My first exposure to comedian Sarah Silverman was in 2005. I watched her DVD “Jesus is Magic,” with some older female friends with whom I shared a Netflix membership. How offended were they by Sarah’s humor? The next day they cancelled Netflix.
For her fans, Silverman’s best-selling book, “The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee” is filled with her signature taboo-breaking humor. For others there may be more shock than awe. Personally, I found it hilarious.
Silverman’s performing career began at age 3, when her father, David, taught her to swear as her grandmother came in with a plate full of brownies. Prompted by dad, little Sarah told nana where she could stick the brownies. Shocking everyone, it got a huge laugh. In a sense, Silverman’s still doing it, 37 years later.
As the title suggests, Sarah was a bedwetter well into high school. She was plagued with shame and fear, especially on sleepovers and overnight camp, which she refers to as “the second worst camp for Jews.” Ouch.
Even though the Comedy Channel recently canceled her Emmy-nominated “The Sarah Silverman Program,” Sarah’s future appears bright. That aside, she’s had her share of trauma.
As a young teen Sarah went into an inexplicable three-year depression that made attending school impossible. Her parents put her in therapy, which Sarah mines for humor, albeit of the dark variety.
Once, while Sarah waited for her therapist, a tearful colleague of his rushed up and shouted that he had just hung himself. Stunned, Sarah still had an hour to kill (no pun intended) until her mother picked her up. I can only imagine the answer to her mother’s question, “How did your session go today, sweetie?”
Another therapist put Sarah on Xanax and eventually the dose was increased to 16 a day. Sensing this wasn’t right, Sarah kept the empty pill bottles in a shoebox under her bed in case something happened to her. Fortunately, a sane psychiatrist weaned her off the medication over eight months and life returned to normal, or a reasonable facsimile.
Sarah finally developed breasts and outgrew bedwetting. (No connection, however.) Suddenly she was able to focus on more important issues, i.e. her lifelong struggle with hairy arms or as she puts it, “There’s not enough wax in the world.”
After a stint in college, and with financial help from her father, Silverman braved the daunting world of standup. Following the tragic death of her infant brother (before she was born), her parents’ divorce, and mountains of Xanax, the stress of being funny in front of strangers paled.
While performing for free at open mike nights, Sarah helped support herself by passing out flyers for a comedy club. In so doing, she was once strangled by a Vietnam vet, protected by the corner drug dealer and knocked out cold when she defied bullies harassing an Asian friend dressed in a chicken suit passing out flyers for “Phuck-U Chicken.”
Sarah’s talent and persistence paid off when she was hired as a writer on “Saturday Night Live.” But her dream turned into a nightmare as not a single one of her sketches made it to air. The title of that chapter is, “Live from New York, You’re Fired.” Among other chapters are: “My Nana Was Great but Now She’s Dead,” “Hymen, Goodbyemen” and “Fear and Clothing.”
“The Bedwetter” includes: amusing e-mails to and from her exasperated publishers (they wanted “Pee Pee” in the title but she held out for “Pee”); advice from and experiences with friends and lovers, which turn Sarah from sexual prey to predator (and a potential “Cougar with big naturals”) and a letter to Penthouse Forum that she wrote as a teenager pretending to be a sex-craved anti-Semite named Earl.
Among the interesting array of photos in the book is one of Sarah at the 2009 Emmys, wearing a strapless dress that she helped design. (So badly that the designer took his name off.) It was described in the press as, “A royal blue satin octopus swallowing Silverman from the bottom up.”
“The Bedwetter,” published by Harper-Collins, is surprisingly poignant and still laugh-out-loud funny. (Given the intimate personal revelations, the word “courage” in the title is very appropriate.) The book includes a foreword by Sarah, honored that she asked herself to write it, a “midword” and and afterword, dated Dec. 1, 2063 upon Sarah’s untimely death at 93, written by God.
While Silverman’s fascination with farts and other bodily functions seems juvenile, other material is brilliant and has drawn comparisons to the iconic Lenny Bruce. It’s fair to say that she’s as talented and fearless a comedian as any working today.
Now, if she’d only pay for my Netflix membership we’d be even.
Jack Neworth also writes “Laughing Matters” which appears every Friday. He can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.