Sarah Silverman =/≠ Lenny Bruce?

Filed Under Movies, Stand-Up Comedy

In the wake of Jesus is Magic, comaprisons of Sarah Silverman to Lenny Bruce are almost as cliche as hipster reporters salivating over her, contemplating just what does it means to be so funny and so fuckable (more on that at the end). It’s a parallel that she’s appropriately humble about. But what makes someone the next Lenny Bruce? What’s the ruler here? Here’s some answers from other sites as to if Sarah = Lenny and whether I find the comparison fair.

A Picture of Sarah Silverman

Onion A.V. Club Blog: Yes. And No. Why? She’s walking a well-worn path of taboo breakers, but she walks it incredibly well. But her work isn’t attempting to make an impact in society, ultimately being about itself rather than meaningful. Fair or Unfair Fair. Hysterically funny stuff doesn’t have to have a goal, but I think any comparisons to Lenny Bruce would require the comics to be attempting some sort of change. David Cross is far closer to Lenny Bruce in this regard. Sarah’s material lives in its own world, you live and laugh, laugh very hard, in it for the hour and you’re done.

Entertainment Weekly: No. Why not? Though “blasphemous-and-proud-of-it”, she lacks a connection with her own material in a way. We simply rehear stereotypes. Fair or Unfair? Fair, although she is found wanting in this category in opposition to Margaret Cho, whose material, while sharp, doesn’t seem as twisted. I don’t think this is necessarily a flaw, but some comics find they enjoy talking about themselves, some do not. The Sarah Silverman on stage is a character and I think it might be a function of her sex. Female comics who talk about themselves on stage are considered confessional whereas a guy who does the same is simply talking about something that happened to them. It’s an annoying categorization that people place on comediennes. I think it’s one reason why Sarah is so popular in a frustratingly masculine art, she avoids that limiting box by not putting her real self in her act. I ‘m not sure we’ll get a feminine Lenny Bruce until a comic defies that box entirely.

Cinematical: Somewhat. Why Not? Sarah will never get arrested for her material. Her struggles are against political correctness rather than establishment.

Fair or Unfair?

Unfair, considering times are different. Would Sarah have gotten arrested then for doing the material she performs now? Almost certainly. Even today, she still has trouble with some audiences who are not ready to hear her play on racial sterotypes (the infamous Chink statement and getting booed off stage by a largely African American audience for a Martin Luther King Joke.) A lack of spontaneity is a bit more daming, because she is very rehearsed and calculated. But she is capable of incredible improvisation, see her joke from the Aristocrats. She’s professional, not stiff.

Now, as to Sarah “coltish looks” and “porcelin skin.” I don’t think Sarah’s looks matter one bit to her comedy. You could easily issue “Jesus is Magic” on CD, with equal effect. (In fact, I hope they do). Her material is strong, although arguably the expressions on her face help sell some of them. Gushing over her looks is just another sign that so many comics and fans of comedy have never really exited puberty. Grow the fuck up, already.

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Posted by Jesse Thorn on 11/18  at  12:12 AM

I disagree to some extent.

For one thing, I think that Sarah’s good looks have a lot to do with her comedy.  I don’t say that to diminish her work at all, any more than somebody who says Phyllis Diller being old is an important part of her comedy.

Sarah’s looks create a contrast with her material…  that ignorant, innocent sweetness is really important to getting over her awful stuff.  Obviously, her delivery is a big part of that, and her stage character, but her looks are a key part of that.

The really revolutionary part of Silverman is that she’s a woman doing profane material who isn’t just being bawdy.  She isn’t just Rosanne Barr (maybe “just” Rosanne Barr is a poor choice of words).  But that’s a classic comic type, that requires a certain clownish quality, and she doesn’t play into it at all.

In fact, as you astutely recognize, Todd, she holds back her real persona, and leaves us guessing at who she really is.  That’s a big part of what makes her daring, I think.  We kind of know it’s a character, but we’re not really sure where we stand.  That shiftiness is really important, and it’s something that’s pretty groundbreaking in a female comic.

Posted by Matthew Janovic on 12/18  at  09:26 AM

I don’t think she is the new Lenny, that woulda been Bill Hicks, but at least we have David Cross. Sarah—who is achingly-hot—is more a Sophie Tucker. Bawdy, sassy, and hilarious. Nothing wrong with noting she’s attractive, incidentally, I’m sure she has her lesbian-admirers. She’s great.

Todd Jackson
Posted by Todd Jackson on 02/01  at  07:37 AM

Jesse made good points about how Sarah’s looks contrast against what’s she saying that work very well. It is an part of her style, I admit.  But she does the same effect with her tone of voice, making her equally effective without seeing her.

I think Matthew’s point that there’s “nothing wrong with noting she’s attractive” is accurate. But my problem was that it was more than being noted, it seems to be focused on and obsessed over, which got to be insanely annoying. I just wanted to say, “Yes, I know you who is writing this article would like to be fucking Sarah, but could you just masturbate and then write.”

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