It’s easy to quickly fall in love with comedians: they make us happy, and they know just what to say and when. In 2018, when it’s hard to make a joke without offending anyone, comedians walk a fragile line. They want to hear us laugh, but we refuse to laugh at topics that make us angry. While some comedians might step aside or opt to apologize for what they say on stage, Sarah Silverman breaks the rules. The genius of Sarah Silverman doesn’t lie within her humor. It lies within her talent of speaking the truth, at all costs.
Sarah Silverman has always been in the public eye, some years more intensively than others. In 2017, whether you have Netflix or Hulu (or both), you could find a way to see her sarcasm unfold. She had her own Netflix Special, A Speck of Dust, for which she received two Emmy nominations. On Hulu, she debuted I Love You America with Sarah Silverman, a kind of late night talk show where she exhibits her comedy and connects people with different views. She also appeared on Battle of the Sexes and The Book of Henry. From her Twitter account to her prominent screen presence, it’s hard to miss this smiling and quirky comedian.
For those who watch stand-up comedy, you know there’s two types of comedians. The first one is the type who tell a single story and can make anything funny. They seem relaxed on stage, and their performance is unilaterally flowing. The latter is the type that has the jokes written out on a piece of paper (or mentally noted) and delivers a plethora of unrelated anecdotal stories. Silverman belongs to the latter. If you’ve watched her more than once, you know her most famous jokes and stories. They’re scripted and repeated. While stand-up mostly relies on memorized jokes, one might question if Silverman is even funny. She lacks the ability to make everyday conversation hilarious, as some comedians do.
And that’s okay, because Silverman’s talent does not lie within her comedy. It lies within her will to break all rules.
When I was watching A Speck of Dust alone in my room, I did not laugh once. I might have smiled here and there, but I did not feel the whole hysterical-comedy ambiance. Rather, I was left thinking. Silverman addresses socio-political issues such as race and gender inequality, in a way that allows the audience to reflect upon these issues. And here lies the difference between immoral and smart comedy: she does not mock those issues, she satirizes them. In a society where free speech is essential, but morality must be maintained, we need comedians like Silverman who can allow us to have these conversations.
Silverman satirizes and criticizes everything in society, even herself. In her Netflix special, you notice her being hyper-aware of her jokes and the response of the audience. At one point, she mentions she’s just done a “throwaway joke,” when “you’re not sure if you’re going to get a laugh” and “you keep going to the main joke.” In that, Silverman challenges the art of stand-up.
In the first episode of I Love You, America, Silverman brings forward two naked people in the audience, as her way to challenge the rules of television. The shock felt by the spectator is what Silverman strives for; philosophical thought has always been known to begin by the spark of astonishment.
Stand-up comedians are the voice of free speech in America today. Social norms need to be broken and reevaluated at all times in order to create space for progress and evolution. Sarah Silverman might not be your hilarious typical comedian, but the barrier to entry into her anthropological philosophy is a very manageable one. As she mentioned on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, describing her new Hulu special: “It’s social-politics, but anything heady or even trying to be intellectual is sandwiched in a very, very bready sandwich of aggressively stupid.”
So, have yourself a Sarah Silverman sandwich of stupid. It’ll be worth it.