Comedy

The Girly Show

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In 1993 Sarah Silverman was fired from Saturday Night Live — via fax, no less — meaning that, by process of elimination, SNL godhead Lorne Michaels deemed her to be, how do I break this to you . . . less funny than both Rob Schneider and David Spade.

Read that last sentence again. Highlight it. Cut it out. Tape it up next to the New Yorker cartoon on your fridge. Because, fourteen years later, nothing has changed: Spade's hairstylist deserves a special-effects Oscar, Schneider's "career" is a direct correlation to the skid marks on his knees, and Sarah Silverman still isn't all that funny.

Yes, I know we're supposed to believe that Silverman is the naughtiest, most knee-slap'n'est estrogen-fueled comedian since Ruth Buzzi. But in truth, maybe we're just swallowing what's being spoon-fed to us with a plane-engine noise. It's the same kind of thinking that's convinced some of us that Fergie's meth-face is still somehow mildly attractive, and Dane Cook is anything more than a date rapist with a microphone. And yet, judging by the critical and commercial success of her self-named, self-parodying Comedy Central series — season two kicks off this week — somebody is laughing their ass off at Sarah Silverman.

"She's one of the only bitches out there I'd pay to see," says comedian Lisa Lampanelli, the exquisitely raunchy scene-mangler of Comedy Central's frequent Celebrity Roasts. "Who else is doing anything? I'd rather kick myself in the cunt than go see those broads." She's talking, of course, about the Booslers, Poundstones, and Tenutas of the world. Which seems, at best, a back-handed compliment. Yes, Silverman is funnier than Rita Rudner. In other words, she has no real competition.

Which is why Silverman is having this inexplicable moment. She's passably amusing, sure, and she's got an impressively filthy mind, but much more

Silverman seems to have a curious lack of conviction.

importantly, she's kinda hot: A cross between Katharine Hepburn and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She's even part of a Gap ad campaign sure to be plastered across billboards, buildings and phone kiosks this fall. Couple that with the fact that stand-up is once again a viable ear-to-the-ground art form thanks to the likes of David Cross, Zack Galifianakis and Patton Oswalt, and — oy, a klug! — a self-flagellating star is born.

Every thriving genre of entertainment needs its "cute and approachable chick." Music has its Lily Allens and Carrie Underwoods, movies their Keira Knightleys and Drew Barrymores. Silverman is just filling that niche in the comedy world, posing for Maxim — No. 29 on their "Hot 100" — and reaping gut laughs the same way a child does the first time he says the word "pah-sket-eee" instead of spaghetti. Except that Silverman's baby talk goes something like this:

"Everybody blames the Jews for killing Christ, and then the Jews try to pass it off on the Romans. I'm one of the few people who believe it was the blacks."

Cue those wide, wet eyes. That I-been-naughty, Shirley Temple pout. An innocent finger twist of her black hair. Now try replacing Silverman's bad girl mugging with Roseanne Barr's face. Al Sharpton would sprout a vapor trail racing to the nearest microphone to denounce her as a racist.

"Being very attractive is just another part of her shtick," says Doree Shafrir, an associate editor of Gawker, and leading Silverman basher. "She gets to use her looks to kind of blunt the impact of what she's saying."

Shielded behind those twin "handicaps" of being a hot Jewess, Silverman lobs Molotov cocktails at our ideas of race, religion, and social hierarchy. Which is awesome. Our best comedians have always been those that are unafraid to not just step on the toes of our societal mores, but mash them while putting a cigarette out on their forehead.

We need our comedians to be sincere purveyors of harsh truths.

Silverman, though, seems to have a curious lack of conviction. When she caught heat for saying "chink" on Late Night With Conan O'Brien back in 2001, she refused to apologize, but immediately bowdlerized the bit from her stand-up. Earlier this year when she hosted the MTV Movie Awards, she flogged Paris Hilton in front of a live audience (something about making her feel comfortable by painting the prison bars to look like penises). It was uncomfortable. It was ballsy. And as the whimpering heiress, who was going to jail later that night, teetered on the verge of tears, we waited to lick at them like they were sweet sustenance.

Then in July Silverman apologized, torpedoing what was her crowning achievement. "I was there to be funny, and I was," Silverman explained, "but that doesn't mean I can't feel bad about it." And now she's repenting again for piling on Britney Spears at the Video Music Awards when, admittedly, her salt-pouring of Spears was the only mildly pleasant thing about the affair.

Her act of contrition reeked of product placement. Richard Pryor never apologized for his act. Bill Hicks refused to do so, too, even after that night he got his leg broken by a couple of unforgiving Vietnam vets. And Roseanne Barr never retracted her shrieky, crotch-grabbing rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" either.

Hot or not, XX or XY, we need our comedians to be sincere purveyors of harsh truths. Say it. Mean it. And stand by it. Unless, of course, it happens to piss off the in-crowd, or worse, bankrupts your racket as comedy's no-competition cutie pie.

Because, if that's the case, like Silverman's tiny nearly-aborted doppleganger told her in the "Not Without My Daughter" episode: "You severely overestimate your cuteness."  

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
When he was six, Bart Blasengame survived a roadtrip to Disney World with a raccoon, a parakeet, a ferret, and a menstruating pitbull. He knows funny. He's written for Details, Esquire, Spin, Rolling Stone and the New York Times and lives in Portland, Oregon. Bill Hicks is his personal lord and savior.

©2007 Bart Blasengame and Nerve.com.