What do two of pop culture’s most visible feminists do when they meet up for a chat? Symbolically burn their makeup? Dox Republican Congressmen? No, they hug of course. That’s how things kicked off when millennial-of-the-moment Lena Dunham interviewed woman-of-the-moment Samantha Bee for The Hollywood Reporter just ahead of Bee’s April 29 special broadcast Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
We’ve heard a lot from both these ladies over the past 18 months as they’ve alternated between outspoken proponents and critics of the political process. This interview also started on that well-trod ground, but quickly moved into territory that revealed a softer, maybe even more vulnerable side to both women. They may be the voices of our time, but even these ladies are so over the constant political battle and are learning to step back. But they’re not giving up, just recalibrating for what comes next.
When popularity bites back
Bee and Dunham are so good at pushing buttons and courting controversy that it’s easy to forget that one of them is really a comedian and the other an actress. But even without being on the ballot, the reactions they received on election night drove them both off social media.
Bee said she made the mistake of searching her name on Twitter; the results landed like a rock to the head. “My assistant took my phone from me, and she changed my passwords on me, which I really appreciate because it was unbelievable. It was a torrent of hatred. I could not believe it. And the days following the election were very hard.” Though she’s still active on Twitter, she hasn’t searched her mentions since. That reaction is unexpected from the woman whose early tagline for her new show was “Watch or You’re Sexist,” and who created a satirical rape threat hotline to respond to early reactions to her new show.
Dunham also used the password handoff as a mental prophylaxis. “If I’m on the floor, begging you like a heroin addict for my passwords, do not give them back to me,” she told the friend. “I cannot see this stuff.”
4 out of 5 doctors recommend unplugging
Make no mistake, neither of these two cowers from basement-dwelling online trolls, but they are evaluating what kind of impact their higher profile will have on their lives.
Each told similar stories of recent events that required them to disconnect from tech for a time. For Bee, it was during a reporting trip to Rikers Island; for Dunham, is was at the White House farewell party for the Obamas. “I emerged from Rikers, and everyone was like “Your skin is shining.” And it was because I’ve never been more relaxed,” said Bee.
Despite her sorrow over the occasion (she had to leave the party because she just wanted to have a good cry), Dunham said she wondered why she felt so relaxed. “Oh, everybody’s not alerting each other of some horrible news every 15 minutes,” she said before going on to discuss how this election galvanized her about her role as a citizen. Bee confessed that she’s had a soft spot for her adopted country for a while now.
Both Canadian natives, she and her husband Jason moved to the U.S. to work for The Daily Show. But to comment on the country, it was important to her that she be in it, as she says, so she became a citizen in 2013. “It was very significant for me. I cried when they played the song [“God Bless the USA”]. I was weepy all day and really, really excited.”
So is Bee just a big softy for the U.S., North America’s troubled middle child? Had the election gone differently, would Full Frontal be beating a patriotic drum? No. “We don’t see anyone as the messiah,” she told Dunham, and the show looked forward to satirizing a Clinton administration. “It’s not like she wouldn’t have failures and make terrible mistakes and do things we wouldn’t like.”
But that didn’t happen, and the news got really bleak really fast, so the three women in the lead at Frontal decided to confront it head-on: by throwing a party. In December, with President Trump so critical of the media, the White House correspondents’ dinner felt like an absurd idea. Bee, Frontal showrunner Jo Miller and producer Alison Camillo invented Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, scheduled to take place while the official dinner is actually still taking place. Bee and her crew will be hosting. Though no one is quite sure of the details yet in terms of what’s happening and who will be there, the event will be held at the DAR Constitution Hall just across town from the real correspondents’ dinner.
It will air on TBS a 10 p.m. and be broadcast uncensored on Twitter at 11p.m. ET. “The teens who run our social media accounts said we should do this, and honestly, I was about three margaritas in at the time, so I guess it’s happening,” said Bee in the event’s press release.
Despite dinner parties, social media fatigue and teary sing-alongs, never fear Bee losing that trademark edge. Remember, this is the gal who, when left out of Vanity Fair’s photo spread of late night hosts, photo-edited herself in. As a laser-eyed centaur. And tweeted it with just a single-word caption: “BETTER.”
Woman, host, feminist example, centaur. Better, indeed.