Stand-Up Sundays #3

I’m going to keep this short because the impetus that drove me to start this blog has waned, and I’m waiting for it to come back. Doing anything whilst dealing with depression is like dancing in the ocean. When the current is with you, it sweeps you along, adding grace to your movements. When the current is against you, the waves wrap around you, dragging you down into a death-defying kiss. Nevertheless, we persist, don’t we?

I watched Sarah Silverman’s new special on Netflix last week. I was blessed to get to see her live at the Super Secret show, maybe a year ago? Probably more. Anyway, she was amazing and I figured the special would be great, so I watched it even though I try not to do anything stand-up related when I’m not at work.

The special opens with a joke in which Sarah’s sister, drunk and puking in the toilet, thinks she’s being raped, only to find out that she pooped herself. Spoiler alert. (That’s how those work, right?) Sarah then goes on to analyze not only the audience’s reaction to the punchline — that their laughter is based on relief, rather than mirth, and then she ends the bit by observing that the only time a person would be happy to find out they’re shitting themselves is when they at the same time realize that they’re not being raped.

The bit is classic Sara Silverman; dirty, shocking, and surprisingly thoughtful and thought-provoking. The entire special lives up to that, and I like the transition that she has made since her last special. She has dropped the character of Sarah Silverman, the unreliable narrator, the racist, sexist airheaded girl, and has, without any warning, emerged as a smart, funny, empathetic, intelligent woman.

The special is for sure more personal, more dimensional, and therefore more deeply funny than anything else I’ve seen from her, aside from her book, “The Bedwetter”. I read it several years ago, and I think she opens with a silly foreword written by her stage persona, and I remember thinking that that voice was going to get really old, really fast. Then the actual book was written out of character, and I loved it.

When I saw her live, her mother had just died two months previously. She had some jokes she wanted to do about her mom, so to get into the material as quickly as possible, she dropped the dead mom bomb on us, and then paused, and then ever so gently said, “It’s your fault”, immediately breaking the tension. Masterful crowd manipulation.

I half watched her special to see if that stuff was in there, but it wasn’t. I don’t blame her. I couldn’t even talk about my mom for a full two years (at least) after she died without crying. But in the special, she does talk about her family and talks about the humiliation of attending camp as a bedwetter and then makes fun of her dad for thinking that that would be a good idea. She immediately follows that up with exquisite insight into why her dad did send her to camp, even though she was a bedwetter.

I think the most overwhelming and humbling thing about her special is just the core of sweetness that she has been hiding behind that dirty, bigoted character for so long. I’ve always found her likable, even when I couldn’t  necessarily get behind her character, but I loved her after I read her book, and I loved her even more after seeing her live, and I love her even more after watching her latest special.

Maybe that’s the wrong takeaway after watching a comedy special, but there was something so endearingly vulnerable about watching her tell jokes without hiding behind the protection of irony. It made the jokes more immediate, they hit harder, and — I don’t know. It’s the same reason I love watching Jackie Kashian. Everything she says is ferociously and unapologetically real.

Even though a situation is presented in a funny way, the core of pain or humiliation or confusion is right there, intensifying the contrast between the discomfort and the whimsy. I have a lot of favorite comedians and a lot of favorite jokes and I have an appreciation for pretty much every style of comedy. But there’s just something about fearlessly attacking unfettered pain with humor that doesn’t just make me laugh, but reminds me of what it means to be human.

So, I liked it.