Samantha Bee on the Sexual Harassment Tsunami and Why She Almost Left Comedy for Advertising

Plus, the Matt Lauer-like button she wishes she had

Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee discussed sexual harassment at the Montclair Film Festival's annual fundraiser.
Getty Images

In hindsight, Samantha Bee picked a lousy time to be off the air for a few weeks. Since Full Frontal with Samantha Bee’s last new episode, on Nov. 15, several more prominent Hollywood men have lost their jobs due to sexual harassment allegations, including Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose.

So when Bee sat down with Stephen Colbert on Saturday night during the Montclair Film Festival’s annual fundraiser at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J., she had a lot to get off her chest about Lauer and the industry’s sexual harassment tsunami. (During last year’s event, Colbert held an election postmortem with another Daily Show alum-turned-late-night-host, John Oliver.)

“We have a show coming up on Wednesday, thank God, because we are literally bursting at the seams with content. I wish our show was 800 minutes long, but it’s only 21 minutes,” said Bee.

One topic of conversation on Wednesday’s show will be Lauer, whom NBC fired as several disturbing sexual allegations came to light. “I mean the button under his desk?” said Bee, referring to a Variety report that Lauer’s office was equipped with a device that enabled him to remotely lock his office door from his desk, trapping his alleged victims inside the room. “I wish I had a button under my desk, and sexual harassers would just slide into a pit of crocodiles.”

Meanwhile, “I’m sure on Monday, new revelations will occur” about other serial sexual harasser in the industry, said Bee. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday … who knows?”

There is one thing, however, that Bee is certain of. “I can tell you one thing: there is a one million fucking percent guarantee that I’ve never shown my dick to anybody in my office!” said Bee. Then, referring to the allegations that two alleged harassers—producer Harvey Weinstein and comedian Louis C.K.—masturbated in front of multiple victims, she added, “The easiest thing I’ve done all day is not masturbate on this stage in front of everybody. Effortless!”

During the wide-ranging conversation with Bee, Colbert initially pivoted to the topic of sexual harassment with a long-winded question about how Bee was the most prominent female voice in late-night, before stopping himself and getting to the point. “Fuck all that preamble: guys are getting busted for whipping out their dicks,” he told her, explaining, “I was going to Charlie Rose this one, but … it has a totally different meaning now.”

The allegations are “not surprising to probably most women I know … or any single woman who lives on Planet Earth. The speed and ferocity at which everything is coming forward is impressive to me,” said Bee. “I’m happy to be alive in a moment where people are feeling freer with their stories and we don’t have to live with shame. It’s really still hard for people.”

"I wish I had a button under my desk, and sexual harassers would just slide into a pit of crocodiles.”
Samantha Bee

But when it comes to sexual harassment in society, these stories are “like the tip of the flag on the top of the iceberg,” she said. “Keeping this going is important. It’s important for people to know what lies beneath.”

The fact that so many stories have been come to light in recent weeks “buoys my spirits, for sure,” said Bee. “What Gretchen Carlson did a year ago in the summer [suing then-Fox News chairman CEO Roger Alies for sexual harassment], was incredible. What she accomplished and what she put out there was impressive, and she has been a steadfast voice on this issue.”

Colbert brought up comedian C.K., whom five women have accused of sexual misconduct; the comedian confirmed the allegations a day later, after denying them for years. Backstage, he and Bee had talked about “how heartbreaking it is, both for the women who had to go through this, and also for those of us who admire his work, and go, okay, that’s gone now. Is it gone? Could you ever hear a Cosby album again?”

Bee said, “I’m not sure how to answer it, because I don’t think it’s the same for every person, or every artist. There are certain artists that I just can’t separate it, and that’s my prerogative. Others can. It’s so complicated.”

Colbert admitted, “I feel dumb, because I’m not surprised that men are bad … but I didn’t know about Louie. I didn’t know about Cosby, and that’s dumb.”

Later in the evening, an audience member asked the duo for their thoughts on NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly, and whether they feel she is leveraging her own sexual harassment history with Fox News in part to rehabilitate her image.

“It’s very complicated. I don’t really know how I feel,” said Bee. Colbert, who hasn’t seen Kelly’s show, added, “I don’t know enough about what she’s doing and how she’s piggybacking on a cultural moment now.”

“Have you been watching the Megyn Kelly show [on NBC]? It’s interesting,” said Bee, adding that several staffers attended a taping this fall. “Her security was really upset. They thought maybe we were going to ambush her show.”

Bee said she tried “a lot” to get Kelly onto Full Frontal last year. “Right around the election, I had this wonderful thought it would be a great idea to reach across the aisle and … talk to people who had made me uncomfortable previously and were maybe trying to reinvent themselves,” said Bee, who did just that with Glenn Beck.

While Bee isn’t sure what to make of Kelly, she noted that “to combat Trumpism,” it’s important to find common ground, as she has done with Carlson, who wants Congress to make forced arbitration clauses illegal, which would give harassed workers the opportunity to go to court.

“I think that her message is important,” said Bee. “It’s going to take a massive bipartisan effort to work on the issue of forced arbitration, and that requires you to put those things aside and focus on the things that you can find in common. It’s essential.”

Advertising: no laughing matter

Bee also revealed that before she landed her Daily Show correspondent gig in 2003, she almost left comedy behind to work in advertising full-time.

As a comedian in Toronto performing with the all-female sketch comedy troupe called the Atomic Fireballs, “I was literally two weeks away from giving up comedy forever,” recalled Bee, who was working at an advertising agency to pay the bills. “I was about to give up comedy. I thought, this is it, I have a job.”

But Bee admitted that she wasn’t cut out for the agency world. “I was doing such a shit job there, I was really messing them up,” she said. “I was coordinating signage all over Toronto, and I’m assuming that when I walked away from the job, Burger King signs did not go up, and people were sued.”

Also during the conversation, the two comedians noted that both of them had taped segments for their shows in Russia during the past year. Colbert said that during his visit to the country, he was surprised how universal the marketing is.

“I watched a McDonald’s commercial that made me tear up. ‘Oh, they’re being marketed to just like we’re being marketed to!’” said Colbert. “Our common culture is how we’re marketed to, and I saw their marketing, which was probably designed by the same people who do our marketing. ‘Oh yeah, they totally want you to eat trans fats too!’ That’s fantastic. None of us are going to make it to 60.”