America’s First Lady of Late Night, Sam Bee, shared her thoughts on comedy, American politics and culture, with the Stanford University community Friday, November 10, at the Memorial Auditorium.
Hosted by Stanford Live, Bee, the host of TBS’s weekly satire show Full Frontal, was interviewed on stage by Shelley Correll, Professor of Sociology and the Barbara D. Finberg Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, in front of a sold-out audience. The event was part of Stanford Live’s 2017-2018 season that, in a celebratory nod to Canada’s 150th anniversary, examines the American politics and culture of nostalgia from an outsider’s perspective. And Bee, a native of Toronto, Canada, who recently became an American citizen, offers that perspective through her sharp feminist commentary. She was, Correll noted, the first “foreign” correspondent of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart over a decade ago, when she first captivated audiences after her training at Toronto’s George Brown Theatre School and later with the sketch comedy troupe, The Atomic Fireballs.
The “tiny package of fire and kittens,” as Correll—using the words of the comedienne Jane Curtain—referred to Bee, entertained the audience with her incisive quips and thoughts about everything from sexual harassment becoming a mainstream conversation (she called the #MeToo campaign “empowering” and “essential to remov[ing] the shame from the situation”) to how to achieve diversity in the workplace. On the latter topic, Bee, whose show has been lauded for its diversity and inclusion practices, concisely explained how the right mindset facilitates the creation of a diverse workplace: “You just have to do it…. You have to have it in your mind…and have to actively reach out to people,” she told Correll, whose own research at the Clayman Institute focuses on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Acknowledging her unique position as currently the lone female voice in late-night television, Bee said she feels no pressure to cow-tow or conform to bend the satire of her show to public pressure. “There is nobody else who does comedy about abortion,” she said. "We make comedy in the darkest places."
Bee revealed that she doesn’t engage much on social media because, she said, “she wants to be a happy person in the world,” and that her three children—with her husband of nearly 20 years and fellow Daily Show alum Jason Jones—do not think she’s funny. She joked with the audience that she “leave[s] the parenting to NPR.”
The audience Q&A was as riotously fun as the interview itself, with Stanford community members asking her about how she and her husband, both in the entertainment spotlight, maintain an egalitarian domestic life, to more pointed questions about recent news pertaining to specific figures accused of sexual assault in the entertainment industry. (She believes our culture will finally change when the next “ice age” happens.) Bee also fielded questions from students in the audience on life and career advice. Not mincing words while recognizing the barriers to women’s advancement, and the unconscious biases they face, in the workplace, she said: “You have got to do it yourself; you have got to make your own opportunities,” as well as be “nimble and flexible.”