Congratulations are in order for Sarah Silverman: her new show, The Sarah Silverman Program, has single-handedly debunked Christopher Hitchens's assertation that women aren't funny, and as a result, she has won my contest. (I don't know whether she was aware of the contest, but I firmly believe that she was -- and that, in response, she scrambled to create a sitcom in one month. Oh, Sarah, you didn't have to go to all that trouble just for me!)
Let me tell you, selecting the winner was no picnic. An overwhelming number of readers responded to my challenge to make Christopher Hitchens laugh, enough to form an entire comedic Lilith Fair (an idea suggested to me by female humorist Patricia Pearson). Some contributions were classically vulgar:
I speak 14 industries fluently. Take medicine. My sister, Nurse Barb, told me about a guy who died with his feet over his head. "Feet over your head" means you're lying in bed with your feet are elevated higher than your head, but I thought, Wow...how humiliating was that? I mean you live a good life. But then you check out with your butt facing the world. (Gloria Christie)
Two bums are walking down the railroad tracks. One sniffs the air,
looks at the other and asks, "Did you shit your pants?"
The other bum says "Yeah."
Indignant, the first bum says "Well, you could at least wipe your
The second bum says "I will! But I ain't DONE yet." (Bob King)
Some were ad-hominem attacks on Mr. Hitchens himself (unlikely to make him laugh, but a delight to the rest of us):
Guy walks into a bar with a drunken donkey.
Bartender says "Where'd you get the drunken ass?"
Guy says "That's no drunken ass, that's Chris Hitchens." ("Slowpoke")
Make Hitchens laugh? Easy. Just pour another gallon of gin down him. ("ProfessorDuh")
This should make him laugh...
We think you're a journalist." ("Paisano")
Others attacked his conservative politics:
Around my friends, all I have to do is say "president Bush" and it raises all kinds of laughter, from sardonic to embarrassment. (Dale Christofferson)
I think Christopher Hitchens' position on the Middle East is a scream.
It would be hard to come up with anything as hilarious as that. (Marjorie David)
Just show Hitch a picture of Lyndie Englund and the naked *detainees*, I bet he laughs his fetid NeoCon jock-sniffing ass off. ("LiarLiarIraqsOnFire")
Tickle him with Mother Theresa's secret Swiss bank account number. ("Gala")
Several were straight-up marriage proposals, but they were from men, so they were disqualified:
I know we have never met, but, putting all that aside, please consider marrying me, or at least remaining permanently in my Manhattan apartment (to come and go as you please)....I also can provide unrelenting appreciation for your sardonic style, being that I am a bit of a deadpan smartass....I, for one, will put the world of Manhattan at your feet and fingertips. (Doug Cherno)
I got very excited by the following contribution, which I found to be the funniest of them all:
So, this hefty, faggy, Jewish chick meets Mr. Hitchens in a bar. After many, many drinks, Mr. Hitchens is sure he has literally charmed the pants off her, for they have tumbled into his bed. She invites Mr. Hitchens, as a special treat, to stick his head up her hefty, faggy, Jewish personal female cavity. After he's enthusiastically obliged, she then informs him that actually he has stuck his head up his very own personal anal cavity. Ah, the joke is on Mr. Hitchens! How can he suppress his mirth? ("MerlaClamps")
I was all set to declare MerlaClamps the winner, until it occurred to me that the name "Merla Clamps" sounded suspiciously familiar -- a certain someone's childhood imaginary friend. I investigated, and sure enough, MerlaClamps was my own mother. (Not cool, Mom!) She was promptly disqualified.
I was getting discouraged in my search for a winner, and wondered if I would have to call the contest off...but then, last night, I watched The Sarah Silverman Program on Comedy Central, and all at once I knew there was no contest. Sarah Silverman wins hands-down.
It's not just that she's one funny lady (although she certainly is, as anyone who saw The Aristocrats or Jesus Is Magic can attest). It's that her style of humor is so different and unusual, so unlike that of any other comedienne and yet at the same time so distinctively female, that it's downright newsworthy.
Funny women on TV (and in the movies and on paper and, heck, in real life) tend to apologize for their funniness, balancing out their goofiness with sympathetic victimhood. Sitcom heroines have always been hapless or lovably neurotic, from the accident-prone Lucy Ricardo (remember when Ricky actually spanked her to teach her a lesson?) to the hand-flapping worrywart Rachel Green on Friends to our current lineup of other people's anxious, eager-to-please girlfriends on Scrubs, The Office, and How I Met Your Mother. Even Elaine was generally the most levelheaded and warmhearted member of the Seinfeld gang, too cute and reasonable to be as loathsome as the guys. And as far as stand-up comedy (Ms. Silverman's specialty) goes, the best comediennes are blushingly self-effacing (Margaret Cho) or just plain nice (Ellen DeGeneres).
Sarah Silverman's TV persona may as well be from another universe, because she is an asshole. Her delivery is deceptively sweet and girlish, but it is with an utter lack of shame or self-awareness that she gaily sings in the pilot episode: "I really love my life and I'll also tell you what / If I find a stick I'll put it in your mama's butt / And pull it out and stick the doody in her eye!" She considers a crowded children's playground a good place to crash her car; and when a traffic cop demands her license, she presents him with a drawing of a penis. You think that's rude? Next week, she will racially insult God Himself -- and then kick Him out of her bed after seducing Him.
You could argue that this style of comedy is more male, in the tradition of sociopathic jerks in arrested development, like Homer Simpson or Larry David. But the world they occupy is different: these men are recognized as assholes by everyone around them, and as a result they get yelled at, beaten up, or otherwise cut down to size in every episode. Ms. Silverman occupies a different universe: she is adored and admired by everyone around her, from her devoted sister Laura ("She never took any lessons!" Laura marvels as Sarah, seeking attention, breaks into a robotic dance) to the gay couple next door to the black woman in the drugstore, no matter how nasty and hateful she is toward all of them. She's like an extreme parody of that spoiled brat who was so inexplicably popular at school, or like that girl I once knew who signed all her e-mails with the heart-dotted signature: ****Everybody luvs me and i love u all too!!!!****
Furthermore, Ms. Silverman can elevate bathroom humor to a level beyond your wildest dreams. So much for Christopher Hitchens's point that women don't care for filth. And so much for his observation that "women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is." Sarah Silverman gets the last laugh on that one, for she has it both ways: her life on the show is fair, sweet, and a sordid mess -- one that she has no intention of cleaning up. With every cruel line she delivers, her big black eyes sparkle, as if to say: "Isn't life grand when you're a pretty, privileged girl? Oh, you wouldn't know, would you?"
Christopher Hitchens certainly wouldn't. Whether or not she manages to keep her show on the air, Ms. Silverman can bask in the knowledge that she got the better of him. And you, ladies (and gentlemen!), can do your part by watching her: The Sarah Silverman Program is on Comedy Central every Thursday night at 10:30.