Samantha Bee was crying.
It was a Wednesday night in early February, and she was in the studio on Manhattan’s far West Side where she tapes Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, her hilariously lacerating political satire that airs weekly on TBS. The show she had just wrapped featured plenty of her signatures, from the rat-a-tat opening sermonette to the venom-tipped epithets for which she is unrivaled. (Betsy DeVos was dubbed a “sentient bag of hairspray fumes now in charge of education”; Jeff Sessions, “the human antidote to the Voting Rights Act.”)
Because Bee keeps a dizzying schedule, and because she is naturally prone to looking forward rather than backward, she had scarcely processed that the episode also marked Full Frontal’s one-year anniversary. Just a few hours earlier, she had found Jason Jones—her husband of 16 years, father of their three children, fellow former Daily Show correspondent, and an executive producer of Full Frontal—in the back row where he observes most rehearsals. Their celebration of the milestone was not exactly jubilant.
Bee: So, today’s a year on air.
Jones: I had no idea.
Bee: Me neither.
Bee’s producers, however, were intent on commemorating the occasion. After the taping, with the studio audience members still in their seats, they surprised Bee with two gifts: a portrait of the staff sporting T-shirts reading "Nasty Woman" and, framed in a shadow box, the red power blazer Bee had worn for her debut. Both underscored Bee’s barrier-breaking and star-making rise—not merely as the first woman to host a late-night political satire, but as the comedian who most pointedly personifies the spirit of resistance fomenting in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.
Her first tagline, “Watch or You’re Sexist,” set the confrontational tone for a show that has made clear from day one that the ability to channel feminist rage into incisive humor was exactly what was needed. And yet, for Bee, it wasn’t until she was presented with the gifts that she had a chance to really relish her accomplishment. As the crowd roared, tears streamed down her face.
“Yes, I’m a total weeper,” Bee, who, at 47, bridges the generational gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials, said the next morning as a blizzard blanketed the city in a foot of snow.
Fresh from a SoulCycle class, she was sitting in a café near her apartment on the Upper West Side, waiting for Jones to join her for breakfast. He was stuck scrambling to find a babysitter since school had been canceled. While onscreen Bee has the seething energy of a featherweight—bobbing around in running shoes, punctuating points with jabs, rocking those blazers—in person she is reserved, speaking in quiet, measured cadences and embodying the earnest politeness of her native Canada.
Though still visibly touched by the previous evening’s gesture, Bee made it clear that analyzing her place in pop culture, let alone savoring it, is not something that comes to her as naturally as, say, making the riotous and disconcertingly convincing argument that Trump can’t read, as she did last year in a segment that has since been viewed more than 3.5 million times on YouTube.
“I wish I was a great tactician and this was an amazing plan of how to fill a niche that no one thought existed,” Bee said of Full Frontal. “But really it’s just us vomiting into people’s eyeballs once a week, and hoping that people like it.”
More than her peers, Bee brings a sense of urgency to her show, mixing digs about Trump as “America’s burst appendix” with explicit calls to action and never concealing her own fury at a world in which the most basic tenets of democracy often appear to be on life support. Such a climate has been an undeniable boon to comedians: That week, Stephen Colbert, Bee’s former Daily Show colleague, beat Jimmy Fallon in the ratings for the first time since 2015; and the 2.5 million people who’d watched the previous night’s episode of Full Frontal represented a whopping 175 percent increase from the show’s debut.
But Bee sounded more like a deeply troubled citizen than an entertainer enjoying a “moment.” “I still can’t believe it happened,” she said of Trump’s election. “I wish I could wake up to a new reality.”
For all the material produced by the president’s chaotic approach to leadership, Bee felt as overwhelmed as she did inspired. Like many, she had been anticipating a Hillary Clinton victory, and prior to the election was excited to shift her focus to the sort of longer deep dives into overlooked issues that she was known for on The Daily Show. “But now we have this hose of bulls--t aimed at our faces 24/7,” she went on. “I hope I maintain the capacity to be shocked, you know? I’ve surprised myself. I thought I was a savvy, jaded person, but now every day I’m a freshly shocked country girl.”
Bee both recognizes and accepts—to a degree—that being the first woman in such a role means everything she does is invariably analyzed through the prism of her sex. Yet while her show has a distinctly female perspective—“We talk about abortion more than the news talks about abortion,” Bee remarked—she reflected on her success not so much as a triumph but as evidence that television’s landscape remains myopic and oversaturated with testosterone.
During rewrites the previous day, she lamented the fact that, despite her popularity, she still remained the only woman with such a platform. “I was saying, Here we are, a year in, and I’m surprised someone hasn’t gone: ‘Hey, having a woman hosting a show isn’t so bad!’ ” She paused, letting the idea linger before offering a sly dig at TV executives. “At the very least, you know, the world doesn’t end.”
When Jones finally made it to the restaurant, he arrived looking like a 19th-century polar explorer. A tall and shaggily handsome 43-year-old with a permanently deadpan disposition, he was bundled in a gigantic puffer and appeared to have emerged from an avalanche. “You have icicles in your eyebrows,” Bee said, wiping his face.
The couple’s professional relationship began long before their tenures on The Daily Show; they first met in their 20s doing children’s theater in Canada, and have collaborated on a number of projects over the years. Aside from working together on Full Frontal, they are co-creators of The Detour, the subversive family sitcom starring Jones that just finished its second season on TBS. The couple learned that The Detour had been picked up back in February 2015, a few days after Jon Stewart announced he was leaving The Daily Show, throwing their futures into question. At the time, Bee imagined herself moving full-time into a behind-the-scenes role.
“It was a total departure from what we’d been doing for over a decade, and so creatively satisfying,” said Bee of The Detour, which was inspired by their own experiences as parents and a desire to present a more honest, albeit zany, portrait of domestic life. (In the pilot, the daughter gets her first period in a strip club while on a family road trip.) TBS, however, wanted to know if Bee would be interested in hosting her own show, and thus Full Frontal was born. “It wasn’t the opportunity I’d been waiting for my whole life,” she said, before quickly correcting herself. “Well, it was. I just didn’t know it.”
“The whole moment was kind of divine intervention,” added Jones.
Today, with both shows helping to usher in a new era at TBS, a channel that not long ago was known as a repository for reruns, the couple’s working relationship has evolved. Where they once worked closely throughout the day—at The Daily Show they shared an office, sitting across from each other at a desk—they now serve as “eagle eyes,” as Bee put it, helping each other strike the right notes on their mutual projects.
“It feels like a continuation—an intensification, sure—but a continuation of a relationship that has long existed,” said Bee, adding that juggling two shows and three kids (Piper, 11; Fletcher, 8; and Ripley, 6) forces them to focus on what matters. “I think we’re doing okay with it,” she said. “We don’t have a social life. We’re basically in bed at 9:30. Head down, eyes forward.”
Miles Kahn, an executive producer on Full Frontal who worked with the couple on The Daily Show, says that this has long been their default mode. “You have to remember that they’ve been hustling forever,” he says. “There’s no separation between work mode and husband-and-wife mode—it’s all wrapped up together.”
They view each other as partners, never competitors. The fact that Bee has become the more recognizable star, for instance, strikes Jones as proof that she’s hit a nerve. “I think it actually says a lot about the world that I’m starring in a show that does quite well in the ratings, and I’m still referred to as her husband,” Jones offered.
“Woo-hoo!” Bee whisper-shouted.
For all the sudden attention, Bee remains genuinely oblivious to her new role in the culture. “It used to be, we would walk around on the streets and maybe once a day, we’d get ‘Love you guys!’ ” Jones said. “Now it’s 15 times a day, and it’s ‘I revere you! Samantha, I love you!’ Our son has a great impression of her fans doing the namaste sign whenever they see her.”
A few days earlier, he recalled, the two were listening to Howard Stern, when there was a mention of Bee’s upcoming riposte to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, bluntly dubbed the Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Immediately, Bee turned off the radio. “I was like, ‘Why’d you do that? He was about to talk about you!’ She goes, ‘I don’t wanna hear about it.’ ”
Talk of the Correspondents’ Dinner made Bee realize she was running late to a planning meeting for the event. The idea had taken hold shortly before Trump arrived at the White House. “We were watching the continuing narrative of fake news and the attacks on the press, and we were kind of laughing and wondering if the regular event would take place this year and what it would look like under a Trump administration,” said Bee, recalling a meeting with Jo Miller, Full Frontal’s showrunner, and the writing staff.
“Someone was like, ‘We should have our own!’ We can have fun, we can support journalism, all those people out there doing all that digging. Basically it’ll be a bratty party that maybe pokes the beast a little bit.”
Quick as Bee may be to reject the idea that she’s become the comedian of the resistance—“We’re not a show of activists,” she insisted—her compulsion to strike back, rather than merely provide cutting commentary, is what resonates so keenly with her fans. And perhaps, too, with Bee herself.
“If you can use your tools for good, you should,” she offered, describing an instinctive approach that has led her, as a result of the extraordinary freedom she’s at last been given, to hone an authentic voice. “If someone came to me and said, ‘Hey, that thing you did didn’t really engage—could we try it another way?’ I’d literally have to quit,” she said. “I can’t get off the track I’m on.”