Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sarah Silverman Review

Hartford Advocate Sept. 27, 2007

It can be hard to say why something is funny, but sometimes it's just as difficult describing why something isn't funny. In both instances you run the risk of looking humorless, uptight or obtuse.

Take the curious case of Sarah Silverman, whose Comedy Central show The Sarah Silverman Program is entering its second season. She's a dirty alt comedienne, endorsed by some of the greatest comedy forces of the day (David Cross, Vice Magazine). Respecting publications, from Vanity Fair to The New Yorker, have lavished her with praise. By saying she's not funny, you risk looking like a prude, or someone out of touch with the comedy zeitgeist of the moment.

But Silverman has never been and never will be funny. She's like Jenny McCarthy, except less blonde and more wry. Like McCarthy, Silverman's an avid student of four of the most wretched forms of comedy: fart jokes, fake dumbness, zany faces and bad puns. Of course, The New Yorker would never run a glowing review of McCarthy under the headline "Quiet Depravity."

Of course, she's not exactly Jenny McCarthy. Silverman is good looking, but approachable, so dudes think they have a chance with her and women don't hate her for looking like a cartoon version of sexual attractiveness. But more importantly, Silverman's vapidness is presented ironically. Even when a joke flat-lines — which happens constantly in her stand-up act and television show — it doesn't really flat-line. It was meant to flat-line, and that's the gag.

The fake filth performs the same function. Silverman and her writers seem to believe that a joke doesn't have to be well crafted or even make sense if it has the appearance of being potentially insulting. Let's pick an issue and display horrible taste about it.

It makes for frustrating television. The first episode of the second season of her show contains a key scene where she fondly remembers past abortions. I wasn't insulted. I was impatient, waiting for the jokes to start. A couple of great comic talents are wasted on the show, including Brian Posehn and Jay Johnston, who, like Silverman, got their start on HBO's Mr. Show. They're miscast and typecast, respectively — Posehn's big galoot persona is muted playing a domesticated gay man and Johnston plays an awkward, stiff cop like he did on several Mr. Show sketches and episodes of Arrested Development.

In her stand-up, Silverman acts like an eight-year-old who just learned her first swear word. On the show, she also adopts a faux-naive persona, but adds an unhealthy dollop of faux cluelessness.

It seems like a female variation on Chris Elliot's destructive idiot man-child shtick from Get a Life. That show worked because it was a dark deconstruction of the then-dominant family sitcom genre. The Sarah Silverman Program isn't a parody of anything — it's a platform for absurdist edgeless "edgy" jokes.
Even when the show wades into a deeply fraught issue, like abortion, it's just an excuse for subpar jokes about how clueless Silverman's character is. It's both as subvervise and pleasant as a migraine.