Article: Comfortable in her lane

from Salon.com

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Sarah Silverman’s “We Are Miracles” opens with the raunchy comedienne being taunted by four Latino gentlemen for taping her first ever HBO Comedy Special in a rather small venue. “You need to call your agent,” one shouts out from the passenger side of the lowrider. “You can’t be doing no HBO special for 39 people. That’s, like, super tiny.” Silverman assures the tattooed cruiser that the Largo Theater is not tiny but “intimate, fuckface.” But her confidence appears shaken. She covers with a lame joke: “What do you call a car full of Mexicans? Pains in my ass–” and adds a “hole” so the punch line fits squarely within her foul-mouthed milieu.

Is it still a very big deal for a comic to have his or her own HBO Comedy Special? If you’re Louis C.K. and you win an Emmy, certainly. But, if you’re that lucky guy, you also have the celebrity weight to muscle HBO, repurpose said special on your own website, and sell it for a finsky a download at your discretion. Otherwise, success is not as assured. Silverman opens her own first special in a way that downplays any expectations. Before — presumably — running onto the stage to kick off her act, she abruptly and desperately pleads with the men for their blanket approval: “Tell me I’m great!” And, in fact, the entire special feels a bit like an exercise in insecurity — albeit false insecurity.

One of the things that I have always found reassuring about Silverman is how comfortable she is in the lane that she has created for herself. Once, during an interview, she recounted to me the story of how she’d been fired from “Saturday Night Live.” So many years later, she still seemed somewhat relieved. I’m not well-versed in Silverman’s Comedy Central program, but I’ve seen plenty of her stand-up and “We Are Miracles” is hardly shocking in its attempts to shock you.

Here is a partial list of subjects directly addressed within the hour: her mother’s bush, her father’s balls, Make-A-Wish Kids, terminally ill babies, rape victims, 9/11 widows and Scientology — even she admits that last one’s a gimme. Silverman moves in a leisurely way from one pressure point to the next, her signature mischievous grin and sweet voice slathering every filthy moment in saccharine. So, where is the aforementioned insecurity, you ask. Let’s start there. Early on, after an abrupt change in topic, Silverman declares that she does not do segues. That’s fine; a lot of comedians don’t knit their bits together with transitions. But at this moment, you know you are not watching the kind of masterfully crafted, thematically sound routine you might expect from someone like Chris Rock.

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