Sarah Silverman’s “quiet depravity”

From this week’s New Yorker profile of the hilarious Sarah Silverman:

Comedy is probably the last remaining branch of the arts whose suitability for women is still openly discussed. Several years ago, Jerry Lewis… told an audience at the Aspen Comedy Festival that he didn’t much care for female comedians and couldn’t think of one who was any good. Lewis’s views were criticized in public but upheld by some, in modified form, in private. “When you went home alone and did the math, he was just kind of right,” Penn Jillette, the magician-comedian, says. “I mean, what passes for funny in women is, like, Lucille Ball, who was never funny.”

What’s so great about Silverman is that she’s not just funny “for a woman.” But her gender affords her the ability to go where male comedians can’t– and still make people laugh. Some examples:

In a catchy song she sings about porn actresses—”Do you ever take drugs / so that you can have sex without crying? / Yeah yeah”…

She took a pair of khaki pants, dabbed a tiny bit of red paint in the crotch, and wore them to a gig at a club called Largo… At the end of the set, she allowed herself to notice the stain, and said, wincing, “Did you guys— you, you must think that I have my period and you’re probably dying for me. Of course you did. Why wouldn’t you? No.” She paused and said, as if to reassure, “I had anal sex for the first time tonight.”

“I was raped by a doctor,” she says. “Which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.”

It’s such a hard line to walk. Rape itself is never funny. But using comedy to criticize society’s reaction to rape can be hilarious. Most of the time, I think that’s what Silverman’s doing.

“People say I’m a nice girl saying terrible things. I tend to say the opposite of what I think. You hope that the absolute power of that transcends, and reaches the audience.”

In other words, there’s a big difference between a sexist joke and a joke about sexism. I’m sure she has her feminist detractors, but I, for one, can’t wait for Silverman’s forthcoming movie, Jesus is Magic.

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