Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Genius of Sarah Silverman

Great satire, when done right, can be enjoyed on multiple levels.  While appearing simplistic and relatively crude in cartoonish form, the Simpsons has been a brilliant social satire for over the last twenty years.  It is something that educated adults can enjoy while the kids laugh along.  Being able to pull of satire well calls for a very delicate mastery not only of the original source material, but an ability to spoof that material in a subtle way without going "over the line."

At the present moment in American history, you can say whatever you want about a person's religion, sexual habits, or drug use and get away with it.  So called "shock jocks" employ these mindless tactics to gain audience share in a pathetic attempt to seem edgy and relevant.  It's a winning formula only because the average audience is filled with enough unsophisticated dolts who think they are rebels.

But making jokes about a person's race is considered the ultimate taboo.  That will get your career tanked faster than anything.  As I mentioned earlier, you can't even say "nigger" because it is considered so anathema, people will simply die if they hear the word, so you have to say "the n-word" instead.

Dave Chappelle is hilarious.  His short lived "Dave Chappelle Show" poked fun at all races, but not without some measure of controversy.  The difference was that because Chappelle was black, he could get away with it.  No white person could of done what Chappelle did without Al Sharpton having a heart attack and demanding you bow down before him in supplication.

Sarah Silverman lacks the proper credentials on race to make the same kind of jokes, yet she does it--and gets away with it because of her extreme verbal giftedness.  While playing the ironic, socially clueless, girl next door, she effortlessly two steps through the minefield of racial taboos, combining these with a comedy that is smart and dynamic.  She is essentially a Garrison Keillor or Stephen Colbert--but with ten times the wit.  Silverman makes it all seem so easy.  It is only until you think about what she has managed to do with her work that you come to appreciate how verbally agile she actually is.

Even at the age of 21, reviewing her earlier work, there are periods where she spontaneously interacts with her audience, sparring with them and thinking on her feet.  She manages to move from one subject to the next, playing with language like a cat with a caught mouse.  It's the same sort of skill that would have made her an excellent trial lawyer, or, more artistically, a poet.

Silverman herself is liberal, not racist, and comes from a progressive minded family.  In fact, her mother was a photographer for the liberal McGovern for president campaign back in the 1970's.  But it's only through the looking up of her background that you discover these details.  The great thing about Silverman is that you don't need to--she says one thing but you already know she means another.  Dressed up like the devil, she's an angel in disguise.

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