most people get it. A lot of people, not everyone, have reprioritized their lives a little bit due to COVID. So, people understand when you’re like, ‘Well, I just don’t want to work all the time.’ It makes it easier to establish boundaries now than it was in the before times.”
It would seem as though Phoebe has found balance, juggling multiple projects and already eyeing her next career accomplishment. “I really do want to write a romantic comedy for me to star in, so I think that’s probably the next step for me,” she says. “I love that kind of stuff. Romantic comedies are just so fun.” Her favorites include When Harry Met Sally, The Philadelphia Story, and Brown Sugar, but she doesn’t have an idea of who would play opposite her in the film quite yet. “I have to write the character first and see who I think would be funny and who would be interested in doing it,” she says.
There is no doubt she’ll have her pick to choose from when the time comes, or that it will undoubtedly make us laugh – as Phoebe always does. Until then, you can catch her on your TV screen.
“It’s [Everything’s Trash] a comedy, and I wanted to make a balls-out, really funny show that makes me laugh and made the cast laugh. You have to write what you want to write and what makes you laugh and what makes you feel good, and you hope that connects with people.”
Photography: Bertram Knight
Hair Stylist: Sabrina Rowe
Makeup: Jaleesa Jaikaran at Forward Artists
Wardrobe Stylist: Ryan Young