Samantha Bee on channelling political anger for comedy
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NEW YORK — For a late-night comedy show host, Samantha Bee's midtown Manhattan office is fairly understated. On her desk, however, is one unusual feature: a big bowl of bite-sized chocolate squares with her photo on each wrapper.
"Just what I always wanted," says Bee, "my face on chocolates."
After a dozen years on the Emmy Award-winning "The Daily Show" and now two years into hosting "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," the Toronto native is no stranger to tributes — edible or otherwise. Earlier this year, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Hosting "Full Frontal" is a dream job, says Bee, combining her twin passions.
"I'm obsessed with the news but I'm also obsessed with comedy," says the 48-year-old. "I'm not super interested in things that are fictional right now. The real world is much more interesting."
And what a year of non-fiction it has been. On the floor by her desk is a prop poster depicting failed Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore. It is rendered as an Andy Warhol knock-off, complete with pastel-coloured Campbell's soup cans.
Bee says Moore's recent election loss and a crazy year of Trump headlines has been "the best of times, the worst of times, for sure. Nobody's happy that (Moore) almost won, but we have to allow ourselves to be happy that he didn't win."
As for Trump's presidential win last year, Bee, like many Canadians, never saw it coming.
"We planned an entire post-election show that had no mention of Donald Trump," she says. "In no world did we think he would win."
Then there's the whole issue of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.
"This is a reckoning, for sure," says Bee about the almost daily revelations. She doubts the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace will be solved in one year but feels "once you start tilling the dirt, things can get better for future generations."
Some of these headlines get Bee hopping mad once she's in front of the camera. That's "essential for the show," says the mother of three, who insists she doesn't live this way "as a human being. I'm usually outraged but I have a calm life."
Bee is thrilled that strong female voices are now dominating in comedy and social commentary, especially in television. She singles out Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Amazon series "Fleabag" as a game-changer, along with the new Showtime entry "SMILF" from Frankie Shaw.
"I like to see real women rendered warts and all," says Bee. "It is very good and feels right."
Despite the Time magazine endorsement, she's modest about her own role as an influencer.
"It would make it hard for me to do my job if I thought I was some sort of a philosopher for the ages. I don't know how you could wear that moniker and still be a cool person and have a fun day."
She's happy "Full Frontal" and her producers and writers are seen as having "kicked a door down here in the late-night space, for sure," she says.
"But I don't think I'm like the leader of this movement. I'm not sure it requires a leader."
If it seems as if she gets away with more than satirists in Canada, Bee says credit should go to her American cable network, TBS.
"We're lucky to be working for a very risk-taking network," she says. Canadians see the exact same content simulcast every Wednesday night on The Comedy Network.
And, sure, there is more to mock in covering American politics.
"I wouldn't characterize Canadian politics as boring but it's not a roller-coaster ride," she says.
"You're not going to wake up tomorrow if somebody else wins the election and not have health care — but that is actually happening here."
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in New York, Brioux was a guest of The Comedy Network.
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