Apr 5, 2016

Cellmates

There’s a black hole in the middle of the history of life: how did we go from tiny bags of chemicals to the vast menagerie of creatures we see around us? 

Today, we explore one of the most underrated mysteries of all time, and present one possible answer that takes us from an unexpected houseguest to a tiny bolt of lightning to every critter you hold dear. It’s the story of one cosmic oops moment that changed the game of life forever.  

Production help from Matt Kielty and Annie McEwen. Reporting help from Latif Nasser. Special thanks to Eric Steinbrook, Scott Dawson, Ahna Skop & Rachel Whittaker

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Jad Abumrad:

Hey, this is Jad. Before we get started on the podcast, just two things. First, the Mailchimp challenge we did a little while back. We did it. You guys did it. The deal was if a certain number of you became sustaining members, Mailchimp would pitch in with some money. It happened, and we're super grateful. So, thank you. We freaking did it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. Number two, I want to let you know that toward the end of this podcast, it's about to happen.

 

JessicaWilliams:

Hey, Jad.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Hi, Jad.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait, wait. I haven't even said it yet. Wait, wait, wait. Hold on.

 

JessicaWilliams:

I know, but we're excited.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah, we're happy to be here.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. But you guys will have to hang out until the end. Is that cool?

 

JessicaWilliams:

Why do we have to be at the end?

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That was-

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Can we just be up top?

 

Jad Abumrad:

But that was the deal. We talked about-

 

Phoebe Robinson:

This is my Rosa Parks moment. I'm at the front of this episode.

 

JessicaWilliams:

Yeah. You know why we can say that? It's because we are black.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You're putting me in a box here. Okay. So, what I was going to say is at the end of this podcast, we're going to come back, and I'm going to introduce you guys. Listening to two very funny people who you just heard, Phoebe Robinson, Jessica Williams. They're starting a podcast here at WNYC Studios. It's called Two Dope Queens. It's awesome. We'll talk about it. All right, so you guys will hang out.

 

JessicaWilliams:

Yeah, yeah. I got nothing to do.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah, of course. Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right, cool.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Wait. You're-

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right.

 

Speaker 6:

You're listening-

 

Speaker 7:

Listening-

 

Speaker 6:

... to Radiolab.

 

Speaker 8:

Radiolab-

 

Speaker 6:

From-

 

Speaker 7:

WNY-

 

Speaker 9:

C.

 

Speaker 6:

C.

 

Speaker 7:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Jad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Robert.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Radiolab.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So, just very briefly, I'm going to tell you the story of three enormous mysteries; two of which you know very well, and one of which I bet you've never heard of, ever.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mystery number one.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is the one I know or the one I don't?

 

Robert Krulwich:

This is the one you know.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So about 4 billion years ago, the earth is one huge, mostly ocean of lifeless chemicals. Then for some reason, which we have never really been able to understand, lifeless chemicals suddenly produce a pulse and you get life.

 

Nick Lane:

Hello? Yes, I have just arrived now.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nick, okay. Wonderful. Like Nick, for example.

 

Nick Lane:

Nick Lane. I'm a professor of evolutionary biochemistry at University College in London.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nick is the main guy in the story I'm about to tell you, but just to continue this setup, that was mystery number one. Where does life come from? Next, mystery number three, to make it more interesting.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What about the two? You skipped over two.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Two is going to be the subject of the stories and more important, the middle one is the deep surprise because you've never heard of it. So I thought I would skip over two to remind you how familiar you are with one and three.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right, fine. Go to three, and then come back to two. It's fine.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Okay. Three. Consciousness. For some reason, one animal on the planet, and only one that we can notice, seems to spring into this very elaborate sense of self-awareness. We don't know why it happened. We don't know how it happened. It just did.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Right. I'm familiar with one and three.

 

Robert Krulwich:

You are. Now, here's number two. That's the one that keeps Nick up at night.

 

Nick Lane:

Yeah, because there's a gap, a black hole where everything important in biology happened, and we have very little insight into what it was.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Black hole and biology. I like that.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So, you want to know what it is? This black hole? Yes, you do. You do. You know you do.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. Yes.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Okay. Mystery number two. Hey, we're a little bit past one, but way before three. So 4 billion years ago, we got life. It's just floating around. Little specks in the ocean.

 

Nick Lane:

Very simple cells. Probably pretty much like a bacterium as we know them today. This is very small for a start.

 

Robert Krulwich:

If you're looking at the period at the end of a sentence, say, is it about that size or smaller than that?

 

Nick Lane:

Much smaller. Much smaller than that.

 

Speaker 11:

Hello.

 

Nick Lane:

A couple of thousandths of a millimeter long. So, tiny, tiny things. They all look the same in this size and shape, and they don't seem to be doing anything very interesting.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, they were having babies or they were using energy, and they were feeling a lot of things out.

 

Speaker 11:

Ta-da!

 

Robert Krulwich:

But if you look inside one of these little things, not much going on.

 

Nick Lane:

Yes. Basically, it's often described as a bag of chemicals.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They're not complex.

 

Robert Krulwich:

They're not complex.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Simple.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Simple as can be. It goes on like this for millions of years, and then tens of millions of years, and then hundreds of millions of years.

 

Nick Lane:

Well, really 2 billion years or so.

 

Robert Krulwich:

2 billion years.

 

Nick Lane:

If not longer.

 

Robert Krulwich:

You just have tiny, tiny, simple, tiny, simple bopping, bopping, sitting, drifting in the water, bopping, bopping, bopping, bopping, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Come on. Get on with it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

No. Look, I'm telling you this for a good reason. You should know there is no rule which says life has to get bigger. We could have stayed infinitely small for 100 billion years. Forever, really.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Really?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes, really. But then Jad, something happened.

 

Jad Abumrad:

As they say.

 

Robert Krulwich:

About 2 billion years ago. All of a sudden, practically overnight, a new kind of life shows up. A new sound. It's huge.

 

Jad Abumrad:

How huge?

 

Robert Krulwich:

A lot bigger than what was before.

 

Nick Lane:

These first ones, the actual volume went out around about 10,000 times bigger.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Whoa.

 

Nick Lane:

Massive increase in size.

 

Robert Krulwich:

It's like we just jumped from specs to battle ships. Inside these things-

 

Nick Lane:

Is massive pieces of complex machinery.

 

Robert Krulwich:

It becomes bigger and bigger and more complex. It ultimately leads to jellyfish, giant redwood trees, beluga whales, beluga caviar, which is baby whales.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's not baby whales.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, nevermind. Cherry trees, turtles, [inaudible 00:06:47] tarantulas, orangutans, elephants, pterodactyls. There's your second mystery. How did life, for such an enormously long time, stay so simple, so dull and so tiny, and then boom, you get these big life forms? What happened? Why did it not happen for such a long time?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, are you going to enlighten me with some attempts at answers?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes, but I want to remind you this is a theory we've got here. We're making a hypothesis.

 

Ed Yong:

Who knows really exactly what happened? We're never going to find... found footage of that moment, right? We can only imagine, and we can only use the evidence that we've got now.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That is Ed Yong.

 

Ed Yong:

I'm a science writer at the Atlantic.

 

Robert Krulwich:

It's the guy who introduced me to Nick, over to Nick's work and this theory. He says, "Here's the important thing to know."

 

Ed Yong:

I mean, I think-

 

Robert Krulwich:

During those 2 billion years when nothing much happened, it wasn't that life didn't get complicated. It's that life couldn't get complicated.

 

Ed Yong:

There is a barrier. There is an energetic canyon that simple cells find themselves trapped in.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What?

 

Robert Krulwich:

It means that it's a huge deal to try to get big. Think about what it takes to get bigger. It takes bigger cell walls. It takes more surface, more openings to let things in, push things out, more power, more moving parts, and then to make the whole thing fit and work together. You got to have a bigger design plan. That's your DNA. So, you're going to need more DNA.

 

Ed Yong:

All that DNA needs to be copied.

 

Robert Krulwich:

You're going to need some DNA copiers.

 

Ed Yong:

You then need to read the information that's encoded within it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Some DNA readers.

 

Ed Yong:

You need to use that information to build proteins.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And some builders.

 

Ed Yong:

That last bit is especially costly.

 

Robert Krulwich:

In other words, you don't get bigger for free. Every new step takes extra energy.

 

Ed Yong:

Just like if you're going to increase the size of your company by 1,000 times. If you're going to have 1,000 times more employees, you're going to need to pay them all.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Where are you going to get the money? You and I, we might be able to go to a bank. But if you're a teeny, little thing, you don't have any place to go. So, how do you get bigger?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Can't you just eat more food than you normally eat, so that you get more energy, so that slowly, over time, you get bigger? No?

 

Robert Krulwich:

No. Well, you could do that, but suppose you don't have the stomach to absorb the food.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You make a stomach somehow? I don't know.

 

Robert Krulwich:

In order to make the stomach, you've got to eat more food to build a stomach. But in order to eat more food, you got to have the stomach. But you can't really have the stomach unless you eat the food, and you can't eat the food unless you have the stomach. You're stuck in a hole, kind of. It's like a Catch 22 kind of a thing. You're stuck in what Ed calls an energetic canyon.

 

Ed Yong:

To climb over the walls of that canyon and to start experimenting with complexity, you need something improbable to happen. You need something very special.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So special and so improbable that according to this theory-

 

Ed Yong:

Over the course of all of our planet's history, that has only happened successfully once.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What? What happened?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, here's the theory. There's life bopping along in its boring, boring, boring way. Everything is very tiny, very simple. Then one day, two single celled creatures start to drift towards one another.

 

Ed Yong:

One of them is an archaeon.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Little blob.

 

Ed Yong:

One of them is a bacterium.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Another little blob, but smaller.

 

Ed Yong:

They belonged to the two great houses of simple things: The Montagues and Capulets of 2 billion BC.

 

Robert Krulwich:

In any case, these two little cells start to get near each other.

 

Nick Lane:

lowly. What each cell wants is what the other one has to offer.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nick imagines that, I don't know, maybe the little one was expelling some kind of chemical.

 

Nick Lane:

Let's say it's something like hydrogen gas, just for the sake of an argument.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Let's say the big one likes hydrogen.

 

Nick Lane:

That's what it wants.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Maybe the big one spits out nitrogen, which is what the little one wants. So they come together.

 

Nick Lane:

They snuggle up.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Totally ordinary thing. "It happens all the time with cells," he said, but in this case-

 

Nick Lane:

That snuggling gets closer and closer until-

 

Ed Yong:

Somehow those two cells meet and they merge.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They just squished together? How did they merge?

 

Nick Lane:

Membranes, fuse, cell walls don't always form.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Maybe the big one had a hole in its wall, and the little one just fell through the hole?

 

Nick Lane:

I don't really know what the mechanism is, but we do know it's possible.

 

Robert Krulwich:

The point is somehow this little guy-

 

Nick Lane:

Gets in.

 

Ed Yong:

The bacterium finds itself inside the archaeon.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So, that's the first thing that happens. One little guy gets inside another little guy.

 

Ed Yong:

Okay.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I got to tell you this is extremely rare.

 

Nick Lane:

For the most part, cells don't get inside other cells. When they do get inside of the cells, for the most part, it doesn't work out.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Because if you're this little guy on the inside, now you're trapped. You can't get to the things you want to eat.

 

Nick Lane:

It's cut off from the outside world and chances are, it will die.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Which is what happens 99.999% of the time, but not this time.

 

Nick Lane:

If the swallower is capable of bringing in that outside world and spoon feeding it to a swallowee, if you like, then it will work.

 

Robert Krulwich:

"Maybe that's what happened here," says Nick. Maybe the big cell had some kind of mutation that allowed it to keep feeding the little cell in its belly, so the little cell survives and thrives because the second thing that happens here is the little cell on the inside starts to divide.

 

Nick Lane:

So now, you have a cell with two cells inside it and maybe then four cells inside it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Which if you're a big cell is normally not a great situation.

 

Nick Lane:

You find yourself with guests inside you. Imagine having a house party and the guests won't go away. They're having intercourse among themselves, if you like, and producing more guests. There's going to be a riot. There's going to be a murder or something.

 

Robert Krulwich:

"The point is," says Nick, "when you get to this point, it really shouldn't work, but somehow it did." Not only did one cell get in another, which is rare; and then that cell survived, even rarer; and then divided without creating a riot, even rarer. But then somehow this big cell finds ways over and over of taking care of all the little new house guests.

 

Nick Lane:

There are all stages of their life cycle. You've got some old folk in there and you've got some babies in there. How are you going to do it? Well, you probably need to... let's put it in a maternity ward, first of all, to look after the babies. Let's put in some clinic for end of life, for the geriatrics.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Somehow, this big cell is able to construct all this new machinery inside itself to keep this extraordinarily various group of house guests happy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait! Why would it bother? What does the cell get in return? You said that it didn't have enough energy to build itself bigger. So, how is it even doing this?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, now, you're getting to the real nub of the story. "The key here," says Nick, "is those little house guests that are living now in the big cell?"

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah?

 

Robert Krulwich:

"They're not ordinary house guests. They are a very specific kind of bacteria that we now call"-

 

Nick Lane:

Mitochondria.

 

Robert Krulwich:

If you look at the descendants of those little guys who live in us right now-

 

Nick Lane:

They have an amazingly strong electrical charge.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That radiates across the membrane on their outside.

 

Nick Lane:

That electrical charge is tiny. It's 150 millivolts. But if you shrink yourself down to the size of a molecule and feel the strength of the electric field right next to that membrane, it's actually 30 million volts per meter, which is equivalent to a bolt of lightning.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Whoa.

 

Robert Krulwich:

This is what the big cell gets back. This is its returned gift. Lightning. It's this new electricity that gets it... it helps it fund all these new adventures and construction projects.

 

Nick Lane:

Now, they can support enormously larger genome. So you can have bacteria may have one or two copies of a gene-

 

Robert Krulwich:

You can now have 10 more genes or 20 or 30 or maybe 50.

 

Nick Lane:

There's no penalty for doing so. What that gives you is a kind of a redundancy that allows different genes to do slightly different jobs or to diverge. You've got the scope to experiment, to try things out. So, you have one group going off to become algae and plants and another group becoming animals and another group becoming the fungi and so on. The descendants did so well. They've taken over the world.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They all came from that one single coming together? That one union?

 

Ed Yong:

Yes. It comes down to one merger between two cells that made one cell, and then everything comes from that. You, me, the redwood tree or the hummingbird or fungus, a piece of algae growing in a pond, every type form of life that we can see with our naked eyes, and many that we can't, come from that single cell.

 

Robert Krulwich:

"What this spawns," says Nick, "is this is how we get the great tree of life that we see all around us. After eons and eons of sameness, suddenly we get this many splendored thing that is nature. It starts right here. What we're looking at is truly the second Genesis.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay, hold on a second. Hold on. Hold on. How do we know any of this actually happened? That all of the life that we can see comes from one cell? How would we possibly know that?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, starting with us-

 

Nick Lane:

That through the same ones in archae-

 

Robert Krulwich:

... if you go in and look at the genetic material inside our cells-

 

Nick Lane:

About half of our genes, a little bit less than half, we find them in bacteria or archae.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nick says you can see very clearly that the original DNA of those two cells, those two cells that merged into one, they're inside us.

 

Nick Lane:

So, their sequence and their structure has remained almost intact for 2 billion years.

 

Ed Yong:

Just the structure of your cells alone provides an important clue. If you look at the cells of all of those things, if I take one of your cells, and one cell from that fungus or from the spruce or from the whale, unless you were an expert, unless you've been trained in this stuff, it would be very hard to tell the difference between those.

 

Robert Krulwich:

In other words, all of our cells, and this is across animals, plants, fungi. They all look something like those original cells.

 

Ed Yong:

Very, very similar. They will have that nucleus, that internal skeleton. They would have mitochondria.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Those are the lightning bolts, the descendants of that first little guy that got swallowed.

 

Nick Lane:

We have 40 trillion cells, and each of those has got, let's say, on average, 1,000 mitochondria. So, that's a tremendous number of mitochondria in one human being. The giant redwood tree has a lot more than that, and so does the worm. So, from that point of view, just biomass, we are about 40% mitochondria. So just from biomass, they are possibly the single, most prolific life form that ever existed.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. You got me. I do like this idea of trillions of little lightning bolts in your belly.

 

Soren Wheeler:

It's a little bit like-

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's our producer, Soren Wheeler, who chimed in as we were working on this.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Remember our guy, what was his name, from the floppy ears? The smart-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Richard Wrangham? Is that [crosstalk 00:18:48]?

 

Soren Wheeler:

Richard Wrangham. Yeah.

 

RichardWrangham:

Life consists of finding energy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's him.

 

Soren Wheeler:

He had that thing about... he wrote a book a long time ago, but it was all about... I actually talked to him at the time. Human ancestors are going along doing their thing, and they're eating raw leaves in the forest, same way that chimps do now, but then once they learned to cook-

 

RichardWrangham:

Once you start cooking, there's a terrific advantage.

 

Soren Wheeler:

Cooking would break things down, and then you don't have to break things down inside you, which means that you're putting less energy into your food, but getting more out of it.

 

RichardWrangham:

Maybe it increases the amount of energy that you can get from your food by 25, 30, 40, 50% maybe more.

 

Soren Wheeler:

His theory is that, that is when we got smart because we were in, again, an energy canyon where there was just given what was around you and how much work it took to break it down to the parts you need. You couldn't do much until you light a fire underneath it like a lightning bolt, and you break it down, so that you don't have to do that work because now the fire is doing that work, then you put it in your tummy and you get all the goods with half the work, and now you have time and energy to make a brain that can think about itself.

 

RichardWrangham:

That is when the genus homo humans in the first full flowering of the sense of that word emerged.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow, that's interesting. So the energy canyon leaping theory might actually touch on mystery number three, too. The consciousness one.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah. Don't you think that cooking is an act that's intentional? When you decide to light the fire and cook the meat, then you're doing something that you intend to do. What really gets to me is when you go back to the original pairing. That was just pure accident. That so much would flow from something completely cosmically accidental. That's what would really, really freaks me out actually.

 

Ed Yong:

That merger and the harmonious continuance of that merger was so breathtakingly improbable that only once did it take.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nick says it only happened once 2 billion years ago, and there's no evidence to suggest that it has happened since.

 

Nick Lane:

So there is no trajectory towards necessary complex life. The universe is not pregnant with the idea of us. There's nothing about the way that evolution has worked on earth to suggest that complex life is an inevitable outcome.

 

Robert Krulwich:

If this hadn't happened, would the earth just be still rich with little, I don't know, life forms that are smaller than a grain of rice? That's all we'd ever get?

 

Ed Yong:

I think that's the idea.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Does that mean that you have to have this incident on Planet Zantar and Planet Zantar 36 and Planet Zantar-

 

Ed Yong:

Right. So that's really interesting. So I think when we think about the prospect of finding alien life, we think the universe is so vast that we cannot be alone, that there must be life on other worlds. But I think what this tells us is that we will probably find life elsewhere, but it will probably be microbial. The odds of finding something like the aliens that you would expect, right. So the odds of finding your [inaudible 00:22:08] are significantly reduced. The odds of finding a bacterium somewhere are probably reasonable. You might find life, but maybe it's going to be boring.

 

Robert Krulwich:

We could leave it right there.

 

Ed Yong:

But you probably won't get killed by them either. So, that's a good thing.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's true. That's true.

 

Ed Yong:

Yep.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nick Lane's book on this theory is called The Vital Question. Special thanks to Eric Steinberg for his work on this podcast; and to Richard Wrangham whose book is Catching Fire; Ed Yong, whose forthcoming book is I Contain Multitudes. You can find all these references on our website.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Radiolab.org. Speaking of mates-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes. We call this podcast-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Cellmates.

 

Robert Krulwich:

... Cellmates.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. As promised, I want to introduce you to two comedy mates after the break. I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Stick around.

 

Shereen:

Hi, this is Shereen from Sunrise, Florida. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Just a heads up, I speak in abbrevs a lot. So I'll just say things like totes and early [twans 00:25:58] and you just have to roll with it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'll just go with it. I'll nod like I know what you're saying.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Okay, great.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Jad here. As promised, at the top of the show, I want to introduce you to a new project that comes from two very funny people.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

My name is Phoebe Robinson, and I am Michael Fassbender's future baby mama.

 

JessicaWilliams:

My name is Jessica Williams, and I plan to be the maid of honor in Phoebe and Michael Fassbender's wedding.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Oh, yay!

 

JessicaWilliams:

You're okay with it?

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah.

 

JessicaWilliams:

I've literally just put myself in your fake wedding.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

No. Obviously, you're in the wedding.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson are two people, who were obsessed with Michael Fassbender.

 

JessicaWilliams:

I don't even think he's that hot.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

No, that's so controversial.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They are both comedians and writers. Phoebe has worked for MTV and Comedy Central. Jessica Williams, you might know from The Daily Show, where she's a correspondent. The two of them have teamed up to make a podcast called... It's debuting today. It's called Two Dope Queens. My bet is that if you like Radiolab, you will also like this podcast. All right. Can I be old and white for a second?

 

JessicaWilliams:

There's nothing else for you to be.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

True. True. So, dope. People still use the word dope.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah.

 

JessicaWilliams:

Yeah, I think so. But even if they don't, all it takes is two black people to make something cool. That's the rule. If we came and we walked down the street tomorrow, and we had our shoes on the wrong foot, as long as it's two black people doing it-

 

Phoebe Robinson:

I mean, hello. Crisscross. When they did the jeans, it was just two of them.

 

JessicaWilliams:

It was their phenoms.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah. There was-

 

JessicaWilliams:

[crosstalk 00:27:25]

 

Jad Abumrad:

How did you guys meet?

 

Phoebe Robinson:

We met almost two years ago. I was doing a background on a black hair in the military piece that she was doing for The Daily Show.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The story is Jessica was doing the segment. Phoebe was part of the segment. One thing leads to another. Phoebe invites Jessica to cohost this comedy thing she was doing, like a live thing. She says the moment they got up there on stage-

 

JessicaWilliams:

We murdered the stage.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah. Homicide. First degree murder.

 

JessicaWilliams:

Law & Order, baby.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is all good things, right?

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

 

JessicaWilliams:

Yes, all the best.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

On stage, I was like, "This feels really good." She's like, "Yeah." I was like, "We should do this more often." So, we're like when we start dating, like, "Oh, yeah, we'll go to a movie" or like, "Yeah, we'll go to the MET." We'll just keep seeing how things go at the end of the day. Then after a while, it morphed into something that is our baby.

 

JessicaWilliams:

We made a baby.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah, we made a baby.

 

JessicaWilliams:

My favorite white lady customer service thing is never in my life.

 

Jad Abumrad:

2 Dope Queens is a live comedy show that happens at Union Hall here in Brooklyn. Generally, what happens is Phoebe and Jessica, they get up on stage and they just riff for a few minutes.

 

JessicaWilliams:

I think if you're in the audience, we really want it to feel like you're hanging out with us.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, they get up there. They go back and forth for a while.

 

JessicaWilliams:

Then, we have some of our favorite friends who are standups come and do sets in between us talking and hanging out.

 

Gary Gulman:

I wanted to share this thing that my girlfriend and I have been doing.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Like this comedian that Phoebe and I both love named Gary Gulman.

 

Gary Gulman:

We role play. The other night, we were playing secretary of Housing and Urban Development. But here's the twist. She was secretary of Housing and Urban Development. I was deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development. So, there was that status thing. She was my boss, and I didn't feel she was pushing her agenda hard enough. I was like, "Did we come to Washington to make friends?" We came to make changes.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Then we have people like Michelle Buteau-

 

JessicaWilliams:

Amazing.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

... who's really funny. She does stuff for Comedy Central and a lot of places.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, here's a clip of comedian Michelle Buteau telling the story about how she met this guy.

 

Michelle Buteau:

I was like, "Oh my God, this is the one. We're going to move in together. We're going to live by the mall." He came to visit me in New York one time. Both the cell phones were on the bed, and they were exactly alike, and it rang and I picked it up. This girl was on the other end. She goes, "Is Eric there?" I go, "Who it is?" She go, "Who it is?" I go, "Who this?" This went on for a really long time because we knew who the fuck this was.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. So, the next clip, the Naomi clip.

 

JessicaWilliams:

Yes.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Who is Naomi?

 

JessicaWilliams:

Who is Naomi Ekperigin? She's a younger woman, but she is practically an old lady. All she wants to do is, she says, in her standup, is sit at home with a blanket and play with her cats.

 

Naomi Ekperigin:

As you can imagine, I love to watch procedurals. I love it, okay? Criminal Minds is my number one. I do like classic Law & Order, but I do prefer Special Victim. Yes. I just love it. I love it. I love it. It's amazing how every episode involves a white woman in peril. It's like a white woman's in peril. That's how we get people to care. It's just nonsense. If there's one thing that I feel like we should be taking away, it's white ladies, okay, Megans, Sarahs, Beckys. You guys have got to stop with the jogging at dawn and dusk. You got to stop. You got to stop. Honeys, I hate to go Jesse Jackson, but if the light is low, you should not go. Are you following me? Are you following me? If you're jogging at those hours, you got two options. Okay. You're either going to find a dead body or become a dead body. Stop it with the jogging.

 

JessicaWilliams:

We always like to have women represented doing standup or storytelling on our show. We make sure that, that's in every episode and people of different orientations-

 

Phoebe Robinson:

People of color.

 

JessicaWilliams:

... people of color. It's really, really fun. I hope that if you come to see the show or even if you start listening to our podcast, that you'll see that we really love doing it.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

We just want a hilarious show. That's it.

 

JessicaWilliams:

Yep. I think we really do deliver on that.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams from the brand-new WNYC Studios podcast 2 Dope Queens. Definitely check it out. Go to iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts from and check them out. 2 Dope Queens. Thank you, guys.

 

JessicaWilliams:

All right. Thank you.

 

Phoebe Robinson:

Thank you.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm Jad Abumrad. Thanks for listening.

 

Ed Yong:

Hi. It's Ed Yong.

 

Nick Lane:

Hi, this is Nick Lane. Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad.

 

Ed Yong:

Dylan Keefe is director of sound design. Soren Wheeler is-

 

Nick Lane:

... senior editor. Jamie York is our senior producer.

 

Ed Yong:

Our staff includes Simon Adler, Brenna Farrell-

 

Nick Lane:

... David Gebel, Matt Kielty-

 

Ed Yong:

... Robert Krulwich-

 

Nick Lane:

... Andy Mills, Latif Nasser-

 

Ed Yong:

... Melissa O'Donnell, Kelsey Padgett, Arianne Wack-

 

Nick Lane:

... and Molly Webster, with help from Alexander Lee Hunt-

 

Ed Yong:

... Alexandra Lee Young, Tracy Hump-

 

Nick Lane:

... Stephanie Tam and Michael Lowinger. Our fact checkers are Eber Dasher and Michelle Harris. Thank you.

 

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