A ridiculous contest of wills was held over the subtitle to Sarah Silverman’s memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories Of Courage, Redemption, And Pee, as the foul-mouthed comedienne and HarperCollins editor David Hirshey squared off over that immortal question: Which is funnier, “pee” or “pee-pee”? Eventually, Silverman put her foot down, saying, “Pee is the only option. With all due respect.” The book’s inclusion of this e-mail exchange is a peek behind the curtain, but it’s also a call for vindication. That blend of touchiness and tenacity runs throughout this breathless collection of anecdotes and essays, adding up to a surprisingly moving portrait of a shock comic with a vulnerable side.
True to the subtitle, the book devotes about a third of its length to Silverman’s struggles with bedwetting, along with the depression and super-doses of Xanax that followed. Between bouts of crippling anxiety that sometimes kept her from attending school, Silverman experienced those formative moments in every budding comedian’s life: the first time she “killed”—telling her Nana to shove a plate of brownies up her own ass—and the first time she bombed, when she ribbed her grandma about her role in the death of Silverman’s brother, Jeffrey. The stories are often more bleak than gut-busting, and readers expecting big laughs might want to skip past the punishing 25 weeks she spent on SNL without getting a sketch on, or her story of visiting a psychiatrist, only to learn from his devastated colleague that he’d hanged himself the day before. For comedy nerds, however, the book’s middle is riveting stuff, full of scruffy mid-’90s incarnations of comics like Louis C.K. and Todd Barry back when they were hungrily chasing open mics and headlining spots.
As with David Cross’ I Drink For A Reason, the weakest moments of The Bedwetter find Silverman exhaustively answering her critics, explaining why she eviscerated Britney Spears at the VMAs, or pointing out how she wrote a letter apologizing to a prison-bound Paris Hilton after the MTV Movie Awards. The book rebounds in its last third, though, detailing backstage antics at The Sarah Silverman Program that should delight fans and confirm detractors’ worst fears. For a comedian’s memoir, The Bedwetter is short on laughs, but it makes up the difference with consistently engaging stories of alternative-comedy icons before they were semi-famous, and by providing dimension to a high-profile stand-up who’s always been accused of being one-note.