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Samantha Bee brings us a 7th season of comedy and current events in 'Full Frontal'

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

I've got to admit, it can be hard to find innovative ways to talk about the news sometimes and everything that's happening in our world. But Samantha Bee and her team at "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee," that airs on TBS, have never shied away from tackling topics that never seem to go away - gun violence, sexual misconduct, this pandemic. As she heads into her seventh season, we wanted to know, how do you keep covering important stories in a way that's fresh, engaging and, most importantly, funny? Samantha Bee joins us now to talk about that. Welcome to WEEKEND EDITION.

SAMANTHA BEE: Thank you so much for having me. It's so exciting to be here.

MCCAMMON: You have said that you host a comedy show about the most depressing topics in the universe.

BEE: (Laughter).

MCCAMMON: Why do you want to deal with subjects like I just mentioned on a late-night comedy program?

BEE: Well, you know, we are - you know, to a person at the show, the team I work with - we're all so committed to trying to make the world a good place to live in, and we're all news junkies. And so it's integral to our lives to cover important topics that are of interest to us. And because we're all comedians and comedy writers and comedy producers, we are bound to do it in a comedic way. It's like the merging of our only two skill sets.

MCCAMMON: I think some of us in journalism can relate.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: On that note though, the late-night comedy scene, as you know, is still relatively male-dominated.

BEE: Sure.

MCCAMMON: Some of your shows deal with issues that I cannot imagine a male late-night host taking on - things like endometriosis, for example. How do you and your team decide what you want to talk about on your show?

BEE: We ingest the same news media that everyone else does in this business. We just sort of see it through a different set of lenses. And it just happens that way. It's very organic, actually, I think, how we land on the stories that we want to cover.

MCCAMMON: What is that like behind the scenes in the pitch room? I mean, is there some spirited debate sometimes? Or are you the decider?

BEE: Sure. Of course, I'm making the final decisions because the story has to move me in a certain way, too. And there are things that come across all of our eyeballs, where we go, oh, we really should do a story about this. Like, how do we frame this in a way that feels fresh or feels like something we want to say? I mean, I think we're all struggling, I would say. And the struggle will be real this year covering the midterms because we wish it wasn't happening (laughter). And that happens, too, where we're just like, oh, I feel very depleted, but I can't feel depleted. So how are we going to do this? You know, or we choose to tell a story - like, we have a piece coming up on the show that is about how kitten videos - kitten and cat videos can be a gateway drug to vaccine misinformation and disinformation. And so we filmed that in the Brooklyn Cat Cafe just to give ourselves a feeling of hope and joy, just to be able to tell a very dark story with cats running around, you know?

MCCAMMON: Are you going to ruin pet videos for us, Samantha?

BEE: I'm not going to ruin them. I'm just saying it's a slippery slope. (Laughter) I'm just saying there might be darkness at the end, so be careful with the cat videos that you choose to consume. Or just stop yourself. You know, like, limit yourself (laughter).

MCCAMMON: Beware of the cat videos.

BEE: Don't get radicalized by cat videos, please.

MCCAMMON: You mentioned burnout and exhaustion with the idea of covering another midterm election. I mean...

BEE: Listen, I'm sure you feel the same. I mean, I'm sure that you're having the same discussion that we're having in your offices, where you're like, OK, well, here we go again.

MCCAMMON: Well, I was hoping you could solve this for us. I mean, how are you planning to take this on? How do you mix it up?

BEE: I apologize for really not knowing how we're going to take it on or - you know, that's it. I mean, we're kind of, as a show, trying to figure that out in the next couple of months because we will be covering it. And, of course, we have to cover it, and we have to cover it with joy. But I definitely woke up just a couple of days ago going, hey, everybody, we're going to be voting again real soon. Do you think anybody's going to be there with us (laughter)?

MCCAMMON: I wonder how you think about that, though. Your show obviously has a point of view, I think it's safe to say. You're, in a way, maybe kind of preaching to the choir. But how do you think about who your audience is and how to talk about things like politics in such a divided time in a way that maybe breaks some new ground?

BEE: We do have an understanding that we are preaching to the choir. We are speaking to our audience, a very specific audience and an audience that we love. And I don't imagine - like, we don't sit around and imagine that our stories are going to change the minds of people who are very resistant to watching the show or hearing what our perspective would be. But a show like ours has an important function. I mean, for one thing, I need it. I actually need my whole team around me to guide me through these rocky times, (laughter) and I'm sure everybody who works there feels the same way. Like, you know, sometimes a show like "Full Frontal" is about catharsis and finding community and just sometimes, like, shrieking into the void because you feel a certain way, and you just need to say it out loud.

MCCAMMON: All right. We will look forward to all of it. Samantha Bee is the host of "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee," which airs on TBS. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

BEE: Thank you so, so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.