In one of Samantha Bee’s most intrepid feats of reportage on The Daily Show, she got a penis pump stuck to her face. The 2014 sight gag added a bit of levity to a more sobering story: Some lawmakers believe that insurance companies should cover the cost of penis pumps for men but not birth control for women. Bee, a Canadian-born mother of three, made a name for herself defending the rights of women and children on Comedy Central. This month she will expand her feminist foothold by becoming America’s sole female late-night TV host, with her weekly TBS program, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. “It’s not exactly virgin territory—though I am a virgin,” Bee says with a laugh. “Women do want to be represented. I think if you can tap into that audience, it could really be amazing.”
You spent 12 years as a Daily Show correspondent. How much did your decision to leave the show have to do with Jon Stewart’s departure?
It was a convergence of all these different things. My husband [fellow Daily Show alum Jason Jones] and I sold a lot of scripts, so over the years that was kind of our second job. It wasn’t like, “Oh my God, we’ve got to get out of The Daily Show,” but we definitely felt the next stage of our careers was to be creators and to own a project.
What if one of you had been offered the job of hosting The Daily Show?
I think what happened for us was so much better. Listen, it’s an incredible opportunity, and it comes with a lot of amazing stuff, but I’m much more inclined to be a grassroots type of person. I’m excited to be able to create my own workplace, to curate it just so, to try something new and see what happens.
Speaking of the new workplace, will there be a desk?
There’s nothing in God’s earth that could compel me to sit behind a desk, okay? I don’t know what it’s going to look like at this stage, but I’m done with the static idea of a desk. I’d like to have a more fluid space. Maybe it will be like Hollywood Squares with desks and I’ll switch desks. I’ll probably have a hamster desk, or just a Plexiglas cube with Yo-Yo Ma in it.
What was your initial reaction when you learned of Vanity Fair’s October 2015 portrait of 10 late-night TV hosts, all of them male?
I was in Long Island with my children, who were frolicking in a wooden ship in a pumpkin-patch playground when someone sent it to me. I just felt noise in my ears like the sound of the ocean, like I had two big conch shells pressed up against my head.
What did you do?
I said to Jason, “Excuse me for a second.” I went into the barn by the cider donuts and thought, I have to fix this photograph in a way that suits me. I don’t want to take anything away from any of those guys—I think they’re all great. It’s not about them. But I do hate to be ignored. I already had a funny photo of myself as a centaur—Jason and I are an unusual couple—so I called my friend and said, “Can you take these two photos and merge them?” He put my photo and the Vanity Fair photo together, and I tweeted it because I was like, this is so fucking stupid.
Do you have a theory about why men have been able to claim late-night television for themselves until now?
I don’t really know. The writing rooms have historically been male spaces. It’s the same with stand-up. It’s like a forest of dongs. That’s changing, but I think it takes some clever maneuvering and forward thinking. TBS has taken a huge leap of faith hiring me out of the blue. I’m thrilled.
You’re currently writing your second book. In your first book, I Know I Am, But What Are You, you confess to stealing cars as a teen. How did that come about?
It was my boyfriend. He was a terrible influence on me. That’s probably why I liked him. But I always looked upstanding. You can do anything if you dress nicely and act as if you’re supposed to be there. I was a car thief with braces and Bermuda shorts. I thought that was what I would do for my whole life. When I was 15, my boyfriend and I were scheduled to go to the airport. We were going to leave Canada, go to Miami, live on the beach and fence stolen cars. He chickened out. It’s actually his fault I’m not living under a bridge right now or in a federal penitentiary.
You eventually found Jason instead. What was your first date?
We were doing regional children’s theater, and he didn’t have a car. We didn’t know each other that well, but it was convenient for me to drive him. We found out we had lots of stuff in common, and we mutually asked each other out for dinner. I was really wary of a relationship—I wasn’t interested in starting something. At dinner he told me a story about how this girl in his life really liked him but he thought of her only as a friend. I thought he was talking about me. [laughs]
And he wasn’t?
He was actually trying to tell me that he wasn’t interested in this other girl, but his story didn’t work. After dinner I drove him home, and when he leaned over to kiss me, I was still in the car. I hit the gas and took off down the street, tires squealing. He was horrified that I took off, and I didn’t know what was happening. We’ve been together since 1997.
And you still like each other.
We do. So far, so good. It’s because of our centaur role-playing.