Her new show is loud, brash and the funniest satire out there.
Fans of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and the Colbert Report have been in something of a holding pattern for the past few months. Since Stewart retired and Colbert went off to host the Late Show there’s been something of a void.
Trevor Noah is an able comedian and custodian for the Daily Show. However, something has undoubtedly been lost since Stewart’s departure. Noah treats American politics as a comedy, whereas his predecessor appreciated it was a tragedy. Stewart’s humour was propelled by exasperation at a news media that was variously crass, disingenous and trivialising. That sense of mission gave his work a richness and a weight that Noah has failed to replicate. Indeed, at times the younger man has seemed in danger of succumbing to that triviality. I’m of course being unfair because I’m spoiled by American satire. Look at Russell Howard or whichever moron the BBC is currently hoping will engage apathetic young people in polictics and you realise how smart and insightful Noah is. But he still seems like a downgrade into glibness for the Daily Show.
John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is easier to commend enthusiastically. It’s simultaneously funny and earnest which is not an easy combination to pull off. But it’s essentially using comedy as a vehicle to get us to watch deep dives into policy questions and social issues. Highlighting injustice and making you laugh is a worthy task. But it compliments the Daily Show of yore rather than substituting for it. We still need someone to convince us that despite the insanity of the current news cycle there are sane voices out there.
On the evidence of her first episodes as a host of Full Frontal, Samantha Bee seems well equipped for that job. Like Stewart she is indignant at what she’s seeing on the news but she doesn’t dilute that anger with sadness. According to Bee, Trump is a “sentient caps-lock button” and Cruz “has stage 4 cancer of the personality”. Her persona is essentially that of someone perpetually grappling with the question “WTF?” – which just at the moment seems stupendously reasonable.
There’s an intensity to her show that’s lacking from the more detached work Oliver and Noah do. They mostly elicit chuckles but she regularly gets gut punch laughs.
It’s also worth flagging up that she’s the only female host of a late night show. And she fills that role unapologetically. Female comedians are often required to make themselves ‘acceptable’ by cultivating the impression they are either either kooky, sultry or motherly. Bee avoids all of these archetypes.
That’s going to be fun to watch as Clinton runs for president. The former New York Senator is a frequent victim of the double standard whereby a woman who’s forceful and direct is dismissed as shrill. Unlike Clinton, Bee has the freedom to directly tackle such crap:
I suspect that misogynists are going to be the butt of many of the show’s best jokes:
I look forward to it.