Samantha Bee is a comedian. She's on The Daily Show, she's Canadian, she's married to fellow Canadian and co-worker Jason Jones and she's written a book, I Know I Am But What Are You?.
Her genial demeanour, shiny hair and vaguely Midwestern accent make her appear like a television news reporter, which she is not, but plays well---if Murphy Brown were remade now, she would be perfectly cast as a Chicago update on Corky Sherwood. In wide-ranging interviews with wide-ranging subjects, she tilts her head, raises her eyebrows and scrunches up her face, a series of warnings all telegraphing you are about to get it, but still they don't see it until it's too late, and there is where you laugh, a little guiltily maybe, but you do.
This week she's hosting the opening gala of the Ha!ifax ComedyFest, and only knows the show is at a casino (it's actually the Schooner Room, in Casino Nova Scotia). "I am the least exciting person to walk through the doors of a casino," she says from her Daily Show office in New York. "Do you hear slot machines hanging out around you? Is it like, raked? Do people sit there eating? Is there gonna be clinking of forks and chicken Kiev?"
Bee is officially a Daily Show correspondent, though her on-air title changes to fit the joke, and through "reports" and field pieces (see sidebar) she navigates American politics and sociology with incisive wit, a sketch artist's bravado and Canadian manners. The Daily Show's ascension from cable laffer to zeitgeist barometer means people see them coming, nowadays. "They know who we are for the most part---it's pretty rare now that we go into an interview and the person has never heard of us or seen the show or heard of the show before," she says. "It's our job to keep people on their toes. It's tough, every time. It's always nerve-wracking and difficult to do."
But it's not as bad as it could be. "It used to be much worse. Now we have two cameras. But for the longest time we only had one and so we would ask the person all the material and the camera would be on them," Bee says. "Then we would flip it around I would have to re-ask all the questions that I originally asked, in exactly the same tone, but just on me, and that was hard. Because then people had to sit there and re-listen to all the questions they answered and then they were like, [Horrified intake of breath.] Then they could see."
Even so, "Ninety-nine percent of the time, people are very pleased."
Bee has been on The Daily Show since 2003. Jones joined the cast in 2005. They were already together when he starred, with Jessica Holmes, as co-anchor of (ahem) the fake news show The Itch, produced and shot in Halifax in 2000.
"I remember eating at The Press Gang," says Bee. "People were singing there that night and this woman, I'll never forget this, everyone in the restaurant was singing at some point and this woman was doing a solo. She was a guest, she was just eating. And she got the microphone and she just put her head down on the table and was just drunkenly singing into the microphone, and nobody could get the microphone away from her. She was like 'I'm gonna fuckin' sing and fuck all y'all,'" Bee slurs, then laughs. "She sang all night with her head on the table."
Tara Thorne is The Coast's Television Correspondent and copy chief.
Samantha Bee, Halifax Comedy Festival Opening Gala, Wednesday, April 25, 7:30pm, Schooner Room, Casino Nova Scotia 1983 Upper Water Street $37, ticketatlantic.com
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