Comedian Robby Hoffman Isn’t Exactly Happy To Be Here
Comedy’s next big thing is ambitious, annoyed, and dating The Bachelorette.
When I meet the comedian Robby Hoffman for lunch in Frogtown, Los Angeles, the waiter just happens to seat us next to a woman wearing a Weeds hat and a Desus & Mero jacket. This woman is not just a fan of Showtime, it turns out; she is a producer for the network. In fact, she is the producer of Hoffman’s Showtime pilot, Rivkah. She is, in some respects, Robby Hoffman’s boss. A boss to whom, at that moment, in the excruciating final weeks of the Hollywood writers strike, Hoffman is not really supposed to talk. And we’re already on the record.
But Hoffman is unfazed. She lightly roasts her producer’s merch and riffs on what they should make to promote Rivkah. (“Addison Rae wants a branded yarmulke, right?”) Then we all wish each other a shana tova (it’s T-minus three hours til the start of Rosh Hashanah), and Hoffman sets about making me understand that there is, in fact, literally nothing that could knock her off her game.
(Running into someone, just so you know, is not in violation of strike rules, nor is doing press about your standup and relationship, so don’t even start.)
Hoffman’s confidence — not cockiness! — is so apparent that her presence naturally inspires deference. “I don’t get heckled or anything like that. I think I don’t look like I would take it well. My audience knows, they know that’s a risk on them. I don’t give off the impression that you could heckle me or whatever. My audience is very obedient to me, the way I like them.”
Her material ranges from personal stories to witty-grumpy observations on life’s banalities: “How do you expect me to have [my birth certificate]? You gave it to me as a baby.” She’s content to be a malcontent. Life sucks but, eh, whatcha gonna do?
I can’t settle on how to describe her stage persona. The direct, nonscreamy delivery of Pete Davidson… the focus of Bill Burr… the vibe of Tig Notaro? No, I’m getting colder. She’s brutally honest and totally unfussy, but sidesteps both the “edgy” topics other comics use for attention and the telling-you-what-you-wanna-hear approach that elicits smarmy “clapter.” She just talks and it’s funny. “Early on in stand-up, one of the things I heard was ‘It takes a long time to find your voice.’ And that was the first thing I had. The first thing I heard. It really didn’t matter what I was talking about.” Later, I tell her she reminds me of Larry David, and she tells me that’s racist, which is perfect.
To hear Hoffman tell it, she had no choice over her core attributes, which is probably why she’s so upfront about them. The 36-year-old was born a Jew, a lesbian, and a comedian, though not necessarily in that order. “For love or money, this is what I do till 120,” is how she describes her comedy career, which began with the discovery of open mics (she didn’t grow up a comedy fan) and now encompasses touring, writing for and performing on television, and a podcast the New York Times called “addictive.” And she’s coming soon to Netflix.
As for her sexuality, she says, “I never got to come out gay.”
“No?” I ask.
“No, look at this!” she says, referring to her distinct and androgynous appearance. “If you know, you know.” And she knew. “I knew I was a weird kid; I knew I was this — I just enjoyed it. It’s not for everyone to be who I am, but it works for me. I dress boyish, there’s a lot going on, but it works for me.”
This certainty applies to Hoffman’s opinions too. Here are some she shared with me:
“I think Taylor [Swift]’s gay, and I think it’s a good thing. That’s on the record.”
“New York’s a dump; L.A.’s a sh*thole. New York is a city; L.A. isn’t a city. I know it’s a city, but it’s not a city; we know what a city looks like; we’ve seen cities. Boston is a city. You see cities. They have buildings, they’ve got skylines, they light up at night. These are cities. L.A. is a mishmash. Both are horrendous.”
“Movies have gotten so bad; there’s no movies to see. Movies are all for kids now, superhero movies and Fast and Furious; it’s for kids.”
“Kendall Jenner [is also a lesbian]. I called that 10 years ago. Not a bad thing! These are good things to be called! Lesbians are on the up. I do think lesbians are on the up.”
It’s not that you’re not allowed to disagree, it’s just that she absolutely doesn’t care if you do. “I don’t need to be understood by everyone. In fact, I don’t care to be understood at all. I’m just going to be me, and what you take you take from it and that’s it.”
I thought we were all supposed to be constantly questioning ourselves, but I’m starting to see the beauty of the Robby Hoffman way of life. At the very least, it makes getting dressed simpler. “Basically when I find something I’m very committed to it. Like my glasses, I’ve had them for over 10 years. Once I found them, that’s it, I’m not looking for glasses again. My hair: This is the way I wear it. I haven’t had to change it.”
Is her girlfriend the same way? I can’t think of a better way to guide the conversation toward Gabby Windey, Hoffman’s girlfriend with whom she is very happy and very much in love and who happens to have been the co-lead of The Bachelorette.
“No. She changes her hair all the time, you know; she buys different dresses all the time because she took a picture in it. I said, ‘So what? I took a picture in this shirt! I got a million pictures in the same shirt.’ And she goes, ‘No, no, no.’”
When I heard of stand-up and thought, ‘Oh, my God, that’s me,’ it’s a nightmare. Because what, you have to do this now? It’s so embarrassing.
If you’re reading for Gabby tidbits, I won’t withhold the rest! “It’s an entertainment town,” says Robby of their chance meeting at a bar, as if finding love is as easy as picking a quarter up off the sidewalk. “We seem to be from opposite spaces of this industry, but there’s an understanding there. We both work hard; she’s in her space, I’m in mine, and it’s fun.”
Also: “Gabby’s obsessed with Jews. And I have to train her…” Sadly, I never found out what aspect of our shared faith Hoffman (who was raised Hasidic but is now eating an unkosher steak burrito) is training Windey on, because we are interrupted by our very solicitous waiter.
Hoffman’s profile in the entertainment world at large might be slightly bigger now, with all the relationship coverage, but she isn’t entirely convinced she wouldn’t be getting more famous anyway. “I’ve been reaching more and more people steadily. I think [my relationship] coincided with that. I’m starting to headline around the country. If my agent, Mark, is listening to this, it wouldn’t kill him. It’s coincided with me being more known in stand-up, so it is interesting that that’s happened.”
Speaking of interesting, Robby’s origin story is much more interesting than your average Bachelorette contestant. She grew up poor, with nine siblings, in a Hasidic community in Canada, and she describes her childhood as an emptiness that held the potential for anything: “I may have had nothing, but I always kind of thought, ‘I’m OK.’ I always, as a kid, thought, ‘We’re getting out of here.’”
“Growing up a poor kid, I went to a rich school, a Jewish school… I guess your other senses pick up the slack. I used what I did have, which was me. I may not have had the fancy clothes on my back and all this, but I did still have me. To me, that was an opportunity.” She didn’t quite know where to put that skill of being herself until she discovered stand-up as an adult. “I didn’t grow up a fan of stand-up or knowing anything much about it. I grew up in a funny family. My mother is so funny. My brother is so funny. I had the luxury of starting stand-up while discovering it, so I was like, watching Eddie Murphy, thinking, ‘Oh, my God, somebody should do something with this!’”
In true Old Testament fashion, when the heavens opened up and the light of comedy shone down upon her, it was a blessing and a curse. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I wouldn’t wish a calling on my worst enemy; it truly is a nightmare. If you can do anything else, do it. I never wanted to do stand-up… When this happened to me, when I heard of stand-up and thought, ‘Oh, my God, that’s me,’ it’s a nightmare. Because what, you have to do this now? It’s so embarrassing. I have to do this? It’s ridiculous. That said, it absolutely is what I should be doing.”
It’s embarrassing; it’s awful; she doesn’t care if you like it. But also? She’s going to take over the world. “Nobody dreams bigger than me. Dreams are free, so I don’t at all limit them. Anything free, I take. A dream is free. I want to be the biggest comedian in the world. Why would I limit something that is completely free and only positive? It does not serve me. I always thought big.”
Big thinking has served her thus far. “The fact that I’m here talking to you, making a living doing what I do, is such an already-made-it situation, to get to pursue this and pay for my life with this. Me getting here is Michael Jordan level proportions. What I mean by that is, coming from where I come from, to be here, to be doing this, would have been unfathomable if I had been a kid and not always just looking out the window dreaming.”
What, specifically, does she want?
“Think of the best thing you can have, all the houses in Malibu, and think about touring stadiums, and making whatever show you want. That’s what I want. I want it absolutely all.”
She pities her former self, the one who was an accountant spending her days making money for other people. “My heart goes out to most people who do that because they haven’t found a passion or they’re not talented.”
Confident, not cocky, still, somehow. And… profound? I don’t think Kendall or Taylor bat for the other team, but I know Robby’s on to some fundamental truths here. Dreams are free — why didn’t anyone ever tell me? When I tell Robby I admire how she’s always evolving but always herself, she quotes back to me her own inspiration, the sage of our era: “Bethenny Frankel said it best; she said you roll it into the batter.”
Robby describes her comedy as that of small grievances, issues she can leave on stage and then go enjoy her life. She’s, basically, a happy person. But as I’m trying to talk to her about how she’d spend a free day, we are interrupted by the waiter again.
“He’s come over way too many times. I don’t need to be asked how everything’s going every two minutes. We’re midconversation. That is the one thing I hate; there’s bad service where you can’t get the check for a half hour, and there’s overservice, which is also bad. We just want a balance. It’s like in Vegas; it’s so hot outside, and then when you’re inside, it’s freezing. They set it to 62, outside it’s 100. We literally just want room temperature. Set it to 70, 68, 70, 72.”
As always, she’s right.
Photographs by Alex Harper
Photo Director: Alex Pollack
Editor in Chief: Charlotte Owen
SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid
SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert
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