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Sarah Silverman '89: 2006 Distinguished Alumna

Sarah Silverman, whom we honor today with the Distinguished Alumna Award, grew up – sort of – in Bedford, and graduated from Derryfield in 1989. I think that those of us who taught, coached, and knew her remember her as a funny and friendly student, but I can’t believe anyone knew she’d be so successful. I was asked to talk about her because I was her teacher and advisor, and because I talk about her all the time; she is one of my only brushes with fame.

Sarah has had an incredibly rich and full career in the world of entertainment; most of it out of the mainstream and thus unnoticed by most of us. She has over 80 listed credits for movies and TV. She is listed on IMDB as an actress, a writer, a producer, and even a composer. She is a big deal in the world of comedy; not PG comedy, but the dangerous edgy sort that has offended people on more than one occasion. I wonder where she learned to do that.

The origins of her career predate Derryfield, but the beginning is clearer after her graduation, when she went to NYU and spent most of her time there grabbing at every opportunity to do stand-up comedy. She took the big risk after one semester, dropping out of school – with great parental support – and committing herself to her pursuit.

She does have a mainstream career of sorts, a career that has included roles in movies such as Rent, School of Rock, Evolution, Heartbreakers, There’s Something About Mary, the not so successful Say It Isn’t So, and the disastrously awful The Bachelor. She has appeared on a score of shows ranging from Monk to Frasier, Star Trek: Voyager to JAG to Seinfeld. She spent the 1993-94 season on Saturday Night Live, grossly underused. The people in charge there who let her go must feel mighty dumb now. A Rolling Stone article called her the funniest woman in America. The New Yorker and Vanity Fair have done pieces on her. She is currently absorbed in writing a Comedy Central show in which she will be playing… herself.

It is her real career, the one most of us don’t know, that is most impressive. Primarily a stand-up comedian, she has crashed a business that can be very slow to change, one that tends to stay with what has worked before, where there are few risks taken and every job or role has its rigid qualifications. For years there were almost no female comedians because, according to the rules, women aren’t funny. If they were allowed to perform, their routines had to center around problems with their mothers, the desperate search for a boyfriend, or difficulties keeping their weight down. And to have an audience, a comedian has to be safe, to be bland, to shoot for that middle ground where no one is offended.

Well, I have heard some of Sarah’s comedy routines and jokes, and read many others. Apparently the people who chose her to be recognized today have not. Does the sort of person who would be doing Celebrity Roasts of Hugh Hefner and Pamela Anderson sound like a Distinguished Alumna? Does the Alumni Council know what the movies The Aristocrats and Jesus is Magic are about? We’re not talking Disney here.

Or maybe the Alumni Council is wicked hip and is recognizing her today for those very qualities that I have touched on. Fearless and provocative, willing to burst through those limitations others have set up, curious about the world and willing to state her feelings about what she sees, Sarah might even represent the values this school espouses… without the X-rated language and graphic subject matter.

-Dick Anthony
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