This week, stand-up comedian Sarah Silverman starts the spring run of her brand-new tour, Grow Some Lips, with dates at The Met Philadelphia (May 4), Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT (May 5) and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, WV (May 6) before running roughshod through the entirety of May.
Wait. Did you forget that rude, crude, cutting, smart-ass Sarah Silverman was, is and remains so a stand-up comedian? That after doing what she called “an awful” stand-up as a 17-year-old performer in Boston and spending years on the televised sketch circuit – the 1993–94 season of the NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Bob Oedenkirk and David Cross’ sketch comedy series Mr. Show (1995–1997) at HBO – Silverman went on (albeit 10 years later after her teen stage debut) to film her first gig stand-up tour, Jesus is Magic? A rough-edged, often racially-tinged but stand-up comedy even deemed controversial in its time, and now, downright messy and way wrong?
To her defense, Sarah Silverman is making sure that audiences know that she does not defend her offensive language of the past.
“Comedy is not evergreen,” said Silverman in March a CBC Podcast interview on the Q with Tom Power program. “If you’re not looking back at what you did 10 years ago and cringing, you’re probably doing something wrong, in my view.… I mean, look, my first special is problematic in 18 different ways.” In the Q with Tom Power interview, he reminds us that in Silverman’s 2005 standup special, Jesus Is Magic, the stand-up comedian uses “shock humor” to squeeze jokes out of social taboos, of which Silverman stated “doesn’t hold up” today. “There’s, like, N-word, hard R, you know, the R-word, the M-word for little person,” she said to Power. “I’m not saying this out of fear, but just out of being mindful because once you learn something, you can’t un-ring that bell unless you decide you’re going to just know something cuts people and say it anyway.”
Not-so politically correct language aside, one of the reasons that audiences may have forgotten that Silverman has stand-up comedy tours, specials and streamers in her arsenal – 2005’s Jesus Is Magic, 2013’s We Are Miracles, 2017’s A Speck of Dust – is that she began varying her career as an actor and author early on in her professional process, even penning musical theater scripts.
Along with appearing in 15 narrative fiction films, up through 2022’s Marry Me, Sarah Silverman has stretched into exploded reality memoir writing with The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, a knida-sorta autobiography lurching into real issues of mental health and depression. that its author recently turned into a Broadway musical with the late composer-musician Adam Schlesinger.
On the topic of The Bedwetter’s 2022 stage musical recently up for consideration for a Tony Award, Silverman told Playbill that “It really deals with mental health in children and in adults. My mother also was depressed and there were not words for it…. With this, the mother sees her daughter, recognizes it in her daughter, and that is when, by proxy, she can help herself,” explained Silverman. “It’s a period piece about the 80s where we didn’t talk about mental health and we didn’t know that stuff. But it’s relevant to now because look at where we are to mental health. Kids talk about it. Every other day they say they have a panic attack or whatever. They have the language.”
Language is important to consider when considering Sarah Silverman. Sarcastically and toying with several levels of reality and non-reality all at once, the stand-up (and writer) Silverman uses language like a sharp object – even when approaching the (rare) poignancy of specials such as 2013’s We Are Miracles and 2017’s A Speck of Dust where taboo topics such as rape, health scares, religion, and her own storied personal insecurities are pushed to the forefront.
Without having heard much about what is being said on her current Grow Some Lips stand-up comedy tour (you have to love those Yondr bags for ensuring that audiences can’t bring cellphones into the live venues she plays at), Silverman told outlets such as the CBC’s Q program with Tom Powers that the accountability she’ll take for her mistakes, doesn’t mean that she is not willing to take the risks that make unbridled comedy a thrill.
“Comedy dies in the second-guessing of what the audience wants from you,” she said during the March 2023 podcast. “You have to be willing to eat shit all over again, you know — bomb and start over and really just stick to who you are now and what’s funny to you and what’s amusing to you. And if you lose fans, fine; you might gain fans. But it just can’t be part of the creative plan.”
Talking to the Nashville Scene about what she would tell young comics concerned about the moving targets of the cancel culture, Silverman noted, thusly. “It’s a really tough one, because I think the enemy of comedy is second-guessing your audience. But the good news is — go with your gut, go with your heart. If you feel a weird tinge inside when you say things, maybe you don’t want to say it somewhere in there, you know? But you have to be free. That said, you should be really equipped to be able to use all sorts of language, and if you find out a word bums out a whole bunch of people — you’re a person of words, you’ve got a million new words you can use. Maybe you want to piss people off, maybe you don’t. But I don’t think fear is the right reaction. There are so many ways we can express ourselves in comedy. Just listen to your gut. Listen to, like, if there’s a physical tinge when you talk about something or say a certain word, then maybe rethink it. But you have to go with what you think is funny, number one. And just get stage time to get your 10,000 hours in.”