Men vastly outnumber women in both technology and late-night comedy. But it doesn't have to stay that way.
On the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, "Full Frontal" host Samantha Bee said making a new late-night TV show comes with a lot of big decisions, including how to distribute the show online, and whether to mimic other shows like Bee's old home, "The Daily Show."
But she said the "Full Frontal" team made it a priority to diversify its behind-the-scenes staff, with a concerted outreach effort.
"You actually have to do more than just putting out a submission packet and saying, 'All people apply, please,'" Bee said. "You have to make calls, you have to contact people who you know from that community, you have to go, 'Hey, who do you know?'"
Several sections of Bee's interview are presented below in a lightly edited transcript. For more smart and BS-free interviews like this one, subscribe to Recode Media, which has a new episode every Thursday. Past guests have included New Yorker editor David Remnick, "The Nightly Show" host Larry Wilmore and New York Times Magazine writer Jenna Wortham.
And now, here are some of the highlights — edited for clarity — from Peter Kafka's Recode Media interview with Samantha Bee:
Peter Kafka: If you're slow and dull-witted like me and you watch your show, you’ll see some differences [with the Daily Show]. There's no desk.
Samantha Bee: No desk. Yeah.
There's no guest interview.
Were those things you thought about early on? "I want to get rid of those, I want to move past that stuff."
We could not have had a desk. We didn't want to have a desk.
It's more kinetic without it, right?
It's more kinetic. And my face does really weird things, like if I'm trapped behind something, I start to fidget. I actually, physically start to fidget.
So you said, "I don't want to sit at a desk and also I don't want to bring on a guest, I don't want to interview someone."
Not really. I mean, I think that we will do that, when it makes sense, if it fits what we want to do, if it excites us. I think that we're sort of trying to do a show that we just want to watch ourselves. We keep it really small. We're not really thinking too much outside this office when we make a show. And part of that is I just don't want to really sit with people and ask the same questions that everybody's already heard the answers to, basically.
Now I feel fidgety for asking you the same questions.
No no no! No, I don't mean that. I mean like political leaders, you know, they have their talking points, they have the things they say —
Yeah. And frankly that was the rap on "The Daily Show" — that it was the least interesting part of it, most often.
Most often. I would say most often. I would tend to agree with that.
If you like this interview, then you should also check out Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, which features conversations with tech and media's key players every Monday. You can find new episodes here on Recode.net, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher. On this past Monday's episode, Kara interviewed Recode co-founder and longtime tech columnist Walt Mossberg:
You're making television, and your audience presumably spends a lot of time online. They may consume all of your show online. Do you think about that? I think I can watch all of yesterday's show on YouTube today.
We think about it, but we don't overthink it, you know? You have to be a bit mindful of having a break in an act so you can sort of chop it into pieces, so that it's a little bit more shareable. But we don't think of the show as something that.. we're not dividing it as we go along.
So you're making a television show…
We're making a television show, understanding that there are points within the television show where it will be beneficial for us not to put out an eight-minute-long segment.
And what do you think about the idea that there's a lot of people who may be your fans, who will never watch the show on the air? They'll only consume it in clips.
I know I'm supposed to like that. But I actually think it doesn’t… I consume television products in a way that is probably not pleasing to networks, so I really can't fault people for it.
And the kind of stuff you do works perfectly [online], right? It's five minutes, it's really entertaining...
Yeah. Obviously, we want to drive people to TBS and we want them to watch the show in real-time… but it's not the only thing that builds a brand anymore. It's more awareness, and you want as many eyeballs on your stuff as humanly possible. And I would take that from anywhere.
What if the Turner folks said, "Look, you can start off by distributing this stuff widely on wherever, and then eventually we're going to pull it back and you'll have to watch it on TV?"
I don't even have those discussions because everybody knows not to do that because my eyes just... We definitely had web development meetings where I just was so completely tuned out. I can't really help it. It's not my strength. It's important to me because the success of the show is important to me and as a consumer of visual products it's important to me because I like to access everything. But building that for this show is not my strength.
And what about the other social stuff? Facebook, Twitter... You created a Twitter joke last year making fun of Vanity Fair.
They had the "men of comedy" — or sorry, it was the "stars of comedy" — who happened to be men.
And you photoshopped yourself in.
Well, I did Photoshop myself in. It was a picture that really drove home the message of, there really are a lot of men in late night comedy.
Did you do that on your own or did someone…
I already had that photo because Miles Kahn, who is an executive producer of the show, runs the field department here. We had been talking about doing a field piece and using that image for something, so we cooked it up between ourselves for months, so it was on hand.
Did you feel an obligation: "Alright look, I should have a Twitter presence, I should have a Facebook presence..." Does that stuff come naturally to you?
It doesn't come very naturally to me.
Not your thing.
I don't really catalogue every moment of my life, you know.
You're missing out!
I know! What a fool!
The obvious thing that everyone writes about when they write about you, is… you're a woman!
What?! Oh my god!
On the one hand, you don't want it to be sort of the dominant thing of what you're doing. On the other hand it's the really obvious thing to notice. It seems like it informs your comedy. How are you thinking about it sort of minute to minute, day to day as you’re producing the show?
We're not thinking about it at all. Is that an OK answer?
Yeah, it's fine.
We don't think about it too much. The things that jump out to us jump out to us in a certain way because we're not all women here, but we all have a certain point of view. So it informs the comedy here, but in a way that is very seamless. We don't come into work and go, "What are the women stories today?" It's just the stories that jump out from the page to us.
I went to your taping last week, you had that thing about diapers.
Oh yeah, diapers.
Do you think that's something that would have run at a different show?
I don't, actually. I think that the diaper segment, in particular, is a great example of a piece of satire that would not have been created or performed on any other existing show currently.
And that's more because of you, right?
Which is something that I think that we can be proud of here. And because it also was very funny. It's a terrible story, I think we did a great job with it, I'm really proud of it, it was really funny, it's an important story, it's something not a lot of people know or think about it. I certainly didn't.
You got poop humor in there.
There's a little poo humor in there, which is always welcome. So it was a mixed bag. I think we all walked away from that going, "Oh, I'm proud. I think that we did that piece and nobody else would have." So that's good.
We all have questions about tech, which is why Recode has another podcast called Too Embarrassed to Ask, which comes out every Friday. You can find new episodes here on Recode.net, or subscribe to the show on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher. Here's the latest episode, in which Kara and Lauren break down whether you should upgrade your laptop or love the one you've got:
Do you want to keep having the gender discussion or are you sick of the gender discussion?
No, it's fine. I'm not at all sick of it.
I think it's really interesting. I was at the taping. It seemed like there were a lot more women behind the stage, working with you, than you would see if I went to a traditional late night show. Your show runner's a woman.
Yup. She's incredible.
Your warm-up person, who is your friend, is a woman.
It seemed like there was — I don't know, I was going to say "female energy" and then I thought, "Don't say that," and now I just did, so...
No, you said it, so it's real.
Sorry. But it's not a Lilith Fair, right? It's a comedy show.
It's not. No, it's a comedy show. Everybody's working at maximum overdrive, for sure.
How conscious are you about having more diversity behind the scenes?
We're very conscious of it. That is something that we do think about. That's something that we thought about a lot when we were hiring. And we continue to think of it. We're trying to build a mentorship program — slowly but surely.
An actual program?
Yeah. Because we realize that we haven’t... it's not like we've solved the diversity problem, but we do need to kind of keep the needle pushing forward.
This is something that bedevils traditional late night shows.
Was that bothersome to you when you were at "The Daily Show" when it was primarily, I assume, white dudes from Harvard working there?
Well, I was the only woman there for an awfully long time. So it was something that I'd noticed.
For like eight years, right?
Eight years, something like that. It didn't bedevil me. It wasn't always at the top of my consciousness. But since Jo, she's the show runner, since we've been putting this together, it's been important for us to figure out a way to advance the conversation. When we started this, we knew the type of show that we wanted to do and we knew that it would be really ferocious. We just knew that it would be um, very visceral because that's what we respond to. That's what we wanted to do. And we didn't really know how that would be received by the world. How could you ever know? So we thought, "Well if we only have six episodes, or thirteen episodes..." because the original order was thirteen episodes —
But they can always truncate that on you, if it's a disaster. So we thought, "Well, why don't we just try everything?"
"Just do everything we can, at the beginning, front-load it."
The idea of doing mentorship and just keep doing that, keep moving forward. And then if all we have are thirteen, then we will know we tried. We'll know that we tried. And now we have more than thirteen, so we can continue.
Just mechanically, how do you go about saying, "Alright, we want a diverse staff?" How do you go about doing that? JJ Abrams has said for his stuff that he's doing in LA, he is saying, "We now want to see this percent Asian, we want to at least look at a reflection of people, a cross section that looks like America, with actual numbers."
Yeah, you have to. You actually have to do more than just putting out a submission packet and saying, "All people apply please." You have to make calls, you have to contact people who you know from that community, you have to go, "Hey, who do you know? Who do you know who knows someone else? Who do you know who knows someone else who you think would be great? Or who they think would be great."
"Who is a woman, who is an African American?"
"Who is a woman."
So you're asking specifically for that.
You're being really specific and reaching into places where maybe no one's ever been asked before and you're trying to say, "Hey, tell me all the people you think are great. And tell them we want to hear from them."
And is there anyone tapping you on the shoulder saying, "Look, I know that's well-intentioned, but it works best if we go to the traditional community, it works best if we get more white guys from Harvard."
No! Of course, we went to the traditional community, too. I mean, that's just a part of it. You do your regular submission, you do all the agents and stuff like that and you hit that territory but then you do have to push that further. You do have to push that further. And it's really hard work.
So are you pleased with where you're at now?
I'm really pleased. I think we can always do better. Definitely.
And do you think that makes for a funnier, better show?
A hundred percent. Because broadening the point of view is only ever going to benefit you.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.