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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Samantha Bee, Comedian

“Everyone would just laugh at me.”

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I took a theater class as an elective, like when you take astronomy — you take a class to lighten your load, with all the other stuff that you’re taking. To take an unserious class. I took theater as a really unserious component to my degree. Part of the work was that you had to do a co-op, so you had to at least be part of a production. I auditioned — I had no idea how to audition — I just auditioned for the show, which had a famous director. And I got a part in the play that involved singing. It was a Brecht play called Schweik in the Second World War. And I had such a good time doing it, I was like, “Oh, I should do this.” I don’t remember anything about the audition, but I do remember that I got a part and that I never read the play. I only read my part, ’cause I knew so little about theater that I didn’t even really know that you were supposed to read the whole play. I only read my part.

I actually think that I was pretty good in the play. You know when you don’t know that you’re supposed to be frightened or nervous about something, and you’re just not nervous about it? Everyone else around you is. I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t nervous; I’ve been nervous about everything ever since. Maybe that was the only time when I experienced that feeling of bravado. Or the stakes were just so low. I was like, “I don’t care. If I don’t do this, I’ll just work on the lighting grid.” People around me were like throwing up and having diarrhea in the greenroom and I was like, “I don’t know. It’s pretty good.” Just so casual. “It’s kinda fun.”

So then I didn’t read the play and at the dress rehearsal — I really remember this — I was like, “Well, can we go out and watch the play? Like if we’re not onstage, can we watch the play?” And he was like, “Well, no, because you’re backstage.” And I was like, “Yeah, well I want to see how it ends.” They were like, “What do you mean? You don’t even know how it ends? You didn’t read it?” I was like, “No! Why? Do you?”

Oh my God, I felt like a complete idiot. Everything started there — just complete idiocy.

I auditioned for a lot of stuff, you know, trying to be Lady Macbeth. And everyone would just laugh at me. Everyone would laugh. Like anytime I tried to do anything serious, people were like, “That’s great, but try and keep a lid on the comedy.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” I was acting my heart out. I did an episode of Law & Order once and they were like, “That was really funny. But we’re not trying to go for laughs.” I was the murderer, I think. No, I wasn’t the murderer. But I was a dark character. I was a miserable character. And I wasn’t at all trying to do jokes, and pretty much after that Law & Order decided to close up shop. I feel like I killed Law & Order.

But I don’t think of myself as an actor, generally, anymore. I don’t really aspire to that at all. I don’t know how I think of myself. I don’t really know what category of performer I fall into anymore, really. Why must I — can’t I be fluid? Can’t I do it all?


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