A different game of thrones with ‘2 Dope Queens’

Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson in HBO’s “2 Dope Queens” (Mindy Tucker/HBO)
Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson in HBO’s “2 Dope Queens” (Mindy Tucker/HBO)

Comedy-wise, we are in the Age of the Podcast, of the hangout — group activities that go where they may. The digital era has let a thousand Algonquin Round Tables bloom and invited the wide world to eavesdrop. Quite often these sessions are recorded in front of a live audience, amplifying the feeling of community, of a movement, of belonging.

Such is the case with “2 Dope Queens,” the 2-year-old WNYC-sponsored popular podcast of writer-comedian-actors Jessica Williams (late of “The Daily Show”) and Phoebe Robinson (“Broad City,” “Search Party”), which has been transferred to television by HBO for a four-episode run airing at 11:30 p.m. Fridays. Network money gives them a fancy set — a rooftop overlooking the New York skyline — a wig and wardrobe budget and a big, elegant space in which to play, the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, with no loss of the original’s scrappy delightfulness.

Like the podcast, and many other podcasts, “2 Dope Queens” mixes tussling banter — there are few jokes but much funniness — with stand-up spots and interviews. The guest comedians may be better or lesser known (Baron Vaughn and Rhea Butcher are among the former group here); the interview subjects are often better known, lending shine to the show. The joke that brings out the guest in the two HBO episodes I’ve seen is the request for a stagehand: Jon Stewart arrived to dust the set, Sarah Jessica Parker to help with a “shoe situation.” And the crowd goes wild.

The beauty of these shows is their informality or, in any case, the impression of informality they give. Good comedy always seems to come from the moment, when you can’t tell the old material from the improvised.

“Shall we get this show started?” Robinson asks 11 minutes into an episode. While there are few cutaways to the crowd — which is young and comes in many colors — there are lovely reverse shots, shooting past the performers into the theater, knitting watcher and watched.

The rest of the time, the enthusiasm is audible. Director Tig Notaro — whose own comedy evenings at L.A.’s Largo have something of this flavor — catches all the liveliness.

The premiere episode, which begins with a cold open in which Williams and Robinson, unrecognized, buy the last two tickets to their own debut — “the state of black-on-black aggression right now is insane,” says Williams to the black ticket taker — takes New York as its subject. The second episode is about hair, followed by ones about naked men and “blerds,” black nerds, which the hosts have elsewhere accounted themselves. There are multiple references to “Game of Thrones.”

The listener does not need to share demographic history with the comedian (writes the white guy); comedy brings the news from a foreign land. It’s educational. The hosts are smart, sweet and centered enough that they can handle the lowest topics in a way that feels innocent and refreshing.


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