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Comedy fans may think they know Phoebe Robinson, but, with her new Comedy Central series, she’s about to show off many new sides of herself, all while celebrating some of her famous friends’ special skills and hobbies.
Launching April 9 with two back-to-back episodes, “Doing the Most With Phoebe Robinson” is the multi-hyphenate’s take on a talk show — but instead of sitting down on plush couches for a few minutes of banter about her guest’s latest project, they’re taking their discussion out into the world, sometimes over a friendly archery competition, sometimes in a recording booth, sometimes while wine tasting and, in the premiere episode, on horseback.
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“The biggest inspiration for this show is honestly, I’m such a workaholic and so many people I know are [as well]. I spent so much time building my career and focusing, writing books or doing stand-up or podcasting or acting. And I’m in my 30s and I really don’t know how to do things [such as] how to drive. I can’t swim. I can’t really cook that well. I’m a hot ass mess,” Robinson laughs. “But I really love interviewing people and I like trying new things and so I was like, ‘Why don’t I just make this a show?’ It really forced me to accomplish all these things off my to-do list and just have fun with people who I really enjoy being around [at the same time].”
It may seem like a big ask in booking Robinson’s guests that they take on a task while filming, but in order to make it fun for them, Robinson says she wanted to use the show to take herself out of her comfort zone, but keep her guests in theirs. “They’re going to be the expert here, navigating the experience,” she says. “I think a lot of these celebs like to show off things that they can do outside of what people normally see them do.”
When developing the show, Robinson sat with her story producers to “kick around” different names of potential guests, always looking for those who they felt had “cool energy,” in addition to being able to teach her something new — and who “will be patient with me when I’m bad at it,” she says. She ended up booking some people she has worked with in the past, such as Kevin Bacon, with whom she experiences a trio of physical activities — hiking, a ropes course and a leap of faith. She also booked close friends, including Whitney Cummings, with whom she goes horseback riding in the premiere.
Bacon’s episode, which airs on April 16, was one of the first ones produced, so it was when Robinson still wanted to push herself physically. “Initially I was like, ‘Everything has to be super high, intense and physical and stunty,'” she says. “After the ropes course I was like, ‘That was really cool, but that’s not the only way to push myself outside of my comfort zone.'” From there, she and the team built out episodes that still challenged her, but in different ways, from recording a song and shooting a music video with K-pop star Eric Nam to participating in a bake-off with “Queer Eye” star Tan France.
As much as she thought she “was going to die” while in the woods with Bacon, Robinson points to recording a song as one of the more complex episodes for her. “I can’t really sing, but also it’s a vulnerability. To be on camera in a recording studio with a professional singer who’s very successful and very popular — I love him so much — and for me to try to learn how to sing on camera with him standing next to me and I’m missing all the notes, I felt like that was really challenging.”
But the environment, in addition to the need to focus on the task, helped create more honest and natural conversation with her guests. Cummings found herself saying, “‘Oh, this is stuff I’ve never talked about before and I just forgot that we’re actually shooting a show,'” Robinson recalls.
The host helped that along by sharing things about herself, rather than just interrogating the guests. “That’s going to also encourage them to sort of share things about themselves, like when Kevin was talking about his wife Kyra [Sedgwick], it was just sweet and wonderful, and I think it got to that place because I was telling him about my boyfriend and how I talk about marriage and all these other things. And so, it just really felt like, ‘OK if we’re going to talk about relationships, let’s get into it,” Robinson says.
Since Robinson has an extensive background in comedy, from acting roles in “I Love Dick,” “Search Party” and “Ibiza” to her podcast-turned-HBO special “2 Dope Queens” with Jessica Williams, her writing (“You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain,” for example) and her stand-up, she wanted to keep that light-hearted tone in “Doing the Most,” even when the things she is doing might have her “scared in the moment.”
This background, especially her stand-up, also prepared her for how open and vulnerable she’d have to be on “Doing the Most.”
“I’m not concerned with always looking perfect — I understand that comedy comes from opening up and making mistakes and making a fool of yourself sometimes and that’s OK because other people do that every day, too, so we’re all in this together,” she says. “I’m always just like, ‘OK if this is the thing that we’re going to do, I’m going to be down for it and try to make it work.’ And so, with this show it was just more of the same for me in terms of going into something with an open mind and having fun.”
“I’m just going to be as honest as I can be in the situation, so when I’m feeling scared, I’m just going to say that I’m scared; if I want to laugh at myself, I’m just going to laugh at myself,” she continues, “and I think that comes across in the series. I’m not taking it too seriously, and the goal is not to perfect the thing by the end of the episode — just the fact that I freaking try is the goal.”
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