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.
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.