Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bee in a Bonnet

Last night I braved the hordes of depraved Canucks fans crowding around the open windows and patios of pubs broadcasting Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals to attend a benefit for Théâtre la Seizième at the Playhouse featuring The Daily Show's Samantha Bee. Turns out la Seizième's Artistic and Managing Director, Craig Holzschuh, went to school with Bee at the University of Ottawa, and was able to convince her to come to Vancouver to talk about her career as "the funniest Canadian woman on American television" in order to raise some funds for Vancouver's resident French-language theatre company. As I'm teaching a course right now on Women and Comedy (and helping to organize an affiliated scholarly workshop on the topic for the beginning of August), I thought it would be a good opportunity for some of my students and I to get a glimpse of the process behind Bee's particular brand of subversive humour.

I have actually only ever watched a few clips from The Daily Show, but I am familiar enough with Jon Stewart's fake news concept to know that its basic premise is divided between Stewart, as anchor, satirically parsing the main headlines of the day or interviewing invited guests, and field correspondents (of whom Bee is "the most senior" on the show) doing more in-depth reports on some of the everyday people behind or affected by various events Stewart and the show's producers deem worthy of comedic ribbing. Last night Bee set up two of her more memorable reports, one on the "gayification" of NASCAR, and the other on the 2008 Republican National Convention, in which, following the news of Bristol Palin's pregnancy, she tried to get various delegates to even utter the word "choice." I don't know which was funnier: the actual audio clips of the reports that aired on the show, or Bee giving us a blow-by-blow of how the reports were put together.

The evening was not structured as a stand-up routine (Bee is trained as an actor), but rather as a conversation between Bee and Holzschuh, with questions taken from the audience at various moments throughout. The format worked well, as Bee is a born comic storyteller, her anecdotes displaying just the right combination of pointed wit and digressive self-deprecation to keep the audience in stitches. And if, as Tina Fey has recently argued in Bossypants, the writer is always queen in comedy, then Bee wears the crown regally. For me, the absolutely funniest part of last night came when Bee read an hilarious excerpt from her book I Know I Am But What Are You?, in which she details how a crazy family vacation to the Maritimes that got tacked on to another couple's honeymoon led to her parents introducing the facts of life to her via an explanation of lesbian sex.

Although it doesn't do the full context of the story justice, here is a YouTube clip of a pregnant Bee reading from the relevant section of the book:

As good a rebuttal as any to the specious claim that women aren't funny.


No comments: