October 4, 2007
Humor me a moment here. Sarah Silverman and Ann Coulter share an obvious similarity: they each make a rather nice living saying things that would be unspeakable if they were not attractive Caucasian women, veiling their statements beneath a gossamer cloak of irony. I’m kind of tying my brain in knots trying to figure out whether they don’t actually share the exact same appeal for our culture. It seems any statement I could imagine applying to one — “Well, clearly she doesn’t actually believe the things she says; she’s playing a character” — applies to the other just as nicely. Or is patently untrue in both cases — e.g. “No one believes what she says; people understand she’s just joking.”
Sure, many people who adore Silverman would say they revile Coulter. But the grip she holds on even their attention seems to belie that — if Coulter were a man, she’d be Fred Phelps, ridiculous enough for them to gawk at once in a while, but not a fixture of the talk-show circuit. Certainly not a bestselling author. If we get right down to it, mightn’t we perversely enjoy the maniacal utterings of Ann Coulter as much as we do Sarah Silverman’s shtick? You can almost imagine either woman on stage, grinning flirtily, and saying, “Six imams removed from a US Airways flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix are calling on Muslims to boycott the airline. If only we could get Muslims to boycott all airlines, we could dispense with airport security altogether.”
Reading that line, though — which is Coulter’s — maybe it’s all just a matter of wit. ‘Cause actually, I can’t imagine Silverman saying it, not just like that, at any rate. Silverman’s lines are constructed, Coulter’s lines are merely dropped. Coulter might say a lot of over-the-line stuff about high pregnancy rates among young black women, but she doesn’t have the art or the timing to craft the line, “The best time to have a baby is when you’re a black teenager.” Coulter gets attention merely for saying the incendiary, Silverman’s principle skill is drawing her audience out for several lengthy seconds, trying to figure out how she’s going to end her sentence, then delivering a punchline that’s offensive in the most delightful, unexpected way.
But is that all that distinguishes the two? Wit? Really? I’m missing something obvious, aren’t I?