Robyne's Hood

Other TV news personalities stay planted behind the desk. Then there's Robyne Robinson, who claims the whole Twin Cities for her stage.

 

And maybe what Robyne Robinson is ultimately best at is being Robyne Robinson. That is, being possibly the most visible black woman in Minnesota--and perhaps, for this reason, also that chick from TV your former girlfriend's ex-roommate, incredibly, swears she saw, like, totally high as shit at a party last weekend. As well as the star who's afraid the myth will consume her.

Diana Watters

It's probably worth saying here that the myth of Robyne Robinson is in some ways more real than The Real Robyne Robinson, who is sort of unknowable--and not just in that way we're all unknowable, like deep down inside. Robyne Robinson becomes less poised and more amicable and endearingly geeky as an interview wanders away from her character to the things she loves--the Lauryn Hill record, her days interning at NBC, her mother. And none of a half-dozen Friends of Robyne seems either willing--or able--to decode The Real Robyne Robinson, either.

"It's all about keepin' real and what that real is to you," says F.O.R. Rachel Joyce. "It's stressful for her to be true to herself and make everyone happy at the same time. She's so different from other people in her field--the way she lives, who she hangs out with. And she's very aware of this."

It's an awareness of this role that's at the root of Robinson's worries about, as she puts it, "being perceived as a fake," about "being a stereotype for hip," about "being taken seriously." Because her celebrity is rooted in the illusion of authenticity, of being a human being in a plastic medium, of giving Us an image of Us. Because she nevertheless believes she can form bridges among the people who glare at her between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. five nights a week. Because she desperately wants to be both a persona and a person--and it's hard to have it both ways.

"I represent everybody," she tells me one afternoon. And that is a great responsibility.

 

Robyne Robinson picks up her fork, stabs a piece of sausage, rubs it in some syrup, and passes it through the most desired pair of lips in local TV news. It's a Sunday morning in late October, and we're having breakfast at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, talking about her Talk with Robyne chat with the Artist last year.

"We were ready to start the interview," she recalls, "and when I asked the first question, he propped up and said, 'Wait. Why are you using that voice?' And I said, 'This is the voice I use on TV. You have a stage persona--when the camera switches on, this is the voice I use.' 'You scared me,' he said."

Five minutes, three sips of tea, and one-and-a-half theories on the dissolution of the New Power Generation later, our check comes (we split it); and two hours later Robyne Robinson is at the Minneapolis airport picking up the boyfriend, John, who has been on tour with Prince. Then she's at the pARTs gallery checking out the exhibit...then at a friend's to pick up a CD...then the Jaycees club...the International Conference on the Status of Women...the Yalta summit...now she's arguing uncertainty with Heisenberg...sitting in with Oscar Peterson on sax...walking all over George Foreman...God, it's beautiful! Look, now she's a bird...wait, now she's a plane...wait!...in the sky! She's Underdog!

Back on earth it's 11 o'clock at night, and she's out for a night of independent research into the practice of hedonism in the Upper Midwest. The shiny silver Benz is sitting outside the Cabooze, or the Front, or some place with big speakers and big men at the door. And the big men nod her in--she's Robyne Robinson, after all--and inside she watches who-knows-which nth-rate bar band recreating some half-remembered "funky" moment from Prince's descent into Artistry.

And, as Robyne has said before, "you can't fake the funk."

She pushes her way through the bustle of bodies--nonchalantly--and meets the half-glances of recognition: Aren't you...? their eyes say, and Robyne's eyes say: Yes. But then there are the chuckleheads, like the man in the leather jacket back at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.

"Hey...aren't you Angela Astore?" he said, referring to KSTP's perky blond anchor from a few years back. What's funny about that joke? Robinson asks herself. Is that funny at all?

Robyne Robinson just smiles now, thinking about it, because she's nice like that. And she turns to her man. He nods. Five minutes later and the Benz goes vroom, and in 20 minutes she's standing in the upstairs hallway of her spacious townhouse, smelling the smoke in her hair, thinking about all the phone calls she still hasn't returned tonight, listening to the ringing in her ears, wondering: Why Angela Astore? Why not Jane Pauley, or Connie Chung, or, while we're at it, why not Khalilah Ali? Why not Khalilah Ali? And she laughs out loud and turns to catch herself smiling in the hallway mirror.

Can you tell me what she sees?

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