I first learned of Phoebe Robinson on 2 Dope Queens, the live comedy podcast she hosted with Daily Show alum Jessica Williams. The podcast centred comedians of colour, women, and people identifying as LGBTQ because these people are funny and they often don’t get the same opportunities to perform. This book, Robinson’s second collection of personal essays, takes the same inclusive tone as the podcast, and discusses important topics like race, money, intersectional feminism and North American productivity culture, all with a generous sprinkling of pop culture humour.
Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay strengthens the weak points of Robinson’s first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain. Most notably, the book is full of fresh content, which is a challenge when Robinson’s creative output in stand-up, on social media, and in interviews all relies heavily on personal experiences. She showed restraint in saving the juicy details for this paid content, and the stories are stronger for it. The topics covered in this second book are also more fresh to the zeitgeist–more vulnerable and less talked-about. Robinson’s discussion of money struggles and productivity pressures are surprising and instructive. It’s amazing how little support celebrities receive in keeping up the glamorous facade of the Hollywood machine, how much they have to figure out on their own, and how much they pay for out of pocket. It’s unhealthy how much entrepreneurs and freelance artists are expected to plan, pitch and produce. And it’s both helpful and sad to know that no amount of success allows a creator to relax.
The most striking feature of Robinson’s writing and stand-up is her wordplay: her ridiculous metaphors, her convoluted analogies and her double-entendre abbreviations and hashtags. Her side references are so gratuitous readers almost need a flowchart to keep up with the connections, but Robinson does a commendable job of parenting her readers through the recesses of her mind. In her chapter “Feminism, I Was Rooting For You; We Were All Rooting For You,” Robinson wants to discuss her complicated relationship with feminism, particularly as a person of colour. But she wants to reference a Tyra Banks quote in her criticism, so before we get to feminism we have to understand the quote. And in making fun of her circuitous expository methods, she slips in a few more pop culture references which require further explanation. It’s a lot, but it’s smart and fun and definitely worth the trouble:
“Dear reader, ya damn skippy this essay title is inspired by the monologue Tyra Banks delivered to Tiffany Richardson after booting the model‑testant from Cycle 4 of “America’s Next Top Model.” The speech is iconic, and dare I write that, in particular, Tyra’s “I was rooting for you; we were all rooting for you” is one of the most important quotes of our time, right up there with John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high,” and the classic Ying Yang Twins rap lyric “Ay, bitch! Wait till you see my dick.” … Y’all, this is like when Apple hints there’s going to be a big announcement regarding the iPhone, so we all tune in to Tim Cook’s live stream of the product launch, and he’s just like, “The phone is slightly bigger,” and we’re all like, “Dat could’ve been a Post‑it note message next to an empty bag of Chex Mix.” Ying Yang, your dicks are like practically all of the dicks that have ever been seen, so calm down. But I digress. Back to Tyra and Tiffany. If you haven’t seen this showdown, please bless your eyeballs with the once‑in‑a‑lifetime clip ASAP.”
If you got all that and are still having a good time, Everything’s Trash is for you. This is Phoebe Robinson’s signature style, and no one does it quite like her.
(Photo: Mindy Tucker)