The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman
Sarah Silverman’s book, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, is hilarious and quirky, full of dirty words and filthy stories and yet, above all else, it’s quite touching. It’s refreshing to see Silverman strip off the absurdist façade and speak honestly. Though it’s a change of pace for fans of her silly, and oftentimes controversial, on-stage persona, it’s not necessarily a total change of style. It’s simply a redirection of substance.
When Steve Martin wrote his autobiography, Born Standing Up, he did so determined to show the struggle of a headlining comedian. He showed us how difficult the road to the top was, and how much of a constant battle it was to stay there. Born Standing Up showed the “tears of a clown,” “the war years.” Silverman doesn’t attempt to replicate Martin’s brilliant memoir, by fitting the hurdles of breaking through into the business around her particular story, instead she assumes most readers know her story, and poses the memoir as a companion piece to her material. A book for the real fans. Something like a director’s commentary of her career.
There is a very particular genre of literature that her book falls into. The greatest comedians before her, from Martin to Groucho Marx to Lenny Bruce to Rodney Dangerfield, all wrote their own take on the comedian’s memoir – a balance of humor and self-criticism, in an attempt to justify the seriousness of a world most don’t take seriously. Silverman’s book fits neatly into the upper echelon of these memoirs, showcasing both her unique story and her unique voice.
The Bedwetter isn’t full of rambling descriptions of pastoral settings; it’s full of wild characters, and ridiculous circumstances. It’s a book about her grandparents, and her friends growing up, and the alternative comedians she grew up with, and a crazy homeless man who swept the sidewalk outside a comedy club she worked at. It’s about her depression, and her bedwetting, and her misdiagnoses in childhood psychoanalysis. It’s also about dressing silly, and being hairy, and dropping acid, and accidentally stabbing Al Franken in the head with a pencil.
There is a basic linear storyline that remains jam-packed with interesting events, and humorous anecdotes, but unfortunately as her career grows, and her actions become more consequential, the story begins to slow down. As topics become more current, there isn’t the same sense of reflective absurdity to the events. Without use of her alter-ego, topical bits that would otherwise kill as comedy routines, lag on the written page.
As readers we want to know about what goes on off-stage during Steve Martin’s “war years.” We don’t necessarily care about what goes on off-stage during Cheaper by the Dozen 2. Silverman is at her best reminiscing about late-night writer’s room sessions and taking long digressions to explain inside jokes between her other comedian friends. At its best The Bedwetter is an account of an entire generation of comedians: the 90s alternative set of odd kids in Harvard Lampoon-led writer’s rooms. When Silverman recalls stories of staying up late making poop jokes it reads as a heartfelt reminder of how the comedians you love today got their start. When she defends herself from national controversies she was a part of, it reads like redundant reminders of why she’s important enough to have written a memoir. Silverman doesn’t need to remind the reader. She’s got a great story to tell and she tells it with poise
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