Samantha Bee On Satirizing A Political System In Crisis
Does a nation in the midst of an historic pandemic and deep political division still need satire? We’ll ask veteran satirist Samantha Bee.
On what it’s like to film “Full Frontal” in her backyard in upstate New York
“It’s been really tough. It hasn’t been it hasn’t been easy at all. I think we found our rhythm with it, and that definitely took a little while. You know, my main goal was to kind of create continuity with the show. We just didn’t have a studio to go into. Our studio closed, our office building closed, our studio space closed. My apartment is pretty small. There really was no real alternative in the moment but to come back here, but to retreat here and see if we could even consider making a show back here. I’m very lucky that my husband is a television director and a television producer, and he is very capable and he really understands lighting. The decision to do it in the backyard was largely governed by the fact that we didn’t really have any lights to hang. We didn’t have a grid to hang them on. You know, lighting is kind of everything and the best lighting that you can get is the lighting of the sun. So we have to position ourselves at certain points during the day as the sun moves across the yard. It’s very integrated with the natural world right now… And we shoot it on an iPhone. This is not a commercial for iPhone, but we actually just do, we shoot it on an iPhone eleven. It might even be a ten. And it looks good. Looks really good.”
On the loss of clear language in media coverage of the Trump administration
“It feels like we are still just kind of locked in that cycle of not using definitive words for definitive things. It’s really disheartening. I mean, so many of these repetitive patterns, you know, are re-emerging and have been re-emerging, like, it’s awful for me to wake up today and read so much analysis of the first lady’s speech. It’s like we have the memory of goldfish. Like, she gives a speech, it goes off without a hitch, that’s fine. It was too long, whatever. The woman is a birther, like a confirmed birther. Can we not wake up to a completely different reality every day? Can we just be consistent? We have no memory for things that happened in the not-so-distant past. I don’t know. It really bothers me. We talk about it a lot on the show, euphemisms for things when you can just use the word racism. You just use the word racism when things are racist. It’s really OK.”
On being in a NYC studio as it shut down for the pandemic
“I think it was March 11th. It was the Wednesday of that week. And our studio and offices straddle West 57 streets, our offices on one side, studios on the other side. And normally we kind of migrate over to the studio on a taping day, and most people are kind of across the street and we’re working busily on the show. So while we were over there prepping for the show and rehearsing, our office building started to close down because there were confirmed cases of COVID, I believe, on the floor above our office and possibly also the floor below. But I might just be embellishing the story to make it better. I can’t really remember what is reality anymore. Anyway, I was in the building and so they began to evacuate floors of the office building that kind of sandwiched ours. And I did not know that… And while we were taping the show, the studio side started to close down. So there were confirmed cases of COVID in the studio and they were shutting that building down around us as we were just kind of squeezing out the last pieces of the show, which we also did not know when we finished taping. The building had been closed and evacuated and we were kind of among the last people in the building and they were like, please get out.
“… At that moment we did it, the reality was very clear. And it was real for whoever was left in the office. It was just like, grab whatever you think you might need to do the show — grab your laptops, basically, is the truth. Grab your laptops, grab whatever you need. Who knows where we will be tomorrow.”
On the role of comedy in a crisis
“I always retreat from the argument that satire itself is so important in the world. But I do actually, like, I don’t think that comedy really changes outcomes. But … it is important to me, and always has been important to me, as a place of communion with others who kind of feel the same way you do. And that idea of catharsis is vital for me, it’s vital for all of us who work at the show. I honestly don’t know what we would do if we weren’t doing this type of comedy. I’m not sure we wouldn’t be doing it just in the mirror, you know. Getting to watch someone or getting to participate in something where you just go like, ‘I’m not the crazy one. This is awful. This is awful. And there are people like me who agree.’ We need this every once in awhile. You need to blow off steam. Just need to blow off steam, and then you can reset. So maybe that’s the purpose it serves; it’s just like a little reset button for your brain. I’m happy to be a part of that. If our 21 minutes provides anyone with that sense of catharsis, then I’m just like, I’m good to go. That’s great.”
On missing the political conventions for the first year in many
“It is weird to not be at the conventions this year. I’m having, you know, we’re looking back at old footage that we got in 2016, and I do feel like it’s such a… there’s always this circus-like atmosphere. And it’s just like the most amazing backdrop for comedy and just really pushing people’s buttons. And I do really miss that. I mean, of course, it’s not happening this year. And we are gathering on Slack, our communication platform at work, and kind of blowing off steam together as a staff, honestly, you know, doing all the things we would be doing in person, but I’m Slack. It’s very different, but still vital.”
On honing her comedic perspective since starting her own program
“I don’t think that my point of view has particularly changed. I think I’ve gotten better at demonstrating my point of view. I think I’ve gotten less nervous to have a point of view like, you know, toward the end of my work at The Daily Show, John Stewart was so kind and so encouraging about having me lean into my own point of view more. But editorially, it really was his show. And so the show reflected his point of view, which is exactly as it should be. And it’s been a great experience, kind of a learning journey, about who I am and what I stand for. And not that I didn’t know that. But, you know, as you develop that, and I really have regarded this whole time at ‘Full Frontal’ because we’ve, like, the show has really existed in such a tumultuous time of this just wildly terrible administration. So it’s been a real gift to be able to plant a flag in this time period and say, this is what we stand for. We’re not the crazy ones. This is where we are. This is a record of the fact that we were right and there were people like us. I don’t know. I’m going to make myself cry. But it’s good to be a part of that.”
On having her kids serve as the “Full Frontal” crew
“We have three kids and sometimes we need them to help us in the back because there’s a few things, like, we have this kind of bounce card that you hold up and it casts a little bit more of a golden light on my skin, which is really nice. I really like it. And so when my daughter holds it out there, like if I’m doing something or if I’m working with a joke or I’m just trying to deliver it in a funny way and I blow it or something like that, or you hear or an airplane goes overhead. Usually if I blow it, you just see her shoulders slump like she’s so bored and disappointed. It’s just like, oh, let me do that again. And she’s just like, ugh. You could just feel like a full body like, oh my God. Can you just, can you just get it right. This is so boring. Or she’ll just sit down, like she’s holding it and it’s taking too long and she just like, sits on the ground, which completely helps the light. It just casts a warm glow on a bush like at knee-level. Gorgeous. She’s had enough! She’s like, this is not impressive. Like, can you get me an orange juice? All right, I’m hungry. When are you making breakfast Is this torture almost at completion?”
From The Reading List
The Los Angeles Times: “ Once in Trump’s cross-hairs, Samantha Bee has gone beyond that ‘level of hell’” — “In mid-March when the pandemic halted late-night TV production, Samantha Bee, like many talk show hosts, returned to the airwaves with new episodes recorded from home. Yet the weekly episodes of TBS’ “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” felt separate from the pack. While an aura of lo-fi apology hung over her male peers — bearded, disheveled and cowed by occasionally impish offspring — Bee looked re-energized with her upstate New York backyard as a forestal backdrop. There were wood-chopping lessons alongside incisive Zoom interviews, and her outdoor monologues seemed no less newsy or scathingly funny. ”
Mother Jones: “ Samantha Bee on What That C-Word Controversy Taught Her About Trump-Era Comedy” — “Samantha Bee doesn’t think comedy will take Trump down. She calls her craft’“impotent beyond belief’ in the face of the daily presidential wrecking ball. But then, the creator and star of Full Frontal With Samantha Bee on TBS thinks preaching to the choir is absolutely fine — moral, even.”
Vanity Fair: “ Samantha Bee’s Boiling Point” — “A little more than one year ago, Samantha Bee wrapped up what she considered a perfectly ordinary episode of her TBS late-night series, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. ‘I left the studio that day feeling like, little back pat,’ the comedian says in her office on a recent rainy day in New York. ‘I was like, ‘Great show.’ No one here batted an eye. I woke up in the morning — and the world had exploded.’ A single word had catapulted one of her fiery addresses into viral infamy overnight.”
The Hollywood Reporter: “ Samantha Bee Says Leading Political Candidates Are Reluctant to Appear on ‘Full Frontal’” — “In the three weeks since Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal aired its latest episode, a number of the Democratic presidential candidates have dropped out of the race. But even before the number of people seeking to unseat Donald Trump declined dramatically, the host says her series, the fifth season of which launched in February, had trouble booking top political candidates.”
Deadline: “ Samantha Bee Organizes Social Media Campaign To Help Save The United States Postal Service” — “Samantha Bee has become the latest late-night host to help save the United States Postal Service. The star of TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee has organized a social media campaign, #MailedIt, to encourage people to tweet at President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to save the mail service. For every tweet, the show will buy a stamp from the USPS up to a total of 100,000. The event will launch on July 1, which is National Postal Worker Day.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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