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November 28, 2005

Sarah Silverman Catches Heat For 9-11 Jokes

The jokes:

For comedian Sarah Silverman, Sept. 11, 2001, the worst day in this country’s history, could be twisted into a business coup for American Airlines. If only the company would use her suggested slogan: “American Airlines: First Through the Towers.”


In the movie “Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic” the 34-year-old jokester quips in the big-screen version of her one-woman show that it was doubly tragic “because it happened to be the exact same day I found out that a soy chai latte was, like, 900 calories.”

Couple of points:

I tend to get annoyed at comics whose main schtick is "shocking" me. It's a grating act at best. Sarah Silverman has always been a shock comic -- she's probably the filthiest female comic out there -- but the actual humor-to-shock ratio used to be much higher. Lately she just seems to be phoning it in with Wonkette humor -- "I'm cute and female, I'm talking about anal sex, isn't that incongrous and shocking?"

Neither of the jokes is funny. Both are derived from Howard Stern, and they were funnier when he did them... ten years or more ago. The first "joke" recalls his question about the plane in DC that crashed into a bridge: "Will this be a regularly scheduled stop in the future?" (or something like that).

The second is making a joke about one's own selfishness and callousness, as Stern would inevitably do after some serious, murderous natural disaster. As thousands died in a Mexican flood, let's say, he'd say, "What do I care. I've got my own problems. I can't heat my pool any hotter than 63 degrees." That joke also worked better for Stern, because of his long-developed character as a megalomaniac and sociopathic narcissist (which was probably about 60% real, in fairness).

There's always a question about when it's safe to begin joking about a tragedy, and I cerainly think that Sliverman has jumped the gun here -- deliberately -- in an effort to be "edgy."

But let's put aside questions of taste. Are the jokes funny? No, not really. They're, as Dave might have said in the past, quite old.

There's a rule, I'm pretty sure, that the more off-color or offensive a joke might be, the funnier it has to be to justify the offense. I once made a joke here about crippled people no longer wanting to be called "crippled" or "handicapped," but preferring the more politically-correct and sensitive term "People With Retarded Spines and Legs." I caught a lot of heat for that, and actually had to remove it after email after email came in saying I crossed the line. A shock joke, and, I think, a (darkly, sick) funny one, but ultimately not funny enough to justify the offense I'd given to anyone suffering from the affliction, oranyone who knows such a person, or anyone who just basically cares about their fellow man, period.

I put Silverman's jokes into that category, and they're not even as funny as the one I backed away from. And I'm not even a pro.

I'm not going to get on a high horse about Silverman. I'll just say she used to be one of my favorite comics, if not my actual favorite, but she's jumped the shark. If she's so spent of actually funny material she has to rely on unfunny shock value to convince people her act is worth watching, she's on the sharp decline.

After all, this is her movie. This is her top-drawer stuff, her chance to break through into wider public conscienceness. One would think the film should be filled with nothing but her very best A-material... and if this is her A material, I'd hate to see the sort of crap she's now doing on the road.

Which means, alas, that now she'll start getting big Hollywood contracts, just like Robin Williams did.

Thanks to the Artist Formerly Known As Boston Irish.

Thanks for the correction to Kristian. The DC flight I was referring to crashed into a bridge, not a building, as I originally wrote.

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posted by Ace at 11:48 AM

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