Yes, Samantha Bee does ice skate in her new special “Christmas on I.C.E.”
“Oh my God, barely,” she tells me by phone the morning after taping the special at New York’s PlayStation Theater, which had been outfitted with an elaborately decorated ice rink. “I could have died. I skate-walked.”
“It’s fine, it’s OK, I don’t have to be good at everything,” Bee adds with a laugh. “I can be good at the things I’m good at and we can all agree that I’m bad at skating and I’m super-OK with it. I still love it.”
Though Wednesday night’s holiday special from Full Frontal with Samantha Bee does include an appearance by actual Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, “Christmas on I.C.E.” is far more concerned with the thousands of migrant children still being held at detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The world is dark, but tonight we are going to bukkake it with joy,” Bee told audience members at the top of Monday night’s live taping. “And your hearts are going to swell with good will towards your fellow humans if it’s the last fucking thing I do!”
In the exclusive clip below, we see Bee travel to McAllen, Texas, where migrants frequently risk their lives—and the possibility of an ambush by the “white Santa network”—trying to cross the Rio Grande into the United States.
“Remember those pictures of kids in cages?” the host asks. “That’s here!” The host also reveals that she bought a video billboard that will run for a month, greeting migrants with a message of “Bienvenidos” and her attempt to dance “the floss” when they enter the country.
“It’s very obnoxious,” Bee tells me of the billboard. “I was really trying to picture what it would be like if you just got released from custody and that was the first thing you see. I wonder what people think I’m selling.”
While Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt has told her viewers that she’s “heard” only 2 percent of asylum-seekers show up for their official hearings, Bee explains in the field piece that the actual statistic from the Department of Justice is around 90 percent. “So let’s just compromise and say you’re spreading bullshit,” she adds.
“In the end, about a third of those who apply are granted asylum,” Bee adds in the clip. “When you see the faces of people here, it’s hard not to think of immigrants 100 years ago who were also feared and slandered, but whose descendants made America what it is today.”
Before the special airs on TBS this Wednesday night at 10:30 p.m., Bee and I chatted about what it was like to make that trip to the border and the strong possibility that there could be another “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” coming in 2019.
“Christmas on I.C.E.” is a great pun, but why did you want it to be the name of your holiday special?
Well, we knew that we wanted to do a full episode on the immigration crisis. And actually the pun came very quickly. It’s just one of those things you throw out in a meeting and everyone goes, “Yes.” And you just know it in the moment that it’s the right thing to do.
You were one of the first late-night hosts to tackle the family separation issue. Are you worried Americans have grown too complacent on this ongoing issue and kind of moved on to other things?
I mean, the news cycle has moved on, but I think there are tons and tons of people who do still think about it. We certainly do. I certainly know people in my own circle of friends who think about it all the time. No one knows what to do. The problem remains. We had that huge upswell of outrage and the outrage keeps bubbling up and then suddenly children at the border in California are being teargassed and the outrage bubbles up again and just pours out. People are very frustrated, they don’t know what to do about it. I include myself in that. So bringing it back up again, bringing it to the forefront, for us is very natural. It’s difficult when you bear witness to all of this cruelty. You feel powerless.
One thing that has brought it back into the news cycle, devastatingly, is the story of the 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died from dehydration in U.S. custody. What did you think when you heard about that and the fact that DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen seemed to be blaming the death on the girl’s family for making the journey?
Imagine being a person who could say on camera that the parents were to blame. Imagine. It’s just tragic. We spoke briefly about it in the special. It wouldn’t be right for that to go unmentioned. That is the backdrop. I don’t even know what to say it’s so unbearably awful.
That does speak to the difficulty of trying to do this fun holiday special with ice skating and dancing and also talk about these issues. How do you approach that?
We try to strike a balance. Yes, we’re trying to make a fun Christmas special. We’re trying to raise money for a charity that will help families and children. We’re always working on getting the balance right. We’re thinking about that until the moment we start taping. Honestly, it’s the biggest concern.
So you went down to McAllen, Texas, for a field piece from the border. Can you talk about what that experience was like and was there anything you encountered that really surprised you?
I was grateful for the chance to go there. I think it makes the theoretical very real. There’s only so much you can really understand about it in photographs. To go there and see even a fraction of the journey that everybody was on was valuable. It was profound. You’re seeing people who have been on the longest journey of their lives, who are exhausted, totally shell-shocked and trying to make their way from this bus station in the middle of nowhere to a town in the middle of Nebraska. And they don’t know where they’re going and they don’t speak English. Every step of this journey is overwhelming. It makes it very personal.
The thing that’s most striking about it was how quiet everybody is. There literally could be 150 people who have just been let off the I.C.E. bus. And they come into the bus station as a group, almost with no one to guide them. There are volunteers who come by and try to help them get on the right bus. And there are so many people, children, grown adults. And they are silent. They are so quiet. If you were standing there with your back to them you would never know that the bus station had filled up behind you, that’s how quiet it is. That’s how shell-shocked everyone is. The process itself is difficult and onerous. I don’t think that we need to do anything more to make it cruel. We don’t need to turn up the dial on the cruelty.
She said, “Stay triggered, boo?” Oh boy, good for her.
Anything you’d like to say in response?
Not at all, no. Should I regret giving her oxygen for like 10 seconds on the show? I don’t know. It was too funny not to.
As someone who has had to apologize for a joke in the past, what did you think of Kevin Hart’s initial refusal to apologize for his history of homophobic jokes?
Good lord. I’m more trying to imagine what was in the Academy’s head when they didn’t check his social media. They didn’t Google him at all? He can feel however he wants to feel. I think people know where he stands on LGBTQ issues. That’s been clear from the get-go. I don’t personally share those views, but it’s a pretty simple process to figure out where someone stands on these things. I think it’s relatively effortless. It’s unimaginable to me that they wouldn’t have an intern or a P.A. nearby who could do a simple check-in.
Or it says that they knew and didn’t care.
Yeah, who knows? I really don’t know what was in their heads. But it’s interesting to sit back and watch. I guess we’ll see how it plays out. What do you think is going to happen?
The narrative out there is that nobody wants to host the Oscars now. Do you see it that way or do you think that certain people just aren’t being given the opportunity?
It’s pretty thankless. It’s hard to know what the value is, personally, for a person’s career. I don’t think they really checked a very deep pool of talent. I think there are a lot of people who could do it, but [the Academy] would never take a risk. It’s interesting that they would take a risk on someone who is known to have certain opinions, that they would dive into that pool and not dig a little deeper to find a host that was capable elsewhere. But it’s enjoyable to sit back and munch a little popcorn and watch it unfold. I’m certainly not in the running to host, that much I do know.
On a semi-related note, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner has now given up on comedy altogether following Michelle Wolf’s performance last year. Does that open the door for another “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” in 2019?
Matt, you’ll be the first to know if it happens, I promise that much to you. You’ll be the first to know. I’m not saying that it won’t. I think it’s starting to feel a little bit necessary again.