A Speck of Silverman
Sarah Silverman almost died last summer. It’s true! She went to the doctor for a sore throat that turned out to be a life-threatening case of epiglottitis, and she almost died. Thankfully, she survived, and went on to kill…in her newest comedy special that is! (I’ll be here all week folks). In Speck of Dust, Silverman delivers the type of no-holds-barred, crude, hilarious, smart comedy that we’ve all come to expect from her. She also drops some serious truth bombs, maintains Jewish and feminist sensibilities throughout, and gives the audience an insider view of the art of comedy in real time. Oh, and she aptly points out that doody jokes can unite us all, but more on that later.
In true Jewish-woman fashion, Silverman tells many stories throughout her special. One is about her sister Susie, who’s a Rabbi living in Jerusalem. The story goes that Susie asked if she could use Sarah’s apartment to meet up with her friend, Amber, and proceeded to tell her about how amazing Amber is. When the two arrive, Sarah realizes that Susie left out a critical piece of information: Amber has hooks for hands. This leads to an awkward moment in which Sarah shakes one of the hooks (as if were a hand), and then promptly leaves the room.
In discussing this encounter she says, “[Susie] must’ve told me nine things about Amber. Two of them should have been hooks…But not Susie, not the Rabbi. She doesn’t see color; she doesn’t even see hands. That’s how amazing she is.” I love this story. It has Jewish flavor without being “insider-y,” and honestly, who among us (Jew or not) doesn’t know someone who also wouldn’t have mentioned the hooks?
Besides these delightful and slightly awkward anecdotes, Silverman also serves up the truth about a few different hot-button issues in this special, one of them being her stance on abortion. She describes a fundraiser she did with her friend Lizz Winstead’s organization, Lady Parts Justice. This is an organization that “uses comedy, culture and digital media to sound an alarm about the terrifying erosion of reproductive access so people will get off their asses and reclaim their rights.” Needless to say, some pro-lifers showed up to protest this very vocally pro-choice fundraiser.
Now, Silverman could’ve taken the easy way out by telling some cheap jokes about pro-lifers that definitely would’ve gotten laughs from her liberal Los Angeles crowd. She didn’t do that. Instead, she said: “I’m not gonna shit on them, because, I am them. We’re the same. I’m the product of how I was raised. I was raised by a couple of liberal bleeding-heart Democrat Jews and now I am one…These people were raised by people…who said there are people out there who want to murder babies, and if I was that kid I’d be…outside there protesting.”
Without saying it outright, Silverman challenges her liberal audience (both in the room and watching on Netflix) to expand their minds and realize that we are all products of our environment. While we may often hold the moral high ground, we should still be empathetic rather than aggressive towards people who think differently from us, because we so easily could’ve been them.
It’s jarring to think that I might have very different views if my parents weren’t, like Silverman’s, “liberal, bleeding-heart Jews,” and if I had grown up outside of my liberal bubble, but it’s undoubtedly true. Silverman quickly lightened the mood by saying that she made a young girl in the group of protestors laugh by sharing with her the universal comedic equalizer: a doody joke (see, I promised I’d come back to this), but this moment had real impact.
Of all the things I loved about this special, the thing I most appreciated was Silverman’s willingness to bring the audience into her world, and actually discuss some of the back-end work that goes into telling jokes. For example, while talking about her new dog, she says, “She’s obsessed with squirrels, and she’s kind of gotten me into it too.” The latter part of the sentence gets a laugh, and shortly thereafter Silverman returns to it and says, “I’m just gonna double back and say that squirrel line…I would call that, in comedy, a throw-away joke. I knew it was gonna get a laugh…but you just keep going to that main joke…Now I’ve ruined it because I doubled back and I’m like, talking about it. Now it’s ruined. It’s not a throw-away joke anymore, but it was.”
Now, in a lot of ways this whole explanation is just funny, but I want to reiterate how much I appreciate this moment and others like it in the show. By giving her audience a “behind the scenes” view, Silverman makes them feel privy to “insider” information. It shows that Silverman gives her audience a lot of credit, and thinks they’re smart enough to want to know some of the mechanics that go into making comedy.
Comedy doesn’t just happen. People don’t just get up and tell jokes. There’s a lot that goes into it, and while many comedians would probably rather not address that in the interest of making it look easy, Silverman isn’t afraid to point out that comedy, like motherhood or homemaking or anything else seen as “women’s work,” isn’t innate, but a craft that involves a high level of thoughtfulness, and work.
I’m personally really grateful that Sarah Silverman didn’t die last summer, because it would’ve been a real bummer if we didn’t have this special. Don’t be mad at me; you know that Sarah would approve! I’ll end with her words because, well, they’re better than mine: “I’m a very sexual person. You can always tell a sexual person because, they tell you, um…as a segue to their next bit in their stand-up act.”