Jimmy Fallon. David Letterman. Stephen Colbert. Seth Meyers. Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Kimmel. These are the names that popped up when I searched “late-night talk show hosts” online. They all have many things in common. They are comedians who sit behind desks and chat up celebrities and other, well-known public faces. They discuss a myriad of topics, which range from Hollywood gossip to political fiascos, and entertain audiences with their wit and musical guests.
And oh yeah—one more thing. They’re all men.
But not all late-night talk show hosts are men. What did not come up in my Google search was the only current female late-night talk show host on television, Samantha Bee. You may know her from when she worked on The Daily Show for twelve years as a correspondent. Or, you could be like me and not know who the heck she is. To get familiar with her and her work, here’s a segment from her show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, that discusses Rape Kits:
In this video, Samantha Bee discusses how thousands of rape kits are collected, but left sitting untested for possibly years in evidence rooms, which then leads to their destruction in order to make room for new materials. And since perpetrators of rape are often serial rapists, evidence from old rape kits can be extremely helpful in catching the actual rapist and closing multiple cold cases. Nevertheless, local legislators are being unnecessarily difficult by obstructing bipartisan laws that would prevent the destruction of rape kits.
Bee is unbending and ruthless—character traits which some might say don’t look very pretty on a woman. But Samantha Bee isn’t trying to be pretty and flattering. As Vox aptly puts it, she’s waging war. On everyone. Unlike many of her late-night talk show host companions who cater to their audiences and leave everyone in a feel-good mood, Samantha Bee makes her stance known. And if you don’t agree with it, tough luck: either listen to her or find something else to watch. Her satire is on point as are her blazers, and the fact that fifty percent of the show’s writing staff is female sets a precedent for the future.
Other late-night hosts ridicule opposing sides by making them seem ignorant and stupid, ultimately dismissing their statements as irrelevant. Although she does humiliate and make fun of many, many people, Bee does not assume any argument to be irrelevant. She claps back with a barrage of counter-arguments. And then she comes after you, the audience. In the Rape Kit segment above, for example, Samantha Bee slyly concludes by stating that the reason we have local legislators who hinder extremely important causes is “because we don’t care about local politics. So remember, local elections are a lot like rape kits. No one really wants to pay attention to them, but if you bother to open them up, you might just get rid of someone who’s been screwing everyone in town.”
What makes this segment stronger—with all of its one-liners and humor and educational information—is that it is being said by a woman. Other late-night talk show hosts can, and have, talked about abortion and women’s rights, but none will ever resonate as poignantly as when Samantha Bee vehemently fights for it. Samantha Bee doesn’t just fight for women’s rights because it’s right—she fights because she has lived and experienced injustice all throughout her life as a woman. Samantha Bee may be the underdog in a club full of men, but she struts onto the stage with confidence as Peaches’ “Boys Wanna Be Her” plays in the background. Bee doesn’t want to be a part of the boys’ club. She’s perfectly fine on her own.