Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

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

As The Daily Show’s current longest-standing correspondent, comedian Samantha Bee is rarely asked to be vulnerable—or reveal much about herself at all. Like the other correspondents, she hides her true personality below the ironic veneer the show works hard to cultivate. In her new humorous memoir, I Know I Am, But What Are You?, Bee explains the job (where she works alongside husband Jason Jones) as a chance to “explore our dark sides… [with] the license to fuck with people a little bit.” And though that hidden dark side is the focus of the book—which delves into the oddities and absurdities of Bee’s upbringing—Bee’s unflappable positivity and comic ease make I Know I Am, But What Are You? an uproarious success.

Many of the book’s stories start before Bee reached double digits. Her parents divorced young, and she grew up as an only child in three different households. Her Wiccan mother taught the birds and the bees with hardcore pornography, which had Bee doing interesting things with her dollies. Her stepmother, concerned by Bee’s fondness for solitary play and the indoors, carted her and her father on unfortunate camping trips. She was mostly left to her own devices, except by her sensible grandmother and great-grandmother, who were always “there to wipe my face with a warm wet cloth if I tried going to school again dripping with hair product after an unsuccessful third attempt at a Jheri curl.” Bee’s retelling of her scatterbrained upbringing includes all her resulting idiosyncrasies, like how she hated it when people sang her “Happy Birthday,” or how she fantasized about listening to disco records and drinking Tang with Jesus.

Bee treats these unflattering stories with complete acceptance and a healthy sense of humor. After all, she allowed older men to awkwardly seduce her, and she stole multiple cars as a teenager, for fun. She doesn’t shy away from embarrassments like screaming over the phone at elderly men as a customer-service rep at an erectile-dysfunction clinic. But nothing tops her epic recount of the Sailor Moon children’s show she performed in as a struggling actress. She’s shied away from the tale in past interviews, so each gory detail feels like catharsis—as she puts it, it was “an unrecognizable hodgepodge of David Cassidy music, bad stage combat, and girls in spandex suits trying to hold on to their wigs in the howling winds of the outdoor venues, as we fought over a fake ‘crystal’ that just looked like a child’s magic wand.” And rather than simply mocking the show, Bee as always becomes the butt of the joke, so ashamed of her life at the time that she lamented signing autographs for eager kids. Her willingness to lay all her cards on the table—to be vulnerable—elevates these already-remarkable stories to hysterical heights.

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