how i get it done

Phoebe Robinson Beats Writer’s Block With Help From Bono

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Yavez Antonio

Phoebe Robinson likes to keep her gut health in check. “I always start the day blurry eyed with a probiotic shot,” she tells the Cut. “Then I go work out, and then I poop. Gotta stay regular at my age.” (For the record, she’s 38.) You would probably want to stay regular, too, if you had as many jobs as Robinson — she is a stand-up comedian, podcaster, author, actor, producer, and writer. She also has her own production company, Tiny Reparations Productions, and an imprint at Penguin Random House, Tiny Reparations Books. 

Robinson started doing stand-up in 2008 and became a household name in 2015 thanks to her hugely popular podcast 2 Dope Queens, which she co-hosted with Jessica Williams. During 2 Dope Queens’ four-year run (which spawned two four-episode HBO comedy specials), Robinson continued working on other projects. In 2016, she launched a solo podcast, Sooo Many White Guys, and published her first essay collection, You Can’t Touch My Hair (And Other Things I Still Have to Explain), all while working as a television writer on White Guy Talk Show and Portlandia. Her second book, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay, was released in 2018, and in July of this year, the first season of the series based on that book, Everything’s Trash, aired on Freeform. Robinson created, produced, wrote, and starred in the show. Going forward, she’s hoping to write and star in her own rom-com, get back into stand-up, and grow her business. Here’s how she gets it done.

On her morning ritual: 
I usually get up at six. I don’t feel like getting out of bed, but then I do. I usually start my day with exercise because those early-morning hours are typically the only hours I have to myself when I’m not answering emails or doing work. I’m either taking tennis lessons — I started playing tennis over the summer — or I’ll do something on my Peloton. I love Jess Sims, her workouts are always very hard and I always tend to wind up cussing her out by the end. I also love Adrian Williams’s strength classes. He’s all about the booty, so he does a lot of squats and a lot of lunges, so the next day I’m walking like a cowboy from Yellowstone.

On an average workday: 
Monday and Friday, I work from home, and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday I go to my production company office, which is in Industry City in Sunset Park [Brooklyn]. It’s me; my head of development, Jose Acevedo; my two assistants, Mariama and Victoria; and Jose’s assistant. And we just hired my chief of staff and strategist, who is based in L.A. My college bestie, who is still my best friend to this day, she’s an interior designer, so she designed the office for us. It’s a lot of colors. There’s some pictures of me in there. It’s a really great vibe. I love it. When I’m stressed, I just take off my shoes and rub my toes on the fuzzy carpet and calm down.

Each day I sort of have to jigsaw things together. It’ll be a combination of meetings, podcasts, and interviews. Whether at home or in the office, I try to block out three to four hours a day, five days a week, dedicated to writing. That could be stand-up writing, script writing … Much to the chagrin of my lit agent, not book writing. I will, but just not yet. I love writing books, but they kind of break your brain a little bit.

On her secret to staying grounded:
I’m a huge fan of U2, so I have my stack of U2 magazines in the corner that always help ground me. At my home office, I have on my desk a picture of Bono and I from when I met him for the first time in 2017 at Bonnaroo. Next to it is a framed note that he wrote me for my birthday. So whenever I’m stressed out at home — I might have writer’s block or I’ve been in back-to-back meetings — I just look to my left, and I’m like, Girl, Bono bent the knee for you. And it was photographed. Things are going to be okay.

On the moment when she knew she’d “made it”: 
Being able to financially support myself — that’s when I knew. I started doing stand-up in 2008, but I didn’t really start making money until 2017, so that’s nine years of living paycheck to paycheck. You’re taking the dollar bus so you can go do shows for free in Boston, or you’re flying across the country to do shows and your paycheck pays for the flight and hotel. When I knew I could make money and not be trying to scrape everything together is when I knew that I made it practically.

The fun answer is when Michelle Obama asked me to moderate on her Becoming book tour. I used to joke, “Michelle Obama listens to 2 Dope Queens,” and Jessica would be like, “We’re so ignorant, she’s not listening to our podcast.” And then she was! On days where I feel like garbage and something career-wise isn’t working out, I go, You know what? I probably made Michelle Obama laugh at a dick joke. And then she asked me to go on the road with her. That’s pretty cool.

On her money mindset:
I’ve been working with my therapist since the end of 2020, and we started working together because I was a workaholic. Now, I’m reformed. I would say, “I’ve gotta do this” and just keep going and going and going. She said, “You have poor-girl brain. You’re still operating like it’s 2008. It’s 2020. You’ve set up your life.” I had to reframe the way that I looked at work and money. I don’t have to say yes to every job. Not everything is going to go away if I don’t take every job that’s offered to me. And now, I can look at it holistically and see how it’s benefiting my life. So, I have my overhead — I gotta make these buckets to pay for everything — and then I want to have fun money, and I want to have money that I can save, and money that helps with my lifestyle. So, I think about it in a more mature way than I did in my twenties. And I allow myself to have fun in reasonable ways, but I also want to be responsible and think about the future and how I want to grow my business. I like a designer handbag, but I’m also more practical.

I’m able to not let money be the ruler of me. It’s more of a partnership. And having a healthier relationship with money allows me to get rid of shame, guilt, and this hustle, hustle, hustle all the time mindset, which could distract from having a rich, wonderful, delicious life.

On the power of Do Not Disturb: 
I don’t sleep with my phone in my room anymore. I put my phone in my office and let it charge, and I just have a simple alarm clock, because staring at phone screens before you go to bed really fucks with your head. And when I’m working, I’m a big fan of putting a Do Not Disturb on. It’s not even just for myself. If I’m in a meeting and someone’s texting me and I’m checking my phone and answering texts while they’re talking to me, it feels rude.

On unwinding at the end of the day: 
I love a really good, trash reality-TV moment. I also love home-design and real-estate shows. So, I’ll watch TV or text a friend. Sometimes people let me FaceTime them, but I think people are fully done with FaceTime now. My friends will not pick up. But if I call them on the phone, they’ll pick up.

On the people who help her get it done: 
I hired my first assistant in 2018. It had reached a point where I was juggling too many things. I’m booking travel, and these emails are slipping through the cracks, and I have to follow up with payment on X, Y, Z, and I’m not able to do that. And I really just wanna spend three hours writing today, but I spent those three hours doing admin stuff. I’d never had an assistant before, but I knew it would make my life easier, and I thought I would be more productive and more fully present. You can’t do it alone.

I have a whole host of people I could thank. My publicist, my agents, my assistants, it takes a whole crew. You can’t do any of this at this scale by yourself. It all works in tandem. My writing and creating helps my publicist do her job and promote me, which then helps elevate me to another level. People talk about, “Oh, this person’s a genius, and that person’s a genius, how do they do it?” They are able to do X, Y, Z because they have a team. Yes, genius and talent play a part, but you cannot execute unless you know you have a support system in place that will allow you to execute the things that need to be your main focus.

I also want to shout out my former number two, Mai Huynh. She helped me build my businesses from the ground up. I love her so much, I’m obsessed with her. She is one of the people I always try to FaceTime with and she avoids me. She loves that I wanna FaceTime and that I’m thirsty for her, but she doesn’t have time for my nonsense.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Phoebe Robinson Gets Past Writer’s Block With Help From Bono