Sarah Silvermans is back with the toilet humor, but over the lectures. (Photo/Courtesy HBO)
Sarah Silvermans is back with the toilet humor, but over the lectures. (Photo/Courtesy HBO)

Sarah Silverman’s new special is her best argument yet for loving Jews (with digestive issues)

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This story was originally published in the Forward.

Early in the pandemic, Sarah Silverman tried (and largely failed) to win us back with diarrhea.

When Gal Gadot’s infamous “Imagine” video failed to win the hearts and minds of the masses — and Silverman’s own grunting contribution drew groans — the comic posted an Instagram video of herself on the toilet singing a line from John Lennon’s ballad in a moment of intestinal distress.

It was pure Silverman: scatological and just this side of sincere.

“Someone You Love,” Silverman’s first stand-up special since 2017, is not for the toilet-humor averse. The comedian speaks to the branding difficulty of prunes (whose reputation as a “shit fruit” precedes them) and, in an elaborate musical number, likens someone’s breath to an everything bagel, where the seeds are “human shit.” Of course, she also links bowel movements back to the tribe.

Midway through, she recalls a sign at a ritzy Hawaiian hotel that read “if you have diarrhea, or have had diarrhea in the past two weeks, you are not permitted in our pool.” She takes a beat before saying: “I mean, just say it: ‘No Jews allowed.’” Talk about restricted.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the hour, which has no major thematic thrust beyond Jewishness and its ironclad covenant with Kaopectate, would be overshadowed by antisemitism.

For the past few years, Silverman has been sounding the alarm on her podcast, demanding gentile allyship for Jews at the height of Black Lives Matter’s racial reckoning, debunking myths of Jewish power and kicking off a whole debate about “Jewface,” even as images of her in Blackface flooded the internet.

Silverman’s remarks were a lot of things — semi-educational, sometimes valid and just as often over precious and pick-me persecuted — but they weren’t funny. Silverman seems to know it, and even makes it a joke.

Her podcast earnestness, prompted by a rise in antisemitism, presents a conundrum as she shifts from advocacy to art.

“My boyfriend goes, ‘Yeah, but then you do stand-up and you’re like “Jews are gross, Jews have diarrhea,’” Silverman says. She tries to rationalize it, but, in the end admits the dissonance. “I’m selling out my culture for laughs. When you think about it, what could be more authentically Jewish!”

In a landscape of comedy that broaches Jew hate — Marc Maron’s last few showsAlex Edelman’s “Just For Us” and more — Silverman’s special is nowhere as strident.

There are new Nazis but they don’t know how to make a car.

If points are made, they’re in the form of punchlines: Did Holocaust badges inspire Lucky Charms marshmallows? Did you know Hitler molested his niece — why not, he already killed 6 million Jews? Siri is an antisemite, and a working title for the special was “Sarah Silverman’s My Struggle” to get a rise out of German audiences in translation. (Hey, it worked for Knausgaard.)

It’s maybe telling that, after producing so much material about Jews who drive German cars, Silverman admits to owning one. Nazis are dead, anyway, she reasons.

“There are new Nazis but they don’t know how to make a car.” (No comment re: Tesla.)

Acknowledging her contradictions, and advancing no obvious agenda, Silverman makes a more human argument for loving Jews than her Instagram speeches or search for “pro-Semites” as a woman on the street. Her most political act is not in calling out antisemites, but feeding them red meat and not caring for the consequences.

In a time when rumors of grooming run amok, Silverman jokes about placing cameras in the anuses of young men to make sure they’re not molested. With Christian nationalism on the march, she demands Catholic schoolgirl uniforms be retired (porn ruined them) and talks about her compulsion to tell Christian children that hell is a hoax.

The Silverman who’s anxious about courting antisemitism maybe wouldn’t go there. But, the Silverman who received death threats for a bit about killing Jesus, would do it and do it again. Neither approach is wrong, per se, but one is certainly more entertaining.

At least for me, “Someone You Love” is a return to form for Silverman, a more winning form of fearless Jewishness than her explicit calls for action. It’s nice to see that she still knows when to make the hard pivot from sincerity to poop. This time it worked. Imagine that.

PJ Grisar
PJ Grisar

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].