Nov 25, 2013

Channel Surfing: Sarah Silverman - "We Are Miracles"

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.

A lot has happened since Sarah Silverman last released a stand-up special with Jesus is Magic. She has managed to have a TV show, become a serious actress with Take This Waltz, and become a Disney icon in Wreck-It Ralph. She has almost become commercial in an intriguing way that her set of dirty jokes usually wouldn't suggest. Of course, that has been the charm of her from the beginning. Her sweet persona has always masked the vitriol of her jokes, and that has always been the enduring factor to her racy material. She pushes boundaries in cute, clueless ways and almost seems like a pioneer for the modern movement, including Whitney Cummings and her profane sitcom 2 Broke Girls. She deserves a lot of thanks for setting the bar high and then attempting to break it.
How does she do it? By playing at Largo to a room of 39 attendees. While it is arguably a step down from her Jesus is Magic special in terms of audience and production values, it does capture a specific intimacy that makes her feel more personal. While she has escalated to more of a household name, it is interesting to watch the new HBO special and feel like she is an unknown again. With exception to the bookends, the special lacks anything beyond her simply telling jokes, and that for the most part works.
With that said, it is up to the audience to determine just how far they are willing to go. One of the downsides to Silverman's performances is that she tends to not feel personal. Even if she tells tales of her childhood, they are highly stylized punchlines to jokes that involve awkward sexual interactions and some form of child abuse. There's plenty of talks about sexuality in the special, and while there's plenty to enjoy, the hour does feel a little monotonous due to its subject matter.

While she does talk about meeting Obama and him saying "I am Kanye West," it does feel like this is more geared towards her specific audience. Where Jesus is Magic felt more like a special concert movie full of song segments and routines, We Are Miracles does feel like it is just a straight routine. It is fine and produces many laughs, but the lack of insight in the humor comparatively is suffering. It feels more like she is working out material still than presenting a nice set of new material. This results in a mixed bag of a result.
There isn't any desire for her to switch her style up. She has become an acquired taste as a stand-up at this point. The only difference is that it is impressive that she had quite a successful acting career simultaneously. This will probably shock most of the Wreck-It Ralph fans if shown under the wrong circumstances. Her edginess is what makes her endearing and while she manages to present a routine as strong as ever, there is a sense that there should be something more to it.
Maybe it is the voyeuristic edge of things, but since many years have passed, maybe a few comedic anecdotes could have served the special better. Harp on her TV show or what the form of celebrity has done to her. While it may be prototypical material, there is potential in her spinning it into clever and intriguing material. Instead, this feels like an intimate show of a comedian who hasn't achieved her heights. It isn't reductive, but it does leave the curiosity for more.
It is profane and overall enjoyable to those that have found her funny with Jesus is Magic. Even if it does seem oddly impersonal, her charm has endured for this long, which is quite an achievement. The novelty of a small crowd with her star power alone makes it an interesting parallel akin to that of Maria Bamford's "The Special Special Special." We aren't seeing these popular performers playing to stadiums, but to smaller audiences, and that may be who matters most. It is almost humbling. Even if the lack of bells and whistles that lacks from an HBO special, it manages to thrive on the performer, and Sarah Silverman does that well enough.

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