On April 27th, TBS will air Samantha Bee’s second-ever Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. While historian Ron Chernow regales guests at the real event in Washington, D.C. — after a furor about jokes made at Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ expense last year, he is the first host in 16 years who isn’t a comedian — Bee will be slinging barbs at President Trump, who for three years running has refused to attend the annual one-night détente between journalists and the politicians they cover. She billed the original 2017 special The First and Only Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. But the state of the world is so dire she felt compelled to bring some comic relief to the stage again. “We just keep hitting new lows,” says Bee. “We have not yet found the bottom, and it is a scary tumble.”
Why do another Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?
I think journalism is in peril and the First Amendment is in peril. It behooves us to have another party and speak truth to power and give Trump the roast he deserves. The whole point is that the president is supposed to sit there, one night per year, and have someone say jokes to his face. That’s his job — or hers, someday in the future. Just sit there and take it for 20 minutes. That’s the social contract we’ve all signed.
In the wake of controversy last year, the White House Correspondents’ Association chose not to hire a comedian. Will you be needling them too?
No, I think we need to take a moment to celebrate great journalism. We need to examine the state of journalism — Where are we at? What can we be doing better? — but honor the things that are great. The amount of journalism happening right now is insane. Cat Fancy is breaking huge news stories. Everybody’s in the game.
Your show is all about processing and analyzing the news for people. Do you feel like a kind of journalist?
Whoa, I’m flattered! We’re journalist-adjacent. Our show is built on the backs of people who do the hard labor of investigative journalism for no money. The BuzzFeed and HuffPo layoffs, they resonate. These are people we admire.
In a recent survey, 60 percent of respondents said they believe journalists are paid by sources.
I read that. It’s astonishing how gullible people are and how they think things work. I wish I had a nationwide neuralyzer that would make everybody forget the term “fake news.”
Do you have a favorite ‘Full Frontal’ segment from the last year?
Our MeToo coverage was really solid. But I can’t think of specifics. . . . Sorry, I’m 49 years old and I can’t remember five minutes ago. What did I just say? We do a show?
Is there a recent news story that stands out as a particular low point for America?
The child-separation policy. That story is an earthquake. And it’s ongoing. We should be talking about it every single day, and we can’t, because something else comes along that’s also tremendously important for the future of this country that just consumes the news cycle.
Full Frontal covers heavy topics. Does it stay with you when you go home?
It does — for everyone, not just me. News is inhabiting our lives in a way that it really hasn’t before. I just took my family on vacation to Morocco. It was the first time I have truly unplugged for six days, and it was like being on a three-month sabbatical. It was kind of forced on me, because we were far away and the internet service is bad. So you’ve gotta go to North Africa to shake it off.
When you’re not in Morocco, how do you handle the stress of the show?
We have a very normal schedule. I am not a workaholic. I’m from Canada, we take breaks there. Like, be reasonable. I have three kids and a life that’s just as — actually it’s more important to me than my work!
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I try to walk to work on show days to clear my head — it’s pretty far, 50 minutes. Mostly I eat a lot. Shovel food all day long. I make a delicious food pile at the beginning of the week and feed myself from it for lunch every day, put it in my little bento box. God, I’m so embarrassed by myself.
Your show started three years ago, and with the exception of some brief periods when this wasn’t the case, you’re still the only woman on late-night TV. How does that feel?
It is not exciting to me to be the last woman standing in this space. It’s not what I want. It’s a huge loss that Sarah’s [Silverman] show [I Love You, America] is off the air, that Michelle’s show [The Break With Michelle Wolf] is off the air, that Robin’s show [The Rundown With Robin Thede] is off the air. It’s bullshit. I thought we had learned a lesson, that other voices could emerge and tell a different tale of what’s happening. But that’s not bearing out.
Is criticism of female hosts harsher?
Criticism is fast and furious now for anyone who has any kind of public presence. It’s not particular to women. But it has a slightly different flavor, depending on what you present, how old you are.
A word that comes up a lot with you is “shrill.” But John Oliver brings the same spirit of rage to his segments that you do.
Oh, John Oliver is very shrill! But his British accent confuses people, so they’re afraid to say anything.
One person whose notorious Twitter ire you rarely provoke is President Trump. Is that insulting in a way?
I’m pleased as Punch to confirm that he has only tweeted about me once. I really don’t seek his disapproval. I’m perfectly happy that he doesn’t pay much attention to my show. I’ll take it.