Reflections on the (Probably) Soon to be Unemployed Samantha Bee


As someone who has spent his entire life in humor, both as a comedian and writer, I am utterly flummoxed as to why Samantha Bee would call Ivanka Trump a “cunt,” feckless or otherwise, on her TBS television show. 

Full disclosure: I am a fan of Samantha Bee’s and was employed as a comedy writer and editor for 33 years at MAD Magazine, which is owned by TimeWarner, which is also the parent company of TBS.   

Earlier in the week, Roseanne Barr blamed Ambien for her racist tweet stating that Valerie Jarret, a black former advisor to President Obama, was the product of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes.  She was promptly fired and apologized for making “a bad joke.” Not since Michael Richards destroyed his career with his infamous “nigger” rant (at the Comedy Store in 2006) has a comedian gotten into so much trouble for material that played as flat-out racist. But at least Roseanne thought her tweet was “a joke.”

Samantha Bee offered no such defense in her mea culpa. She apologized for “using an expletive” to describe the President’s daughter and acknowledged that she had “crossed a line.”  But she did not offer her own variation of the traditional “sorry, the joke didn’t work” excuse. Perhaps that’s because upon further review, she realized that her rant was totally devoid of humor: 

"After decades of ignoring the issue, Americans are finally paying attention. Well, most of us. Ivanka Trump, who works at the White House, chose to post the second most oblivious post we’ve seen this week.You know, Ivanka, that’s a beautiful photo of you and your child, but let me just say, one mother to another: Do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless cunt."  

Despite the inexplicably big laugh that followed, there’s not a joke or satiric remark in the script. Minus wit or cleverness, it’s just angry full frontal commentary, and unlike Roseanne’s Twitter diarrhea, it was scripted in advance and loaded into a teleprompter.  

The level of comedy cluelessness at play here is truly astonishing. How could anyone on Samantha Bee's creative team think the best way for her to call attention to the horrors of separating mothers from their children at the border was to call the President's daughter a "cunt" on national television? By doing that, all she did was deflect attention from the very issue that she wants to discuss.    

Unlike the word “nigger,” which has found its way to common usage for a significant number of black Americans, the word “cunt” remains mostly forbidden, even among women. Larry Wilmore (at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2016) jokingly and affectionately addressed President Obama as “my nigga.” However, a female comedian could not address Michele Obama as “my cunt.” That doesn’t mean the word “cunt” is totally off-limits for a comedian, female or male. No word is off-limits! As the master, George Carlin, taught us, "it’s about context.”  So, if a comedian is going to use a word like “cunt” or “nigger,” or any other slur or expletive you can think of, the word must be expertly played. (No one “played” words better than Carlin.) 

Michele Wolf, even after she was criticized by those who invited her, did not apologize for her controversial material at the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner. To her credit, she stood by her comic point of view, because she instinctually understood that speaking truth to power through humor is the highest calling of a satirist. But that’s not what Samantha Bee did. She lost her comedy way – as once did Don Imus, Gilbert Gottfried, Kathy Griffin and Bill Maher, to name the ones that come to mind now – and when that happens on a grand scale there is a price to be paid, though the price isn't always exactly the same. 

As of this writing, Samantha Bee has not yet been fired, but I don’t see how she keeps her job. The longer TimeWarner puts off what I believe is the inevitable decision, the more pressure the corporation will be under to release her. Autotrader and State Farm have already announced they are suspending their advertising and other companies will surely follow suit. Please note: the main and perhaps only reason that Bill Maker survived his casual “house nigger” comment is because his show is on advertiser-free HBO, which by the way, is also owned by TimeWarner. 

That liberals have remained mostly quiet about this is as unfortunate as it is predictable, and is reflective of blind tribalism that pervades our culture, seemingly more than ever. Imagine, for a moment, if Samantha Bee had referred to Sasha or Malia Obama as “cunts.”  

And so, it is precisely because I am a humorist and a liberal, that I feel a responsibility to call out Samantha Bee. I agree with her point of view far more often than not and I enjoy her comedy. That said, by her own admission, she blew this one big time. More importantly, she would probably benefit from taking a break, if for no other reason than to search for a new head writer.