The only girl on late night.
She told us we’d just have to wait. That it was hard to explain, but that once we saw it, we’d get it. Before Samantha Bee’s late-night show, Full Frontal, premiered, we were told what it would not include: A desk, celebrity interview segments, and similarities to already-existing late-night formats.
“It’s strange to me that people would think that this show would be just strictly isolated to women’s issues,” she told Mother Jones. “Would you not think that you can watch The Late Show because it’s hosted by a man? Would you wonder, ‘Ugh, this is going to be all about man issues?’ Like obviously, there are issues that I feel passionate about and want to be a part of it, but we can all handle it. Men and women can handle it as people.”
We did know that the show would be “edgy,” “visceral” and “audacious”—all words used in pre-premiere interviews—and we certainly knew Bee would be the first female with her own late-night show in a format dominated by white men. But we didn’t know how any of this would translate into a weekly half hour on basic cable.
And so we waited. We walked by billboards and buses emblazoned with the tagline “Watch or you’re sexist.” And we read Bee’s re-tweet of Vanity Fair’s all-white-male cover shot promoting the stars of late-night television, which she had Photoshopped to include herself as a laser-shooting centaur. “BETTER” was the accompanying text.
“It felt really on purpose to me,” Bee said of the Tweet in an interview with Mother Jones. “It was such a big misstep that it feels like a lot of brainpower went into that misstep.” She then added, “Did you note that their follow-up photo had Miss Piggy in it? I mean, trolling times a million, like: Fixed it! Here’s this puppet who’s voiced by a man. That solves it!”
The support for Bee and her response was swift and massive. It wouldn’t be the only time she would garner high fives for calling someone out (more on that later), but the act certainly set the tone for what viewers would soon come to expect from Bee’s show.
Up until this point, most viewers familiar with the Canadian comedian only knew her as one of Jon Stewart’s intrepid reporters on The Daily Show. For 12 years, she covered everything from the Republican convention, where she tried to coax attendees into using the word “choice” when talking about the pregnancy of then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol; to the subject of allowing women to participate in military combat, asking a female marine corp captain, “How do you even have girl talk in Afghanistan? Your ice cream would melt.”
When, after nearly two decades, Stewart announced he was stepping down, the buzz about Bee as a potential successor was palpable. And when it was announced that Trevor Noah, who had appeared just three times on the show, would be handed the throne, many fans thought Bee was robbed. Bee, to her credit, has always taken the high road when asked if she was upset about not being chosen.
What fans didn’t know at the time was that Bee and her husband, Jason Jones, also a former Daily Show cast member, had just pitched a comedy series called The Detour to TBS, which was in the process of a rebranding effort that included featuring more original, adventurous programming. The network picked it up—and then upped the ante with an offer to Bee to host her own show.
“We were talking about being more in touch with current events,” TBS president Kevin Reilly told the New York Times, “being part of the cultural conversation.”
When the show finally made its debut in the spring of last year, those who tuned in quickly realized that Bee wasn’t just going to be part of the conversation. She was going to change it. Where others in her field merely preach to their comedy choirs, Bee attacks her subjects with the kind of bite that lets you know it’s personal. She is also an equal opportunity skewerer, refusing to reserve it only for those on the “other side.”
Her show may address women’s issues, but it does not shy away from making the issue a woman. In a segment about legislation in Georgia that would help reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, she goes after a female senator who opposed it.
“Excuse me, I just have to consult my feminist rule book. Oh, here we are. No rape jokes. And don’t be mean to other women. Thank you for your service [tosses book]. Woman have you lost your ****ing mind? Are you just pissed that someone else wrote the law instead of you? Or are you in the pocket of Big Rape? If the confederate clown car that is the Georgia House can come together, on this bill, who are you to block it?
Bee often makes a point of letting viewers know they aren’t off the hook, either. The aforementioned senator is running uncontested in the next election, she notes, “because we don’t care about local politics. So remember, local elections are a lot like rape kits—no one really wants to pay attention to them, but if you bother to open them up, you might just get rid of someone who’s been screwing everyone in town.”
Even presidents are fair game. “Where the hell is the Commander in Chief?” she asked in a segment about bi-partisan legislation created to help prevent sexual assault in the military. “I know the president doesn’t like to piss off the generals, but what happened to no-f***s Obama? You spent the last year heckling republicans and burning through your political capital like a hooker with Richard Gere’s credit card. You can’t spare some of that bad ass-ery for your troops who are getting assaulted on your watch? Why don’t you pick up the phone, call those nine democrats who voted nay last time and tell them Ted Cruz is right.”
No segment resonated more last year, though, than the one that aired right after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. While other late-night hosts offered the standard prayers and “love each other” rhetoric, Bee’s statement was applauded for being utterly raw and assertive.
“Love does not win unless we start loving each other enough to fix our f*****g problems,” she said in the show’s opening. “We can’t constitutionally get rid of all guns, but can we get semi-automatic assault rifles out of the hands of civilians? Sam Bee wants to take your guns away! Yes. The ones that mow down a room full of people in seconds? Yes, I do want to take those guns away. Stop thinking and do something to protect our society.”
It’s safe to say Bee has lived up to the title of her show. She not only lays it all out on the table, but she makes you eat every last bite. And we’d like seconds, please.
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