Quick final thoughts on Sarah Silverman @ TED

In case you missed it, there's been a kerfuffle over Sarah Silverman's performance at TED and my response to it. (TEDster Jeffrey Rodman filled in some more of what happened here.)  After catching up on some sleep, and a few hundred comments on the topic, here are my thoughts: 
- Yes, we did know we were taking a risk booking her.
- She's a smart provocateur with a wide range of material.
- We did ask, though not clearly enough as it turned out, that she'd tailor something specifically for TED and avoid her more extreme content.
- TED talks work best when the speaker shows up for the full conference and takes the time to absorb audience and context. Didn't happen.
- Call me stuffy, but I still think humor about terminally-ill "retarded" kids is an acquired taste.
- And not a taste I personally want to acquire.
- Some of the audience got her and loved her, some were sickened by her. 
- Even when sickened, it's best to count to 100 before sending out an angry comment on Twitter.
- Sorry for the tweet, Sarah.
- I gotta say: you're a way more eloquent insulter than I am. <g>
- TED is all for edginess, intelligent humor, and, in the right circumstance, provocation.
- TED is not so big on humiliation and debasement.
- There's a fine line between the two and different people draw it in different places.
- We'll continue to take risks. Just with a little better speaker prep ...and audience priming.
- Sarah, I wish you well. 

Quick Update Aug 12, 2010.  Some commenters below knock TED for 'censoring' Sarah's talk. This is based on a misunderstanding. First of all there's no promise to speakers that we will post their talks. A lot of TED.com's success is down to the fact that we only post those talks that get high audience ratings, and - for whatever reason - this one really didn't.   Secondly, Sarah has full access to the media and has given her version of what happened on several occasions, including this -- which I thought was a brilliant interview by her http://bit.ly/aLGuAo  After that interview, we offered to post the talk on youtube, but by this stage Sarah herself was tired of the issue, and declined.  If you want to get a sense of the talk, just watch Sarah's other material on youtube.  
103 responses
Well said. I would like to see the video, though.
Was she as awful as Kevin Smith was at MacWorld?
an eloquent response to responses and the performance of people being people...
I missed Silverman's talk on the live stream .. turns out that it was a good thing to happen, though :)
I read about the content of her 'performance' later on the net and didn't like it. It seems that I'm also one of the stuffy ones :)

All in all, I loved the TED experience and wanted to thank you and your team for letting us TED translators join the event. THANKS !!

Roget that, But the next time your looking to book a comedian, try calling the LA Comedy Awards, we'll even supply the red carpet!
Thanks for these comments Chris!! I did not find her funny at all and your comments here explains a lot of confusion her talk left me with. Totally concur that TED does wonderful witty humor and of many stripes. This was sparse, not all that edgy, insider humor and it didn't go up well for me. The rest of the program made up for it. :-)
For some, Sarah performed an extraordinary service by providing laughter at a time when things were getting pretty intense (heart-wise). For others, Sarah indeed offended a lot of people who work with the elderly and children.

But the state of being "offended" is a state of judgment, wherein our values and boundaries are threatened. She made me laugh, and then she made me cringe, and then I thought to myself, "She doesn't know her audience."

Should/could Sarah have been more sensitive to the audience she was addressing? Yes. Should the audience vilify her? No. Can Chris Anderson tweet whatever he wants? Yes!

For perspective, I thought Michael Specter blew his shot at influencing the vaccination debate by choosing to morally debase hundreds of thousands of well-educated parents for not vaccinating, rather than offering solutions and a defined path for educating both sides. I tweeted about it and nobody took issue. Sarah Silverman talked about body parts and retarded children and created a national uproar.

We are responsible for our own judgments, values and boundaries. Sarah did her act and we can now choose to have an open discussion about our values and boundaries, or we can blindly insult an invited guest.

When our boundaries are crossed, the easiest thing to do is to condemn the individual crossing that boundary. But who is responsible for your mental/emotional state? You or Sarah?

It's just unclear to me who's making the non-apology apology here...
This is the first non-classy thing I've ever seen Chris/TED do. Chris, your job is to be the buck-stops-here curator for TED. You or someone on your staff did a poor job communicating your expectations to Silverman, and thoughtfully managing the risk you took in hiring her. Bottom line: you're responsible for taking it on the chin when something happens on your stage that doesn't work.

"Sorry for the tweet, Sarah" is not sufficient as an apology, because it doesn't fully acknowledge that you didn't do your own job adequately in this case, and then threw her under the bus when you were offended by her material.

You are generally a classy individual, and TED is a fantastic organization. I expect you don't have much experience with apologies because you very seldom need to tender them. Don't be done yet. This statement is not an okay "final thought." Study the apology genre a bit and try again - to her, and to your TED community. Show us you know how to do this right. Take full responsibility.

I would really like to see the video.
I'm a fan of both Sarah Silverman and TED, and I knew booking her was a disaster waiting to happen. The typical TED attendee is a Berkely limousine liberal (with bags of guilt-ridden money) who totally thinks "political correctness" is not an ironic put-down of our modern stifled speech patterns. Sarah's material includes joking about rape, child abuse, etc and for heaven's sake she appeared in The Aristocrats. TED people are dreamers; Sarah is a bitter cynic. Just not going to end well. And yes her put downs are funny as hell; props for her comments to Steve Case.
Sarah Silverman is who she is. A fifteen minute review of ANY of her material gives you a pretty clear idea of what to expect when takes a stage. Sarah Palin (for all her foibles) has a point when she objects to her young daughter being slandered on late night talk shows (in the exact same way that Hilary Clinton objected when it happened to her young daughter), and she has a point when she objects to calling a mentally handicapped person a "retard." The hyperbole on the conservative side ought to be something more like "please be more politically correct." The hyperbole on the comic side ought to be to make people laugh, not want to take a shower. Humorous derision of a conservative spokesmodel like Palin should not include insensitive (and frankly mean) remarks about handicapped people. Especially when Jon Stewart shows all of us how to hit them with class every single evening on his Daily Show.
We really need to see the video. Absent that, we're only seeing one side of this, TED's awkward reaction, without the context.
your apology for the tweet seems much less sincere when followed by a false compliment and sarcasm. <-->

I think you are deliberately evaluating her piece below the level of its intention. We choose to get "outraged" by a retarded joke while most of us take no direct action to help either the pandemic in Africa or the use of rape and murder as a form of political suppression there. What we choose to invest in emotionally is completely arbitrary. How many lives could have been saved had each TED attendee matched their enrollment fee with funds to smart aid in Africa? And how many of those people have never sent a dime to help while pretending to be righteous when confronted with mere words (ironically with the intent to diffuse the power behind them)? THAT absolutely is something worthy of the thinking about at TED.

I was there...

I've been a fan of Sarah Silverman's...and I am a fan of TED.

Sarah brought her standard stand-up act that gave no consideration to who her audience was. Canned presentations don't fly at TED and hers didn't. Not to say she should have cleaned up her act entirely, but surely she has some range and could have been as funny, and still edgy, without alienating half the crowd. Surely?

The TED audience is not "limousine liberals", although it may well have been at some point.

To GaryMWatson, have you heard about TEDActive and the Associate Membership program? Both offer TED at discounted rates that bring in a broader range of people, demographically and psychographically speaking. It's not all rich, white guys anymore!! YAY!

As I was sitting through her bit on Friday, I couldn't help noticing the scarcity of genuine giggles among the sea of forced laughter in the audience – even the TED elite, it turns out, isn't immune to the very primal human fear of being seen as uncool. But putting people in a position where they need to choose between the integrity of their taste and their social fears is far from cool, which alone, I think, deems Sarah's act unTEDlike.

But, for what it's worth, Chris, I think the great art of curation comes down to finding not only what works and fits, but also what doesn't. And, unfortunately, we can't always judge what fits before seeing it in context. I think you did your best to make an educated guess about the fit here, but Sarah didn't do her part in familiarizing herself with the context of the TED spirit – and to me that, rather than her performance itself, was the real offensive part. People would give a right arm (or a butthole barnacle, even) to give a TED talk, it's a once-in-a-lifetime (unless you're Hans Rosling) opportunity and honor, a chance to bring something meaningful into the world and not just promote your personal brand. I guess Sarah didn't get the memo.

And while I realize this sort of immature verbal retaliation is part of Sarah's brand and what makes her (often) great, I just wish she'd handled it with more grace. Or at least proper grammar.

That was a pretty pathetic pretend apology. When you continue blaming her for your appalling behavior (seriously, who insults their guests publicly like that?) it shows that you don't sincerely mean your apology but rather are just trying to put things back under the rug.

Shame on you.

Methinks Chris figured out the old adage the hard way..."Never fight with a pig...you both get dirty, but the pig *loves* it!"
I was at TED, and thought Sarah was much less funny than say, Ken Robinson or Ze Frank. I am all for a profanity filled humour, but Sarah just wasn't funny except for some small bits. It was a wasted opportunity for her, to be given the stage at TED and to muff it up so badly.
As for Chris, he and his team did a fantastic job this year, and TED is all about taking risks with the speaker lineup and I couldn't care less that Sarah was one that didn't work out.
And Chris, most of us TEDsters appreciate you speaking your mind, and you are well entitled to your opinion. Our only concern is that this spat may make you less likely to express your reservations in future.
I really hope that we see the video and it will not be erased as the tweet for the "sorry Sarah" above.

The grown up thing to do would have been to offer an unqualified apology. The simple fact is its extremely unprofessional to bad mouth the people you invite to any convention (and I say this as someone who has run a few, although no where on the scale you have), and that deserved its own apology minus excuses.

This apology here was full of excuses. You try to downplay your role by implying that the guest should have stayed longer, or tailored things better, or whatnot. Even in your reply to me you try to blame it on "misunderstanding over TED ground-rules."

Those may be (and probably are) completely valid concerns, but thats not why people are upset. People were upset by the fact that you'd actually insult one of your guests in a public venue. It could have been Sarah or someone else, thats not the point. This is all about your actions, and trying to hide behind the actions of others just makes it look worse.

Honestly, this is something that will blow over. The stuff that happens at TED is amazing and fantastic on every level, and I'm sure things will continue to be going forward. I certainly don't think you're a bad person, rather you made a single mistake and that shows you're human. I honestly just think a real apology would do more than this pseudo one.


Sarah Silverman pulls off the "Emperors New Clothes" trick to perfection.
Now some folks have a pencil up their noses over the wording of the apology that Chris made? You guys are never satisfied! If Chris had simply said " I am sorry", then you would say it wasn't grovelling enough! When he explains himself and tries to contextualize it, you say the apology is not unqualified enough! Can we stop this blame game now? Not every issue needs a scapegoat, despite what the press has taught you. Simple Fact: Sarah's act turned out to be not fit for TED. With hindsight. That is all there is to it.
Should taste be a deciding factor? If I thought it was, I wouldn't be following TED.

What you're saying is simply untrue. I don't want grovelling, and if he didn't apologize at all I wouldn't have said anything. The issue is that a fake apology, where he blames other people for his actions and slips his actual apology in as a bullet point, is worse than none at all.

Look, if he wanted to apologize its as simple as tweeting "My comments were inappropriate, and for that I apologize to @SarahKSilvermen". Thats it- no bullshit, no excuses, and a genuine apology in the same medium as the original insult.

He didn't do that- instead he posted in his blog, where he can get his friends and admirers to fawn over how mature he was being and how it's all Sarah's fault, or at the very least his actions were justified because "she wasn't a good fit." It completely ignores the real issue- his inappropriate comments- and continues to criticize Sarah and her act.

If he was really sorry he'd say just that. What he did instead was continue to insult by implying that there was justification for his actions, and there's no definition of apology where thats acceptable.

As a student of curation, I'd like to read more of Facebook User's written work. I think his comments above contain ideas worth sharing: integrity, performance, opportunity, spirit, and even proper grammar. I wish I could say the same about the rest of this comment stream.

I hear a call for Chris to be more of a diplomat, a better apologiser For what it's worth, I think curation and diplomacy are two different arts. Most of the critics seem to have a political orientation if not a political agenda. Diplomacy has its place, but the goals of the TED conference rise above the political. Chris, I hope you are wearing your curator's hat proudly. You did a fine job with TED2010.

You people who want to teach the art of apology, how about tutoring Sarah Silverman. Where is her apology to those she offended?

Yep, total win for Silverman. Way smarter than any of the other speakers. Kinda' like a crazy science experiment. Did she stay long enough to get her "Google" phone?
First class reply - thanks for the wrap up.
weak. silverman pwns TED. (yes, I've been to many)
I love Sarah Silverman and I think it's a drag that people are stiking out at her. She was just herself. I will admit, however, that I was simply disappointed that she missed such an opportunity. I was so ready to be wowed 'cause the rumour is that she's so smart and itsure seems like she is! That she did her same old routine at TED, without any reflection and/or deeper thought, was just a tragically missed opportunity. What if she had considered it as deeply as Elizabeth Gilbert did last year?
I think Chris was rightly disappointed, but maybe should have counted to 10. And, Sarah definitely insults better than anyone I know.
Chris, you're one of my all time heroes. Thanks for taking a risk. And, you know, they're... risky! :)
No one laughed during Stephen Colbert's appearance in front of W. at the Correspondents dinner either. It is now considered one of the most incredibly provocative, fearless and brilliant performances ever.

You can tell a comic to "tailor their material" but the true artists never will.

I was ambivalent about Sarah before this. I'm a huge fan now.

I was there, at TEDActive in Palm Springs. I'm a nurse and a farmer and worked very hard for the money to attend, as did most of the folks I now call friends who also were there. I, too, think Silverman is smarter (probably a genius) than she shared on the TED stage. I was prepared for edginess as Sarah always takes me to the cliff -- and unfortunately never fails to push me off. I truly thought "this is TED, she'll be different, I'm looking forward to this." I wish I'd left the room. I didn't. I kept hoping she'd turn it around somehow. I was embarrassed (not because of the blue language) and I tried to find things funny. Yes, I laughed. And I didn't laugh. And I was embarrassed for her and for me. I'm not angry. I have no problem with Sarah and honor her right to challenge herself and her audiences. I also honor my right to not participate and to speak up and against what I perceive as unfair and unjust. And I am grateful for Chris and his honest response to a performance (not to the person). Hey, we all make mistakes. This one was componded. Sarah's humor was not well served on a TED stage. The TED audience was not well served by Sarah's performance. Colleen should have left.
I agree with all of Robert's comments - Chris should have been much more direct about his apology, and way more sincere. this just seems like he wants to appear as though "doing the right thing", but in reality, still feels no regret for what he tweeted!
Sarah Silverman's act is one of the personal narrative so her talk was, intentional or not, a parody of the usual TED talk. Since she is intentionally ambiguous about what is serious and what is irony, and maintained that stance at TED, people who knew her work didn't learn anything new, and people who were new to her were just offended. Perhaps if she had spent more time at TED as the other speakers did she would have connected better with the audience, but maybe she just wasn't ready to let down her guard. I think TED is to be commended for taking a chance on her, but I was disappointed when Chris brought her back onto the stage and still did not manage to penetrate her facade.
Thank you Chris for posting this.
I saw her talk and find it a little bit vulgar for an audience like TED. We all wanted to have a good time, but the talk was really designated for a Pub or Cabaret audience with bunch of Drunk People, considering we were all sober, the talk was a little bit too much. I understand why some people would find it offensive. She is Funny though in all fairness.
Perhaps, next time we need set the boundaries and find her the right audience!
This one was not the best one!
TED is a platform of learning, I am sure we will all learn!

Best Wishes


For all its good intentions, TED is an elitist celebration of academia and capitalism. I think Silverman's genius is that she holds up a mirror to our subconscious taboos.

I endorse TED's ideals and think some of the speakers and talks are amazing, however even the cool, smart and rich people need to be forced to examine their thoughts. This is what comedians like Silverman do.

What exactly are the rules? What aren't we allowed to say? People who take offense to that type of comedy are most likely strangers to themselves, terrified of confronting the ugly thoughts that aren't permitted in elite society.

A lot of people seem to think that as TED's organizer, Chris is somehow obliged to withhold or suppress all of his own thoughts & opinions about TED's speakers. This is preposterous. It's important to remember that Chris's largest constituency isn't his speakers, but the thousands of people who spend thousands of dollars on TED fees, and the millions of people who spend millions of scarce & precious hours connecting with TED's content online. And while Chris does have certain obligations to his speakers - to organize them, woo them, let them know that they're appreciated & so forth - his far larger obligation is to define and maintain TED's essence, so that the countless non-speakers who affiliate with TED can have some directional sense of what they're affiliating with.

Sarah's talk was so far beyond the TED norm that it was entirely reasonable for Chris to inform the many people who were wondering whether this was an anomaly, or the shape of things to come. This is the heart of his job, since TED's line-up is not "crowd-sourced," but carefully hand-picked and cultivated by Chris himself. His title with the organization is "Curator" after all. Chris clearly felt that he made a blunder in presenting Sarah, and to say he had some kind of duty to keep his mouth shut about that is bizarre to me.

I do not think it is appropriate to ask a comic like Sarah Silverman to censor herself. Telling her more extreme material is pretty much doing that and essentially asking her to go there at the same time. If anything, the joke is on you.

Now, I am waiting on you to post the talk. If you do not, I would not be surprised. Either way, it is your own embarrassment.

Once again I applaud Facebook User for bringing clarity to the debate.
I'm making it a goal to get his autograph.

I wish Michael Sandel would weigh in on this issue. He's the curator of moral compasses at Harvard who wrote What's the Right Thing to Do?
He was there for the #TED conference. He might have even been in the audience when the spoon slipped and the BombSauce spilled and the stage got all messy. I wonder, did he stand up and yell for more, or swallow hard to get the bile back down.

I also keep wondering, what would Aristotle say? Or Locke, Kant, or Mill? That's how he approaches a debacle like this, he gets philosophical. I think Sandel could do that here and it might help. On the other hand, he might let more worms out of the can. But maybe with few well crafted questions he could confront us with what we already know and help us find some meaning in this collossal waste of time. I need to lay this thing to rest.

Watch his video for some clues.


Professor Sandel addresses issues like the role of participants vs onlookers and how they differ. Some people were in the audience and others were not. Do we as outsiders have a place in this discussion? If not, I'll excuse myself. Is the person who was there and got offended any less important than the person who stood up and cheered? How many were in each group? Not my place to say. I just sat home and followed Maria Popova's tweet stream and tweeted with a guy from Holland who was kind enough to send me a livecast of a Q/A with Jane McGonigal from his cellphone. I played some Sheryl Crow music from YouTube when she sang that first night. I want to get back to stuff like that. This is all none of my business but I just can't keep my mouth shut when I read good commentary like Facebook User's second post.

In fact, I'm finding the whole thing to be a real attractive nuisance. Like a trainwreck on the way to my to the gym. I can't look away but I have more important things to do. I don't want to dwell on this too long. I have pounds to lose and muscle to build and I'm going to finish my workout before noon. I wish I knew where Michael Sandel works out.

By your own recommendation, more proof Sarah Silverman should not have appeared at TED:
I was sitting in the audience, close enough to the stage to catch Sara's subtleties. I laughed - as did most around me - and yes, at times I winced because she exposed some very uncomfortable ideas. When she spoke about adopting a terminally ill, retarded child, I did not think about her morals; instead I reconsidered the morals of Sara Palin, Brad Pitt, the Octo-Mom and other current popular characters. When she talked about old people dying slowly, I did not think about her ethics; instead I reconsidered the ethics of our current health care system.

I understand and sympathize with those who were offended - TED content often crosses boundaries. But if someone makes it to the TED stage, I will take their comments seriously. Even if they are a comedienne.

Well said Chris.
I don't know if it's "intelligent humor." But watching you squirm is pretty damn funny.
Chris must now face a tough decision... if and when to post the video of Sarah's session. Personally, I think it will go against his every fiber to give it more of an audience (and it will be a HUGE audience given all this attention)... but it would be great to see him decide to post it, and soon.... make it the next one released... tough as that may be.

Let everyone see the performance, not the soundbytes... and let everyone decide how they feel. Just as has been done with other controversial TED talks. I suspect many will agree with Chris' initial assessment. Others won't. That's OK.

Put it out there... it WON'T create any lasting discussion I suspect, it will get some attention, some laughs, some anger, some dialog, and then it will fade away. We'll get back to discussing the other more substantial topics that emerged from TED 2010. but keeping it from everyone will raise the interest level even more and give critics more to complain about.

TED is a high-notoriety plaform for great thinkers to share ideas with other great thinkers, Sarah used it to do a stylised act of crudeness and offensiveness and sing songs about poop. That in itself is hilarious enough for me to want to see the video.

But to someone of my generation this looks like someone with young fresh ideas and deliveries being told off by the old folk who either "don't get it" or are fearfully reverent of their stuffy institution. 18 minutes of something the audience has never experienced before delivered in a manner that comments on the current social sphere is a great use of time to me.

Chris, do you ask all TED presenters to sensor their speech?
Perhaps the folks at TED should have viewed the Aristocrats before asking (booking) Sarah Silverman to speak? I do hope you stand by your guest and post the video.
Let me get this straight...Raghava KK's "cartoonish shapes and colors" (TED's presenter description) of a disemboweled woman with exaggerated genitalia is not god awful, but Sarah Silverman's "brilliant, funny, political and always inappropriate" (TED's presenter description) comedy routine about terminally-ill kids and poop is?

Some might tweet that both represent the artists' expressions of body, society, and our world. Some might tweet that one or the other or both are personally offensive. Some might understand that art is subjective, as is humor, and they might not tweet about it at all. I wish you well with next year's lineup! Over and out.

TED is about ideas worth spreading. Sarah Silverman didn't seem to present any that night. I, personally, felt validated when Chris apologized to the audience for her. And stop giving her so much credit, my god. She's didn't know her audience, and TED didn't know their speaker. Said. Done.
Wait. There's a lot of tail wagging a big dog here. The ground rules go the other way round. For those of you who have forgotten, here are the Sarah K Silverman ground rules:
1. Your event is very special to you. To Sarah, it's just a gig.
2. You pay her, she will come to your event. She will stand up on stage, and give an embarrassing and/or amusing talk using words from, but not restricted to, this list: pee, poop, penis, strawberry jelly, boyfriend, mother, vagina.
3. She will then get the f out.
4. If you ask her to tone down her act for your event she will agree to, and then tone her act UP.
who invites sarah silverman and expects her to not be sarah silverman? you got what you ordered, nerdface.

Never attended TED, but I love it. I also like Sarah Silverman. Being "offensive" is part of her routine. There was no ambiguity about who she was or her style of comedy before she was asked to speak at TED. If you or the TED participants don't get or don't like her jokes, she shouldn't have been invited. Instead, it sounds as if you expected Sarah Silverman to change herself for the TED audience, even though she, like all other TED speakers was invited precisely because of who she is, what she says, and how she says it. And given that TED did invite her, I think the only things in poor taste are your Tweet saying she was "god-awful" and your lack of an apology to her.

How many ted talks have not been aired? Why should sarah silverman
changed for the people in the audience? The only way to "apologize"
is to make her talk available to the rest of us. If she got this much reaction she did her job. Try to do yours
You should have invited this guy:


As much as I disagree on ... well, mostly everything- with you Chris, I agree with you on this one.
And yeah… there’s plenty of other ways to be cool and avant-garde without trying so hard, becoming so inhuman. the moment we distance ourselves from what’s humane for the sake of pseudo-artistry alone, we lose ourselves, and we lose all the arguments against the inhuman ones on the other side of the cultural spectrum. like proponents of endless war -and endless bloodshed- in order to achieve an elusive peace… Silverman has just become one of them.

I don't think you should have apologised at all, Chris.

A gracious and intelligent response.
Well said. Although now I cant wait to see the vid of her talk just so I know exactly what went down - I hope you guys still share it.
Meh. This response just proves that we have a long way to go before we fix what's broken in this society. Everyone's so afraid of words. Words are not objects. They're symbols. And they shouldn't be given so much power. Because it's kind of retarded. Love you, Sarah.
Words are very powerful just look at history. For my part, I am glad Chris made his comments public. The transparency of TED is great. I have a lot of respect for TED and the whole process. Before anyone gets too critical of Chris remember this is a live production not tape delayed. All kinds of risks can occur in this kind of fantastic venue. I don't think Chris or his staff have enough time to vett everyone completely to eliminate all the downsides. TED invites speakers and entertainers to amaze, delight, enlighten and inspire us. Anyone coming to the TED stage should know who we are and act appropriately. Great conference Chris and staff. The best yet!
I have never been able to figure out why I'm not a TED fan. I'm just not. I think it has something to do with the money. More than that, I think it has to do with a bunch of people sitting in an audience proclaiming their grand benevolence and fawning over celebrity.

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that good ideas can be shared in ways that don't involve giveaways with TED embroidered all over them. The speakers are interesting, but there is something wrong with an audience who is afraid to criticize because they might not be invited back to the big party next year.

Who really gives a damn if a comic bombs at TED? Comics bomb all the time, and it's a component of their job. But, what bothers me is that Chris did not understand why name-calling on twitter was not an appropriate thing to do for someone in his position. It was a rookie mistake, and a half-hearted concession is less than a genuine apology.

Post the video. Don't wimp out on a chance to be open and free... even if you made a *mistake*. TED needs to stand for something... take a risk.

- OM

TED Talks are usually compelling and transformational, but I don't think I've ever seen one I would characterize as particularly "edgy." Every talk I've seen could be an Oprah show -- the same could not be said about Silverman's act, and as a huge fan of both Silverman and TED, I have no idea why Silverman was invited. It feels like Anderson was trying to make TED "cool" by inviting one of the cool comedians, without really understanding her act.

I also find it extraordinary that so many people don't seem to understand that her act is a CHARACTER she created, and the character doesn't understand how offensive she is -- that's why it's funny and shocking. It's obviously not the very liberal Silverman speaking -- it's the purposely offensive character she created. I find Bill O'Reilly offensive, because he actually believes what he says, whereas Stephen Colbert can say the exact same thing, but it's funny because I know he believes the exact opposite of what the character he's created is saying.

But regardless of whether you get this comedienne or not, it's not Silverman's job to know her audience, it's Anderson's job to know his speakers -- this was Anderson's fail, not Silverman's.

And frankly, in the context of Chris Anderson's extraordinary contribution to TED and the world, one talk that doesn't happen to resonate with the audience is a non-issue. This ongoing "scandal" can be put to rest by simply posting the video and giving the TED community the benefit of not only deciding for ourselves, but continuing the discussion. Silverman's act is a riff on political correctness and the power of words, and this post-talk discussion has become even more relevant and impactful than her original talk.

If the video is not posted, then it becomes a dirty little secret TED is trying to sweep under the carpet, and I find that far more offensive than Silverman's act. It also sends a very clear message about how TED treats its participants.

Like it or not, Sarah Silverman at TED is now a permanent part of TED, and Anderson owes it to the TED community to embrace and honor Silverman's participation regardless of how well her performance went over.

Rather interesting. Has few times re-read for this purpose to remember. Thanks for interesting article
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The apology was fine but not necessary. Some people liked her session, some people didn't. Chris didn't and stated his opinion which I believe was largely about Sarah's 'content,' not about her 'performance.'

Regardless of the content, TED typically posts videos and this is one that should be posted, largely because of the public controversy that Ted / Chris created.

If you are looking for your guests to "tailor" their message for the sake of your other guests, doesn't it seem like you should rethink inviting one of the camps? Who has a dinner party and then asks one of their guests not to be themselves? That seems very controlling and, in the long run, will reflect most negatively on the host of the dinner party. There are so many analogies from the past to learn that lesson from. Furthermore, it seems distastefully juvenile to continue slapping one of your guests with the back of your hand in an effort to explain your way out of culpability, especially when you portend to accept Sarah's unique personality. Just stop trying so hard. Any thinking person can see that you are still embarassed by your actions, but haven't noticed it yet. I have 2 big ideas.....1) why don't you expect more from the guests passing judgement. and 2) Think real hard about how you couch your apologies and messages generally, this one is disingenous, narrow, and, maybe uniquely for you, very public.
Let’s work this one out. TED’s slogan is “Ideas worth spreading”. So this year we have a TED talk which does not really fit the bill, in fact, it is so far away from TED’s slogan that Chris feels compelled to say something on Twitter. He then decides in the cold light of day that his comment was a result of Foot-in-mouth disease, retracts the comment, and apologizes.
So does Chris’s mea culpa suddenly make this arguably unfunny and decidedly unsavory talk an “Idea worth spreading”? I do not believe so.
Agreed, it would feed the inner voyeur in some folks if the talk was posted on TED, but I’m afraid that this is an insufficient reason for giving this talk the global media platform that the TED website has now become. Sarah Silverman has her audience, and TED has its audience, and there is some overlap. But I am not sure TED.com wants to become a conduit for a profanity-ridden extreme version of Sarah’s work, which is what was on display at TED. This is not censorship, but rather this is more akin to a billboard on the side of a bus, or prime-time broadcast television. TED.com’s audiences include children, and Sarah’s talk was R-rated to say the least. If you want to see Sarah in action, head on over to Comedy Central…she is a hoot, usually.
The sorry part of this episode is that Sarah ought to have known that TED.com is PG-15 (actually, I am not sure if this is explicitly the case, but every talk I have seen so far on the site has been PG-15, so please correct me if I am wrong). Sarah is capable of toning herself down to pass muster on prime-time TV (see her interview on Jonathan Ross on youtube), so it is baffling that she decided to go with the cable-tv version of her routine at TED. More likely, she didn’t really care about getting her talk posted on TED.com.
God Chris Anderson snarky attitude is just god awful....wait was that out of line. Wow I retract that statement that I just typed, but will post anyways. So unprofessional of me.
I heard you won't release all TED talks because of lack of money for editing. How about releasing the raw footage and letting the community edit? I know I would give up a week to edit one.
The point is we shouldn't be afraid of the word or the condition. She tried to use humor as a starting point of discussion. Kudos to Sarah and boo to TED for not getting it.
Sarah Silverman is an incredibly brilliant and funny woman. Hearing her speak like this should have been expected. She should have been at least accepted if not found hysterically funny.
Aside from her brilliance, she is also supportive and kind when you stop laughing and think about her and her humor.
Nice to see comments still trickling in 3 months later! But I must agree with one of the previous posters...ted.com is PG-13, and Sarah Silverman's talk was not. This makes the two fundamentally incompatible. If you want to see Sarah, please go to Comedy Central.
I suppose I am responding to the re-broadcast of SS on Bill Mahr. The most concise assessment of all this is, Chris you blew it big time. Sarah is Sarah is Sarah and its poor form to treat an invited guest as you treated her. Your response exemplifies inconsistencies in everything except pretense.

The free and outrageous flow of even what some may see as distasteful is still deserving of consideration - its from pushing boundaries we hopefully find a truer sense of ourselves and others.

The credibility factor is huge here and not for SS but for you personally and professionally.

Now you are really under a microscope.

The best thing you could do is invite SS back again and again and if you are not willing to do that then you owe EVERYONE who has posted here as well as SS the dignity and opportunity to view the footage and decide for ourselves.

So here is your challenge, be a wise man, be consistent and post the video - stand true to your mission to share ideas. We don't need you to decide for us.

You may be smart but to do anything other than provide full transparency is you and TED becoming an example of the very people, ideas, organizations and power-structures you criticize.

I mean this when I say "good luck".

You are destroying your organization's progressive, free-thinking (and speaking) image and no amount of blogging or Twittering will change this. No one's buying your apology, nor is an apology called for. Your only recourse for damage control is to post the video of Sarah's TED talk.
She wasn't making fun of retarded kids, she was making fun of people who get offended before they think about what it is they are getting offended by, and they played right into her hands
Big fan of TED, and I understand why you might have felt you needed to apologize after a talk that might have ruffled some feathers. That being said - you booked Sarah Silverman - and by the sounds of it she was Sarah Silverman.

I'm actually disappointed in the TED crowd for not spotting satire when it's being presented by a satirist.

End of the day, if you want to ensure that nothing ever controversial will be said on a TED stage, go ahead - but that will be a tragedy and against the free and open exchange of ideas that you strive for.

People here are right - this isn't an apology. But how about actions instead of words. Post the video - with a disclaimer if you wish - but let people judge for themselves.

Reminds me when Bush got a roasting from Colbert back in the day. Comedy keeps it real! Not TED. Where's the video?!!!!! Long live Sarah.
Please post the talk. Why censor her?
Looking over the past TED speakers, I just don't see how Sarah Silverman fits in. How many other comedians have been invited to speak at TED? I can't seem to find one looking over the list. Comedy isn't what TED is supposed to be in my opinion. TED should be about giving people a chance to listen to brilliant speakers with brilliant ideas that will change the world and the way people think.

I don't come to TED talks to listen to comedians tell their jokes, I come to listen to experts in their field describe their findings in ways that a layman can understand. TED organizers, stick to the formula that works. Stick to serious topics, not joke tellers.

I don't mind controversy or provocative speakers.. What I don't care for are for comedians. It is a mistake for TED to invite not just Sarah but ANY comedian.

What I also don't care for is censorship. Speakers should not be advised to censor themselves to fit into the culture of TED. They should be encouraged to speak whatever is on their minds whether or not it might offend some people.
The issue with Sarah is that censorship should've never even been an issue because she should've never been invited in the first place, nor any comedians for that matter. What did you expect her to do? Give a speech on how the how technology is rapidly changing society? Of course she's going to say something offensive and provocative, that's what she always does. Stop inviting people and then blaming them for doing exactly what they are known for doing.

Ah yes, I get it! When she told the amazing story about showering with her mother and water dripping off her mother's black sponge, she was not making a pubic comment. It was actually a stab at dark irony, a satirical, post-modern and post-humourous joke, not to be confused with merely a flat joke, a posthumous joke.
Post the video, Chris.
The politically correct martinets are at it again. Sarah Silverman is a genius...and funny and beautiful besides. I had thought highly of TED before this--IT'S BULLSHIT!!
A surprise to check in here and see that Sarah's fans are still posting comments three months later.

Look, I understand your frustration, but there seems to be a misunderstanding about how TED works. We're a private conference. In the past few years, we've started posting the best of our content because we believe in spreading good thinking. But we only post the best of our content -- the talks we think a broad audience will value. We want people browsing ted.com to find that every single talk is great. That's been key to TED's success. For whatever reason (and some who were present describe their own reasons above), Sarah's talk was not highly rated by the audience overall; and so it makes no sense for us to post it (even ignoring the fact that TED.com's subscribers include schools, libraries, families and kids).

Truth is, you're really not missing anything that you can't already find online or see on her TV show. Most of her performance was assembled from her prior material. And she herself has been on TV and radio describing the bits she thought might have caused offense.

I find Sarah totally charming and endearing in person. It's a real shame her TED experience turned out the way it did, but miscommunications happen. Live and learn. It's time to move on.

Where is the video? I am a big boy and can handle edgy humor.
Chris .. where is the video Chris? you say that "We're a private conference" , then why are you so public? I am now confused
Chris, I think we're all just curious and want to hear the evidence with our own ears, like nosey neighbors who quiet down a bit when the couple next door are fighting so we can hear what they're talking about better.

The desire to distance TED from this material is understandable. However, the segment has a reputation of its own now apart from the TED conference while at the same time the conference is acquiring a reputation for a particular decorum as a result of its handling of this. Something to consider: no one would fault you if you gave a copy of the routine to Sarah with your compliments to thank her for her participation. If she chose to post it to YouTube or some place else, that's her choice and reflects on her but not on nearly so much on the conference itself.

Either way, all the best and I look forward to many more wonderful talks.

Pix, or it didn't happen.
Wow! people are really stupid. I love the fake outrage. It was just a joke.
Initially I thought… CENSORSHIP at ted? People have already talked about the benefits of uncomfortable humour, that it helps us talk about difficult subjects, like attitudes towards the mentally ill, towards racism etc…
But your recent post made some sense, I suppose you should feel complimented that you built such a brilliant community, a community that considers itself to be a part of ted… but we aren’t really a community, we’re not as important as paying ted audiences, most of us don’t have that sort of money, so really it makes sense then that we shouldn’t feel any sense of ownership over ted because it isn’t our place, it’s a place for the people who pay to go and see the conference.
I’m less disappointed in Sarah Silverman’s talk not being posted than I am in myself for misjudging what ted is, it’s not for all of us, it’s for the guys with trucks full of bucks. It’s not the Sarah Silverman fans that are upset it’s the ted fans, because they now believe in the ted ideology which you have promoted, and that ideology that philosophy is being tarnished, maybe you should clarify your position for all of us so we can lower our expectations.
I still you man and ted, but what the hell!
Comedy, and laughing, is a defence mechanism; a defence to being exposed to something terrifying, to the unexpected, unusual, or contradictory. This is why comedians will always be exploiting the taboo and pushing boundaries. Those that do so as a tool for social change, or even just to demonstrate the absurdity of the audience, should be comended.

It's not exactly a Modest Proposal, but Sarah's message is still relevant: Why not treat people who are retarded as people? (and let's try and be intelligent about this, as I'm sure we're all capable to recognise the difference beteween the word "retarded" and the slur "retard".)

Also, show the video. Censorship is retarded.

Please post a video, if not on TED site, do it on any site. Please.
Thank you again Sarah Silverman for your humor, humanity and courageous support of children, the disabled and all the rest of us who can't hide behind autocratic power.
Just stopped by because I happened upon a clip of her talking about this on youtube, and had a morbid curiosity about how the situation developed. I think all of the lofty talk about censorship and the power of satire is unnecessary.
Silverman is tired. Her edginess is calculating and self-conscious. I think Chris was making a huge concession in saying she was eloquent or funny, just to surrender and move on. What especially irritates me about her, is that she will go out of her way to appear self-deprecating and thick-skinned, as so many insecure celebrities do, and then go crazy when someone agrees with them and says that yeah, they kind of suck. She says she wet the bed, and that made her strong. Great. Be strong enough to know that you are only funny to people who apologize for and coddle you in the insular world of "alternative" comedy. Everyone else has seen her attempt to shock in lieu of having anything interesting to say since they were ten years old. There are many, many, comedians, writers, journalists, actors, directors, etc., who do it better than she does and have much more sophistication in their intent to be provocative. She hasn't gotten past the rudimentary premise that offensive comedy "just really makes you think, you know?" If she is as ballsy as she pretends to be, she doesn't need to be protected from the fact that she is actually quite boring.
@bokiii-your unqualified, over opinionated review is quite boring. Clearly you are a TED head, an apologist for an event and recordedvideo and a reaction by Chris/TED that still, so many months later is unseen and therefore censored. The pretense of many but not all of the TED talks is what is sometimes tired and boring.

Sara is far from my favorite comedian and like better performers there are moments when her perspective is uncomfortable, insulting yet sometimes - eventually thought provoking.

But you and yours continue to excuse TED's and Chris' poorly(?) considered choice by "including at the conference in the first place" or the false apology after her still mostly unseen, yet requested video footage. Which do Chris and TED claim? Sloppy research cannot be the reason for Sara being Sara. The harm to TED's credibility is significant but not irreparable.

Let us decide for ourselves - otherwise Chris and TED are censoring filters for information for which people, not organizations, should be able to contextualize for ourselves. Sara is secondary to a larger question of how TED wants to shape culture and the TED brand - that's boring. Hopefully TED will do the right thing, until then I say shame on you, Chris and TED.

You persuasive arguments have rendered me helpless, except to say that those who saw her already said she did a canned act that she had been doing for at least a year, so if you are so desperate not to have your basic human rights violated, you can get a ticket, rent her dvd, tivo it, or whatever.
bokiii - you and I both know that live performance is fluid and organic. The space a performance or TED talk while often is a lecture and pedagogical is about a relationship between the performer or lecturer and the audience - it is alive. It what TED talks(?) have conditioned and presented to us therefore it is not unusual to expect partial to full disclosure for controversial dialogue.

Chris and TED have taken that view, that dialogue away in a condescending manner.

Each time you and others continue to defend Chris and TED actions it brings the whole sorry situation to the surface.

It was not my intention to render to helpless and your cynicism doesn't further the dialogue or add clarity to the issues which as stated are much deeper than most any performance.

Curiously after your response to my post - my Posterous account was closed. I have had to create a new account with a different username. My free expression/opinion through cancellation of my original account shows consistency with TED/Posterous' censorship.


The plot thickens
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