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Pandemic, politics and guns: Samantha Bee helps us laugh through the hurt

Samantha Bee makes a face for the camera
Samantha Bee of “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”
(Mary Ellen Matthews/TBS)

Samantha Bee often says that the team of writers, producers and on-camera talent behind “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” are “the best in the business, they can do anything.” If their output during a pandemic is any indicator, that’s not hyperbole. When they weren’t shooting weekly episodes of the newsy, award-winning series on an iPhone with the help of Bee’s husband Jason Jones and their children in the family’s upstate New York backyard, the enterprising “Full Frontal” gang were posting behind-the-scenes digital shorts like “Pandemic Video Diaries.”

As quarantine began to lift, they examined everyone’s anxieties about re-entering the outside world in “Not Beeing at Home,” and in a pointedly topical half-hour special, “Full Frontal Wants to Take Your Guns,” they took on gun violence, letting viewers wonder, among other things, “Why are cars more highly regulated than firearms?” Last fall, “Full Frontal” returned to the studio, this time in Connecticut and audience-free. “I’m so proud of everybody I work with — and I’m proud of myself too,” says Bee. “We bent our brains around, making our show in a new way.”

What prompted the decision to leave your backyard?

I loved shooting in the forest. I thought it was really beautiful. But I was seeing my future before me, shooting in the backyard in late November, early January. I thought, “This is not going to be sustainable.” I also needed a more professional atmosphere. More controlled, I guess.

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Meaning?

We’re the only show that films in that studio. What that meant is that we control our own COVID protocols. Our staff is still mostly remote. We use remotely operated cameras. We actually have a small footprint in a much smaller space that’s ours and ours alone.

During the pandemic, Samantha Bee was shooting "Full Frontal" outdoors in upstate New York.
(TBS)

What did you learn from creating “Full Frontal” during a pandemic?

We learned a lot about how to make this operation super-efficient. We learned how to do more with less. But I feel like we’re more nimble now. None of this is hurt by the fact that Trump is no longer president, by the way.

Are you saying that you think we’re in a post-Trump era?

I don’t think we’re in a post-Trump era. I’m still very worried about the state of democracy. But I’m in a post-Trump era. Without him at the helm of this country, we have breathing room. For the moment, the rhythm of how we make the show isn’t affected by a news cycle that’s like rodeo clowns running amok. The ground beneath our feet isn’t shifting on a daily basis. And that’s just a better place to be.
When did you start feeling the dark cloud lifting?

Once he got kicked off social media. Do you remember that blissful, weird weekend when he suddenly got kicked off Twitter and we all wandered around, pale and battered, walking out into the sun, blinking and trying to adjust? That was an interesting couple of days. But, boy, I liked it right away. I was ready.

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How do you process someone like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)?

Isn’t it interesting how we’re all learning how hard it is to kick people out of government? It’s much harder than anyone would have ever thought. It should be a little bit easier. What we learned during the entire Trump administration is that all the things we thought were rules and laws weren’t codified at all. They were all just like handshake agreements. So now we’re all on a civics learning journey here.

Who else is discussed around the virtual water cooler?

Ted Cruz will always be a favorite of ours. But Jim Jordan is pretty popular too. And all of these people are going to crawl out of the woodwork again. As we start to shamble toward the midterms, we’re going to have a pretty colorful cast of characters.

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Talk about your special, “Full Frontal Wants to Take Your Guns.”

We were all responding to a long string of well publicized mass shootings. Back in late March, early April, it was to a sickening degree. I feel like the episode was really born out of that. It felt right for us to lean into one topic for a show. We’re always looking to challenge ourselves, to try to land our jumbo jet on the head of a dandelion.

Since last year, you’ve occasionally incorporated your kids into segments. Did you know they’d be so funny?

No, we didn’t. But they’re much, much wittier than we are. Our children entertain us completely, constantly wow us. All three of them are very funny people.

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Many performers live for applause. Do you miss the sound of hearing an audience’s love?

I think I miss it. But I don’t crave it. I don’t miss it so much that I must go back at all cost. I think it’s a really different way of doing a show, for sure. Probably the next time someone applauds for me, I’ll cry. It’s been so long now. You know what I really can’t wait for? I can’t wait to clap for other people. I can’t wait to go to a Broadway show, a concert. I mean, I am excited.


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