Variety's television critic Brian Lowry let slip a bizarre opinion this morning while reviewing Sarah Silverman's upcoming HBO comedy special We Are Miracles—namely, that because she's a woman, she shouldn't be "as dirty as the guys." Uh. What?
Lowry wastes no time diving into his outdated views towards female comedians. His article is called "Sarah Silverman's Bad Career Move: Being As Dirty As The Guys," a jab that immediately indicates that it's not raunch that he takes umbrage with, just raunch coming from the mouth of a woman. It quickly goes from bad to worse. "Despite all manner of career-friendly gifts—from her looks to solid acting chops," he writes, "she's limited herself by appearing determined to prove she can be as dirty and distasteful as the boys."
He then takes an inexplicable jab at New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, chastising her profile on Silverman as palling around, explaining "for reasons that, like a lot of Dowd's random pop-culture-related musings, must have made sense to her." Ultimately, Lowry doesn't actually review the special, choosing to further hammer home his point that due to the chromosomal abnormality of possessing two X chromosomes, Silverman is too bawdy for his taste.
Articles like this are infuriating for a number of reasons—primarily the suggestion that female comedians can't be as raunchy as their male counteraprts. This sort of gender essentialism is troubling coming from a layperson, but coming from a seasoned journalist at a reputable entertainment news publication? It's disgusting. Lowry never once rails against raunchy comedy in general—and let's be honest, this sort of article would never be written about a male comedian. He has often written in Variety how he finds Louis C.K. "moodily brilliant," but has never once written about finding the male comedian's jokes to be distasteful, despite the fact that one of C.K.'s more famous bits is "You can figure out how bad a person you are by how soon after September 11th you masturbated." While women are striving to shatter the glass ceiling in every industry right now, and doing a damn good job of it, Lowry wants to enforce outdated gender politics down the throat of a female comedian, who by all measures, is already quite successful in her field.
Also insulting is his insinuation that Silverman's shtick is just an attempt to prove she can hang with male comedians. After 22 years of a career that originated from a season spent on Saturday Night Live, Silverman has put an immense amount of work into her brand of humor, and it's earned her an Emmy, multiple TV shows, and a number of movie roles. I'm not Silverman's biggest fan (I wrote just a month ago how little I enjoyed her failed NBC pilot), but it's abundantly clear that the kind of jokes she makes are jokes that make her laugh. Often times those things are vaginas, boobs, and singing the word 'cunt' for over a minute straight. To suggest that two decades worth of work is merely an attempt to try to be like someone else—that someone else being an entire sex—is condescending, offensive, and dismissive of her entire body of work.
Lowry's misogyny shines prominently even when he's attempting to backhandedly compliment Silverman. His primary metric of her ability to succeed is her attractiveness, followed by an afterthought nod to her acting ability. After digging through more than 50 of Lowry's other reviews, not once has there been a mention of a male actor's looks in any review, positive or negative. Why now? Why is Silverman's appearance up for debate? Lowry's sexism was already reaching a fever pitch by expounding on how Silverman is just attempting to vie with male comedians, but by dragging her aesthetically pleasing face into the mix, he's essentially stating that a large part of her "talent" comes from a lucky gift of genetics, rather than years of working her ass off to become one of the most famous comedians of her generation—not just one of the most famous female comedians.
To add insult to injury, Lowry barely reviews Silverman's We Are Miracles—the one job he was tasked to do. His half-hearted attempt at encapsulating his thoughts on a couple of the jokes are immediately overshadowed again by the fact that he's made it clear the only reason the jokes don't fly for him, are because he thinks that as a woman, she shouldn't be making them. He tries to excuse his outdated mindset by stating "such judgments are highly subjective, but" before complaining about her bits. Okay Brian, my opinion is subjective, but you're an asshole. He mentions that she plays to a small room of just 39 guests, but never once talks about how the material was received, instead offering a weak metaphor between the small venue and the small career Silverman has limited herself to, because, ya know, mouthy broads are their own worst enemies, am I right?!
I'm not angry because I'm a woman. I'm not even angry because I'm a woman, who writes comedy, has made a career off of raunchy written missives, and am currently going through one of the monthly joys of womanhood—a joy I'm sure Lowry would assume renders me reduced to a rage-riddled chocolate fiend for the next four and a half days. I'm angry because it's these types of attitudes that should have disappeared by 2013, yet somehow keep cropping up. Jerry Lewis said in 1998 that he didn't think women were funny. Christopher Hitchens wrote a similar piece for Vanity Fair in 2007. Gil Greengross at Psychology Today did as well, and used arbitrary "scientific research" to back his claim in 2011. Adam Carrolla infamously echoed the same 'women aren't funny' bullshit to The New York Post in 2012. It's not surprising that every one of these opinons comes from a man. Just off the top of my head I can think of hundreds of hilarious female comedians, actresses and writers who could prove that line of thought wrong by their mere existence, but I won't list them. Doing so would be pejorative, and really, has anyone ever asked for a binder full of men to prove that they are indeed funny?
Perhaps Silverman said it best of all, just two days ago, on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes: "I think vaginas really, really scare people."