Samantha Bee Says Leading Political Candidates Are Reluctant to Appear on 'Full Frontal'

The TBS host reveals how her weekly series, which recently launched its fifth season, will cover the 2020 election, stressing a need for unity and support for whoever the Democratic nominee may be.
Anthony Zaccone/TBS/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.

Unlike the broadcast late night shows and Bee's former home at Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Full Frontal doesn't feature a traditional guest segment. However, over its previous four seasons, Bee has interviewed such high-profile political figures as Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren (before she launched her 2020 presidential campaign), Ilhan Omar, Tammy Duckworth, Gary Johnson and even former President Barack Obama, who appeared on the TBS series toward the end of his presidency during the show's first season.

Still, Bee says that lately, despite her public appeals for the Democratic candidates to announce the end of their campaigns on her show, the series has mysteriously had difficulty landing interviews with the same contenders who frequently appear on the broadcast late night shows and The Daily Show.

"I'd love to talk to all of the big political candidates, but they are very reticent to come on this show, and I'm actually not sure why, because I feel like I'm a really respectful interviewer. So that's a very interesting energy, because they go on all of the other shows all the time. Like what's different about this place?" Bee says. "[Harris] did it, and I talked to Elizabeth Warren years ago. But now that people are in it, they're not making the space on their calendar."

Bee adds of the 2020 hopefuls, "I think I can for sure ask them questions that other people aren't asking, and I think that's really important. I think these are questions that I'd love to hear feedback on. It's always hard to get these people off their talking points, but I think I'm pretty good at it. If they're frightened, it's OK. They have much bigger fights to fight in the future. They should not even remotely be fearful of coming on this show, if that is in fact what the problem is."

Indeed, if she can't get the candidates, Bee says she'll "talk to all of the very interesting people around them if that is what is required."

One high-profile Democrat who's not running for anything, yet, is former Georgia gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams, who recently sat down with Bee for another appearance that will air in an upcoming episode.

Abrams, like many Democratic figures, is stressing unity ahead of the 2020 election, something Bee says will be her focus as well.

Bee spoke to The Hollywood Reporter last month about more of what to expect from Full Frontal's 2020 election coverage, which continues tonight at 10:30 p.m., as well as how long the Daily Show alum wants to host her weekly series.

You had a very strong point of view and idea for the show when you started out. How has making the show changed from a process standpoint over the past four years?

It hasn't changed much from a process standpoint. It's still the same basic process. I think we've gotten better at the process, and you just kind of relax into the way you make a show. I will say the one thing we're trying to do now is put more personal joy in the show because it's a different kind of election season than it was in 2016, which is not to say that that wasn't fraught because it certainly was, but the whole experience of it was different because Donald Trump as a candidate was so absurd all the way to the very end, so the comedy presented itself in a different way.

You were doing your first season of the show during the last presidential election. What sort of lessons do you feel like you learned from covering that that you're applying to this election?

I will note that this is my fifth round of covering elections of any kind. I feel a little more steady in the amount of feedback we'll have to get. Last time around, we went into election season with just joy all around, all in on Hillary Clinton, not that she was a perfect candidate by any stretch of the imagination, but we didn't think that the world would take this kind of turn, and we were excited to have the first female president. And now I think we're just braced for any reality in a way that we definitely weren't last time. That makes a difference, for sure. What I will do is throw the show behind whoever the nominee ends up being — that much I do know.

You recently interviewed Stacey Abrams, for a segment that will air on an upcoming episode, about unifying the Democratic party.

Yes, her strong and clear message is that literally any one of these candidates is just infinitely better than Donald Trump by a factor of a dozen universes. I mean that really is a strong and simple and pure message that I hope people hear. She's an incredible messenger, so maybe they'll listen to her.

One of the things that stands out about Full Frontal is how the show highlights issues that should perhaps be getting more attention. Like a few months ago you did a piece about flipping the Senate and Democratic presidential candidates who should be running for Senate. Are there other issues that aren't being discussed in this election that you want to focus on?

I realize that I'm just coming off of a Stacey interview, but the things that she has to say are very critical. One thing that we are not really talking about right now, because we are so distracted, is voter suppression, which is a huge problem. Not only do you need to go out and meet people individually and get the vote and no one's going to win if they don't reach into black and Hispanic communities. It's not possible to win without making clear and authentic inroads and communicating with black people and Hispanic people. But not only do you have to get people to vote, but you also have to be mindful of voter suppression tactics. It's critical to think about all of these things.

Do you feel like people have been distracted by the media trying to determine who the nominee will be after just a few primaries?

There is really a long way to go before we can really even consider what this is going to mean in the general election. The moment there's a clear candidate on the horizon — I mean super clear, and it's official — we're just going to have to drive really hard toward that election. There's going to be a lot of people holding their nose and voting, and that's literally what it's going to take. And it's OK. You've got to do it.

Since this is an election year, I think people have a tendency to get caught up in that. For your show, how much do you anticipate covering other non-election news?

You can definitely get caught up in the election stuff, but there's a wide world out there and we will not be losing sight of that. We have lots of stories coming up that do not have anything to do with our horse race election system, for sure. … We will be at the conventions of course because that's just the bread and butter of an election-year show. You have to. Who doesn't want to go to Charlotte in August?

You're renewed through 2020. How long do you want to keep going with this show?

I don't know. I love doing it. I think it's important to exist — that's like the understatement of the century. This crowd of people — this is the most talented staff, I mean they're amazing. It's a pleasure to come to work every day. So I'll do it until I'm like Skeletor. Until I'm like the crypt keeper. Is that enough? Someone else will have to go to the conventions for me in the future though. I don't know if I could do a sixth round of conventions.