Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Shut Up, 'Variety': The Cluelessness of Claiming that Sarah Silverman Shouldn't Be "As Dirty As the Boys"

According to Brian Lowry at Variety, “being as dirty as the guys” is the worst thing that Sarah Silverman can do for her career. This Sarah Silverman? That Sarah Silverman?

But that’s the headline of Lowry’s problematic review of Silverman’s upcoming HBO special, We Are Miracles. The most blatant issue, obviously, is the proud sexism on display. In Lowry’s world, there are comics and then there are lady comics, and they ought to be playing by different rules. He’s not attacking the culture of dirty comedy overall, even graciously allowing that sometimes female comics can “work blue.” His argument is actually that Silverman’s material is off-putting to the industry because a pretty girl like her could easily have an acting career.

As a criticism, it’s probably one that Silverman has been hearing for her entire career – the 20-year-long, Emmy-winning, TV-show-creating, movie-starring career which she built around her shocking-but-clever standup. The irony of that seems lost on Lowry, who cites her passed-over NBC pilot as a measure of her mainstream failure, saying she’s “frittered around the edges of breakout success beyond standup."

And really, his definition of success as moving “beyond standup” may be Lowry’s biggest problem. To a TV critic, Silverman’s monumental career in standup means little if it hasn’t translated to a mainstream film or television career; standup is just a means to an end, and a special is little more than a show reel for Hollywood executives and casting agents.

He doesn’t appreciate, for instance, that Silverman’s decision to record her latest special in the 39-seat bar at Largo is part of a larger trend in comedy that plays with the structure and predictability of standup specials, from Maria Bamford’s Special Special Special (recorded in her living room for her parents) to Greg Proops’s latest Live at Musso and Frank (taped at a restaurant in Hollywood). And when he claims that her “well-defined comedic persona” is diminished by her “commitment to pushing past the edge in a way that blunts her appeal,” he misses entirely that her comedic persona IS someone who pushes the boundaries of good taste – and for many fans, that is the appeal itself.

For some reason, Lowry seems insistent that Silverman is a marginal figure in entertainment. He references a recent Maureen Dowd column about her by saying the comedian “still has admirers” – something her 4.8 million Twitter followers already knew. But mostly perplexingly, he seems almost angry that she hasn’t prioritized fame and fortune over exploring and perfecting her own comedic voice. “Frankly, 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,” he writes. “As for going much further with those self-inflicted restrictions, that would be the real miracle.”

Clearly, the sexism of the piece is real and deeply ingrained, as he's insinuating that a female writer should stifle her voice so she doesn't scare anybody away. But even more infuriatingly for a comedy fan, any of these so-called debates about whether a woman can be funny and attractive and still "as dirty as the boys" have been dismissed long ago. Frankly, we're past that. If the folks at Variety intend to review standup, they need to keep up.

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  • ben

    I don't see why anyone would say something negative about Sarah. She's such a good spirit.

  • Adam

    I'm sure Sarah appreciates Brian's notes.

  • http://www.philschwarzmann.com/ Phil Schwarzmann

    People still pay attention to Variety???

  • Cherish

    This is unbelievably stupid.

    Any dude who says, "females shouldn't do such and such" in anger is most likely stupid. But the writer of that article never said nor implied it, either. He said "Sarah Silverman" was trying to be as "vulgar as the boys", or whatever. No generalization of all women was even alluded to. But yeah, she can do anything for all I care. Pro football player, president, comedian, whatever. But is this supposed to change the fact that Silverman's sense of humor is superficial (arguably all comedians are.), and unlike her male counterparts, Sarah has absolutely NO IDEA what context is for? Saying "poo poo" or "fuck" in themselves for laughs, like shooting a verbal machine gun, with absolutely nothing else to bring forward, reduces these words to mere gimmicks; for only cheap laughs from people who are easily programmed to obey the teleprompter sign for "APPLAUSE," even in the most awkwardly unfunny and embarrassing moments for the comedians and their routines. (See: virtually all current late night shows.) It's not cute. It's simply pathetic to resort to such tactics to mask your lack of talent.

    Louis C.K., Gaffigan and Carlin all understand the importance and impact of great delivery and appropriate timing to bringing out the kind of response they desire from their audiences on a much higher level than Sarah does. So much work went into the format of Jim's "Beyond the Pale" standup it's unbelievable. All the subtlety in voice pitch alterations, mocking what the audience is probably thinking (the 3rd person whisper commentary), not to mention the way he connects different themes seamlessly without awkward stumble or viewer head scratching is simply one of the best things I've seen in any hour or half-hour special, even if his wife helped him edit it (which, according to him, she did). If you observe closely in Jesus is Magic, however, Silverman is all over the place with nonsensical and flat out retarded transitions and forced segways peppered with controversial statements THAT ARE NOT EVEN FUNNY, just for the sake of it. Because it's "edgy", or whatever. This pretty much summarizes all of her routines.

    Don't get me wrong, I love controversy and shattering taboo subjects that make a few of the audience members leave the theatre because they can't handle the heat, but ONLY if they are NOT underhanded. The difference between a white guy telling an impassioned "N" word joke and a black guy telling a joke about how much of a pain in the ass Hillary Clinton must be on her period are almost entirely equal in their dangerousness to the garden variety politically correct crowd. But as we have seen watching standup our entire lives, jokes of this kind CAN be told in a way that even many people of the side it's intended to make fun of are crying from laughter. Richard Pryer kicked this style of comedy out of the park and made it an artform. Louis C.K. sells out stadiums with this kind of stuff. Even figures not known as comedians such as Hunter S. Thomson and Harlan Ellison are proven more than capable (at least occasionally) in this regard. Sarah fails miserably at this. 24/7. All days a year. I'm sorry, she just does. Taking on hot to handle subjects with blatant insensitivity is courageous. But this is only less than half the battle. Being hot will unfortunately not fill in the rest of this gap. Anyone who can't handle that (dumb feminists, most likely), are simply too immature to discuss the subject with.

    • frogger

      Good one.

    • Wad

      "He said "Sarah Silverman" was trying to be as "vulgar as the boys", or
      whatever. No generalization of all women was even alluded to."

      The use of "the boys" implies that "the girls" should not / cannot work with the same material as men. That's sexist.

      In addition, whether or not you care for Silverman's standup, Lowry is clearly very ignorant of her career and the level of success she's achieved.

      Using "dumb feminists" does not help your case.

    • CherishMyTaint

      Hey, moron. Before you start making hasty generalizations about Silverman's act, maybe you should actually WATCH her new special first.

      I've seen it. I was there when she taped it, and it's EASILY leagues better than "Jesus Is Magic."

  • http://feldmanfile.blogspot.com Len Feldman

    If Brian Lowry's opinion was worth anything in the industry, he wouldn't be writing for the third-rate website of a now-defunct trade paper. He would actually be making hiring decisions–which he's not, and to my knowledge, never has. There are still a fair number of people who see male comedians as "comedians" and female comedians as "female comedians." They're ALL comedians.

    • loretta

      lowry is honest and too kind regarding silverman. splitsider is a phony rag that can only dream of having the credibility of variety. I wonder how much this "writer" was paid for this over the top nonsense.

      • JoeMarfice

        Good one, loretta. 5/5 troll stars!

    • Dick Brattle

      Len you appear to be one of those guys who squats when he pees, Lenny what the fuck do you know about trade papers anyway except those for gay men.

  • Reader

    Amusing that Splitsider opens up comments for PC-police articles but not ones that are actually worth responding to. You think anyone's really gonna defend Lowry here, or are you guys just fishing for agreement? Hope you rethink your comments policy.

    • soiyg

      splitsider is a joke. pure PR written by those rich enough to buy off the "writers."

  • Fritz

    This guy fits the typical Hollywood asshole role to a tee

  • happybooks

    When you see an alcoholic man, it's funny. When you see an alcoholic woman, it's sad. I think there is a limit to how "gross" female comedians can be, because it is a reflection of our culture. Men are disposable, they fight and die in wars (Yes I know we have many wonderful women fighting as well, but the stereotype is men fighting), they are the last ones off the proverbial boat (Woman and children first), they make up the majority of workers in careers that have highest levels of death (Work on oil rigs, coal mining, construction, etc…). This is how our culture is. And comedy, like every other artistic field, will be reflective of society. Which is why when some people see a girl comedian being gross, their first reaction is "Ehh…why is she doing that?". You can be aware of these subtleties in our culture or not, its your choice. It's like with the show Jackass. Johnny Knoxville said they never hired a girl for the show because people don't like to see girls get hurt. Simple explanation. It's also true. That show was funny as hell, dumb as hell too, but funny. You throw a girl in there, with shit getting thrown on her and getting beat up, and the show takes a much darker and un-funny turn. Men are men and women are women. Differences exist. Get used to it.

    • Harrumph

      No, man. No. You just named a bunch of stereotypes, and then said "Get used to it." Those are not facts. Not a single thing you just rattled off was an actual fact, unless Johnny Knoxville can be quoted as saying that thing about girls getting hurt. You wouldn't say "A cultural stereotype about black people is that they are lazy and stupid. Therefore, our pop culture preferences reflect this and we should proceed as though this stereotype is the truth because it is what some people falsely believe. Get used to it." So don't make the same equivalency here. Stereotype as de facto cultural reality = not a thing.

  • http://mordicaifeed.tumblr.com/ Mordicai

    I don't really care about Silverman's comedy but the casual open misogyny directed at her is pretty appalling. I'm not talking about at roasts or whatever, in "joke" contexts– whether you think that is okay or not– but you know, in mainstream publications like, well, Variety.

  • saraeanderson

    By this definition, Joan Rivers is a washed-up wannabe. Ditto Louis CK.

  • klaw

    I've been reading the tirade against the Vanity Fair article and agree that Brian Lowry's review comes off as sexist, condescending and dismissive of S.S. and stand up comedy in general.

    The thing is… I think Sarah can be brilliant but then she goes to the "I can be filthy" material as a crutch. Instead of any means to an end, or comedic breakthrough, many of her raunchiest pieces come down to "ain't it funny to see this-here cute girl say 'cunt' onstage or talk about my asshole?" This is not 'limiting her career' (as, what, a Guess model?) but as a true critique, it's fair to say these bits are rapidly becoming trite and hackneyed.

    Many comparisons have been made today between Silverman and Amy Schumer or Louis C.K. but where they both can be utterly shocking and delve, deeply, into some pretty uncomfortable territory, it's in service of an actual theme. In much of Sarah's work, the punchline appears to be just that SHE'S saying it.

    That's a one trick pony and to that extent, yes, Sarah, you can do more.

  • peteykins

    This seems like monumental "concern trolling" on Lowry's part. Clearly he doesn't like Silverman's work, so why is he so "concerned" that she's limiting herself?

  • Donna Lypchuk

    Why is Variety publishing such a stupid, sexist piece? Stop marginalizing female humorists.

  • bioe

    variety has the courage to pan Nick Kroll's awful Nick Kroll show. Splitsider is filled with whores who rubber stamp PR pieces for rich and powerful "comedians." Sarah sucks and Splitsider promotes her for cynical reasons. Leave Lowry alone and focus on writing real articles and not obvious PR b.s.

    • Hitler

      Oh, hey there, Brian Lowry! Nice to see you here!

    • Ben Tyson

      Seriously though, Kroll Show is the biggest pile of flaming garbage on television. I'd rather sit through 5 more seasons of The Jeselnik Offensive than one more episode of Kroll Show.

  • ChrisT

    It is like saying if Lenny Bruce didn't swear people would have respect for him.

    • JoeMarfice

      Don't be silly. Lenny was a guy.

      I mean, a Jew, but still a guy.

      Not at all the same as the not-at-all sexist idea that girls shouldn't swear!

      Wait, are Jews allowed to swear?

  • Ann Herberger

    OMG, funny is funny and Sarah Silverman is a laugh riot. She would have been in a box on NBC and has a long lasting career to prove she is a laugh riot.

  • Gefilt Fischerstein

    Hey, I lurk here to get comedy news, but I'd like offer some constructive criticism of the writers and commenters of this site. Nearly all of you come off as incredibly stuffy, humorless nerds who care more about celebrity, hurt feelings and PC (the opposite of humor) than comedy. I rarely leave this site with my sides splitting. No, usually you leave my eyes rolling.

    • Hitler

      Wow. Thank you for making such a relevant comment. I have a gas chamber here with your name on it. You can roll your eyes as much as you want while you're inside it.

  • Anna

    Lowry loves to tear down and belittle what he doesn't understand which is A LOT. This guy is one of the most ignorant people writing the entertainment industry. Time to get some new blood at Variety!

  • Steven Chavez

    dirty left pure bill mayer wanna bee..

  • Rightwingkook.com

    Sarah Silverman is not funny. She's just an angry, bitter person. Angry & bitter are fine – if you are funny. She's not.

    • Mike Niece

      I hate to say it but Jerry Lewis is right about Sarah. No fan of Lewis, but she is like some hippie Jewish broad every guy wants to bang who's a little of the wall, she gets away with it because she's cute, still doesn't make her funny.

  • anonymouz

    Sarah Silverman's book is the most creative, unusual, unique piece of literature that I have ever read. Her TV program was one of the greatest things ever put on the small screen. There are a lot of people who worked on that show who are geniuses and doing other great things, for example Chelsea Peretti, Steve Agee, Brian Posehn. And even Dan Harmon, who she had to fire. Silverman is a legend and a true genius. I feel lucky to be alive at the same time as her.

  • matt

    i prefer laura