Deconstructing an Older Sarah Silverman

In HBO Special Comedian Climbs Out of Her Frame

Not Safe For Work: Sarah Silverman performs in her latest comedy special ‘We Are Miracles.’
HBO/Janet Van Ham
Not Safe For Work: Sarah Silverman performs in her latest comedy special ‘We Are Miracles.’

By Ezra Glinter

Published December 03, 2013, issue of December 06, 2013.
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Of course, attributing offensive views to an unsavory character is an old trick, though Silverman, by putting the material in the mouth of a pretty, sweet-seeming Jewish girl, does give it her own spin. Indeed, she may be one of the first comedians to present Jewishness as its own form of privilege. But the act as a whole quickly wears thin. Even if it’s better than aimless irony, at most it’s an irrelevant moralism whose point is to make the moralists (in this case the audience) feel good about themselves. So long as she’s playing a horrible person she can say whatever she wants, and we can laugh at her for it. Everybody wins, right?

Now, though, it looks as if she’s doing something more interesting. In “We Are Miracles,” the character she’s playing is the self-aware Sarah Silverman, a comedian with a reputation for getting away with offensive material. Because of that history, she can still get away with it, to a certain degree. But now her attacks against the idiots of the world are direct, rather than reflected on a wrong-headed character. She does semiserious political humor about the made-up need for vaginal deodorant, and makes fun of gross guys who like using the word “pussy.” At the end of the set, she sings a song about women who think they’re divas but are really just c- -ts.

Mostly, she wants to convince us that it’s okay to laugh at this stuff — that it is funny, without any frames or characters to use as an excuse. The idea that 9/11 widows are, for some anomalous reason, exceptionally good at giving hand jobs is funny. The idea that “if you’re drunk and throw up on a man’s penis midblowjob, you can save the moment if you can muster a ‘Ta-da!’” — is funny. The idea that the team mascot of Brandeis University is a nose — that’s funny.

You may or may not think so. But just as Silverman is eschewing the easy way out, there’s no shortcut for the audience, either. There’s no more laughing at a caricature of privilege and blaming everything on her. There’s no more comfort in the knowledge that you would never, ever be so insensitive, of course. There’s no more sense that Silverman is getting away with something and therefore so are you. Either you choose to laugh or you don’t. Personally, I don’t mind admitting it: I think it’s funny.

Ezra Glinter is the deputy arts editor of the Forward. Follow him on Twitter, @EzraG


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