Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Jenny Slate, Amy Schumer and so on are comedians. No, that sentence is not complete — at least, not without the word “feminist.” These prominent, successful women are no longer just comedians. They are now a part of their own sub-genre of comedy. In TV and standup, these women rose to fame through their hilarious portrayals of real female lives. With “The Mindy Project,” “30 Rock,” “Broad City,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Inside Amy Schumer,” these feminist comedy shows created role models for female empowerment.
But something gets overlooked when the label “feminist” constantly overshadows what all these women also have in common — pure comedic talent. The new “Daily Show”-like program on TBS, “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” ineptly attempts to cash in on feminist comedy’s success, but brings none of the laughs.
Samantha Bee, a previous correspondent for “The Daily Show,” now has a show of her own. Like “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “Full Frontal” airs weekly. On “Full Frontal,” the weekly spacing makes the jokes feel delayed and unoriginal. In the first episode, Bee spoke about how glad she was that it was election season because the blundering candidates would provide so much material for her jokes. She then proceeded to spend almost the entire episode on this subject, making the writing appear unconfident and clichéd. To make matters worse, the political jokes were nothing new, with viral clips of Republican blunders that were appropriated on every late-night show. By the time Bee got to the jokes, they were old news.
“Full Frontal” tries to resolve its lack of originality with its blunt commercial selling point: Samantha Bee is a woman. Its main advertising campaign is supposed to be a statement within itself because of the extreme scarcity of women in late-night television. Comedians should not be judged differently, held to a lower standard or made to appeal to certain audiences based on their gender, but “Full Frontal” does all of these things.
For all of its blunders, the theme sequence is the most off-putting. A song by Peaches, a noted feminist electronic artist, plays with the lyrics, “Boys wanna be her, girls wanna be her,” continuing the bluntness and emphasis on Bee’s gender. As the song plays, Bee confronts threatening looking statues of Jesus Christ and the Statue of Liberty and a gate drops behind them, implying a cage match between the host and these iconic authority figures. The entire thing feels immature and hackneyed.
The décor of the set, as well as the power stance, gives the show the feel of an “E! News” segment and distinguishes itself from John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and Jon Stewart. Bee’s clear attempts to set herself apart from the men and appeal to a female audience continue with an air that is even somewhat demeaning.
Whether or not “Full Frontal” started off with honest feminist intentions is not important. Whether or not Bee is funny is not important either. But when you categorize a comedian as feminist and then herald them for their work only as a female comedian, you perpetuate the sexism that the genre is supposed to fight. A female comedian and a male comedian should be judged by the same standards. Promoting equality through comedy is a great way to empower women, but it shouldn’t surpass the judgments of comedian’s abilities. When watching “Full Frontal,” it’s important to give Bee the respect she deserves by treating her like Jon Stewart.