TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Late night TV is now filled with hilarious political satire. What sets apart "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee" isn't just that it's hosted by a woman, it's that Bee is a feminist. And the head writer and showrunner, Jo Miller, is also a feminist. And that's the perspective they bring to their satire. And the Trump administration is giving them plenty of material to work with. Samantha Bee and Miller co-created "Full Frontal." They first worked together on "The Daily Show," where Bee was a correspondent and Miller was a writer. When Jon Stewart left "The Daily Show," Bee was offered her own show. And she enlisted Miller to help her create it. "Full Frontal" airs Wednesdays on TBS and just started its second season. Let's start with a "Full Frontal" clip from the night after Election Day, when Samantha Bee was still shocked by Donald Trump's victory.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
SAMANTHA BEE: How did everyone get this so spectacularly wrong? Pollsters, the media, the "Keepin' It 1600" crowd, nerds, us. What was the X factor that none of the forecasts accounted for? OK. I have a confession to make. A few years ago, I appeared on a little show called "Law & Order."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAW AND ORDER")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You may know Vanessa Carville. She's being blackmailed.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
BEE: And soon after it aired, the 20-season hit series was canceled even though there were still six people in New York who hadn't yet appeared on it. And then last year, I gave a tasteful interview in Playboy. The next day, Playboy canceled nudity.
BEE: I guess I didn't notice the pattern because yesterday, I voted in an American election for the first time, and I broke America.
BEE: I am so sorry. And please, don't even think of writing something stupid like, what one lucky break a Trump presidency is for comedians. The jokes just write themselves. No, no, no. Shut up. Jokes don't write themselves. Jews write jokes. And they are scared [expletive].
GROSS: (Laughter) Samantha Bee, Jo Miller, welcome to FRESH AIR. (Laughter).
BEE: Thank you for having us.
JO MILLER: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: So what was it like doing a show right after the election? I mean, had you planned on doing a show about President-elect Hillary Clinton?
BEE: Listen. We had a balloon drop planned. I will say that.
MILLER: We did.
BEE: We had balloons in our rafters. And it was, you know, not (laughter) - we had to call it. We donated our balloons to a different show.
MILLER: We did prepare. I mean, we had...
GROSS: Did you really? Did you really...
MILLER: Well, for things that were pre-taped, we did tape - like, for the cold open where everybody is running around celebrating that the election's over. We had taped an alternate ending for just in case because we are stressed, anxious people who kind of Cassandra (ph) around expecting the worst.
MILLER: And we - the field department had shot some wonderful footage at the polls that day and planned a field piece and then needed to make a completely different field piece out of the same footage and...
BEE: At 2 o'clock in the morning.
MILLER: Yeah. And Tyler (ph) just sat down in that edit. And we checked in on him from time to time, like, you OK? Yeah. I got it. It's great. Fine. And he turned out a beautiful field piece.
GROSS: How did you come up with the idea that Samantha Bee broke America because every time she does something, it's cancelled or changes in some dramatic way?
MILLER: I can tell you. I remember - I knew at 8:01 that...
BEE: I know.
MILLER: ...What was going to happen. And everybody was still in denial. And around 10, I think I...
BEE: I think it - around 10.
MILLER: Yeah. I pulled everyone in the writers room. And they just sat there staring into space. And most of these people hadn't been through 2004 and didn't know that feeling. And Sam then told everybody the story about the other thing, the "Law & Order" and the Playboy...
BEE: Breaking our cherished cultural institutions.
MILLER: And that was - yeah. That was like throwing out this life preserver to everyone in the room. And we all grabbed onto it. And then we started talking about how to make it funny. So.
GROSS: So you all...
MILLER: Before that, it was silence.
BEE: Silence. Silence.
GROSS: So how did Trump's election change the role you want your show to play?
BEE: By the time the election rolled around, we were all so excited and joyful. We saw, you know, we could see a different future for the show. We wanted to stop talking about the election...
BEE: ...So many other things that we wanted to cover are - you know, was kind of just this endless pool of stories we wanted to tell. And we thought...
MILLER: We had to get back to the states.
BEE: Get back to the states. Get back to - have a, you know, some predictability.
MILLER: Cover Europe.
MILLER: Or feminist issues.
BEE: So then in that moment, you know, we were having a crisis in the office, a crisis of citizenship and a crisis - an American crisis, but also looking toward a future in which we knew we were going to have to dig in deep on this. And we knew that it was going to change the future of the show for however long it changed it. It just felt like we could see something dark on the horizon. And that was overwhelming for a long time.
MILLER: I - the poor guys who do the "Trumpcast" at Slate were completely planning to end their podcast...
MILLER: ...At Election Day and were - had clearly kind of calculated it so that they were coasting in on fumes at the end...
BEE: Right (laughter). I know (laughter).
MILLER: ...And then to realize they had to do it forever. I feel like they probably felt like we did.
BEE: I think so. An interesting thing happened also as the election results were becoming more clear. I checked into my Twitter feed. And the tone of people's at mentions to me went into violence. Like, I can't even - it is indescribable what happened. But it just - like, I felt like the whole world shifted in those few hours in a way that was very, I mean, just everything about it was so unexpected. But I could feel this seismic shift in the way that people were interacting with me. It was ugly.
GROSS: So what were you reading, like, misogynist tweets directed at you?
BEE: Oh, my God. It was unbelievable. I literally had to turn my notifications off actually.
MILLER: We took your phone away.
BEE: Everyone took my phone away because it put me into such a dark place for a couple of really bad days. And...
GROSS: So - wait - so President Trump won, and you became more of a target? Is that what you're saying?
BEE: Yeah. And I could feel me personally being a target, but the show.
MILLER: It was vicious.
BEE: It was was vicious.
MILLER: And a little kind of scary.
BEE: Right out of the gate. And I - in that moment, I kind of understood the way it was going to be from then on. And at that point, everyone took away my Twitter because it was making me too depressed (laughter).
MILLER: And it was like night and day when we took it away. It's like, oh, Sam's back.
BEE: I know (laughter). Yeah. Yeah. I really needed to - I really needed to lose touch with that element, and which has been very effective. My notifications have been off ever since.
MILLER: It's good to be reminded that that's not the real world.
BEE: It's not the real world.
MILLER: But it is a dark rabbit hole to go down.
GROSS: So a few weeks ago, you announced that you were doing an alternative to the White House Correspondents Dinner. And this is the annual dinner held by the White House Correspondents Association. It's a formal event at a big ballroom. A lot of people from the press are there, a lot of celebrities, politicians and the president. The president is usually at the head table. And the president does standup. And often, it turns into a roast. And then there's a guest comic, who usually does not only standup but tends to roast the president (laughter). And comics have included Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, Seth Myers and...
MILLER: Don't leave out Rich Little. Come on, man.
BEE: Yeah, you left out Rich Little.
GROSS: After Trump was elected, you decided you were going to do an alternative to the White House Correspondents Dinner called Not the White House Correspondents Dinner and that you're going to do, what? What are you going to do?
BEE: In the weeks following the election, we were struggling so much to find joy and things that just made us genuinely smile. And Jo and Alison and I - Alison is one of the producers on the show - and she - the three of us were sitting together and thinking about what was going to happen with the White House press corps. I feel like it was Newt Gingrich who made some statement at the end of November about why the White House corps felt like an anachronism to him, and why did it even exist? And we sat together. And we were just having a nice conversation and thinking, what is going to happen with it? How is this dinner, by way of example, going to exist? Is he going to come to it? Are they going to cancel it? There was so much animosity.
MILLER: Well, he loves jokes. He's so able to...
BEE: He's so able to...
MILLER: He understands (unintelligible) humor about himself - unbelievable. And so really together in the moment, we all thought the idea. That - we all went, oh, my God, we should have our own. And it made us smile for the first time in a long time - genuinely smile.
GROSS: So when you try to imagine what the White House Correspondents Dinner would be like with President Trump, what did you imagine?
MILLER: I imagined it would be canceled.
BEE: I imagined it would be canceled, also. Yeah.
GROSS: OK. And the dinner itself wasn't canceled, but Trump has said...
GROSS: ...President Trump has said he is not attending.
MILLER: Right, correct.
GROSS: So does that change your plans at all? I was wondering, like...
GROSS: ...will you maybe now be doing it...
BEE: Fair enough.
GROSS: ...as part of the White House Correspondents Dinner?
BEE: No. I think that we see our event as a stand-alone event. I mean, we, you know, as the idea grew and changed over time, we want to make it a celebration of free press. And certainly, we've used so much great research and so much great work in the service of our own show, you know, without people on the ground doing all of that really difficult work...
MILLER: Like local newspaper, gumshoe reporting in Tampa and Atlanta.
BEE: It's essential to how we put the show together. And so this event is a chance for us to celebrate the people who have - who have helped us lift our show. It's also just objectively going to be fun for us. And we think it - I really do think it stands alone. It's essentially our show's version of that event with our own perspective. And it'll be a completely different type of event.
GROSS: So you're going to record it and then play it as a special, or play it on your show?
BEE: It'll be a special.
MILLER: It'll be recorded a couple hours before it airs.
GROSS: Oh, so it's going to air the same night as the White House Correspondents Dinner?
GROSS: Wow. Any clues you can drop about who's going to be there?
BEE: No (laughter). No because we don't know.
MILLER: We don't...
BEE: We really don't know.
MILLER: ...We've just started reaching out, like...
MILLER: ...today (laughter).
BEE: Yes. Yeah, yeah. We're really - we're putting it together. You know, it's a little bit like planning a wedding with about six weeks' notice.
MILLER: It's like planning a wedding when you just found out you were pregnant.
GROSS: OK. Well, I'm sure it's going to be fun, so I look forward to it. Let's take a short break here. And let me reintroduce you first. My guests are Samantha Bee and Jo Miller, who created "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee." And it's a weekly satirical news show with a feminist point of view on TBS hosted by Samantha Bee. And Jo Miller's the head writer. So we'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG "THE BALLAD OF DOROTHY PARKER")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are Samantha Bee and Jo Miller, who created "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee," which is a weekly satirical news show with a feminist point of view on TBS. And Samantha Bee is the host. She's also a former "Daily Show" correspondent. Jo Miller is the head writer and show writer for "Full Frontal." They first worked together on "The Daily Show." OK. Let's hear another bit from "Full Frontal." And this is your take on Kellyanne Conway...
BEE: Oh, great.
GROSS: ...that was recorded on January 18. So this is just like a couple of days before the inauguration. And she, of course, was Donald Trump's campaign manager, now counselor to the president who's being seen increasingly less and less over time. So here's Samantha Bee a couple of days before the inauguration.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
BEE: Welcome back to the show. As one of the top five or six feminist shows in late night, we're all about celebrating the achievements of fierce, brave, strong women - well, that and dildo jokes - but mainly women. And tonight, we want to celebrate a truly special female woman - Donald Trump's omnipresent spokescobra (ph), Kellyanne Conway. Or, as Fox News calls her...
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST MONTAGE)
LOU DOBBS: The first woman to run a winning presidential campaign in the history of this country.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: First woman to be ever - lead and win a presidential campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The first woman to run a successful presidential campaign.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
BEE: Jesus, Fox, stop ramming your feminist identity politics down America's throats. But they're right, Kellyanne did turn Trump's up-ended port-a-potty of a campaign around and get him elected pretty much single-handedly while raising four children and probably being interrupted every three minutes by the alpha bro jockstraps Trump likes to surround himself with. She is [expletive] amazing at her job. And she deserves credit. But for some reason, not everyone is celebrating Kellyanne's victory for womanhood.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: I got to think that if Kellyanne Conway was on the left, I'd be seeing her on the cover of Vogue. But the left's not big fans.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
BEE: Oh, my God, you guys, it's so unfair. A woman pulls off the historic feat of electing a sexual predator who thinks women should be punished for having abortions, and feminists don't celebrate her with a Vogue cover.
BEE: Although, she did get the cover of [expletive] Grabber Enabler Monthly, so I guess that's something.
GROSS: So I think it's very interesting that you came up with a feminist take on Kellyanne Conway. So can you talk a little bit about the process of figuring out what your angle was going to be to talk about Kellyanne Conway?
BEE: Well, she is an accomplished professional.
MILLER: She pretty much did pull that off single-handed. I mean...
BEE: She really did.
MILLER: ...She's very good at her job. She will do or say anything. And she was surrounded by a bunch of male boobs who couldn't find their own ass with a map.
BEE: Yep, she does - I really absolutely think that she does deserve credit for that.
BEE: I wish that she hadn't done it (laughter).
MILLER: Right, I mean, I feel the same way I did about Thatcher. Like I, you know, lived in Britain then. It was not a pleasant time. But props to her and, you know, what she had to put up with on a daily basis. She's another one who had to change her voice because it was too shrill.
MILLER: And also, we disagree with Kellyanne on everything and hate watching what she does on the news shows. But I know that she's gotten the same kind of personal, nasty, misogynist attacks that Sam has. And she gets called names and called ugly and really inappropriate, horrible things the way that any public woman does. And that's wrong. We had a whole - we had this whole...
MILLER: ...Debate in the rewrite because we wanted to make sure that we didn't say anything that could be construed by anybody as being lookist (ph) or sexist or, you know, a personal attack on her instead of the way she lives her life and does her business or her work and everything.
GROSS: Yeah, you did in another edition call - in another edition you did call her a flaxen-haired fountain of lies.
BEE: Well, that's accurate.
BEE: I'll stand behind those words.
BEE: Flaxen-haired is pretty. That's a compliment.
MILLER: Yeah, that's nice.
BEE: And she's a fountain of lies (laughter)...
MILLER: And she is a fountain of lies (laughter).
BEE: ...I mean, I don't...
MILLER: A beautiful cascading Bellagio of mendacity.
GROSS: (Laughter) So you've been working together since you were on "The Daily Show."
MILLER: God, it feels like a thousand years.
BEE: It feels like another person's life...
BEE: ...In a lot of ways. Yeah.
GROSS: Did you feel on "The Daily Show" that you had to prove yourselves as women or just as comics?
BEE: I didn't really - I personally didn't have a very gendered experience there. More - it's - for me as a comic, for me - comedy, my sensibility and - I'm a hard worker. And I'm a gold star-getter. I like to put my nose down and do the work. That's how I felt about the experience. No one ever didn't listen to my ideas there because I was female. People didn't listen to my ideas because they were sometimes bad ideas (laughter).
MILLER: No. That's - at the time, in 2009, when Hallie Haglund and I were hired as writers there - it was an all-male room at the time. There had been women there. There weren't at the time, so we came into a very masculine environment. And whenever you're in a room with 16 guys, you get talked over. People pick up the thing you said five minutes ago and say it and then get heard.
Jon was always the best about making eye contact with the person who was quiet or who had just gotten talked over and locking eyes with them and saying, no wait, talk, you. And I really appreciated that. And I think I was completely shy and scared for a while. And then, something flipped. And I just started being a complete bitch with sharp elbows...
MILLER: ...And talking over other people. So being in a room with 16 guys - but they were very kind.
GROSS: So when you decided to work together to create a new show, how did you figure out what the format was going to be? How did you figure out what you wanted?
BEE: Well, we knew from the very beginning what we wanted. And we knew that we wanted the show to come from a very visceral place. We knew that we wanted it to be a really authentic expression...
MILLER: Kind of rip it out of hearts.
BEE: ...Of what we're feeling. We didn't know how the, you know, the acts would break down. And we didn't know what the set would look like or what it would - we knew - and we also...
MILLER: We knew no desk.
BEE: We knew that there would be no desk. That's also something that we knew.
GROSS: Yeah, you just, Sam you just stand...
BEE: We didn't know blazers yet.
GROSS: Yeah. Why no desk and...
BEE: We just couldn't. I'm just - personally, as a viewer and as a consumer of late night shows, I just can't - like, I didn't (laughter) want to see another one. I just didn't want to see another desk. You know, it's - it doesn't feel - it wouldn't feel right to - we knew that our show would be different in many ways. I don't think we knew exactly how it would be different. We just knew that it would be. And part of that was just breaking that format, just this really simple gesture of breaking the format of sitting behind a desk.
When I sit behind things, I can't move my body. It's very constricting. It becomes like - well, for me, it would have been a crutch. And believe me, I thought - I was very scared to not have a desk because I thought, wouldn't it be great to have something to hide behind? I need something that I can scoot behind so that - I just need it. But in the end, I didn't need it at all. And I'm so glad that we really don't have anything for me to hide behind. It's better that way.
GROSS: My guests are Samantha Bee, the co-creator and host of the political satire show "Full Frontal," and Jo Miller, the co-creator, head writer and showrunner. "Full Frontal" airs Wednesday nights on TBS. We'll talk more after a break. And Ken Tucker will review the new album by The xx. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET'S "AFTER YOU, JOEL")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Samantha Bee and Jo Miller, the creators of "Full Frontal," the late night show of political satire from a feminist point of view. It airs Wednesday nights on TBS. Bee is the host and executive producer. Miller is the head writer and showrunner. They first worked together when Samantha Bee was a correspondent on "The Daily Show," and Jo Miller was one of the show's writers. "Full Frontal" is now in its second season.
The men on the late night shows wear suits so, you know, the suits might vary, but, you know, in some ways, a suit is a suit, whereas you've developed like a look that you have on the show. How did you develop that look?
BEE: Well, it's very similar to - it's actually a funny story. It's very similar to the uniform that I wear in daily life. I wear blazers in my life. I have - I just - I love them. I feel very protected in a blazer (laughter). It's like it's my uniform. And when we were in the early days of doing test shows, I had it in my head that I had to wear a dress and high heels. I really did. I thought, OK, when you're a woman, and you're on television, you have to wear a dress, and you have to wear high heels. And then we did another test show, and I was wearing high heels. And the heels were so (laughter) - they were such stilettos that the heels were poking through the (laughter) - they were poking through the floor of the set, and it was terrible.
And we were like, what is she going to do about the high heels? Can you wear a block heel? And I was like, no. They have to be stilettos. And then (laughter) - and, actually, a couple of executives from TBS were there. And they pulled me aside after, and they were like, you were so comfortable - seemed to be having so much fun in rehearsal when you were wearing sneakers and a blazer, and then you put on your outfit for the show, and you seem like you're having a terrible time. And they were right. I was having a terrible time because I was so physically uncomfortable. And they were like, why don't you just do the show in the clothes that you want to wear? And I was like, you can do that? I think I will. Thank you. So it was actually a really great - it was a really excellent network...
MILLER: That was a good network note.
BEE: Yeah, it really was.
GROSS: So when you started "Full Frontal" after working on "The Daily Show," were the things you learned about running a show from "The Daily Show" that you put into effect for your new show that you might not have thought of had you not worked on "The Daily Show?"
BEE: Yeah. I mean, of course.
MILLER: We learned everything from John.
BEE: Yeah. Yeah. It was an incredible training ground - I mean, comedy college.
MILLER: And that was a - I mean, they had a well-oiled machine 16 years plus - 16 plus years in the making that we were lucky enough to work in. So anything that worked there, we were happy to steal...
BEE: And I think that...
BEE: ...I think the - I was there for 12 years. I was there for a really long time. And toward the last few years of my tenure there - let's say, five years - Drumm (ph) was always very encouraging for me to go further into my point of view. So it was always point of view, point of view, point of view, point of view. And we definitely took that to our show. I mean...
MILLER: Point of view always.
BEE: ...In a big way - always point of view.
MILLER: Keep your boot on the neck of the story, or it'll eat you.
GROSS: Oh, that's an image (laughter).
MILLER: Fun was another one. We used to have a little Post-it note stuck up on the wall that said, fun...
BEE: Fun (laughter).
MILLER: ...For when we forgot.
BEE: It could be fun, couldn't it?
GROSS: Is it easier to forget that comedy is fun when you're actually responsible for coming up with the funny stuff because it's so hard?
MILLER: It is when there are things that kind of hurt us to our core like the treatment of refugees who are fleeing for their lives.
GROSS: Yeah. Nothing inherently hilarious about that.
MILLER: Yeah. No, we get so upset that it is hard to - it's hard to find the way to comedy.
GROSS: Well, OK, we actually have an example of how you found a way to comedy with a related story. And this is from February 1, a few days after President Trump signed the executive order directing a travel ban on seven countries with predominantly Muslim populations. And it created chaos for people at the airports. It upended the lives of people who'd been saving money for years to come to America and then couldn't be admitted here. So here's Samantha Bee on "Full Frontal."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
BEE: I won't mention that this refugee ban is immoral, embarrassing and inhuman. I'll just point out that it is the act of giant [expletive]. Here is a man who's afraid of - germs, stairs, books unprocessed food, women, birds, Muslims, Russian pee tapes inner cities and, of course, strong winds.
BEE: But he can't recognize the courage of people who survive literal war zones to come to a new country, start over with nothing and keep going each day despite the contempt with which we're horrible enough to treat them. You want a Muslim ban? We know you do, so say it already Mr. Straight-Talker and face the legal consequences like a man. Don't [expletive] by banning territories that just happen to be Muslim. Territories is a politically correct - I don't know. What is the word?
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A euphenism (ph).
BEE: That's it. Forget the coy euphenisms and own your pointless cruelty. That is why America voted for you, except for the majority of America that didn't. We'll be right back.
GROSS: So in trying to find an angle on a story that is not funny - the Syrian refugees - you found the angle that President Trump is actually a coward, and he's not respecting the bravery of the people who are trying to immigrate to the United States. So talk about finding that angle when you knew that - you wanted to do something on the Syrian refugees and other Muslim refugees, but where's the comedy?
MILLER: We found it in our nauseated stomach (laughter)?
BEE: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that particular segment is pure catharsis. It's - there are jokes in there, but it is - comes from such a heartfelt place. It is - it's satisfying to be able to say those words ultimately. It's so up - it's still so upsetting. It's still so upsetting that these - that this has occurred. It's still so upsetting that this is such a pervasive attitude.
MILLER: And that they're deliberately eliding the distinction between immigrants and refugees.
GROSS: If you're just joining us my guests are Samantha Bee and Jo Miller, and they created "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee," which is a weekly satirical news show with a feminist point of view. Samantha Bee is the host. Joe Miller is the head writer and show runner. We're going to take a short break and then come right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are Samantha Bee and Jo Miller. And they created the show "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee," which is a weekly satirical news show with a feminist point of view on TBS. And they previously worked together on "The Daily Show" when Samantha Bee was a correspondent there. And on "Full Frontal," Jo Miller is the head writer and the showrunner.
So you are both from really different backgrounds. Sam, I remember one of the times I interviewed you, you told me that when you were a teenager, you stole cars with friends.
BEE: Yes, I did...
GROSS: Whereas Jo...
GROSS: With your boyfriend, OK.
BEE: My bad boyfriend.
GROSS: Yeah. You went to Yale. You were a Fulbright scholar, then went to Cornell, where you received your Ph.D. in...
MILLER: No. I left before I got my Ph.D.
GROSS: Oh, I thought you got it. OK, I've been misinformed. But your area of specialization, as I - as far as I know, was medieval Jewish history.
MILLER: Yep. Laugh riot.
GROSS: Laugh riot.
MILLER: I never would have known that those...
BEE: What were you thinking your future was going to be when you were studying medieval Jewish history?
MILLER: I was going to be a history teacher like some of the people I admired the most. I was going to hole up in the academy and let the temporal world slide by outside, barely noticing it. I did comedy on my own time. I mean, I was - an improv group at college that - actually last weekend, I just went back for the 30-year anniversary of the group. They're still going strong.
Steve Bodow, who's the show runner over at "The Daily Show" and I were the founding directors of that group. Steve was the one who called me and asked me to apply at "The Daily Show." And so - I - there was comedy. I mean, if you're studying pogroms, you kind of have to do something to make yourself laugh.
GROSS: Well, while we're on the subject, when you were studying anti-Semitism in medieval times, are there some kind of tropes from then that you're seeing now, like...
GROSS: ...Were gravestones overturned in medieval times?
MILLER: That is not recorded. I mean, at the, you know, at Passover, there are all these - the responsa literature by the rabbis saying that it's OK to drink white wine at Passover so that if someone's looking in your window, they won't think you're drinking blood. The responsa literature describe all of these practical accommodations that people had to make to anti-Semitism and to threats. There are common themes.
One is the popular notion among people who study medieval Jewish history that there's a sort of natural antipathy among the uneducated masses that just bubbles up from time to time because, you know, the masses, the peasants hate Jews. And that is not how it works. It's always engineered from above. It's engineered through propaganda campaigns by people with vested interests in using prejudice and outbursts of popular hostility. It comes from above.
The myths, like blood libels, they emerge as later justifications for the violence that has happened. Which is also what you see in the South with lynchings. The violence comes first. Then you have to justify the violence because if - you need to have had a reason, otherwise you're a bad person. So, you know, black men rape white women. That's - the violence comes first. And it comes from the top. Yeah.
BEE: Back to comedy.
MILLER: Anyway, "Full Frontal."
GROSS: Is there any language...
MILLER: You should never ask me about this.
GROSS: No, no. I'm going on. Is there any language or any stereotypes, any myths that you're hearing today that date back as far as medieval times or further that you're aware of?
MILLER: Yeah. I remember when I was in grad school and the ritual murder accusations cropped up again in Bosnia and were used against Muslims. They - they're always lying around there, these weapons lying around for you to just pick up and...
GROSS: What are those - the ritual murder accusations?
MILLER: That Jews, or in the case of Bosnia, Muslims, would kidnap Christian children and either crucify them in a re-enactment of Jesus' crucifixion or bleed them to death to drink their blood or mix their blood into the food, which I should add isn't true.
GROSS: You said these waves of anti-Semitism always come from above and then trickle down. So is that...
MILLER: The ones that I've experienced, yeah.
GROSS: ...Is that what you feel like you've been witnessing?
MILLER: Now we have the internet. Old libels and old anti-Semitic myths, particularly Nazi ones, are pressed into service again. This is how you see the lugenpresse, the lying press bubble up again. It's how people are radicalized online. Aside from specifically anti-Semitism, I think hostility to a vulnerable subpopulation is used by people in power for their own ends.
GROSS: Let's get back to, Jo, your work studying medieval Jewish history and planning to become a history teacher or a history professor. Was there a part of you thinking, what I really want to do is comedy, but I can't do that...
GROSS: ...I can't become a comedian or a comic writer, so I'd better just keep to history?
MILLER: Yes. Yes.
GROSS: Why did you think that?
MILLER: Because I'm a girl.
MILLER: I hate myself like girls do. That's exactly why. I was in - well, when Lizz Winstead started "The Daily Show" in 1996, and I was watching it from day one. And I had these little fantasies of going to work for Lizz Winstead. But that's all it was, was a fantasy. I later did work for Lizz Winstead on "Wake Up World," and she taught me so much. She's a wonderful person.
When I was at "The Daily Show," we would have interns, college kids every semester. And at the end, they would gather in the writers lounge and - to ask us questions. And we'd ask them questions about what they wanted to do. They'd be half men, half women. And if you - we'd ask them, do you want to be a writer? And go down the line. And the men would all say, yeah. I'm going to be a writer. I'm Jake (ph). I'm going to be a writer. I'm Carl (ph). I'm going to write. And the women would say, I'm Amanda. You know, maybe some day. I don't know. I'm not good enough.
BEE: We'll see. I mean...
MILLER: I'd like to. We'll see.
BEE: ...I don't know. I might go into teaching.
MILLER: Yeah. And finally, one day I just had a meltdown. You know, somewhere between the unearned confidence of the men and the unjustified self-censorship of the women is the truth lies. Yes. Donna (ph), you were good enough. You just started. Do it, and you'll get good. But - and we plucked some - our best writers out of other fields, like, you know, journalism, the best writers at "The Daily Show" like Tim Carvell, who's running John Oliver's show came from journalism.
And that's - we're not - the women are out there doing journalism, doing academics, doing social work, doing lawyer stuff. And we just have to find them because they're sitting there like I was sitting in Ithaca going, I suck. Boy, it'd be fun to write for "The Daily Show" if I didn't suck.
MILLER: They're out there.
MILLER: It seems like a very far away dream.
BEE: Yes. It seems like a very far away dream.
MILLER: All the grad students who are listening - because every grad student in the world listens to this show, I know - try it. Put your stuff out on the internet. Put out YouTube videos. Put up - just put up your funny writings. Tweet funny things. Someone will find you.
GROSS: So, Sam, did you experience the kind of thing that Jo was talking about of thinking, like, I'm not good enough to actually be a comedian?
BEE: Oh, my God, of course. Oh, of course. I lived my whole life - I've been a fan of comedy and just like a very deep fan of comedy my entire life. But I never grew - I mean, I grew up in Canada, also. And, you know, comedy coming out of the United States is - it feels completely inaccessible.
I came to comedy very late in life for a comedy person - late 20s. It never occurred to me to do comedy in my entire life until someone literally forced me to do it - until friends who I'd worked on a play with needed to replace a woman in their sketch troupe, and they forced me to say yes to them and assured me that I would love it. And they were correct to do so, and I did love it. And it really changed the direction of my life. But - and I found that I was quite good at it, but someone had to force me into it.
MILLER: Maybe we need conscription if we introduced a draft.
BEE: Yeah (laughter).
MILLER: Force women into - because you and I were career waitresses.
BEE: Oh, yes. Oh, God, definitely.
GROSS: What kind of restaurants?
MILLER: Terrible ones.
BEE: Oh, God. I worked at pan - I worked on an all-night pancake house for a really long time and a terrible cockroach-infested seafood restaurant. I worked at a place where I had to wear a nametag. Aw, I don't think it exists anymore. It was called Joe Badali's in Toronto. And I had to wear a nametag that said Samantha Badali. I still have it.
MILLER: Wait. Like, you we're all sister wives...
BEE: Every - we were all sister wives.
MILLER: ...Or something?
BEE: Yeah. We were all...
MILLER: OK. That's creepy.
BEE: ...Joe's wives - Joe's concubines.
GROSS: Do you still have the waiter nightmares?
BEE: I still have waiter - I will never not have waiter nightmares.
MILLER: Yeah, still have them.
BEE: I honestly think that part of my very visceral reaction to Donald Trump is because I served so many people in the restaurant who were just like him. I have PTSD from it.
MILLER: Yeah. I worked in Washington.
GROSS: What do you mean when you say that? What are you picking up on?
MILLER: Douchey (ph).
BEE: A man in a suit - an arrogant business person in a suit.
MILLER: Oh, God, doing wine service for them...
BEE: Doing wine service.
MILLER: ...Is the worst.
BEE: The man who is at the head of the table who says, if you give us good service tonight, I'll give you a pretty sweet tip. Give us extra special service. I mean, that is...
MILLER: Hey, toots, right?
BEE: Yeah. It - its in my DNA (laughter).
MILLER: What do you like on the menu?
BEE: Oh (laughter). Do you serve grouper?
BEE: And they don't tip. They dont. They never do.
MILLER: They don't because nobody can see them signing the bill. So they'll make a big, you know, show of taking the bill...
BEE: There's a showmanship to it.
MILLER: ...And put your 6 percent down.
BEE: The tip is very lean.
GROSS: Well, I regret that we're out of time. I want to thank you both so much for talking with us. Thank you.
BEE: Thank you. This was great.
MILLER: Thank you.
GROSS: Samantha Bee and Jo Miller are the creators of the political satire series "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee." Bee is the host. Miller is the head writer and show runner. "Full Frontal" airs Wednesday nights on TBS. After we take a short break, Rock critic Ken Tucker will review the new album by The xx. This is FRESH AIR.
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