Sarah Silverman’s autobiography is not the kind of book I’d usually read. When it comes to comedians I’d rather watch their stand-up. There are a few exceptions – Lenny Bruce’s book and the collection of Bill Hicks’ stand-up – but Sarah Silverman is not a comedian that I really love. There’s the odd joke here and there that makes me laugh and of course who didn’t love her music video (although I actually thought Jimmy Kimmel’s celebrity studded response was just as amazing), but I’ve never really become a huge fan.
Most autobiographies attempt to provide some kind of insight into the person. Not so with Silverman’s. Reading it one gets the impression that she uses humour to keep others at arm’s length, the laughs making you forget that you’re not actually gaining a deeper understanding of the writer. The title gives away the central issue of Silverman’s childhood and the early chapters of the book. Her bedwetting problem ensured that she was shy and felt ashamed and isolated for her early years. Normal childhood events like going away to camp and attending sleepovers were occasions for Silverman to be crippled with anxiety.
Although pages are given over to describing the nightmares involving Silverman’s bladder, she glosses over her parents’ divorce and barely talks about her brother’s death, two things which must have been very traumatic. These two events may have contributed to her teenage depression which lead to her seeing a psychiatrist and subsequently taking up to 16 Xanax a day. Here she gives a truly brilliant depiction of what it’s like to be depressed, saying “I felt homesick, but I was home.”
The chapter of transcriptions of her father’s answering machine messages is utterly heartwarming. Mr. Silverman ends every phone message by telling his daughter he loves her, sometimes even saying it more than once. Her father also supported her when she was establishing herself as a comedian and one gets the sense that he was her first and fiercest champion. It’s also interesting to read her take on her transgressive comedy, in particular when she discusses racism and the joke that lead to her being banned from NBC and castigated by the public.
All in all The Bedwetter is an entertaining read and for fans of Silverman it’s a must have. I personally would rather she had been as brave as she seems to be on stage and been emotionally honest and vulnerable in her writing. But maybe that’s asking too much. After all, what is comedy if not a form of defence against the world?