As a contributor to "The Daily Show," Samantha Bee has experienced her fair share of extreme religious views on the U.S. election campaign trail. It's acquired knowledge. And now, the comedian and actress is putting it to good use in the new show "Good God," appearing on The Movie Network.
The show satirizes -- in true "The Office" style -- a right-wing news station where prayer, sin and other religious particulars are the order of the day. Bee plays one of the news station's lead anchors, Shandy Sommers. She chatted with HuffPost TV about right- (and left-) leaning television, the religiousization of news and what's up next for "The Daily Show."
"Good God!" Tell me a little bit about the show.
I haven't actually seen the show. [Laughs] So I'm going on good faith that it's amazing. [Laughs]
Which is so appropriate given the show's title.
I know! I loved doing it. And I read the scripts and I think they're hilarious ... It's hard for me to talk about. But I assume it's really funny. I found it so funny when I was doing it. Like I loved it. I hope other people like it. It's so hard to get people to watch some things -- it's almost like you have to use a crowbar to get them to watch stuff.
I bet it was a fun show to film. It's fun to watch. Even the title is funny -- the whole play on the term "Good God." It could be referencing God being good, but there's also that whole "Oh, God" thing -- like give the religion stuff a break.
In each scene, I feel that's George's [the lead anchor, as played by Ken Finkleman] expression: "Good God." Like "I can't believe this [religious fanaticism] is happening around me."
So how do you think this show reflects the new religiosity of television news in the U.S.?
There's a lot more conversation about the lord in the U.S. in general. I feel like that's growing a bit in Canada, too ... It's [all] very divisive. But down here [in the U.S.] people seem to accept it more ... in a totally unusual way.
I mean, when I first immersed myself in all of that stuff, I couldn't believe politicians were talking about [religion]. It just seemed so ... It's not so much newsmakers who are talking about it, it's more so the politicians. And then it becomes part of the news. It's just so routine, now, to talk about your faith and the specifics of what you believe. [Faith] informs so many public policy issues, which is fascinating. It's really, really fascinating.
And you guys play that up in "Good God" and "The Daily Show." You seem to have some fun with the issue.
Yes, we do. But it's not a really fun topic. I mean, it's so serious. It's so unbelievable. I do believe it's smacking people in the face right now.
And how do you feel religion has informed politics then? And how has it affected the process of electing officials? It feels like there's has been a huge amount of focus on religion throughout this current election campaign.
The whole vibe is really [conservative] right now. The economy is beginning to do better; as the economy does better, people tend to cling to retro ideas to create a panic, to yell, "Fire in the theater!" to make it seem like everything is, literally, going to hell. It's pretty cynical. But it definitely appeals to a wide base of people. And it's not the "thing" of people I'd really consider myself friends with. [Laughs] I don't know if I could really hang out with you if you really think we're going to hell. But ... It's very dividing.
And have you seen the sort of focus on religion like this (during an election campaign) before?
I definitely feel like I've seen this before. At all of the conventions, there are always people praying for you. And I've never had more pray for me than at the Republican convention...
Wait, what do you mean they pray for you? What do they do? What do they say to you?
They literally will say a prayer for you while you're reporting. I've had a lot of people [come up to me and say], "I'm going to say a prayer for you right now." I mean, obviously, I'm doing the work of the devil. [Laughs]
And how has this election been different for you -- in covering it for "The Daily Show"?
We haven't gone to too many events yet. We're not really immersed in it yet ... in prior election campaigns we went to more primaries and stuff, and this time we haven't specifically gone to them. I think it's just how the timing has worked out. But it's going to get much more intense once [the Republicans] actually settle on a candidate. And I have to say, I find it surprising Rick Santorum [gained] so much traction. I would not have expected that.
Speaking of surprise, I love your character in "Good God." Were you basing it on anyone? You play a female news anchor and I find, in the media sometimes, these women are mocked a little -- more than they were in the past. Maybe the role of an anchor isn't as serious as it once was?
Well there are news readers and news people and they are two completely different people. My character is absolutely a newsreader. [Laughs] She doesn't even really know how to read. You know, the truth is, the character was fully written before I signed onto the project, and she was so well realized on the page that it was effortless. From a physical point of view, I tried to have a certain appearance -- my hair is quite large and the colors I wear are very bright. And I will say it was pretty easy to channel. It's a little bit of an archetype, [the newsreader]. This sort of foxy woman with towering heels and big boobs who is just reading stuff. They don't even know what they're saying.
And what do you think that says about the ridiculousness that can be this new way of news?
It really used to be that you would come home and that everyone watched [the news] together ... maybe I'm idealizing something. But I used to sit there with my grandmother and watch the news at night and "60 Minutes" on Sunday. It was part of our routine -- to just watch the news and be interested.
And it's not like every person on-air isn't engaged with what they're doing. Some people are doing ridiculously amazing work and/or putting themselves in harms way [to tell a story], so I don't want to paint all of this with too wide of a brush. But some shows, like the one we're mocking [in "Good God"], they're not really helping the cause of public discourse.
And because of the bias that does exist on some stations -- like the one your character is involved with in "Good God" -- it is pretty easy to make fun of.
Ya, I mean, you have to. You just need to. [Laughs]
And what do you think that says about where we are -- in politics and news?
Well, I don't want to speak for Ken [Finkleman, an actor and writer the of show], but I do think he's trying to make a statement about it. He seems very disgusted by the current trends, and I think that frustration is very aptly expressed in this show. And it's done in a very funny way. It does push boundaries and comfort levels in a way.
And what was the best part of playing your character?
It was just so fun. It's really fun to play people who are not smart. [Laughs] It's much more fun because you never have to search your mind for something good to say. You can just let your mind drift. It's wonderful. It was so nice -- very meditative. You could just sit there and let the whole scene go by and you don't really have to pay attention to what's going on around you. Honestly, you're just completely in your own world.
What about the producers on these extreme shows -- do you believe they believe in what they're writing/saying?
If you carved open the heads of everyone who works at these stations -- and I really mean this for both sides of the [political] spectrum -- [you'd see any kind of] newsroom is made up of different opinions. You're not going to go to "FOX News" and find people who all believe that stuff ... I've met tons of people there... [They] were just normal regular people who knew their job.
And speaking of jobs, what's up for you next -- and "The Daily Show"?
We're just working away, getting excited about the conventions that are coming up. They come upon you faster than you think. It feels like just a few days ago the conventions were 10 months away, and now they're only four or five months away. So we're just preparing for that. It's pretty exciting.
The energy you guys bring to politics is funny.
And it's fun to do. It's very grueling, but it's fun to do. In that sense, it's weird to be a comedian in this world that you don't belong in -- doing the same kind of work that everyone else is doing, but they're just doing it seriously and you're not. [Laughs] It's the weirdest combination of things.
"Good God" airs Mondays at 9:30 p.m. on The Movie Network. "The Daily Show" airs Monday through Thursday at 11 p.m. on The Comedy Network.
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