election 2016

Samantha Bee Will Be the Jon Stewart of the Trump Years

Samantha Bee. Photo: Courtesy of YouTube/Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

On last night’s Full Frontal, Samantha Bee took aim at the “the parade of misfits, deplorables, zealots, and extremists” that make up Trump’s proposed White House staff. And as I sat on the couch — wine in hand, fleecy blanket constricting me like a straightjacket — and watched Bee deride Ben Carson as “a semi-conscious political mouth-breather who’s only in the public eye because Republicans think liberals only care about identity politics and will be happy with any rapture-awaiting zombie who kind of looks like them,” I felt, for the first time since the election, a small measure of cheer.

Over the course of this election cycle, nobody in the so-called “fake news” landscape has felt as indispensable as Bee, in spite of airing just once a week (TBS, please fix this). She’s still the only woman with a late-night show, and Full Frontal has been relentless both in unpacking the toxic gender politics that underpinned the campaign, and highlighting the many varieties of institutionalized sexism, from rape-kit backlog to sexual assault in the armed forces. And in an election where social media and online misogyny online played important roles, Full Frontal has been perhaps the only late-night show that feels fully immersed in the language of internet culture. (Last night’s coverage of Steve Bannon and “his alt-right media cesspool,” complete with “cuck” jokes and Pepe the frog graphics, could only have been written by someone who has encountered her fair share of Breitbartian Twitter eggs firsthand.)

But Bee stands out from her colleagues in other ways, too. Unlike the white, male writers rooms that dominate the rest of comedy, Bee’s staff is approximately 50 percent female and 30 percent nonwhite, and this inclusiveness informs the show’s coverage. Speaking last night about Paul Ryan’s myopia about the wave of hate crimes riling the nation, Bee noted that “everyone on my staff has experienced or witnessed disgusting harassment this week,” before contrasting her staff with Ryan’s own all-white intern team. There’s no question that having these marginalized voices on staff is one reason that Full Frontal’s Trump coverage has felt so urgent and essential.

Whoops, all the Jews on my staff just left Jew-shaped holes in the wall.” Bee riffed when discussing Bannon’s forthcoming White House appointment. “Sorry folks, you’ll just have to make do with jokes by our black, female, and gay writers — oh damn it, they’re gone too.”

After eight years of comedians struggling to make fun of Obama’s charismatic competence, we are about to enter a period where satire is going to matter, a lot. I remember how important The Daily Show was for me as a teenager, back when Jon Stewart was making a name for himself covering the mess of “Indecision 2000,” and lambasting Bush’s Iraq War with a regular segment called “Mess O’ Potamia.” Stewart helped me sharpen and focus my outrage, and served as a nightly dose of catharsis for myself and others who opposed the Bush administration and everything it stood for. Now, in my search for silver linings, I look to voices like Samantha Bee (and Seth Meyers, and John Oliver, and Stephen Colbert, and who knows who else) who will serve as gadflies to a Trump administration.

While the men of fake news tend to affect a network-anchor posture, though, Bee fights like someone with real skin in the game. While her peers sit behind desks, she darts about like a cage fighter ready for a smackdown. Where they proffer a single insult, she strings together hundreds. (Trump is a “tangerine-tinted trash-can fire,” “a melting hunk of erratic apricot jello,” “America’s burst appendix,” “a demagoguing bag of candy corn,” and a “screaming carrot demon,” to list a few of her many affectionate nicknames for the president-elect.) Rage is her essential weapon.

Many Americans, and women in particular, are still reeling from the realization that, as Bee put it, “a critical mass of Americans find a normal, center-left policy nerd less likable than a vindictive, pussy-grabbing hate Zamboni who jokes about killing his enemies.” We’re about to have a president whose treats women like objects. A vice-president who signed some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion regulations into law. A purveyor of white-nationalist internet trolling as the president’s chief strategist.

“For as long as Trump is in office, it is important to be angry and stay angry,” writes my colleague Dayna Evans. “Anger will be an indispensable tool in the coming four years.”

As progressive women struggle to hold onto our rage and weaponize it in the fight against Trumpism, we need things to fuel us. We need powerful voices in the cultural landscape to help the loyal opposition harden its resolve, to pierce holes in the propaganda, to resist normalization, and to remind us that it’s okay to laugh even when things aren’t funny. While Hillary Clinton may not have cracked that highest and hardest of glass ceilings, Samantha Bee has cracked the glass ceiling of late night, and like us, she is ready to fight, down to the last bloody shard.

Samantha Bee Will Be The Jon Stewart Of the Trump Years