SAMANTHA BEE:
Her Brave and Witty ďFull FrontalĒ Attack
on Political and Societal Injustice, Inequity and Insanity


By Paul Freeman [November 2017 Interview]

The TBS series ďFull Frontal with Samantha BeeĒ delivers the naked truth. Itís political and social satire with sizzle as the brilliant, fearless, fiery late-night host Bee strips lies and disguise from the corruptly powerful and the self-righteously hypocritical.

It can be tricky, trying to simultaneously deliver vital messages and earn laughs, but Bee deftly walks the high wire. And she doesnít worry about her clever, cutting comedy sparking controversy.

The unassuming, Canadian-born Bee, now an American citizen, honed her performing skills in theatre and sketch comedy in Toronto. She met future husband Jason Jones at that time. In 2003, Bee became the first female correspondent for ďThe Daily Show with Jon Stewart.Ē She displayed an uncanny knack for getting dodgy people to reveal their moral deficiencies.

The longest-running regular correspondent on ďThe Daily Show,Ē she left after 12 years and started her own program, ďFull Frontal with Samantha Bee.Ē ďFull FrontalĒ spurs dialogue amongst viewers. It helps shatter apathy.

Bee, who hosted ďNot the White House Correspondentsí Dinner,Ē was named by Time magazine this year as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

She and husband Jason Jones, who became a ďDaily ShowĒ contributor in 2005, have three children. Jones currently stars on the TBS comedy ďThe Detour.Ē Bee and Jones serve as executive producers on one anotherís series. This Queen Bee, despite being ridiculously busy, took time to chat with Pop Culture Classics.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
You must hear from people all the time, saying how grateful they are that you give voice to their anger, frustrations and incredulity at whatís happening in the world.

SAMANTHA BEE:
Nice, thank you [laughs].

PCC:
Donít you get that sort of reaction?

BEE:
I do get that sort of reaction. I do get that quite a bit. But I really do the show for me.

PCC:
How vital is it for you to have that means of venting?

BEE:
Iím so thankful for it, really. Iíve needed it, for sure. I need that catharsis, just like anybody else, as we all do.

PCC:
How important is it for viewers to have humor as an outlet, a way to blow off steam?

BEE:
Well, for viewers for sure. But I think about the people in my office ó how much we need it. You know?

PCC:
What is the effect you most want to have on your audience?

BEE:
Itís funny, I mean, I do cherish our audience, but mostly I think about the people who work here. I try to make it a satisfying experience for the people who work here, more than anything. We kind of make the show that we feel like we personally need. Thatís how we do it. Thatís how the show is formed. So once itís out there, itís a pretty accurate representation of what weíre feeling. As opposed to going like, ďWhat do people need right now?,Ē we go, ďWell, what do we want to say?Ē We kind of approach it from our own point of view.

PCC:
But it must be gratifying to know youíre sparking dialogue.

BEE:
Yeah, itís great. It is very gratifying. Thatís exactly the correct word.

PCC:
The Trump election ó not that itís at all an even tradeoff, but was it kind of a mixed blessing in terms of being a nightmare for the nation, but a bonanza comedically?

BEE:
Oh, none of us see it that way, really. I think pre-election, the run-up to the election felt like a bonanza for sure. That was really fun. That feels like another era completely now, in retrospect. But once the actual election hit, none of us were really grateful, at all [laughs]. We see ourselves at citizens first. So we did not wish for this.

PCC:
When he won, were you more filled with outrage or disbelief?

BEE:
I think disbelief. I think our reactions went through various stages. It took us a long time to findÖ I donít know that weíve even achieved the new normal yet. Iím not sure weíre quite there yet. Itís been such a frenetic pace.

PCC:
With the steady stream of bizarre and horrible things heís said and done, what about him do you find most disturbing?

BEE:
UmmmÖ. Well, I guess, any one day, it could be something completely different. But I think the thing that makes it the most dangerous to me is that he doesnít seem to have any world view. He seems to lack a compass. And heís very fickle. I donít really feel like heís guided by principle. I donít feel like his principles are deeply rooted in anything. And I have to feel like heís either winging it or taking actions vindictively.

I think he doesnít understand that heís supposed to be the President of all Americans, not just his small and rapidly deteriorating base. He doesnít really see that heís supposed to lead the entire nation, whether the nation likes him or not. Heís catering to one small subset of Americans. And it communicates a complete lack of understanding of what this country is all about. Heís never lived in it as a regular civilian.

PCC:
You do manage to create hilarity out of dire circumstances. Are you sometimes so infuriated that itís difficult to make yourself be funny?

BEE:
Yeah, definitely. Itís very difficult. Itís very taxing on the staff, I must say. Itís very taxing on everybody. But I think the people that make up our staff are just like the best people currently working in late-night. So I give them so much credit. They just nail it every time. Theyíre amazing. They just bring comedy out of the most terrible places.

PCC:
Is it tricky to walk that line between doing comedy and delivering a message thatís important?

BEE:
Uh-huh. Always. Very tricky. Yeah. Itís a very fine line. Itís like the line between satire and activism. Itís a very fine line. And weíre careful to walk it the best way that we can. But weíre always thinking about it, for sure.

PCC:
It seems like, you get out there and say what you feel, without any no fear ó is that the way you approach it?

BEE:
I do, actually. Itís very rooted in my point of view. And so I am not ashamed of how I feel about things. I feel like I have this opportunity once a week, for 21 minutes, to really communicate a point of view. And I take that opportunity and see it as a gift. The material is heavy, but itís a gift to put something in the world that is representative of who you are. So I feel like itís an opportunity every week.

PCC:
And that has resulted in legions of devoted fansÖ

BEE:
[Laughs] Oh, thatís nice! Legions! Oh, wow! I appreciate that.

PCC:
Maybe itís the company I keep, but it certainly seems that way.

BEE:
[Laughs]

PCC:
But do you also get a steady stream of vitriol from right-wingers?

BEE:
Oh, definitely. But I donít pay attention to that [laughs]. I really truly donít pay attention to them. I do very well without knowing what they think of me ó I know what they think of me and I donít tap into it, actually. I donít pay attention to what people are saying about me, really ó good or bad. I just try to stay very focused on making a show every week. I donít really read about myself. I donít Google myself. I donít check in with social media for my own purposes. Iím on social media all the time, but as an observer, making sure I know whatís happening in the world. But I donít involve myself too much. And thatís just the healthiest way to live. I canít really do it any other way.

PCC:
Constantly poring over the news for ďFull Frontal,Ē immersing yourself in the endless crises, do you manage to maintain a sense of hope, optimism?

BEE:
I do, actually. Itís amazing. Itís hard to do. But I think that people are so engaged right now. And that gives me a lot of hope. As dark as everything can be, as crazy as everything can feel, ultimately, youíre really seeing levels of engagement from the public that Iíve never witnessed in my lifetime, for sure. And Iíve been doing satire for a really long time. And I would say, even during the Iraq War, people just were not as awake as they are right now. People are awake.

PCC:
So do you think theyíre getting past the point where theyíre so disillusioned that they expect politicians to be corrupt, selfish, dishonest, where they once again expect more? Demand more?

BEE:
I think theyíre realizing that things can be taken away ó if youíre not careful. And you have to be vigilant.

PCC:
When controversy is stirred on the show, can that be a useful tool in itself? Is it something you seek out or just an unintended byproduct usually?

BEE:
I guess it can be useful. I guess it brings eyeballs to the show. But I literally donít know what controversies Iíve stirred up [laughs]. I really donít. Itís not common for me to know if something has irked peopleÖ because something always irks people. It always irks someone. You canít please everyoneÖ ever. So thereís honestly no point in trying to please anyone but yourself.

PCC:
But do you see it as part of your mission to call people in power on their bullshit?

BEE:
I do. For as long as I have this opportunity, definitely. Definitely. I mean, we did that at ďThe Daily ShowĒ for sure. And we literally have to stay vigilant on this Presidency, because they are trying to change the entire complexion of the country. And I donít mean the physical complexion. I mean, weíre losing democratic forms. Some things that we thought were laws, it appears that they were just gentlemenís agreements and handshake deals.

So if weíre not hyper-vigilant, weíll lose even more. Iíd love to have a country at the end of all of this. I think weíre going to make it through this Presidency. But Iíd like to think that people will emerge from this with a greater sense of the importance of this democracy, keeping it whole, keeping press free.

PCC:
Things like climate change ó the network news outlets tend to completely ignore the issue, even during weather disasters and you did a great episode on that recently ó why does it seem like itís only the comedy news shows that really seek the truth on the hard issues?

BEE:
Listen, the truth is, we canít make the shows we make ó and I think thatís true of all the late-night shows that are in the realm of news ó we canít make the shows that we want to make without the work of journalists. Itís just that, in the world that we live in now, if youíre not getting your news from multiple sources, youíre not doing yourself any favors. So I think that we are vampires. We are the vampires for great journalism.

So people are out there investigating and we use their research. If it wasnít for real investigation out there, we couldnít make our show the way that we make it. We use footage from documentaries. We license footage all the time from like small projects and documentaries. And we try to bring other peopleís work into our work, as much as humanly possible. So I canít really take anything away fromÖ I mean, thereís cable news and thatís its own beast. But we really rely on journalists. And we have many journalists working here, keeping our show on the path of righteousness [laughs].

PCC:
Doing a public event like ďIn Conversation with Samantha Bee,Ē which you did recently at Stanford University, is that something you enjoy, meeting people, connecting with viewers, hearing first-hand what your work has meant to them?

BEE:
I do. I love it. I really do love it. I mean, Iím not a stand-up. I donít go from crowd to crowd, like wowing people. I prefer these kinds of engagements, where people can ask questions and itís just an interesting kind of behind-the-scenes look at what we do and how we put it together. I take it seriously. I hope itís fun for people. Iím kind of a quiet person. Like I hope that they get to see a side of me thatís a little more contemplative.

PCC:
You mentioned ďThe Daily ShowĒ earlier. How did Jon Stewart influence you?

BEE:
Well, there are obviously a million different ways he influenced me. But I think the most important thing that he did was to drive me further into my own point of view, to help me figure out how important point of view was to me and what that was, to always push me to go further with that ó a great lesson.

PCC:
And before that, starting out in Toronto, acting, doing sketch comedy, where did you originally envision your career going?

BEE:
I would have seen it going in a more scripted direction, for sure. I mean, ďThe Daily ShowĒ was my favorite show, so it was well within my interest. But I didnít expect to work there one day. It was life-changing, obviously. I would not have known how much I would love it. I mean I loved it as a viewer, but I could never anticipate loving it as much as I did as I started doing it.

PCC:
The Time magazine designation as one of this yearís 100 most influential people, is there a sense of responsibility that comes with that?

BEE:
I donít think Iíve even really registered it yet [laughs]. You just reminded me and Iím like ó Wow! Yeah, I mean, I take the show seriously and thatís how, I think, I fulfill my share of responsibility. Thereís no one thing I can guarantee, in terms of changing peopleís minds. I donít think that thatís the goal. I just try to provide a quality product week after week [laughs].

PCC:
You and your husband Jason, do you still serve as sounding boards for one anotherís comedy?

BEE:
Definitely, oh yeah. Definitely. Yeah.

PCC:
Do you have a hands-on role on each otherís shows?

BEE:
Well, his series, ďThe DetourĒ is a scripted show. Somewhat. Wherever possible. This summer, for example, he was filming in Canada and I was not able to be there the whole time, because I was making a show here. But I went there for three weeks. So where itís possible, thatís where we will come into each otherís worlds. Weíre always in the backgrounds of each otherís projects, for sure.

PCC:
Being originally coming from Canada, do you think that gives you a more objective perspective, that you can view things a bit differently, maybe a bit more clearly than people who spent their entire lives here and take things for granted?

BEE:
Well, I think it maybe did at first ó not objective, but certainly to be able to see the realities here, to be in it, but not of it. That was very effective at the start of my career. But since then, I have really discovered that I wanted to be both in it and of it. Thatís why I got my citizenship, because I really wanted to vote and I wanted to participate. I mean, I was always paying taxes, believe me. But I wanted to be able to participate more fully in the system. Iíve chosen to live my life here, so now, Iím very in it. And thatís a good thing, too, because Iím very invested in it. I love this place.

PCC:
Is one of the great rewards of the show that it gives you an opportunity to support important causes, like planned parenthood and many other worthy organizations?

BEE:
Yeah, very much so. If you have an opportunity to give back, thatís a great thing. Itís my pleasure to use the show as much as possible, because weíre able to bring attention to things that donít get a ton of attention or to raise money for things we really believe in, but also kind of fit our satirical purposes. There has to be a convergence of a couple of different things. But if it makes sense for us to do and we can do it and be effective, then itís my pleasure to do so.

PCC:
With all youíve accomplished already in your career, whatís the greatest source of pride for you?

BEE:
Doing this show week to week, itís 100 percent my greatest career accomplishment. Doing the ďNot The White House Correspondents DinnerĒ really felt like the distillation of all of that. That was such a pleasure, from start to finish. And I feel like everybody just stepped into it so effectively. Just pulling that off felt like such a coup for us. So I would say doing the show, but also being able to do something like the event that we had, filled me with great pride.

PCC:
There must have been a sense of filling a void, that was crystalized by that event.

BEE:
And also just like, we had fun [laughs]. We also just really, really had fun.

PCC:
So with all the pressure and the hectic schedule, you are still having fun on a regular basis?

BEE:
Yeah. Itís essential. If youíre not having fun, you should not be doing it. Itís supposed to be fun. Itís TV.

PCC:
Well, itís certainly fun watching ďFull Frontal.Ē

BEE:
Thank you so much.

For more on this artist, visit www.samanthabee.com.