Forget fire in the belly. Samantha Bee has something stirring in her “swamp.”
Her word. Not mine.
What already has set Bee and her weekly TBS series apart from the late-night talkers, variety hosts and satirists out there? Her passion. From standing front and center to face her audience instead of sitting behind a desk, to standing up for women and for news stories nobody else is talking about, Bee and her show runner Jo Miller know their voice and definitely know how to use it on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, as they explained Tuesday night in a Tribeca Talks session for the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
“The show comes out of a place of passion,” Bee said. “The show comes from a really visceral, a really gut level. I like to say in my swamp. I know it’s disgusting. I shouldn’t say that.”
No matter how crowded the field may be in late-night or in satire, Bee and Miller both said it hasn’t been difficult to stake out a singular position, and credited their writing staff for expressing a variety of viewpoints. “Things jump up at us in a different way that they don’t jump up at other shows,” Bee said.
For example, Miller said: “You see a rape kit thing like that and think, ‘That’s it. There you go.’”
Miller said their segment on the overwhelming backlog of rape kits in states across America that are being neglected resulted in actual change in Georgia, where they pointed out a single legislator holding up a bill to rectify the situation. Georgia’s other legislators put the fix into another bill which passed at the last minute. “The supporters were Tweeting at us and letting us know,” Miller said.
Airing once a week, and for only a half-hour, were deliberate decisions on Bee’s and Miller’s parts.
“That would give us the chance to dive into things in a different way,” Bee said. “We knew that didn’t want to make our lives unmanageable.” And going only a half-hour instead of an hour allows them to focus on the best material, too. “We would want to leave people wanting more.”
Miller added: “We also knew how hard it was to make a show like this,” as they’d both worked on The Daily Show for years.
Bee’s segment tracking down an NRA mascot costume for sale took a long time, not only logistically, but also legally as they ensured they broadcasted an air-tight segment.
And unlike the old version of The Daily Show, Bee is not interested in ambushing anyone she interviews on camera or misconstruing her purpose to trick her targets.
“We’re being very careful about that on the show. We’re really giving people a chance to express their point of view. It’s important to me that we give people enough time that they feel that, at least, ‘I got my point across,’” Bee said.
“There’s not a lot of artifice when we go into these situations.”
That goes for even her look on the show.
Bee tried wearing a dress and heels in a test show but she felt uncomfortable and everyone on staff agreed. Bee cited a quote from Whitney Cummings about wardrobe onstage. “She considers it to be a sport. And now I completely see that,” Bee said. “The physicality of it is important to me. It’s funny to me that I didn’t discover about the sneakers and blazer earlier, because I do, I’m very into my physicality, for sure, so I don’t know why I ever thought I could do that in a dress. It was really painful.”
And not knowing if Full Frontal would get more than an initial 13-week order — or even last that long, as Miller acknowledged TBS execs had warned — prompted them to go full throttle. Make the show they always wanted to make.
“We want to do a show like this, and fuck everybody else!” Bee said. “We’re going for it!”
And they’ve succeeded, winning a full-year extension from TBS.
Bee voted as an American citizen for the first time Tuesday in New York’s presidential primary. That felt right to her, as it allows her to participate in the process she’s railing about or interacting with on air for the past 13 years since joining The Daily Show in 2003, instead of just being a casually caustic Canadian observer. “I’ve been paying taxes forever and not voting,” she said. “So now all is as it should be.”