Sarah Silverman and the Age of Reckoning
It’s Getting Old
Once a year, Comedy Central broadcasts a live roast in which a celebrity volunteers to be mentally and emotionally tortured in front of the entire world by a group of quasi-famous friends, comedians of varying talent levels, and completely immaterial cultural hotshots that, for some reason or another, the network is desperate to plug. (Who the hell is Natasha Leggero, anyway?) At the same time, everyone involved in the roast is also fair game for an emotive assault. And once a year, despite everyone being fully acquainted with the nature of the event, someone gets their feelings hurt.
Of course, in years past, the crybaby in question was usually predictable. People weren’t shocked when someone notoriously uptight failed to recognize the joy of humor for humor’s sake. (Who didn’t see it coming when Bob Saget threw a hissy fit after several pedophilic jokes were tossed his direction regarding the Olsen twins?) Yet, while these indignant sniffles have traditionally come from the usual suspects, this year’s whine-ass was genuinely unexpected. It brings me no pleasure to say this folks, but Sarah Silverman has turned soft in her old age.
After seeming to respond to several jokes about her age with light-hearted geniality during the recent roast of James Franco, Silverman (42) appeared on FX’s new program, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, last Thursday and proceeded to incinerate every piece of comic credibility she’d ever accumulated. When asked about age jokes that have been slung her way, Silverman had this to say:
“I wish so much that (age jokes) didn’t cut me to the core. I don’t want young girls to see me be hurt by jokes about age because I feel like it’s not a good example. Me being old, first of all, at the roast? Completely took me by surprise… It’s a roast, so I feel like a hypocrite even addressing it, but it touched on something because it’s personal. It’s so woman-based. I feel like… as soon as a woman gets to an age where she has opinions and she’s vital and she’s strong, she’s systematically shamed into hiding under a rock. And this is by progressive pop-culture people! It’s really odd! I feel bad that it cut me… I feel like your joke is that I’m still alive. My crime is not dying.”
Short-Term Memory Loss
Of course, what Sarah blindly ignores, at least for the roughly 30 seconds it took for the response above to leak out of her mouth, is that she should feel like a hypocrite because she is a hypocrite. Her statements undercut every joke that she has ever made about age, race, sexual orientation, poverty, death, substance abuse, religion, or any number of other topics that she has used to intentionally offend specific cross-sections of society. If she argues that her crime (being an aging female) is circumstantial, and should therefore somehow be protected from insult, then the topics above should now be off-limits for her (even at roasts, once mistakenly assumed to be the one safe place left for comedy). If she can’t handle a few predictable softballs lofted into her mitt, she’s lost the privilege to be respected as a comedienne.
In the future, before whining about her job to a sympathetic live audience, Sarah should weigh a couple of topics on the insensitivity scale. Bear in mind that this is the same woman who just last week created a “Black NRA” parody for Funny or Die sardonically stressing the need to “put guns into the hands of those who need them most… young, black males.” What’s a more delicate topic these days: Black on black gun violence or wrinkles and cellulite? Aging is a natural part of life, one that many women in the public eye accept with effortless grace. Gun violence in the African-American youth community is aberrant and has reached epidemic proportions. Yet, I don’t believe that either topic is sacrosanct in the comedic arena because comedy presents a unique perspective on real issues. It allows us to confront our fears directly, while informing us that there’s nothing that we couldn’t change about the absurdity of our world if we truly wanted to.
‘Pause and Reflect
Women struggle to maintain relevance in Hollywood, or anywhere else for that matter, after a certain age (i.e. after their looks begin to fade). No sane person is going to argue that - those that would only verify the deliberate ignorance of the issue. A quick glance around the landscape tells us that regardless of talent level, there’s definitely a shelf-life on actresses, especially those of the comedic variety. I ingest my fair share of media, and Silverman, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ellen DeGeneres, and Kristin Wigg are the only relevant middle-aged comediennes I can think of off-hand who have yet to be relegated to bitchy/naggy/stupid/incompetent wife/girlfriend/sister/mother status in bromance films or hot-mess-pending-failures in FOX sitcoms. That is to say, they are the only relevant middle-aged comediennes who have managed to prolong the depressingly inevitable reality of females in show business. It’s a cruel joke that the comedy arena is one of the last industries in this country to shatter the glass ceiling, and it appears that it’s going to take more Fey and less Silverman in order for that to happen.
As Tina Fey put it in her book, Bossypants, there’s definitely a prevailing mode of thought that “… the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to [sleep with] her anymore.” Most serious females are patronized so long as their appearance matches their wit. Once the former begins to fade, it becomes more difficult for men to appreciate the latter, despite that the fact that age almost always sharpens a person’s humor.
Are women treated unfairly in America? Without a doubt. Are they cruelly cast aside at a certain age in Hollywood? With a scant few exceptions, definitely. But if supposedly strong female comediennes like Sarah Silverman are going to retreat from the front lines of this battle, if these women aren’t going to deflect and deny patently false female stereotypes by rewriting the common narrative through their work, nothing will change.
Hit Like a Girl!
It’s not that we should be shocked that Sarah Silverman, a woman who loves dishing out crude, politically incorrect humor finds it unpalatable when she’s served a little cold revenge. After all, the James Franco roast probably interrupted her bedtime. But didn't we all trust Sarah Silverman to be one of the few women who could consistently get in there and mix it up with the guys? If that time has officially come and gone, which it appears it has, this latest development should serve as a red flag for the entire comedy community. If a woman with as strong of a chin as Sarah Silverman can no longer take a joke, who can?
Good comedy is supposed to make us uncomfortable; it’s meant to be offensive. But at its best, it also feasts on irony and self-deprecation to invert the ridiculousness of stereotypes. It has the ability to mock something while simultaneously elucidating that thing’s validity, which is what makes it art. Comedy highlights commonly-held notions of ridiculous behaviors, stereotypes, etc. and chooses to laugh at it rather than legitimize it. What could be more beneficial to a hateful world than discrediting the illogical? Women shouldn’t feel bad about entering middle-age. They should celebrate it by making fun of the notion that a woman over the age of 40 is no longer vital. To make the joke is to emphasize the fallibility of such a notion. If anything, Sarah Silverman should thank Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill for pointing out the obvious stupidity of an ageist, misogynistic agenda.
Cantor, Hallie. “The Roast: A History.” Splitsider. The AWL. 17 Jun. 2011. Web. 17 Sept. 2013.