Samantha Bee Dreams Of Less ‘Spiritually Exhausting’ Debates And A Boring, Wonky Government

As they say, life moves pretty fast. We spoke with Samantha Bee Wednesday afternoon just before she was about to film the latest episode of Full Frontal. Naturally, the topic du jour was that shitshow of a debate. As you can imagine from probably feeling it yourself, Bee was, in her words, “spiritually exhausted,” talking via phone while laying on a couch after waking at 5AM to deal with the task of trying to make sense (and comedy) out of what we’d all seen the night before.

And now, a day and a half later as I finish typing this intro, President Donald Trump has announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID. But you knew that, since it’s the only thing anyone is going to be talking about for a while, or at least until the next bombshell gets fired off, distracting, dismaying, and disorienting many of us. Because that’s how news works now, denying us the chance to sit with something and process it.

That’s a topic that came up during our chat with Bee, nestled alongside a discussion about the inexplicableness of undecided voters, questions about why any of us are surprised ever, Full Frontal‘s “I Know What You Did Last Election” campaign (where Bee inserts herself into various horror classics to promote voting and the show), and the show’s plans for whatever is coming from November to January.

Okay. [Laughs] So do you want to talk about the debate or do you want to just talk about like, anything else? Like fantasy football, whatever.

Samantha Bee: [Laughs] Yeah. If you want to go through some recipes that I’m thinking about… I just saw a really nice salmon recipe that seems really like spicy and flavorful. I’m really, really excited about it.

That’s honestly the best way. No, I guess what’s your snap read on the debate?

I think, for the record, we should state upfront that we both laughed our way through the idea that you could have like a different reaction. It [the debate] was the worst. It was literally the worst thing I’ve ever seen on television. I mean, there’s really no parallel for that. I feel like, I heard the psychic cry of the entire nation and I thought that I wanted to crawl inside myself. Like the whole thing, I was cringing so much, like the whole thing was so painful. I practically retreated into my own self. It was terrible in every way.

It felt like a horror movie.

It did! It was just a dreadful experience. And we just nationally had the same exact feeling of how awful it was. Like I think the whole country woke up with a low-grade headache today.

But does that make a difference? I guess that’s the question. Did anything really change in terms of who’s voting for who?

That’s the most horrific part of the whole thing. Like you would really want… The reason to have a debate is so that it moves the needle on that sliver of a population who haven’t made up their minds yet. If you haven’t made up your mind to this point, then you’re a crazy person. But then if you also watched that debate and you’re like, “I’m still not sure.” I feel like you should leave. You need to exile yourself to an island in the middle of the ocean and never talk to us again. Go away please forever.

Do you think his inability to reach beyond his base is a sign of him being a bad politician or is it a sign that he’s going to steal it and he doesn’t have to care?

Is anything intentional? Is anything intentional in his world? It’s hard for me to believe that there’s a strategy beyond, “I want to be popular. I talk now! I go! I’m a big boy!” [Laughs] I don’t know if he… I’m just in such a state of utter speechlessness today. I just don’t really think there’s a grander strategy other than, “I’m popular with these people and the ratings were great!”

Yeah. I mean, I want to think it’s all strategic. Like he was trying to throw Biden off his game and all this stuff, but it’s like, you’re probably right. It’s probably just ego consuming everything in front of him.

Yeah, he’s not playing three-dimensional chess. He’s playing 0.2-dimensional checkers. Like he only cares about the self and it’s pure ID and ego, and that’s about it. It’s impossible to deal with a person like that. We’re all still trying to live in a normal world. We’re all still trying to put him on a stage with a beautiful presidential carpet and have rules. I mean, Chris Wallace, trying to explain the rules of debating and the two-minute time limit and talking over people. [Laughs] It’s just a wash. He can’t comprehend it. He doesn’t know how to listen or care. What difference does it make to him? I don’t know why we’re all still shocked. I’m still shocked. You’re still shocked. Why are we?

I don’t know. It’s a good question because it’s like… he’s done all that before.

No, it’s nothing new. Are we the crazy ones?

Maybe! [Laughs] We’re really going through something here.

[Laughs] We’re going to work it out together.

So, the idea behind the horror theme of “I Know What You Did Last Election,” who are you speaking to with that campaign?

Okay, this will be surprising information probably, because it was very shocking to me, but as we were researching it two years ago, prior to the midterms, we did a game to incentivize people to vote. And we learned that roughly 55% of our audience was registered to vote. Which was astonishing to me because it’s so impossible for me to believe that anyone would watch the show and, like, after 30 times of saying it that you wouldn’t just be like, “okay, I grudgingly register to vote.” So, personally, I pray that that number ticks up.

It does strike me that this entire four year period feels like a horror film. Just this relentless cascade of horrific policies and disgusting appearances and hideous monsters getting charged with federal crimes. It just really lent itself to… And I love horror movies, quite honestly, so the two really merged perfectly. Sometimes you look at the number of my viewers who were registered to vote in 2018, you go, “Okay, well, what works? What actually gets you to register to vote?” What gets a person to vote? Is it fear? So I think we just took the approach of, “Let’s try fear.” [Laughs] Remind people that it’s incredibly scary to not vote this time around.

Do you think Democrats are as deft at using fear in that way to try and get people to vote and make clear how important this is?

I really don’t know. I don’t know how to make it more clear. I don’t know how you could honestly observe the news cycle and not think that we are at situation “Not Normal.” This is crisis time. So, there’s going to be some lines on voting day now, but we should all be braving them in one form or another. Mail in your votes, whatever. It’s very, very needed. So many celebrities are going to be manning the polls alone. [Laughs] All of Hollywood is signing up to be a poll worker. So, you know, it’ll be a fun experience this time around…

Yeah. It’ll be great. 15 Trump Army people up against Kristen Bell at a polling station somewhere.

[Laughs] Oh my God! Oh no, we’re in so much trouble.

How do we, in general, keep focused on stories that matter? Like the ICE whistleblower or the tax thing or anything like that? Because it just seems so difficult for things to stick now.

It’s so difficult to make a story stick. I mean, my God, the New York Times just blew that whole story open about $750 that he paid in federal taxes, and I don’t even think that anyone’s talking about it. And it’s only two days past. It’s a huge story. It’s a monster story. And too much has happened in the interim. To come back to the atrocities that we learned about in ICE detention centers, that was last week. We need a boring government. We want decent people who want to believe in experts. And we want a government that plugs along making laws and changing policies in a way that makes sense so that we can take a moment. We just take our feet off the gas pedal for one second. There’s so much work to do. Wouldn’t it be nice to just restore some wonky people in the White House, just for a moment? Just a brief interlude of calm, so that we could feel like progress is being made, or norms are being restored, or conversations would be being had about the Green New Deal. Things could be moving in a forward direction as opposed to regressive. I dream of a boring, wonky government. Things are dire. I dream of a government where I don’t have to talk about it all the time.

How has that lack of attention span — just population-wide when it comes to bigger issues — how has that transformed the way you all approach the show?

I think we’re pretty good. We do have the luxury of time because we’re not trying to do four shows a week. So we do have the luxury to sit back a little bit and go down the path that is most interesting to us. We definitely have the feeling of, “I can’t wait for this election season to be over.” Obviously, we’re all praying for the correct outcome, the correct and decent outcome. We just really want to move on. I want to be able to thematically move on. I just want to personally, professionally, psychologically move on from this dark period. And I hope that that comes to pass. Is it 40 days away or 10,000 days away? I no longer know. It’s cold outside now, and I feel like it’s maybe April again. There’s no sense of time. We’re in a state of great, great anxiety.

Do you allow yourself to think about what the show looks like in January with either result? And also, how do you plan for everything that’s going to come in between now and then?

I mean, we definitely have to think about it. And, in fact, we’re trying to plan the show because we have a show the day after the election. And obviously, it’s not knowable. And it’s not even knowable if it will be knowable who won. So trying to plan a kind of a longer form show, because it’ll be a bit of a longer show on November 4th with very little insight and also just two widely… Well, actually three widely different realities. It has been very challenging.

So in answer to your question, the answer is no, I’m not thinking about what the show will look like in January. Because I can’t quite figure out what it’s going to look like on November 4th. [Laughs] Once November 5th happens, I’ll start to think about January. [Laughs] The questions we’re asking each other in meetings are like, “Okay, if we’re all crying on the floor, should we do a 30-minute show or a six-minute show? And then if we’re relatively happy about the outcome, or if we’re jubilant about the outcome, does this content make sense? Or if we’re having a war in the streets, does this segment make any sense to do or will people…” [Laughs] That alone is really quite an undertaking, but it’s happening.

To be honest, how do you keep hope if it breaks down and if things go to the courts and it gets really ugly and really risky? That’s the thing I’m trying to figure out within myself.

I mean, we have to be hopeful. I would say a majority of people in this country are actually decent human beings who know the difference between right and wrong. But I’m hopeful. It’s like being in labor and having a baby. You’re like, “Well, this baby’s coming out. I don’t know how we’re going to get there. And there’s going to be a lot of pain along the way, but eventually, the baby’s going to be out.” So, I mean, I think we’re going to have a country at the end of it. I think. We’re going to still be a country at the end of all this. It’s going to be very painful along the way.

And we don’t know if the baby’s going to wind up being a serial killer.

We don’t know. It could be the baby from It’s Alive. With that little claw hanging out of the baby carriage.

[Laughs] I think that’s a good analogy and a hopeful note end on.

[Laughs] Yes, it’s beautiful!


‘Full Frontal with Samantha Bee’ airs Wednesdays at 10:30PM ET on TBS.