Samantha Bee was ready to walk away | More with Anna Maria Tremonti

Samantha Bee was ready to walk away | More with Anna Maria Tremonti


[Music] AMT: Hi I’m Anna Maria Tremonti. And this is MORE. You know before the conversation you’re about to hear today, I only knew Samantha Bee from watching her. And I’ve been watching her since those early days on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Remember those days? [SOUNDCLIP: SB: Conservatives are fighting the good fight against something they think threatens us all…science] AMT: This woman…so funny in the field. So deadpan. So smart. And I’ll watch her with that look. You know that Samantha Bee look. And that perfect question. [SOUNDCLIP: SB: What would you say to people who say this is to dangerous for a 12-year-olds?] AMT: And then she goes and unleashes Full Frontal. Talk about comedic timing for someone in that business. US politics just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. [SOUNDCLIP: SB: God damn it] AMT: And her comedy — the satire — shifts again. Samantha Bee keeps upping her game. She doesn’t hide her outrage. She’s right out there full frontal. I mean after all who takes a late night comedy show on the road to show devastation and government neglect in Puerto Rico. [SOUNDCLIP: VOICE: I am a US citizen and I demand to be treated the same as any woman living in one of the 50 states. SB: You want the same shabby treatment that women are getting in the rest of the country? VOICE: Yes indeed] AMT: So of course I wanted to talk to Samantha Bee. And when I did, I learned she’s not one of those people with a grand plan. And I learned how she found her way here and how she keeps reinventing herself and her craft. And to think how she almost walked away from it all. But I’m not going to give too much away. Come on and listen. But just a quick heads up first: there may be a few curse words in this one. Okay. She’s in the New York studio. I’m in a Toronto studio. Let’s go AMT: Hello Samantha Bee. I have… SB: Hello. I am so excited to be here. I’m sorry. I just interrupted you. AMT: But that’s okay. I’m excited to have you here. Thank you for taking the time. These are busy times. SB: Busy times. AMT: So thank you for especially for taking the time. SB: [Chuckles] Oh busy times. Yes. AMT: You know I know you’re an American now but you were ours first. SB: Well I’m a dual citizen. AMT: So you’re ours still. [Laughter] SB: Yes. Always. AMT: As you watch all of this unfold, do you feel more Canadian or American? What do you think? SB: I don’t know that I feel more…I just feel like as a citizen, as a kind of a global citizen, I feel a real sense of distress certainly as so many of our norms are just being undone and trashed and burned in a giant garbage fire. So it’s incredibly unsettling. But it’s not like this is unique to me. I think we’re all feeling that way. I think we are all craving like a tiny bit of stability. I would love to feel like we could put our phones away for a day and come back and you know nothing had changed all that much. But there’s an angst in the air. AMT: It’s interesting because you say global it’s almost as if all of us outside of the United States have taken ownership of these happenings too. We all have opinions. We all have debates over the dinner table. SB: Yeah. I mean it affects the whole entire world. So I think that everybody has a right to get into it. Everybody has a right to be involved actually. AMT: So let’s back up. Did you ever imagine, growing up, that you’d be doing anything that you’re doing now? SB: No. Oh my goodness. Not in a million years. It would never have occurred to me as a child. It was just not an ambition and not a thought in my head. It wouldn’t have seemed possible and it wouldn’t have seemed appealing because when I was growing up I mean in the 70s it was like Johnny Carson. And that certainly was not of any interest to me I thought was the most boring show in the world [Laughs]. So no. What I would have wanted to do would be something like “SCTV” or you know “I Love Lucy.” But even that was such a distant dream. It never really occurred to me as a kid to be a performer. AMT: So what were you thinking as a kid? SB: You know I think I went through the usual kind of round up of jobs that kids always want to do. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I wanted to be a veterinarian. A veterinarian seemed — well was more plausible [Laughs]. And then I think I drifted for a long time just not really knowing but knowing that I wanted to do something kind of in the professional realm but not knowing what it was. I went to college, still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought that I would end up taking the LSAT and going to law school because I definitely wanted to be a professional in some way. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. And it seemed like a logical next step from a humanities degree which was really where I was tracking. And then I somehow found the performing arts at such a late stage of the game with no real connection to the industry or any indications in the past that this is what I would end up doing. And from that moment it really was signed that I did not have a plan B for my life. So I needed to make it work. [Laughs] AMT: You wanted to act at first, right? What gave you the bug? SB: Performing just came so…it was very natural. I took a theater class when I was at college. And I knew nothing about it. I knew nothing about acting on stage. I always was a funny person you know in my life privately, but it never really occurred to me. So I took this theater class I thought it would be a really easy add to my course load. And part of the course that I took was that you had to either audition to be in one of the plays — you had to help a production in some way. You had to either do something technically, something behind the scenes, or you had to be in it. That was just a course requirement. So I thought “Well I’ll just audition and I’ll see what happens because that seems like the easiest option.” [Laughs] I am so naive. And I got a part. I honestly came with it. I came to the audition with zero guile and really no ambition. I wasn’t really desperate to get a part and I just was natural with it and then I stepped on stage and went “Oh! This is what I’m meant to do. I’m not nervous. I feel great. I feel completely alive under this spotlight.” It was not an effort for me. I enjoyed doing it fully. And I thought “Well can you get paid to do this? Can you like make a living doing this?” So really at that point my only ambition was to just be able to make a living doing what I liked. AMT: What was the play? SB: It was a Brecht play. It was called “Schweik in the Second World War.” And we at the University of Ottawa — there was a guest director from Strasbourg. I can’t recall his name off the top of my head. But I got the part of like a barmaid who sings. And I had a sing a couple of songs. It really would have been daunting if I’d had any ambition to be in theater at all [Laughs]. But it was completely un-daunting. I didn’t even know at the time that you were supposed to read the play from beginning to end. There was like a point during the production, we were having a run through of the whole play and I was like “Well I’d love to sit in the audience the whole time because I really don’t know how the play ends.” And people around me were like “What do you mean?” And I was like, “Well I only read my part” [Laughs]. I didn’t know you were suppose to know. AMT: You brought a freshness to it. [Laughs] Brecht is pretty heavy. SB: It was heavy and I wish that I could recall what the play was really about. I haven’t read it in…well. AMT: [Chuckles] You didn’t read it. But Brecht was also always an observer of what was going around and always poked fun too, right? SB: Yes. Well my part was great. I nailed it. AMT: And the rest is history. You just kept moving. SB: Yeah I just kept moving. AMT: And so how did the comedy come into their? SB: It’s hard to make a living as a theater performer for sure. And so you end up piece milling a career. You end up doing lots of little jobs that you don’t expect to be doing. You’re trying to get stage time. You’re trying to honestly get paid like a 100 dollars to do a job. And so I did a kids play. I did a touring production for teenagers that we went to different high schools. And I met some people who had a sketch troupe. One of the people I met had a sketch troupe and he’d asked me to fill in for someone. And when I stepped on a comedy stage I was like “Well this is what I really want to do. Can you make a living doing this?” And the answer was no. [Laughter] So I thought okay I’ll do comedy in my spare time, and then I’ll you know do whatever it takes to be able to like float me financially while I do comedy. And then I ended up joining an all-female sketch troupe called The Atomic Fireballs with three other women who are just the most wonderful people. And the rest is history really. AMT: Because it was while you were with The Atomic Fireballs that you went to The Daily Show. SB: Yes correct yes. AMT: And how was that juxtaposition? SB: I mean it was a completely other world. I mean we did comedy for years and we had such a good time, we loved it. Loved writing. We loved performing it. It really was such a do-it-yourself experience putting on shows and getting other acts to join you to make a night of comedy. Like it really was so foundational and so supportive. And then moving to New York — I really just audition for a job to be at The Daily Show. And so I moved to New York which was a completely different world, getting paid to be on television, the pace of it was so fast, the style was so different. We didn’t do political comedy as The Atomic Fireballs but all of those skills were in place for sure. It was a wild first two years at that job, I think just learning the ropes, just getting comfortable in my own skin in a place like that where the stakes really felt so high. AMT: Yeah. You’ve said that even you know running jokes by the other writers — they would very quickly tell you “No. Not funny. Keep moving.” SB: Not funny. Keep moving. It’s just ‘keep moving.’ What I did learn there, and it’s a really steep learning curve, it’s that you’re just throwing things at the wall all that time. Always trying to top yourself. Everybody’s always trying to top the joke or form the joke in a certain way and so you’re just moving really quickly through the material. And then you know part of my job was to go out into the field and shoot interviews with real life people. And that’s very challenging as you know. That was really really the newest thing for me. I mean having to conduct an interview while you’re — and you know what’s coming up, and you know what you want to ask next but you’re also needing to listen to that person and go on the journey that they’re taking you on. It’s really challenging. And then to add an additional layer of comedy to that, it was stunningly challenging. I really enjoyed it but it filled me with fear I mean every time I did it. AMT: Well you would have to be so deadpan. And you were doing political interviews. And they were being very serious and more absurdist by the moment. SB: Yeah. Mm hmm yeah. It’s hard to do. It’s hard when you know that you have your little page of notes and you know that you have all of these wild jokes coming up. But you really are talking to somebody about their life or their career or some serious material. I mean the tone of The Daily Show really did change. When I got there it was really starting to shift and the tone was digging a little. It wasn’t quite as absurd as it had been when it was first starting out or new under Jon. But the tone really started to shift toward you know more political material, actual issues. So leaning into that was excellent but really…it was a lot. It was a lot. AMT: And what did that coincide with then? Remind me of the years. That would have been like the start of the Iraq War then essentially. SB: 2003. AMT: When the United States went to Iraq. So where did your own political awakening come from though? How far back has that gone? SB: Well I was always interested in the news when I was a kid. I mean it’s so funny actually, my mom listened to the news constantly. So we were always listening to CBC in our household. And I thought it was terrible when I was a kid. I thought “Oh this is so boring. Like why can’t we just listen Top 40 like the other parents let their kids listen to music?” But we listened. You know it was honestly news all the time. I thought it was dreadful. And then here I am you know a few years later completely immersed in the news. So it was very impactful. I watched 60 Minutes. I mean that was just a function of 60 Minutes you know being sandwiched right up against the wonderful world of Disney. But I was always interested in the news. And so who would ever know that you could merge news and comedy into one career. And here we are. I’ve always been into the news. I never thought it would be a career move for sure but it was always an interest of mine. AMT: It keeps escalating. And what are you going to do, right? The fruit keeps hanging lower. [Laughter] SB: Oh my gosh it’s really on the ground. AMT: And again you did not think that that would be that shift. Because that shift happened as you were already becoming immersed in your career that shift of even more political satire. SB: Oh for sure. And you know before I came to The Daily Show, I was a big fan of the show. So you know Jon’s political leanings or the content that he put forth on the show was important to me. Of course I was opposed to the war. And of course I had opinions about all of these things. I mean listen I was like protesting during the Gulf War. So it was just very natural. It was a weirdly but very natural fit for me. AMT: Did it blow your mind that you were asked to audition? SB: Of course. I did think that. I mean I was close to giving up my career. I wasn’t going to give up comedy. I knew that I could do that forever. It became tiresome to not know when we’d be able to make another mortgage payment on our house. I got married in 2001 and we had bought a house. And I did grow a little tired of the piecemeal career. I had done tons of commercials. I had done so many commercials one year that I was not eligible to do anymore for years. It was on black out. So I was just tired of the struggle. And I was also tired of having to wait around for somebody else to dictate the terms of my career. I was tired of sitting around and waiting for someone else to say yes to me or to ask for that approval from a casting director or a director of something or a commercial agency. So I thought I’ll make a career elsewhere. I’ll continue to do comedy because I love it and I’ll let that lead me where it leads me. And then when I got the job at The Daily Show I thought, all right. Well I mean when I got the audition for The Daily Show I thought well this is it for me. This is a great swan song because I love the show. It’s my favorite show. What I will do is the best audition of my life. And then I can walk away from this career with pride and think wow that was really neat, and I did my absolute best. And if they didn’t like me for this job, it has more to do with them, it has nothing to do with me and my failure as a performer. It’s just not the right fit for whatever reason. And so I really did give it my all. And then I got the job and I was like well that was surprising. [Chuckles] AMT: So that’s so interesting you gave it your all but you were ready to walk away. SB: Ready to walk away. But I wanted to walk away with my head held high. Actually I thought what a natural and wonderful way to exit this career — to audition for a show that I wouldn’t have thought in a million years would come to Canada looking for someone. And my very favorite show that I was appointment viewing for me every day. And then look what happened. And here we are 16 to 1000 years later. AMT: I wonder what the dinner table conversation was like though with your husband it’s like “Okay honey I’m getting out of this business.” And then you come, “Oh by the way, I just got this great gig in New York.” SB: We were stunned. I mean we were stunned. We were stunned. We were stunned. We both thought okay well this — not that he was like this has to be a mistake but I definitely thought it was a mistake. And so we kept our house in Toronto. And he stayed behind because he had a job on [Thinking] did he have a job on “Queer as Folk” or something like that. He had some acting work to do. And so I thought well you stay behind, you keep the house going. I’ll go. They’ll probably fire me in six months. And then I’ll just come home [Laughs]. I don’t want to disrupt anything on the home front for when this doesn’t work out. It’s so Canadian of me [Laughs] to be so pragmatic. And then it just did work out. It did work out. And he eventually moved. AMT: And he joined you on the show too. SB: He did but that had nothing to do with me actually. It’s so funny how they were very worried at the show to hire him because they thought that I would see it as a conflict. They had independently found his work and really liked him and brought him in to audition. But they checked with me first. They were like “Would you be comfortable if we auditioned your husband?” So it’s not like as a spouse you can go, “I think you should hire my husband.” I mean that’s not… AMT: Doesn’t work that way. [Chuckles] SB: Doesn’t really work that way. So yeah. It was very funny at first how hesitant they were. They didn’t put us in the same office. They were afraid that we would have marital fights at work. And we were like no. We work together. So we did end up sharing an office. But we had to convince everybody that we wouldn’t [laughs] disrupt the daily flow of work. AMT: And they weren’t afraid you were ganging up and… SB: No. AMT: Okay. SB: God no. AMT: But you became the longest running correspondent for The Daily Show. SB: I did. I was there for 12 years. 12 years. Yikes. AMT: Did you think before you left that it was time to leave? Were you thinking about it years before? SB: Yes. Like I loved the work there. I really loved it there. But I knew that there’s no career in this business that lasts forever. Like nobody does this for 35 years and then gets a golden watch and a retirement plan. You don’t get into performing jobs thinking they’re going to even last three years let alone 12 years. It’s not something that you can plan for. Jason and I became writing partners essentially. And we knew that our next move would be to gain ownership over something. We wanted to have our own mark on something. And so we wrote scripts for things. We sold scripts. We went out for pilot season. We were constantly trying to put in place the building blocks of a future career because you don’t want to be caught you know at a moment where you leave one job and then you have nothing to go to. So we’re always trying to figure out what’s the next thing? Like how do we build this career? What are the skills that we need to build a proper career so that we have legs? It was a very practical approach. And I’m really glad that we did it that way because we wrote a lot. We sold a lot of stuff and it was very fruitful. So when it came time, just right around the time that Jon announced that he was leaving, we had sold a pilot and shot a pilot at TBS for a scripted show called “The Detour.” We’d sold many pilot scripts but this was the one that we got green-lit to shoot. And so we shot it the December prior to Jon announcing. And we thought that our next move would be a scripted show. And in fact it was because they picked up “The Detour” and it went for four years. AMT: And then when did Full Frontal come in? SB: Right around that time as well. So they green-lit “The Detour” and also offered me the opportunity to develop my own show. So those two things happened in parallel. It really was incredible. AMT: It was an embarrassment of great opportunities that you created. SB: Well yeah. And a lot of hard work and training and thought and care went into building the conditions for those opportunities. AMT: But I understand that when Jon Stewart left The Daily Show they did not consider you to replace him. How did that feel? SB: I don’t think that they did. And it’s not something that I think about actually. It was not surprising to me. And I don’t really reflect on it with a ton of bitterness or any bitterness really. I think they went down a path. I wasn’t on that path but I was carving my own. I was carving my own stuff out. So I can’t say that I really cared. It was weird to have people outside of my world talking about it a little bit because I definitely knew that I wasn’t really being considered in a meaningful way. So kind of deflecting that in a way that’s you know deflecting that scrutiny became kind of a little bit of a thing. But I moved swiftly through it. I don’t care at all. It was so long ago now it feels like another lifetime. And in fact…five years ago was basically another lifetime. AMT: Yeah although I would imagine like there were a lot of us, just even viewers, kind of outraged at the idea that… SB: Sure. I mean I guess from within from inside of this kind of TV world like I really got to know it’s just kind of the algorithm or like the metrics of replacing someone like that. And certainly I’m quite sure that what they wanted to do was go out to someone much more famous. Like the first move, if you’re replacing someone is to go to the most famous person you can think of and start going down your list of very famous people as though that will bring eyeballs to your product you know. So I didn’t really fall in that category. AMT: Sounds like you don’t dwell on stuff. You don’t fester. SB: Well I don’t because I don’t know…There’s no benefit in it for me to be like [Acting drunk] “Well when I get drunk one day I’ll tell you that story of how it happened.” It’s been it’s been very fruitful for me. I’m really glad to have had the two opportunities that came my way after. So I feel like going back in the past and kind of re-litigating that or in the moment how it felt like we were in outer space a little bit you know when all of those things were colliding. And then a path revealed itself to us and we robustly went down that path. And so… AMT: Pretty good path too. SB: It was a great path. And I’m super grateful. AMT: Well the other thing I think of is that Full Frontal is yours, right? So you’re not picking up someone else’s view of a program and running with it. It is your voice. It is your vision of what goes on. SB: It’s a gift to not have to answer to too many masters. I mean of course I have a master. I mean I’m definitely I’m working for a network and I’m working for people. But they were so generous with like letting us create a point of view on the show that was truly our own. And I mean that just never happens. You know when TBS reached out with this opportunity they were really at a building phase of the network. They were starting to do original programming in a different way. And I was like, “This is the perfect place to be at a place that’s building, not a place that has a cruise ship in place that’s just trying to keep it stable.” I knew that I would want to expand my point of view. It just felt like, really, the smartest move to be at a place that was in that building phase. And I definitely knew that the point of view — I wanted it to be audacious and I really did want to kind of kick that door in. And it wasn’t like — listen you know it wouldn’t have been possible under other circumstances. I definitely thought when I started the show I’ll have six episodes of this and I’ll be out because it’ll be so audacious. No one will like it. This will be a hot potato. And it won’t be possible to keep it on the air. And so here we are moving into our fifth season. It’s incredible. It really is incredible. AMT: And moving toward your fifth season how would you say Full Frontal has differentiated itself? SB: Well I think the point of view of the show is different. I mean frankly you know when I was out there pitching shows you know one of the shows I pitched was, like years and years and years ago and Jon was still the show, was a show that was mostly field elements. Like the things that I had really grown to love doing. And the general feedback from the industry was like, “Why would we do another political comedy show? We already have one.” I mean you know that was the industry line. And now you see like this eruption of all of these different kind of political theme shows. And everybody’s doing really well. And everybody’s got a different vibe and everybody’s got a different point of view. I do bring a different focus and I do bring a different point of view to the show because I’m frankly a woman and that actually makes a difference. The stories we care about are often different from what the other shows are covering. We also care about the news of the day. We also have to care about impeachment because we have to and because we do. But we are able to explore stories that other shows really wouldn’t. We’re able to kind of sit back and do a bit of analysis because we’re only on once a week. So the show is different. I mean it really is. AMT: Are there things that you wanted to cover back on The Daily Show, that you wanted to take even further that you couldn’t until you got your own show? SB: Well of course. I mean you know The Daily Show was incredible. And I definitely learned how to lean into my point of view under Jon’s tutelage. There’s no question about that. But there were areas of exploration that we just never really touched upon all that deeply. We never really touched upon issues of reproductive justice. It just wasn’t the calling of the show understandably. You know there was a moment where I did a field piece about rape-loophole quite frankly. And I would say it took a point of view further and it was a great piece, it was a really interesting piece. But I knew that I was hedging my point of view a little bit to kind of fit into the point of view of the show. AMT: What was the story? SB: The story was — and I’m so sorry I can never remember anything that happened even yesterday — but there was a loophole in the law that would allow convicted rapists to seek custody of the children, of their children, who are products of rape. And it was such a serious story. And we learned so much about it. And it was such a dark story. And a lot of covering the story and it was really important and it happens and it’s just terrible. The way that we attacked the story was in large part like “How do we distract ourselves from this awful material?” And it was funny you know to be like I recall having a little you know those little red emergency boxes with an ax in there “In case of fire, break glass.” I feel like we had a like “In case of you know the horrible story, break glass” and there was like a little chickadee inside or something like that. And like I bottle fed animals. And it was all really funny and it was great. It was really good. But I knew that if I was doing the story for myself that I wouldn’t have to veer away from the story as much. AMT: You don’t have to hide your outrage. SB: I don’t have to hide it. I don’t have to. And then I got the opportunity to not have to hide it. And so that was good. That was freedom for sure. AMT: You have said that your show early on would be different because it would be your voice. How do you define your voice? SB: I don’t really. I actually don’t. I don’t typically think about it. I hope that’s okay for me to say. I don’t really really think about it. It’s very driven by the things that are affecting us, the things we’re thinking about in the moment. I can’t really say that I do define my voice. AMT: It’s interesting because when I see you I get the impression it’s very visceral. So maybe that’s why you can’t define it because it is who you are. SB: Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. AMT: But now you’re allowed to be that. SB: Yes. AMT: In a different way because… SB: In a different way. And it is the performance of that point of view too. So there is a difference between Samantha Bee you know feeling outrage or feeling whatever on her show, and Samantha Bee human being who’s walking around, you know? All of those things are things that are bottled up or I’m thinking about and kind of developing. Like we’re just developing those as a show too throughout a week or however long we’re kind of ruminating those. We ruminate on stories for a really long time. We have a massive team of people making the show. We have incredible writers and producers and people. And we’re always kind of thinking and refining everything. So you know what you’re seeing is unleashing you know a long period of thought and consideration. So it’s a very curated version of the outrage that I’m just like feeling emotionally. AMT: So are there two Samantha Bees? SB: No. I don’t think so. There’s definitely an on-camera Samantha Bee and then a real life Samantha Bee. We’re here, it’s the same person. I don’t have to bifurcate my soul to do the show. I don’t have to like put aside my values to do the show. The show is my values for sure. So just tonally, I don’t think you could walk around being that loud all the time [chuckles]. I couldn’t. AMT: I know what you’re saying basically. How do you put that forward, how do you put that onstage in front of your viewers you have these ideas but then what do you do with them. How does it manifest, right? How do you work through it all? And like sometimes it seems to me it’s more commentary than comedy. It’s almost like you’re dealing with things that, I don’t even know if I’ve got the right term, but it’s almost absurdist. Like it’s so absurd what is going on in the world that you’re pointing a camera at it or you’re asking about it and giving that look. That great look of yours. [Chuckles] SB: Yes. We’re asking the questions. At some point I mean you have to just choose a side. I mean I just believe this, you have to draw a line in the sand for yourself and then never cross that line. And so I aim for this show to be — listen at one point okay coming into it in 2016 it was you know we exploded onto the scene and it was this wild cast of characters. There were primaries in both parties. There were these enormous cast of characters. This clown car of Republican candidates vying for the top spot. I mean it was unbelievable material. When you contrast it to what it feels like now — we are you know three years through this, four years through this, the tone is totally different. It was very different launching a show with all of these rich terrain of people just making complete asses of themselves. And now things are a little more serious. Things have happened. Bad things have happened and are happening. So at one point the show was like a wild look at the topical news of the day. And then at some point in the show, and I really can’t say when, it became like just we need a historical marker that not everyone in this country is insane. And now we just need to show the aliens who will invade us eventually in the future — that some of us had a point of view that was on the right side of history. [Laughs] Like I just want to be able to plant a flag and this, have my kids look at it and go “Oh yeah you were on the right side of that.” AMT: Mom was talking about this when other people weren’t noticing. SB: She was talking about this for a long time. AMT: Do you talk about this stuff with your kids? SB: Yeah. Well I mean listen I’m doing the same torturing to my own children the way that I was tortured [Laughter]. And they listen to news radio all the time. That’s just what we do. And so they’re aware of these things, they talk about it, they go to public school, they have really good robust conversations in their school. They can ask me anything and I’ll always answer honestly. I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time indoctrinating them into a political viewpoint but I am trying to teach them to be responsible and ethical human beings. And so that’s a part of the conversation for sure. AMT: So do you consider it comedy? Do you consider yourself a comedian or a… SB: I do. I do consider myself to be a comedian. I know that occasionally the show just goes into serious topical material. That definitely happens. But I do consider myself to be a comedian. I’m not a journalist. I’m not trained to do that. AMT: Are you sure? [Laughs] SB: Yeah. I’m pretty sure. You know journalists are out there. I mean the truth is we couldn’t build our show, we couldn’t make our show, without the intrepid work of incredible journalists who give us the material that we use to make our show. It’s not like we could make our show if people weren’t out there doing investigative journalism. We couldn’t. AMT: And they can’t say the things that you can say. SB: And they do not have or they do or they do it quietly or they do it differently or they’re held to a different standard. AMT: But I think about the episode where you use that word with Ivanka. And you know you got a lot of backlash. You also got people who applauded you. But you got a lot of people who were very upset with you. So there is that standard that is out there. How do you navigate that? SB: Well sure there was but I mean let’s be honest I’d use that word a million times on the show prior to that moment. It wasn’t known to me that massive swaths of the population had a major problem with it. I understand now that it’s a hurtful word for people and you know it can be a word that’s used when a woman is having literally the worst day of her life or the worst moment of her life. So I get it. Like I understood. I was checked by that for sure. But it wasn’t inconsistent with anything I’ve ever said on the show. That was just a moment where it ignited something. It really ignited something. So standards, I’m not sure it was really about that actually. I think it was about something else. AMT: Has it changed the way you do anything now? SB: No. Because…no. It hasn’t changed my point of view. It hasn’t changed the point of view of the show. The main source of my distress at that moment was that we were talking about — we were talking about the situation at the border when that was happening and children in cages. And it really distracted from that conversation about kids in cages. And then really the news story as I saw it unfold became about how sad that it really distracted from the story about kids in cages. You know from a lot of the journalists out there and I thought, “Well guys you’re on the news, why don’t you just tell the story about the kids in the cages. Don’t worry about me who said a bad potty word on TV. Tell the actual story. This is not it.” AMT: What I see sometimes as your outrage — the media, the news media, we’re guilty of a lot too in terms of what we leave out. What we choose to focus on. What we don’t. SB: You know down here I mean the news generally speaking it’s a profit driven industry which is not often compatible with breaking news that’s actually vital, you know. AMT: Except now. I mean the New York Times is doing very well with breaking news, right? SB: Sure. AMT: Like you can make a profit. [Cross-talking] They are separate. [Laughter] SB: I’m talking about other outlets for sure. So you know you’re also for the survival of your TV program or the social media impact, the number of clicks you get, it’s very click-driven. So you know that’s the way it is. And so click-driven things rise to the top. And really important stories get lost for sure. AMT: It’s so interesting because I look at again some of the stuff you do. Like you went to Puerto Rico. And you use your comedy but you tell the story of people who are destitute, who are are struggling. And it is true that often a newsroom might say, “oh you know we’ve already done that story.” They don’t find it interesting. But you make it interesting on many levels including on a journalistic level. SB: There is a way. I mean there’s a freedom that we have to find the lighter moments in something. So there’s a freedom that we have in having a comedy show that we can do things, our approach can be different. I mean we’re telling the same story but we can innovate kind of how it’s delivered a little bit. AMT: You can do a “What the fuck?” SB: Yeah we get to do that. AMT: And we can’t. [Laughs] SB: Yes exactly. So it’s the same story told differently. Is it more palatable? Sometimes. Maybe. That’s our hope. I mean we’re just trying to use this tool as something as you know like a comedy tool but it’s also a tool for just increasing awareness or doing something good in the world or taking a stand in some way. It’s all we can do right now. Good Lord. AMT: [Chuckles] Have you seen media learn from what you’ve done? SB: No. Not for me. No no no no. I would never be so….no God no. Not at all. AMT: Oh yeah. But you don’t think they are but maybe they are. SB: Maybe. Well that would be nice. Listen I’m a news junkie so I’m all for the news. I always wish that people were — [Telling AMT] Not you. Not you — I always wish that people got better training in how to ask follow-up questions [Laughter]. AMT: [Laughter] So you don’t have to yell at the TV or the radio. SB: It’s easy for me to like armchair quarterback everybody else’s interviews but in the moment I do understand it’s actually very difficult. And if you’re a White House reporter and you’re just trying to keep your pass, just trying to keep your pass alive, it’s not easy. Listen we can all do — I can do a better job. We can all do a better job. AMT: Well that’s sometimes where I feel that you do watch the theater of the absurd a little bit with a White House briefing. And when you have someone standing there speaking and you know that what they’re saying is wrong. You know that they said something very different five minutes ago. And everybody just asks and politely just listens and you just want to say “Do you hear yourself?” I wanted to go — as host of The Current — I did want to go to the White House and just ask one question because then they’d kick me out because I used to have a White House pass. I used to. I worked the first impeachment. I worked in Washington for two years. And I got there at the start of the Clinton impeachment hearings. And a Canadian diplomat said to me, “Welcome to Rome” which I thought was the best way to describe Washington. SB: Do have PTSD from that time in your life? [Chuckles] AMT: Well I left after two years and my bosses were like “Really? You want to go. There like an election.” I go, “No. It’s okay really. I’ll come home.” [Laughter] But for me it was because I was kind of trapped in Washington and I felt that I liked stories where you are talking to people who actually lived the results of political decisions. I’m more interested in tracking them than I am. And also because if you are not an American correspondent in Washington, and I know a lot of people might not like this, but it’s not the same. Your access is only so far. You know every morning at the White House you can go and you can gather around the desk — or you used to be able to do this — of the White House spokesman and throw out questions. Then if they don’t have an answer they will say that you know the 1 o’clock briefing, because they had a 1 o’clock briefing every day, you could ask again and they would have an answer. And I would ask a question. I had come from the Middle East and I would ask a question and they’d all like whip around and go, “Who the hell are you?” Like why are you asking that? Like who is she? She’s not asking the right question. SB: You’re not allowed to ask. AMT: [Laughs] Yeah it was me and someone for Japanese television and the rest were the American correspondents or their producers, right. And it was like “Who is she?” But anyway. But it was an interesting time. It was a lot of overtime because it was daily. But it wasn’t my idea of a really great time to cover Washington because I wanted to — again — I wanted to cover the fallout. I found that was so interesting. SB: You know we talk about all of these things and they’re so — like a lot of the things that we talk about our esoteric but I feel the same way that you do. I like to know what are the results of these things. There are people impacted by these big decisions that are made. And it’s one thing to like read the headline and be like here’s an esoteric thing that happened, but there are like people who have to handle the consequences of this. Like when you give Stephen Miller a big position in the administration there are consequences for real people’s lives. AMT: You know I remember when you came and you guest hosted The Current. Which was like…we were all thrilled. But you did this great story about how there are companies that make up or like PR companies (that) make up news and they give it to small U.S. TV stations that can’t afford the reporters to go out and do stuff. And then this stuff goes on the air. And you made the point look at I’m the one who’s the comedian, I’m the one who does stuff with news, you’re supposed to be the real news person. And you talk about it — like it kind of like flipped and flipped and flipped again. It was lots of fun to listen. [Laughs] But it was so disturbing. SB: So disturbing and that really was just like that kind of embedded advertising masquerading as news. I mean how that has manifested and the way that has just changed and morphed and become bigger and bigger, it’s astonishing. AMT: That was before the phrase “fake news.” Yeah. SB: Yes. Teaching our children critical thinking and how to source their stories properly is vital to our survival as to democracy honestly. Because you know our kids — I look at my kid, my eldest child is 13 and when she’s researching something you know the thing that comes to the top of her Google search isn’t always real. Wikipedia isn’t always real. The kids don’t necessarily know that. They don’t necessarily know when they read a Wikipedia page that it can just be kind of anything. It’s someone else putting that information out there. And that is so much of what the news is so much content is just straight up trash. And learning how to navigate that minefield of disinformation, it’s a skill. It’s an under-recognized skill. AMT: And what do you tell them about doing that navigation? How do they do that? SB: I just work with them as much as possible. If I see them on a Wikipedia page for one thing I go straight — we keep the computer in our kitchen, not that I’m like looking over their shoulder all the time but if they have questions I’ll often direct them to a more credible source for something or I’ll ask them to check multiple sources or something. It’s like all about you know sourcing your news properly. You can’t run with something just because you heard it in a place. It’s not responsible. It’s not beneficial to your research paper in eighth grade [Laughs] to copy a Wikipedia page. AMT: You know these are big stories and you make big statements about them and you know there are people waiting to jump on you. SB: Sure AMT: Does that ever scare you? Does it steal you or does it scare you? SB: It more steals me. I don’t think about it too much. I don’t read anything about myself. I don’t know if you know that about me but I don’t actually. I just don’t read about myself. I am not that much of a navel-gazer. I’m really busy. My job keeps me really busy. My family keeps me really busy. So I don’t have time to think about how my misstep caused all of this distress in people. I am not perfect. I get it wrong sometimes. You know I don’t really care that much how I’m seen in the outside world. You know there are sometimes when I think we do a story and I think that it will bother people and the blowback will hit me even if I’m not trying to hear it. And that occasionally happens. But generally I’m not on Facebook or Instagram. Like I’m mostly very restrained on social media because I don’t think that for me psychologically it would be beneficial. You know praise to me — like I’m not seeking to read praise or negativity about myself particularly. And that’s probably because I’m 50 honestly, [Laughs] I’m too old and tired to care. AMT: Well you also have a really clear idea of what you’re creating, right. You put it out there, you’re not looking to focus-group everything. SB: And I have a clear sense of self. Yeah. That said I’m not really crowd-sourcing the show. I have an amazing team of people making this show with me and I care what they think. And I don’t care for much outside of that. AMT: But you’re getting involved too in civic politics and apps. What are you doing? SB: Well we had an app last year that was great. It was a trivia game. And the goal of that game was to game-ify the election — the midterms. And to drive voter turnout to midterm voting booths. And it was a very interesting experience. So building on that we’ve released an app again this year. It’s called “Full Frontal’s Totally Unrigged Primary.” If I had to describe it I would say it’s a little bit like fantasy football meets HQ because it’s a trivia game. It’s really really funny. It’s actually great. And what we’re trying to do is really practice getting behind one candidate in the Democratic primary. It’s our own actual primary. So if you play the game, you are playing for an actual specific candidate. And we have started a super PAC. And at the end of our game, we should be in Iowa. Right around the Iowa caucuses. We’re going to give all the money that we raised to that actual candidate. AMT: So you’re raising the money through the people who decide on the app. SB: Yeah it’s fascinating. I think it’s a fascinating process. It is also really fun to play which is a benefit. When things are fun people want to do them more. And it’s actually really funny and fun game and it behooves us here. Listen, the elections cost billions of dollars here. Billions. AMT: Yeah they do. Are the Democrats running too many people and do some of them need to step away? SB: Listen I’m sure that we’ll see people stepping away fairly soon. Certainly after Iowa. If we’re still fighting about the nominee in June, we are in deep trouble. And I’m sure we will be. So therefore I’m saying we’re in deep trouble. [Laughs] AMT: Do you mean we as in America or do you mean as Democrats? SB: I mean we as in Democrats, and we as in this nation because honestly I would vote for the headphones that I’m wearing on my head right now rather than see this president get a second term. AMT: So you are a Democrat. Are you? SB: I guess so. What am I? I’m just a person. I am a registered Democrat for sure. I think I’m actually of quite an independent thinker personally, but I vote Democrat for sure. AMT: You’ve also talked about thinking about moving on and you’ve mentioned refugees. What are you thinking? SB: Yeah well that is just — I mean I don’t know what I’m thinking. But I don’t need to exactly plan what my next life is but I’m certain that it will kind of be in the terrain of immigrants and refugees. It’s just you know telling these stories or having the opportunity to talk about these issues on the show has been some of the most meaningful work that I’ve done. I don’t why it has always been something that has just deeply deeply interested me. And I’ve met people. The experience of refugees in this country especially in the last three or four years has been unconscionable. And so if I was moving on from this show I’m sure that I’ll do something in that space because it would keep me very interested and engaged for the rest of my life. There’s lots of work to do. AMT: Well and you have such a powerful voice. SB: Oh thank you. It is not so powerful right now. I’m recovering from laryngitis. AMT: Well like there’s the voice and then there’s the “voice.” SB: It’s good to have a platform. AMT: Well yeah because when I asked you if you ever like thought you would be doing what you do now, but it also comes with this ability to actually shine a spotlight somewhere. SB: I feel like if you have the opportunity and you have a platform, you should use it. You should just use it. I am always kind of amazed by people who are relatively famous and they don’t really use that social media following to really…I don’t know direct anything or make a change. I’m interested by that. I don’t know. I feel like we have a short time with this big platform let’s just use it while we can. AMT: Do you have people you look up to who do that? SB: Oh that’s interesting. Well I also have a really bad memory. So the answer is yes but I’ll think about all of those people. The moment we’re done I’ll go Oh my God. AMT: Because I’m watching Jane Fonda right now right here with the climate change. SB: [Laughter] I’m gonna go pop on a red coat and go down to a climate march. AMT: Or a pink hat. SB: Yeah. For sure. AMT: But I want to go back to something you said though because you have this amazing career and you almost like walked away from the amazing career before it became amazing. What do you tell younger people about finding their way and career? You know because people will always say go for it. But what do you tell people? SB: Yeah I know it’s really hard to say “go for it” “go for anything you want and it it will work out.” I think the nut of it, if I can distill it down to one thing and this is what has remained true and what I always come back to is that I loved doing comedy and I knew that I would do comedy for free. And I knew that I would continue doing it for the rest of my life. Whatever I had to do to make money was one thing but I knew that I would always do comedy and always stand on the stage doing comedy with my friends. That was just the truth. So it really is all about finding the thing that you love doing. And if you can do that for no money and do it for love, you can probably build a career or something around that. In any case you can find fulfillment around that probably. It may not take you the direction that you think you’re going to go. It may take you down a path you never expected that opens up something else that’s wonderful. But if in your life you’re doing a thing that you really love, it will open up your life or your life can blossom in such unexpected ways. And I just think that’s applicable to anyone in any medium… AMT: And any age. SB: At any age. It’s sometimes hard to find the thing that you love. I’m not saying that that’s the easy journey. But you really do have to find something that you like in life. AMT: I’m going to end it right there on that beautiful thought. SB: All right. Thank you. It was such a pleasure to talk to you. I really am such a fan. Thank you so much for having me. AMT: Such a pleasure to talk to you. I really am such a fan. SB: Thank you. AMT: Samantha Bee. Isn’t she amazing? I loved her answer to that last question about what advice she’d give to someone starting out and finding their way. Did that resonate with you? What advice have you got that helped you find your way in your life or career? Was there ever a time you were ready to give up and then something changed? You know as I morph my own career, I’m always on the lookout for a few more tips. I’m always thinking about this stuff. So feel free to tweet me I’m @amtremonti Make sure to use the hashtag #morewithamt [Music]
Make sure to use the hashtag #morewithamt [Music] AMT: MORE is hosted by me, Anna Maria Tremonti. The series is produced by Jennifer Moroz. Our associate producer and sound designer is Arman Aghbali. Special thanks to Catherine Stockhausen, Laura Antonelli, Austin Pomeroy, and Andrew Norton for all their help on MORE. Our digital producer is Fabiola Carletti. Our video producer is Phil Leung and Evan Aagaard. Tanya Springer is the senior producer of CBC Podcasts. And Arif Noorani is our executive producer. Thanks for listening in today, there’s MORE to come.

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