When co-writers Samantha Bee and Jo Miller first came up with the idea for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, they were both already seasoned television writers, having spent many years working on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. But their Full Frontal premise stood apart from other late-night shows because they were offering a woman who could take on that male-dominated arena and win. Their material is utterly fearless, and successful–it reaches an impressive 4.3 million viewers per episode. But Bee and Miller also experience plenty of online abuse, a situation Bee calls, “a world of criticism and hatred the likes of which I haven’t seen before.”
While Bee and Miller set out assuming they would document the first female presidency, when Trump won the election, they rolled with the punches. Although Bee says she wasn’t excited about the prospect of covering Trump beyond the election itself, as she says, “One of the myriad things that made me sad on election night was knowing that we would be having to say the name Trump over and over again into the future. That is such a drag.” Now in its second season, Frontal is nominated for seven Emmys, including Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series and Outstanding Variety Talk Series.
You’ve said you’re too old to be afraid of criticism.
Samantha Bee: We spend so much of our lives being scared, being people-pleasers, and we have a lot of young women that have been that. It’s the most exhilarating, liberating thing in the world to just reach Nofuckistan, and spend the rest of your life there. Unbelievable. I actually think it gets better when you turn 60, so I look forward to that as well. I will let you know. It’s so freeing. Whatever gulag we’re in at 60, we’ll feel free to express ourselves and not care how unpopular it makes us. The bottom line is that we’ve been in the TV industry for a long time but we also have other lives. So we don’t feel like we owe TV our souls anymore.
Jo Miller: Also, this is a place where we’re bringing up a lot of young talent who are going to be off doing their own shows in a few years. This is the example that we want to set for them, to give them permission to use their voice and not try to fit their voice into what they think is expected or rewarded.
What was the conversation when you had the idea for the show?
Bee: When we first started developing the show, I have to say —I don’t think the conversation really changed from the beginning to end. We always knew that we wanted to make a show that came straight from the gut, and we have literally never wavered from that.
You’ve said you were disappointed to have to cover Trump more when he won. What were some other things you had wanted to talk about?
Bee: I have to tell you, it feels like 100 years ago to me. It wasn’t like we were planning to change the whole show, nothing of the sort. We’d done so much election coverage that it felt like we could just be expansive moving forward. We were so happy the election season was coming to a close. And of course, we were happy because we were excited about one possible outcome of the election that never materialized, but mainly we were happy that this long period of focusing on this one thing was almost over so we could bring breadth back to the show, cover different things.
Miller: I didn’t really predict it, but it takes six months for the public at large to tune out because it’s wearing to pay attention to this White House for so long, and that’s exactly what’s happened. I understand the temptation. We can’t—we have to watch it all day, follow it all day and see where it’s going, and kind of figure out where we are, and what is working right now. It’s impossible to turn your eyes away. Not fun.
You get a lot of online abuse. What’s your coping strategy?
Bee: I ignore it actually. We don’t look at it.
Miller: We got a nice voicemail today.
Bee: We did get a great voicemail today. I think he was basically accusing us of treason and threatening to sue us for over a trillion dollars. Anyway, we’re terrified.
Is this from a random person you don’t know?
Bee: Yes, some rando. You really cannot engage with all that negativity. Listen, I don’t mean to position this as a very sad story. We still are making a TV show that we love and are having fun together. It’s not a bad story for the ages here—it’s wearing to be in this information stream all the time, for sure, and I think it’s actually eroding all of us as citizens of the country, that this is happening around us and we feel powerless, which I get.
Miller: There’s a bright side of it too, because we also get so much love and positive feedback from the audience, and that’s what we focus on.
Bee: I’ve been a performer in the public eye for many, many years now and obviously it’s much darker. It feels so much worse now. It feels heavy; there’s so much more, it’s difficult to deal with. The hatred is unbelievable, but I actually feel a lot more compassion for the journalists and people who aren’t used to that. At least on some level, it’s been a part of my world for a long time, so I can handle it, I understand it, or I’ve wrestled with it for long enough. I’m not going to say that I’m used to it, because I’m not. But I’m aware of it. I think it’s really difficult for people who are just doing journalism and receiving death threats on a very consistent basis.
Miller: And getting body slammed.
What are some of the moments on the show you’re proudest of?
Bee: I’m very proud of our White House Correspondents dinner. That really was so fun to do, such hard work, and I think everybody we work with was just at their best, working two full-time jobs simultaneously for at least four months leading up to it. I’m so proud of what we achieved, because honestly when we put the show together, we were really just trying to make a show that we would want to watch, a show that we would like. The end result is we made an hour of comedy that I love. I could watch it over and over again, and that’s amazing.
Miller: I’m really proud of my staff for being so professional on election night. Working through this and getting the job done, they did an amazing job. I’m proud of them for finding creative ways to deal with heavy topics that make us cry, like this week when we did the ‘racist music man.’ We’ve run stories about the persecution of immigrants and it’s something that breaks our hearts and makes us sick to our stomachs. I can’t find a way to make that into comedy.
Have you guys ever had a plan for a segment that gave you pause, where you thought, “Should we do this?”
Bee: I don’t think so. The stories that emerge are stories that need to be told, and stories that we need to tell. You have to do a gut check with the jokes, with the tenor of the jokes for sure, but you can’t do a story if you can’t find any sliver of a satirical angle. There are certainly stories that, if you just can’t find a way into them, it doesn’t make sense to do them. Or you can hold it, and maybe a way to tell the story or a new take will emerge. There have been times where we’ve done a story or pursued something and I thought, “Oh, this is going to unleash something.” You feel it, you feel people’s response to it, and it changes the game a little bit each time you push a story forward that is controversial for people. We do it a lot so we’re used to it now. We kind of stay off of social media for a while.
Miller: We get threats on Twitter like, ”I’m cancelling my subscription TBS!” And it’s like, “Ha, Bye!” Alright.
Bee: I don’t actually believe that you have the will to cut your subscription anyway. I think it’s an idle threat. I’m not sure that you would really even know how to do that.
Miller: They’re not going to give up those Friends reruns.
Do either of you have a dream guest that you want to have on the show?
Bee: I’d like to have Jeb Bush, but he said no. I understand why people say no to us, but I think they should say yes to us, I really do. I understand that it would feel unsafe, and I understand the reasons why someone like Lindsey Graham wouldn’t want to come on our show, but I actually think there is much more to be gained by coming on the show and opening up a dialogue. And I promise, if he’s reading this, that he would have fun. I promise.