It’s been over a year since “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” first shouted its way across America’s screens, bringing an upbeat, hilarious and yes, sometimes shrill voice to the political comedy landscape. With one of the only two women hosts in late night, “Full Frontal” was the feminist representation of what a majority of the nation expected to see on election day: a woman in a pantsuit, taking charge.
Instead of welcoming a Hillary Clinton presidency, however, the show found itself having to respond to the Donald Trump circus, an ongoing act that has been the idealogical opposite of all that the “Full Frontal” writing staff of 11 people holds dear. Nevertheless, they persisted.
Now in its second season, “Full Frontal” has earned seven Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Variety Talk Series, Directing for a Variety Series, and Writing for a Variety Series, among others. Comedian, writer, and actor Ashley Nicole Black spoke to IndieWire about writing the series with the aim to inform, amuse, and perhaps inspire critical thinking in its viewers.
And while the primary function of such a show is entertainment, its political nature is one that always strives for more unity. Can a TV show bridge the ever-widening divide in this country? Black detailed how the show is at least making its voice heard. It’s up to the people to listen.
1. Find the Right Topics
With the wealth of policies, incidents and tweets to discuss on an almost daily basis, the weekly show has to be selective about what to put its energies behind. For Black, that amounts to a literal gut check.
“I usually have a real emotional reaction to things,” she said. “There are things that are very important, or very much in the news that, for whatever reason, my body just doesn’t respond to it. So, I’m like, ‘Oh fine, that’s for somebody else.’ And that’s fine. But there are definitely stories that come along, and instantly my stomach hurts. I always say my butt hole clenches up, and you’re like, ‘Oh this is it. This is my story.’ And those are the ones that I try to go after.”
2. Find the Right Voice
As a Second City student, Black had to find her own voice, and through a musical commentary piece called “Cute,” she hit upon her authentic expression. Watch the comedy song here.
“It was a song where I was very bubbly and happy, but singing about real social issues,” she said. “The first time I did that the response to it was so insane. Women kept coming up to me… It had just really clearly hit a nerve. And that was the moment where it was like, ‘Oh I think I found it. I think it’s like that happy, bubbly person who secretly is very sad or very angry about something and is kind of sneaking it in.’”
Black used that voice in her writing also, specifically when sending in an application package to work at “Full Frontal.” “When I was applying for this job and I started watching all the Samantha stuff, I was able to understand her voice very quickly,” she said. “She also presents this really kind, really bubbly persona, but she’s gonna say some real shit. I really identified with her voice.
“I always try to put one thing in the packet that’s like, ‘This is definitely who you’re getting, so if you don’t want this person, don’t hire her,’” Black continued. “I had done a piece where an image consultant tries to rebrand Black Lives Matter and they end up creating the image of the slave.”
3. Do Your Research
In a world where the definition of a “fact” seems to be under debate, facts do indeed still matter. Therefore, no matter how silly a segment or package is, no matter how over-the-top and satirical, the details proposed as evidence have to line up and check out. Black gives full credit to the research staff on “Full Frontal” for doing the exhaustive legwork in providing the writers’ cannon fodder.
“We’ll do some initial research when we’re pitching, but once a piece is being made, it’s someone else’s job,” she said. “One of my favorite things that we did was the history of the religious right. I grew up Christian and I feel like Christians have gotten a bad rap because of some of their misbehavior. So, it was nice to sort of go back and trace that history. It’s also such a weird, dorky thing to do, but it was like, very proud that I’m on a show who’s like, ‘Yeah sure let’s take 10 whole minutes to just talk about history.’”
Take a look at the segment below:
Probably one of the most infamous segments is one that proposed a theory about the president that made too much sense.
“We did the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we did a piece called Trump Can’t Read, which is just, like, so stupid and so irreverent, and so bratty,” said Black. “Every minute of it is hilarious and funny, but still very well researched and accurate.”
Here’s all the evidence to support that claim below: