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How Samantha Bee Is Kicking Late Night in the Balls

By / Published on Monday, 14 Mar 2016 13:12 PM / No Comments / 147 views

When Samantha Bee first stepped onto the purple-lit stage of her new TBS late-night show, Full Frontal, she became the lone member of a clique with more testosterone than a frat house. Since TV has for years been allergic to putting a female host anywhere near the late-night time slot, Bee’s debut in February was already a Big Deal. Then she started talking. Ten minutes in, I understood exactly how important it was that she not stop anytime soon.

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Let’s begin with the bit about a recent GOP debate that no other late-night host touched: Senator Marco Rubio had claimed that Hillary Clinton supports abortion “even on [a baby’s] due date.” To which Bee paused, then snapped: “That is literally the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard…removing a baby on the due date isn’t an abortion. It’s called a cesarean.” It was a line Jimmy Fallon might have said with his hands in his pockets and an innocent grin, but Bee wasn’t smiling. She looked pissed, and delivered it like your smartest friend who always has a sizzling comeback in the moment, not 12 hours later. You want that friend around in a fight.

That’s why Bee’s unapologetically feminist perspective is so crucial right now. Women are in a fight—for equal pay and equal respect, on the street and in the workplace. While I like the many men who populate late-night television—Stephen, Seth, the assorted Jameses and Jimmys—I realized, watching Bee, how much energy they seem to devote to being likable. On Full Frontal Bee doesn’t smile when there’s nothing to smile about. She calls things like they are. And she’s hitting the mark: More than 2 million people watched the Full Frontal premiere. “I get asked a lot, ‘Is [the show] gonna be all women’s stuff?’” she told me. “You would never ask that about a show hosted by a man. Like, will there be anything relatable for me on The Late Show?”

Bee’s brand of comedy is built to destroy those double standards. One example: After getting brutally trolled on the Internet ahead of the show’s premiere, Bee launched Full Frontal’s “rape threat line.” “Nobody’s here to answer your call,” her voice greets callers on the automated message, “but your offer of nonconsensual sex is important to us, so please select from the following menu.…” (Options include “To tell me you wouldn’t even rape me because of how old and disgusting I am, press 4.”) “It’s one of the darkest things I’ve ever made,” Bee says. “Anyone who puts themselves out there gets backlash for what they do, but the tone is different depending on your gender.”

But Bee doesn’t only get backlash; she hears cheers too—her fan base is so vocal they turned on Comedy Central when it didn’t offer her Jon Stewart’s chair on The Daily Show. (For the record, she was already in talks with TBS.) But she embraced the chance to start fresh and build a different kind of show: Full Frontal’s writing room is 50 percent female and 30 percent nonwhite. The show has also established a mentorship program designed to expand staff diversity. “We’re making an effort to change the ratio,” Bee says. “The more different kinds of people you have, the more interesting stories you can tell. I believe that in my heart.” What I believe in mine: For the first time, someone in late night truly has my back.

Photos: Getty Images

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