The Sarah Silverman Problem

Few things are more compelling to me than a heated debate over What Constitutes Art.   A recent controversy surrounding Sarah Silverman also offers a quandary about ethics.

Ms. Silverman was invited to speak at the prestigious TED conference this year. Her “presentation” was so offensive to the man who curates the event (Chris Anderson) that he tweeted an apology for her “godawful” material and has since elected not to post her presentation online. Co-founder of AOL Steve Chase also tweeted that Silverman was an inappropriate choice for TED. Silverman came back with some tweeted insults of her own.

At issue, apparently, is Ms. Silverman’s repeated use of the word “retarded.” However, according to reports, she also sang a song about penises.

If only we could see a video of the actual performance! But since we can’t, we are left with some hypothetical questions.

First, I must admit that I fucking hate Sarah Silverman. Hate as in HATE. I don’t think it’s because she’s shocking. I think it’s her delivery, along with her face and mannerisms. I have laughed my head off to Larry David‘s comedic take on incest, racism, and the Holocaust. He has made fun of every disability I can think of, and I laughed because he’s so funny. Therefore, I can’t pretend that some subjects are sacrosanct.

Should Chris Anderson apologize to Ms. Silverman for publicly denouncing her performance? Should he post it online even if he finds it offensive? Does TED have an obligation to post it if it posts other speakers who appeared at the conference?

Should Ms. Silverman take into consideration the type of audience she is addressing, i.e. people who are gathered to hear about ideas? Or should she be applauded for daring to shock them? Is something Art because it is shocking? Is it always laudable to challenge taboos? If not, why not?

You can go here to watch Ms Silverman defend herself to Bill Maher.

I don’t know why anyone wants to hear Ms. Silverman say penis, vagina, and asshole with the smugness of a six year old who has just learned the power of swearing. If you think she’s a comic genius, you are certainly in good company. To my ears, she is nails on a chalkboard.

Here’s another question I just thought of: Would Silverman be funny if she couldn’t rely on “bad” words for effect?

Jump right in!

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31 Responses to The Sarah Silverman Problem

  1. XuXu says:

    Lady Sistah,

    Frequently you and I have our asses
    perched in the same row of the Hate Train.

    Here.
    We differ.

    I love The Sarah.

    It might have been helpful if Chris Anderson
    had actually Seen Sarah’s stuff before he hired
    her…isn’t the organizer of the TED conference
    just a little bit brighter than that? Sarah
    must have been completely confused and
    ecstatic!!!!!!!!!!!

    She is clearly a very un-right choice for TED.

    For me, Sister, Sarah is not about bad words
    at all…that is really the last thing I think of
    regarding what she does…and, in fact, I find
    Larry David completely grating-although I
    recognize that he could be seen as funny.

    Still.
    I would like to slap him
    with a dried squirrel.

    Loving the Sarah…

    little miss xuxu
    http://www.frenchshelter.blogspot.com

  2. I just love the way she tried to come across as an intellectual on Bill Maher. Who is the person at TED who thought she was??? Even Bill’s audience wasn’t buying her erudite explanation for her performance. Sarah Silverman is a one-trick pony: she offends and then calls herself a comedian. I suspect she’s been given TV shows and major opportunities because certain men think she’s cute, to which I say “Hey- work it, girl.” But the big problem is that she’s JUST NOT FUNNY. Not even a little bit, not even with the bad words. Lots of people can work something offensive into a joke so funny you laugh yourself sick and gasp “Oh, that is not right!!” in the same breath. Sarah Silverman is not one of them. And I’m not anti-juvenile humor, either. I’ve laughed at Andy Milonakis! Proof that my inner 13-year-old is fully intact.

  3. Suspended says:

    The only time I’ve managed to stomach her was when she appeared on Yo!GabbaGabba’s live show.

    Obviously she couldn’t be herself in front of hundreds of preschoolers, which suited me just fine. She has no reason to exist and I’m sooo glad we don’t have to endure much of her here in the UK.

  4. Braindance says:

    I am not aware of her, does she shock just for the sake of it, or is she actually funny with a deeper message?

    My favourite funny shockers are:

    Bill Hicks, The King

    Dave Chappelle, Funny and very easy on my eye, the perfect combo

    Eddy Izzard, confused me as a teenager in a way that I liked

    Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat is funniness distilled for me

    My friend Simon, you will have to trust me on this one

    Is she in the same league as the above for anybody here?

    I am going to you tube her whilst pretending to work, and the new tad talks, if I can get away with it

  5. Margot says:

    finally! I NEVER got all the hype around this woman….Your points are just spot on! The lame attempts of shock value content, and she just falls short. I think this is a case of her being given all the attention due to being a foul mouthed LADY- which supposedly is double the shock value. It simply comes across as stupid and as a disservice to all the REALLY funny woman out there…
    Great comedy requires great intellect and a fantastic personality, non of which it seems she has.

  6. Ann says:

    I stand unified with you in my hatred of her. She’s awful. She’s not funny. She’s not shocking. That stupid look on her face after she says something we’re supposed to react to is the WORST.

  7. annemarie says:

    I second everything Margot said.

    I’ll add: Sarah Silverman seems like a spoiled, snide, shallow loud-mouth. Larry David, Richard Pryor, and Ricky Gervais are great comics because their jokes always, and very subtly, invoke the tragedy and absurdities and humiliations that real hurting humans suffer day to day. Sarah Silverman is like a wind-up toy by comparison. There’s nothing there. She’s just not that funny.

  8. Aja says:

    I’ve argued this with my friend before who is a die hard Sarah Silverman fan. Sometimes I’ll watch her show and think “oh that was kind of funny” and then other times she doesn’t do it for me. So I’ll perch my ass on the fence for this one (to steal a line from Xuxu).

  9. dexter vandango says:

    Here’s a detailed Sarah analysis (..that nobody has asked for..)

    When I first saw Fawlty Towers ages ago I refused to watch more than one episode because I was appalled at John Cleese’s Basil character. I reacted to him with nausea and horror. Why? Basil was shallow, cowardly, vindictive, hen-pecked and just downright mean from time to time — all faults I feared I shared to some degree.. at least I could detect similar weaknesses in my own character.

    Sarah Silverman plays the same game. When Lenny Bruce was called the first sick comic it was for pointing out the hypocrisy and the dark side of society. Since then other Jewish comics, sick of the world’s hypocrisy and double standards, like Sarah and Larry David have engaged in the comedy of the uncomfortable. In a way they’re all outraged moralists, Rabbis haranguing the congregation. They try to shame us into behaving more morally by showing us characters devoid of any goodness and altruism. “Look upon me and shudder!” they warn.

    (..and for all her sex talk I assume Sarah is personally fastidious and prudish.. and forgive a repeat of a quote.. as Robin Williams said of Doctor Ruth..”What does the woman know about oral sex? She won’t even eat pork!”

  10. rebecca says:

    I can imagine that she was picked because she comes across as if she may have some good ideas of her own, or may be able to think about things. I can imagine that she imagined she was picked because of the other stuff she does which isn’t very funny but lots of people seem to think it is. I can imagine an audience of very shocked people, and a pissed off founder. But what’s done is done. It should be on the internet. Drawing attention to it like this has done the worst thing possible. Now it’s going to be watched by everyone, just to see what all the fuss is about. And now the founder is going to have to eat his words and apologise. And then next year he’s going to have to invite some other person who is not worth hearing, just for continuity’s sake, and then after a few years NONE of the videos will be worth watching at all.
    Jeez. What an asshole.

  11. dexter vandango says:

    I forgot to say, re4garding Sarah, John Cleese and Andrew Dice Clay.. it must be a lot of fun to play someone so monumentally repulsive.. Chaplin and Mel Brooks both did it with Hitler..

  12. Mary says:

    I also find her infantile delivery incredibly obnoxious (and I think it is part of what makes her “palatable” to many, especially Maxim types), though she does sometimes come out with feminist statements I agree with.

    BUT if you are hiring her you have to assume she will call people retarded and sing a song about penises, you know? Did they think she was going to give a post-modern talk about the hegemony of the art world, man?

  13. Joy D. says:

    Chris Anderson shouldn’t apologize because it is free speech and if he wants to tweet about how terrible he thinks she is then why not. Maybe posting it online gives him a bad name but I don’t know how wrong it is to censor something that is in poor taste. I don’t like Sarah Silverman but I am also familiar with her style of comedy. She isn’t very creative and I couldn’t see her evolving from her current material. I think it was poor planning on Anderson’s part. Like if they hired George Carlin or Robin Williams, know your entertainer!

  14. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds her repugnant and unfunny. I’m not really offended by what she’s saying; it’s her delivery and general smugness that grate.

  15. dust says:

    I’ve just watched her for the first time and what a barking dog she is. Why was she at TED at the first place? I don’t think she should consider the audience (as if she could), but the people who invited her, they should have known better.
    If it was supposed a lesson of bad humor and absurdity of existence, then, you may say, they learned it hard way.
    Chris Anderson shouldn’t apologize, it was an honest comment and good manners.

  16. dust says:

    *to be a lesson

  17. arline says:

    I had not heard of her before, but have just checked her out. I don’t think she is funny, or particularly shocking.

    Steve should have done his homework, and looked at her material before hand.

    Is what she does art? I don’t know, it is not my medium, and I don’t find it provocative, or interesting. She does have a right to be seen and heard, though.

  18. Angie says:

    Personally, I have no opinions on Sarah Silverman. I admit I don’t find her that funny though. I would much rather hear Jim Gaffigan talk about cake!

  19. Alicia says:

    Why did they invite her to the TED in the first place?

  20. Cricket9 says:

    Did not like her much, consequently didn’t watch her much either; IMO, she’s not very funny. Saying names of various body parts out loud is not very funny as such. Should Chris Anderson apologize – no, why would he? What’s with the apologies anyway? British PM apologized for saying that a woman he was talking to was a bigot. Well, was she? Nobody asked that question. Seems that the last place where one can have an opinion and not apologize for it, is Sister’s Wolf blog. Thanks Sis!

  21. TheShoeGirl says:

    She’s a mediocre comedian who would NOT be funny without her potty mouth and Jew jokes. She seems to have slept her way to the top and I’m totally over her.

    I agree about Larry David. Hysterical. I think he’s brilliant.

    xox from China!!!

  22. XuXu says:

    I am all alone in my Sarah Flag Waving.

    Where’s the ice-cream???????

    Xuxu
    http://www.frenchshelter.blogspot.com

  23. titus says:

    I totally agree, I can’t stand her and it isn’t the content of her material, it’s her.

    “I don’t know why anyone wants to hear Ms. Silverman say penis, vagina, and asshole with the smugness of a six year old who has just learned the power of swearing”

    spot on.

  24. suzbee says:

    I thought I was the only one!

  25. Dani says:

    Apart from Sarah Silverman’s shitty comedy performance, I think it’s entirely within Chris Anderson’s right to refuse posting her video on the TED website. It is, afterall, his responsibility to protect TED’s brand and what it stands for. Art galleries can pick and choose what artists they wish to represent; it shouldn’t be any different for a website. Yes, she performed at the conference, but it isn’t as if he is insisting that all her performances be censored or stopping her from practising. Afterall, if we can’t be selective about what is good, if we can’t establish our standards, we’d just drown in the large amounts of crap that gets thrown at us.
    As for people who watch it because of all the attention this issue has garnered, they can make up their own minds about Ms. Silverman.

  26. Lezzies says:

    Agreed. If you’re going to be a comedian, at least show some intelligence. She confuses and annoys me. The worst part is that female comedians already get a bad rap for not being funny, and she is just adding to that stereotype.

  27. Todd S. says:

    I also hate Silverman. I tried watching her show and could not get through the episode. Absolutely worthless.

  28. Catherine says:

    First–I like that SS says anything she wants and sometimes it’s funny. But, she is a small town girl with a small mind, sick parents who made her sick and she absolutely needs therapy to help her let go of that, and thirdly, she is mean and judgmental. Well, guess she is figuring out how to live with all that hate and sick stuff inside her. Sarah SAD Silverman.

  29. Silk says:

    OH MY GOD! Sarah Silverman is so funny! I mean she’s so original and creative and artistic with her dialogue and timing and delivery and… HAHAHAHA! LOL! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I couldn’t finish that without a straight face and take myself seriously! No, She’s just terrible, she’s annoying, she’s Jewish, she’s a terrible actress… Hm? What? She’s terrible? Annoying? No? *(Thinks for a second)* Oh… the Jewish thing… Yeah, um… she is! Anywho she’s just the worst person, I mean she’s trying to be shocking? Oh no comedians have ever been shocking! *(rolls eyes) look I could rant on and on about this cold, cruel, heartless excuse for a human being, but she’s just not worth my time or worthy of anymore words that I have written so to sum up… She’s just not funny! And I really, really, really HATE HER!!!

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