At Tribeca, Samantha Bee Talks ‘Full Frontal’, Standing Out, and Voting for the First Time

“I signed the contract very rapidly,” said Samantha Bee about TBS offering her a late night show. Bee, who cut her teeth and became a standout performer on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, had been hoping to hear good news about her comedy The Detour when TBS swooped in with an offer for an additional show. At a Tribeca Talks panel last night, Bee had nothing but praise for the network who took a chance on her. “I think they just trusted us because we had already been working with them. They put a lot of faith in Jason [Jones] and they put a lot of faith in me. I’m very thankful for them.”

The results of that trust are two solid television series: the creative sitcom The Detour, co-created (and starring) Bee’s husband Jason Jones, and the endlessly sharp and funny Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, a standout not just on the network, but in the larger world of late night television. Full Frontal takes a ballsy, intelligent, and bitingly humorous approach to the news, finding ways to feel new in the crowded world of comedy — a task that is even harder during election season when every host is making similar jokes about the same political mishaps. How do you stand out in that scenario?

With Full Frontal, Bee and head writer Jo Miller were bursting with ideas from the start, spending the summer constantly texting and emailing back and forth from their respective upstate New York homes. It’s clear why the two work so well together — at one point, after an audience member asked a question about an upcoming mentorship program, the two woman collapsed into laughter while trying to explain the phrase “clamsplain” — and it’s clear that Full Frontal needs both in order to be the best series it can be. Bee and Miller even agreed on the format immediately: “I think we knew that we wanted to do it once a week, for sure. We knew that would give us the chance to dive into things in a different way, and that would give me the chance to do field pieces — which is really important to me [but] very difficult to do and extremely time-consuming, so you need that extra time to put that extra work into it,” Bee said. “We knew that we didn’t want to make our lives unmanageable. We knew that we wanted it to be a half-hour show because we did have a sense right away that we would want to leave people wanting more.”

“It’s also hard for the audience because we’ve had nights where we taped extra stuff before we go on vacation,” Miller added, “Once you get past that half-hour, the audience is tired. They’re done with you.” Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting tired of Full Frontal. The series, which has been extended to a full season, has boasted some of the best, most feminist, and most memorable jokes to come out of the 2016 Presidential Election. What’s more, it’s actually doing something; the rape kit backlog segment — a vital watch — may have helped get the bill passed in the eleventh hour.

Throughout the hour-long conversation, Bee and Miller touched on many subjects from their diverse writing staff (“If I can give us one huge pat on the back, it’s for the team that we hired. We knocked it out of the park. We were so lucky”) to how they got Peaches’ “Boys Wanna Be Her” for the theme song (“I thought, ‘What if I just DM Peaches on Twitter and ask her if I can have her song?’ So I did that, and she said yes!”).

One particular interesting tidbit centered around Bee’s wardrobe choices. Moderator Stacey Wilson Hunt pointed out that Bee, so far, hasn’t worn any dresses or skirts on the show. “I had a dress in a test show honestly because I just thought that’s what you did,” Bee laughed. “I was so uncomfortable: so tight and so cinched.” After that “disaster” Bee then did a rehearsal in her trademark blazer and a pair of running shoes, with the crew remarking that she looked visibly more comfortable that way. “It’s funny to me that I didn’t discover the sneakers and blazer earlier,” said Bee, remarking on her love for the physicality of comedy. “I don’t know why I ever thought that I could do that in a dress.”

Bee, a native Canadian who had voted for the first time here earlier in the day (“I made them give me a sticker!”), talked about the strangeness of being an outsider looking in on American politics, and why it’s important for her that she join the fray. When speaking about watching the political circus she said, “It had the opposite effect on me because I know I’m supposed to keep a distance from it, but it actually made me desire to be a part of it somehow.” Bee had spent years witnessing election seasons — and attending political events as part of her job (during the panel, she exhibited joking sighs of pleasure when discussing the upcoming conventions) — but still remained on the outside until now. “You spend a lot of years going to conventions and being in it but not of it. It felt weird to me. It didn’t feel right, so now everything feels proper. I mean, I’ve been paying taxes forever — I’ve just not voted. So now it feels as it should be.”