Sarah Silverman’s Bad Career Move: Being as Dirty as the Guys

Sarah Silverman's Bad Career Move: Being

HBO special 'We Are Miracles' highlights how edgy material is limiting a promising career

There’s something simultaneously fascinating and maddening about Sarah Silverman – 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, an attribute very much on display in her HBO special “We Are Miracles,” which premieres on Nov. 23.

Silverman has frittered around the edges of breakout success beyond standup, from her Comedy Central series to her recent NBC pilot, “Susan 313,” which she posted on YouTube after the network opted not to order it.

Like most Silverman-related exercises, the prototype had its quirky, offbeat moments of cheerful, self-absorbed cluelessness, but also exhibited a certain preciousness that explains why the network might have balked at it. Specifically, Silverman’s idea to incorporate focus-group-type comments about how narrow the pilot is into the show was kind of funny, but also felt so inside baseball as to be better suited to an audience even more niche-oriented than NBC’s existing comedies, which is saying something.

SEE ALSO: Sarah Silverman: ‘I’m Older and I’m Smarter and I’m Different’

In similar fashion, “We Are Miracles” captures what’s best and most frustrating about Silverman’s act, which can be disarmingly funny right before veering into bad-taste territory. Granted, such judgments are highly subjective, but it’s easier to be on board with her material about the Make-a-Wish Foundation – that since the first wish would be to cure the fatal illness, maybe it should be called Make Another Wish – or self-gratification (“Don’t forget: God can see you masturbating”) than joking about rape, or a song in which she simply repeats the “C” word over and over.

Comics often impress each other with that kind of bawdy fare (see “The Aristocrats”), but Silverman frequently seems to be playing more toward those peers and a loyal cadre of fans than a broader audience that’s apt to be turned off by the questionable stuff, which feels more about shock value than cleverness. And if she really think saying “c—t” repeatedly is a form of artistic expression, more power to her, but in commercial terms, indulging those impulses comes at a price.

SEE ALSO: Sarah Silverman Opens Up About Her Rejected NBC Pilot ‘Susan’

This isn’t meant to suggest that female comics can’t work blue. The lament here is that in the wrong hands it can feel gratuitous or become a crutch, whereas unlike many of her contemporaries, Silverman has enough tools that she can and should do more.

As it stands, Silverman still has admirers like New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who recently wrote a column in which she essentially just palled around with the comic – even soliciting advice for Hillary Clinton – for reasons that, like a lot of Dowd’s random pop-culture-related musings, must have made sense to her.

Nevertheless, the HBO special – in which Silverman plays to a 39-seat room, the most intimate of standup settings – offers a pretty good metaphor for her career, opting for the intimacy of a side room instead of the main stage.

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.

As for going much further with those self-inflicted restrictions, that would be the real miracle.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 162

Leave a Reply

162 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Livia Scott says:

    I’m a comedian and I’ll just say this. Any man who calls any woman “disarmingly funny” is to be ignored immediately.

    Also apparently he said pretty much the same thing about Amy Schumer: http://happyplace.someecards.com/27693/variety-critic-really-freaked-out-by-girls-who-dare-to-be-dirty

  2. borg says:

    If only William S. Burroughs hadn’t played blue, his marketshare could’ve been smack-tacular!

  3. JANE says:

    Sarah Silverman is awful, comedically lazy and unfunny, but it’s not because she’s a woman. You could have gone somewhere with this, but you, like Sarah Silverman, decided to go the lowest common denominator route. Way to fail, Bryan, way to fail.

  4. jnf663 says:

    You think Sarah Silverman doesn’t represent her gender well? Well I don’t think you represent YOUR gender well, with your stone-age belief that women can’t make fun of the same things men can. Grow a pair, Brian.

  5. melvus says:

    Is this an onion article? Or are you writing from the 1950’s????

  6. VarietyLaysAnEgg says:

    Wow, dear Variety! You’ve just shown how amazingly irrelevant you are.

  7. Sean Connery says:

    This is some of the weakest criticism I have ever read and also damned sexist. Variety should get a critic that knows more about comedy. Unbelievable.

  8. Molly says:

    No, Mr. Lowry. Just No. You’re fortunate in that antiquated, white men will always be given space to share their outdated, narrowly focused views. No one will ever tell you, “Coming from a man, this sexism just doesn’t work.” Ugh. I can’t even finish this…

  9. Karen says:

    What, exactly, is the problem with her playing to her loyal fan base? Perhaps she likes her career the way it is.

  10. Jenn says:

    Ohhhh. So what you’re telling me, Mr. Lowry, is that all women are hard-wired to be classy and delicate, and that any displays of raunch will be interpreted as a transparent attempt to keep up with the boys? How very enlightening! I must have skipped class on the day this was discussed in my sociology of gender course. I guess I was too busy ironing my seersucker and untangling my pearls.

  11. Marley says:

    Really? I guess all women comics should spout rainbows and frebreze on stage? Go back to the 50’s Brian because this sexist review of what a “lady comic” should be is the BS we left behind in the past.

  12. Mikesommers says:

    Sarah Silverman has always been overrated. I usually can’t stand female comics anyway, at least not for the last 20-25 years or so. And when they add raunchiness to their material, it just turns me off even more, because those kinds of jokes coming from women just never work.

  13. anne janks says:

    Mr. Lowry should be fired because he doesn’t get the most obvious elements of a major cultural figure and issue that is receiving much needed attention right now. Sarah Silverman is not like a guy when she’s raunchy. She approaches raunch from a woman’s perspective. I’m sorry he’s uncomfortable with a woman who’s comfortable and articulate and insightful from a woman’s perspective. Silverman is also pretty insightful about other aspects of our society — some of her takes on race and politics have been pretty great as well.

    Everyone is talking about women in comedy (and more recently about black women in comedy because of SNL), Variety is hindering their reporting by wasting their money and column inches on Mr. Lowry, who can’t do meaningful work because he doesn’t understand that a woman can be raunchy as a woman, not because she’s trying to be a guy. If Variety had a columnist with depth and intelligence, we could discuss the impact of raunchiness on a career, women in comedy, how comedy is reacting to issues of race, class, and gender, and other topics I’m not sophisticated enough to think of.

    Get rid of Lowry. Get someone worth reading.

  14. dee barton says:

    Variety continues to ask Brian Lowry to be the comedy critic. He has absolutely no knowledge or understanding of comedy. Maybe he’s old fashioned, or just old – but he is completely out of tune with the entire genre of comedy and today’s audiences. Sarah Silverman is one of the funniest, most creative comedians – male or female – working today. Brian’s tight-a**ed view of any comedy that isn’t “clean” is… laughable. His out of hand dismissal of Adam Sandler’s films, for instance, displays an ignorance that makes one wonder what the editors of Variety are thinking when they ask him to view, then comment on any comedic endeavor. In order to be a meaningful critic, one should know a genre, appreciate the artists working within it, and be able to speak to and understand the fans who support it. Brain Lowry fails on every one of these measures.

  15. This article seems so….antiquated and out of touch, not to mention sexist.. This isn’t the 50’s. I love that she is so out there. What is good for the gander is good for the goose and all of that. She is a comic, they are often vulgar and tell more truth than most folks are comfortable hearing. That is the job. It has nothing to do with her gender. This writer needs to take a women’s studies class STAT. Also she is quite popular in NY as well. So…Cali and NY….she must not be doing too badly..those are the entertainment capitals of the US.

  16. Nanny Mo says:

    Sarah’s okay. But consider that this is who she really is. If this is who she really is, is she really a star or are we just told that until a handful of Hollywood execs believe it? I know NO ONE outside of California who really knows her name but in passing.

    • Go back to reviewing shows, silly! says:

      I’m from Georgia, and we all love her here sooooooooo…..

      • chandy says:

        Holy cow, you know EVERYONE who doesnt’ live in CA or NY! That’s crazy, yo! Wait…I am from Iowa and I know plenty of people that know and like SS. Stop speaking for others when you don’t know what you are talking about, thanks.

    • Nicky says:

      And where are you from, Nanny Mo? Cause I’m in Canada, and I’ve lived in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver, and I’ve never met anyone who DOESN’T know her work.

    • Thebeastmark says:

      Hey Nanny Mo. I’m from NYC. I love her and know a ton of people that do. She started in the east coast. Just letting you know the focus group you conducted might not be accurate.

  17. liza says:

    UGH…you’re the worst.

  18. Gary says:

    Anybody who has ever been involved in comedy or show business knows that he has a very valid point. They key to huge comedic success, especially nowadays, is being able to work clean. We’re not talking about “some” success and a loyal fan base, we’re talking about mega stardom. Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Cosby. Even Roseanne. She flirted with some raunch, but her act worked just fine on the Tonight Show or network TV. Silverman’s, as it currently stands, does not. She probably can’t really change that, because she is because who she is as a comic, and that’s fine. It’s probably also why Whitney Cummings crashed and burned on TV, because being on a major network didn’t really suit her type of comedy, who she is deep down. But everybody going berserk and saying he’s totally off base, in my opinion, that’s not the case.

    • Verb says:

      “The key to huge comedic success, especially nowadays, is being able to work clean.”

      Lenny Bruce, Andrew Dice Clay, Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor,
      Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K….

      In actuality there’s more opportunity for fringe, blue, comedians nowadays because of outlets like cable.

      I think people are going berserk because aside from the blatant sexism (Twice he says she’s trying to be like a male comic by being dirty), saying it’s a “bad career move” ignores her 20 year career as a writer/ producer/actress/ touring comic, numerous specials, movies, guest appearances, numerous emmy nominations, her emmy-nominated tv show, her emmy-win and her multi-million dollar net worth.

      She’s a successful comic with a seasoned career so for the critic to deviate so sharply from review to foreboding career-advice just seems patronizing and myopic.

      Also, she’s actually a frequent and favorite guest on the Tonight Show, Late Show w/ Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, appearing almost 10 times on each.

      Also… her Emmy… it’s for the song “I’m Fucking Matt Damon”.

      • chandy says:

        Gary, I gotta disagree. The stars you listed were popular in the 80s. To be a comic star in the here and now, folks like Louis C.K. find it on channels like FX and not on ABC, NBC, or CBS. The big three are no the leaders of comedy anymore and haven’t been for a while.

      • Gabe says:

        Verb – I love Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer and Criticism and Dialogue, and I’m reading through all these unreasonable comments wondering why I am bothering and then I read your comment and you made all the points I wanted to make and even more I hadn’t thought of, and I am quite grateful, and I wanted to thank you. To reflect on what you were saying about her guest appearances and such, I recall when she was invited to the TED conference, which I hear is for major movers and shakers, where she gave a very good performance that caused a lot of controversy, after which she appeared on Bill Maher to talk about the controversy! And not on the panel – Bill talked with her one-on-one.

  19. Beth says:

    Fire this guy please.

  20. Vicky says:

    Hey Fred Flintstone! It’s 2013 (almost 14) and you need to try and move up to at least the 80’s! I don’t know what entertainment area you “specialize” in but I’m going to guess it’s self published books.

  21. Mr. Sickofhavingtoslogthrusuchsexistbullfeces says:

    Brian Lowry is a sexist hack and Variety should dump him. His misogynist discourse has no value and does nothing but damage our culture and degrade women for his own self-satisfaction. Variety cheapens itself by publishing him. Dump Lowry!

  22. Lester says:

    I was at the taping of this standup special, the 2nd show. (They filmed it twice for safety. They even filmed her song, “Diva,” twice during our show.) Very intimate setting at Largo in Los Angeles. They turned the smaller room, which is usually a bar, into a really tiny theater.

    The show was a blast. It’s not nearly as crude or gratuitous as this blob suggests. Even my +1 thought it was great. And he was very reluctant to come along, because he’s not a fan of sexually-explicit female comics.

    This chubby monster needs to drop his double standards and get over it.

  23. Joy Love says:

    I for one agree with Brian (and I’m as hip and edgy as any of you f-ers). Sarah is talented, but her raunch can be excessive and boring. Profanity and outrageousness for its own sake was shocking and funny back when – how I cherished my George Carlin “Class Clown” album as a kid! – but now it’s often just numbing. Joan Rivers managed to to be brutally funny (and a superstar) with a modicum of well-placed raunch. And Brian makes the point that these women are talented and funny. Let’s face it, there IS an element of “keeping up with the boys” – who are also getting dull with this stuff. Enough, we get it.

    • Ox Owens says:

      You can still be sexist and be a girl. And that’s what you are by thinking a woman comedian can’t think raunch is funny, by thinking that it MUST be that she is trying to be like boys. Your perpetuating a whole gender stereotype because you don’t think Sarah Silverman is that funny, and that makes you sexist.

    • Ox Owens says:

      Except, no one thinks its getting dull but you. Comedians are doing extremely well these days. The problem isn’t that Brian doesn’t like “raunch.” Just because you find it numbing doesn’t mean it is numbing. The fact that you find it numbing most obviously means that you are numbing. Most people find it hilarious, as evidenced by her success.

      The problem is Brian and you both think that you need to be a male to be raunchy. You don’t. She is raunchy and she is successful. If you don’t like her comedy that’s cool. But she does what she does cause it’s funny to her not because boys do it. You are as sexist as Brian.

      • Rick says:

        Actually, raunch comics have a much narrower audience; despite the changing demographics, network TV still pulls bigger numbers than cable. Why else do comics like Sandler, Rock, etc,. do dumb movies like “Grown Ups 2”? Cause they know they will reach a wider audience in that vehicle, whereas their standup gigs will always play to a smaller audience.

      • Joy Love says:

        Haha, I win!

      • Joy Love says:

        Oh, and I’m a girl, dummy.

      • Joy Love says:

        I’m not as perceptive as you, Ox. You’re insightful, and see things I don’t. I appreciate a great mind like yours. Thanks, man.

  24. Are you kidding me? “Sarah Silverman has frittered around the edges of breakout success?” She is the most famous female comic out there today and as far as it being a “career mistake” for her to be “as dirty and distasteful as the boys,” I’m pretty sure that’s what made her entire career. And if that’s your gripe with her material, then maybe your article should just be “Why do male comics have to be so dirty and distastful?” Good comedy is about pushing boundaries of comfort, and Sarah Silverman does just that. If you don’t have the pallet for good comedy, then maybe should just stay home and watch Jeff Dunham specials.

  25. Heather says:

    This is just straight up ignoring like all of Silverman’s career and the entire brand of comedy she has invented for herself. Is this like the first time you have seen her act or something? She’s not trying to be like the guys- That’s her comedy- which makes you blinded by you’re own tired ass stereotypical thinking.

  26. Mike Breslin says:

    Yeah, Brian, Sarah shouldn’t do things like the guys. Like dirty comedy, smoking or voting.

  27. RubyBrown says:

    You, sir, obviously have no sense of humor. And you’re obviously a sexist. And you obviously should stop being a ‘journalist’, since you can’t be impartial. I just want to make sure you understand how completely obviously bad at your job you are, by over-using obviously.

  28. Blrrgh says:

    Stop trying to police women comics, television writer.

  29. Maria says:

    What a condescending and sexist opinion. “I’m not saying your stand up is bad, Sarah… I’m just saying that I would’ve liked it more if it had been performed by a man”.

  30. Jamie McAfee says:

    I thought Andy Roony died?

    Oh. It’s some other out of touch oddball. Why is he reviewing comedy?

  31. Aislynn says:

    This is absolute sexist garbage. I will no longer read ANYTHING this uneducated small minded man has to write. Bad job Variety.

  32. occultology says:

    The NSA is much more obscene than Sarah Silverman.

  33. Bossman says:

    The angry comments are hilarious. Courtesy of the dozens who consider Sarah relevant, entertaining.

    Most of America does not. And THAT’S why she has not reached superstar status. She lacks a fan base outside of L.A. and NYC.

  34. Emily says:

    I want to write a 10+ paragraph piece on why you look so chubby in your thumbnail, it would be just as relevant as the drivel you just typed up.

  35. Miguel says:

    You want to talk bad taste? How about starting with why anyone would write or publish this sexist drivel.

  36. Maile Flanagan says:

    This is a joke, right? How does Variety print this sexist dribble?

  37. Stephanie Streight says:

    You’re so right…Sarah should take some cues from the fourth highest grossing comedian in the country, Chelsea Handler! You’d never catch Chelsea Handler making lewd jokes or uttering the dreaded “c” word! Sarah is barely surviving on the mere 10 million or so a year she makes…

  38. ugh what is this sexist crap? comedy and comedians aren’t limited. FYI women can be and OFTEN ARE just as disgusting as men. i love her for it and hope she never changes.

  39. betsy says:

    This is absurdly sexist. Embarrassing for Variety. Shame on you.

  40. Brit says:

    Dear Brian Lowry,

    You’re a dolt and a sexist one at that. Sarah is a fantastic and revered comedian- I think her 20+ year career is doing just fine without your input but I’m sure she’ll get a good laugh out of this anyway.

    Have a great day!

  41. Gbout says:

    Being from New Hampshire poses obstacles. Are there any stars from there? Joan Rivers remains the queen of tasteless, without locking it in the bathroom or bedroom.

    • RubyBrown says:

      Adam Sandler, Mandy Moore, Seth and Josh Meyers….maybe not huuuge stars, but they’re all known entities, and they all come from New Hampshire.

  42. GKN says:

    Here, here!

  43. Dave Siegel says:

    Is there anything sadder than a professional critic of art. This slab of cookie dough has the balls to criticize a great comic for anything, let alone “trying to be like a man.” Why don’t you try to be like a man Mr. Lowry and attempt participating in an art form you so wantonly criticize? In the end, wouldn’t that actually make you a better critic? Equally as pathetic, but better.

  44. Frank W says:

    I am no big fan of the authour, I’ve busted his chops before, but Brian wrote:

    “This isn’t meant to suggest that female comics can’t work blue. The lament here is that in the wrong hands it can feel gratuitous or become a crutch, whereas unlike many of her contemporaries, Silverman has enough tools that she can and should do more.”

    In other words, Brian thinks Sarah is smarter than the HBO special suggests.

    I haven’t seen the special yet to determine how accurate Brian Lowry is, but I think the commercial for it is brilliant.

  45. John Laurich says:

    It’s called, “Not selling out”.

  46. Montre says:

    So much effort into putting Silverman down…..to the crotch area because she is somewhere right now about to give a blowjob to some guy. And after she blows him she might read this article and think,”Well that could be true, but I think blowjob jokes are worth it”. And never think about this again. By the way watch Wreck-It-Ralph, I don’t see the little girl going around giving handjobs to the video game characters, but ill watch it again just to make sure because I had a bathroom break when I saw it I theaters.

  47. Anna says:

    stellar job bry

  48. Peter says:

    Brian Lowry is an embarrassment to Variety.

More TV News from Variety

Loading