Zibby is joined by Phoebe Robinson, stand-up comedian, co-creator of 2 Dope Queens, and founder of Tiny Reparations Books, to talk about her latest essay collection, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes. Phoebe shares what inspired her to write a series of essays about the pandemic that did not give readers a simple play-play-play of her quarantine life, why writing an essay about her decision not to have children felt so necessary, and how becoming a boss offered her a new level of empathy for others.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Phoebe. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes, a collection of essays.

Phoebe Robinson: Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: I’m so excited to have you. Tell listeners a little bit about why this collection. What’s in this collection that people need to know about? Why did you even write it?

Phoebe: When COVID happened, the one thing that was my way of maintaining normal is I would try and read every single day. It was just keeping me uplifted and feeling positive. The first essay that I wrote for the book is #Quaran-bae about quarantining with my boyfriend who is a tour manager for rock bands. We went from seeing each other every six weeks to fifteen months of twenty-four/seven interaction. It was really funny, the ways that we got on each other’s nerves but also were really there for each other. When I was thinking about, oh, that’s a funny thing he did, or, oh, I was really annoying then, I was like, that could be an essay. I was thinking about my business at the time. Work was drying up in certain areas. I was thinking about that a lot. Then George Floyd’s murder, I was thinking about that a lot. I was inside all day. I had time to think. I was like, I think I could write about this time period without it feeling really heavy. We were all living through it. We don’t need a blow-by-blow recount.

I wanted to have fun with things and talk about but then also talk about self-care, which I love. I’m always like, I’ll just buy another candle. like me started going to therapy during COVID and all these things. I just thought it could be a way for people to laugh but also maybe see themselves in some way. I know a lot of people who also started going to therapy during COVID. The title comes from my parents who are very strict about cleanliness, which is probably why I was such a slob growing up as a teenager. They had their strict rules. When my brother and I would come home from school, they were like, “You can’t sit on the furniture or your bed or anything until you change clothes.” That’s a thing that has sort of stuck with me as a rule of my own apartment and in my dorm room when I was in my late teens, early twenties. I feel like this book is really perfect for this time period because I think it’ll allow people to laugh and escape but also think about some larger issues as well.

Zibby: Totally. I loved the assortment of essays and how they touched on so many things that, by the way, can be relatable not during quarantine. Yes and no. Immediately, your voice is like — if there was an essay class, this should be the example of how to get your voice on the page. It jumps off the page. Even the way you do abbreviations — I should’ve thought of an example, like delish, but it would be — I don’t know, the way you spell out, the way you say certain words. I felt like you were in my head. I could’ve been listening to you on an audiobook. I just love when people’s voices are that strong and engaging. I just wanted to throw that out there.

Phoebe: Thank you so much.

Zibby: My mom had all these weird rules, too, growing up. It was always about the wet towels. Where are the wet towels? Wet towels can’t be here. They can’t be there. They can’t be anywhere. Now all of a sudden, I’m like, to my kids, “Wait, you can’t put the wet towels — that carpet stains.” I’m like, oh, no, I’ve become my mom. I guess it’s inevitable. One of the essays I found particularly interesting in the book was about your decision not to have children and the pressure that women feel to have kids. There was a passage I wanted to read if you don’t mind. Let’s see, what was this called? This chapter was called — I can’t even find — you know what chapter it is.

Phoebe: Yes.

Zibby: It’s called Yes, I Have Free Time Because I Don’t Have Kids, which is so ironic because my podcast is moms don’t have time for anything. At the end, you wrote, “I write this so you don’t have to feel alone or cry yourself to sleep because you’ve been conditioned to feel like not being a mother means you are a failure, incapable of love, incapable of making the world better than it was before you entered it. I write this so women can free themselves from the pain and anguish of feeling like they don’t know how to be a person. You are a person. You are worthy. You are whole. You are healing while you are whole. You are recovering from every comment, snide remark, and hurtful attack on your womanhood. I see the scars, and they are healing. And after the healing is over, you can go on living or start living for the first time, the life you have dreamed for yourself.” It’s so good.

Phoebe: Thank you. So many of my friends are parents now. My brother and sister-in-law have two kids. I love kids. I love being an aunt. I love visiting them, pre-COVID obviously. I just have always felt that society is always really monitoring the way that women should live. Work, but don’t work too much. Be a mom, but also have time for yourself. Be the perfect wife, but also make time for your girlfriends. There’s no perfect way to be a woman in society. I remember feeling like, okay, just because I’m not a mom doesn’t mean that I’m not providing value and that I’m not trying to help make the world a better place. I just wanted women who make the choice to not have kids to not feel bad. I’ve had so many friends who have gone through IVF. I think people can be unintentionally invasive. Why don’t you have kids right now? What’s going on? You truly never know what a woman is going through and why she doesn’t have kids. I have friends who have tried for years and years and years. They don’t want that question to be asked because it’s just too painful. With this essay, I was like, whether you voluntarily don’t want to have kids or you’re just unable to have kids, that doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. Everyone’s very quick to judge everything. Not that men don’t have pressure as well, but I just think it’s a unique experience for a woman. You’re always sort of self-policing because you have been trained to be like, am I doing this right? Am I not doing this right? I just want people to be like, whatever makes the most sense for you in your life, that’s the right choice.

Zibby: It’s so true. There’s this added, of course, judgmental piece about this. That’s why people think they can be in your business and asking about these choices. I feel like it’s this evolutionary thing. Well, we all had to do it. Maybe they didn’t want to have kids themselves. I feel like most of the time, people ask judgmental questions or seem particularly judgmental — this is a massive generalization, so maybe just delete this from your mind. It usually is coming from a place that has to do more with them than with you. Maybe they’re going crazy with their own kids and they’re like, how did she get off the hook? How is she going to brunch? Why didn’t you have kids? Maybe it’s regret or the feeling that other women have of being trapped. I don’t know, but it never comes across the right way. Obviously, not for everybody, but I do feel that maybe on the inner lining of that jacket, there’s some of that.

Phoebe: Of course. I remember when Halsey did an interview. She was saying how it was difficult when she announced that she was pregnant. I think she’s twenty-five or twenty-six. People were like, you’re ruining your life by getting pregnant so young. I’m like, can you just let her be happy? Her and her boyfriend made this decision to be parents. My mom had me when she was — my mom was twenty-eight. My dad was twenty-four. There is no perfect time. When you decide that you’re ready to have kids, then great. Go for it. I feel like everyone just needs to get out of other people’s business and let them make their own life choices.

Zibby: It would be nice. It would be nice if people listened. I’ll wave that flag with you as much as you want. That would be a nicer, kinder world in which to live. I agree. I also loved your chapter on when you realized you were a boss. That was so cool. You were like, I’ve been doing all these things, and your Tiny Reparations imprint, which I want to talk more about. You were like, then one day, I realized, you know what, I’m a boss. This is amazing. I can have fun. Then you have ten or so suggestions for other bosses. Tell me a little bit about that. Also, I want to hear about the imprint.

Phoebe: Being a boss and having employees is sort of — when everyone thinks, I’m going to start my own business, you just think of the fairy-tale version of it. It’s going to be so cool. I’m going to have the signage. I’m going to have my cute office desk and chair. All that stuff is great, then it’s like, oh, business is really intense and up and down. Managing employees, there’s a lot that goes into it. I feel as though people aren’t always prepared to hear — we’re not told the nitty-gritty of what it takes to run a company. You can do the research and listen to the podcasts and talk to your friends, but until you’re in that position, you just don’t know. For me, one of the biggest things about me becoming a boss, I feel like I became more compassionate. When I was an employee, it was like, I’m just here at this place. I don’t want to be here today, or I want to be here today. It’s just my own little world. Then when you’re running a company, you have to attend to how your employees are feeling and that all that kind of stuff. It makes you become more attuned to other people’s energy and more course correcting how you’re approaching them or how you’re structuring the day with them. Really, I’ve learned so much. It’s been really exciting. It’s also really hard, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

As for this imprint, Tiny Reparations Books — I met my lit agent at the end of 2014. He had emailed me. I was on some stand-up comedians in New York kind of list that’s whatever. He saw that. He read a part of my blog. He emailed me. He was like, “You’re probably already working on a book, but if you’re not, I would love to work together.” We met up. We had a great time. I told him about my first essay collection, You Can’t Touch My Hair, the idea for it. Then he sort of sensed that I wasn’t going to be a one-and-done kind of author, so he asked me what I wanted to do next down the road. I was like, “Toni Morrison, I know she edited books while she wrote her own. That feels like a lot of work. I don’t want to do that. I’ll just have an imprint instead.” I had no idea what that meant and that it’s so much work. I just was like, I love books and want to be around books. Maybe January of 2020, I had an exploratory call with my publisher, Plume, about having an imprint. We talked about it. I was like, okay, this is something to keep in the back of my mind.

Then COVID happened. I was telling Robert, my lit agent, I was like, “Oh, we definitely don’t have to do an imprint right now. The world is falling apart.” He was like, “Look how much you’re reading. All you do is read in your free time so you don’t get depressed. So many people are turning to books right now to feel better about the world. This is a great time for you to have an imprint and publish work that you like.” Now we have, including my book, eleven books on the slate, which is exciting. It’s literary fiction, some essay collections, some poetry, some nonfiction. I really am excited about this imprint. It’s mostly female authors, which is really cool. I’m so stoked about that. I hope that people will really relate to these stories and see the humanity in these characters and in the poetry and everything. I just can’t wait for people to read the books that are coming out.

Zibby: So cool. When’s your first one slated to hit the shelves?

Phoebe: After my book, the first one will be What the Fireflies Knew. That comes out February 1st. That’s by Kai Harris. It’s a story of this preteen named KB. Her father passes away from drug use. Her mom has her and her older sister — I think her sister’s fifteen, perhaps. She has them go stay with their grandfather for the summer. It’s really about this girl dealing with the loss of her father but also wanting to do things that young kids want to do like making friends and dabbling in dating. It’s a really beautiful coming-of-age story. Then in April, we have — this is the other book I’ll talk about. In April, we have Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li. I was obsessed with the book. When I read the first page, I was like, we have to have this. When I met her, she was in medical school while she was writing this. I was like, I will never complain again about writing a book because you’re studying how to be a doctor and doing this. It’s five Chinese — they’re maybe college age, mid-twenties. They go around the country. They go around America stealing back Chinese artwork to bring it back to China. It’s a really cool heist book. It has a lot to do with identity and family and trying to find your place in the world and figure out who you are and trying to honor your culture and that fantasy of, if I couldn’t get caught and I could do some kind of heist-y, cool stuff, would I do this sort of thing? It’s really fun too. I love, love that book so much.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Will you please make sure that your publicist sends me all your titles for this podcast and everything?

Phoebe: Yes, of course.

Zibby: I can pick the ones that I love. I’m excited. That’s so cool. Stay on at the end because I have something I want to — we’ll chitchat about that piece of it for two seconds. That’s so cool. It’s just awesome. Then you have this whole funny thing about being with a British guy and relationships. The thing that’s so cool is your ability to — you take life and then just put it down, but you find the humor in basically everything. Not like you have to be jaw-dropping funny, just the absurd, the humor, the relatable stuff that happens in the everyday. That’s such a great way to go through life. Whatever the therapy you were doing, I think it was working.

Phoebe: Thanks.

Zibby: When you were talking about self-care, by the way, I was thinking how bad a job most candles do at actually calming you down at all. Wouldn’t it be funny if there was this candle set that was just like, “this is not self-care at all,” like candles in row? I feel like I should brand those.

Phoebe: You should. That’s great.

Zibby: This is not self-care. Get a book instead. Something like that, maybe. I don’t know. Amazing. You also have, obviously, this whole in-front-of-the-screen performance, HBO shows. How are you doing all that? You do the writing. You do everything else. How are they working together in concert?

Phoebe: It’s so much. I know. It’s too much. I started out doing stand-up thirteen years ago, so that’s really the root of everything. I was just going around the city doing bar shows or doing shows where I was getting paid fifteen dollars. I think people don’t understand. When you’re coming up as a stand-up comic, it’s not glamorous. It’s a lot of hustle. When I met Jessica Williams, at the time, she was on The Daily Show. We just really hit it off. We love stand-up comedy. We would watch these late-night shows. We’d be like, there’s hardly any women on late night. There’s hardly any people of color on late night doing stand-up, or people in the queer community. We’re like, we’re in New York. This is one of the best places to do stand-up. There’s so many talented people. You think of Michelle Buteau. You think of Naomi Ekperigin, John Early.

Zibby: She was on my podcast, Michelle Buteau. Love her.

Phoebe: Fantastic. That’s why we started “2 Dope Queens.” We’re like, we know so many amazing people. We’ve had Bowen Yang on and everything. We didn’t expect for it to really resonate with people the way that it did. We were like, we just want to watch hilarious people be funny. Then we’ll do our thing. I remember we were getting DMs on Facebook being like, every time I’ve gone to a stand-up show, it was only dudes. I didn’t think that stand-up was for me, so I just stopped going to stand-up shows and watching. It was really nice to see people feel encouraged. Our show, we never wanted to punch down. We never wanted to make anyone feel bad about themselves. It was always very joyful and positive. I think that’s the through line with everything. Now that I’m doing this solo stand-up special for HBO Max, which is very exciting, I really want to continue that. I joke about my boyfriend. I joke about my dad. I talk about the time I hung out with Michelle Obama. It’s really just a snapshot of my life. I try to have everything come from my positive energy and how I want to see the world and then figure out whether, should this be stand-up? Should this be a book? I want everything to sort of work in harmony and be really uplifting and funny. You can have smart stuff to say, but I don’t want it to feel as though anyone’s being reprimanded, but rather just being really frank and honest in sharing my truth. That’s how I go about my work.

Zibby: I love it. It’s so great. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Phoebe: That is a great question. I really feel like it’s so hard to break into publishing because you’re just like, I don’t know what to do. I would say whatever kind of thing you want to write, whether it’s an essay collection or fiction, first, target the imprints or publishers that publish a thing that you want to write. That’s a key. For fiction, if you’re trying to sell a novel, you have to write the manuscript, pretty much. If you’re doing an essay collection, you just have to have a strong proposal which has two sample essays. I’ve done that for all three books. People are like, you still write proposals? I was like, yeah, it’s your blueprint. You don’t want to sell a book and then you start writing and you’re like, oh, crap, I don’t know how to get from point A to point Z. Really make sure you have a super-solid proposal. Don’t hold back. I think sometimes you can be like, this might be too weird. I don’t know if anyone’s going to feel this. Put down your most authentic self on the page. Book writing is a year-long, year-and-a-half long process. You want to really stick with it. You’re only going to stick with it if you’re writing stuff that you believe in.

Then make sure you connect yourself with a really good lit agent. I was grateful to have my agent find me after years of blogging. You really want to have someone that’s going to fight for you and is going to believe in your work and is going to try and get the best deal for you and help you feel supported. As long as you’re studying the craft, you represent yourself well, and you really believe in what you’re doing, just write, write, write. That’s the biggest thing. Constantly work on your voice. What you mentioned earlier about my voice in this book, I started blogging, I want to say, back in 2012. It was like thirty people reading it. That was fine because I was like, this is a time where I could figure out what my voice is and get really strong as a writer. I would encourage people — I know it’s hard. I did this while I had a day job. Not everyone has the energy or the time to do that. It really helped me to do some writing on the side, whether it was going to be published or not, just so I could hone my voice and get into the habit of having to routinely write. Writing a book is so demanding. You want to be able to have the endurance to do it.

Zibby: Last question, and I’ll stop bothering you. You said how much you loved to read. Obviously, I do too. What are some books that you either read during quarantine like you mentioned or you’re reading now or just something that stuck with you?

Phoebe: This is a great question. I keep my book-reading list on my phone because I’m a full-on nerd. Let me see. Where is it? There we go. During quarantine, I read Little Fires Everywhere, which I was so obsessed with. I was like, oh, my god, this book is so good.

Zibby: So good.

Phoebe: I really loved it. Let’s see what else I read. Normal People, I read. Now I’m a major Sally Rooney fan. I’m so obsessed with her. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies I thought was fantastic. It was really, really good. Then this year, oh, this poetry collection by Jasmine Mans, Black Girl, Call Home.

Zibby: I read that. She was on my podcast too. She’s awesome.

Phoebe: So good. Then I read Casey Wilson’s book, The Wreckage of My Presence. It’s really funny. She talks, obviously, about her career in Hollywood. She talks about her mother passing away and how she’s been dealing with that. It was really funny and moving. It’s one of those where you read it and you’re like, I just feel like I’m hanging out with a friend. I really, really enjoyed that book. Last book I’ll say — it’s so hard to choose a last book. I really loved this book called Quiet by Susan Cain. Have you read it before?

Zibby: Yeah.

Phoebe: Of course, you have. You read everything. It’s such a great book. It really helped me, actually, with running my business. We’re all conditioned to, everyone should just be an extrovert. Then you look at your team. You’re like, it’s great to have a mix of extroverted people, introverted people. That will help make things great. I realized I’m an extroverted introvert. Sometimes be like, why am I so weird? You’re not weird. You’re just being around a lot of people who drain you, so you need to go home and recharge your batteries.

Zibby: I am the same personality type. I’m totally happy to be alone forever. I love being out and about, but not for that long. The other day, I was out with my sister-in-law and a bunch of people. I was like, “Okay, are we ready to go?” She’s like, “What happens in that moment? I don’t get it. It always happens when we’re out. You have this switch, and you need to leave.” I’m like, “I don’t know. That’s what I can do.” Actually, my kids’ school made that required reading or something.

Phoebe: That’s great. That’s awesome.

Zibby: Thank you so much. This has been so fun. Hang on for one sec after. I’ll stop the recording. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and for your fantastic collection, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes.

Phoebe: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Thank you.


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