Watch your bestseller-list ass, Chelsea Handler. For years, Samantha Bee has been giving brain boners as the Most Senior Correspondent on “The Daily Show,” and now Canada’s finest import has published her first book, a collection of autobiographical essays, I Know I Am, But What Are You? In part one of my interview with Bee, we talked a little bit about her book (more on that in part two), but also about how she got her start in comedy. Let’s talk about your book. I was so surprised to read that you had so many jobs in your 20s. Comedy was, like, your 10th career choice.
It was not on the radar at all. It was not on the radar at all. Even when I went into theater, even when I wanted to be an actor, I did not want to be a comedian. It was not an impulse that I had. I was a funny person; I certainly was the same person that I am now but it just didn’t seem like a career. Does that make sense? [Becoming a comedian] just didn’t seem feasible. I never aspired to be a stand-up because the lifestyle did not appeal to me, even though I love stand-up. There’s not a lot of places you can go in Canada as a comedian. There’s just not a lot of work out there. I really wanted to be a serious actor, but I’m really bad at that. I’m not a good serious actor. I learned that lesson. That was a hard lesson, but I figured that out. So it just kind of naturally evolved. Nobody ever took me seriously.
Did you have to try doing stand-up then?
(drops voice to a hushed tone) Is that disappointing? Is it disappointing to hear that? Is it slightly disappointing to hear that?
Be honest. Come on, be honest!
(still confused) Ummmmm, no? (laughs awkwardly) Really, I want to know, did you ever do stand-up?
No. I did sketch, writing and performing [it]. I was doing children’s theater at the time, actually, and someone I was doing it with had a sketch troupe and the woman from their troupe backed out of a performance and he said, ‘Hey, you’re funny, do you want to [fill in]?” So I rehearsed with them and I just totally connected with it. I just fell in love with it. So I worked with them for a little while and I ended up joining an all-female sketch troupe called The Atomic Fireballs in Toronto and we worked together for years. We had a great time. We wrote and went all over the place and performed and had props in our tickle trunks. It was really ridiculous. But it was so fun. We loved it.
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I would imagine sketch comedy doesn’t pay very well.
It doesn’t pay anything, OK? You have to love it. And half the time you’re performing for your family and friends, so you have to love it. Getting people out to a sketch comedy show, it is hard. It is hard work and hustle. And finding spaces to do it. But we did it and I think we were good. We tried to get a TV show for years but nobody wanted us. (laughs)
Have you ever auditioned for “Saturday Night Live”?
No, I never have. These things don’t come up that often when you’re in Canada. They don’t often go on North America-wide talent hunts. It’s very difficult to audition, put yourself on tape and send the tape. It rarely gets seen. I just never really wanted to do it; it just didn’t seem realistic. But “The Daily Show” came to Canada, they came to Toronto, and that made a huge difference. And also I was a huge fan of this show.
What was your “Daily Show” audition like?
On the surface it was very simple, actually. It was just a couple of readings, various chats opposite Jon [Stewart]. He, of course, was not there but one of the executive producers was there. In many ways, it was not the right audition process at all, because who cares if you can read a script? There’s so much more to [this job] than that. But I was grateful and terrified. It was terrifying. But then I got a callback and I came down to New York and ended up getting the job.
You got your dream job!
It’s completely a dream job; there’s no ambiguity there. It was my dream job and it was dream-like to get it.
Did becoming a parent at all affect what kind of humor you found funny? Are some topics off-limits now?
I don’t know that I ever found jokes about rape or murder too funny (laughs), but I guess it depends contextually. But no, I don’t think [becoming a parent] changed my sense of humor at all. I do think that [motherhood] did change my personality a little bit in that I became insanely sensitive to stories about child abuse. I never really personalized those news stories before and now I completely personalize them and I feel homicidal towards people who hurt children. It’s not like I ever supported [child abusers'] cause beforehand, but definitely I’ve taken so much of a harder line on people who are terrible to children. I don’t know where that came from! But I became homicidal-y protective of my children.
And our daughter is sensitive, so we are sensitive about her sensitivity. I think [she] makes us a little more sensitive around the house. But that’s it. I don’t want to hurt my daughter’s feelings. This one time, Jason did a bit, a Father’s Day thing, and he was wearing a Baby Bjorn and he pretended to jump into a swimming pool with a baby in it. (laughs) We think it’s hilarious! We were going over old things and we really really liked it. And my daughter, Piper, was in that segment. She was only seven weeks old. We brought her in the studio and we used her in this bit. And we thought that she would love to see herself on TV as a tiny little baby so — I don’t know what we were thinking! — we showed her this segment. And she thought that we hurt her.
She couldn’t understand, obviously. Obviously! Like, duuuh. It was so stupid for us to have shown her that. She was so lost after that. She was crying! We spent a week afterward explaining to her that we did not hurt her and that it was a doll, that it was not ever her [in the pool]. We learned a big lesson. We just learned a really huge lesson from that. It was really stupid parenting, but hey, it happens.
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