The hosts of late-night television programs on the major networks are all white males. If you expand out to include the cable late nighters, you add some racial diversity to the mix (Hi Larry Wilmore and Trevor Noah! It’s great to see you both here, as of 2015). When Vanity Fair profiled the “titans of late-night television” last September, they took a picture of just how male the late-night space is on television (luckily, Bee improved on the photo for us). In fact, you have to go all the way to TBS (and recently Netflix) to find a woman helming a late-night show.
And go all the way to TBS you should, because there you will find Samantha Bee doing outstanding work on her show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, which premiered in February 2016. Confession time, here’s what I got: I don’t watch any late-night television on television. I do pay for cable, but most of the late-night material I consume is delivered via YouTube, where I’ll stumble upon an offering from John Oliver (for meticulously researched, in-depth pieces), Seth Meyers (for the friends of SNL interviews), Jimmy Fallon (for those dumb games and truly great Lip Sync Battles), and James Corden (for Carpool Karaoke, and only Carpool Karaoke). Stephen Colbert’s transition to The Late Show has not been outstanding, although I fully support him interviewing musical guests like the great Rachel Bloom. Among these very white, very male voices, I’m consistently delighted by all the things Samantha Bee is doing on her show.
The clips posted on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee‘s YouTube page most often present political topics/scandals of the day, and while that isn’t my particular bag, I happily watch every single thing that appears on the channel. It’s a testament to Bee’s comedy chops and to the overall voice that the program is employing at this very early stage in its run. Here’s an early favourite clip from the show—Bee takes on the ridiculous, patriarchal nonsense of working class families having to choose between diapers or food for their kids.
The storytelling craft on display in that clip is significant, and it’s just one example of how she and the writing and production team around her are firing on all cylinders, right out of the gate (a significant accomplishment for a show of any kind). Calling out a freaking Eminem song lyric as the voice of reason on this issue that disproportionately affects low-income women is a charged, political statement, and I’m here for it. Professor Mathers, indeed.
Having Bee join the ranks of men who’ve been the main voice on late-night television is a game changer in a way I didn’t see coming. Every story she does is enhanced by her perspective, which happens to be a female one. It’s not that Bee’s male cohorts ignore issues that affect women. John Oliver, who is doing great things on his show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, often uses his space to talk about issues that disproportionately affect women like the wage gap, online harassment, and abortion law. He is one of many great allies, but it’s not the same as having a woman bring her experience to the front of her show for the full 30 minutes it runs each week.
Check out Samantha Bee’s cutting take on the rape kit backlog problem that has become a significant issue in many states.
Her rage and confusion directed at a woman who blocked a law that would have stopped the destruction of rape kits before the statute of limitations ran out on the cases they were tied to packs an extra punch, and her take down of the law enforcement officer who denies rape really happens is glorious. Bee’s work on this topic is specifically enhanced by her perspective. Her frustration has an authenticity to it that a male voice just can’t achieve. Because Samantha Bee is a woman, she has experienced sexual harassment (what a depressing, true statement), and it’s important that her voice is the one telling this story.
Her coverage of women’s health is another place where her perspective serves the material and allows her to capitalize on comedic moments. In this segment, Bee finds herself agreeing with Donald Trump.
Her physical comedy is truly glorious, and here again she makes the point that if Trump, a hate-mongering narcissist, is our best ally in the Republican debate, things are not great. Conservative politicians—whether they were in the presidential race or not—are often a dangerous threat to women’s health and agency, and pointing that out through comedy is something she is uniquely qualified to do.
While the perspective Bee brings to her show is undeniably her own, she also works with a team of writers to bring that perspective to the screen. Jo Miller is Full Frontal’s showrunner and Bee’s major creative partner on the show, making it a very female-driven endeavour (#ladybusiness). In a super-awesome move, Bee and the other producers of the show hired their writers through a blind process that hid the applicant’s gender and age during the hiring process. The result is a team that is half female and 30% non-white. They even set up a mentorship program to develop an increasing pool of writers that come from places traditionally shut out by the television production system. Did I mention that I am here for Samantha Bee?
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (‘s YouTube clips) is an extremely confident, smart show, delivering a voice that is unmatched among its peers. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.