Samantha Bee leads a charmed life. And she knows it. One day she’s a relatively unknown Toronto sketch comic, the next a celebrated imitation journalist on America’s top fake news program, The Daily Show.
“It was my favourite, favourite show that I always carved time out of my day to watch before I worked at it,” Bee said on the phone from her Manhattan home. “I do feel really lucky and I feel really totally blessed to have gotten this job. But, you know, I prepared for it. I feel like I was preparing for it all my life. You know, I have a tape of myself when I was six years old doing fake news. It’s called News for Goofs.”
The preparation paid off in an audition in Toronto. Bee read some goof-free copy the producers handed her and, voilí , the job was hers. Obviously, she had what they were looking for, whatever that was.
“It really was not an accurate reflection of what the job entailed whatsoever,” she says, laughing. “They should never have hired me based on what I did for them. But they did.”
What the job entails is having a steel constitution and, as you might guess for an ersatz newscast, the ability to simulate sincerity. Bee and her fellow correspondents, among whom is her husband, Jason Jones, take the piss out of blowhards and fringe fanatics with scathing ironic dexterity.
“It’s nerve-racking,” she admits. “It’s a wonderful job but I think probably 80 percent of it has to do with a really, really weird kind of courage, a really bizarre skill set. You have to be able to ask people questions that they don’t want to be asked, which is very difficult to do.”
But Bee does it all too well, albeit with an empathetic conscience. While it may seem the show revels in the discomfort of its subjects, the 41-year-old mother of three insists that what we see is not the sum of the worst statements made in the filming of a given field story.
“We do tread carefully,” she says. “And responsibly, if you can believe that. It’s true—we make a very, very concerted effort to be responsible about people’s feelings. What I’m saying is sometimes when you see someone saying something, they’ve said things that were 10 times worse and it was just too awful to put on the air.”
One example was a segment by Jones on Florida pastor Terry Jones and his International Burn a Koran Day. The piece was filmed and edited, but was eventually killed and never saw airtime.
“It was very, very funny but it wasn’t worth the funniness of it to incite bad feelings in people or give him another platform to speak,” Bee says. “He just wasn’t worthy of the opportunity to speak in public again.”
Bee will be in Vancouver for a fundraiser for Théí¢tre la Seizií¨me, where she will chat with artistic director, and old friend, Craig Holzschuh about her career, The Daily Show, and whatever else comes up.
“It’s going to be kind of like an intimate evening. Maybe nudity.” She laughs. “It’s just going to be a fun, intimate gathering of people. Hopefully not that intimate, but I think it should be funny.”
And in English. Bee confesses that she doesn’t speak Canada’s other official language. “I don’t,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t love French theatre. Who doesn’t love French theatre?”
Was that sincere? Damn, she’s good.
An Evening With Samantha Bee is at the Vancouver Playhouse on Saturday (June 4).