By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Seven comedians are playing poker. Lizz, who’s from the Midwest and who calls everyone “Marge” -- even the dog -- has a pair of sevens on the table. Louie‘s got squat and a grimace to show for it. Maggie polishes off a Diet Coke and starts in on the M&Ms. Marc’s got -- well, who the hell knows what Marc‘s got, because his poker strategy seems to involve some kind of Tourette’s-driven sing-along. Bob Dylan is on the hi-fi, cranky as usual. Another joint goes whipping ‘round the table. Marc tosses a couple of chips into the pot and croons “fuck blue balls flapping cunt lips” to Dylan’s “Things Have Changed.” No one pays any attention.
Sarah Silverman folds and gets up to grab a piece of licorice. When she sits back down, it‘s on an apple that someone’s slipped onto her chair. She yelps, “Fuck, that went up my pussy,” and Marc says, “Pass it over, I‘ll eat it.”
This is comedian Sarah Silverman’s regular Saturday-night poker game, where all the players tell jokes for a living and most of them do it on television. There may be longer-running games in the annals of poker and comedy, but this one‘s been around for a while. It started in the early ’90s in the Big Apple and was transplanted here when Silverman changed coasts. And no, it‘s not surprising to find Silverman dealing cards to the boys (or to the women who like to hang with the boys when the boys are being boys) because this is where she lives now, having spent the last 10 years sprinting past the touchy-feely terra firma of female comedy and land-grabbing territory usually occupied by the world’s funny men.
In making her way, Silverman had the advantage of being a tomboy (poker player, softball player, basketball player) and the disadvantage of being beautiful (in comedy circles people think if you‘re attractive, then you have nothing to talk about). But part of her genius has been finding a way to blend the two together so that each ups the ante on the other. When she drops a comedic bomb, it’s all the more explosive for the incongruity of this comely woman out-salting the salty men in this salty men‘s game. Simply put, she’s disarming.
This was never more apparent than when she took the dais at the New York Friars Club roast of Hugh Hefner, held just two and a half weeks after September 11. The atmosphere was tense, the laughter mandated. Silverman was the only woman in the lineup.
She told Alan King that a nursing home in Florida called and “the last person who thinks you’re funny just died.”
She didn‘t just roast the men, she torched ’em. The guys ate it up, as they are wont to do, even though Silverman typically mines a more feminine milieu (albeit an often dark one). Ask her what she does in her free time, and she‘ll say, “I go to strip clubs, I like strip clubs . . . I really want to be a stripper, I’m doing comedy to get into stripping. I mean, I‘ve wanted to be a stripper ever since I was molested.”
She likes them ribald and she likes them taboo. She’s written articles about why she loves Penthouse Pets. She told Playboy that her pet name for her vagina is “faggot.” Esquire once asked her to write up 10 things men don‘t know about women. Number one on her list: “When we go to the bathroom together it’s because we‘re doing coke.”
Silverman grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, doing school theater, and thought she was heading for a Cats career until she discovered comedy while attending NYU. Pretty soon she was skipping class to write jokes. From the start she liked edgy material, and from the start her edgy material got her in trouble. Back in 1993, Saturday Night Live hired her as a writer, but she wrote a joke about the law that requires a woman to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. This waiting period is supposed to enable the woman to think it over.
“Frankly, I think it’s a good law,” said Silverman. “The other day I wanted to go get an abortion. I really wanted an abortion, but then I thought about it and it turned out I was just thirsty.” This joke (one of many) ran afoul of the censors, and her contract wasn‘t picked up for a second season.
During the past 10 years, the 31-year-old dove into the world of standup. She played comedy clubs everywhere she could, developing a brand of impolite big-topic comedy that cuts through the politically correct crap and says what our cheekier selves ache to say. Her devotion to the cause got her guesting in high places. She did Seinfeld and Larry Sanders, Letterman, Leno and Conan O’Brien, and managed to work up Jesus Is Magic, her one-woman-plus-a-band show. Jesus Is Magic spent two sold-out summer weeks off-Broadway and is here for a limited run at the Canon Theater in Beverly Hills.