SARAH SILVERMAN: SARAH IS MAGIC

By Paul Freeman [June 2012 Interview]

Those big brown eyes may appear innocent. But look closer. They twinkle with mischief aplenty. Sarah Silverman, with exceptional wit and candor, seems to stir up controversy wherever she goes. Her stand-up has searingly and hilariously targeted religion, sexism and racism. Currently on tour, she has crowds giggling, guffawing and occasionally gasping, over her provocative perceptions.

She displayed her imaginative and outrageous humor on ďThe Sarah Silverman Program,Ē which ran for three seasons on Comedy Central and nabbed her an Emmy nomination. Even Silverman herself was surprised by how far she was able to push the envelope. Shout! Factory has just released a DVD box set of the series with some enticing extras.

Silverman shot a pilot for NBC, but the network recently decided not to pick it up. She needs creative freedom for her comedy to fully blossom.

Silverman began performing stand-up while still in her teens. She was hired as a writer/performer on ďSaturday LiveĒ in 1993, but none of the sketches she dreamed up ever aired. Silverman learned more from her experiences on other innovative shows, like ďSeinfeld,Ē ďThe Larry Sanders Show,ď Greg The Bunny,Ē ďCrank YankersĒ and ďMr. Show.Ē

An accomplished singer and actress, Silverman has appeared in a number of movies, including ďThereís Something about Mary,Ē ďPeep World,Ē ďSchool of RockĒ and her concert film ďJesus Is Magic.Ē Her latest is Sarah Polleyís ďTake This Waltz,Ē a relationship dramedy and festival favorite, in which she co-stars with Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen. Sheís proven that sheís capable of delivering memorable performances in both comedic and dramatic films.

As evidenced by her memoir, ďThe Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee,Ē Silverman has no trepidation, when it comes to revealing the truth about herself. Her honesty gets her into hot water, but itís also part of her appeal.

Pop Culture Classics was delighted to have a chance to chat with one of our favorite bedwetters.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
I loved the Comedy Central series. Were you surprised at how far you were able to push the envelope with that?

SARAH SILVERMAN:
Yeah. Especially, looking back. We were really able to do anything we wanted, as long as we could justify it or come up with an argument that the Standards & Practices people could use, if they got in trouble [Laughs]. All they really wanted was like, ĎIf you can give us a good argument, then you can do it.í Iím good at arguing.

PCC:
Obviously the laugh is the big reward, but do you also get some satisfaction in the shock, provoking controversy, thought and discussion?

SILVERMAN:
Yeah, sure. I mean, anything that moves someone to something, feeling something, I guess. But mostly, that show was just so fun and aggressively dumb. It was so much fun. We just did a bunch of extra stuff for the box set. And it was so fun to get together. There was an extra on it where itís just the writers talking about the show. And we got together at 11 in the morning to shoot it and everybody just got drunk and stoned and all we did was laugh. Like we hadnít seen each other in so long, we were just completely misbehaving and laughing and the people who made the box set, Shout! Factory, they edited something great out of it. I mean, I felt so bad. I was like, ĎThis was such an abortion.í [Laughs] We had so much fun. We missed each other, you know?

PCC:
Thatíll be a lot of of fun to watch. You shot a sitcom pilot for NBC. Were you conflicted about how much you would have to compromise to fit into the network standards?

SILVERMAN:
Well, that was almost the opposite, because what I wanted to do, what we did for the NBC pilot, was we wanted to do something more emotionally based, that was funny in more of real portrait of people kind of way. It was 180 degree different from the last show. But no one will see it. [Laughs]

PCC:
Isnít there still a chance it will turn up somewhere, somehow?

SILVERMAN:
I donít think so. Thatís too bad. It was really weird and interesting and I loved it obviously. But at least we made the show we wanted to make. And also, I just like kind of sobered up, towards the end, like ĎWhat am I doing at network? I really donít belong here.í And I didnít.

PCC:
Ron Howard was one of the producers? Seems like an odd couple, you and Ronny.

SILVERMAN:
Oh, my God. I love him. He was amazing. He was so supportive. Heís everything you think heís going to be, like the kindest, loveliest person.

PCC:
Youíve been involved in so many edgy, ground-breaking shows, which meant the most to you, in terms of your own comedic development?

SILVERMAN:
ĎMr. Showí and ĎLarry Sanders,í definitely between those.

PCC:
As far as your creative heroes, ranging from Steve Martin to David Hockney, what do they all have in common? Is it just the innovative quality? The individuality?

SILVERMAN:
Just originality. I mean, I loved Steve Martin since I was a kid. I loved how absurd and silly he was. And then there was a sophistication about him, as well. I donít think I was able to, as a 14-year-old girl, deconstruct what I liked about Steve Martin. And, of course, I liked David Hockney, only because I read in an article that Steve Martin did. I was a 14-year-old girl in New Hampshire with pictures of gay men in swimming pools on my wall, because Steve Martin liked him [laughs].

PCC:
Starting out young and with all the competition in the stand-up world, were you confident you could carve out your own niche? What was the key to doing that?

SILVERMAN:
I wasnít ever really looking at a big picture. Itís just what I always wanted to do. And I did it. I didnít think about it. I just kept turning up and getting on and doing stand-up, lots and lots and lots. I guess itís kind of like your 10,000 hours, like Malcolm Gladwell says.

PCC:
You seem to manage to shake off the constraints, wherever you perform, but is there still the greatest sense of freedom in the concert performances?

SILVERMAN:
I feel free, because I donít really like putting myself in a situation where Iím not. I own my car and my apartment and I donít really have to make any compromises. And I donít. Creatively, why would I? To me, itís not worth it. Iím not wont for pricey things. I use a backpack, you know?

PCC:
And it certainly seems like youíre not afraid to reveal yourself. Have you never had any trepidation about that?

SILVERMAN:
I donít know if itís fearlessness, as much as it is a compulsion. I think some things I say, maybe on Twitter or whatever, might get me in trouble, but, I donít know, I have a need to express myself. To me, Twitter is like a message in a bottle and I like to keep it free. There was a place that was like, ĎWell, we could sell ads, where you put your pictures and stuff and we could split the money.í And I said, ĎGreat.í And then, they said, ĎOkay, you have to put this many things and this many videosí and I was like, ĎOh, no. Never mind.í Iím not going to be beholden to anybody, content-wise. Itís not worth it.

PCC:
Even though the honesty can get you into trouble at times, do you think thatís the key to the success of your humor, that itís the appeal, too?

SILVERMAN:
Maybe. Youíre right, it can get me into trouble. But thatís the risk. The risk of expressing yourself is youíre not going to be for anybody [Laughs] for everybody, whoops. And it can be polarizing. I know that Iím polarizing. Itís not what I set out to be. But thatís the way it is. Iím only for you, if Iím your cup of tea.

PCC:
But are you conscious at all of knocking down the false idols and poking fun at the absurdities of society or is that just part of your nature?

SILVERMAN:
I donít take it on like itís my responsibility, but, if itís on my mind, I might say something. I donít know. I laugh.

PCC:
It never disturbs you, when people express their outrage about your comedy?

SILVERMAN:
No. Anyone sending me hate mails and hate Tweets, I protect their right to do that, just as much. Thatís the beauty of freedom of speech.

Iím a sensitive person, but Iím pretty thick-skinned about that. I see so much of peopleís anger coming from their hurt childness. I have an understanding that when people write me angry letters, it has very, very little, actually, to do with me.

PCC:
Is there any form of humor that actually offends you?

SILVERMAN:
Even humor is art, even though people drink during it... and hustle. itís subjective. Not everything is going to be for me. Not everyone is for me.

PCC:
What impact do you most want to have through your art?

SILVERMAN:
I donít know, I feel like, I donít have a plan. Iím not like looking towards having some sort of legacy [Laughs] or something like that. Iím just being.

PCC:
The film ĎTake This Waltz,í did that present new challenges to you? What drew you to that project?

SILVERMAN:
Well, Sarah Polley, I just think sheís great. Iím a huge fan of hers. And I loved working with her. Itís not going to be a big movie. Itís not going to be ĎBattleshipí... luckily.

PCC:
But it might reach people and touch people?

SILVERMAN:
Yeah, I know, when I saw it, It stayed with me. It made me think about stuff.

PCC:
Do you still feel that thereís a career-changing, magical role out there for you?

SILVERMAN:
Oh, maybe, but I also know that I only have so much control over the things that I donít make myself, so... People see me in a specific way. And that specific way is not always what Iím interested in doing. [Laughs]

PCC:
What have been the biggest challenges for you, over the course of the career?

SILVERMAN:
I donít know. I think that, when I first started doing stand-up, the first 10 years, the people in the audience arenít there to see you. And so, it was exciting and scary and people would leave angry and not like me. You know what I mean? So that was different. And then, after a certain point, people came to see me, specifically. And I feel like, do you give the audience what theyíre expecting, because they saw my last special or whatever? Or... Who am I? Before people came just to see me, they would come and be surprised by what they saw.

Audiences want to be surprised, but they also want to see what they have seen before, in a weird way. And I think that can really make comics stuck. Especially, when you look at iconic comics from the Ď80s, that were like - Ďthe tough guy,í or Ďthe guy with the weird voice.í They now still live and a lot of them feel beholden to stay these characters that defined them, but are now also making them be like dated caricatures. Itís scary to break through and just say, ĎWho am I now?í And just continue with that. And thatís what I strive to do. Who am I? In some ways, Iím still the same, inherently, and in some ways, Iím exploring different things.

ĎJesus Is Magicí was very race-based. And Iím older and wiser than that. Iím different. I find slightly different things funny. And a whole bunch of the same things funny, too [Laughs]. The shows are going to be really loose. Iím always kind of in a state of flux, you know?

PCC:
But whoever you are at any given moment, the onstage Sarah is pretty much the same as the off-stage Sarah?

SILVERMAN:
Sometimes. Iíve been saying a lot more exactly what I mean, where there was a time where I was saying kind of the opposite of my feelings and the hope was like a kind of absolute value would transcend.

I know people enjoy it. I always say, ĎKeep your expectations low, youíll have a nice time.í

PCC:
Though you donít like to look at the big picture, any goals youíre still burning to achieve?

SILVERMAN:
I just want to keep moving forward, like a shark, donít stop swimming. But, no, I donít like looking at the big picture too much. I like just staying, seeing the dots.

PCC:
Maybe a music album at some point?

SILVERMAN:
Yeah, maybe.

PCC:
And continue to be involved in using your celebrity for positive things, like LGBT rights?

SILVERMAN:
Yeah. Iím definitely focusing on equal rights for everyone and fighting against the war on women, through the election. I mean, itís a real difference, between what could happen - progress or literally going back to the Ď50s or some odd picture of Americana that is like a horror movie. I canít believe itís real. But, of the two choices for President, one wants to overturn Roe versus Wade and keep people from marrying. Someone that actually believes that there are people that deserve less rights than him is un-American, to use their own words.

PCC:
Itís amazing that the polls are so close.

SILVERMAN:
Terrifying. Really, really, really, Really scary.

PCC:
Great talking with you.

SILVERMAN:
Thank you. Sorry I wasnít funnier [Laughs].

For more about Sarah Silverman, one of the funniest, bravest comedians of our time, visit www.sarah-silverman.com