You know that you’ve more than just a late-night comedian when perpetual scold Caitlin Flanagan somehow convinces The Atlantic to let her write an article in which she blames you for single-handedly causing Donald Trump to be elected president.
A lot of us might wish for that kind of power, although anyone familiar with Samantha Bee knows that having been handed an opportunity to mock the single most ridiculous, poorly educated example of white male rage and entitlement who has ever been elected president for four years—pure comedy gold for a late-night host—left Bee angry and sad.
If Bee had wanted the nerdy feminist Hillary Clinton to be president, it wasn’t because she agreed with all the former Secretary of State’s positions. It was because, week after week, Full Frontal would not be obligated to talk about a grownup POTUS. They could do the show on other topics near and dear to both Bee and showrunner / Executive Producer Jo Miller. Pieces on the refugees in Syria, the wolves in the western United States, poachers in Asia and Africa, and the never-ending attempts by state governments in the United States to deny women the basic right to determine what goes in and comes out of their vaginas.
Instead, Bee and Miller have been pissed since November 8 that the bloviating, Twitter-addicted, overindulged toddler who was elected has to be watched at all times. His equivalent of pulling the cat’s tale is engaging in Twitter threats daring North Korea to start a nuclear war. His crayoning on the walls involves his obsession with trying to ban most of an entire religion’s followers from entering the country—then threatening to do away with the judicial system that has checked his power, throwing the kinds of tantrums that most of us outgrew at age two.
But sure, let Caitlin Flanagan claim that because Sam Bee is a “mean girl” that a whole bunch of angry white people put a madman in power—just to spite her.
Luckily, for the rest of us who are sane, Sam Bee decided that the best way to deal with her sadness and rage was to share it with her viewers. The night after the election, after the planned opening celebrating Clinton’s election had to be scrapped, Bee came out and delivered a blistering monologue in which she called out white women for their horrendous decision to vote for Trump. “I don’t want to hear a goddamn word about black voter turnout—how many times do we expect black people to build our country for us?” she said, before telling white women that they had a tremendous amount of karma to make up for in the following four years.
Each week, the number of people who tune into Full Frontal on TBS at 10:30 on Wednesday night is climbing. The show’s ratings have jumped 175 percent since its premiere, and in terms of percentage rise since the election, her ratings have outpaced the boys of late night.
For me, compared to the boys, Bee is kicking ass. Bee and John Oliver—another alumnus of The Daily Show—are the only hosts I stay up to watch. Bill Maher’s schtick is mostly about how smart he thinks he is. If I wanted to watch that, I could watch Chuck Todd more often, another guy who has convinced himself that he’s the smartest guy in the room. When I see what’s coming up on Conan, the highlights shown during Full Frontal, I usually groan in embarrassment. I’ve given up on the other late night hosts. I just don’t have the time to watch guys performing their bro humor, trying to recapture the joy of being thirteen.Not now, while the world is burning down around us.
I still want to be able to laugh, but please, give me laughter based on the idea that the situation you’re mocking is so fucked up, you can either laugh or cry, and you’re just too damned tired of crying. It was Nietzsche who in Beyond Good and Evil tells us that “A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling.” We are living in such times now.
If I am living through a time in which tragedy is being played as farce, I want someone who is at least angry that this is happening, rather than listening to someone who seems gleeful that this opportunity fell into his lap and now he can milk it for laughs for the next four years.
Watching Sam Bee, I never feel as if she has forgotten that real people’s lives are being fucked with by a man with a vocabulary smaller than his list of grudges.
That’s why this weekend, I’m making the drive to Washington D.C. to attend the “Not the White House Correspondents Dinner,” Bee’s counter-programming to the traditional White House Correspondents Dinner, which this year, will not feature the usual guest of the president. Donald Trump is notorious for not having a sense of humor about himself. The idea that he would voluntarily sit through the traditional roast of a sitting president that the dinner usually is was a non-starter. Instead, he’s expected to be at a “campaign rally” in Pennsylvania, hoping that enough folks show up to give his ego a boost. Bee, in the meantime, will use the opportunity to roast the president along with a few of her closest friends.
It makes sense that it was Bee who decided back in January—before anyone knew that Trump and his White House gang of degenerates would skip the traditional dinner—that she was going to host a dinner in which no fucks would be given in mocking a president who is notorious for dishing it out but not being able to take it. It’s yet another reason why Bee has become the only late night host I need to watch.
Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will be televised on TBS at 10 p.m on Saturday. A non-censored Twitter production will begin at 11 pm Saturday.
Lorraine Berry writes about cultural issues at LitHub, The Guardian, Signature and other outlets. Follow her on Twitter @BerryFLW.