LaWanda Page. Joan Rivers. Phyllis Diller. Sarah Silverman.
In his review of Sarah Silverman’s HBO special We Are Miracles, TV critic Brian Lowry seems sad that Sarah Silverman has limited her career options by trying to be “one of the guys.” The fact that Ms. Silverman has an HBO special that is being reviewed in Variety, Mr. Lowry laments that “it would be a shame if Sarah Silverman wound up confined to Comedy Central roasts and the occasional special, but that’s about as much mileage as can be expected from her act as presently constituted.”
Huh as a former wannabe comic, I can only say to Mr. Lowry that I only wish I could have the limited b-level career that Silverman has. A career that includes a best-selling memoir (that dropped a reported $2.5 million advance into her bank account and won her a Grammy nod), a concert film, a self-title sitcom that ran for three seasons (and netted her an Emmy nod as best lead actress), a seemingly permanent spot on Jimmy Kimmel’s couch (for which she won an Emmy for cowriting an original song), an influential voice in celebrity politics, as well as, creating a cottage industry of gorgeous comediennes who push boundaries of taste and propriety. Oh, and she’s going to be working on a sitcom with Patti LuPone, Topher Grace, and Lorne Michaels. Aaaand, she has an HBO special and is being reviewed by Variety magazine.
Too bad that poor Sarah Silverman can’t catch a break, huh?
Lowry points out her failed NBC pilot when writing that Silverman’s “frittered around the edges of breakout success.” Yeah, except other performers who have watched their pilots not get picked up include: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Diane Keaton, Roseanne Barr, and Lily Tomlin have all seen their efforts fail to pan out.
But that isn’t what so offensive about Lowry’s article – it’s just factually incorrect, that’s all. To imply that Silverman’s success is somehow blunted and that she could’ve gone on to bigger things is interesting because my question would be – what does Lowry think Silverman should be doing? What mountain has she failed to climb? Is he concerned that she hasn’t become a family-friendly, multi-media, corporate superstar like Robin Williams or Whoopi Goldberg? Well, maybe she doesn’t want to do that…
But what gets to me about criticism of Silverman and any other female comic that works with blue material is the notion that they’re doing so because they want to prove they’re “one of the guys.” As Lowry writes, “graced with genuine talent and a well-defined comedic persona on one hand, and a commitment to pushing past the edge in a way that blunts her appeal on the other. Despite all manner of career-friendly gifts – from her looks to solid acting chops – she’s limited herself by appearing determined to prove she can be as dirty and distasteful as the boys.”
Huh, maybe, just maybe Silverman is doing the kind of work that she’s doing because she’s inspired and it has nothing to do with “the boys”. I find issue with Lowry’s assumption that by assessing Silverman’s act, or trying to figure out the genesis of it, that he manages to bring it back to men – Silverman wants to be respected like a guy, which is why she’s doing “guy comedy”.
I’m not arguing that Lowry, despite his labored and backhanded compliments has to like Silverman – whether he finds her talented is another issue. But don’t what Lowry shouldn’t do is reduce her work to simply trying to keep up with men. Raunch comedy hasn’t been trademarked by male comics, nor do I think that if a woman is performing raunch comedy, we should start clutching our pearls.
I mean think about it: George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence – all brilliant comics, all who use language and joke about subjects that could be deemed highly inappropriate or raunchy – have we all worried about their “limited” appeal?
It’s time that we stop judging women by standards set by men. It’s time we stop “complimenting” women by saying they’re just like “one of the guys.” It’s time we also stop assuming that if a woman is flouting or challenging gender roles and stereotypes, she must be doing so to win some sort of imagine approval from her male peers.