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Hey, everyone, and welcome to how I built this resilience edition on these episodes, we're talking with entrepreneurs and other interesting people about how to think creatively during this really disruptive moment. And today we're going to hear from Samantha Bee, the host and creator of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
Samantha has been quarantining at her home outside of New York with her kids and her husband, Jason Jones, who's also an executive producer on the show. Writing and producing a show remotely has been a learning experience for Samantha and her staff, but it's allowed them to rethink the production process. Samantha spoke to me from her apartment in New York City, where she returned just in time for our conversation. I know you've been filming the show from upstate New York in your backyard.
You are now in your apartment in Manhattan, like I think I just got there, right.
Well, the tropical storm last week knocked out power to our house. And we have do not have power yet. The house. We don't have power and we don't have Internet.
And today will make it like officially I think we're passing the one week mark since we've had power or Internet. So we came into the city where we also have questionable Internet. So I hope that it works.
Is there any talk about if when the show might go back to the studio?
We are constantly talking about it, but there doesn't seem to be any movement in that direction, which is really fine for now and it's fine for September. It is not as fine for October, November, December, January, February.
So, you know, it's our studio is a huge shared space. We literally share our studio space with John Oliver's show and Dr. Oz Show.
And so it's much more difficult. We don't control our own environment. So it's going to be very difficult for us to go back to the studio. So we're there's about ten different scenarios that we're kind of juggling for how to move the show forward into inclement weather or freezing cold. We'll see.
You have a team, a big team that produces the show think like 70 people. So first of all, how have you been managing that and how has your team been managing through this?
I think, you know, everybody's been doing incredible work in the most anxiety riddled of circumstances. Everybody has their own personal life that they're also bringing to the table every day, which everybody's really frightened. And people live with varying degrees of privacy. I mean, we have lots of young people on staff who have roommates and everybody's kind of clustered in small apartments. So it's really difficult to not have a central place to go and make the show. We all can work very independently.
We've proven that. I think the social stress is pretty acute. It's not that you have to be together to do this show, but we prefer to be together. And so that part has actually been, I think, pretty stressful.
When was it clear that this thing was real and scary and when did you decide to just go for it and just start filming from home? Like, how did you guys come to that decision?
I think that really March 11th, March 12th was a really critical period where a lot of people all at the same time realized that something big was really happening. And that was the moment when we we got kicked out of our studio. Basically, we shot our last show, I think, on March 11th. But the building kind of closed around us because they had found a couple of covid cases in the building itself. And so they were evacuating the building as we were taping the show.
And that moment, really, we knew that we would not be in the studio. The following week, everything started to shut down around us. And so we really advised people. We were like, grab your stuff, grab what you need and go. And we did the same. Jason and I, we packed a suitcase, not really knowing that we would shoot the show at our house. We didn't I didn't do a good job packing. I packed like five blazers and a bunch of high heeled shoes.
Like, I just panicked, shopped my apartment. And as we were up there for a couple of days, we really had no plan except could we possibly shoot the show from up here like, I don't know.
But then after a couple of days up there, Jason and I decided to just start shooting stuff just because we wanted to mark the moment where we were just living up there. And what if I was like a woods woman living in the shack behind our house, behind our garden? And so we just started shooting stuff. And it really turned out to be a proof of concept to the network that we could shoot in our backyard and then it would look good and then it could be broadcast quality.
Even though it's shot on an iPhone. We very quickly made the decision to shoot outside so that we wouldn't need lights, so that we could just have used the light of the sun because we thought, OK, well, we'll just use this big golden ball that's in the sky, that'll light everything. That'll be cheap. And that's. How it started and then it just grew and grew over the course of days to where it really seemed possible, so then we just tried to make a show and it worked.
I mean, you've been like you've used your kids iPads, teleprompters, and that has not changed.
That has remained stable. I still use my daughter's iPad as there's a teleprompter.
There's a teleprompter app that I use. It works great. I clip it to a stand. I run it myself. It's a very DIY kind of experience. But Jason and I come from the world of sketch, which is totally DIY. And we've always been that way as a couple making movies in our house and doing stuff like that. It's it's one of those full circle moments.
How's it been for, you know, not performing in front of an audience like you make a joke and you wonder, is anybody laughing or watching? Like, how do you like how are you managing that? Or are you just.
I'm not you know, I don't come from a standup background. It's natural for me to work the crowd in my way of doing the live to tape performance. And I certainly learned how to do that working at The Daily Show for a really long time. So I'm really good at it. And I enjoy that. I enjoy that back and forth with the audience.
I really enjoy that kind of communion with them, but I don't need it. I think I don't need it. Like, I think I have a good sense of what the rhythm of the show is without them. And if it's not safe to have an audience and it's not it's just not prudent to do that. I love our audience. I don't want to put them at risk and I don't want to put our crew at risk. So we're not going to have an audience for a really long time, really.
Who knows? If I recall correctly, when I started this show, I didn't really want to have a live audience. I didn't think it was necessary for what I wanted to do. In the end, I did decide to have a live studio audience and and it was really great. And I got a lot out of it. And I really enjoyed meeting people because they really, really do enjoy that. But I can easily go back to not having an audience because I do feel the audience somewhat.
It's fine to do the show in the forest. It's a little weird to do it just for my husband because he is he's wildly supportive. He's like my biggest fan. Of course, we've been married for 20 years. But also he will tell me when I do something badly and he is not afraid. He is not shy about telling me when I'm doing something wrong or I could do something better or I can improve. So it's it's very much a back and forth between the two of us.
And our kids are there sometimes because they're holding equipment if they're willing to do it, which they are not often willing to do it, because it's kind of it's really boring for them, but it's really helpful when they help us.
It's actually really great. So that part is daunting.
And then it's also daunting to do Zoome meetings.
So we're having like these big meetings, like staff wide meetings. But if you if you're looking at your own if you're looking at the other person in your computer, are you looking at yourself? You're not really relating to other people. So you're really only relating to people through this like DOT in your computer because you're not really looking at anyone. You're just talking to a dot, which it's not ideal. It's not ideal.
I want to ask you about those meetings. Do you guys have a daily staff meeting, like a daily zoo meeting? I don't have a daily staff meeting with everyone, but there are daily meetings for sure across departments.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I, I struggle with this and I've asked people who've come on a show about this because it's it is in a sense a way to connect and it's a way for everybody to see each other and just to just to see faces. It's a little bit awkward when you're you're kind of staring into this green dot on your computer. Yes.
It's not ideal. I don't like it. I don't think there's anyone at work who likes it. It does feel awkward, like, you know, usually I'm talking and it feels like I monologuing.
Do you know, there's no back and forth. You're just not seeing the nuance like you're not seeing the the micro expressions on people's faces and they're not really catching your body language.
And I start to ramble because I'm trying to fill space because no one's really like there's just no there's no give and take. Lots of people mute their microphones because they're like rattling bags or they have kids who are home schooling. And it's nice and it's respectful. But at some point I was like, please stop meeting. I'd really rather hear the crunching bag or something then just like silence.
Is there anything about the approach that you've taken these past few months, like where you couldn't focus on, like, perfect lighting or perfect set or you just had to do it? Is there anything about that approach that eventually you want to take that or that you will take back with you when you are in a more controlled environment? I think so.
There are ways that we have changed the process of taping that makes sense for me to continue. Like normally we would if we were in the studio. By way of example, on a normal Wednesday, we would do a rehearsal, a full rehearsal of the show around noon, twelve thirty, something like that. And then we do a a long huddle, like a three hour huddle where we rewrite the show because often a joke is so funny and it looks great on the page.
But when you say it out loud in a big huge. Studio space, it just doesn't land the way you want it to or I don't nail it or something, and we're like, let's tweak that. So we make all of these little tweaks and adjustments. And then, of course, the audience comes in and then a performance is very much for the audience. Like it's there's a community experience of it and you're kind of surfing the wave of their enthusiasm.
It's a totally different type of experience. So adjusting the show, we now tape we have to tape on Tuesday because the edit process takes an immense amount of time. It's a totally different experience of editing. So we have to do it a day before so we don't have an opportunity to add jokes Wednesday morning or Wednesday at four o'clock. If something happens in the news, we can't quite pivot that quickly.
But I don't I don't regret that. I can see now that maybe we don't need to do it that way. Maybe giving ourselves a day in between is perfectly fine way. What I'm saying is I have missed the community of it and I missed the rewrite because it's really rollicking and fun and graphics is changing things and we're making all these changes. I missed that enthusiasm in that moment where we're all in the grind together. I miss being together with people, but I don't really miss the actual technical aspect of it.
And so I think we'll bring that back when we're in a more normal situation. But who knows really when that will be?
When we come back in just a moment, Samantha answers some audience questions and talks about the future of television production. Stay with us. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to how I built this resilience edition from NPR.
Support for this podcast and the following message come from HubSpot Complex enterprise software shouldn't get in the way of doing good work. HubSpot marketing hub Enterprise makes it incredibly easy to do powerful things. Launch campaigns quickly from a user friendly interface, improve performance using A.I. and attribute revenue to every marketing activity. With HubSpot, you can spend more time delighting your customers and less time managing software. Discover all the new features in marketing hub enterprise at HubSpot Dotcom. Hey, welcome back to how I built this resilience, Ed.
So comedian Samantha Bee has been filming her show from her home and providing some comic relief during these pretty challenging times, because so much of your comedy focus is obviously on news and current events and politics.
And it is the same dark time. I mean, it's been like the king of bad years in recent years, obviously. I mean, you you provide us with comic relief like we come to you to laugh. Like that is what you do for us. But what about you? How do you like I mean, do you have days where you just want to, like, hide under the covers and like, cry?
Of course. Of course. Oh yes. I still I do. This is my job. I do a comedy show. I love doing it in some ways. Like if I wasn't making this show for broadcast, I'd probably be trying to make the show just for myself and my family. So it's very natural, like organic extension of who I am. But I'm it's a roller coaster ride. Well, ultimately, we're very lucky. We're healthy. We're in a house, we're safe.
So we're counting our blessings. For one thing, we're working, which is an additional blessing. So I'm like really trying to be mindful of all the things that we do have to be thankful for. And of course, we're going through an absolute rollercoaster of emotion because we're ultimately human, too. And we watch the news. We don't watch the news right now because we don't have any power. But I think maybe that's a blessing to hate.
You just launched a podcast. What does that allow you to do that you can't do on on television?
Well, it's a long it's such a long conversation, which is really beneficial. I, I do interview a lot of people on the show, which I love. I actually just love interviewing people. I truly do. But the show is twenty one. I mean the show, it's not the entirety of the show is twenty one minutes. So when I interview someone we talk for half an hour and then we end up using five minutes of that conversation.
So it's also just, it's something I truly love to do. I'll be interviewing people for my whole life when I retire, when I'm an elderly person in a home, I'll still be interviewing people like I just am so curious about them. So it's really fun for me. I don't find it to be an onerous task to, like, sit down with a list of people who I really dig and talk to them for forty five minutes. It's great.
On a recent episode, you had The New Yorker journalist Jelani Cobb on and you asked him if you go back in time and delete certain social media platforms. All right, which ones would they be? You are very familiar with the pitfalls and the perils of social media. What would you if you go back in time and change it, what would you do?
Boy, I would I would just delete Facebook. I mean, I would never was a Facebook person, but it's just done so much damage, not just in our own country, but across the world. I mean, it's there are countries across the world in which Facebook is considered to be the government. Practically, it's the only resource people have to communicate and to understand the world that they're living in. And I think that's very dangerous. You know, they just built a piece of machinery that they really did not understand its capabilities.
I've never really understood why it came into people's lives and they were so willing to give it all of their personal information. I've just never understood the function of it in someone's life. And I think it's done immense damage. So I would that's one that I would really take a look at this.
I'm a combine two questions from Shana Ingram and Kimco. You've got kids at home. How are you and Jason doing with school starting again? And how are you like working from home during covid and also living from home?
I mean, it is a struggle, I think, across the board. I'm so worried about the fall. Honestly, we have kids in the New York City public school system. They're going back to school in September. Of course, we're very stressed and worried. We trust our school administrators to have gamed out every scenario. And so I'm going to go with whatever their plans end up being. I still think it's a moving target a little bit because it's only August 11th.
So I'm not entirely sure that the final decision has been made by any of the school administrators for what's happening in September. I'm going to trust our individual principals. I've got a lot of masks on. Order will be asked, will respect those systems. But I do expect that our children will be going back for some type of blended learning. It's immensely worrying and it's been so difficult for parents. And they really, really I really feel that too personally.
Sam, before I let you go, I mean, when you think about how the industry will change, you know, we had we've had some people from the industry on producers and we had Jeremy Zimmer, the head of UTA, on a couple of weeks ago. Television really is not being made in general. It's a little bit, but in general, it's not being made. There's going to be a shortage of new television in a few months. But when you think about how this pandemic.
Is already changing the industry and even changing what you do. Are there things about those changes that you actually think have been good in some ways?
I think it's been revelatory to realize that we actually could change some pretty fundamental systems within our process. Like we just we just built the show a certain way and actually pivoting and doing the show a different way has been fine. And you feel sometimes when you have a system in place that really works for you, that you can't ever make a big change. Well, in this case, we were absolutely forced to make a big change in some of the ways that it changed.
We're very good. And I actually do think, if I may say so myself, that the backdrop of the forest is very pretty. It is very nice to look at and it's seasonal.
So unbelieve start to change. It'll be very well be very attractive as we like the industry as a whole.
I'm not sure what is good about the changes that will be moving forward.
You know, I think there's a way to shoot things safely. I think there's a way for us to return to sort of like quote unquote, normal, like regular looking television. And that really probably requires quarantining entire productions together. That can be done. Networks have been through. This is unprecedented for them. They've lost so much ad revenue, they're probably going to try and start making shows more cheaply. And that doesn't necessarily mean that they will be right.
The a lot of reality in our lives for the next little while. We're certainly all looking back at regular television now and going look at all those people in a restaurant. Like we you know, we're watching Tom Cruise movies and we're like, look at that cafe.
It's just all breathing on each other.
So I do think it'll change the tone of programming, but I don't know what I can say moving forward will be great. I haven't figured that out yet. I'll let you know what the brighter side is the next time I am I perfect.
But at the end of the day, you have become a better camera operator and sound recorder.
We have become better at that. We've become very good at lighting like we've become very good at harnessing the power of the sun to just make it glow just so which is always beneficial. It's just very good.
Samantha Bee, cocreator of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, thank you so much. This is such a pleasure. It's great talking to you.
That's an excerpt from my conversation with Samantha Bee, the host and co creator of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee to see our full interview. You can go to Facebook, Dotcom, how I built this. And if you want to see all of our past live interviews, you can find them there or at YouTube, Dotcom, NPR.
If you want to find out more about the how I built this resilient series or other virtual NPR events, you can go to NPR Presents, dawg. This episode was produced by Candice Lim with help from Wil Mitchell, Tyrer, Lockhardt, Matt Atom's, Jeanna Cappadocia, John Isabella, Julia, Kaniva Grant and Jeff Rogers. Thanks for listening. Stay safe and I'll see you back here in a few days. I'm Guy Raz and you've been listening to how I built this from NPR.