Keep it clean, lady comics -- especially if you're hot. Otherwise, you could ruin your career.
Variety television critic Brian Lowry earned this week's male chauvinist crown with his review of Sarah Silverman's upcoming HBO special, "We Are Miracles" -- which is less of a review than a backward-looking lament about a female comic's insistence on claiming territory that is better left to "the boys."
That Silverman chose to traffic in raunchy, envelope-pushing humor as opposed to utilizing her good looks seems to be a tragedy in Lowry’s eyes: “Despite all manner of career-friendly gifts – from her looks to solid acting chops – she’s limited herself by appearing determined to prove she can be as dirty and distasteful as the boys …”
While it’s understandable that Lowry’s apparently sexist sensibilities have outraged readers, it’s sort of unbelievable that his views are even being taken that seriously at all, given how off the mark the piece is. Archaic gender stereotyping aside, Lowry seems to misapprehend the nature of Silverman’s fame, while making ill-advised assumptions about the aspirations of comics in general:
Comics often impress each other with that kind of bawdy fare (see "The Aristocrats"), but Silverman frequently seems to be playing more toward those peers and a loyal cadre of fans than a broader audience that’s apt to be turned off by the questionable stuff, which feels more about shock value than cleverness. … This isn’t meant to suggest that female comics can’t work blue. The lament here is that in the wrong hands it can feel gratuitous or become a crutch, whereas unlike many of her contemporaries, Silverman has enough tools that she can and should do more.
I suspect that when Lowry says "the wrong hands" he means the "wrong" face or body: an attractive and feminine one. And when he speaks of her less talented contemporaries, I hope he's talking about professional comics at large, not just female comedians. But given the overall tone of the review, I worry that it's the latter. Why try and be funny and provocative when you can use your looks to achieve "mainstream" success, Lowry appears to suggest -- seeming to forget that Silverman has been at the top of her game pretty much since she first got into the game. (We reached out to Lowry for comment, but he refused.)
Perhaps Lowry needed to present Silverman -- arguably the best-known living female comic in America -- as less successful than she actually is in order to couch his criticism of her in artificially supportive "I’m-only-saying-this-for-your-own-good" terms. He casts Silverman as a failure for not having achieved the kind of so-called mainstream success emblemized by a network sitcom deal -- something that would restrict Silverman from doing what she does best and what makes Lowry squeamish. Yes, Silverman did develop a “failed pilot” (her words) for NBC this year. She later posted the pilot on YouTube and said in the intro that NBC “probably did the right thing” by passing on it. In a separate interview with Variety, she conceded that “network TV is just not the place for me.” (The pilot is pretty good; you can watch it here.)
One of Lowry’s more perplexing jabs is his dig on the choice of venue where “We are Miracles” was filmed. He declines to name it, referring to it only as a “39 seat room,” which he says “offers a pretty good metaphor for [Silverman’s] career, opting for the intimacy of the side room instead of the main stage.”
As any comic, or anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Los Angeles will tell you, Largo is hardly a “side room”: It’s where established performers, like Louis C.K., who Lowry admires, regularly come to connect with loyal fans –and where Tig Notaro performed a career-and-history-making standup set, which Louis C.K. helped make famous. Dismissing Largo’s significance and influence in Los Angeles betrays a significant ignorance about the nature of the business.
Even more bizarre – and telling – is the appearance of Maureen Dowd in Lowry’s review: He references Dowd’s recent New York Times op-ed on Silverman, which he characterized as senseless, as evidence that the comic “still has admirers.” Who knew that Silverman’s admirers were in such short supply these days? And was this random diversion an opportunity to mock the feminist columnist, or feminism – even women -- in general? Only Lowry knows.