The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Samantha Bee looks more like a Jon Stewart heir than anything we’ve see so far

Comedian Samantha Bee killed in the premiere of her late-night show, "Full Frontal." (TBS)
Placeholder while article actions load

Something has been missing from the 2016 presidential campaign. With a reality TV star and a democratic socialist looking like real contenders, some might say the absent ingredient is sanity. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a singular voice of satire — a Jon Stewart-like figure whose zingers make you laugh and think at the same time.

After Monday's premiere of "Full Frontal" on TBS, Samantha Bee sounds like that voice.

It's only one episode, but you can already see that the former "Daily Show" correspondent has a knack for delivering smart, spot-on political critiques through humor. And she saved some of her best material for Democrats — something Stewart probably didn't do often enough.

For example: Bee nailed one of the top complaints about Hillary Clinton — that she lacks authenticity. The host played a clip from last week's CNN town hall in New Hampshire, where Clinton said "I never thought I'd be standing on a stage here, asking people to vote for me for president."

(Warning: Some foul language in the video below.)

Here was Bee's reaction to that line:

Oh, [expletive] off. "Who me? President? Golly gumdrops. I don't know if little old me could ever. ..."

At this point, Bee turned to a second camera shooting up at her. Lights flashed in the background, and a synthesizer added an ominous quality to her voice, as she continued to impersonate Clinton.

"Yes, anoint me your god! What more do you people want from me?"

It was a funny, over-the-top way of exposing false humility. Everyone knows Clinton has, in fact, been imagining herself as a presidential candidate for a very long time. It's insincere to suggest otherwise, and Bee called her out without needing to utter the "authenticity" buzzword.

Similarly, Bee jabbed at Bernie Sanders for trying so hard — too hard, at times — to keep up the populist persona of a man of modest means and simple tastes. Again referencing the CNN town hall, she said Sanders "played up his image of blustery old grandpa living off Social Security checks and stolen sugar packets" before playing a clip in which the Vermont senator described his car to moderator Anderson Cooper.

"I have a small Chevrolet," Sanders says in the clip. "It is one of the smallest Chevys that they make."

Adds Bee: "With no engine! Because engines are for 1 percenters."

Sanders really wants you to know that his vehicle is just a tiny piece of American-made practicality — nothing fancy here, folks. And Bee really wants you to know that he's carefully crafting a public image to match his message, just like any other politician.

There's no shortage of campaign-centered comedy in late night, of course, but no one has assumed the status Stewart enjoyed for more than a decade at Comedy Central. And perhaps no one will. "Daily Show" replacement Trevor Noah hasn't harnessed the same kind of energy that Stewart did. Stephen Colbert's new "Late Show" is political in many ways, but it's hard to skewer quite so hard on broadcast TV. And John Oliver's weekly HBO show often devotes its entire time to one topic -- not a rundown of all the latest political news.

Or perhaps Stewart will take it back. We're still waiting to see what his new partnership with HBO will produce. But we know that Stewart won't have a regular TV show (he'll focus on short online videos), which means the opportunity is there for Bee.

She looks ready to give it a go.