NEW YORK — Samantha Bee had one of the most controversial culture war moments of 2018 when, in a monologue on her late-night show in May about the administration’s border policy, the late-night comedian called Ivanka Trump an unprintable vulgarity.
She wants a do-over.
On Monday night, Bee and her staff at “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” gathered in Manhattan to tape “Christmas on I.C.E.,” a half-hour devoted to comedy commentary about the immigrant crisis. (She took the pun seriously: The show is set on an ice rink.)
The commercial-free program, which airs on TBS on Wednesday night, is a holiday special that attempts to offer a more contextual — but no less sharp — take on what she was trying to do in that monologue criticizing President Trump for separating immigrant children and parents at the southern border.
“I understand a few more things now. It actually made me feel really introspective,” Bee told The Post in an interview Tuesday, referring to the controversy. “But I don’t think it changed the show. It hasn’t. It really hasn’t.”
She paused, then added as evidence:
“This special will make certain parts of the population very angry. And I’m fine with that. More than fine.”
“Christmas on I.C.E.” makes a number of apolitical jokes, especially about skating, and does above-the-fray pretaped bits with the likes of Brooke Shields and Jon Stewart, Bee’s former “Daily Show” colleague. There’s also a feel-good segment in which she persuaded TBS to buy a house on the Texas border and renovate it so a nonprofit could have more rooms to house people whose family members have been detained.
But when the liberal host has punches, she doesn’t pull them.
At one moment during the taping, a child angel came out on the rink to say that it’s good Jesus was born in the City of David and not the “City of Donald” so the latter didn’t say: “Savior of mankind? More like loser of mankind.” The bit ended with the child exclaiming, “F--- 2018!”
During a musical number, Bee rhymed “Grab this Christmas season” with “Forget the lies and treason."
During a break in taping, Bee even made a political endorsement as she roamed the audience, responding to one person who asked her about who she’d like to see on the Democratic ticket in 2020 by saying former Georgia lawmaker Stacey Abrams “would be amazing.”
And then she signed off the show. “Jesus loves me and he hates Fox News. Byeeee!"
So, change? “I don’t think we did the special any different,” Bee deadpanned.
The special came about because Bee had been following the border crisis in the spring and then again when it grabbed headlines before the midterm elections last month. She says she was motivated by a belief that the family separation policy was a human disaster and needed to be addressed.
“People feel with this story that the scale of the problem is so enormous they’re powerless. Or the ground keeps changing — I think that’s intentional by the administration, to move the goal posts. And it behooves us to care,” she noted.
“You can think a million different things about the immigration crisis. And I’m not here to solve it,” she added. “But the idea of parents separated from children is a human story, and we should all feel compassion.”
Bee, who apologized shortly after the Ivanka Trump incident, saw the debate shift to her language, with the White House and others on the right lambasting her for the slur. This special, she hopes, will bring attention back to the immigration issue.
Still, there’s a lot of barbed comedy used to achieve that.
In the most politically pointed segment, Bee’s husband, fellow comedian Jason Jones, skated around the rink dressed as an ICE officer/hockey goon and imposed various forms of stick-based thuggishness on skaters playing immigrants. At one point he tried to perform a figure-skating trick with a representation of the Virgin Mary.
Bee’s position epitomizes the paradox political comedians face, in which reaching their core audience and attracting attention in today’s landscape often requires a level of provocative humor. But to do that is to flirt with taste standards and cause those who don’t agree politically to cry below-the-belt. (See also: the Michelle Wolf Paradox.)
The ability to thread that needle has become a kind of holy grail of late-night comedy in 2018.
What’s more, Bee’s very presence on the air angers some conservatives, who saw her comments as equally punishable as those of Roseanne Barr, whose racist tweet led to her firing from her ABC sitcom the same week.
Bee said she knows a certain word or joke can blow up what she’s attempting to do.
“I don’t want to be a total distraction,” she said. But, she added, she believes her job is to follow an inner compass even if it leads to some pretty controversial places.
“If we had to crowdsource our opinion,” she said, “we wouldn’t have a show."
She added: “It wouldn’t be comedy.”