Samantha Bee & Full Frontal

By Angela Hart

As a graduate student, I have spent the last two years studying satires. I have conducted extensive research on The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, The Colbert Report, and many shows in-between. Currently, there are only a few satirical programs on the air. Now, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee joins the ranks of fake news programs on television. The program also had quick one liners that were of a comedic nature such as, “The first domino of a cascade of fail,” provides humor on the 2016 presidential candidates, and cited a dress code proposal by Senator Mitch Holmes. The premier episode garnered 2.2 million viewers and is produced by a diverse writer’s room. It will be interesting to see the future episodes and topics discussed on the program. 

The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, and Full Frontal

Unlike The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight in which the hosts sit behind a desk and act as an official news anchor, Samantha Bee stands in front of a large big screen television and has the opportunity to walk around and maneuver on stage. On The Daily Show, Trevor Noah sits behind the desk and has the news box appear next to him appearing as if he were a journalist or anchor for a legitimate news outlet versus a satirical fake news program. Bee’s ability to move around is reminiscent of a comedian on stage interacting with a live audience. This is different from The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight in the sense that Bee no longer presents herself as an anchor but someone commenting on the events or clips being shown behind her. The general setting and scenery of the programs also differ. Bee does not present herself in the same fashion as Noah or Oliver. She is differentiating herself from other hosts in this manner. By standing in front of a big screen, Samantha Bee is offering the audience a different viewing experience. Instead of viewing a clip or having a meme appear in the news box next to the host’s desk, they see it appear behind her. Bee can maneuver around, point, throw her hands up in the air, and or integrate props into her dialogue. She can include various techniques to offer another humorous element or tone unlike other anchors who can only do so much while they are sitting behind a desk.

Similar to The Daily Show in which correspondents would seek out exclusive content for the program, Full Frontal included a segment on Jeb Bush and his campaign in the format of a short video. However, unlike The Daily Show, the correspondent never entered the footage. Typically, the reporter would ask questions as if they were a journalist, but, in this video, the correspondent acted as a documentarian. He was only heard in one interview with Jeb Bush and never featured as a host or interviewer. The video resembled a documentary taking an insightful look into the campaign versus a journalistic expedition to find truth in the realm of politics.

Comedy Central, HBO, & TBS

It is also worth noting that Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is on TBS. The Daily Show is on Comedy Central and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is on HBO. The move to TBS is significant due to the nature of the program. Comedy Central is able to claim that The Daily Show is a comedy first and foremost due to the rest of their other programming. Similarly, HBO allows John Oliver the opportunity to swear without being bleeped or censored. He has a full thirty-minute program whereas The Daily Show and, now, Full Frontal have to account for commercial breaks. TBS has Conan, but that program is not a fake news program; it is a talk show with a comedic host. Full Frontal is TBS’s first satirical fake news program and it is interesting to see the way they’re differentiating their show from previous programs.

First Female Fake News Host

Additionally, Samantha Bee is the first female fake news anchor. Samantha Bee received her start in the world of fake news programs on The Daily Show as one of their correspondents. Bee became their most tenured correspondent being a part of the program for nearly twelve years. She did a number of pieces in which she interviewed prominent individuals on relevant topics in society and offered a comedic insight into the realm of politics, social issues, and a number of other topics. Samantha Bee left the show before Jon Stewart departed as host. She had a tearful goodbye and they offered a ‘goodbye segment’ to her and the work she did over the years.

Samantha Bee and her Full Frontal team incorporated a fake press conference into the program’s opening scene. Bee sits behind a table answering questions from journalists in the crowd. Every single question that was asked pertained to her being a woman in the world of fake news programs and satires. This conference is reminiscent of the questions she has been asked over the past few weeks since her show’s premiere was announced. By opening the show with this line of questioning, Samantha Bee was able to offer a comedic response, thus allowing the audience to move past her being a woman. The viewer could then become engrossed in the program itself rather than wait for her to make reference to her sex, gender dynamics, or anything else that might be prevalent in regards to her being the first female fake news anchor. The show preemptively answered any lingering questions that viewers would pose in regards to her being the first in the genre, allowing the audience the chance to move past gender roles and into Full Frontal.

The only gender-related topic that was cited on the program had to do with Senator Mitch Holmes and his dress code for women. Samantha Bee said, “Your state has ninety-nine problems but a bitch ain’t one” in reference to the ninety-nine problems sung by Jay-Z. Although this pertained to a dress code for women, the subject matter was relevant for additional reasons, it was introduced by a political representative, other problems were being overlooked, Senator Holmes may have been misdirecting his time, and so forth. Senator Holmes’s state has many important issues currently going on and yet he was spending valuable time addressing something that did not pertain to his position. He instead wrote an unnecessary document on women’s wardrobe selections. Bee was able to satirize Holmes’s time management and priorities.

Content of Full Frontal

The content of Full Frontal was of a political nature. The first segment began with Bee commentating on the Democratic presidential candidates, beginning with Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire trying to garner votes. In the clip Full Frontal selected, Bernie Sanders is discussing his inexpensive car and how he does not live a lavish lifestyle. The clip was quickly followed by one of Hillary Clinton being overly humble seeking votes. Bee was prompted to comment on the artificial nature of Clinton’s humble self-deprecating remarks and Sanders’s general disposition. While Bee is a well known liberal, she did not hesitate to mock these two individuals, reinforcing the fact that any and all candidates may be subject to her comedy.

In regards to the Republican presidential candidates, Bee was also able to make reference to Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz utilizing their children in political advertisements and during rallies. Marco Rubio, she noted, may have had his son on stage to appear older. Rubio is constantly being referenced as the younger inexperienced candidate. By having his son on stage, Rubio appeared older. Similarly, the clip of Ted Cruz did not show him in the best light. Ted Cruz’s daughter made a face at him when he asked her for a kiss. She turned her head away not wanting to respond to her father; thus demonstrating Ted Cruz’s lack of warmth and ability to be personable.

While the opening segment did make note of the two Democratic presidential candidates, Samantha Bee did spend a majority of the program discussing the Republican presidential race referring to it as “Republicans laid out a banquet of all-you-can-eat crazy.” Similar to other satirical programs, Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee appears to be supporting the Democratic liberal side of politics more so than the conservative Republican viewpoint. Or, due to the cluttered Republican stage, Bee is focusing on these candidates because there are more of them.

In the future, Full Frontal may feature interviews or guests, but in the premiere episode, Samantha Bee was the only person to interact with the audience in the studio and the viewers at home. She delivered the entire program, herself, aside from the short Jeb Bush video interlude. By not having any interviews, guests, or correspondents, Full Frontal differentiates itself from The Daily Show. It will be exciting to see what happens next in the world of fake news programs.