Monday, January 22, 2007

On The Verge: Sarah Silverman

There are those actors you first witness on an insurance spot or in a walk-on role on Friends or with three lines in some indie thing on IFC and you know immediately, instinctively that this person is destined for greatness. I beheld Sarah Silverman for the first time at an LA comedy club about six years ago and was awestruck.

In the alternative stand up comedy scene, jokes are eschewed in favor of longwinded, confessional anecdotes that circuitously meander off into unrelated tangents before finally, hopefully finding their way to a big blow.

Sarah Silverman, however, tells jokes. Old school misdirections. Set ups and punchlines. Granted, brutally frank and borderline pornographic, but jokes nonetheless. And while Silverman’s material may seem obscene, it’s often inexplicably sophisticated. The dirty jokes are rooted in the quirky, psychological profile which manifests whenever Silverman, in squeaky voice and pigtails, takes the stage. She reveals everything about herself, from peculiar traits to vulgar fantasies to naivete of grown-up things.

And yet, Sarah Silverman reigns supreme as a leading lady of alterna-comedy, challenged only -- maybe -- by Janeane Garafalo, Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho and Karen Kilgariff,

For years, the pretty comic has been perched on the precipice of fabulous fame. She joined Saturday Night Live as a featured performer along with Jay Mohr during of the 1993-94 season. The following year SNL introduced the doomed transitional cast of fellow alterna-comics Janeane Garafalo and Laura Kightlinger, Letterman-alum Chris Elliot, Spinal Tap’s Michael McKean and a couple of former Kids-in-the-Hall. Silverman and Mohr were ousted, replaced by a group who would soon be rebuked as well. Mohr soon found himself on the path to movie stardom, playing slimy agent Bob Sugar opposite Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. Silverman, however, returned to Los Angeles and stand up.

Sarah Silverman next appeared in several guest-starring roles on television, most notably as Wendy the New Writer on The Larry Sanders Show, Emily on Seinfeld and Rain Robinson in the two part episode: “Future’s End” on Star Trek: Voyager. Silverman also guested with the cast of the acclaimed HBO sketch comedy series Mr. Show with Bob and Dave. She is featured in several bits including the classic “Up Your Mom’s Butt” sketch.

In 1997, she joined Mr. Show’s Dave, David Cross, in her feature film debut, “Who’s The Caboose?” written and directed by comic/actor Sam Seder and also starring Andy Dick, Kathy Griffin and Sarah’s sister Laura Silverman (Laura, the receptionist on Dr. Katz). Sarah continued to knock around Hollywood for the next year, playing bit roles in films like Bulworth.

Then, Sarah Silverman played One of Mary’s Friends -- the funny one -- in the Farrelly Brothers’ runaway comedy hit There’s Something About Mary in 1998. Her role as the pottymouthed buddy to Cameron Diaz’ man-troubled Mary opened new doors for Silverman. She was next cast as Norm MacDonald’s spurned girlfriend in Pittsburgh, the latest outing from the writing team of The People vs. Larry Flynt, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. This was followed by a role in Chris O’Donnell’s production, The Bachelor with O’Donnell, Renee Zellweger, Brooke Shields and James Cromwell, to boot.

In January 1999, Silverman inked a deal with Columbia TriStar Television to create a vehicle for herself based on her one-woman show, Susan Plays Cheese, executive produced by veteran TV producer Larry Charles. Her appearances on TV talk shows doubled; she was featured in the Esquire “breasts” issue; she did a fashion layout in Mirabella. Sarah Silverman is definitely on her way.

And for good reason. Sarah is not the funniest woman alive. There is no need to qualify the funniest with any gender. Sarah is the funniest person on the planet.

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