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Once in Trump’s cross-hairs, Samantha Bee has gone beyond that ‘level of hell’

Samantha Bee on "Full Frontal," currently shot outside her upstate New York home in the woods.
Samantha Bee has been shooting “Full Frontal,” her TBS late night show, outside her upstate New York home in the woods.
(TBS)

In mid-March when the pandemic halted late-night TV production, Samantha Bee, like many talk show hosts, returned to the airwaves with new episodes recorded from home. Yet the weekly episodes of TBS’ “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” felt separate from the pack. While an aura of lo-fi apology hung over her male peers — bearded, disheveled and cowed by occasionally impish offspring — Bee looked re-energized with her upstate New York backyard as a forestal backdrop. There were wood-chopping lessons alongside incisive Zoom interviews, and her outdoor monologues seemed no less newsy or scathingly funny. 

It’s no surprise, then, that “Full Frontal” landed four Emmy nominations, including for variety talk series, a nod for writing, as well as for her popular short form “Pandemic Video Diaries” and “Beeing at Home With Samantha Bee.” As other hosts return to their studios, Bee is sticking to backyard shooting “for the foreseeable future.”

Recently, by phone from a nearby church parking lot with two of her three children in the car, Bee spoke of her new normal, her postage stamp giveaway and – briefly – of former Trump strategist, Steve Bannon, who was picked up on fraud charges. “The fact that he was arrested by [federal] postal [inspectors]? On a 151-foot super yacht off the coast of Westbrook, Conn.? For me, it was a chef’s kiss moment. Every once and in a while we deserve good news.”

What adjustments were made once you left your Manhattan studio and assembled the show remotely?

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We were in a four-year rollicking, collaborative groove of working on the show. This is different.  We shoot the show on Tuesday now because the upload of all the digital files takes a long time. [self-conscious pause] Let me know if I’m droning on for too long. I really like talking about this.

Please. You went from a crew of 70 to your husband, Jason Jones, filming the show on his iPhone and your daughter’s iPad as teleprompter. Continue!

With a live audience, I tried to do the show in one take. In the backyard, there’s variables. I’m working my own prompter. Insects fly into my mouth. Planes go overhead. It’s very hot. Tape melts on the equipment and starts to peel off. There’s a wind gust, things fall and you have to start again. But I’ve found lots of value in it. I enjoy shooting the show a day before it airs. It got us out of some routines that I’m happy to blow up. 

For example?

I’ve found the rhythm of the show without an audience. That gives us more freedom to, say, one day do the show on the streets of New York. But I do miss not collaborating in person. It’s very normal for us to work in our own little bubbles, but I miss the camaraderie and subtlety of talking all together. There’s no nuance in discussing jokes over Zoom — a lot of interpersonal stuff is lost. And I frankly miss everyone.

Talk about hearing that Sen. Kamala Harris, who has guested twice on “Full Frontal,” would be Biden’s running mate.

It was a very happy day. It’s fleeting and we shouldn’t get cocky, no question. But I did enjoy an evening of good news. I tried not to get into social media and allowed a piece of brightness to wash over me. 

“Full Frontal” covered the attack on the United States postal system back in late April. Who came up with the segment?

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Co-head writer Kristen Bartlett pitched it. People weren’t talking about it that much then. And she said, “I promise, we’ll make it fun, sexy.” I’m glad to have been at the vanguard of that news story. We gave away thousands of dollars’ worth of stamps. My face was on them — fortunately or unfortunately. I hope people use them. We certainly need [the USPS] for our mail-in ballots. She said. Hopefully.

How did you hear about your Emmy nominations?

 I was probably breathlessly standing in my kitchen. The staff has been working so hard under unexpected conditions in small Brooklyn apartments, editing the show on the dining room table while two kids are home schooling nearby. So while we’re not doing it for the nominations, it had weight this year. It felt really great to get some outside validation. And I think we are really dining out on that.

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Just think: In 2018, Trump was on Twitter demanding you be fired.

 That [was] a terrible, ugly experience. I can’t even describe it. It unleashes a level of hell and brings winged monkeys into your life who wish you ill. But we got through it. You’re not the same person on the other side of it. You’re stronger. You’re forged in steel.

When this article runs in print, the RNC will be on Day Four. Any forecasts of what we’ll have witnessed by then?

My general prediction is an unprecedented ... show — and I am here for that. I mean, nobody wants to watch Donald Trump speak for four days in a row. He always thinks that the song needs more cowbell , and he’s the cowbell. He thinks we need to hear more from him — and we want to hear so much less.


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