I don’t know where I would be without Samantha Bee, especially in this election. Every Tuesday, I ignore all of my responsibilities for half an hour to watch the new episode of “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.” I always find myself both laughing and rage-crying. Usually, I’ll find some articles telling me to watch “Samantha Bee’s furious takedown” of any subject, usually Donald Trump. The wording is important here: she is furious, and that’s the point. Bee’s fury makes “Full Frontal” one of the best late-night television shows out there.
Perhaps one of the most telling details about “Full Frontal” is that the tagline for her promos was “Watch or you’re sexist.” As the only woman with a late-night show (excepting Chelsea Handler, who has a show on Netflix, but can it be called late night if there’s no time slot?), Bee and her ubiquitous blazer offer a breath of fresh air from a late-night sphere that is overwhelmingly male and white. In October of last year, Vanity Fair published a spread of late-night hosts, featuring only men, despite the fact that TBS had already announced it would be airing “Full Frontal.” Bee, true to form, tweeted a picture of the spread, this time augmented by her image Photoshopped onto the body of a centaur, shooting lasers out of her eyes.
Bee’s status as the only woman in the late-night game enhances her work. “I was never prevented from exploring my point of view, but ultimately ‘The Daily Show’ was filtered through someone else’s worldview,” Bee said. “Mine is just inherently different. I’m steeped in, you know…my woman-ness, frankly.” This fact is woven into the show’s very DNA and it’s what separates “Full Frontal” from other late-night shows.
Both Bee and John Oliver (now on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”) got their start on “The Daily Show.” The differences in the way they present their material on their new shows is where Bee outshines Oliver. His reporting is well-researched and clearly presented, with his occasional trademark odd analogy thrown in. There’s not a subject he can’t break down and explain in his fun accent. However, he’s removed from the subjects upon which he’s reporting. He can view his subjects more objectively, as they often don’t personally affect him. He’s able to calmly relay the facts and urge that maybe, sometime in the future, we should do something about this.
Bee, on the other hand, is bursting with righteous rage. As she tells Rolling Stone Magazine, “We didn’t know what the show would look like, but we knew what it would feel like. We wanted a show that was visceral, that came from a really gut place, that tapped into our fury.” When Bee talks about anything, from restrictive abortion laws to the mounds of untested rape kits, she feels it personally and she channels that rage. She’s not just evaluating the structures of inequality in America, she is burning them to the ground. As Todd VanDerWerff from Vox puts it, “Bee is…constructing the first season of Full Frontal to serve as a blanket condemnation of an entire political system where everybody is lazily comfortable with their privilege.”
This difference is crystallized in the way Bee and Oliver relay their information. Oliver sits behind his desk like a conventional host, while Bee doesn’t even have a chair. She’s very active on the stage, like her more active role in her condemnations. Take, for example, after the leak of the tape featuring Republican nominee Donald Trump detailing how he sexually assaults women. In her segment dedicated to the comments, Bee remarks “every woman I know has had some entitled testosterone monster grab her like a human bowling ball.” This personal experience enhances the takedown because it taps into Bee’s primal rage, tied to her identity as a woman. Oliver also aired a segment devoted to the tape, but it never reaches the same level of vitriol and fury. There’s nothing quite like watching Samantha Bee rattle off every term for “vagina” she can think of for a solid 30 seconds, following it up with the punchline, “That was literally a vagina monologue.”
It also bears mentioning that Bee’s writer’s room is one of the most diverse of late-night shows. Her writing staff is 50 percent women and 30 percent people of color. “Last Week Tonight,” on the other hand, boasts two women in its 11-person writing staff. “Full Frontal”’s blind approach to hiring was designed to offset the advantage that more established comedy writers, who tend to be white and male, inherently have. To find more talent from untapped places, they helped amateur writers by adding instructions on how to format a script. It worked, and their writing room is filled with a diverse array of voices. “I have literally filled my office with people who have been underestimated their entire careers,” Bee says. “To a person, we almost all fit into that category. It is so joyful to collect a group of people who nobody has ever thought could grasp the reins of something and f*cking go for it.” With a writer’s room that looks more like America, “Full Frontal” is better equipped to represent all those voices and make it more personal for everyone.
Bee’s voice is especially useful in an election that features the first female presidential nominee representing a major political party. Bee is also accustomed to the tightrope walk that Hillary Clinton has spent her entire adult life doing (when she wasn’t too busy fighting ISIS). The harassment of prominent female figures is a lived experience for both women (Bee even set up a “rape threat hotline” to direct the threats of sexual violence women often face for being on TV or the Internet) and Bee’s perspective on a hectic election cycle is an invaluable resource. She’s not trying to get anyone to agree with her; in fact, if you’re watching her show, you probably already do. Bee is there to vocalize the inarticulate rage we all feel during this presidential race, and she does it spectacularly, and in a very nice blazer.