Aug 16, 2009


An attentive audience?

What's your take on Sarah Silverman? I cannot dismiss her as a raving psycho, though part of me is tempted to, when a person has to be always on the edge the way she is. Does every boundary she crosses need to be crossed? Violated? Slaughtered? It seems an unwritten code for stand-up comedy these days. Bill Cosby didn't need to go there, and I think he accomplished far more than, say, Lenny Bruce in terms setting a standard and creating a meaningful legacy. On the other hand, do the gross-out comics test the limits because the rest of us lack the gumption--or the intelligence, perceptiveness, and courage--to notice that some dubious boundaries exist, need to be tested? And yes, this comes from a (moderate) New Critic, looking somewhat at context in addition to--not instead of--the work product alone.

Silverman can be needlessly gross, but she is funny and full of insight, so maybe the targets of her satire deserve what she gives them. I’m thinking of a scene in her 2005 movie Jesus Is Magic, where the camera “is” a baby and Silverman imitates the typical doting, goochy-goo routines people engage in—well, let’s be honest, routines more typical of women than men. I’d never envisioned such . . . affection? . . . from the infant’s point of view. Now that I have, I have to suggest it's no wonder we're all rather disturbed and scared. No wonder we don’t want to hear new ideas or be challenged in any way. We prefer a calm, dark cave, and that's with no intention of reinventing Plato—just please keep us safe from that contorted face, that voice.

I’ve recently developed the notion that stand-up comics, the 1 - 5% with real merit—genuine cleverness, creativity, plus some substance, some content worth disseminating—have much in common with poets. Naked and alone before an audience, squeezing the world and themselves for every possible subtlety and precision of language and timing, every gram of substantive personal and social content, yet the guise of naturalness: “Why, of course, this is my real psyche, my real voice—yea verily, though it sometimes lapses spontaneously into iambic tetrameter or a pause for applause (Oh! I can’t stop rhyming! Make it stop!). Of course I’m visited by muses and demons . . . .”

On top of that business of rhythm and timing, the comics have to make us laugh as they stand there, lit up, sweating in a spotlight, naked, earnest, begging, and narcissistic, “Listen to me. Something is making me do this, though I don't know what. I will pay a price, so please listen.” What could be more like a poet?


Anonymous said...

Hah! Love that last paragraph.

(BIG Silverman fan, here.)

Banjo52 said...

I can't say I'm surprised, and of course I agree. Do you fuss at all about the necessity of some of her more outrageous material? -- and I don't just mean the sexual stuff.

Shall we start a list of comics we admire (strange verb?)? Off the top of my head, Robin Williams, Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Wanda Sykes. Maybe I'm thinking of work that goes back ten years back--I've gotten away from watching -- not sure why. And the lesser known Kathleen Madigan.

Anonymous said...

No, I don't fuss.

Besides Silverman, Chris Rock somewhat, but that voice annoys the shit out of me.

I was reading some old New Yorker stuff the other day (I mean OLD. 1940's and before in some weathered collection at our not so well stocked library.)

For me, most of the comedy didn't hold up at all. Benchly and Perlman, not a bit. Only two still worked consistently: Dorothy Parker and EB White. A little Thurber, but a little Thurber goes a long way.

Is comedy more fleeting than drama? When I was a kid, I loved listening to a Robert Klein record. So I bought it on Amazon last year. Not terribly funny.

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