When Jon Stewart announced that he was stepping down as host of The Daily Show in early 2015, there was one name that floated to the top of the list for those whose job it is to wildly speculate about who might succeed him: Samantha Bee.
At that point, Bee had spent 12 years at the show, making her its longest-serving correspondent—a distinction she still holds four years later. John Oliver, who had filled in for Stewart two summers earlier while the host directed his first feature film, would have been a no-brainer as well, but by then he had already been snatched up by HBO for Last Week Tonight. In the eyes of many late-night pundits (myself included) Bee was the obvious choice.
When I suggest during this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast that Bee’s name was “floated” as a possible successor to Stewart, she acknowledges that it was “floated out in the world” before adding, “I’m not sure it was really floated at Comedy Central.”
And when I tell her I was “surprised” she didn’t get the gig, Bee replies, “I was wildly unsurprised. They didn’t ask me or talk to me about it. I mean, literally, no one called or even emailed from the network—at all.”
Asked how that made her feel, Bee admits it was “terrible.”
“It was awful. It was really awful,” she says. “I mean, eventually they spoke to me, but I want to say it was a full month or six weeks after Jon had announced that he was leaving. I was never in contention and I very much knew that. I don’t know that people in the outside world knew how much I was not being considered for the job.”
Once it became clear that Comedy Central was not considering her as a potential host—they ultimately tapped then-31-year-old South African comedian Trevor Noah—Bee knew it was time for her to move on.
As it happened, Bee and her husband, fellow Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones, had just written a pilot for TBS called The Detour, a scripted comedy that is premiering its fourth season this June.
“Jason and I always knew that we had a future beyond The Daily Show,” Bee says. “And we knew that our next step would be ownership—to executive produce something, to write something, to be the showrunners of something. And so we were like, let this be the project, because we love doing it.”
By January of 2015, they were editing the pilot of The Detour. Once they handed over the final product and were anxiously awaiting the green light from TBS, they got the word that Stewart was leaving The Daily Show. “And so we were just at that crossroads where we were like, we know there’s nothing more that we need to accomplish at this place,” she says. “So we decided to leave for sure in that moment. As soon as he was stepping down we knew that we were going to leave.”
They didn’t know what would happen next, but then TBS picked up The Detour—“Thank God,” Bee says—and the network offered her the late-night series that ended up becoming Full Frontal.
“It all happened pretty quickly, but we knew that we would leave when he was leaving,” Bee says. “We just felt that the show would be different, that it would move into another phase, which it did, and that we were just part of one era of the show and that we should just step aside.”
When it came time to say goodbye, Bee didn’t want to do a big farewell episode. “I’m Canadian, you know, at heart, and I like to do an Irish goodbye,” she jokes.
“I didn’t want to do anything,” Bee says. “I was like, let me just disappear into the ether. Please don’t make me do a final show because I am a crier. I’m a big crier, and I don’t feel badly about that. I just can spring into tears at any moment. And I knew that I would cry, and I was like, ‘I don’t want to cry on TV, please don’t make me.’ And I did, of course, because they made me.”
Now that she has her own Emmy-nominated show on TBS, Bee says that she’s “fine” with how everything played out at The Daily Show. “I understood what my role was there,” she says. “I saw it pretty clearly. I understood my value.”
With that, she laughs, and adds, “You know, the industry, it’s always a kick in the crotch.”
But she can’t just leave it there, extending the bit as far as it will go. “At a certain point, you just kind of take that and remember it forever,” Bee says, chuckling. “It’s etched on the inside of your skull, forever with a burning hot rage. And then you just hold on to that kernel and make another show somewhere else.”
Subscribe now to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, the Himalaya app or wherever you listen to podcasts to hear our full conversation—including Samantha Bee on Ivanka Trump, Michelle Wolf, Joe Biden and a lot more. And look out for new episodes featuring a different comedian guest every Tuesday.