David L. Garcia
In the very first episode of her new TBS show “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” Samantha Bee introduced a segment called “Elected Paperweight Of The Month.” As a fan of Bee’s work on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” this seemed like familiar territory; I assumed Bee would probably call out some conservative congressman, critique his platform, crack some jokes about his mustache or constituents or whatever. Basic late-night comedy stuff. Yawn.
And, for a minute or two, it seemed like Bee would be sticking to this safe, well-trodden path. The dis-honoree of the week was Kansas State Senator Mitch Holmes, who recently decided to write up a dress code for the Kansas State Capitol building aimed solely at women (when asked why men were excluded, this moron replied “because they already know how to look professional”). Bee’s show was off and running, but I couldn’t see anything that would distinguish it from the wolfpack of late night shows offering similar material.
But then Samantha Bee pulled her gloves off. She didn’t just lampoon this idiot. She gutted him and his sexist dress code with the gory efficiency of a fishmonger cleaning a freshly-caught halibut. If it wasn’t so funny, it probably would’ve been hard to watch.
“Well done, Senator Mitch Holmes!” Bee exclaimed, in her charming, lethally-sarcastic voice. “Your broke-ass state has the highest food tax in the country and you had to close schools early last year due to a lack of funds, but you’ve got your priorities straight.”
She followed this by pointing out his less than stellar legislative record, and then eviscerated the man’s flimsy apology statement. Holmes claimed the dress code was done “out of respect for the wives of the men in the room,” a deflection that Bee took the wind out of by literally gagging on-screen.
“That means that you know your colleagues [in the capital] are so hypnotized by our cleavage,” Bee quipped, “that they can’t hear female testimony over the sound of their own boners popping! No wonder your state had to raid a billion dollars from the highway fund just to keep the lights on. How can senators balance a budget when all the blood is rushing from their heads to their engorged ding-dongs because Shelly wore skinny jeans on Arbor Day?”
My mouth dropped open, and I began shaking with laughter at the tsunami of comedy Bee had created. It was kind of exciting.
But then the finale arrived. Bee stepped forward and spoke into the camera, addressing the senator woman-to-man. That tsunami crashed down on Senator Holmes.
“Senator Holmes, let’s talk. Your state’s got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one. You don’t get to regulate what other people wear to work.”
Applause broke out. A picture of the goateed Holmes appeared on-screen.
“I mean, I wouldn’t try to regulate your finger-painted tie or your skeevy facial hair. And if I get distracted wondering whether that yellow stain around your mouth is whiskers or just the lingering impression of a glory hole, that’s my problem. Not yours. You do you!”
I was amazed. It was the most brutally funny takedown of a politician I’ve seen since Stephen Colbert’s heyday, an onslaught of humor that made it clear that Samantha Bee had arrived, and was ready to dole out some well-deserved bruises.
An effortlessly funny comedienne and a whip-smart political satirist, Bee made her name taking on whatever political or social BS was going on that week. Her visit to the 2008 Republican Convention for “The Daily Show” is now a classic (how could you not laugh when GOP members were tricked into calling Bristol Palin’s decision to keep her baby “her choice”), and her tribute sketch to the Fox News show “The Five” was a highlight of Stewart’s final years.
But if these early episodes are any indication, Bee will soon be remembered for more than just her correspondent gig. In her second episode, she flew to the Jordan-Syria border to a refugee camp, to personally meet the people that might be coming to the United States in a segment appropriately titled “The People We’re Incoherently Yelling About.” She also managed to make an absolute mockery of the recent Republican (“G**damn it, one more word out of any of you and NO ONE is going to Super Tuesday!”) and Democratic debates (“When asked about her Super-PAC, Hillary responded like a backpacker caught with an ounce of hash in her sock”).
It’s the anger fueling the jokes that’s so remarkable, and Bee refuses to let her dissatisfaction get drowned out by laughs. Take a segment called “Samantha Bee’s #Roar You-Go-Girl Job Fair for Future Women, Lean In!”, where she profiled horrific sexual misconduct in various careers. The segment featured anonymous interviews with former cruise ship employees who suffered harassment and assault from their superiors while at sea. Of course, Bee draws some jokes out from this horrible stuff– “It’s like they always say: if the ship’s a rockin’, it’s probably due to the sexual assault that’s going on onboard.”–but she knowingly chose to close on a sour note, not a sweet one. Before cutting to commercial, we hear a wicked parody of the “Love Boat” theme song: “The rape boat/ When you’re at sea, there’s nowhere to run!/The rape boat/ Boys will be boys, let them have their fun!” YouTube this bit, and tell me the laughs don’t stick in your throat. I’d like to see Jimmy Fallon pull off a joke like that.
Samantha Bee is a woman trying to succeed in the male-dominated world of late-night TV, but you know what? I couldn’t care less about that (and for the record, she’s already miles ahead of plenty of her competitors). As a Latino who has had to watch countless Latin@ comedians flounder when given their own show (did anyone watch “Saint George” or “Cristela”? Trust me, you didn’t miss much), I understand the importance of representation, the positive effects of seeing your experience reflected back at you from the flatscreen. But I also know that, regardless of gender or identity, a chance to make a mark is worthless if it’s not supported with some real daring and skill, especially in the ruthless, unforgiving world of television.
Your comedy has to be funny. Your show has to mean something. “Full Frontal” absolutely does.
Photo courtesy of TBS