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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Samantha Bee interview

Tonight, Samantha Bee hits town. Just her luck it's on a night of ice hockey in the Stanley Cup finals featuring the home team, Vancouver Canucks against the visitors. In fact, the Vancouver Playhouse, where Bee will be doing a talk as part of a fundraiser for Théâtre la Seizième, is just around the corner from the ice hockey arena. I'm not looking forward to making my way down there at such a time, but I am looking forward to being one of the few people in attendance. I mean, I want the theatre company to raise money and all that, but I kinda like my space, too. I'm selfish that way.

Anyway, I had the chance to interview Samantha a couple weeks ago and she was wonderful. Such a pleasure to talk to. I fashioned some of the quotes you'll see below into a story for the Georgia Straight (read it here), but there was lots more that just wouldn't fit so I thought I'd share it with you here. And since the ice hockey game starts at 5 and Bee won't start until just after 8, why not come down and see one of the funniest women on TV? I'm sure seats will be available. Just give me my space.

Samantha Bee – May 23, 2011

Samantha Bee: Hello?

Guy MacPherson: Hello, Samantha?
SB: Yes.

GM: This is Guy MacPherson in Vancouver calling.
SB: Hi, how are you?

GM: Good. How are you?
SB: I’m good. I’m actually just listening to CBC right now. I know all about you people.

GM: Where are you?
SB: I’m in New York. But I stream it online. I can keep up with what’s going on. You know.

GM: That’s important to you?
SB: It is important to me. Of course. Of course!

GM: Well, happy Victoria Day.
SB: Thank you! Happy Victoria Day to you! You’re taking time out of your busy holiday day.

GM: I know! I can’t believe you scheduled this on a holiday.
SB: I am so sorry. I am actually going on vacation tomorrow.

GM: Oh. Where are you going?
SB: I’m going to a dude ranch. A ranch filled with dudes. I’m going to a ranch tomorrow so I didn’t know what the situation would be with phones and so forth.

GM: Are you going with your family?
SB: Yes. Yeah.

GM: So it’s like a real vacation, not something you’re going to make fun of.
SB: No, a real... I mean, I can’t tell you the last time... I don’t know when we went on a vacation. I don’t know if Fletcher – he’s almost three – I don’t know if he’s ever actually been on one (laughs) that was just totally vacation. You know, just pure vacation.

GM: Are you a horse person?
SB: I kind of... Well... I would say that loosely. I love horses and my mother used to have horses and I love riding horses, so I guess in that sense, yes. But I wouldn’t say that. I’ve never had my own horse or anything like that.

GM: And you don’t have figurines of horses all around your place.
SB: I don’t, no. No. No, I don’t... Well, maybe I do.

GM: I went on a cattle drive once and I’d never ridden a horse before.
SB: Oh my God! Really? Oh, wow. Okay. It can be... Well, I’ve been on unsuccessful dude ranches before, so we’ll see. But this should be good because these are friends.

GM: And you have three kids?
SB: We do, yes.

GM: Isn’t one just a baby?
SB: She is a baby. But let’s get her on a pony... No, she will not be (laughs). They have Baby Bjorns for horses, right? You just slide your child into it... No, she will likely decline horseback riding. We’ll be responsible for several longhorn steer.

GM: And how old are your kids?
SB: She’s nine months.

GM: And the other two are?
SB: Five and almost three.

GM: Three kids today is like having six when I was a kid.
SB: I know. It’s a status symbol... (laughs) No, I’m joking. I know, we are people who like to do it. I guess (laughs).

GM: Are you a lot like every other woman I know who has kids just to get out of work?
SB: Sure. For the luxurious nine weeks that you get to take in the States.

GM: Oh, is that how long you get there?
SB: Less, I think. Actually, it’s more like eight weeks, typically, in the States. It’s quite a different experience. I will say where I work, they were much more generous than that. But most places are quite terrible. I really keep my finger on the pulse, but I was reading a Canadian magazine the other day, because I have subscriptions, and there was a whole article on paternity leave, which is like a cosmic joke around here. Nobody’s ever even heard of it.

GM: We get a year and you can split it any way you like between the husband and wife.
SB: That’s amazing.

GM: So my wife took three months and I took the rest.
SB: That is great. How many kids do you have?

GM: One.
SB: Nice. Kids are cute.

GM: They are. Did you always want a big family or did it just work out that way?
SB: No, it just worked out that way. Once I had one, I went, “Oh, I really love kids!” I didn’t really know that before. I had an inkling that I would want to have children but I was never one of those people who got really excited when another person had a baby. I just was very unfamiliar with it. I never held a baby, I don’t think, in my life until my own baby was born. But I didn’t dislike children; I just couldn’t really relate to them. I knew I kind of wanted to have one but I didn’t really know why.

GM: Did Jason have any experience with babies?
SB: No, no. He knew he wanted to have them but again I don’t think he knew why he wanted to. It’s just one of those things that reminds you that you’re really an animal deep down.

GM: Are you disappointed you didn’t get to meet your boyfriend [Jesus Christ] on Saturday?
SB: I know. I was really prepared. You have no idea. I made a lot of snacks. Yeah, I just assumed. And I did a charity event the night before so I was really paving the way for myself to be one of the first to arrive in heaven. But not so much. I have to say I’m a little freaked out because I’m a little bit worried about those people today.

GM: Worried about the people that predicted it?
SB: Yes! Has anybody heard from the fellow? Camping? No? It’s concerning. I don’t know if you read it but there was a big article in the Times the day before, I guess, and they were sort of asking all of the believers what they thought they would do the next day and all of them were like, “I wouldn’t worry about it.” And they were also talking to their teenage children and the teenage children were like, “Well, we don’t believe that that world is going to end. It’s sad because my parents don’t really care what I do; they just care about the world ending tomorrow and they’ve told me flat out that I’m not going to heaven.”

GM: Nice.
SB: And they were in New York with their parents. You know, 14-year-old kids being dragged around New York and holding placards about the end of the world. It was awful. Very sad.

GM: It sounds like it’s right up The Daily Show alley. Has there been a segment on them? Would you try?
SB: I actually didn’t watch the last show.

GM: What?!
SB: I know. I didn’t watch the last show before the end of the world was supposed to happen so I don’t know that we did a ton of material about it. Because it really was sad. I mean, they were hiring people to walk around. They were hiring unemployed people to walk around with a placard. (laughs) You can’t imagine how just totally ambivalent those people were about their placard. I’m certain that many of them couldn’t speak English and didn’t even really know what the placard said. But it was not pleasant. I think there are some things that are too awful. It’s possible that that was one of them. Although who knows? I can’t really say. It could have been two full acts devoted to rapture talk.

GM: So you’re saying it was perhaps too awful for you guys to make fun of it?
SB: Maybe. And there was some other stuff going on.

GM: Other stuff going on with them or with the show?
SB: In the world. I shouldn’t say... I can’t tell you what the content of the show was. It could have been all rapture-related. I’m not the authority. I should be.

GM: It’s interesting. You sort of felt sorry for them. Does that come up often when you do segments on the show, where you feel for the people that you’re ridiculing?
SB: It comes up all the time. Sure. It comes up all the time. It even comes up really when a person is saying hateful things sometimes. Because that person probably sometimes got to a hateful place from a sad life, from a life full of disappointment and bitterness and terrible teaching and bad role modeling and things like that. So there’s a sadness there. I always like to think that I learn something from any field piece that I do. And I think I’ve learned the most from the people who I’ve dealt with or interviewed who seemed the most lost. I’ve learned to be thankful... Wow, I’m being really hilarious right now! (laughs) Wacka-wacka-wacka!

GM: This is deep stuff. This is good.
SB: You know, there’s a lot of sadness behind a lot of those crazy opinions about things, that’s for sure.

GM: Do you ever walk away from one or finish editing it having regret of even doing it?
SB: Uh... no. No, because first of all the people we interview want to be on television, so it’s not like we are forcing them to speak their opinions on television. And there’s a long process prior to them coming on our show, in which they have ample opportunity to back out if that’s what they really want to do. We’re not putting words in people’s mouths, or anything like that. And also we try to tread carefully. We do tread carefully.

GM: And responsibly?
SB: And responsibly. If you can believe that, it’s true – we make a very, very concerted effort to be responsible of people’s feelings. Well, what I’m saying is that people tell us much worse things and we don’t use any of it. What I’m saying is sometimes when you see someone saying something, they’ve said things that were ten times worse and it was just too awful to put on the air.

GM: Wow. But it’s edited in such a way that they might not be happy with the final edit.
SB: Oh, that is true. Definitely. Definitely. But for the most part – I would say 99 percent of the time – people are quite pleased.

GM: Oh, really?
SB: Yeah.

GM: Because they got their message out?
SB: Yup. Yup. Yes. My husband did – did you know that Jason Jones is my husband?

GM: Yes.
SB: Yeah, okay. He did a whole field piece about Terry Jones, who is that pastor down in Florida who helped Burn the Koran Day. He did a whole field piece about Terry Jones and then in the end we didn’t use any of it. And he knew the whole time, because he knew where we were from and he was saying, “Oh, you’re going to make fun of me for this” then he would say it anyway. Then he would say something else and go, “Oh, you’re going to use that, I know you’re going to make fun of me over that.” And that was absolutely 100 percent the case except that in the end it just didn’t seem worth it to put him on the air. You know what I mean? The piece got killed.

GM: Because it might stir up some passions?
SB: Well, that’s it. 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. He just wasn’t worthy of the opportunity to speak in public again. I’m sure he’s doing it, but Jon didn’t really want it on our show. Totally understandable.

GM: And does Terry Jones call up and go, “Hey, what happened to my segment?”
SB: “Hey, my piece!” I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone takes those calls.

GM: And you say he knew where you were from.
SB: Sure, he knew it was going to be a comedy piece. It was worth it for him because he felt like the most important kernel of his message would still survive.

GM: And it would kind of humanize him, too, in a way.
SB: Mm-hmm. He thought it was worth it. It was worth it for him to have some jokes made at his expense if he thought he could get his message out just a little bit.

GM: Are they sometimes not aware where you’re from?
SB: We always tell them. They’re always aware.

GM: You say The Daily Show, but do you mention Comedy Central?
SB: Mm-hmm. Yup. And the waiver that they sign, the release that they sign, has Comedy Central on it. I mean, to claim that you have been bamboozled by us, which I think that Rod Blagojevich did, is insanity. Like, it’s not possible. Well, you really are going into it with blinders on if that’s what you choose to believe. And that is your choice. (laughs) But we’ve been very up front.

GM: To me, it’s the best show on TV. It must be a great gig for you as well.
SB: I love it. I mean, I loved it, it was my favourite show. It was my favourite, favourite show that I always carved time out of my day to watch before I worked at it. So I really feel like the luckiest person in television. It’s not that often that you get to live out your dream in that way. I love it.

GM: Especially when you’re just a kid from Canada watching the show.
SB: Yeah, I know! With my overalls and my antlers.

GM: (laughs) And your antlers?
SB: I file them down.

GM: So how did you get the job? You were a sketch performer?
SB: Yes, and I actually auditioned for the job. They came to Toronto.

GM: Yeah, I know they go around North America.
SB: I don’t know if they’ve been to Vancouver.

GM: They have, actually. Nobody got on.
SB: Oh, okay. That’s too bad. Did you audition? Do you know people who did?

GM: I’m not a performer; I just write about it. But, yeah, I know people who did. And, you know, you see them all the time here and I think they would be perfect for the show.
SB: Right. Yes.

GM: But who knows how the audition went or what the producers saw or were looking for or anything like that.
SB: Sure. I mean, it’s crazy but so much of it is about nerve management.

GM: Nerve management?
SB: Yeah.

GM: Just in the audition process?
SB: Yes. Absolutely.

GM: So you’re good with that?
SB: I am now, good with that.

GM: What was your audition like? What did you do?
SB: It was fairly straightforward, actually. I think I just read some copy that they gave me. It really was not an accurate reflection of what the job entailed whatsoever. They should never have hired me (laughs) based on what I did for them. But they did.

GM: You had a certain je ne sais quoi.
SB: There was something that they thought they could do with me.

GM: What was the sketch troupe you were in?
SB: The Atomic Fireballs.

GM: In Toronto.
SB: In Toronto, yes.

GM: Is that where you’re from?
SB: Yes, yeah.

GM: I should know that. I’m sorry.
SB: No, no, no, no.

GM: And did Jason also audition at the same time? Did he get on at the same time?
SB: No, he auditioned two years later. It was pretty random. They saw some of his work. They didn’t know that he was my husband.

GM: He was your husband at the time?
SB: Uh-huh, yeah.

GM: And you never mentioned it?
SB: We married in Canada. We were married in Canada before I ever moved down to the States. Ten years ago we got married. And he was a sketch performer and we moved down in 2003 and then two years later they saw some of his stuff online and they were like, “We should audition this guy.” And somebody had recognized him from a party and they’d met him and they were like, “I feel like that’s Samantha’s husband.” It’s crazy that they actually wanted to audition him independently of me. So they asked me if it was okay with me if they auditioned him. And I said, “No! Don’t you dare!” But they did it anyway.

GM: I remember his first segment and it didn’t go so well.
SB: Oh, didn’t it? I don’t remember.

GM: But then he just took off. He came into his own pretty quickly. Nerve management, I guess.
SB: It’s nerve-wracking. 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 skillset.

GM: You’ve just got to put on your correspondent’s face kind of attitude?
SB: Yeah. And you just have to be able to ask people questions that they don’t want to be asked, which is very difficult to do.

GM: Tell me about your work week. You might be on air, I don’t know, once or twice a week, but the other times are your writing for Jon or is it all for your segments?
SB: We are usually working on field pieces. If we’re not doing something for the studio then we’re typically working on a field piece. That means trying to put one together. And often all the elements get booked and then they fall apart. So you can work on something for two weeks and in the end it just doesn’t happen. For whatever reason someone pulls out or they just can’t make it work. It’s just like booking a real news story, in my imagination, except that you’re doing it for comedy purposes and so they fall apart in the same sort of weird random way. And then sometimes you’ll shoot the little piece and it’ll fall apart after, which is very typical. So it’s that kind of a schedule. It’s pretty flexible. It’s great for me because we live right up the street from work so I can scuttle home. If I’m not working on anything I will scuttle home and take the kids. It’s great.

GM: Do you choose the topics yourself?
SB: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. It depends on the thing. Sometimes something will be suggested to me and sometimes I think, “Oh, this would be good.” It’s kind of a mixed bag.

GM: Is it a pain in the ass for you with your performer friends back home? Are they all trying to get on the show?
SB: I try to get them on the show. Definitely. I would love to work with my friends. And yeah, they auditioned for the show but they didn’t get on. It’s unfortunate. But no, I don’t think it’s a pain for them. Somehow, in the end, I would like to be able to use any small niche-level notoriety I have to make their lives better in the future. Who knows if that’s possible or not? You know, it’s a tough business.

GM: You’re a decent sort. I can tell that.
SB: I believe in helping the people that you love. It’s a rising tide that lifts all... boats? What is that? I don’t know. Does that apply? (laughs)

GM: I don’t know, either. But in any audition, there’s an element of right time, right place.
SB: Right time and right place and total preparation. Another phrase that I can’t quote accurately, but it’s one of those things where if you’re totally prepared and an opportunity happens, that’s maybe what constitutes luck. So 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.

GM: Really?
SB: Yeah. It’s called News for Goofs.

GM: Wow.
SB: Isn’t that crazy?

GM: You gotta put that up somewhere.
SB: I know. It’s a little cassette tape that I did myself with my little tape recorder when I was a little kid. So I really have to transfer it to something before it, you know, becomes dust. That’s how old I am.

GM: How long have you been on the show?
SB: Um... eight years.

GM: I know Colbert, Corddry, Helms all moved on. And, I guess, others. But to me it seems like, Why would you do that? Although they’ve had successful careers. Do you have an exit strategy or do you just want to stay on as long as you can?
SB: No, you can’t really have an exit strategy. It’s just not the way that things work. You can have some ideas. I definitely would like to have something in place if they let me go or if I decide that I’m done. I’d like to move on to something else. But there’s only so much you can do for yourself in the acting business and in the business of comedy. Somebody also has to like what you do. So definitely it’s incredibly important to work on your own stuff and be working all the time. But I do also have to hope to make a connection with someone else. So I’m trying actually to be writing a lot more. I’m writing constantly. I wrote a book, for one thing. And I’ve been doing articles and I’m probably going to be starting a parenting blog. I’m just trying to be as active as possible because if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more you do, the more you get to do.

GM: You could be the new Amy Sedaris.
SB: Right, but she’s craftier than I am. I’m a baker.

GM: I haven’t read your book but yesterday I was in Chapters and I saw it and thought, “Well, I’m interviewing her tomorrow” so I flipped it open...
SB: Was it in the bargain bin?

GM: No, it was on the featured table.
SB: Okay! I like that.

GM: So I sat down, I flipped it open to the chapter on your crush on Jesus so I read that chapter. Were the stories based on truth or just flights of fancy?
SB: No, that’s a true story. My mom is Wiccan and all of that was true. She’s coming to the event in Vancouver. You wouldn’t look at her and instantly go, “Oh, there’s a Wiccan woman” but you wouldn’t not think that. (laughs) You might actually go there. I can pick a Wiccan like a mile away.

GM: Does she live nearby?
SB: She lives outside of Ottawa. But we’re connecting. We’re having a ladies weekend with my baby. My lady baby. We’re all going to meet in Vancouver.

GM: Nice. Did you fall away from the church?
SB: Yes, I’ve fallen away from all of those things. I have my own freaky spiritual... which is impossible to communicate to anyone else. (laughs) I’m going to write a book about it. It’s going to be bigger than Dianetics.

GM: (laughs) And one day there will be the Church of Samantha Bee. How long did it take you to write your book?
SB: A year. It took a year. I worked really solidly on it for a year in whatever little tiny pockets of spare time that I had. I worked really diligently on it.

GM: You obviously enjoy the process if you want to keep writing.
SB: Totally enjoy it. I loved it. It was so much fun. So much fun.

GM: The physical part of actually writing it or after you wrote it?
SB: No, it was really fun writing it. I really did enjoy the actual process of hunkering down and writing it. I really do enjoy it. I mean, I don’t know if that will last forever but it’s something that I do enjoy tremendously.

GM: Are you a big reader?
SB: Well, I used to be before I had children. Now I can barely get through an article in a magazine. But I will go back to it. I swear to God I will get back to it. I was a huge reader. There’s a reader in me that cannot get out. I just never have the time to do it. I’m so tired at night.

GM: I hear you. Is the show in Vancouver a one-off?
SB: Yes, it’s a fundraiser for a theatre company (She studied with artistic director Craig Holzschuh). I think it’s a great cause. I’m thrilled. I haven’t been to Vancouver in forever so I’m so excited to come.

GM: You’ve spent some time here before?
SB: I’ve just been out there on, you know, vacations, family vacations. I came out... gosh, when was the last time? I think my husband did a long job out there and I came out with him but it was ten years ago. It’s been ten years.

GM: An acting job?
SB: He did some kind of car show. It was an acting job at a car show. He did it on rollerblades. (laughs)

GM: Sweet.
SB: It was great. It was a real show-stopper.

GM: How would you describe what you’re doing here?
SB: We’re doing a talk. We’re just doing a talk.

GM: “We” meaning “you”?
SB: Myself and the artistic director of the theatre. Oh, gee, you know what, I have another interview.

GM: Yup, I know. That was my last question.
SB: If I hang up on you, can you call me right back? I have to just tell them that I’m here. Hold on. (pause) Hello?

GM: Hello. Hey, that worked.
SB: Oh my God, that worked. I have never done that effectively. She’s going to call me back in a couple of minutes. Yeah, so it’s going to be a talk led by the artistic director of the theatre. We’re going to answer questions. It’s going to be kind of like an intimate evening. Maybe nudity. No torpedos. (laughs) I don’t know. Um, yeah, it’s just going to be a fun, intimate gathering of people. Hopefully not that intimate but I think it should be funny. I’m hoping that there’s no hockey game that night.

GM: Oh, who cares?
SB: Oh, I don’t know. That can really affect people. It’s a hockey game. Come back to it later. Come to our fundraiser.

GM: Do you speak French?
SB: No. I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love French theatre. Who doesn’t love French theatre?

GM: I know. Moliere? Come on.
SB: Come on.

GM: Well, I’ll let you get to your other interview. Thanks so much for talking, Samantha.
SB: Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure. Are you coming to the fundraiser?

GM: I sure hope so. If there’s going to be nudity, I’ll be there.
SB: Okay.

GM: Thanks a lot.
SB: Okay, bye.

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