Interview: Samantha Bee Author of I Know I Am, But What Are You?

Simon & Schuster 

Most of us know comedian Samantha Bee from her work on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where she appears as a veteran mock news reporter who skewers politicians and pundits who have gone off the rails. Classic bits include riffs on Elliot Spitzer’s hooker-gate, Sarah Palin’s resignation as Alaska’s governor, the proposed secession of Long Island, and how some “douchey” Wall Street traders caused the economic meltdown. But in her first book, I Know I Am But What Are You?, Bee steps away from current events to share touching—sometimes even twisted—stories of her life growing up in Toronto as the car-thieving Jesus-loving daughter of a Wiccan.  —Melissa Romig

Shelf: You’re a highly visible and successful comedy writer with a continuing gig on one of the smartest shows on television and, now, a brand new book. How did you decide to pursue your comedic genius?

Samantha Bee: Well, originally I aspired to be a very “important” stage performer. When I utterly failed at that, I discovered that not only did I have no talent in that regard, but that the world, quite simply, refuses to take me seriously. And I just went with it. So the answer to your question is: by default. 

Shelf: In your book, you share some extraordinary details of your life: Your history as a car thief, an admitted “knack for penises,” and some highly unusual relationships with both older men and animals (separately). Were you concerned about the reactions of friends and family to your book?

Bee: Of course I was concerned about it, but I tried not to let that invade my consciousness as I was writing the book. In some ways I thought the book might vindicate me in the eyes of my family, since they continued to harbor a suspicion that I had been a drug addict as a teenager. As a tribute to them I should have called it Not On Drugs, Just A Horrible Girl.

Shelf: Your husband has seen you in some decidedly unsexy situations, including mighty struggles with foundation garments and a rough trip to a dude ranch (complete with a fat lip and bad headgear). What’s the secret to attracting, and keeping, a good man?

Bee: A vagina made of solid gold. (Answer courtesy of my husband, who is sitting beside me.)

Shelf: You also disclose that you and your husband like to watch the Olympics together with a big bowl of popcorn and pray for the figure skaters to fall on the ice. What other types of schadenfreude do you engage in?

Bee: I cannot be more clear about this: we do not pray together for anything. Least of all, that peoples’ ambitions will be cut short by our desire to watch a spectacular ass-related spin out on the ice. That said, should it “happen” while we “happen” to be watching with our big bowl of popcorn … well, we are only human. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you fall on the ice in a spangly leotard after doing karate kicks to the song “King of Wishful Thinking,” should we not titter uncontrollably? 

Shelf: You devote a portion of the book to describing your “old lady hands,” I have always thought that my own hands—while age-appropriate—were too small for me. What’s worse for a woman, old lady hands, tiny hands, or the classicly problematic “man hands”?

Bee: Man hands are OK, unless you are also saddled with “man neck,” which is really much worse, and perhaps even telling. The tiny thing isn’t ideal, but it only really prevents you from giving satisfying massages, so it shouldn’t be a hindrance to a happy life. I think the “old lady” problem is the worst of the “aesthetic hand challenges” because even though you may look young up top, people will cringe when they hold your hand, and children will feel compelled to say unflattering things about them.

Shelf: Your grandmother gave you practical tips for life. Apparently, most things, ranging from molten bratwurst to using Yahoo, can kill you. But you’ll be better prepared for life with “full-seated panties,” a form of insurance against the vagaries of getting older. Did you ever ignore your grandmother’s advice and slink into a thong?

Bee: I did, once … on my wedding day. Not the best day to try something new and uncomfortable, perhaps. I spent much of the time trying to smile for pictures as I attempted (unsuccessfully) to subtly shimmy it out of my backside. On the plus side, it looked better than the girdle I was also wearing. 

Shelf: There’s an old episode of This American Life called “Who’s Canadian?” that inspired a post-Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon parlor game in the U.S. where Americans try to surprise other Americans with the secret Canadian identity of celebrities, like William Shatner and Peter Jennings. Have you ever played?

Bee: No, it’s not necessary. As Canadians we are constantly subjected to cultural conversations about successful Canadians abroad. It’s a national pastime. There are no surprises. We know all of them, we know where they live, we know their immigration status, and we know whether or not we are supposed to be disappointed by said immigration status. As in: Are they giving up their Canadian citizenship (not OK!) or retaining their Canadian citizenship (OK!). 

Shelf: You, as a successful and famous comedy writer, have a mainstream publisher. But do you have any favorite books by indie publishers on your shelf?

Bee: I’m still getting over the fact that you just called me a successful and famous writer. Thanks, I am now officially impossible to work with. Come over to my house and peel some grapes for me. I don’t plan to eat them, I just want them to be extra slimy for when I viciously whip them at you for no apparent reason. 

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