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Samantha Bee won't be 'lady behind a desk' in late night

On Monday, Samantha Bee will attempt something few women before her have been able to do -- headline a sustained success in late night comedy.
Samantha Bee attends an event on May 18, 2015 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society)
Samantha Bee attends an event on May 18, 2015 in New York, N.Y.

On Monday, Samantha Bee will attempt something few women before her have been able to do -- headline a sustained success in late night TV comedy.

The genre, which has become increasingly bloated with options, has infamously been a boys club for decades, with high profile names like Joan Rivers, Whoopi Goldberg and Wanda Sykes all failing to gain much of a foothold. And Bee's arrival on the scene comes at a time when awareness over the lack of diversity on late night comedy shows has arguably reached its peak.

While "Saturday Night Live" has added more minorities to its cast, and Comedy Central's late-night line-up features two black hosts, women are still wildly underrepresented, as evidenced by a controversial photo spread in Vanity Fair last year, which showed the all-male cadre of top-tier hosts yukking it up together. Bee, whose show had yet to debut at the time, had a hilarious retort via social media, which tapped into the rage many viewers felt about stubborn resistance to female voices in mainstream humor:

Ever since her new TBS show, "Full Frontal," was announced, Bee has not shied away from the elephant in the room: her gender. In an early promo, she lamented the "sausage party" that late-night comedy has turned into, and in the campaign leading up her show's premiere, she appeared in several ads that acknowledge the dearth of a woman's perspective in the genre. And the first segment from the show that's been widely teased features her, "Daily Show"-style, doing a remote report on how poorly the Veteran's Administration is equipped to handle female patients.

In a recent interview with TODAY, Bee conceded that being the only woman in late night "does matter" to her. 

"It's not the main focus of my life ... It's not all that the show is about, but it will be a big part of the show, because I'm steeped in womanness," she said. Despite a historically long 12-year run as a correspondent on "The Daily Show," she was never approached by producers to take over the reigns of that show, something her husband (and also former cast-member on the show) Jason Jones called "a little shocking, to say the least,” in the New York Times last month.

So Bee has forged her own path, and while "Full Frontal" show-runner Jo Miller has pledged that "she's not going to be a lady behind a desk," eschewing traditional guests for a format that allows for more experimentation, Bee will likely face an uphill battle to gain viewers who seem to be by and large biased in favor of male comics.

"I think being funny still isn't as sanctioned for women as it is for men. This doesn't mean there is an official policy of exclusion or even a conscious aversion. But there is still this attractive/funny dichotomy for women that doesn't exist for men," comedian Katie Halper, who hosts her own self-titled radio show on WBAI, told MSNBC on Monday. "There is this dating study about men and women listing a sense of humor as a trait they look for in a partner. For women, a sense of humor is someone who makes them laugh. For men, it's someone who laughs at their jokes. So, there is a double standard in terms of how encouraged humor is. So, hiring choices are made in that context when people are choosing among various professional comedians or writers. But it starts earlier in that women aren't even as encouraged to pursue comedy in the first place."

"It's not like I'm the only one who ever has been and I'm not going to be the last, that's for sure," Bee recently told with regard to her unique status as the lone lady in late night. "I hope that ["Full Frontal"] opens the door for people, or makes it more appealing to give more women those kinds of spots."

For her part, Halper is more than ready to heed her call. "What she can do is hire me, obviously," she joked.