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Jewesses with Attitude

What's your beef with Sarah Silverman?

Sarah Silverman appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien last Friday and shared an important message about vaginal health with the women of America, among other things. She mentioned meeting some women who work at Ms. who gave her a "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" t-shirt, which she mocked at first but then said she supported and would actually wear (if only it looked better on her boobs). Conan asked her about her observance of Hanukkah, to which she answered: "Am I Jew? Yes, I'm Jewish but I really have no religion. I'm Jewish in that it oozes out of my pores uncontrollably ... the only time I felt Jewish at all was around Christmas kids would blame my people for killing Jesus. Even then I remember thinking, 'It's not like we killed baby Jesus, alright. He had quite a run.'"

Now, I know that a lot of people, Jewish people in particular, don't like Sarah Silverman. I  understand why she isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I'm not sure I understand the depth of people's dislike for her. At the risk of alienating these people, I will admit that I like Sarah Silverman.

I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan, but over the years, my appreciation for Sarah Silverman has grown.  I was never a huge fan of her TV show, The Sarah Silverman Program, and some of her earlier standup was a bit out-there, but every now and then she hits it out of the park. Like with her "I'm f-ing Matt Damon" video. And I have a lot of respect for the political advocacy she's done, like The Great Schlep and her video about gay rights in response to the "It Gets Better" campaign. In her own way, she is pretty feminist. And come on, wasn't she hysterical in the public service announcement *not* approved by AJWS?

My respect for her also grew after going to a book reading of her new memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee. It was there that I got to see the "real" Sarah Silverman, divorced from her "shtick" comedy persona -- and I liked what I saw. She was genuine, relatable, and charming. 

I guess what I like most about Sarah is that she's brave. I think she may be the first woman to discuss how her vagina smells on national TV. (P.S. She's absolutely right that no one should use vaginal deodorants.) She knows that her brand of humor may ruffle some feathers and outright offend. But that's her thing and she keeps on keeping on, unapologetic, and in good company. (Are her jokes really more offensive than those of other comedians? Or do they just feel more offensive because she tells them with a somewhat Jappy, faux childlike persona? Or because she's a woman?) I also appreciate that Sarah is an equal opportunity offender, poking fun at every racial group and religion, and often herself, as MC pointed out in an earlier post. She's offensive the way South Park is offensive: she is not actually racist, but making fun of racists though parody, etc.

But I guess offensive comedy will always be controversial. Indeed, that's part of it's appeal. It just surprises me how vehemently some people dislike like Sarah Silverman. For those offended by her, this is easy to understand. But even some who enjoy offensive humor dislike her. When pressed, they say she's "not funny," but is that a reason to vehemently dislike a performer you've never met? I guess she must really get under people's skin, but I'm not sure how or why.

I suppose one might compare Sarah Silverman to Joan Rivers, a Jewish comedy giant. But even though they are both considered "offensive," Joan Rivers knows her audience. While she may push limits, she doesn't push our limits. For us Jews, Joan always gives a wink and a nod to make sure we're on board, but with Sarah Silverman, no such nod exists. She is just as happy to push the boundaries of fellow Jews as anyone else.

For some reason when I think about Sarah Silverman, Lenny Bruce comes to mind. He too was supremely offensive. In fact, Sarah follows in his footsteps by using the N-word for laughs. But while Lenny Bruce is beloved by "the Jews," Sarah falls on the fringe. I can't help but wonder how much of that, if anything, has to do with the fact that she is a woman. Are dirty words more offensive when they come from the mouth of a nice Jewish girl? I don't know the answer, but I do think Sarah Silverman deserves a little more credit and a lot less hate. 

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "What's your beef with Sarah Silverman?." 13 December 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/whats-your-beef-with-sarah-silverman>.

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This discussion is sorely needed. Is citing a health-related reason for being on bc a positive thing? http://t.co/Ye0jaOGR3e @LenaDunham
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