Friday, June 17, 2016

Samantha Bee and Larry Wilmore delivered the most satisfying late-night responses to the Orlando massacre, and, whoa, you can say "fuck" unbleeped on TBS after 9pm now?

Last Saturday's terrible massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub, the worst mass shooting on American soil, led to a range of mournful responses from late-night TV hosts the following Sunday and Monday nights. But two of those segments stood out because of one host's genuine anger over lax gun laws and the other host's emphasis on the troubling fact that this massacre was a hate crime targeted at the LGBT community in the middle of Pride month (and at a time when the community has won several legal battles against anti-gay conservatives over civil rights), a fact that homophobic conservatives try to ignore in various ways, like the way one of those right-wing morons said to the press that the massacre isn't a hate crime. Wait, what? It isn't a hate crime? Of course it's a hate crime, fucknuts. Saying it's not would be like saying, "You know that Texas chainsaw massacre? Pfft. I saw the aftermath. It was nothing. It was just a Texas paper cut."

Samantha Bee was often a terrific Daily Show correspondent (like in the remote where she mischievously tricked pro-lifers at the Republican National Convention into saying the word "choice"), but it wasn't until she performed a hilarious one-woman version of the Fox News bloviation fest The Five that I realized she could carry an entire show on her own. And that show has turned out to be a doozy: the weekly Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. Right now, Bee is, out of all the ex-Daily Show correspondents who are anchoring either their own half-hour current-events shows or the actual Daily Show itself, the one who's most deftly enacting her former Daily Show boss' memorable final-show message to everyone who's wary of bullshit, whether that steaming pile comes from the news media or from either the right or even (on occasion) the left: "The best defense against bullshit is vigilance, so if you smell something, say something." She doesn't care how angry she gets in her scathing takedowns of either misogynists, the anti-feminism crowd or the right, and it's a beautiful thing ("I don't fucking care if you like it," Amy Poehler's famous reply to Jimmy Fallon's mock-squeamish objection over some abrasive thing she ad-libbed in the SNL writer's room, comes to mind).

Sure, John Oliver and Larry Wilmore, two other ex-Daily Show correspondents, have gotten angry too in their caustic delivery during their respective late-night shows, but Bee's anger is different. It's more physical. It was a brilliant move for Bee to go without an anchor desk on Full Frontal. She's a performer with a boxer-like energy (and controlled fury). You can see it in the way her legs danced like Muhammad Ali's as the camera zoomed away after she finished the taping of one recent segment (it's no wonder an A.V. Club commenter has quipped, "Float like a butterfly, sting like Samantha Bee"). A desk would have been too constricting for her, and it certainly would have gotten in the way of what has to be Bee's angriest Full Frontal segment to date. I'm talking about her powerful--and nicely left unbleeped on Full Frontal's official YouTube channel (but bleeped on TBS because, contrary to what my post title implies, TBS isn't exactly ready yet to let Roger Smith say an uncensored "Aw fuck")--response to both the Orlando massacre and the Florida gun law bullshit that led to not just that tragedy, but another Orlando shooting death earlier in the same weekend, the death of former Voice finalist Christina Grimmie.

Bee perfectly expressed the frustrations those of us viewers are feeling over both the NRA's stubbornness in the gun control debate and the right's copy-and-paste response to every mass shooting, a.k.a. "thoughts and prayers." And best of all, she doesn't forget that this is a comedy show, despite how depressing the subject matter gets (and her humorous spin on this depressing subject matter has continued off-screen, in the form of live-tweets during Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy's 15-hour filibuster for gun control). But instead of making light of this tragedy, Bee focused her barbs on the Orlando terrorist's shitty mirror selfies, Marco Rubio's inane "Unfortunately, today it was Orlando's turn" statement and Florida Governor Rick Scott's ineptitude. It's the only one of the late-night responses to Orlando that I've seen criticize the governor for the blood-soaked weekend that occurred on his watch. Lea Palmieri over at Decider is right: "For the only late night host that doesn't possess male genitalia, it's a little bit surprising that Samantha Bee is the only one with some balls."

But calmness can also be just as effective as Bee-style fury during a late-night comedy show's analytical critique of the circumstances that led to a mass shooting, as evidenced by Late Night with Seth Meyers' solid "A Closer Look" segments all this week--part of an ongoing feud (since 2011) between the level-headed Meyers and Republican frontrunner and professional Oompa Loompa cosplayer Donald Trump--and Wilmore's take on Orlando at the start of the first post-Orlando edition of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, the current home of Jordan Carlos' side-splittingly funny Dennis Rodman impression. That June 13 Nightly Show episode is noteworthy and remarkable for pointing out 1) the massacre's viciousness as both an anti-LGBT hate crime and, as Nightly Show staff writer Robin Thede noted in the episode's panel segment, an incident with a predominantly Latino body count and 2) the massacre's similarities to racist violence against black churchgoers.

Like Miles Surrey over at Mic said, it's a waste of time to be pitting Jon Stewart's former correspondents against each other and whining about how late-night TV has been a not-so-incendiary, dumbed-down and "Lip Sync Battle"-heavy slog ever since an understandably worn-out Stewart and his angry and biting perspective on current events left The Daily Show and the less favorably received Trevor Noah took the Daily Show reins right in the middle of the news media's obsession with giant-sized genital wart Donald Trump. Stewart's departure has actually resulted in one good thing: a slightly more diverse (although it's still not diverse enough) late-night landscape than the one that catapulted him to comedy-world hero status. As much as I enjoyed the Stewart era of TDS (by the way, I'm such an O.G. TDS viewer that I remember quite well the pre-Stewart days of Craig Kilborn, Beth Littleford's Barbara Walters parody, the "5 Questions" clip of the head-crushing scene from Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky and Kilborn's extremely mean end-of-the-show joke about Geraldo Rivera being "a Puerto Rican and a Jew, so he was circumcised with a shiv"), the Stewart era, if it had dragged on past 2015, probably wouldn't have led to Bee and Wilmore going off and fully blossoming like they have lately on their respective solo shows.

Had Stewart pulled a Leno and continued on with hosting TDS during the madness of the mass shootings of the last 10 months and the rise of the candidate with the hairdo of a '70s game show host and the racial tolerance of an aunt who tightens her grip on her purse whenever she has to share an elevator with "a black," Donald Trump (two subjects that would have caused Stewart to look even more haggard and old on nightly TV than before), I don't think the Bee diatribe about gun laws we needed to hear or Wilmore's gently funny but no less insightful Orlando segments would have taken place. The Bee and Nightly Show responses to Orlando are proof that late-night TV isn't intellectually dead yet, and they're two wonderfully cathartic bits of topical comedy we've badly needed in order to get through a dumpster fire of a week.

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