As an avid reader and writer, I have been wondering how the COVID-19 pandemic will be immortalized in literature, poetry, film, art, and other creative forms. How will artists and writers depict this time of communal grief and trauma? Who will emerge as storytellers and orators during this time?
Luckily, Phoebe Robinson, best-selling memoirist, stand-up comedian, and most famously, the co-host of 2 Dope Queens with Jessica Williams, has swooped in to begin to answer some of these questions in her newest collection of essays, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes. This funny title sets the tone for a collection tackling everything: from living through the 2020 quarantine, starting a new job, deciding to not have children, traveling as a Black woman, finding your soulmate, surviving quarantine with said soulmate, navigating the entertainment industry as a Black woman, and so much more. While many of these experiences are unique to Robinson and the communities she’s a part of, her conversational and approachable tone — along with her compelling pop culture references— help universalize her experiences for the reader. Her book reads less as a serious account of the past couple years and more as a phone call with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Robinson might not have intended this, but after reading her book or seeing her stand-up specials, you’ll be desperate to befriend her.
Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes is the first book I’ve read published during the COVID-19 pandemic that directly addresses the topic. It is a strange sensation to read thoughts on COVID-19 written in 2020 that are even more resonant as 2021 comes to a close. The book’s introduction, “2020 Was Gonna Be My Year! (LOL),” reads like many of my journal entries; 2020 was supposed to be my year but, of course, it ended up not being my year in any of the ways I had anticipated. Robinson captures this sensation of loss, regret, and missed opportunity beautifully and in a way that comforted me. Knowing that a badass writer and comedian in the prime of her career also feels this way is a reminder that COVID-19 has affected all of us in both public and private ways. Her writing is inspirational in a realistic and genuine, not-self-help, way. At the end of the introductory essay she writes, “Truthfully, there is no ‘right’ year or moment. We know this now. Actually, we’ve been knowing this. All we have, in many ways, is the knowledge that we don’t know how much time we have left in our lives. So let’s keep rolling up our sleeves and continue writing and revising and enacting new plans on how we can make this the best life of our lives.”
Throughout the collection, Robinson asserts herself as a fresh voice whose hot takes and quips land both on stage and on the page. In my opinion, anything Robinson produces is worth consuming. Her 2016 debut book, You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, is incredibly insightful and funny — though I don’t know how it holds up in COVID-19 times. Also, if you haven’t listened to the 2 Dope Queens podcast or watched the HBO special, you must do so as soon as possible to enjoy two of the funniest comedians of our time.
If Robinson’s account of the COVID-19 pandemic is any indicator of narratives to come, we’re in good hands. Telling stories of the pandemic will require vulnerability, empathy, honesty, and humor, all of which Robinson has mastered.