If they gave awards for getting outrageously snubbed, Samantha Bee would be a winner, at least once over.
While she’s said she was never interested in replacing Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” some fans believe Bee, the program’s longest-running (12 years) and perhaps strongest correspondent, earned the job.
But there’s no doubt she was done wrong Thursday by Emmy nominators, who skipped over "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," her by turns hilarious and searing TBS show, in the Outstanding Variety Talk Show category.
The slight represents the product of narrow-minded Emmy voters — and a wide array of high-quality comedy programs.
Sure, some of Bee’s fellow "Daily Show"-tied performers – Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore and Trevor Noah – didn't make the cut, either. And it’s hard to argue against the nominees, among them "Daily Show" alumnus John Oliver, Jimmy Fallon and Jerry Seinfeld, who crashed the late-night comedy field with his "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" web series (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Yet there is something deeply wrong with the lack of recognition accorded Bee, whose "Full Frontal" employs unflinching humor to expose absurdities and hypocrisies like no other current show in the fake news game – Oliver's standout "Last Week Tonight" included.
Bee stormed her new perch in February, armed with her "Daily Show"-honed deadpan interviewing style (just check out her focus group with Donald Trump supporters, in which one fan notes the “simplistic, but evocative language” used by the presumptive GOP presidential candidate. "So you acknowledge Trump speaks to our lizard brains?" Bee calmly asked).
But she's newly distinguished herself with powerful and precise verbal gymnastics during in-studio segments – no more so than in her emotional monologue after the Orlando massacre. "Maybe we're not praying right — can we check the instruction manual?" Bee said, slamming politicians who focus on calls for prayer, rather than gun control after mass shootings.
Like Oliver, her strongest material is driven by research (spotlighting backlogs of untested rape kits across the country) and stunts with a point (showing it’s far easier to legally buy guns than purchase a costume of Eddie the Eagle, the NRA’s kid-aimed mascot). Bee’s labor-intensive weekly show has taken her around the country and even to Jordan, where she interviewed Syrian refugees – “the people we’re incoherently yelling about.”
Fueled by outrage, Bee does some yelling herself, but rarely loses sight of the punch line. The Canadian comic brings a much-needed feminist voice to a late night talk show comedy game that's still a boy's club, aside from Chelsea Handler's new Netflix show.
Bee doesn't deserve an Emmy nomination because she's a woman. She deserves a shot at the prize because week in and out she is fearlessly operating at the highest levels of TV comedy, boldly making the most of her big moment. It’s just too bad that Emmy voters are behind the times on "Full Frontal."
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.