TED Organizer Chris Anderson isn’t a man to be trifled with. If you criticize his event you don’t get invited back (which is why we see a bunch of nonsense articles about the event that don’t mean anything at all, but praise heavily). But it’s always fine for Anderson to trash his own speakers.
“I know I shouldn’t say this about one of my own speakers,” he said on Twitter, “but I thought Sarah Silverman was god-awful…”
Silverman’s crime? She made people uncomfortable by saying, over and over, that she wanted to adopt a retarded child. Like other comedians lately, she was using the word to remove its power to hurt people, and as a jab at Governor Palin’s recent jihad against the word.
Apparently the TED crowd didn’t get the joke.
Here’s a first hand version of what happened from a TED attendee who asked not to be named, since he or she would certainly never be invited back to the event:
What’s not funny is when people try to give certain words too much power over you and I think people could forgive the farts, doodies, penises and vaginas (I mean they did in the other talks), but what they couldn’t forgive was Sarah Silverman saying with absolute seriousness (I’m recalling from memory):
“I want to adopt a special needs child (to which one person applauded), because adopting a special needs child, who would do that? Only an awesome person, right?” I looked around the room and I knew exactly what was coming next. She was going to say retarded and not only was she going to say it, she was going to drop it like 10 times. I knew it wouldn’t be ok, but I was excited about it.
Words are powerful. They are mightier than the sword and all of that, but if you let them have too much power, you can create what I feel is evil. You create a society of people who are so concerned about what they say and what is PC and you destroy creative expression.
Sarah was following suit behind Megan McCain and Stephen Colbert in making fun of Sarah Palin. She didn’t say this, but I knew this. Why did I know this? Because this is a trend with comedians right now and I know why they are doing it. They are doing it for a cause. They don’t want that word turned into the “r word”. Saying the word “retarded” can only have extreme negative power if you let it and Sarah Silverman is brave, because she got on stage in front of some global minds and dropped it over and over and over.
She went on to say:
“The only problem with adopting a retarded child is that the retarded child, when you are 80 is well, still retarded and that she wouldn’t enjoy the freedoms of setting them free at age 18, so she was only going to adopt a retarded child with a terminal illness so it has an expiration date, because who would adopt a retarded child with a terminal illness? Well, someone who was awesome like her”.
The room went silent and she went on with her show and sang a song about how all of the penises in the world couldn’t fill your heart holes.
So, the theme of TED was “What the world needs now” and I think the world needs more Sarah. The world needs to take many things seriously and many things less seriously. The world needs to get its sense of humor back. It needs to allow people to express themselves without feeling the overwhelming pressures of society bearing down and being a social pariah. Sarah is a super hero in my opinion.
When she went off the stage, about half the room applauded and probably half of those only did so out of an automatic response. Then, one brave “soul” as TED would call us shouted out among the silence that followed: ENCORE! ENCORE! ENCORE! and those of us who felt the same way stood up cheering. Collectively, we were loud enough to let the stage manager know we wanted her back and we wanted to hear her say something more, be asked a question or better yet keep performing. They called out to her and for a while it seemed she had already left the building, but she came back on stage and looked confused. They told her, “They wanted you to come back to thank you and we’d do an encore but there’s no time, etc. etc.”
I’m of the opinion that if your crowd wants an encore, you fucking give it to them. Even if it means your schedule runs over. I mean, after all, we are adults. All but maybe 3 members of the audience are adults and anyone who brought kids or kids who attended are well aware they are listening to some grown up ideas. So, you can’t use that excuse.
No, they were uncomfortable and embarrassed. They had invited Sarah Silverman to TED and she made everyone feel uncomfortable. They should be embarrassed because they didn’t bother to watch her work before she came to get a full understanding of who she is and what she does. She’s a modern day Joan Rivers! She’s going to say cunt, fuck, shit, poop and guess what. Retard.
The whole thing, as TechCrunch would say, was an intelligence test and it had EVERYTHING to do with play. Playing with words and playing with different types of reactions to words and she’s a master and for that I applaud her again.
And a follow up email:
I thought about this even more.
I can understand why people don’t want a condition used as an insult. If you look up idiot, imbacile, dumb, etc.. they are all derogatory terms for someone with mental retardation, so this condition has been plagued with the condition used as derogatory term for quite some time. I have sympathy for it, but I still think that isn’t a reason to stop using the word.
I started thinking about the word Nigga and the word gay. Southpark has a great episode on the word gay and how it has morphed from referring to an actual homosexual to meaning something entirely different. So, people were upset about that, but some may argue that the tension between the two sides created more good for gay rights and bringing gays to light than ever before. I know the word nigga has. It pisses me off to no end that I can’t use that word out of fear for my own life. Blacks took it away, made it their own and even better made it *COOL* and now I feel jealous about it. I want to walk up to my pals and say “what’s up nigga”, but I can’t, but maybe if someone is brave at TED next year or somewhere else and decides to shock a few people I’ll be able to.
Now, Chris Anderson might have an issue with the whole talk, the retarded child stuff, the jew stuff, the penis stuff, the poop and whatever else and maybe his specific issue wasn’t that, but that’s what everyone talked about afterward. In a conference where so much effort is put on the children, Sarah crossed the comfort bar. It took us out of kumbaya for 18 minutes and made us squirm and laugh.
Perhaps TEDsters should just stick to the simple stuff. Slavery sucks, for example. Glad we finally got that controversial topic on the table for discussion.