Critique: What’s funny about an age 42 woman?

This September 9 rant from the publication talks about how wrong it was to have so many of the James Franco Roast jabs at Sarah Silverman be about her age. And along the way, Mandy has some quite nice things to say about Sarah. (Despite signing with a forename-only byline, the writer is an experienced journalist, columnist, and sometimes standup comedian.)


I’ve been rewatching the “Comedy Central Roast of James Franco,” and it’s the jokes about Sarah Silverman that have stayed with me.

On Friday — a few days after a barrage of jokes about her age during the “Comedy Central Roast of James Franco” — Sarah Silverman tweeted: “Oh my gosh I’m embarrassed. I just found out I’m a woman AND I’m 42. I am so sorry.”

Her biting tenor of sarcasm? Pure genius.

Silverman has this razor-sharp ability to call out the insanity of Hollywood just as expertly as Tina Fey did in her 2011 memoir “Bossypants.” It was Fey, who wrote in that book: “I have a suspicion that the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.”

I don’t think Fey, who is a year older at 43, and Silverman will ever fall into this category. Both are timeless knockouts, and in a lot of ways, even more drop-dead gorgeous every year they grow older. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Silverman look quite so stunning as she did at the Franco roast. Which perhaps made the jokes about how old she is all the more jarring.

In the days since it originally aired, I’ve found myself watching repeats, and it is Silverman’s performance that impacted me the most.

Silverman, of course, killed as she usually does with a deadpan brutal delivery, but what struck me — and what stuck in my gut — was how the jabs at Silverman reminded me of some of the jokes made about Carrie Fisher at last year’s roast. During that roast of Roseanne, at one point, if you recall, Fisher mocked the terrified-of-women’s-bodies nature of the jokes themselves and said: “You don’t get your period anymore do you. God. I could laugh about that all night.”

She essentially flipped the bird to the concept that this was an area ripe for actual cleverness at all. Yes, people grow older. Including women. Where’s the punchline again?

For Silverman, who is 14 years younger than Fisher, the jokes her fellow roasters went for included: her not being able to have kids, her being hot for someone so old and, when the comic was introduced by roastmaster Seth Rogen: “Our next roaster was No. 29 on Maxim’s ‘Hot 100’ — in the year 2007. Please welcome Sarah Silverman.”

Oh my. There is nothing more cutting than a dated reference to a year other than 2013, is there?

I would actually place Silverman as No. 1 in 2013, and I think a lot of people would, but that’s besides the point. In later airings, this intro for Silverman was actually cut as was another joke about her age and supposed failure because she was a woman who was aging as women do because everyone does because that is the way life works.

I love brutal jokes. Jonah Hill in particular was uncomfortably vicious in a way that I’ve come to appreciate — especially when so much of the world is laced with a falsity (often delivered with a smile on the face) that makes my stomach turn. But for some reason, the jokes about Silverman’s age and fertility made me uncomfortable. Not because she needs anyone defending her, let alone me.

But because the targeting of her age was not on par with any of the other comics: Aziz Ansari was ridiculed for being a famewhore. And, as several other commentaries have already pointed out, there was racism and homophobia in spades — particularly targeting Ansari, who pretty much made anyone who had made one of these jokes look completely a fool by calling this out in his set. Natasha Leggero was targeted for being an unknown. Andy Samberg was mocked for starring in a hackneyed sitcom premise. And then, Sarah for being “old.”

The nerve of her. To no longer be in her thirties.

Andy Samberg, who stole the show at the roast by going anti-comedy in the vein of Norm Macdonald, with jarringly sweet comic naivete that reduced Bill Hader to tears, was loving and goofy in the majority of his jokes.

A sample Samberg bit: “Who else wants the wrath? My good friend Aziz Ansari. Aziz’s parents are from India, and he’s from South Carolina. Hey Aziz, what’s it like to have a unique perspective on being American, you bag of shit?”


But when he got to Sarah, he said, with the same innocent comic persona: “I hate to break it to you, Sarah, but you’re getting older and you know who else is getting older? My mom. I’m scared she’s gonna die soon. What’s that gonna be like? Roasted you. Roasted Sarah.”

This was after Jonah Hill had already laid into the subject unrelentingly early on in the roast. (To be fair, Silverman’s roast of Hill was widely acclaimed as being the more eviscerating one of the two — probably because she is an actual comic.)

You know how there are places you just don’t go because they are way too real, except if you hit it just right it is comic gold in the relief it provides for saying exactly what you are not supposed to say? That was Hill to a T, going after Bill Hader for the sell-out ignominy of showing everyone after he left “SNL” by — wait for it — booking a T-Mobile commercial. And then he got to Sarah.

“She’s not just hot for a comic; she’s hot for someone her age,” Hill said, the beads of sweat on his forehead growing increasingly visible.

Silverman replied with a smile: “That’s right.”

“Um, seriously Sarah, you were my favorite comic as a kid,” Hill continued. Then he said this joke that was cut from encore presentations: “Sarah is a role model for every little girl out there. I mean, every little girl dreams of being a 58-year-old single stand-up comedian with no romantic prospects on the horizon. They all dream of it, but Sarah did it.”

Subsequent airings of the roast not only cut this line, they also cut the Maxim line introduction from Rogen.

Of course, Silverman is nowhere near 58. She is a gorgeous 42, and she has been happily dating comic Kyle Dunnigan for a while now, but that didn’t stop a few people from tweeting real-time, expressing their shock that she was 58. (Oh, Twitter. This is why we can’t have nice things.)

Then, Hill, speaking to the comic who shined in movies such as “School of Rock” and the critically acclaimed “Jesus is Magic,” continued with this observation of Silverman: “People say it’s too late for Sarah to become successful in movies at her age. I again do not agree. It’s not impossible. I mean it’s not like they’re asking you to bear children or anything like that.”

Hill, well aware of the almost Stephen Colbert oblivious dick persona he was putting on then laughed obnoxiously: “Heh heh heh heh!”

This moment stayed in encore airings. And it was funny. It all was. I Love Jokes That Say That Which You Are Not Allowed to Say Because It Is the Worst Thing Possible.

But it made me squirm.

Writers for Comedy Central roasts are actually given notes as to what is not allowed as material ripe for mocking. With William Shatner, no one touched the death of his wife who drowned in a tragic pool accident. With Joan Rivers, some writers told me — but Rivers denied it to me when I asked her — the only topic she didn’t want people to rail on was her daughter.

There are limits. There are lines. And the fun of comedy comes in twisting and pushing them.

I would never advocate that they not be pushed and twisted.

But I can’t help but think that Tina Fey’s joke about “crazy” in show business could apply to not just women who keep talking after people no longer want to fuck them, but even after they are no longer fall in the standard demographic for having children.

Because in what universe would old jokes ever be made about a 40-something man?

Seriously, answer me that. Go.

And what did Silverman say right after the roast aired? She tweeted, ever cold and calling it out: “Wow this was the most fake fun I’ve had in years! #FrancoRoast.”

Just eviscerating.

Silverman certainly doesn’t need my lame attempt at a thinkpiece to come to her defense, but she is too much of inspiration to any female who dares to not go down traditional paths for me not to underscore her complete and total badassery — at least one time.

No, she’s not married. No, she doesn’t have kids. No, she doesn’t deny that she’s a sexual creature. No, she’s not in a little box.

Which is exactly why millions of people love her.

When I emailed Comedy Central to find out why the Silverman jokes were cut, I received this reply: “The ‘Roast of James Franco’ ran off-the-clock for the premiere and in order to get it to 90 minutes for encore airings about 10 minutes of material had to be cut. Cuts were made across the board.”

Makes sense to me, and I think they were good cuts. But Silverman’s tweet stays with me.

Her sarcasm is deft and brilliant, like her.

Such a galling affront — to be 42 and a woman.

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2 Responses to Critique: What’s funny about an age 42 woman?

  1. Rich Reich says:

    For all the jokes about an aging tho still bangable Sarah at least no one was brazenly called her a cougar for having a too young bf, Kyle. I didn’t see the whole show so maybe they did? Anyway it was pure fun as is anything involving Sarah in anyway always is, sigh. Hope that’s poetic, ha.

  2. Slim says:

    I too, was shocked at the jokes about Sarah on the roast. I certainly have never thought of her as old. After those jokes I had to look up how old she was and was surprised to find out she was 42. Not that that’s old, but I thought she was younger. She is incredibly beautiful, and always has been. In fact, I always wondered why she was with Jimmy Kimmel. I figured it was because of their personalities, because she is way hotter than Kimmel. Anyway, you’d think those comics could come up with better material, because she is not old and was by far the best looking person on that roast stage.

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