Sarah Silverman Moves On Without Going Anywhere

Sarah Silverman Moves On Without Going Anywhere

Just because Sarah Silverman is reconsidering her comedy sins of the past doesn’t mean she’s going to play it safe. On a stop last week on her Grow Some Lips stand-up tour, she led off the show with a riddle: “What did the Jewish mother say to her daughter who starred in a gangbang video?”

“You were the best one!”

So yeah, just because we’re extremely unlikely to see Silverman attempt satirical blackface again doesn’t mean she’s going to confine her stand-up to stories about airline food and the size of Costco shopping carts. Silverman is still out to shock, but she’s aiming her arrows more carefully, either at subjects that deserve it — Nazis and pedophile priests, for example — or more often, herself.

If you’re a longtime Silverman fan, you’ll note the recurring themes. Like in her 2013 special We Are Miracles, she’s still considering her go-to porn search terms. (We won’t spoil the update, but she’s no longer searching “cum,” “high-five” and “gangbang,” despite her opening joke.) Silverman is exploring her Jewishness, odd for her as an atheist but still a strong cultural identifier. Along with her opening act, Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead, there’s a painful awareness of the current state of politics, especially as it relates to women. Winstead took a more direct approach, practically giving a Democratic stump speech, but Silverman’s take was more sly, somehow expressing even more outrage without being overtly partisan. The jokes will age better for it.

Silverman recently told the Charlotte Observer that her current tour is a by-the-seat-of-her-pants exercise and that was evident on stage. Unlike a comic like John Mulaney, who seems to have prepared his latest tour word for word, Silverman was working out bits in real time, occasionally checking notes in a legal pad so she didn’t forget a new area she wanted to mine. How much is the show evolving? When discussing her fear of aging with the Observer, she related a story she told on Conan O’Brien’s podcast about getting dementia and absent-mindedly masturbating in public. “You should put that in your show,” noted the interviewer. One day after the story was published, she was doing the bit on a Madison, Wisconsin stage— and it killed.

Evolution is what the new show is about. “I remember Joan Rivers saying she didn’t really find herself in stand-up until her 70s. And I love that,” Silverman explained. “That just gives me this tentpole to look forward to; to be able to feel like I’m not even close to hitting my stride; to always still be aspiring and changing and wanting to always do stand-up.”

Silverman’s closing bit felt like step forward — in its examination of how we use terms for male and female genitalia to define our fortitude, she combined her trademark scatological sex talk with playful Carlin-esque wordplay. It’s shocking and smart, proving that Silverman is closer than ever to hitting that stride, moving forward without abandoning the eff-you irreverence that made her great in the first place. 

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