Full Frontal with Samantha Bee's Allana Harkin Makes Sure the Jokes Land with a Bang - And if You’re Offended, It’s on You
Written by Popi Bowman
Photos courtesy of Turner Entertainment Networks
While much of her recent career (and Twitter feed) involves ridiculing Donald Trump, Allana Harkin had a very different premonition of her life as a producer and correspondent for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee; before the election, she was especially excited to move her family to New York City (from Toronto) at a time when America’s first female president was going to be in office.
“I don’t know if it was optimism, or just that it seemed insane that Trump could even get elected. And I’m sure part of it is a little bit of being blinded by hope,” Harkin admits, “but I have to say, I remember on the day of the election, I was like, ‘It’s not going to happen, don’t worry about it – she’s got this one in the bag.’ I really did believe that.”
But even the least expected (or desired) outcomes can have a surprising serendipity. Now Harkin finds herself on the front lines of the comedy world’s attack on Trump, and while many of the skits and punchlines may lend brevity to an otherwise frustrating political climate, don’t get her wrong: Harkin doesn’t find Trump amusing, in the least. “People say it’s great material, but we would give it up in a heartbeat,” she says. “It’s not worth it.”
Admittedly, since Trump won the presidency, nothing has seemed normal. “I’ve had moments where I’ve been walking down the streets of Manhattan and just kind of stop and I’m like, ‘Okay, universe, what’s going on? Why now, why here, why this?’" says Harkin. “But in terms of where I’m at in my career and the kind of opportunities I’m getting here – I guess it is the perfect storm.”
Only on air since February 2016 and already multi-award winning (including at this year’s Emmys), each episode of Full Frontal reaches millions of viewers, both on TBS – in Canada, on The Comedy Network – and through YouTube, where some of the show’s most popular segments have passed 2 and 3 million views; the most popular clip to date, “A Totally Real, 100% Valid Theory,” has topped 4 million (and counting). “We’re a comedy show, but we’re also catharsis,” Harkin explains. “A lot of people are tuning into our show because they feel the same way, and we’re saying it, on television, in a way that a journalist can’t – they just can’t.”
So, while we might be drowning in political misery, we’re also swimming in some of the best punchlines late-night has seen. We can blame Trump, but we can also credit the friendship that blossomed when “Sam” and Harkin met in the ‘90s, while forming Toronto’s all-female comedy troupe Atomic Fireballs; now, almost two decades after they met, the best friends are a comedic partnership driving one of today’s hottest late-night shows. And, historically, one of the few hosted by a woman.
When Samantha Bee launched the show, Harkin was quickly brought onto the project – and, certainly, their friendship played a part. Even so, starting a career in New York City wasn’t a cake walk: “The only thing I had is that I knew Sam, but I had to work from the ground up because I came from another country – they didn’t know me here, so I had to bust it, and I had to bust it really hard. And I think that women are great for that!”
Harkin quickly admits to generalizing, but jumps back into the topic: “What I’d really like to see is women helping other women,” she says. “I read about women not getting opportunities, men not giving women opportunities – but I think, in fact, there are a lot of women out there actually not giving other women opportunities, and I think there’s a lot more that we can do to bolster each other.”
After 20-plus years of experience in theatre, acting and comedy, Harkin is more than ready for the spotlight – but she’s almost more excited working behind the scenes. “I’m always challenging myself,” Harkin admits. “When I came in to Full Frontal, I wasn’t working as a director, but I knew I wanted to do that. So I had to look at the situation and say, how am I going to make that work? I think it’s really important to be clear about what you want, and say it out loud – just say it out loud – whatever industry you work in.”
Besides the opportunity to direct, one thing Harkin clearly loves about her job is the creative freedom of comedy, especially outside of Canada. “I worked on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and even there you got the sense of being quite polite,” she explains; whereas, on Full Frontal, “We’re not very polite – we just kind of go for it! I’ve been working in comedy since my mid-20s and, you know, I have a lot of things that I want to say. This show allows me to do that, and allows me to have opinions that I haven’t necessarily been able to have.”
Naturally, with opinions and comedy, there comes the discussion of what’s “off limits” – which, of course, brings up the controversy surrounding Kathy Griffin’s bloody Trump head. While Harkin agrees it’s a sticky topic, she won’t blame any comedian for a bad joke. “When you go see a comic and say, ‘That crossed the line,’ what that means is that crossed the line of your moral compass. That has nothing to do with them, and it never should have anything to do with them.” She laughs, as if being offended by a joke is another punchline.
When it comes to her own jokes, almost anything is fair game. “Comedy to me is like, where’s the joke? What’s the most interesting situation to explore? As a comedian, in the most dire situations, you’re thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve gotta write about this!’” she laughs. “I find that relationships are the most interesting, and right now we’re in a relationship with the President of the United States, and it’s a really complicated relationship. And that’s an interesting thing to explore.”
Harkin isn’t comfortable joking about everything, however: “There have been times when I’ve said I think that’s pushing it too far. I’ve said that before, definitely; I’m like, I don’t want to make that joke because I feel like it could hurt somebody. But that’s just where I’m at, and it doesn’t mean that somebody has to play by my rules. I’d hate for comics to start censoring themselves – that would make me sad!”
Yet again, it comes back to one’s moral compass – but in this case, the comedian’s. “At the end of the day, you’re the one that has to live with it,” Harkin explains. “The thing is, it’s okay if you do something as a comic, or an artist, or anything, and then afterwards you think, ‘You know, I have second thoughts about that.’ It’s like anything in life. I’m constantly learning things – I’m constantly reminding myself to not take things personally, to know that things constantly change.” She pauses, then laughs. “And, just don’t be a dick!” Now if only Trump would heed her advice.