Prior to catching Sarah Sherman’s live act Thursday, I wondered how she might marry the body-horror antics of her old Sarah Squirm stage show with the tamer yet charmingly abrasive persona she’s developed on Saturday Night Live. Turns out, she’s put both identities into a blender, delighting in the strange, disgusting spew that comes out the other end. I mostly mean “strange, disgusting spew” in a good way.
That’s not to say last night’s audience completely bought what Sherman was selling. There was a fair amount of muted “Are we supposed to laugh at that?” responses, beginning with the verbal attacks that started during the pre-show “no cell phones or heckling” announcements. Stalking the back of the club in her Holly-Hobbie-meets-Bozo romper, Sherman warned the crowd: “I will fucking kill all of you bitches and make the fucking news.” Let’s go!
In an effort to pump up the crowd, Sherman attacked the stage before the opener got a chance, berating us country bumpkins for not making enough noise for the pre-show rules. It was a fun deconstruction of comedy club rituals, but she did no favors for the local opening comic, who couldn’t come close to matching either Sherman’s energy or eccentricity. Instead of getting everyone riled up, the contrast let the air out of the room.
Give Sherman credit for trying to win us back by turning us all into Colin Jost, the Weekend Update anchor who she attacks without mercy. Half-hearted responses were blamed on the fact that we hate women. Or we hate Jews. Or we hate Jewish women. Sherman made repeated calls to club security to have audience members thrown out for alleged offenses, all the while warning the crowd that if we came for jokes, we were going to be disappointed.
That was pretty much true. Sarah Sherman doesn’t do “jokes” but she does work her often-mentioned ass off to get laughs. Her most effective bits were aided by a laptop (“I’M A WOMAN IN TECH!”), whether that be Seinfeldian bass riffs to punctuate hacky punch lines or a video starring a horror-movie villain threatening to reveal Sherman’s odious secrets. Of course, we were treated to the vile revelations.
Sarah saved most of the Squirm for the latter half of the show. The usual guests were invited — shit, piss, and copious amounts of pubic hair. Everyone got to play a video-assisted game of “Where Is The Blood Coming From?” Sherman took a wireless mike into the crowd to interview audience members who were most alarmed by images designed to nauseate, adding public embarrassment to her crimes against comic humanity.
“I know my show can be very stressful,” an exhausted Sherman admitted as the night came to a close. Indeed, she’d lost a handful of audience members throughout the show, including the couple sitting next to me. I doubt Sherman would have a problem with that — her comedy is designed to provoke and chafe, and if a few people weren’t revolted right out the door, it probably meant she hadn’t pushed things far enough.
If that means Sherman isn’t for everyone, then so be it. “I’m not funny,” she told us, “but I’m interesting.”