From the BUST archives, we’re bringing you this 2006 interview with Samantha Bee.
The Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee talks about what it’s like to work at the male-dominated show, her plans for her daughter, and hot penguin-on-penguin action.
SAMANTHA BEE JUST moved into her new apartment two days ago, so you’ll have to forgive her for the mess. Practically the only thing organized is the pantry, with its bevy of herbal teas. Bee is caffeine free for another three months, until she gives birth to her daughter, the yet-to-be-named “Baby Bee.”
Since 2003 when she left her native Canada, Bee has worked as a correspondent at Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Her deadpan delivery mimics every serious newscaster you’ve ever seen, but Bee never winks or drops her CNN facade. When not offering America the best in fake news, Bee continues to work with her three best friends on their all-female improv comedy act, the Atomic Fireballs.
But Bee is not “on” all the time, and her everyday voice is something else altogether. It is not the authoritative tone she uses to interview pseudo environmentalists or undecided voters. It is a thoughtful voice, one that goes quiet when Bee is considering something. Trucks rumble past as I interview the 36-year-old Bee in her new apartment, about 20 blocks south of The Daily Show studio. She and her husband of four years, actor Jason Jones—who played the obnoxious host on Craft Corner Deathmatch and has also worked as a correspondent for The Daily Show—plan to return to Canada soon to get some of their furniture out of storage. In the meantime, Bee is sprawled on a cranberry couch in her living room, eyeing an apple that she bites in between questions.
How did you come to join The Daily Show?
It was a classic lucky break. I was in Canada working as an actor. They came to Canada. It was totally random. It’s not something that they normally do. My agent called me and she was like, “I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but there’s this show called The Daily Show or something. It’s in town. They want to know if you’d want to audition for it?” I was like, “Aaaaaah!” [shrieks]. It was my favorite show. I was a totally devoted fan. So I just jumped at the chance. They sent the script of a studio chat, and I memorized it like I’d never memorized before. I put so much effort into preparing for this audition. I treated it like it was an Olympic event. I ate better. I thought, “You know what, I should really start exercising.” I did the audition, and then five weeks later I got a callback and then they hired me.
The Daily Show is such a male-centered collaborative environment. Is there a difference between working with a bunch of men and working with a bunch of women?
There was a difference immediately. The Atomic Fireballs, we’re all such good friends. We’re all so supportive of each other’s work, and we always give everyone’s work a chance for a long time. We’ll work with something that we know is totally shit for the longest time, just to make that person feel honored. It’s not that way [at The Daily Show]. The show is so quick to turn around, you really can’t give much time to ideas that are bad. We have these joke meetings where everyone just throws out jokes. I was so used to throwing out a joke in an Atomic Fireballs meeting and having everyone laugh and pretend they thought it was funny. At the show, nobody pretended. They just kind of said, “No.” And then everybody moved on quickly. I just had to speed up in a different way And not take things personally. But I have to say, behind the scenes at the show, there are amazing, creative women. It’s not like I’m the only one. Rachel Axler is a writer. She’s newish, and she’s so funny. And there are two female field producers who go out with me and work with me.
On an actual news show, like 60 Minutes, the producers will go out and do all the research and then they bring in the on-camera talent. Does The Daily Show work in a similar way?
It works in a similar way; we have the opportunity to contribute at a very early stage. So when a story is being put together and we are assigned to it, we sort of talk about it and hash it out a little bit amongst ourselves and get our heads around it. And then we have these joke meetings with the writers, the producer, and the researcher. Everyone just collaborates and throws out as many jokes as possible, and someone takes the minutes. And then the producer will go through that list of jokes. But when you go out in the field, it’s like a shit-storm. Anything can happen. And then, that’s when you do the improv. That’s when you do whatever you can do to make the thing funny.
Do you have any journalism background at all?
No. God, no.
So what does it say about that you can do such a pitch-perfect journalist on TV?
What’s most amazing is that people take us seriously as journalists. Most of the producers do have news backgrounds. They think we could easily get hired by any actual news organization once we leave The Daily Show. And that’s hilarious. I don’t want to believe that it’s true. But I almost do. Our impression is just good enough that we could be newsreaders. It’s pretty sad. I did an interview yesterday with someone from a journalism school, and he asked me where I did my training. [I thought], “Oh, my god. I hope you’re not about to graduate from journalism school, because you really need to read some background material on the show and be reminded that we have no credentials.” It’s ridiculous that we get the access that we get. Why in the world would I be talking to Madeleine Albright? Why in the world would she stop to talk to me? It’s crazy.
Especially since the last election, people have gotten kind of academic about The Daily Show.
I don’t think too much about the overriding significance of the show because I think that would ruin the experience somehow. If everybody took it really super seriously and was really earnest about it, that would be the downfall of the show. It would be bad. It would be really bad. All I ever do is go to work and try to make as many jokes as possible.
Do you think women bring a certain sensibility to comedy that men don’t? Is there such a thing as a female sense of humor?
I don’t know. I get asked that a Iot, and I think about it a lot. I don’t think of sense of humor as being any different from any person, male or female, that I know. For God’s sake, I ate paint in pictures I did for your magazine. I feel like I have very few boundaries when it comes to comedy. I just don’t think of it in that way. What’s funny is funny.
For example, in this piece that we did about gay penguins, we did this small joke about how guy-on-guy penguin sex is not hot but girl-on-girl, now that is super sexy. I just think it was a better joke coming from a woman because it’s sort of dirty. Coming from a man, you can sort of expect it. Maybe it’s just a little more shocking when it comes out of the mouth of a woman. I don’t think the joke is different, maybe it’s just the delivery system that makes it funnier. Am I being clear? Probably not. It’s OK. I know that people are so offended by some things I do on the show.
I remember one of the writers told me, “You know, my parents were talking to me about your performance on the show, and sometimes they think you go too far.” Too far? Hilarious. But I feel like people kind of go, “There’s a vagina there! How can she say that?”
Because they find it offensive or they’re offended because it’s a woman?
I honestly think it’s because I’m a woman. I remember one of the writers told me, “You know, my parents were talking to me about your performance on the show, and sometimes they think you go too far.” Too far? Hilarious. But I feel like people kind of go, “There’s a vagina there! How can she say that? She’s got a uterus! Oh, God! It’s inside of her!” It doesn’t bother me. I like it.
How do you view yourself as a pregnant woman? Are you Earth Mother pregnant or There’s-a-Parasite-in-Me pregnant?
There’s a succubus living in me. I know there are a lot of people who think that being pregnant is the best period of their lives and they feel more beautiful than they’ve ever felt before and they love the whole experience. I am not in that camp. I enjoy the fact that I can have a child. I’m ready to have the child. I’d like to meet the child as soon as possible. There are three months left of this pregnancy and it’s totally fine; I don’t mind it. But I can’t say that I feel like I’m at my best.
Do you know what you’re going to have?
Yeah, a girl. I’m so excited. I mean, I’d be excited about a boy. As long as I’m not having a cat, I’m good. But it is a girl.
Do you know what you’re going to name her?
We have a short list. When we leave the hospital, I want to call her Baby Bee. I don’t really want to choose until I get to know her a little bit. I would never name a cat before I got the cat. The cat’s name is Newton. And I have a dog named Red Girl. It took weeks to name them. You have to honor your child in the same way, let her express herself just a little bit. We’ll probably call her Dirty Diaper. We’re going to go with Barf.
What do you think is the most important thing you can teach your daugh-er? Is there a trait of yours that you hope she has, and a trait of yours that you hope she doesn’t have?
Actually, when I first heard I was having a girl, I was instantly terrified imagining what my punishment would be for having been such a horrible teenager. I was a horrible, horrible teenager. I was a monster. Oh, God. So I hope that she’s more balanced than I was when she hits 15. It didn’t last long—just 15, 16—but those were bad years. No one was having fun in my house. And it was all due to me. I hope that—maybe this is superficial—I hope I can teach her that she doesn’t have to be popular in high school. Do you know what I mean? Not to sweat things. I was such a worried child all the time. I was always freaking out about things.
What made you stop being so worried?
I think just age. Everything got better. The older I get, the better I feel. I swear to God, everything gets better when you get older. For me, it’s the secret. I really can’t wait to get elderly. Oh my God, I’m going to be so awesome when I’m 85.
What kind of old lady are you going to be?
I’m already very old. I was partially raised by my grandmother, and I’m very much like her. I think there’s already a little old lady inside me. I’ll just become more like her.
Do you feel any need to represent as a woman on the show? You’re pretty much the only visible female face on the show, so do you feel any responsibility that you should be doing something or acting a certain way?
No, I really, really don’t. I just try and be the funniest version of myself that I can be. Given all the variables, I just try and be consistently funny. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work. I think of the job as existing in a bit of a vacuum. I know this sounds ridiculous, but tend to not think of the fact that the show is on television. I think of it as a very day-to-day job. I don’t think about the impact of the show. I just work in very small increments. When people do recognize me, which is rare, it always surprises me because I tend to forget that we are seen by people. I think that we just do the show by ourselves, like we’re doing it in the back of a barn and showing it to our parents at the end of the day. I guess if I really had to think about it, it’s good enough just to try and be a funny woman on a television show.
By Aileen Gallagher
Photographs by Danielle St. Laurent
This interview originally appeared in the December/January 2006 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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