Samantha Bee Talks Full Frontal: "Watch With Both Of Your Vaginas"

Photo: Gregory Pace/REX Shutterstock.
Fans of Samantha Bee’s work on The Daily Show should take comfort. If you loved what she did as a correspondent for Jon Stewart, you will love what she’s doing on her new TBS show, which premieres February 8 and will simulcast across five networks.

Members of the press got a preview of Full Frontal on Bee’s desk-less set Tuesday night. In a clip from a segment filmed during a test show, she laid waste to Kansas legislator Mitch Holmes' dress code for women testifying before a committee. She deemed Holmes “Full Frontal’s Elected Paperweight of the Week.” But where she truly shined — as she often did on The Daily Show — was in the field. We got to see the first part of a piece she did in Jordan about Syrian refugees, called “Meet the People We Are Incoherently Yelling About.” It was insightful, humane, and, obviously, funny.

Full Frontal’s perspective will differ from The Daily Show’s, Bee said during a chat with the press in attendance.

“I do think that we’ll have a pretty forceful point of view in a different direction,” she said. “I was never prevented from showing my point of view, but ultimately The Daily Show was filtered through someone else’s worldview. Mine is definitely just inherently different. I’m steeped in, you know, my woman-ness, quite frankly.”

The tagline for the show is, after all, “Watch or you’re sexist," and Bee is currently the only woman in late night, a fact she said the show had to reference in its marketing. “You can’t avoid it,” she said. “I think it’s a valid point to make. I don’t at all shy away from the question of being a woman in this space.“ (When a journalist asked whether you really are sexist if you don’t watch, she said: “I don’t think that you’re a sexist if you don’t watch. I think that you’re a fool if you don’t watch.”)

But it’s not just that Bee is shaking up late night’s male homogeneity — laser eyes and all. She and her executive producer Jo Miller also strove to make their writers' room as diverse as possible. They had a blind application process and submission packet that Bee said “leveled the playing field" between those who didn’t have experience in the world of late-night comedy and those who did. “We have a very diverse workplace in general, and I think we are reaping the benefits of that in more ways than are even calculable,” Bee said.

Refinery29 grabbed Bee for a few one-on-one questions.

The tagline is “Watch or you’re sexist.” So if someone is totally chill with being called sexist, what’s your pitch?
"[Laughs] I think that you can find the show objectively funny. I think it’s okay. I don’t know that Stephen Colbert wakes up in the morning and goes, 'How can I please my men in my audience?' Is there a woman who wakes up and goes, 'Am I allowed to watch Stephen tonight? Will there be anything on his show for me?' Do you know what I mean? I don’t think there’s a parallel. I think it’s okay. We can all watch all the shows."

You talked about being acutely aware that you are the only woman in late night. I was wondering if the mentorship program you're organizing and your hiring process are a conscious effort to combat the notion of a boys' club?
“I think it comes from a pretty organic place for me and Jo. We just don’t come from the world of people who always aspired to write comedy. We weren’t 18-years-old going, 'I’m going to write for the Harvard Lampoon, and then I’m going to make my way through comedy.' We just did shitty jobs and did weird stuff. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, and Jo worked a million weird jobs and never thought she could be a comedy writer. So it’s just important for us to include people who are like us. That’s all. We’re just looking in the mirror and going, 'Well, if someone hadn’t fished us out of this weird pond, we wouldn’t be here'. There’s a pool of talent that is undiscovered.”

Is that a reaction to anything you felt at The Daily Show?
“No. I didn’t feel that way there. [A waiter walks by with a tray of tiny cups of hot chocolate.] Oh, look, my face is on all the cups. You know what? I’m going to have that. That I do want. That’s very foamy. No, I wouldn’t say that it’s a reaction to that. I think it’s just in our DNA as people. We didn’t grow up with anything, we made our way here here in such a circuitous way, we would like to pay it forward. That’s all. [Focusing on the hot chocolate.] I’m going to lick this. It’s going to be gross. I did it."

We're printing all of that. I read an essay this morning about a term some people use to refer to women voting for Hillary: “Voting with your vagina.”
“Oh, beautiful. That’s nice.”

I'm wondering if you have a take on that.
“I don't — I don’t know that it’s that simple. When people say that, that is very reductive to me.”

So you don't hope women watch your show with their vaginas?
“Watch with both of your vaginas. That are on your face. Your face vaginas.”

I know you’re a big fan of baking.
“I love to bake.”

I’m a terrible baker. But what should I or someone else bake to watch the show?
“Oh, my god. Oh, wow. What should you bake? Let me think about that. Just a nice olive oil kind of ricotta cake with maybe some almond. Get some sour cherries — no. I’m really into citrus right now. Something tart, like clementine. Give me some orange rind in it.”

A little bit of savory maybe?
“A little rosemary.”
Photo: Esther Zuckerman.
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