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Samantha Bee Moves ‘Full Frontal’ Charitable T-Shirt Production to Puerto Rico

The host explains why she’s putting her money where her mouth is, and challenging other late night hosts to do the same.

Samantha Bee in Puerto Rico.
Courtesy TBS

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It’s been six months since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico. The island is slowly recovering, but thousands of people are still without power, and local businesses are struggling to rebuild. While much of America might have stopped thinking about the story, one person who hasn’t moved on is late night host Samantha Bee, who heads the weekly late-night talk show Full Frontal on TBS.

Bee is hosting a one-hour special filmed in Puerto Rico, airing on Wednesday, March 28th, to draw awareness to the current situation on the island. But Bee is also going a step further and trying to create real economic impact, too: She and her team are moving production of all their charitable T-shirts to Puerto Rico to help support local businesses and create jobs on the island.

Bee sees this special as an opportunity to use her show “as a tool of good.” “It’s a great platform to put goodness back into the world as much as possible,” she told Racked by phone.

Bee said her team has been thinking about Puerto Rico constantly since the hurricane. “The hurricane, the damage, the tragedy, really resonated with us around here, and so we’ve never lost sight of what happened to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico... The lack of care and the callousness with which the administration treated Puerto Rico has really haunted us, actually.” She and her staff talked about filming a special on the island for months, but they also wanted to find a meaningful way to help residents while doing so. “It feels rude in a way to go to a place, bring your operation there, bring all these people there, film a special on an island, and leave nothing behind. We wanted to leave something behind,” she said.

The Full Frontal staff is working with two local businesses in Puerto Rico, Suxess Clothing for design and Transom for printing, to produce all of Full Frontal’s charitable T-shirts for the rest of 2018. This includes a special “Frontal Entero” T-shirt commemorating the Puerto Rico special, from which all proceeds will go to the Hispanic Federation to support hurricane relief for Puerto Ricans. “It’s not impossible to have your T-shirts printed in Puerto Rico,” she said. “It’s very easy, in fact!”

Luis Rodriguez from Suxess Clothing, Samantha Bee, and Eduardo Carbia from Transom.
Courtesy TBS

Once Bee decided to film an episode in Puerto Rico, she knew her next step was figuring out a way contribute to the island’s hurricane relief efforts while making the show. “We talked about like, should we restock a library, or bring clothes, or do we try to help rebuild a school?” Bee mused. “What is the effort on the ground there that we can do? And I felt like, the thing that we could do is try to help small businesses.”

Full Frontal, like most TV shows, sells its own branded merchandise and T-shirts, and the show also produces several charity T-shirts and donates proceeds from the sales to various causes. Moving charitable T-shirt production to Puerto Rico was an act that Bee felt could help create jobs, support small businesses, and contribute to the local economy in Puerto Rico long after her film crew had left the island. “Trying to be a job creator felt like it had more legs to me than just doing one thing,” she said. “Not every business is up and running, but it kind of takes that out-of-the-box sort of thinking to make things better there. I don’t know, it’s a theory, it’s very experimental.”

And Bee isn’t stopping there: she’s also challenging other late-night hosts to do the same. On Tuesday night, Bee is appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and plans to challenge Colbert to take a similar action and move his show’s charitable T-shirt production to Puerto Rico. “Why not?” she said. “We have these really big platforms.” She wants to use her special to nudge other talk show hosts to join her in supporting Puerto Rico’s economy, and said it felt like a no-brainer: “To me it’s just a challenge to all the hosts to kinda rethink how we do things. You could literally order T-shirts for your friend’s bar mitzvah and have them printed in Puerto Rico. Knowing that, why wouldn’t you? Why not? Maybe they take slightly longer to get to you, but not by much.”

“I don’t think it’s easy... to kind of rethink how you make things, but if you have the opportunity to be really thoughtful about it, why wouldn’t you?”