For those who know Sarah Silverman’s comedy, you know that she excels in a certain kind of humor. To be blunt, her stock in trade are jokes about pee, poop, and rape. It’s not the kind of comedy for the whole family, but she is pretty funny at times (while other times, she tries too hard to find “the funny” in the material that’s in her bailiwick). But the subtitle of her autobiography, “Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee” is both humorous and on the mark — at least for some of the book.
Sarah’s life was fairly middle class growing up, but the fact that she had a problem wetting the bed for years (until she was 16, in fact) meant the shame that comes with this problem (often it’s the result of having a small bladder) stigmatized her in many ways. Her parents tried to get her help with psychologists and psychiatrists, but both proved to be far worse than one can imagine. One prescribed Xanax and told her to “take a pill whenever she feels sad” — which is basically giving a 13 year old permission to self-medicate. Another tried to hypnotize her out of depression (and bedwetting) and failed miserably. She spent a year out of school because of depression, and because of her height (she didn’t sprout up ’til she was 16), was often the kid no one wanted to be around at camp and the like. Now, we all have stigmas growing up, but somehow Silverman is able to wrap all that pain into a rather funny series of tales that has a powerful underbelly of sadness.
It’s the first third of the book I found really compelling, but by the time she grew up, stopped wetting the bed, and got a career going in stand-up comedy and TV, the book starts to flail. What I found particularly annoying was the tone the book took after the first third. She went from telling really interesting and sad stories about her life, to a kind of self-absorbed (and princess-like) examination of her career in TV. More than once she tells the reader that she obsessively Googles herself to read what others are saying about her. She also focuses on so-so stories of moments when her career was not thriving at SNL, or the problems she had with her own TV show rather than her break up with Jimmy Kimmel, for example.
Instead, these tales of being a famous comedian often come across as “Don’t you idiots know what kind of comic genius you’re dealing with here!” When she drops the mask of celebrity, the book shines with honesty, pathos, and real humor. However, when she gets into princess “Me! Me! Me!” mode, the material in the book feels like it’s built on an artifice of plastic.