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Read: The Bedwetter

2010/05/15

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee

By Sarah Silverman

New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

pp. xv + 240. $28.99

Despite being best known as an edgy and sassy comedienne with a taste for blue language, Sarah Silverman’s autobiography, The Bedwetter, is surprisingly serious and tender. The stereotype of comics having hard lives holds true for Silverman, which quickly becomes evident in the first few chapters of the book. That’s not to say the book isn’t funny. In fact, it is borderline amazing the way Silverman weaves humor and spunk into every memory, no matter how tragic.

Take, for example, the chapter about her relationship with her Nana, entitled “My Nana Was Great But Now is Dead”. She beautifully unravels her Nana’s complicated relationship with a cruel and senile husband without becoming either too romanticizing or trying too hard for pathos. Similarly, she recalls her teenaged years and a struggle against depression, including a shocking period of being prescribed 14 Xanax a day, with the same aplomb. Silverman skillfully navigates the fine line between telling a sad story and digging for sympathy.

Bedwetting, however, is the main trope running through most of the book, both as a source of shame and of strength.  Silverman was a bedwetter well into her teen years, despite the efforts of her parents and the medical establishment.  Being a bedwetter becomes the way through which Silverman comes to define herself, even through the death of a sibling, her parents’ divorce, clinical depression, and aspiring comic. Later, having conquered bedwetting, Silverman cites it as the reason she is able to do standup:

“But maybe my lack of stage fright was the upside of years of nightly bedwetting. Maybe that daily shame had ground away at my psyche, like glaciers against the coastline, so that somewhere in my consciousness , I understood that bombing on stage could never be as humiliating. My early trauma was a gift, it turned out, in a vocation where your best headspace is feeling that you have nothing to lose” (74).

 Thankfully, like with most people, blossoming out of the awkward highschool years was a transformative time for Silverman. She moved to New York City, and pursued comedy stardom. She details her one year stint at Saturday Night Live, her film Jesus is Magic, and the resulting creation of her Comedy Central show The Sarah Silverman Program. She lovingly describes her relationships with co-stars and writing team, blending into the narrative commentary on censorship, racism, and equality. She never becomes too preachy on these subjects, but nor does she shy away from making her political positions known.

Those unfamiliar with Silverman’s stand up routines or her show should be warned: Silverman’s persona deliberately takes on the most ignorant and racist stances possible in a complexly ironic form of social critique. It is easy to fall in to the trap of mistaking the context and subtext of her jokes. Plus, she has a penchant for bawdy humour and relishes fart jokes. Those who do not care about the struggle to get the word labia past Standards and Practices will probably find little to laugh at. Furthermore, Silverman omits practically all mention of her former relationship with Jimmy Kimmel; her fans will be left wanting much more in this regard, as a noticeably large chunk of her life seems to be missing. Of course, Silverman gets to decide how much of herself she reveals to the public, and is perfectly within her rights to stay silent on her very public breakup. That doesn’t mean readers won’t potentially be disappointed.

The Bedwetter will probably take readers by surprise: it is strikingly sincere and insightful, while simultaneously laugh out loud funny. Silverman’s casual style makes for a quick easy read, and though she is not the most articulate author to ever pen a book, her personality and charm shine through.

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