The Biggest News: Phoebe Robinson is Coming to Novella!
Oh hey. Remember when we told you to stay tuned, because we had a really-deally super exciting guest coming up at our November salon? Well, now it can be told.
Phoebe Robinson, New York Times bestselling author-comedian-actress-podcaster-executive producer, and so many other things we ran out of hyphens, will be joining Novella on Tuesday, November 13th to chat, take your questions, and read from her hilarious new book, “Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay.”
The book tackles all topics — from the triumphs and failures of feminism and dealing with body-shaming dudes, to meeting Oprah and Bono (twice!) and an extremely harrowing encounter with an extra-small pair of Spanx on a fancy photo shoot — in a way that’s incisive and literally laugh out loud funny. Seriously, this book has turned me into a creepy subway giggler, that’s just who I am now. I can’t explain to my fellow weary 2 train commuters that I’m shaking and dabbing my eyes because Phoebe just described Tyra’s iconic “We were all rooting for you!” speech as “engrossing, soul-shaking, and extremely wild,” and that’s okay.
Just before setting out on her book tour last month, Phoebe sat down to talk with Novella about her book, advice for finding like-minded collaborators (the Jessica to your Phoebe, if you will), and how she wrote herself out of the “powerless place” she found herself in after the 2016 election. Because she’s a giver, she even dropped some serious Suze Orman-style financial advice that legit made me go buy an appliance on Amazon. When Phoebe shares her wisdom, you sit up and listen.
Join Phoebe Robinson and Novella on Tuesday, November 13th! This salon will only be open to Novella newsletter subscribers, so go sign up and watch your inbox for the invite coming Thursday. In the meantime, check our interview below, and buy Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay for everyone you know.
Congratulations on your new book! It is a pure delight that’s hilarious, while also taking on some pretty major topics. What inspired you to write it?
“Thank you! This book came out almost two years to the day after my first book [the NYT best-seller You Can’t Touch My Hair], which is kind of nuts. I always intended to write a follow up, but planned to take a little more time. But after the 2016 election I was like ‘umm what’s going on? This is not how I thought things were gonna go down.’ I was upset and depressed, but also very inspired by my friends — people like Ilana Glazer, Danielle Brooks, and my brother who is running for state rep in Ohio [Editor’s note: HE WON!]. Even though I felt defeated in that moment, I saw people rally, educate themselves, and get involved in politics so something like this doesn’t happen again.
The book was partially my response to that — wanting to move on from that powerless place.
I thought okay, things are really messy and trashy right now, but I’m inspired by the people around me and I want to find ways to be part of the solution, which goes beyond pointing out the bullshit and taking corrective action. So it’s partially a response to the political climate but there’s also lighter moments where I talk about meeting Oprah, or trying to fit into tiny Spanx on a photo shoot. Taking the good with the bad.”
So let’s talk trash. You have this amazing unified theory of trash, where you talk about accepting the trash you cannot change, and working to change the trash you should.
“I think on an individual level we can all be a little trash, like watching bad reality TV is not great, but it’s also not a dealbreaker as a human being. So accept that about yourself — no one’s perfect, we all have shit we need to work on we all come from different places so there’s a chance you might mess up. But you also have to educate yourself.
I’m a proponent of, once you know something, you can’t un-know it, and you no longer have the option to be willfully ignorant. So for me that means I didn’t know much about the midterm elections, and didn’t always care about them, but I’m changing that. Or educating myself about trans rights so I can act and vote in a way that helps people. The most important thing for me is, don’t not make the effort just because the work is hard.”
One thing I admire about the way you’ve built your career is, in many ways you’ve created your own lane. It’s powerful to see how you don’t wait for others to write roles or create opportunities for you, but spearhead your own projects.
“Well I started comedy in 2008, and that was a time when people understood that to have a career, you have to be a creator and not just a person for hire. So I was doing stand-up, I’d have some successes like a set on a late night show, but I was always thinking, what’s the next step?
I like working with other people I admire, I like to push myself into things even if they’re not initially my strong suit. That curious nature and willingness to push myself has resulted in me being an actress, writer, executive producer, a stand-up. And there’s still a bajillion more things I want to do — I feel like I gotta catch up!”
Do you really? Because I look at you and think, “Phoebe does all the things. How does she have time to do all the things?”
“[Laughs] Well, I am a workaholic which I write about in the book, and
the great struggle of my life is to learn balance and to not only focus on work.
But the other side of it is I really love what I do, so even if it’s hard work you’re willing to step up to the challenge and sweat it out.
I’m also someone who likes being pushed a little. I was working out with my boyfriend today — we did Peloton bikes, which I’d never done it before, it was the hardest I’d ever worked out, I was so sore, but I was like ‘we should do this again, it’ll be fun!’
You were ready to go again.
“I get energy from being around other people working hard. That’s why I’m friends with the people I’m friends with — they give me that extra 10% of inspiration, energy, self-belief I need. I feel like I can accomplish more by having Jessica, or the girls from Broad City, or even people on the periphery of my life but who I admire so much like Issa Rae — women who are kicking ass, and there’s no reason I can’t be kicking ass too.
Surround yourself with the right people, and your baseline and what you expect of yourself is going to thrive.”
I think many women are looking for the close creative partnerships you’ve built. How can people find their person who is down to create with them, and propel them in the way you’re talking about?
“My advice is, there is enough for everyone to eat. The jealousy and insecurity have to go. If you want to have successful collaborations and partnerships, you have to keep your eyes on your own paper. If your friend is killing it, that isn’t an indictment on you. Unfortunately there are some people who don’t want to see you shine, who will sabotage, who are so busy trying to see you lose that they can’t win in their own lives. So part of success is developing that sense of okay, this person doesn’t have good intentions for me, and finding someone who does.
The big thing for me was looking for like-minded people who are passionate, but realistic in their expectations. Certainly when Jessica and I started 2 Dope Queens we weren’t like, we’re gonna be on HBO! It was more, this is really fun and we don’t see a show like this in New York City so let’s do it.
A good partner is willing to try things, see what sticks and what doesn’t. Learn to cheer each other on.
Understand that there may be times when you get busy and your partner is carrying the weight, and vice versa, and that’s okay. Keep on communicating through it and be supportive, be each other’s biggest champions — if you’re not, it’s not going to last.”
So unlike the more collaborative work you’ve done, writing is a very solo process, and I think non-writers don’t understand how much writers struggle with it! Is writing difficult for you?
“Yeah, it’s 1000% annoying [laughs]. The best part of writing is announcing the deal online. ‘Hey, I got a book deal! Got a TV show! It’s not actually writing it. Writing’s always hard. This book was definitely easier to write than my first one, but there was also a time crunch because as I wrote it, my career was taking off in a way I couldn’t have planned for.”
What’s your process like?
“I’m a nighttime writer, so 9pm to 5am is when I’m at my best. Usually my process is me in my apartment, sitting on the couch, some snacks nearby, maybe some music, TV on mute, I keep my phone in a different room, and I do reward systems. If I write 300 words, I can go work out, if I write 500 words, I can go have brunch with my friends. I have to make little rewards for myself, because I get easily overwhelmed. Thinking oh my god, I have to write a book is a really paralyzing feeling. But if I think, today I have to write 1,000 words, and I’m breaking that into two 500-word sessions, that feels easy.”
What’s your approach to editing?
“I tend to revise a lot, so as I write I’m also reading back and editing as I go — which is the most time-consuming way to do it! But it’s also motivating to read your first half and feel like it’s super-dope. But I also try to remember that a first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. No one’s going to read it but your editor, and it’ll eventually be in a place where you’re super-proud of it, so that takes the pressure off. Like ok, I know this ending is kind of trash now, but I can fix it later.”
I love that your book delves into the real-deal economics of being a published author — I think a lot of people don’t understand that you can be pretty well-known, and still struggling to pay bills, needing a day job, sleeping on a weird IKEA mattress.
“We all wish it was like Carrie Bradshaw, where you write your 200-word essay for a newspaper, and then go buy some Louis Vuitton! But that is not the reality.
For me, the biggest lesson I learned was — and it’s easy for me to say this because I don’t have kids, I didn’t have a mortgage then — but I always had the mindset that the money will come if I just keep working, being as good as I can be, and believe in it. In an industry like this, you never know when your career is gonna take off. Mine took off 8 and a half years in — that’s a long time to not really make any money!”
What did that wait feel like?
“It’s tough. You look around and see people your age buying houses, taking vacations, being able to pay their monthly bills on time, and I just wasn’t in that place for a long time. I had to learn to not feel guilty about it, and say just because it’s like this, doesn’t mean it’ll always be like this. I can’t only want the great moments of a career, like when you get a show on HBO, when your book becomes a best-seller. If you want to be in this industry, you have to love the work, and want to be in it when things aren’t going so great.
And that time taught me a lot of basic stuff about living within my means: don’t charge anything on my credit card I can’t pay off in a month, cooking at home more. That’s what my boyfriend and I do now — I’ll be on the road, and when we’re back home we have our little InstantPot and we make curries, stews, chilis, stews. Like yes, it’s nice to go to a fancy-pants restaurant, but also I don’t need to eat out every night — I’m not entitled to that.”
You mean I can’t Seamless dinner 5 nights a week and save money?
“[Laughs] Get an InstantPot, I’m telling you!”
Did you have a moment where you felt like, okay, I won’t be struggling forever, people know who I am, things are happening.
“I mean, I feel not that known, which is okay! But having a show on HBO was a dream of mine, so when I got that it was a huge, huge thing for me. But I’m also that person who’s always thinking ‘what’s the next thing I can do?’ I write about it in the book, how I don’t always celebrate myself. I should probably try to!”
Okay, last question. What do you see happening in the world right now that convinces you it’s not trash?
“I’ve been doing college stand-up shows, and seeing kids registering to vote. I didn’t do that in college — I remember going to register when I turned 18, but it wasn’t the campus-wide movement that it is now. They’re all talking about the midterm elections, are so politically engaged and thoughtful, and that’s just fucking cool. That gives me hope.”
Thanks so much Phoebe. We can’t wait to see you at our salon on the 13th!
“Thank you! I can’t wait to be there!”
”Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay” is available now from Penguin Random House books.