TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Samantha Bee, was "The Daily Show's" longest correspondent. But when Jon Stewart was leaving, she left, too, and started a new show of political satire called "Full Frontal," which premiered in February and was just renewed through the rest of the year. It airs Monday nights at 10:30 on TBS.
Like she did on "The Daily Show," she brings a feminist perspective to the story she covers, and she's really funny. She's also an executive producer and writer on "The Detour," a new TBS comedy series starring her husband Jason Jones, who is also a former "Daily Show" correspondent. The first episode of her show "Full Frontal" began with a sketch where she's at a press conference taking questions from reporters.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
SAMANTHA BEE: Anybody have any questions? Oh, yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Is it hard breaking into the boys club?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: What's it like being a woman in late night?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: How can I watch the show as a man?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: What's it like to be a female woman?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Is there a problem with your ovaries falling out at anytime?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, what did you have to do differently to make this show a reality...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: ...As a woman?
BEE: OK. You know what it took? Hard work, a great team, maybe just a little bit of magic.
GROSS: Samantha Bee, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on your show and on your show getting renewed.
BEE: Thank you. Thank you so much.
BEE: It's great to be here.
GROSS: So I think I want to start by asking you your reaction to the Vanity Fair photo of the late-night show hosts. And it was a photo of all these men (laughter) in suits. And, you know - so in this photo there was Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, Conan O'Brien, Bill Maher, Seth Meyers. Your show wasn't on the air yet, but you had gotten the show. It was close to starting. So what was your reaction when you saw this photo and you weren't in it? And tell us what you did in response.
BEE: Well, I was actually - when I first saw the photo, I was with my kids. We were at a pumpkin patch on Long Island. And my children were playing on this beautiful wooden play set. And I just happened to scroll through my Twitter, like an irresponsible mother, and someone had tweeted it to me. And they were like where were you on - where are you in this picture? And it was just this whole spread, you know - like the centerfold spread of all of these men in suits with cocktails in their hands. And I really - my blood definitely boiled.
I definitely felt my - you know, prickly heat on the back of my neck. And I excused myself from the playground. My husband took over, and I went into the little cider house where they were making cider doughnuts. And (laughter) I texted a friend of mine because at the moment that the photo came out, we were already working on "Full Frontal" and developing it. And we - you know, we had this stupid idea - my friend, Miles, and myself - to make a picture of me as a centaur with laser eyes. It was for a different story, like a completely different - so I just had this weird photo on my phone already that we just found terribly amusing of myself as a centaur with laser eyes. And I can't - I don't know how to photoshop...
GROSS: And a centaur is half horse and half human?
BEE: Half horse, half human, yeah, that's me. And so I texted Miles and I was like how can I get the centaur photo into this picture? So I sent him the Vanity Fair fair picture. He did it in two seconds from his home computer, and he sent it right back to me. And I just tweeted it out. It was just a visceral - I just knew what I needed to do in the moment.
It was like - and there was this space in the picture, you know, right at the center point of the picture where myself as a centaur would fit perfectly into it. And so I felt that I solved the problem of what was missing from the photo, and I tweeted it out and with zero expectation that it would, you know, take the world by storm or whatever. But it really did connect with an awful lot of people, and I felt so gratified by that. It was a good moment.
GROSS: It was hilarious.
BEE: It was a good moment. Can I say one more thing about it?
BEE: Can I say one little thing about it...
BEE: ...Which I think is true? It was funny actually having - seeing them all across that centerfold spread really drove home the message of how many men there were in late-night comedy for me in a way that - I mean, I knew it on a cerebral level how many of them there were but really physicalizing that with a photograph was astonishing to me. I felt I belonged in the photo.
GROSS: (Laughter) But, you know, the other thing about that photo shows how much competition there is. Now, you're not all on at the same time, but you're all talking about similar events in the news. You're all talking to some degree about the primary and about certain other issues. So you must really feel the sense of how do you stay original when there's so much competition with people talking about events in the news?
BEE: Well, it's funny. I don't really feel the competition. I don't want to step on other people's toes. I do think that we tell stories differently at our show. We see things through a different lens. I think we see things from a woman's point of view, actually. I really do. I think that we distill information in a way that is slightly different.
GROSS: Can you think of an example of a story other people are covering but you think you're covering it differently from a woman's point of view?
BEE: Well, you know, when we watched Hillary and Bernie at a debate, by way of example, and he shushes her, we internalize that shush on a level, I think, other people wouldn't because we've been shushed, and we've been told to smile, by way of example. You know, we have - we've been steeped in those feelings for an awfully long time, so when it comes out of us, it's an eruption. The reaction to being shushed is an eruption, I would say.
GROSS: So let me play another clip from your show. You were talking about a job fair for future women. This is a job fair for girls...
GROSS: ...Which you called Samantha Bee's #ROAR, You-Go-Girl Job Fair for Future Women. Lean in.
BEE: That's right.
GROSS: And it was - the segment was about how we encourage girls to, like, dream big, but in reality, they often face, like, sexism or sexual harassment on the job. And you illustrate that with various stories about, like, women working on a cruise ship, women working in the National Park Service, and then you move on to your field, stand-up comedy.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
BEE: You know how people are always like, I wonder why there aren't more female comedians? Maybe it's because every time a woman opens her mouth to tell a joke, someone tries to [expletive].
BEE: It's not a lot of guys - hashtag not all men, hashtag please don't leave me mean messages - it's just a few guys getting away with harassment and assault over and over and over again.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: There are women that I know that will go into an improv scene as a scientist and then a guy will grab their boobs for no reason whatsoever. So in the real world, you wouldn't meet a scientist and then honk her boobs.
BEE: You'd be surprised. That's another reason Marie Curie should've worn and lead apron.
BEE: The problem is so persistent, female comedians in Chicago, New York and LA have set up secret online groups to share their stories and warn each other which serial predators to stay away from. Hooray, sisters are doing it for themselves. And by it, I mean law enforcement.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: One woman, Erica (ph), it took her years to say something about her alleged rape. And she posted in the group just saying the guy's name and five women wrote to her telling her that they had had similar experiences.
BEE: Hey, if you don't like them comparing notes, you shouldn't have taught them yes and.
BEE: I'm sorry, remind me again, what is the point of encouraging little girls to dream big if any career puts them in the path of boob honkers? There's not a workplace on land or sea or even at the bottom of a big, deep hole in the ground where we're actually keeping women safe. Right now I'm actually picturing some guy saying, oh, what am I supposed to do, stop asking women out at work because it makes them uncomfortable? Yes.
BEE: You are at work.
GROSS: That's Samantha Bee from her TBS show, "Full "Frontal." So has the show gotten you looking for sexist bills and sexist statements in places that most people aren't paying attention to?
BEE: Yeah, I mean, we have an incredible research team and we have great writers and just really motivated, passionate people. So we're always looking into the cracks and crevices to find something that we can talk about. And it's not hard, believe me. You know, many of the people who come from small towns, come from places you wouldn't think - and if you read the local newspaper from the town you grew up in (laughter), there are treasures.
They can be absolute treasure troves of interesting stuff, interesting stories to tell. There's no shortage of interesting stories to tell is what I'm saying. I mean, we're batting away great stories all the time and putting them on a list for the future.
GROSS: My guest is Samantha Bee, former "Daily Show" correspondent who now hosts her own show of political satire on TBS Monday nights called "Full Frontal." We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. My guest is former "Daily Show" correspondent Samantha Bee. She now has her own satirical news show on TBS. She's currently the only woman hosting a late-night show. And her satire is from a feminist point of view. We're going to talk about a couple of very funny sketches dealing with a very upsetting subject, rape. Here's a subject that doesn't scream hilarious when you hear it.
GROSS: But you did a great job with it. And that's rape kits.
GROSS: And these are the kits of evidence collected after a woman is raped, including evidence that would have DNA on it. But there are thousands and thousands and thousands of these kits sitting around in evidence rooms without ever getting tested. And many of them are being destroyed to make space for more evidence. So your piece...
BEE: You know, the way to catch criminals is to actually test the rape kits. It's the funniest thing. We have these things that...
BEE: ...That can actually convict serial rapists. It's incredible. They're just gathering dust.
GROSS: So your piece focused on Georgia, where the state's House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill mandating that rape kits be counted and then turned into a forensic lab for testing. But the bill was blocked in the Senate by State Senator Renee Unterman, who's chair of the Georgia Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
So in this sketch, we hear from Senator Unterman, who blocked the bill. And in this clip, we're going to hear you coming back and responding to her.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
BEE: Excuse me, I just have to consult my feminist rulebook.
BEE: Oh, here we are - no rape jokes and don't be mean to other women. Oh, thank you for your service.
BEE: Woman, have you lost your [expletive] mind?
BEE: Are you just pissed that someone else wrote the law instead of you? Or are you in the pocket of big rape? I don't know.
BEE: If the Confederate clown car that is the Georgia House could come together on this bill, who are you to block it? Please, explain yourself.
RENEE UNTERMAN: We received a federal grant, the $2 million grant. And the issue's being resolved. And there's no reason to write a law just because it makes you feel good.
BEE: Feel good? I don't normally turn my frown upside down by showing a lab tech an envelope of pubes.
GROSS: OK, that's an excerpt of Samantha Bee's piece about rape kits. I love the idea of big rape, like, this, like, rape lobby group or something.
BEE: That's right. That's right.
GROSS: So I want to get back to the feminist rulebook that you quote that says no rape jokes. You have the best rape joke ever. And this is a rape hotline for men who hate you or hate the show.
BEE: Yes, I think it's 1-844-4-TROLLZ with a Z? I can't remember the actual number.
GROSS: Yeah, I think that's it. And it's T - R - O - L - L - Z.
GROSS: So I called it.
BEE: You did?
GROSS: I called it. And we recorded it. So I'm going to play this hotline. This is great. You sound so much like the standard, like, vocal prompt person.
BEE: I'm so glad you're playing this. Oh, thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BEE: Hello, you have reached the Samantha Bee rape threatline. No one is here to take your call. But your offer of nonconsensual sex is important to us. So please select from the following menu. To tell me I'm a dumb [expletive] that needs to be raped, press one. To tell me you're going to violate [expletive] my idiot libtard body, press two.
To tell me that you're going to do it slowly and painfully, but that a slut like me will probably like it, press three. To tell me you wouldn't even rape me because of how old and disgusting I am, press four. Or to simply shriek the word rape repeatedly, press five. For all other menacing remarks aimed at intimidating me through the threat of sexual violence, press zero. Thank you for your call.
GROSS: That is just too great.
BEE: It tickles me so much. And then at the end - I think at the end of that, we play Vivaldi.
GROSS: Well, no what happens...
BEE: There's, like, a long...
GROSS: If you press any of the prompts, you get classical music...
GROSS: ...I - I guess it's Vivaldi. I didn't recognize it, but...
GROSS: How did you come up with this idea?
BEE: That tickles me. Well, you know, people say horrible things online. So we thought, why don't we just collect all of those in one place, and then we can use them for comedy in the future? So I think I talked about it on - maybe on "Seth Meyer's" for the first time. And then mostly people just called because they were curious if it was a place that really existed. But we do occasionally get interesting - we we do occasionally get an interesting voicemail or two.
GROSS: Do you get a lot of men on social media making rape jokes about you?
BEE: I don't check that stuff. I have to be perfectly honest. I don't look at it. I don't look for it. I don't look at it. I feel like I'd rather enjoy my life and not feel threatened. I want to be a happy person. And I have kids. And I don't want to know what's being said about me without me being there. So I actually don't - I don't participate in that part of it.
But I do know that we get a fair amount of anger and vitriol. Everybody does. I mean, when you're a public figure, you just get it no matter what. I think that I get a lot more just pure hatred - not that many rape threats because I'm 46. Usually people reserve their rape threats for younger women. It's just a horrible - it's sickening to even talk about.
GROSS: That's one of the prompts. If you want to leave a message telling me that I'm too ugly - too old.
BEE: Yes, not even worth - not worth raping.
BEE: Oh, God.
GROSS: My guest is Samantha Bee, who now hosts her own show of political satire Monday nights at 10:30 on TBS. And before that, she had been "The Daily Show's" longest-serving correspondent.
BEE: Yes, most senior citizen correspondent. That was me. I hung on for 12 years.
BEE: Never letting it go - my death grip.
GROSS: So I want to play another field interview that you did. And this has to do with abortion. This was an interview with a Republican state congressman named Dan Flynn who was one of the authors of an abortion bill, HB2, that passed in Texas and is now being contested in the Supreme Court. And it would close women's clinics that don't qualify as surgical centers. And to qualify as a surgical center, you have to adhere to expensive and, according to critics, totally unnecessary building regulations like requiring extra-large hallways and requiring that janitors' closets be a certain size. I think these are largely made for hospitals and not for small clinics, these regulations.
GROSS: So we've edited together the interview excerpts of your interview with Dan Flynn that are sprinkled throughout this piece. I hope you don't mind that we did that.
BEE: No, not at all.
GROSS: The correct answer, thank you.
GROSS: So here's Samantha Bee with Texas State Senator Dan Flynn.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE")
DAN FLYNN: My name is Dan Flynn. I was one of the joint authors of HB2.
BEE: Oh, this uterus expert.
FLYNN: The issue for this bill was to be sure that we provided health care - safe health care for women.
BEE: How does removing access to health care increase health care?
FLYNN: We're not removing access to health care - we're improving.
BEE: So the intention of the law was not to do away with abortions.
BEE: It was just to make them impossible to acquire.
FLYNN: You know better than that.
BEE: Do I?
FLYNN: We didn't make it impossible.
FLYNN: Anytime you start cutting on people's body, you need to have it in a procedure where it can be healthy.
BEE: Of course. You don't cut a woman in an abortion, though.
FLYNN: I'm not a doctor. I don't know, but I listened to many doctors tell me about the procedures that happen when you do an invasive surgery.
BEE: You don't seem to know anything specifically about abortion really at all.
BEE: You did all this with building regulations? What?
BEE: Have you thought about regulating the safety of back alleys because that's where a lot of women will be having their abortions now.
FLYNN: I don't believe that.
BEE: You don't?
FLYNN: I just don't.
FLYNN: I don't believe it.
BEE: They are. It's true.
FLYNN: I just don't think that happens. There certainly are exceptions...
BEE: It does, like, in the tens of thousands of exceptions.
FLYNN: I don't believe that. Where do you get those numbers?
FLYNN: I think you're wrong. You think I'm wrong.
BEE: Hey, I think you're wrong.
FLYNN: You think I'm wrong?
BEE: I think you're the wrongiest (ph).
FLYNN: Yeah, I think you're the wrongiest (ph) wrongiest (ph).
BEE: I speak with the authority of one who has a uterus. And I guess that's why I think that you're the wrongiest (ph) wrongheaded-est (ph) wrong person.
FLYNN: Well, I can tell you some things about a man that you wouldn't understand.
FLYNN: I need to do a better job of educating you.
BEE: That's an awesome pep talk.
BEE: Next time I need to regulate men's bodies, I'll be sure to get in touch.
GROSS: That's Samantha Bee with Texas State Congressman Dan Flynn from her show "Full Frontal." How did you get him to talk with you?
BEE: He was very willing to talk to us. I mean, you know, he's passionate about the issue that he's passionate about. We happen to disagree (laughter) so strenuously...
GROSS: That was clear.
BEE: ...With one another. But he really wanted an opportunity to say his piece. I think we gave him that opportunity. You know, it's funny because I feel like, you know, people always ask us, why would these people ever agree to be on your show? And all they really want to do is express their point of view.
So he knew, on some level, that we were going to make jokes and that we were absolutely going to disagree. And we did, and it was fine. We both walked into the situation with our - you know, with clear heads and we walked out in a friendly manner. It wasn't actually a really tense situation at all. We just literally completely disagree about abortion (laughter). We disagree on the facts of abortion, actually (laughter). Not...
GROSS: Well, 'cause he seemed to think it was a...
GROSS: ...Surgical procedure where the woman was cut open.
BEE: Yes, he really doesn't know anything about abortion. I'm not kidding. He really doesn't know how they - he's never been to an abortion clinic. He doesn't really know how they happen (laughter).
GROSS: Did you know that going into the interview? That - for instance, did you know that he thought that abortion required cutting a woman open?
BEE: Well, that's a very common belief. That is - that's a very common myth that is passed around in the crowds that he runs in. So it was - I assumed that he would think that. I assumed that he thinks that, you know, a routine abortion is just a bloodbath.
GROSS: My guest is Samantha Bee. Her satirical news show, "Full Frontal," airs Monday nights on TBS. We'll talk more after a break and David Edelstein will review the new film "Louder Than Bombs," a family drama starring Jesse Eisenberg and Gabriel Byrne. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Samantha Bee. She was "The Daily Show's" longest-serving correspondent. But when Jon Stewart was leaving, she left, too, and started her own satirical news show. It's called "Full Frontal," and it airs Monday nights at 10:30 on TBS. So a lot of people were surprised when you were not named as "The Daily Show" host to succeed Jon Stewart. Were you hoping - you're going to give me the totally candid answer.
GROSS: Were you hoping to be asked?
BEE: ...(Singing) Here it comes. The floodgates are open (laughter). You know, I was not surprised. And also, I didn't really care. You know, we were - my husband and I, because we have another project on TBS as well called "The Detour," which actually premieres next Monday - which is a scripted show - and we were in development with TBS for months and months prior to Jon announcing that he was leaving.
So we were already - you know, we were really proud of "The Detour," and we had shot the pilot already, and we were really hoping that it would get picked up. And so we knew that we would be leaving if our show got picked up. And everything happened really within about a week - within about a week's time. He announced that he was leaving. A few days after that, they picked up "The Detour," and then they offered me my own show. So everything kind of happened all at once, which was very lucky because there was a feeling of panic or tension or - you know, there's always a moment where if you've done a job for 12 years, you think, oh, my God, what now?
But that's the - you know, it's lucky in entertainment to have a job for 12 years, and I knew that there was something else that I wanted to do. This is very good for me. It's very good for me to be creating my own thing. It's so much better...
GROSS: To be starting from scratch rather than filling somebody else's chair?
BEE: A hundred percent, yes. It's so - I mean, it's difficult. Both of those things have their own inherent tensions, and both of those things are very difficult to do. I just prefer the path of creating my own thing.
GROSS: So you and your husband, Jason Jones, who's also a former "Daily Show" correspondent, both have new shows. You have "Full Frontal." His is a comedy series called "The Detour." You're executive producers on each other's shows. Would you briefly describe his show, which premieres on Monday?
BEE: Well, "The Detour" is - it's a half-hour scripted comedy. It's TV-MA, so it is not (laughter) - it is not a family show, although it does have a family at the center of it. And it is - it feels like a very authentic family. I think that we did a really good job of creating Jason's second family, who he probably much prefers to his actual family (laughter). He definitely prefers his second wife to me.
GROSS: Very nice.
BEE: It's a show - it starts as a road trip. It starts as a family vacation and morphs into something completely crazy.
GROSS: So you and your husband both have new shows? Very stressful situation.
BEE: Yes. Sure, yes (laughter).
GROSS: How do you - and you have three children. You have three young children at home.
BEE: We do, yeah.
GROSS: How do you not pass on the stress of two new shows to your children?
BEE: To the children?
BEE: I don't know that we're always successful at protecting them from our personal stress levels, but they think we're just lame enough.
BEE: It's - somehow we do do it. I mean, somehow we've - we are sponges and we keep our stress on lockdown. I'm pretty good at, you know, doing all my family stuff in the morning, and then the kids got off to school. And then I run to work and work in a really concentrated, really, really focused way. And then I run home from work, and then I just do kid chores and make dinners and do all that normal stuff. So their routine hasn't really changed from the way that we're working.
What has changed is that they see our posters in the street. But it still doesn't impress them, which is great. Which is all is as it should be. They still think we're, like, loser parents (laughter). I think that's the natural order, and we intend to keep it that way.
GROSS: This is probably too personal to ask, but you have...
BEE: Oh, (singing) I love personal questions.
GROSS: All right, here it comes (laughter).
BEE: Here we go, oh boy (laughter).
GROSS: So you have three children.
GROSS: You were an only child.
GROSS: I mean, you're a busy woman. You work in television. Why did you want to have three children? You know, one is a lot, two is really a lot, three is really, really a lot of responsibility.
BEE: (Laughter) It is. I don't know. I think maybe - I was an only child, and I definitely - I enjoyed being an only child. I wasn't, you know, scarred by that or anything like that. But it is fun to see them as a team. It's beautiful. They love each other. One's 10, one's 7, one's 5. They sleep in the same room, they have bunkbeds, they really get along.
They're like Bee-Jones junior team. I don't know, I can't explain it. I really can't. I had one child, and the moment I gave birth to my first child, I knew I wanted to have a couple more. I don't know why. Maybe I was more scarred by being an only child than I thought...
BEE: ...And I went on to build my own team of built-in friends. I was a really shy child. There is value into building a unit of built-in friendships for your kids. It's like giving them - you know, almost when we have the second one, we were like, here you go, Piper (ph), here's your friend. We made one for you (laughter).
And then when the third child was born, we were like, here's - now, guys, you're together now. Let's go. Yeah, sure, it's a lot of responsibility, but there's so much joy. I love my children so much. I don't know, I can have a very stressful day but it absolutely, like, refills my buckets of love to go home.
GROSS: Did you worry during your pregnancy - like, you worked when you were very pregnant on "The Daily Show."
BEE: Oh, yes, every time.
GROSS: And you use that as part of the joke when it was...
GROSS: ...Relevant. But did you worry when you took time off afterwards that people would forget you or that you'd lose your spot?
BEE: Actually, "The Daily Show" was a pretty great place to work. I maybe - you know, what's funny? When I was pregnant the first time, because you hear all of those horror stories from the entertainment industry, actually, about being pregnant and on a show and it's, like, a big deal, that I was so nervous to tell Jon that I was pregnant. I mean, I really was worried about it 'cause I didn't know what was going to happen. And (laughter) it was so ridiculous.
And then I went and told him - I feel like I was shaking. I was like, I have something to tell you. And I don't know how you're going to feel about this. Can a pregnant woman even be on TV? And I told him, and he was so happy for us (laughter). I mean, just so genuinely warm and happy and family-minded. I mean, I don't think we could have actually had three kids if we worked on a show other than "The Daily Show," which was incredibly family-friendly for us. They made it so that we could be there for our kids. So after that, it was like, well, then a baby is like a prop and a pregnant belly is the most amazing tool (laughter) in a comedy sense. It's terrifying to people. You can use it with abandon.
GROSS: (Laughter) What's the best way you used it do you think?
GROSS: And mine was so huge. I do remember doing a piece where I (laughter) - oh, God. I was pretty huge. And I can't remember what the actual context of the piece was, but I was doing a man on the street at Columbus Circle. And at some point, I just took off and ran down the street. And I was massive. And people were horrified and terrified that I was doing that (laughter). And I ran around the whole of Columbus Circle. I just ran away, and the camera stayed on me. And it was just this giant pregnant woman sprinting down the street (laughter).
It looked so funny to me. I loved doing it. It was so shocking to people. And everyone was like, are you - oh, my God, are you OK? And for me, I mean, I knew that I could sprint down the street. I wasn't doing anything that would put my child at risk. I just knew that I would never do anything that made me physically uncomfortable, but it's totally worked for me. And it was a really funny joke, and it was fine (laughter).
GROSS: In 2010, you had a memoir which was called - I know you are, but what am I? I know I am, but what are you? Which was it?
BEE: Yeah, "I Know I Am, But What Are You?"
GROSS: Yeah, "I Know I Am, But What Are You?" So - and you were on our show when you had...
BEE: Yeah, yes.
GROSS: When the book came out. And you did a short reading from the book. And I want to quote one of the lines from your memoir. You're talking about the legacy of failed marriages in your family.
BEE: Yes, yeah.
GROSS: And you say the women in my family loved to marry sadists...
BEE: (Laughter) Yeah.
GROSS: ...Men who liked to beat them up physically or psychologically, drink up all the food money, start a side family and then proceed to drink up all their family's food money, too. So...
BEE: (Laughter) I mean, I don't think anybody - I'm trying to think - I don't think there's a single un-divorced coupling in my entire family history. It was terrifying to Jason's family (laughter). They were like, I don't think she comes from a tradition of happy marriages (laughter).
GROSS: And when did your idea of, you know, feminism, or whatever you want to call it, enter your worldview?
BEE: I think as a child. My mother's a feminist. You know, we always had - I remember specifically in I think the fifth grade, doing a book report on a Margaret Laurence novel called "The Diviners." It was a totally inappropriate read for a fifth grader, and I didn't get it at all. But that was the kind of literature we had around the house. My mother was not - we didn't have, you know, family-friendly books around the house.
It wasn't - I just didn't grow up that way. I think that I was steeped in feminism from an early age. It's just in my DNA. It's not something that we ever really talked about that much or congratulated each other for. It's just this part of who - this is part of who I am. I think it's part of who my daughters are. Although we...
GROSS: What were some of those givens that you were brought up with that other people might not take for granted?
BEE: And, you know, as a sidebar, I also watched female comedians killing it on television every day because I grew up in the '70s when you watched TV when you ate dinner, you know (laughter)? TV was your best friend and your babysitter. But I would sit and watch "Carol Burnett Show," "I Love Lucy," "SCTV," you know, Catherine O'Hara, Andrea Martin.
There was no shortage of strong female performers making their way in comedy. My mother had strong opinions of things, my grandmother was - her husband - my grandfather left her for another woman when she was - when I was a little girl, so she was making her way. She worked when nobody else was working. My great-grandmother had gotten a divorce in the, you know, in the 1920s and made her way through the world on her own. So this is part of - this is a part of my family.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Samantha Bee, and her new TBS show of political satire is called "Samantha Bee Full Frontal." And it's on Monday nights at 10:30. Let's take another short break here. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Samantha Bee. She hosts her own show of political satire on TBS called "Full Frontal," and she is a former "Daily Show" correspondent. In fact, she was the longest-running correspondent on that show. Who were you comedically before you got to "The Daily Show" and developed a voice and personality as a news satirist, like, when you were doing sketch comedy and starting out?
BEE: Yeah, I can't really characterize what I did. It was a very rewarding period of my life. And certainly one of the women that I did sketch comedy with works on the show now. Her name is Allana Harkin. She's incredible. And I guess I did a lot of characters. I definitely loved being on stage.
I never did stand-up. It was really more character-based and more written for me. It definitely wasn't new satire, although I was certainly motivated and interested. I was into news, I read things, I was interested to learn about the world, but that didn't - my comedy wasn't really infused with that at all.
GROSS: How come you never did stand-up?
BEE: It isn't for me. The lifestyle is not for me. And, by the way, I love stand-up, and I admire great stand-ups so much. I love watching stand-up. I just absolutely - I think it's terrific. But the lifestyle's not for me. I don't stay up late. I'm such a nerd. Oh, I'm describing this super boring person, but I get up really early. Like, my ideal life - I get up really early, and I do fun things all day. And then I go to bed at, you know, 8:30 at night. And I've sort of always been that way.
Being a night owl standing on a comedy stage night after night - because when you do stand-up, you have to - almost have to be pathological about it. You have to be so driven to do it and do it well. And that's just not - that's not in my makeup.
GROSS: Do you go to bed before your children do?
BEE: I go to bed shortly after my children do. Yes, I do. I go to bed fairly early. I tried to stay up late last night to watch a TV show with Jason. And I had a pillow - I took a pillow and a blanket...
BEE: ...To the sofa. And Jason just looked at me, and he was like why don't you just go to bed? And I was like, no, I'm going to watch this show with you. And within seconds, I was completely asleep. I made myself so cozy. Who wouldn't have fallen asleep? It was impossible not to. Oh, God.
GROSS: Speaking of stand-up, it seems like one of the decisions you had to make when you were starting your TBS show - it's whether you would have, like, an anchor desk or whether you'd be talking standing up. And you went the standing up route.
BEE: I went the standing up way because, you know, I'm just - I was just tired, personally, of seeing people kind of parked behind a desk. I mean, that just visually doesn't - look, I like it, and I'm a consumer of shows where people are sitting behind their desks. I have no objection to the desk personally, but I knew that it wasn't for me.
And also my face is just naturally very expressive. I have a little bit of a rubber face, I think. And sometimes if I'm trapped behind something, I just pull a lot of faces, and I do weird stuff with my body and my face. So actually, you know, I only came to that realization after we didn't have the desk because we knew we really just couldn't have a desk. But I'm so grateful that we don't because I feel like I would be crawling all over the desk and kind of going crazy behind it. I don't need it. I'd rather be full frame. I'd rather use my body. It really helps me a lot.
GROSS: And I guess your background is in sketch comedy, which, again, is not a sitting at a desk kind of thing. And on "The Daily Show," you weren't at the desk either. You were a correspondent, and you were standing up.
BEE: Yeah, I really - even - you know, even though when I'm very nervous about something, my knees kind of lock and that doesn't really happen on the show anymore, of course. But it's awkward. It's very naked to stand there and deliver in that way at that velocity. But I do love it. I find it very helpful. I just - I think I contort my body, but I don't even notice it.
I don't even feel what I'm doing. I just really - it's so incredibly satisfying. It's very physical. I know there's a comedian, Whitney Cummings, and she talks about doing stand-up comedy as a sport. And that's how I see the show. That's how I see our 21 minutes on the air. It's very sporting to me. I like to wear running shoes if I can. It helps me - the physicality - to just feel free with my body. Not like I'm moving around that much, but I just - I need to feel really grounded.
GROSS: I want to ask you about another field interview that you did on "Full Frontal." To talk about Syrian refugees and to talk about some of the misinformation that's being circulated about how refugees are vetted and how dangerous the Syrian refugees are, you spoke to an expert about refugees, and you flew to Jordan...
GROSS: ...To talk to Syrian refugees who were staying in Jordan for now, but who hope to come to the U.S. That's a big trip to make. That's a very ambitious piece to do. Why did you decide to do it?
BEE: We just thought it was - we thought it was a story worth telling. There was something about the cultural orientation that the refugees take before departing from America that really tickled us comedicly. We really liked that idea.
And we just thought it was - we just couldn't stand it anymore how much misinformation was out there. And so we thought, let's do something outside our normal comfort zone and take a huge, big trip over the Christmas vacation and go to Jordan and actually talk with some people. It was a great trip. I was really proud and happy with those pieces. I was really happy with how they turned out.
GROSS: You were trying to teach them some of the things that they should know if they want to fit into American culture.
BEE: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: Can you repeat some of those things?
BEE: Well, actually there was a Syrian family who was resettled here. They live in New Jersey now. And they were truly surprised by how many people wear sweatpants here (laughter) like for casual. They would go to school pickup and people would - like all the women were in sweatpants. So we wanted to take some of that knowledge back to them, back to the people who were about to be resettled. They thought it was hilarious. They think it's like pajamas, that we all wear pajamas all the time to work and stuff.
GROSS: And you were - you're teaching the Syrian refugees how to say things like, can I use your password for HBOGo?
BEE: Yeah, can I have your HBOGo password?
BEE: Yeah, yeah (laughter).
BEE: I liked the book better.
GROSS: Yeah, exactly.
BEE: That's a big one.
GROSS: Yeah (laughter).
BEE: Yeah, that's a big one.
GROSS: So what did the Syrian refugees make of the fact that you were doing this comedy bit with them, and you're teaching them to say things like, I liked the book better?
BEE: They loved it. I mean, first of all, there was an atmosphere of joy in the room because they were actually being resettled, so they had something to look forward to. I mean, every person in that room had literally been through hell. So any opportunity to have a laugh and learn a little something on their way to coming to America, which was just this huge - I mean, it was very scary for them. But also, there was so much promise for them. For the first time in a long time, they got to feel excited about their future. So we were there to shine a positive light on them. And they knew that, so they were very receptive. They were terrific. We've kept in touch with lots of them.
GROSS: Well, Samantha Bee, congratulations on your show. It's really funny.
BEE: Thank you.
GROSS: Glad you have it.
BEE: I appreciate that. Thank you.
GROSS: Thank you for coming back to our show.
BEE: Oh, it's such a pleasure.
GROSS: Samantha Bee's new satirical news show, "Full Frontal," airs Monday nights on TBS. She's also an executive producer and co-creator of her husband Jason Jones' new comedy series, "The Detour," which premieres this Monday on TBS. Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews the new family drama "Louder Than Bombs," starring Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg. That's after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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