With a match in her hand and a mischievous smirk on her face, Samantha Bee is getting her inner pyromaniac on. She’s in the middle of a photo shoot in a loft not far from the Lincoln Tunnel in New York, and it’s a fitting visual, given that, since launching Full Frontal on TBS three seasons ago, Bee has pretty much burned down the nearly all-male, mostly white late-night format.
For a half-hour each week, the woman who Sen. Elizabeth Warren said “is more than a comedian—she’s an instigator and an advocate” fires off brilliant insults and observations touching on everything from sexism to social injustice. Her debut show featured a segment on female veterans. In another, she lambasted Kansas state Sen. Mitch Holmes, the man behind a women-only dress code at the state capitol, in a segment she dubbed “Elected Paperweight of the Month.”
Dispensing with the usual fawning celebrity interviews, instead Bee, a Toronto native who cut her teeth on The Daily Show, has taken her “comedic investigations” on the road, highlighting Syrian refugees, Russian trolls and child labor on Kentucky tobacco farms. In March, Full Frontal aired an hour-long special, The Great American Puerto Rico, putting a spotlight on the hurricane-ravaged island. Turning political lemons into lemonade, Bee has also transformed her potty-mouthed rants into action: Her Nasty Woman T-shirts raised $1 million for Planned Parenthood. In Puerto Rico, Bee set up a T-shirt manufacturing facility to raise money for the Hispanic Federation. “It felt very patriotic to me,” she says.
While hypocrisy is Bee’s main target, no one is spared her acid-tinged wit. During last year’s upfronts, she introduced the president of TBS, Kevin Reilly, saying here was someone who has “truly defied the odds: a white male, Ivy League graduate who rose to the top and now runs a TV network.”
A ratings hit, according to Nielsen, the show averaged over 1.2 million total viewers last year. Full Frontal has garnered eight Emmy nominations (and a win for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special in 2017) and was just renewed through 2020.
Here Bee shares her thoughts on changing late-night TV, gender and diversity in media, branding opportunities and creating the show that she wanted to watch.