BEVERLY HILLS, California — Samantha Bee has just flown in from New York, and when I mention the billboards up all around town featuring her smiling face and the giant letters “FYC,” she seems mildly embarrassed.
“I haven’t seen any of those yet. Oh Jesus, here we go,” Bee says. “It’s always a strange feeling to walk into a place that’s full of photographs of yourself, it’s really daunting,” she adds, looking around the room at large posters of those same ads.
Bee is in Los Angeles to help TBS promote her late-night show Full Frontal as a contender at this year’s Emmy Awards. She just finished taping her first-ever appearance as a guest on likely competitor Jimmy Kimmel’s show and is about to sit down for an hour-long conversation with ‘80s movie icon Molly Ringwald in front of a couple hundred Emmy voters at the Writers Guild Theater.
The first thing Kimmel did when Bee sat down on his couch Thursday was let her in on a little secret. “Those of us, the talk show hosts who do a full week of shows, we quietly mutter and curse about those of you who only have to do one a week,” he told her.
“They are just two completely different animals,” Bee says of the weekly and nightly shows, despite the fact that they compete in the same Emmy category. “I would say it’s exhausting and depleting to do four shows a week. But once a week is very challenging as well.”
The faux-rivalry between nightly hosts like Kimmel and Stephen Colbert and those who only tape one show per week like Bee and John Oliver has become something of a running joke at the Emmys, especially as Oliver’s HBO show has taken home the award for Outstanding Variety Talk Series the past two years.
Last year Kimmel and Colbert shared a cocktail during the ceremony after Oliver’s second win called the “Last Week Tonight.” As Colbert joked, “It’s so high quality, they can only make one a week.”
Full Frontal received its first nomination in that category last year and her hilarious Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner special won a separate award for writing. After a season that included her blistering takes on the #MeToo movement, this could be her year to take home the big prize.
In September 2015, Bee infamously broke into the late-night boys’ club by photoshopping herself as a shirtless centaur with lasers coming out of her eyes on the Vanity Fair cover that failed to include her in a spread of 10 male hosts. A little over two years later, she is finally starting to feel more like a part of that club, which now also includes female hosts like BET’s Robin Thede and Michelle Wolf, whose new Netflix talk show will premiere this weekend.
“It’s not like we all hang out together and I know some of them better than others for sure,” Bee says of her fellow hosts. “But I definitely feel like we’re colleagues, I’ll say that. And they’re all lovely. I do feel like we’re in the same category, and that’s a good feeling.”
With just one half-hour show per week, Bee and her writers have to be judicious about which news stories they choose to cover. This past week, Full Frontal opened with a long segment about the Trump administration’s proposed regressive abortion rules.
Highlighting Trump’s hypocrisy on this particular issue, Bee told viewers, “If Trump hasn’t paid for at least half a dozen abortions, I will eat this blazer,” before adding, “Actually, I take that back, that was wildly unfair. If Trump hasn’t promised to pay for at least a half-dozen abortions and then not paid for them, then written bad checks for them, ghosted the woman, then declared bankruptcy and eventually made Russia pay for them, I will eat this blazer.”
Bee laughs when I bring up the fact that her show was the only one to tackle this issue in any sort of meaningful way. “What, James Corden didn’t handle the domestic gag rule?” she jokes.
Turning more serious, she says that it was a no-brainer for Full Frontal to cover this story. “We felt fairly confident that we would be the only show to touch on that,” she adds. “And it’s important to us. It’s in our wheelhouse.” You never know, she posited, maybe her male counterparts will “suddenly become interested in that topic” at some point.
“We do see things through a different lens,” Bee says of her show’s writing staff, which, unlike most late-night shows, is at least 50 percent female. During her talk with Ringwald, who has emerged as a prominent voice of the #MeToo era after penning an essay that revisited her classic John Hughes-directed films, Bee elaborated on how a diverse group of voices both in front of and behind the camera benefits her show.
“It just helps,” she said. “It makes the show so much better to have different perspectives, to bring different thoughts to the table.”
That “different perspective” has shown through more than anywhere else when Bee has covered America’s belated awakening about sexual harassment and assault. As the men of late-night mostly avoided joking about Harvey Weinstein in the early days of last October, Bee went all in with a PSA aimed at men who might consider engaging in similar workplace behavior.
“Next time you get the urge to masturbate, just ask yourself, ‘Am I in front of an employee or a colleague?’ And if the answer is ‘yes,’ don’t. Just don’t,” Bee said with a smile in her first show after the Weinstein story broke. Now that Weinstein has turned himself in to the NYPD, Bee expresses cautious optimism.
“I hope it leads to the right place, such as jail,” she says. “But who knows? I don’t find this world predictable anymore at all.”
On stage in front Emmy voters, she had a more direct message for anyone who wants to focus on the “backlash” to the #MeToo movement: “Oh, fuck off.”