Samantha Bee, the new heroine of American political satire

The graduate of Jon Stewarts Daily Show now skewers the US president every week in her own Emmy-nominated TV satire, Full Frontal

Samantha Bee, a 47-year-old Canadian-born dual-citizen of Canada and the US, has been called the comedian of the resistance in the Donald Trump era. It is not a position she applied for, nor one she is especially happy to have assumed. When her weekly topical show, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, first aired on the US cable channel TBS in February 2016, in the process making her the first woman to host a late-night political satire, she imagined she would be overseeing the run-in to a Hillary Clinton presidency. Then, from her perspective, the unthinkable happened.

Trumps victory has forced all the late-night comedy shows to take stock, but it is Bee, formerly a correspondent on The Daily Show for a record 12 years, who seems to have adapted best. She is withering in her dismay at that pint of flat orange Fanta, as shes called Trump, and the batshit telenovela that is his administration.

Meanwhile, Full Frontal increased its viewership by 167% in its first year and became late-night televisions No 1 show with millennials (adults aged 18 to 34), leapfrogging Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and James Corden. Earlier this year, Bee featured on the Time 100 list of most influential people in the world and last month Full Frontal was nominated for seven Emmys. She lives in New York with her husband, the comic actor Jason Jones, and they have three children.

Full Frontal is doing especially well with a younger crowd. Its not easy to engage politically with that group what do you think they are responding to?
Young people, particularly these days, are allergic to inauthenticity. And one thing I can truly say about this show is that it comes from a very authentic place. We dont mince words: everything comes from real emotion, real passion. I mean, thats why I like to do it, so I dont blame them!

Does the comedian of the resistance tag please you?
Ha ha, it makes me giggle. I dont particularly see myself that way. Im just a hard worker trying to do my job. I dont take praise that seriously and I dont take peoples toxicity very seriously. I just keep my head down and do the work its very Canadian. I would apply the same work ethic to, like, being a farmer. Its just in the DNA.

Watch the Full Frontal segment that suggests Donald Trump cant read.

Late-night TV in the US has become increasingly politicised. Is it fine that its not as even-handed as it used to be?
Obviously I think its fine. And for me it feels very necessary to do this show right now. This isnt the world I thought wed be living in when I got the opportunity to do a show. We just happen to be watching a very fraught history unfold theres no predictability now. Were all kind of in a daze. So its a good time to do a show, but we didnt start out intentionally wanting to do a show about a Trump presidency. Its as though nothing else is happening in our world right now.

One of your most popular segments on Full Frontal speculated that Trump cant actually read, which now has 4m-plus views. How hard was it to find evidence?
That was a personal theory of a couple of people on our research team. They brought it up a few times and we were like: OK, well, put together a package of research. And, as soon as you looked at it, you were like: Its undeniable. It was the most tightly constructed research package that was created with just so much passion and integrity. Its funny we didnt even put that segment on the air with the television show; we put it on the web and it took on a life of its own because you cant even look away.

Overall, has the Trump era been worse than you feared?
Oh, yeah! In no way did I think that he would just defy our norms at this level, at this speed with such abandon. I really did think that some outside force would keep his worst attributes in check or the pressure to become a statesman of some sort would overtake him. It would be bad, but he wouldnt overturn the table every single day. And yet, here we are. As I say that, my eye just started twitching!

You spent 12 years on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Was that a good schooling?
Theres no better training ground. I took quite a few people from The Daily Show when making this show and we learned a lot from Jon. He taught us all so well how to tell a story and how to lean into your point of view. I think we lean in harder to a point of view than he did and Im completely comfortable with that.

Full Frontal has a very diverse writing room half of the staff are women and one-third are non-white. One of the things you brought in was a blind application process. Why was that important?
Most of the late-night shows have a blind application process; we didnt invent that process. What we did learn is that not only do you have to make your application process blind, which erases your identity, your gender, your age from your submission, but we also did outreach. That second part is the forgotten part. You actually have to approach people and say: Would you be interested in this? Could you be interested? Do you know anyone who you think is well suited for this who doesnt have the connections?

Why did it take so long for there to be a female host of a late-night satire show?
I have no idea! I really, really dont. Doing a show four nights a week is a major grind Im not sure why anybody wants to do it. So I can see from that point of view that no one looked at it and went: Oh, that seems appealing. What Ill do is surrender all my freedom and spare time to this creative machine that goes on for ever. So we tried to build a show that would also somewhat permit us to have a life that we could live. But I hope that we can all see now and acknowledge that you can put a lady at the helm of a show and its fine. Its totally OK. You dont even have to think about it any more, it just is.

Samantha
Samantha Bee speaks onstage in April 2017 during Full Frontals Not The White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington. Photograph: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TBS

You never wish it was a nightly show then?
Never. God, no. That would be terrible. What youre describing is a nightmare.

Full Frontal has been called the most mercilessly feminist show (ever) (in history). Is there an agenda or do you just cover the stories youre interested in?
Yes, thats all it is. We dont pass stories through feminist filters we just do the stories that speak to us and stories that speak to us in a certain way may not speak to a male host in the same way. Or they may not feel they have the authority to tell that story and I think thats perfectly fine. We tell the stories that we feel passionately about and often those stories are about women for sure, because thats how weve lived. Thats how Ive lived. Ive been steeped in woman-ness since I was born.

Did you follow the BBC pay-gap scandal? Do you think there would be similar gender differences in American television?
No, I didnt. But would it be more even? In the late-night world? I dont know that it would be close Im sure there would be surprising disparities here as well. Yeah, I dont doubt that for a second. Now Im very intrigued; Im going to launch my own investigation.

Malcolm Gladwell says he has a huge advantage as a Canadian being able to look at America as an outsider. Do you feel something similar?
I used to. I have citizenship now, so I have a stake in this crazy place. I wanted to pursue citizenship for a long time because I felt guilty commenting on the politics here without being an active participant in it. But I will say this: to have come from another country does give you a more global perspective. Ive benefited from that for sure.

Youve just come back from a field report in Iraqi Kurdistan. Was that an eye-opening trip?
It absolutely was. Kurdistan is its own thing: youre very close to Mosul but youre not in Mosul its relatively safe. The restaurants are great, its not a hardship to be in Kurdistan whatsoever. It was quite lovely. And we were able to tell the stories we wanted to tell, from adjacent to the front lines. I dont think Im brave for going to Kurdistan, for eating delicious food and meeting great people.

In the first report, you came across a baby called Trump. Was he hard to track down?
Oh, there are lots of children named Trump, lots. The Trump baby that we ended up going to see just happened to be close to us. And he happened to be a great baby and they put him in a suit, which was amazing we got so lucky. And he was really mad because he had not had a nap and he really needed one. The similarities were striking.

You have three children under the age of 12. Is it difficult to sustain a normal-ish home life?
Its certainly not easy. I dont have my own life; whoever Sam Bee is outside of work and home does not exist. People will say: Have you seen Dunkirk yet? And Im like: What are you talking about? God, no! When do I watch it? Four oclock in the morning? So its super-challenging, but I love my work and I love my children; whenever Im not here, Im 100% on the children. Whenever Im not with the children, Im 100% on work. So theres no pleasurable farmers marketing or fondling peaches and thinking about an amazing summer salad, theres none of that.

You used to write a parenting blog, Eating Over the Sink, and you co-created the TBS comedy series The Detour with your husband about domestic life. Is the experience of being a parent an easy subject to be funny about?
It is. Its a very shared experience theres a common language of parenting, which is ripe for comedy for sure. Theres just no time for it right now. We have a couple of weeks off, so Im taking the kids to go shoot Detour. Theyll have fun, theyll think its a vacation, but I get to fold in a little bit of producing at the same time.

Is it true that your guilty pleasure is watching the BBC drama Call the Midwife?
Yesss! Its not a guilty pleasure I dont feel guilty about it. Its my pleasure! I love it so much. Honestly, it got me through some very dark weeks. First of all, I love stories about nuns, babies being born. I felt like it was very on-point for what I needed it to do. It was like a refreshing sorbet at the end of some very hard days. I think it was the best binge Ive ever done. And now Im out of episodes, Im just bereft.

So you were watching it in Trump-inspired despair?
Yes. Now I go home and watch The Handmaids Tale its much worse. Its , its really well done, great but its not the same antidote to the days news.

What else have you enjoyed culturally in recent times?
Hmmm, what is enjoyable? What is enjoyment? Well, the Steve Bannon book, Devils Bargain, is quite good. But you know, its all been dystopian; I cant say that Ive been watching anything lately. Thats very sad, but there isnt time. Its so pathetic, I lay in bed with my laptop on my chest after my kids go to bed and then I fall asleep. I just cant stay awake.

Do you feel that Trump will last the four years?
I do. Its something Id love to be wrong about well see. Not holding out for any miracles. But who knows? Ive been wrong about almost everything, so I would welcome that.

Episodes of Full Frontal With Samantha Bee are online at samanthabee.com

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/aug/13/samantha-bee-full-frontal-donald-trump-interview