IT’S OK TO SCREAM

Sa­man­tha Bee gets it.

Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - By Mered­ith Blake mered­ith.blake@la­times.com

NEW YORK — A lit­tle be­fore 6 p.m. on May 9, the team at “Full Frontal With Sa­man­tha Bee” had the scripts for that week’s episode, set to tape the fol­low­ing evening on TBS, ready to go.

Then came the bomb­shell: Pres­i­dent Trump had fired FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey. A seg­ment about the Repub­li­can health­care bill was scrapped and the “Full Frontal” staff, led by Bee and showrun­ner Jo Miller, fran­ti­cally put to­gether a new, Comey-cen­tric open­ing.

Even in an era of non­stop po­lit­i­cal in­trigue, it made for an un­usu­ally busy week for the al­ready sleep-deprived writ­ers and pro­duc­ers at “Full Frontal,” who’d just staged the Not the White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ Din­ner a week ear­lier.

“No­body wants a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis to un­fold on the evening they thought they were go­ing to go home early,” says Bee in her mid­town of­fice. It’s been two days since Comey, charged with lead­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble Trump cam­paign ties to Rus­sia, was dis­missed, and the 47year-old, dressed ca­su­ally in a Joy Divi­sion T-shirt — with­out her sig­na­ture bold-hued blazer — is still re­cov­er­ing.

“If it hap­pened ev­ery week, we’d prob­a­bly just ex­pire. Life is com­ing at us fast.” No kid­ding. In a hint of the po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence ahead, “Full Frontal” pre­miered the week Supreme Court Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia died. The bar­rage of head­lines since has in­cluded Bri­tain’s vote to leave the Euro­pean Union, the Rus­sia-Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ter­ror­ist at­tacks around the globe, and, oh yeah, Trump’s elec­toral up­set over Hil­lary Clin­ton.

As an un­abashed fem­i­nist and a trail­blaz­ing woman in the boys’ club of latenight com­edy, Bee, who spent 12 years hon­ing her craft on “The Daily Show,” seemed uniquely suited to cover the gen­der dy­nam­ics of the 2016 elec­tion.

In 17 months on the air, she’s fo­cused on is­sues im­por­tant to women, in­clud­ing re­pro­duc­tive health and untested rape kits, that other shows — even real news broad­casts — ig­nore.

“Women are com­edy fans and for years they’ve never been able to see any­one who looks like them or shows talk­ing about the is­sues they want to talk about,” says writer and correspondent Ash­ley Ni­cole Black.

But Bee has also set her­self apart in ways that have noth­ing to do with gen­der. In one of her most-viewed clips, she clev­erly showed how easy it is to weave a com­pelling con­spir­acy the­ory by face­tiously ar­gu­ing that Trump can’t read.

She’s un­afraid of get­ting an­gry pub­licly, pro­vid­ing a cathar­tic voice in mo­ments of cri­sis. Fol­low­ing the mass shoot­ing in Or­lando, Fla., last year, she de­liv­ered what Miller proudly de­scribes as “a seven-minute di­a­tribe about com­pla­cency and gun cul­ture” that was a break from the usual awk­ward late-night re­sponses to tragedy.

“We weren’t go­ing to do solem­nity. We weren’t go­ing to do maudlin sin­cer­ity,” Miller re­calls.

If rat­ings are any in­di­ca­tion — since last year, the show’s au­di­ence has grown 57% among adults un­der 50 — Bee has be­come even more essen­tial to her fans since Trump’s vic­tory on Nov. 8, a night she re­calls as a “hor­ri­ble un­fold­ing night­mare.” An­tic­i­pat­ing a Clin­ton vic­tory, she’d planned a fun, cel­e­bra­tory show the next night, com­plete with a bal­loon drop and a spe­cially made se­quined blazer. Need­less to say, she never wore it. “Writ­ten down, it’s go­ing to seem so silly that we were all cry­ing, but we were,” says Bee, who still has that blazer. (”I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it.”)

“Full Frontal” has an un­usu­ally di­verse writ­ers room for late-night tele­vi­sion — four of 10 cred­ited writ­ers are women, and three are peo­ple of color — mak­ing it well­suited to weigh in on cur­rent events.

“When we’re talk­ing about in­jus­tice or dis­crim­i­na­tion, it’s not aca­demic to us. It rips our guts and that’s where the com­edy comes from,” says Miller. “I think hav­ing a di­verse group makes every­body in the group a bet­ter writer. It’s a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion and it’s the only one I would ever want to be in.”

The group also boasts a range of pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence and in­ter­ests. Miller is a for­mer aca­demic who once taught a me­dieval his­tory class called For­ma­tion of a Per­se­cut­ing So­ci­ety and, fol­low­ing the elec­tion, got her crest­fallen writ­ers hooked on Ex­pul­sion, a board game about Jews in the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion. Field pro­ducer Razan Gha­layini is a doc­u­men­tar­ian who speaks Ara­bic — a skill that came in handy fol­low­ing Trump’s at­tempted travel ban.

This smarty-pants spirit was on dis­play in April at the Not the White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ Din­ner, where the hon­ored guests in­cluded a ta­ble of fact-check­ers.

“We ben­e­fit from free­dom of the press like al­most no­body else,” Bee says of the in­spi­ra­tion for the event. “We couldn’t do our show with­out proper jour­nal­ists do­ing the ac­tual work for al­most no money, and cer­tainly no glory.”

“Full Frontal’s” mis­sion hasn’t changed be­cause of Trump, but his rise has ig­nited po­lit­i­cal in­ter­est in many Amer­i­cans, Bee ar­gues. “So the things we want to talk about, it turns out, are the things every­body wants to talk about.”

Myles Aronowitz TBS

SA­MAN­THA Bee has brought a unique view­point to latenight TV with her show, “Full Frontal.”

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