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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Susan Silver

Published by The New York Sun on 2006-06-22

Susan Silver is a funny girl.

Anyone who wrote comedy for the acclaimed television programs "Maude," "The Bob Newhart Show," and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" has to be a funny girl, right?

Anyone who's written 15 "Movies of the Week," five feature films, and scripts for 15 TV pilots cannot but be a funny girl, correct?

Anyone who was an associate producer for the noted comedian Mort Sahl has to be a funny girl, isn't that so?

Anyone who assisted the casting director of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" has to be a funny girl, no?

Anyone whom Johnny Carson cited on "The Tonight Show" has to be a funny girl, n'est ce pas?

But Ms. Silver, a native of Wisconsin who sought and made her showbiz fortune in California and then settled in New York, contends that her reputation as a funny girl is not going to be secured by any of the above.

Rather, the writer and entertainment-industry veteran said, it's "The Adequacy Scale" that will reinforce her reputation.

Was ist das?

"Look - there are 8 million more women than men in New York," Ms. Silver said. "Men really don't have to look very hard to meet women. But it's a huge problem for women. I have women friends who've just given up on the idea of finding men to go out with."

Ms. Silver paused. She wasn't smiling.

"There's a real numbers shortage in this town," she said. "When I first came to New York, I would get about 50 new dates a year. Now, I'd be lucky if I get 5."

The reporter thought he should take her comment with a pinch of curry.


"Yes," Ms. Silver said. "I'm looking for men between 50 and 65."

She paused again.

"I'm looking very hard," Ms. Silver said. "Can you think of anybody?"

Professional protocol disallowed volunteering, so the reporter kept his counsel. Ms. Silver continued elaborating on her research into the male-female scene in New York.

"I'm sure there are available men out there," she said, "but, of course, you've got to find them. I have women friends who attend funerals to spot single men. Some go on cruises. Some go bicycling. The problem is that they're still looking for 'The Prince' 'The Perfect Man.' At a certain age, I hope we're wise enough to realize that he doesn't exist. But 'Mister Adequate' might."

But how to measure him?

Her "Adequacy Scale" has five levels of rating. "Zero"; "less than"; "adequacy"; "more than adequate"; and the highest achievable level is "The One!"

"No man yet has reached 'The One!' level, but once there was a fabulous chocolate dessert that did," Ms. Silver said. "But I don't want to discourage anyone from applying."

Ms. Silver shares such views with millions of people each month through a weekly column that she writes for one of America's most popular Web sites, NewYorkSocialDiary.Com. The site, created by David Patrick Columbia, chronicles goings on in New York society. And Ms. Silver has emerged as the high priestess of sociological comedy through her column, "The Search for Mister Adequate."

Her online column is illustrated with a photo of Michelangelo's David. Asked if she considered David the prototype of "Mister Adequate," Ms. Silver said dryly:
"Clearly, he seems to be less than. But I didn't pick him, the editors did. Still, I wouldn't turn him away."

What prompted the column in the first place?

"Desperation. I thought that women of a certain age - that is, past the 'Sex and the City' bracket - needed a voice as well," Ms. Silver said. "But I hope that there's universality to it.

"I have found that, strangely enough, my readers consist not just of single women but an assortment of people looking for relationships including straight men, gay men, women of every age and nationality, even some readers in China. Who knew that they had the same problems as tall blondes - which I assume you noticed that I am," Ms. Silver said.

Her ability as a comedy writer with a heart can most certainly be traced to her upbringing as the only child of Morey Bensman and Dorothy Horwitz in the Wisconsin community of Whitefish Bay, not far from Milwaukee.

"It was a great place to grow up - and then to leave," Ms. Silver said.

But before she left for Northwestern University and then the University of California at Los Angeles, Ms. Silver began writing - from the age of 10. Her father encouraged her literary ambition; until his death not long ago at the age of 91, he saved everything that his daughter wrote.

'And my mother, who worked as a personal shopper, was responsible for my shopping ability," Ms. Silver said, adding that under her tutelage she also started and developed what's become a rather large doll collection - and, of course, a major shoe collection.

She studied screen writing with Francis Ford Coppola at UCLA. She acted in local theater productions. She won on-camera stints at TV stations. She appeared on talk shows.

And she became a highly paid comedy writer.

It was after Ms. Silver migrated to New York - after the disillusionment of a Hollywood marriage - that she expanded her armory to include teaching. She gave seminars in sitcom writing at the Museum of Television & Radio, and at the New York Television Academy.

So, the reporter said, how does she sustain being a funny girl?

"My friends' lives are grist for my humor when my own life runs low on it," Ms. Silver said. "Fortunately, they still remain my friends - and some of them even like being characters in my humor."

She said that, not withstanding her experience and accomplishments, writing was a difficult proposition - and that writing comedy was even more difficult.

"You don't always feel funny. As the quote goes, dying is easy but comedy is hard," Ms. Silver said. "Dating isn't so easy either."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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