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Not the Opposite of What I Mean Sarah Silverman’s We Are Miracles and the Reality Principle Aleks Angelico Columbia College Chicago (2016)

In an interview with The Comic’s Comic reviewer Sean L. McCarthy, Sarah Silverman stated, “I’m actually saying what I mean and not the opposite of what I mean [in Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles].” Silverman’s declaration about her latest comedy special suggests that she’s no longer (explicitly) trying to push the envelope, but rather making a point. As such, the comedian is making a deliberate attempt to balance Freud’s pleasure and reality principles, unlike in her previous specials. By analyzing this change in Silverman’s style and delivery, we can discover the relationship between a comedian’s material and an audience’s response.

It is no surprise that comedians like Silverman take part in the pleasure principle. In Critical Media Studies: An Introduction, Ott and Mack define the pleasure principle as “the Watercooler Journal

Jun. 2014


uncontrollable human drive to satisfy desire,” and they point out that the process to attain this desire should be a pleasurable experience (151). A desire is not merely an object, but also an experience or process. In the case of stand-up comedians, the desire is laughter, i.e. audience satisfaction. Comedians work for laughs; they desire the audience’s approval. While Silverman too desires laughter from her audience, she is known for her very confrontational and controversial topics, e.g. race, sex, and politics. She not only works for laughs, but social justice as well. The reality principle—“The curbing of desire according to possibility, law, or social convention” (Ott 152)—is utilized to filter a comic’s material when presenting heavy or controversial topics. It is clear Silverman utilizes the reality principle in determining her material as well as its delivery in We Are Miracles. Allison Wilmore describes Silverman’s strong shift in tone and delivery: “We Are Miracles... finds a more mature Silverman letting glimpses of genuineness and frustration glimmer through between the jokes about vaginal odors and jerk-off techniques.” These jokes matched with the messages of natural feminine beauty and men being emotional are prime examples of how Silverman maintains the unique and vulgar sense of humor that gives her pleasure, while presenting a more realistic and personable motive behind her jokes.

“…this is a ‘game changer’ for her career, acting as a vessel for the matured comic to advance as both a comedian and a professional, balancing her material with the pleasure and reality principles, proving a correlation between comic’s material and personal experience.” While Silverman enjoys crossing the line with her material, certain kinds of jokes and subjects typically covered in her sets are never touched upon in this special. We Are Miracles lacks the edgy racial bits famous to Silverman, e.g. her “I Hate Knickers” sketch. Although her set here seems uncharacteristically “white washed,” it is apparent that her choices were made with the reality principle in mind. Silverman has received a multitude of bad reception for her racial jokes, specifically from Guy Aoki and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans in response to her use of an Asian slur. Controversial reception like this has limited Silverman’s success as a comedian. Her 2012 pilot Susan 313 was not picked up by NBC, causing her to Watercooler Journal

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reexamine what she enjoys putting in her work compared to what she wants her audience to receive from her output (Weisman “Sarah…”). It is clear that the reality principle was a vital factor in deciding Silverman’s set topics regarding family, body image, and aging as well as the selection of a small, neutral, and friendly audience used for this special (McCarthy “Reviewed…”).

Though Silverman’s humor naturally pushes boundaries, it is clear the pleasure and reality principles are considered in the production of her work. As Silverman describes in We Are Miracles, this is a “game changer” for her career, acting as a vessel for the matured comic to advance as both a comedian and a professional, balancing her material with the pleasure and reality principles, proving a correlation between comic’s material and personal experience. Silverman’s work merits psychoanalytic analysis as her creative process embodies a prime example of how a comic’s reception directly influences its future output.

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works cited McCarthy, Sean L. "Reviewed: Sarah Silverman’s We Are Miracles (HBO)." The Comic’s Comic. n.p., 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Ott, Brian L. and Robert L. Mack. Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. West Sussex: WileyBlackwell, 2010. Print. Silverman, Sarah. Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles. Home Box Office (HBO). Los Angeles, California, 23 Nov. 2013. Television. Weisman, Jon. "Sarah Silverman and Susan 313: Where Was Cable?" Variety. n.p., 22 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. Wilmore, Allison. "Why It's Not Shock Value That Makes Sarah Silverman an Edgy Comic." Indiewire. N.p., 21 Nov. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. additional links provided by author:

image credits, in order: ©HBO Studios ©Showtime Watercooler Journal

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"Not the Opposite of What I Mean" - Sarah Silverman's WE ARE MIRACLES and the Reality Principle  

Sarah Silverman turns a new leaf to make Freud happy. By Aleks Angelico, from our Jun. 2014 issue.

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