In her first HBO comedy special in a decade, Sarah Silverman returns to Home Box Office with a new hour, the first for Max, that continues to lean into her Jewishness while also demonstrating the cleverness of her dirty mind. Is this what we need in 2023? Or is this what we definitely need right about now?
SARAH SILVERMAN: SOMEONE YOU LOVE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: This is Silverman’s fourth comedy special overall. Her first was the 2005 concert film Jesus Is Magic, followed by her Emmy-winning We Are Miracles in 2013, and a Netflix hour in 2017 with A Speck of Dust.
Since then, she has kept rather busy, what with hosting a talk show for Hulu (I Love You, America), starting a podcast, adapting her memoir “The Bedwetter” into an off-Broadway musical, and guest-hosting The Daily Show earlier this year.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: Who’s another famous Jewish comedian who grew up in Manchester, N.H., and also likes to sing? Adam Sandler. But really, Silverman at 52 set the tone for a generation of women in stand-up comedy to be as edgy as they wanted to be.
Memorable Jokes: After a cute backstage bit in which Silverman pretends to be a mom of triplets, she takes the stage in Boston and delivers a whammy of a one-liner, asking us “What did the Jewish mother say to her porn-star daughter after watching her in a gang-bang?”
Some of her best bits in this hour seem at first like tangents.
A story about walking with her diarrhea-stricken best friend (there’s so much diarrhea talk in the first half that Silverman even starts asking audience members about their pooping proclivities) leads them in front of a Catholic school, where she can wonder why the Boy Scouts had to suffer because of molesting troop leaders (and offer her own solution, “like a Ring camera,” which she sells us on, Shark Tank-style), question why Catholic schoolgirls would still dress in the same uniforms porn actresses wear, and also shout at the children: “There is no Hell!” Spoiler alert?! “Did I ruin Hell for them?” She also dares God to strike her down if there is a Hell. So definitely a spoiler alert there.
She also pitches an alternative for pro-life abortion protestors to make their posters even more realistic, lets us know why she uses Cottonelle toilet paper while being alarmed into an existential crisis by one of their TV commercials, and has some helpful tips for anyone reluctant to start learning people’s preferred pronouns. First, she suggests trying is all it takes, much like pretending to speak French in France so the natives don’t think you’re rude and react in kind. She also demonstrates that it’s not that difficult to remember once it becomes popular: “We learned Galifianakis after just one Hangover movie.”
Our Take: Silverman has long played fast and loose with the edges of tastefulness and propriety in her humor, sometimes finding herself in hot water (“hot water” was a phrase old people used before “cancelled”) for it. But she leans even more into her Jewishness here than perhaps ever before. Why?
Perhaps the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism in America has gotten her riled up enough to double down on her style of comedy.
“I’m selling out my culture for laughs,” she says, adding: “What could be authentically Jewish? I can’t help it. It makes me so much money.”
Especially when she can make you think of Hitler’s book title as distinctly Jewish, then casually suggest naming her hour “My Struggle,” just to confuse the German viewers who watch it in translation.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Whether or not Silverman is in your Top 4 all-time great comedians, she continues to command our attention. Be sure to watch all the way through, because after she says good-night, she takes to the piano for an original song that builds into a power ballad with strings and a full choir. She’s got “Something To Tell You,” indeed.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat. He also podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.