Firsts

Samantha Bee

First woman to host a late-night satire show

‘If you have a vision for something, someone will go with you on that journey.’

As a child I was very shy. I remain a shy person to this day — I just hide it better than I did when I was a kid. I was an only child. I read a lot. I wouldn’t say that I was precocious, but I was knowledgeable and I always wanted to be an adult.

I was the quiet joke-maker in the class — the person who would write down funny jokes and slip them to people — definitely not outgoing about it. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I really started in comedy. It did not feel natural to my entire family that I became a performer. They were like, you want to do what? Why? That makes no sense.

I was the only female correspondent on The Daily Show for a long time when I was there. It wasn’t like a weight that I carried on my shoulders or anything like that — I didn’t suffer because there was not another female correspondent. But it was very trial by fire. The pace of it was very fast in the sense that you couldn’t spend too much time wresting with ideas that were not the best ideas. And that is an incredible lesson that you learn, to not take things personally. You have to learn to edit yourself. You have to learn that not everything is precious.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, the show is what it is. I get tons of pushback, of course. It takes a very firm point of view. You’re always inviting criticism, and I definitely get a lot of it. Our slogan when we started was “Watch or you’re sexist.” It was just so funny to say — it’s so bratty. That part of what makes the show fun is that we really are jerks sometimes, and that’s okay. I like it that way. It feels right.

Over the summer I grappled with fallout from something that I said on the show, and took a great deal of criticism for the quote-unquote incivility of my language. Ultimately it taught me about myself and what it means to have a platform such as this. Mostly I learned that people should worry less about the incivility of individual words and a great deal more about the incivility of their actions. As for me, I’m okay with occasionally getting called out for a bad word, as long as I’m on the right side of history.

People’s responses to the show are a little bit gendered. It’s really hard to put your finger on it. I feel it because I’ve always known it. It’s something that just having been steeped in woman-ness, you just know when it’s happening.

I don’t think about being a first that much. It’s actually a little overwhelming, because it feels like weight to carry. And it feels like it would be too much to do a comedy show with that kind of looming overhead. I try to just keep my nose down and do the work.

I always try to impart to my kids that you don’t have to decide what your path is exactly. You just have to love what it is you’re doing, truly. You have to find a kernel of love in the thing that you want to do, and pursue that more than pursuing the end results. If you have a vision for something, someone will go with you on that journey.

Bee’s show, Full Frontal, premiered in early 2016 and continues to air on TBS.

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