Samantha Bee debriefs about The Daily Show, her new TBS comedy, and her soul
It’s been nearly 12 years since Samantha Bee first started at The Daily Show—the longest tenure by a correspondent in the satirical broadcast’s history—but last week she said a final, teary farewell to Jon Stewart and Co. It’s not like she’ll be taking any time off, though. Bee begins filming a still-untitled scripted TBS comedy this summer that she’s creating and producing with husband and fellow Daily Show alum Jason Jones—and she’s on deadline to turn in the script.
So, instead of enjoying the first truly beautiful spring day in New York this year, Bee is stuck inside writing, as well as wrangling her and Jones’ three children. (“If you hear noise in the background that’s just my son,” she says. “He’s six, and he’s playing, and sometimes all the toys talk to each other at once.”) The writer and comedienne talked to EW about her time on the show, and about how much has changed since she first started, from cell phones to presidents to our pop culture—in fact, she says the only thing that has stayed the same is her marriage. Well, that, and her soul.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s changed since 2003? How are things different?
SAMANTHA BEE: I still have a landline. I’m the last person in America to have a landline that is functional. Literally everything has changed for me. I am an American citizen. I had three children. I have a job that—I had a job for 12 years. There’s virtually nothing the same. I think my soul is the same, but that’s probably about it. And I’m still married to Jason, because we were married then.
Before The Daily Show you helped found the all-woman Toronto sketch-comedy group The Atomic Fireballs. How did that lead to the Daily Show gig? What’s the history there?
It was coming up in the trenches, like anybody else. We performed comedy together, me and three other women, and we loved each other and continue to love each other. It was a great training ground, because we worked for free for so long that we learned to please ourselves and almost nobody else. That was really good training for The Daily Show. We answered to Jon, but I learned how to follow my passions and be really steadfast.
What did you learn as a comedian working with Jon on The Daily Show? How did that shape your comedic sensibilities and all that?
It helped me develop a really strict work ethic. That’s boring, but it’s true. He’s the first person to come in to work every day and the last person to leave. I think [Jon] trained my work ethic muscles. When I lived in Canada I would work basically 10 days out of the year. When you’re working piecemeal and doing commercials, you have so much leisure time. That was removed from my life, so that was good. [laughs] It helped me to focus comedically on things. It helped me to learn how to aim, the kind of targets to aim for. To have something to say became incredibly important. It became the driving force behind the comedy that I do. It’s the thing I like the most now.
That actually leads me to my next question. You had many silly moments on The Daily Show, but also focused on important issues like a woman’s right to choose and gender equality. Which of the topics you covered were most important to you? How do you think comedy can add to debates in the media and in the political sphere?
It was such a unique opportunity, to be able to find comedy in serious situations. It’s such a great way to bring attention to subjects that you feel passionately about. And just as often as our audience was surprised by stories, I was surprised by stories. I did a long piece about children working on tobacco farms, like children younger than 12 working on tobacco farms. These stories are out there, people are doing the really hard investigative journalism on those subjects, but it’s so hard to get that information to tons of people. To do that comedically… it’s such an interesting way for people to learn about something that’s real. That was a story that meant a lot to me. Things that have a social justice point of view are dear to my heart.
Although I have to be silly all the time, because I’m a ridiculous person. There’s that also. I’m not an investigative journalist. I can’t do what they do, and I don’t wish to. I like to do it my way: A little more light-hearted.
Watching the retrospective they put together for you, they front-loaded it with silly clips and then went into your harder-hitting stuff. It was an interesting dichotomy.
The silly stuff means a lot to me, too. I remember it really fondly, but the things that have stayed with me and that I learned so much working on [are] real stories.
What can you tell me about the new TBS show you and Jason are working on?
Well actually, just before I called you, I was writing it on my computer.
The show we’re doing together is a half-hour TV-MA scripted comedy with a family at the center and the basic trajectory of the show—it will be ten episodes—is just seven days on a trip with this family. It’s serial comedy, basically. We are so excited about it. We’re having so much fun writing it.
Did you draw experience from your own life when you’re working on it?
Our kids are pretty young, and the kids that we’re writing are a little bit older than our own kids, but I would say we’re probably drawing on road trips that we’ve been on, when we were kids ourselves. You know, when you would sit in the back of a car without a seatbelt and your parents would force you to drive to Florida because they were too cheap to fly.
You and Jason are going to be working together again on that show—while you were at The Daily Show, did you guys have a system for keeping work at work? How do you think that’ll work on the new show?
I’m amazing at compartmentalizing. Jason is less amazing at it. Here we are: It’s the weekend, it’s the most beautiful sunny day and I’m sitting inside, trying to keep my child quiet and he just wants to have fun. We’re in a little bit of a crunch right now, so it’s leaking over into our personal life, no question, but for the most part we keep things pretty separate. Our kids force us to. They don’t let you work on stuff. They’ll come over and like, pour water on your keyboard. They don’t care at all. They have no skin in the game! Yeah, they are not patient—but in a good way.
As someone in their early 20s, I grew up watching you on The Daily Show. You’re a very important comedian for my generation. I’m sad you’re leaving.
I’m so excited about the future, and I know it’s the right time for me to be leaving and I’m really happy about all of it—but it’s been really emotional. Letting go has been really emotional for me. It’s been so moving this week hearing from people, because sometimes when you do The Daily Show, you feel like you’re just performing it for the people in the building. You kind of forget that people are watching. It’s so cerebral; you get so insular with it. So I really do appreciate hearing that!