“There is a fine line that you have to ride,” says Samantha Bee of hosting TBS’ Full Frontal With Samantha Bee — the weekly, 21-minute, Emmy-winning late-night show on which she skewers Donald Trump and public figures who behaved foolishly over the previous week — as we sit down at the show’s offices in midtown Manhattan. “If you take it too seriously, then you’re too much of an activist, but if you don’t take it seriously enough…” she trails off.
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 14:04], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Seth Abramovitch, a senior writer at The Hollywood Reporter, about his new profile of Jeffrey Tambor, the Emmy-winning star of Amazon’s Transparent who was recently fired from that show after being accused of sexual misconduct.
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Full Frontal, which Bee also created, executive produces and writes on, debuted on Feb. 8, 2016, making her the first female ever to host a late-night satire show. At the time, the Canadian-born U.S. citizen expected, like most others, that she would spend the next four years roasting a fellow ceiling-shatterer, Hillary Clinton. But then came Nov. 8, 2016, and with Trump’s victory, an era of unprecedented challenges for late-night hosts: major news breaks so often it’s hard to stay current; real-world events sometimes crazier than any joke; and high stakes that can prompt laughter or tears.
If anyone is equipped to navigate this tricky climate, it’s Bee, who made an art form out of political satire as the first female — and longest-serving overall — correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, with a tenure there spanning 2003-2015. She left that show shortly after host Jon Stewart did, convinced that she would not be offered his anchor chair, and preferring to take a gamble on a new show of her own, rather than continuing to work at The Daily Show under someone else.
The gamble has paid off in spades. Full Frontal attracted warm reviews for its passionate, fast-paced deep dives. Within a year of its debut, its viewership was up 167 percent and it was the most-watched late-night show among viewers in the prized 18-to-34 demographic. And within two years, it was nominated for the best variety talk series Emmy and won the Emmy for best writing for a variety special, in recognition of its one-time offshoot Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
“I would happily take a more predictable world and just a slight struggle to find three more jokes,” Bee says, cracking herself up. “‘Thank you so much,'” she imitates someone saying to her in response, adding, “I’m a really good citizen. You’re really lucky to have me now.”
Over the course of our conversation, the 48-year-old and I discussed a wide range of topics. Among them:
• Why, for much of her adolescence in Canada, Bee acted up, and what motivated her, just before graduating from high school, to clean up her act
• How she broke into sketch comedy in Toronto, and how, while there, she was discovered by The Daily Show, which was “struggling” to find a female anchor stateside
• What her fondest memories and biggest takeaways were from her 12 years working under Stewart and alongside a host of other talented comics who also now have late-night shows, including Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Jordan Klepper
• Why, when Stewart announced his departure in 2015, she decided not to stick around and wait to see if she would be offered the chance to succeed him as The Daily Show’s host, but instead headed over to TBS
• How, with Full Frontal, her overall mission and screen persona were already in place prior to Nov. 8, 2016, but how Trump’s unexpected election victory changed the day-to-day challenges of putting together the show
• Plus, much more.