“My cheeks get hot talking about perimenopause, but I love it”: Samantha Bee on her new sex ed–inspired comedy show

“My cheeks get hot talking about perimenopause, but I love it”: Samantha Bee on her new sex ed–inspired comedy show

After her show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, ended last year, the comedian thought hard about what she wanted to do next. The answer: teaching women about their bodies

Photo by Mary Ellen Matthews

Samantha Bee has never been one to shy away from thorny material, first as a correspondent on The Daily Show and more recently as the host of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, her weekly late-night political satire series that frequently took aim at the Trump administration. After the show was canceled last year, Bee thought hard about what to do next. It turns out that her new calling is touring the continent (often by car) to talk about women’s bodies. “For so long, we’ve been made to feel ashamed,” she says. “This show is like a collective exorcism.” She brings her comedy tour, Your Favourite Woman, to Toronto’s Bluma Appel Theatre on October 19 and 20. Here, Bee talks about why menopause needs more airtime and her own early sex education in the Toronto Catholic school system.

You’ve described your show as an hour in a theatre to “scream and laugh at the volcano of bullshit we all face.” Is there any particular strain of BS that you’re focused on?
The show is very much centred on women’s bodies. I’m turning 54 this year, and I have a lot of friends in the same age bracket, and I’ve realized that we know so little about these vessels we spend our lives in. Our education systems don’t teach us about women’s bodies, and science barely studies them. So, rather than learning, we are made to feel ashamed. It’s hugely frustrating for me, and it’s also fertile ground for comedy. I like the idea that we can come together and have a collective exorcism. 

Last year, you Tweeted, “A huge problem in this country is that we know way too little about menopause and way too much about Elon Musk.”
And now we know even more about Elon Musk—much too much. I guess this show is my corrective to that imbalance. When Full Frontal ended, I thought, What’s in my heart? What’s left on the table that I wasn’t able to focus on in the show? So many of us get to this chapter in life and it’s like, What is even going on here? Nobody has given us any information about what to expect from menopause. Instead, we get messages like, “Welcome to menopause—live your best life.”

Either that or “Welcome to menopause—you are old and disgusting and it’s time to crawl into a cave and die.”
Exactly. There’s a grey area in between those extremes that women really need to know about. We spend a third of our lives in perimenopause and beyond—at least, that’s the hope. And students in US medical schools spend one hour on the subject. I’m not sure if it’s the same in Canada, but I think it’s fair to say that our bodies have not been properly studied, and I believe that’s true for most stages of women’s lives: menopause, childbirth, postpartum and conditions like endometriosis. Instead, we’re given birth control pills to cure an array of problems. 

Is there any part of you that feels embarrassed to be talking to thousands of people about so-called private parts?
My cheeks definitely get hot talking about perimenopause, but I love it. I think my audience has that same experience of feeling a bit embarrassed, and then by the end of the show the room is electrified. People are screaming in their seats.  

Is there any topic that gets your audience particularly fired up?
There are a lot of states that don’t teach sex ed, and if they do teach it, most of them just focus on abstinence. Something I found very shocking is that, in 17 out of 50 states, the information taught in sex ed isn’t required to be scientifically accurate. They can teach whatever they want. So it’s no wonder how women get to their 50s knowing nothing about their bodies. I’m not sure if it’s any better in Canada. 

You spent your sex ed years in Toronto. What do you remember from that experience?
I went to St. Vincent de Paul in the Roncesvalles area, which was a pretty progressive Catholic school at the time. I remember my teacher, Mr. Davis, putting on that movie that shows a baby crowning. My memory is that he put it on, walked out, smoked half a pack of cigarettes and then came back and silently rolled the projector out of the room. I don’t recall any follow-up conversations. In high school, I had a gym teacher who talked about STIs. It wasn’t comprehensive, and nobody would have ever asked a question. The humiliation would have caused us to perish. 

You’ll be in Toronto for at least a couple of days. Will you visit any old haunts?
I’ll definitely spend time with my friends and family. As for old haunts, I used to perform comedy at the Rivoli on Queen Street a lot—I’m not sure if it’s even around anymore. I’ll definitely go to Bonjour Brioche for breakfast, which I try to do whenever I’m back. I get the omelet provincial and a bunch of takeaway pastries to eat while I’m in my car.

So you’re driving from New York?
Yes. It’s a long drive, but it’s not so bad with an audiobook. I’m driving partly because most of my family is in Brampton, so I’ll need a car to get around. And then I’ll drive to my next gig in Pittsburgh. I don’t really trust air travel these days. There have been so many times when I’ve almost missed a show because of a delay. As a Canadian-born gold-star student, I simply can’t risk not making it to the show.

Speaking of being Canadian, do you still observe an October Thanksgiving in the States?
I do. My dad was here over the Thanksgiving weekend. We didn’t do the full-on feast—it was more like a modified nod: turkey breast and pie. I love the big table, the imagined version of Thanksgiving—

The cornucopia overflowing with gourds…
Pass the turnips and the Jell-O salad made in a Bundt pan! I love it, but the rest of my family doesn’t. It’s a huge disappointment. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.