I was already a bit curious about Samantha Bee’s book of essays titled I Know I Am, But What Are You? and then she said something that piqued my interest even more. A friend and I went to see her at a Reading Room event in Manhattan’s Bryant Park when Bee commented that her book wasn’t meant to be inspiring.
It has been my experience lately that people who think their life mission is to inspire often seem to not really know how to go about it, while someone like Bee – who loathes stupidity and has a keen eye for the absurd – cannot help but inspire just by telling some honest stories.
Best known as the senior correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Bee humbly squirmed at the idea of even calling her book a memoir. But it is that genre that came to mind as I read it because, like so many recent memoirs, there were bits that shocked me, some I related to, and others that were, yes, inspiring.
When someone takes whatever childhood she had, appreciates it, uses it to advantage by becoming acutely self-aware, and comes to a place where she’s using her gifts, I tend to think there’s something inspiring in that. I suspect the Samantha Bee who is always in sarcastic character on The Daily Show might take a pot shot at that kind of Susie Sunshine thinking, but the low-key person speaking to us in Bryant Park and the one who authored the book might acknowledge that as spot on.
I asked Bee after the Bryant Park event if this book would give me some insight into what makes her tick and she wasn’t sure how to answer. (Full disclosure: I didn’t identify myself as a journalist since I wasn’t there on professional assignment). The answer, as it turns out, was yes.
What spawns a television correspondent who seems to get twisted joy out of making people look stupid in a way that also highlights something socially significant and is conveyed with impeccably dry humor?
An upbringing that some would consider unconventional, but truly the lines are blurring on that more and more, aren’t they? Divorce and subsequent step-parents, religious differences in parents and grandparents, guardians’ disparate approaches to explaining sex, negotiating the hormonal jungle that is high school, the trying on of friends of all stripes from elementary school through college, the awkward foray into dating and sex. Throw in pets, vacations, odd jobs and naiveté about following seedy men into basement apartments and it prompts us to start thinking of our own assortment of stories from our formative years.
That’s not to say some of Bee’s experiences in all of the above weren’t out there, because they most assuredly were (the “afternoon delight” her Barbie dolls and pals GI Joe and Ken engaged in alone support this), but that’s why it’s even more delightful for a life coach to read this passage about why she and fellow Daily Show correspondent and husband Jason Jones are perfectly matched:
“ … asked … what our perfect jobs would be, we both would have said: If only there were a television show that we could work on as a team that would allow us to explore our darker sides. That would give us the freedom to be actors for a living, and the license to f--- with people a little bit.”
That was written tongue-in-cheek and after the fact, but it is loaded with inspiration for the kind of person who may right now be thinking, “What in the world will I ever become after this insanity-laced upbringing I’ve endured?”
The message is there’s no one path, no conventional, no formula. Throw all that societal norm stuff out the window. It’s our duty to carve a life for ourselves out of what we’ve been dealt and augment that however we see fit. Samantha Bee gets that.
And if it inspires, well, that’s cool, too.