Two new musicals are co-written by people who came to fame via stand-up comedy. Mr. Saturday Night, the Billy Crystal vehicle (which he co-wrote with Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, composer Jason Robert Brown and lyricist Amanda Green) is about a comic’s life post-fame. The Bedwetter, which Sarah Silverman co-wrote with Joshua Harmon and the late composer Adam Schlesinger, ends with the autobiographical character making her first appearance as a comic in front of an audience. As you might gather from the title, Silverman’s show pays a lot of attention to pee. Crystal’s show, too, doesn’t shy away from poop and pee jokes. As much as we may yearn to focus our lives on higher things–truth, beauty, art, wisdom, justice, etc.–we can’t get away from the fact that every few hours we have to acknowledge the needs of the body and expel stuff.
Both shows also remind us that family is usually part of the package. As British poet Philip Larkin famously wrote, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.”
Being a parent, Buddy Young, Jr., the aging comic Crystal plays, mostly is charged by the show with fucking up his daughter, Susan (Shoshana Bean), as well as doing incidental damage to his wife, Elaine (Randy Graff) and brother, Stan (David Paymer). Happily, given a chance to restart his career, he also seizes the chance to reset his relationships. The fact that he and the cast have tuneful, witty songs to sing helps us ride over his obsession with making every encounter serve his wants and needs.
The ways in which parents’ behavior can fuck up a child are particularly emphasized in The Bedwetter. It doesn’t worry Sarah’s retail merchant father Donny (Darren Goldstein) that telling her filthy jokes (which she often doesn’t understand) might lead to difficulties in school. And the chronic depression of her mother, Beth Ann (Caissie Levy), unable to get out of bed in the wake of divorce, surely has something to do with the depression young Sarah (Zoe Glick) finds herself slammed with. A bonus is that her grandmother (Bebe Neuwirth) has trained her to make her a never-ending stream of Manhattans. (Sister Laura, played by Emily Zimmerman, could pass as relatively undamaged.)
Despite the rawness of the jokes and the calculated outrageousness of some of the songs (eg., Donny, upon meeting some of Sarah’s schoolmates, sings a toe-tapping, fantasy tune called “I Fucked Your Mothers”), the overall effect of The Bedwetter is affirmative. Mostly people survive. (Well, OK, a minor character doesn’t. I mean, there’s no guarantee, but the odds tend to be with you.)
And both shows also celebrate the magical healing properties of television. Buddy’s road to a renewed career and life is via commercials and talk shows. Young Sarah is given an unexpected boost when the beauty queen, Miss New Hampshire (Ashley Blanchet), uses her appearance on a talk show to (improbably) announce that she, too, was once a bedwetter.
Which leads me to think, if I could just find a sponsor …