This year’s election season is a big one for Samantha Bee — not only is it the first one she’s covering as part of her weekly TBS series, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, but it’s the first campaign cycle the Canadian-born TV host can vote in as a U.S. citizen. In fact, she had voted in New York’s primary Tuesday.
“It felt good to me,” she said hours after casting her vote. “I got my [‘I Voted’] sticker, I made them give me a sticker.”
Speaking at Full Frontal’s Tribeca Tune-In panel at the Tribeca Film Festival alongside her showrunner Jo Miller (who, like Bee, came from The Daily Show during Jon Stewart’s tenure), the two told New York magazine’s Stacy Wilson Hunt they’re excited to attend this year’s Republican and Democratic conventions for the show. The pair also chatted about nailing down the Full Frontal format, Bee’s very early interest in funny news reports, and the real-life impact the show has had.
The show helped pass rape kit legislation
In March, Full Frontal ran a segment in which Bee reported on the hundreds of thousands of rape kits across the United States that go untested for DNA evidence, and how a Republican state senator in Georgia blocked a bill last year that would have required law enforcement officials to find, count, and test those kits. As Miller tells it, after the segment aired, legislations were able to get the proposal passed.
“At the eleventh hour, after our piece ran, it got a lot of attention and they managed to get it passed by attaching it to another bill — a legislator sacrificed her part of a bill that had to do with background checks for guns and they put in the rape kit in a way that it wouldn’t go through committee, so [it] would just get an up or down vote without going up in this committee,” she explained. “So it got passed at like, 1 till midnight and the supporters were tweeting at us and letting us know.”
Those young Trump supporters loved their Full Frontal interviews
Bee also interviewed a group of Donald Trump supporters for a segment that aired in March — all of them young, college-educated, multi-ethnic, and bipartisan — as they defended the Republican presidential candidate while Bee brought up criticisms against him.
What did those Trump supporters think of how they appeared on TV? “They loved it,” Bee told the audience on Tuesday. “They thought that I looked really stupid, and like a complete idiot in it, and that I was very brave for letting them walk all over me — [that] was their honest-to-God takeaway.”
Added Miller, “They grew up watching The Daily Show, so they have a lot of savvy about how this is going to be presented and going viral.”
“There’s not a lot of artifice when you go into those situations,” Bee said. “It’s just I need to be open about it, that’s important.”
‘News for Goofs’
Bee joined The Daily Show in 2003, but she had an interest in humorous spins on news long before that or Full Frontal. When Hunt asked if the women remembered the first time they knew they were funny, Bee said she made a news satire tape called “News for Goofs” when she was 6 or 7 years old.
“It’s a cassette tape that I still have, which I’m afraid to listen to because I’m afraid I will cry and it will dissolve the tape,” she said. “I used to sit with a little microphone and a little tape recorder and just spy on all my family members and sit under the kitchen table and do news reports about what they were cooking.”
Finding Full Frontal — with some help from Peaches
When Miller and Bee were figuring out what they wanted Full Frontal to be like, they knew a few things off the bat — that it should be a half-hour, and that they wanted it to be a weekly show, which would allow them to dive into news stories in a different way and allow Bee to do more field pieces. The theme song, Peaches’ “Boys Wanna Be Her,” also was an early part of the show’s formation.
“Almost from the moment of knowing we were gonna be doing a show it came to me in a moment where I went, ‘Well, Peaches will do the song.’ Because, Peaches,” Bee said. She ended up messaging the singer on Twitter and asking if they could use the song, and Peaches recorded more music for them to use on Full Frontal.
Added Miller, “When we had people designing our set and opening titles and stuff and they wanted to know the feel of the show, we’d just play the song.”
Speaking from the ‘swamp’
Hunt asked Miller and Bee how they parse through the news cycle to find new and interesting takes on stories — citing the NRA mascot piece from earlier this month as an example — and the pair explained their sense of what works comes from the gut. Or, somewhere like that.
“Mainly the show comes out of a place of passion. That’s the other thing we constantly talk about is the show would come from a really gut level – I like to say my swamp,” she said, as the audience laughed. “I know that’s disgusting and I shouldn’t say that. … We say that in the theater school I attended.”
She added, “We just see things jump out at us in a different way than they jump out at other shows.”
“You know a Full Frontal story when you see it,” agreed Miller. “We’ve been doing this a long time, we have people at the show who worked at The Daily Show for years and years and we have a shorthand with each other and —”
“You can just see it,” Bee said.