By Neal Justin
Star Tribune (Minneapolis).
For the past 15 years, “The Daily Show” has surpassed “Saturday Night Live” as TV’s sturdiest springboard to stardom. But while Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver were encouraged to take the plunge, the series’ longest-serving correspondent remained in the kiddie pool.
Samantha Bee finally gets her turn on the high dive with Monday’s debut of “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” and, if her actions in recent months are any indication, she’s not dismissing the theory that her gender is the key reason it took so long.
In response to a Vanity Fair tribute to late-night TV hosts last fall, Bee tweeted a doctored version of the magazine’s all-male photo spread, inserting herself as a centaur shooting lasers out of her eyes. In one promotional trailer for her show, the comic wonders aloud what’s missing in an art gallery featuring only portraits of her male peers and waves away a plate of sausages.
The ad concludes with “Boys Wanna Be Her,” the Peaches rocker most prominently used in “Whip It,” the 2009 film in which roller-derby women cruise n’ bruise their way to victory.
Bee, whose previous exposure beyond “The Daily Show” has consisted of brief appearances in everything from a Woody Allen movie to “The Electric Company,” will likely keep those blades sharpened throughout the first season.
“I don’t think it’s fair, but it makes complete sense to me that it be part of the conversation,” Bee said last month when asked if it was tiresome to keep having to address the “woman” issue. “I mean, there just hasn’t been a wealth of women in late night.”
Technically, “Full Frontal” isn’t a late-night show, as it will air at 9:30 p.m. on Mondays, avoiding head-to-head competition with former colleagues at Comedy Central. It also won’t feature traditional talk-show trappings like a desk or guests, leaving more opportunity for pre-taped remotes.
That makes sense. Of all the “Daily Show” reporters, Bee was the most intent on delivering a social message, landing more points than punch lines.
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Her piece from St. Paul’s Republican National Convention, in which she made delegates squirm with questions about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy and her not-so-subtle attack on a Florida politician running on an anti-gay platform are timeless classics.
Pieces already filed for the new series include a scathing take down of the Veterans Administration on its inability to properly serve females injured in the line of duty and a visit to New York’s Comic Con where artists trip over their tongues trying to defend their depictions of busty superheroines.
“Women’s issues are extremely important to me,” Bee said. “It’s not going to be the only thing we talk about on the show, but it’s definitely a passion that we will end up delving into.”
The numbers behind the scenes are telling. In addition to hiring a female executive producer, Bee has filled half of the writers’ room with women. In contrast, all but three of the 24 people who have written for “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” are men.
Not that Bee doesn’t appreciate the contributions of those burdened with the Y chromosome. Like Colbert, Oliver and Trevor Noah, she’s quick to credit former boss Jon Stewart for leading by example.
“Before I worked at ‘The Daily Show,’ I definitely had this image in my brain of the workplace being like Tom Hanks’ apartment in ‘Big,’ this open space with pinball machines and people throwing basketballs around the room,” she said. “But actually, it was much more of a dedicated place of work and research and nose to the grindstone. We’re replicating that at our workplace.”
Bee’s long tutelage with Stewart may be one reason TBS has shown such faith in her. The premiere episode will be simulcast on five Turner-owned networks, including TNT, and TNT has picked up “The Detour,” created by Bee and her husband Jason Jones, who will also star in the sitcom.
If TBS’s investment pays off, Vanity Fair’s next tribute to late-night comics should kick off with a phone call to a certain centaur.