The XX Factor

Variety TV Critic to Sarah Silverman: Stop With That Mouth of Yours and Start Acting Like a Lady

Sarah Silverman says the F-word while not wearing a dress.

Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for OneKid OneWorld

“Ladylike”: A concept that was so clearly invented for the sole purpose of keeping women from having as much fun as men that it is finally dying an ignoble death, kept on life support only by your Great Uncle Morris, who really doesn’t think girls should talk like that. Oh, and Brian Lowry, TV critic for Variety. Earlier this week, Lowry denounced Sarah Silverman’s latest HBO special “We Are Miracles” because Silverman works blue. “Despite all manner of career-friendly gifts—from her looks to solid acting chops—she’s limited herself by appearing determined to prove she can be as dirty and distasteful as the boys,” he scolds. Clearly, if Silverman doesn’t shape up and learn to talk like a lady, her nascent career (now 20 years running) will die in the crib. 

It’s easy to be mad at Lowry for his condescending nonsense, but I’m actually in awe of his ability to hit nearly every major trope of the misogynist blowhard in a mere 500-word piece. 

There’s the concern trolling: “And if she really think saying “c—t” repeatedly is a form of artistic expression, more power to her, but in commercial terms, indulging those impulses comes at a price.”

The ominous threat that one day you’ll look back and wish you’d listened to your elders: “Frankly, it would be a shame if Sarah Silverman wound up confined to Comedy Central roasts and the occasional special, but that’s about as much mileage as can be expected from her act as presently constituted.”

The “I’m not really as sexist as these words I’m writing are making me sound” caveat: “This isn’t meant to suggest that female comics can’t work blue.”

Followed up by a demonstration that, no, that’s exactly what he’s doing: “The lament here is that in the wrong hands it can feel gratuitous or become a crutch, whereas unlike many of her contemporaries, Silverman has enough tools that she can and should do more.”

In other words, Lowry’s not saying that women can’t work blue. He’s just saying that if they do it, they’re hacks. (Also, he never holds male comedians to this standard.)

All of it wrapped up in a mansplaining frame that assumes that Silverman is an ingénue who is only making these choices because she has been naively manipulated into thinking she has to be one of the boys. Lowry doesn’t even entertain the possibility that Silverman really does have a perverse sense of humor and is using her act to express it.

So, yes, it’s a masterpiece. If only he’d had a little more space, Lowry could have suggested that Silverman’s going to die alone with her cats, or worry that young women in the audience are getting the wrong message. He did at least get in a dig at Maureen Dowd, who, according to Lowry, is one of Silverman’s few fans. Broads!