The producers of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee were devastated when Donald Trump won the election. It’s no secret that the producers of the comedy news show were Hillary Clinton supporters, but this year they’ve gone back to work satirizing the first steps of the new administration and prepping for the next four years.
Jo Miller was a writer for The Daily Show from 2009 to 2015 and now writes and produces Full Frontal. It didn’t take long for Full Frontal to join the ranks of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver as one of the go-to sources for a laugh about otherwise depressing news. Many of their segments go viral with YouTube clips after they air.
Miller spoke to Rotten Tomatoes after a Full Frontal panel for the Television Critics Association. Still sporting her “Nasty Woman” T-shirt, Miller had a lot of opinions about the new President and how best her show could help resist what she considers damaging policies. Here are 10 ways Miller feels Full Frontal and the media at large can fight for democracy.
Since Full Frontal is weekly instead of daily, they thought they’d have more time to plan each show. They’ve learned to be ready to drop everything on Tuesday night if big news happens before their next show.
“We found that when we formulate a plan, reality intervenes,” Miller said. “We plan a show every week and something happens the night before.”
Bee interviewed Gessen, a Russian journalist who moved to the U.S. in 1981, then back to Moscow in 1991. Gessen warned Bee that Trump could ban newspapers from the White House and implore American citizens to turn in immigrants. She said most resistance to authoritarians is unsuccessful, but encouraged Bee to keep panicking and define the lines she would not cross.
“If this does turn out to be a successfully authoritarian government, if the Republican House doesn’t get really tired of these shenanigans and take him out in a few months, then we need help from other people who have lived under repressive regimes to know what our role is and how to function,” Miller said. “Masha gave us a preview of what the process for debasing language was like. We saw it with terms like ‘fake news.’”
Jon Stewart used to self-deprecatingly call The Daily Show “fake news,” but the 2016 election uncovered actual outlets creating stories to misinform the public, like the Pizzagate child sex ring. So Miller redefined shows like The Daily Show and Full Frontal as commentary rather than fake news.
“We’re just commentary with jokes,” Miller said. “We rely on journalists. Very occasionally we will go and investigate news ourselves if nobody else has. We are piggybacking on the work of journalists, so we’re not news. I think ‘fake news’ for The Daily Show was a holdover from the 1990s when Lizz [Winstead] created the show. It was a parody of news. It hadn’t been fake news under Jon’s hand for a decade anyway. It’s commentary.”
When Meryl Streep spoke about protecting the press in her Golden Globes speech, Miller had a reality check. “How the hell is she supposed to do that?,” Miller asked. “I mean, she could pay for defense lawyers. What does it mean for a movie star to protect the press?”
During the campaign, Trump spoke about suing journalists for libel. Even a frivolous lawsuit would cost a lot to defend, and the billionaire President has more money than any working reporter. So it will fall on wealthy benefactors to step in and defend the press.
“Have deep pockets,” Miller said. “I think [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos is going to defend the press because he can pay their defense lawyers.”
Reporters may work for competing news outlets, but they should agree on the principles of a free press. So when a reporter like CNN’s Jim Acosta is singled out by Trump, who refused to answer his question, Miller thinks journalists should stick together. Fox News anchor Shep Smith defended CNN against Trump’s claims that they are “fake news.” Miller had further suggestions.
“In the White House press pool, if someone is treated like Trump treated Acosta, I think the questions should stop,” Miller said. “There should be some solidarity. Until he answers Acosta’s questions, we’re not going to ask you any more questions. Which is really hard because you’re in competition with each other.”
On the other hand, if reporters stopped asking questions, Trump might be happy to end the press conference without answering any. Miller thinks reporters could call his bluff. “How long can he do that for?” Miller said. “How long can we get all of our news from his stupid tweets? That doesn’t make him look good. It makes him look weak.”
“People Are Saying” is a recurring Full Frontal segment where Bee puts forth theories based on anecdotal evidence. Miller said the show can always use “People Are Saying” to discuss rumors, and satirize the reporting of rumors in itself.
“We had so much fun with that with ‘Trump Can’t Read,’” Miller said. “So when we’re covering rumors or commenting on the fact that rumors are news, we will bring back ‘People Are Saying’ quite a bit.”
In their first season, Full Frontal began a segment called “Elected Paperweight of the Month.” One such “Paperweight” was Kentucky governor Matt Bevin, who chastised the legislature for missing sessions but neglected to note official session hours. Miller is considering expanding the Paperweight segment.
“One of my writers texted me and asked if a city could be a Paperweight after Biloxi decided it was ‘Great Americans Day,’” Miller said.
As long as there are white men in the majority claiming oppression for mild offenses, Full Frontal will mock them. The debut “White Plight” segment featured singer Bo Bice’s complaint about being called a “white boy” in a Popeye’s Chicken. Miller likes the idea of recurring segments for persistent issues.
“I have a feeling that white people are going to be fragile again,” Miller said. “I think we are going to approach themes like the exclusion of women from the public sphere. We’re going to wind up with some themed recurring bits to explore the attacks on the press, for instance.”
A common narrative during the 2016 election season was that liberal elites lived in a bubble and didn’t understand the America that was voting for Trump. Miller is here to say they’re not in a bubble. Rather, they’ve made a very determined decision to avoid people who have terrorized them their entire lives.
“There are a lot of us certainly in New York and L.A. who fled to the bubble because these people hated us,” Miller said. “They were mean to us in high school. They beat us up because we read books or we were gay. We know them already. We grew up with them. We know them rather well, some of us. We’re not all Lena Dunham.”
Miller wants to see broader regional coverage in the news media. She concedes that the media tends to focus more on big city stories, but that doesn’t automatically make rural voters “real Americans.”
“Yes, I agree that rural matters aren’t covered,” Miller said. “Did you ever read Methland [by Nick Reding]? It’s a great book about the meth epidemic in America and the fact that it was just dumb luck that it didn’t touch New York. It was a rural thing. So we utterly failed to cover it. It was a secret epidemic that the media didn’t cover because it wasn’t happening in the media’s backyard. That is true. We need to cover them better, but to elevate them and label them as real Americans versus fake Americans, that’s really awful and I won’t have it. I will not have it that anybody who’s not white is an asterisk American.”
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee airs Wednesday nights at 10:30 on TBS