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My Letter in Ms.

I was extremely proud to realize yesterday that a letter I wrote into Ms. Magazine was published in their Summer 2008 issue. It was a response to a letter that was in response to a piece Ms. did on women in comedy, that included Sarah Silverman. The original letter-writer was offended that Silverman uses rape jokes in her comedy and that she needed to "realize that some things just aren't appropriate to joke about" (paraphrasing here). Anyway, I'm always offended when someone says you "can't joke about" something. Yes, I do find some jokes offensive, but that's usually when the intent is to offend and objectify or demean another person/party/minority group/etc. Or sometimes I'm just offended when a joke is so poorly constructed...but anyway. As a big Sarah Silverman, I felt compelled to defend her. However, since I my letter was very long, it was edited for inclusion in the magazine. That's all well and good, but I thought for your reading pleasure, I'd include the original letter in full (phrases within brackets and italics were excluded from print, just to give you an idea):

"I am writing in response to the letter that appeared in the Spring 2008 issue, wherein a woman complained that she was offended by Sarah Silverman's stand-up routine. [I can certainly understand someone being shocked and offended by this joke, especially if they are not familiar with Silverman's work. But I am equally offended by the claim that Silverman doesn't have the right to make such jokes, or that some topics are not fit for humor and Silverman needs to be schooled as to which and what kind of subjects she's allowed to broach.

[I'll save the now-tired-but-still-relevant "freedom of speech" rant. But I will say that I consider comedy an art form and I don't think that any kind of art has any restrictions on what is acceptable to discuss.] Art that touches [(or completely assaults)] taboo subjects are meant to challenge the status quo and force us to think about and possibly discuss things with which we are not comfortable. Much of Silverman's comedy pushes the limits to question what she can "get away with" [being a cute, White, Jewish woman]. It also pushes on the gender boundaries of comedy. Pioneers like Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller started breaking these boundaries right from the start - and many people found their routines taboo then as well. [Ball had a Cubano husband and appeared with him on the "I Love Lucy Show", even though the network insisted her character have a White husband. And she did "men's" slapstick which shocked many people at first. Phylis Diller did self-deprecating humor dealing with the female aging process and sex, only beginning comedy in her mid-forties! They were not simply pretty, meek, second-bananas as was the expected image of a woman in the "Golden Age" of television.] Much of the shock factor of Silverman's comedy is derived from the fact that you wouldn't expect a woman to say such things. [(Think of how many jokes George Carlin* has made to the same affect- how is it more O.K. for him?)]

[The joke in question is actually multi-layered, so I don't feel I have the room to dissect it properly. But] I for one am a huge fan of Sarah Silverman and her daring domination of what is still largely a man's medium. [I don't feel that it contradicts my role as a feminist one bit.] I applaud Ms. for including her and her comedienne comrades in their pages and proving wrong the stereotype that feminists don't have a sense of humor. [I understand that Sarah Silverman's shtick may not be for everyone, but the good news is that you don't have to listen to her. You can always pop in an "I Love Lucy" DVD and pine for the days where audiences were much easier to offend.]

Most Sincerely,
Danielle Thillet

I totally understand the edit both for length and also because some aspects may have seemed "inappropriate" to some. Either way, it was a proud day for me. I haven't had a disgruntled letter published by a 3rd party (with READERS) since college! YAY!

* My letter was written before George Carlin's death. Or else I would have referred to him as "the late, great", or, probably just to someone still living. Read more: http://www.blogdoctor.me/2007/02/expandable-post-summaries.html#ixzz1Ygp5vxLJ

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