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Feature Interviews P to T > Sarah Silverman
by Brad Balfour
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
February 15, 2006.
Even when she
was growing up in New Hampshire, they thought she was from New York. "I am one of you" she used to tell her
neighbors back home. Nonetheless, Silverman did move to New York to
kick off her comedy career and eventually landed in Los Angeles, where,
after offending everyone by being this hot Jewish girl with an offensive
mouth, she got asked to make this pretty sick concert-based film, Sarah
Silverman: Jesus Is Magic.
Was this film always meant to be an independent film? It could it have
been a special on cable…
I always wanted it to be an HBO special. I always like, you know, when
Comedy Central asked, "Do you want to do a half hour?" I'm just thankful.
No, I'll be honest; I've always wanted to do a special with HBO. Like, it's
one of those things, you know, like Letterman, that's like a dream. But they
didn't want me. Even when they made a deal with me two years in a row they
didn't want me. So I'm like, "Ah, fuck it, I'll just, maybe I can make it
into a movie." So I did and probably a month after the movie wrapped they
asked me to do a special.
How did you and Liam Lynch hook up?
I didn't know him. My manager had heard of him. She's really cool and she'd
heard of him and we just met and it was like love at first sight. He's
Was there anything you hesitated to put in or used at first, and then
There are some
things I took out before we filmed it. There was a bit about how Bayer
Aspirin did medical experiments on Jews during the Holocaust. And how that's
a headache medicine and I guess they would like pick a couple campers and
give it to them and they'd have to be like, "My headache is better than the
hunger," "Not as bad as how much I miss my family," "You know what? It’s
better than when I was in labor and you sewed up my vagina." Not cool at
all, Bayer Aspirin. But it was so heavy and it was much longer than that.
The whole setup and then the punch line to me were like too iffy. And its
just one of those things that unless it has a killer ending it’s just too
much of a bummer to like live through for me. I can't imagine for the
audience. I was like, life is too short. I don't need it. I just cut it.
When did you decide the movie was not done, when you had to strip it
back? How much did you guys work on it?
I think everything's in there. Maybe we cut a joke, I don't know. I don't
remember if we did. Its funny, its weird, we looked at each other when it
was done and we were like, "Oh my God this is exactly what we imagined."
Like everything we imagined was in there from beginning to end. Its pretty
much everything there was and its short, it’s like I don't know, 73 minutes
or something. Personally I like when movies are short. I looked up
Delirious! It was 69 minutes. No one ever goes, "I wish it was longer."
And if you do that's good. I think it's just right.
Would you do a stand up routine at
Dachau or Auschwitz?
I don't know. Do they have stand-up rounds there?
I'm sure they'd set up a stage.
Well I'd get on it.
Which camp would you prefer?
I don't like Schlemming. I don't [think I'd do it] if there's any [camp that
starts] with Schlemming.
Nothing [you] ever said was true in your act. If you did it on purpose,
it ended up being a satire of other female comedians' acts.
First of all, in some ways nothing I say is true, but it's true for
somebody. Also, I feel like I let it all hang out completely on stage, but I
sometimes will say the opposite of what I mean just because I think that
it's a funnier way to do a joke that sounds, preachy or something, which I'm
not into. Preachy stuff is just never funny to me. You might go, "Yeah,
that's so true." But I want laughs so if there's something that could
otherwise seem preachy if I did it more on the lines of how I truly feel. I
just go the opposite way. I play the bad guy. People are like, "Oh you make
fun of rape and AIDS and I certainly don't." Those things are horrific but
hopefully in those jokes you're laughing at me.
How do you keep your stage and own persona separate?
Well the real me is much prettier [laughter].
When you first started doing your routine did you realize how far you
wanted to go? How did it evolve for you in terms of where you pushed your
Well, I didn't have some master plan. I just, you know, like the gays. When
you're a comic you're just kind of born that way. I was just doing standup.
I didn't have some master plan. But I just started putting a show together.
I just figured "I have enough material I could put a show together and do
this in theaters and those crowds are so much nicer and they're coming to
see you." I love the mainstream clubs, I love the offbeat clubs, I love all
those different… Like in terms of the movie, I put this show material
together over the past few years I dumped material, I added material. It
kind of changed over, shed its skin and I could probably go another five
years with the same show and change it and add things and drop things but I
was doing a run in LA and a friend of mine, Steve Agee, asked if he could
watch from the wings and I said "Sure." And there was something really cool
about having someone right here that no one could see, like that kind of
made everything I'd been doing for weeks like fresh. I mean years, but weeks
in this theater in this format, in this order or whatever.
I did some joke where I, maybe that Bayer Aspirin one, because I ended up
cutting it, where I flicked a tear off stage and I look and he pretended to
catch it and pleasure himself with the lubrication of my tear. I laughed so
hard and the audience was so lost and I explained to them what happened and
it was like in that moment, or after that happened that I realized like
could be really like a visual thing, like a movie where you don't just see
the audience's point of view but mine and you can do these weird things like
with the tear. Films could go offstage like to videos and it's not like the
most, craziest, you know, totally innovative thing. It's a very different
version of a pageant movie.
You're part of the alternative comedy scene. How did hanging with those
guys change your act?
Like everything I have done up to this point has kind of informed what I've
become onstage and off of course, like anybody else, but the alternative
scene that I started out in originally was here actually--in New York. It
was at Re Bar and then it was moved to Luna Lounge. The thing that was great
about that was there was more paranoia there to do [new] material, [because]
once you've done it the crowds tend to be the same week to week; unlike, at
a mainstream club where you can do the same jokes over and over again, it's
like it's brand new [each time].
So you end up doing more conceptual stuff and coming up with stuff on the
day and – because I was forced to do more conceptual stuff week to we – it
first of all forces you to write more. It forces you to do stuff a lot of
times more collaboratively with other people and see the boundary-less-ness
which was the original state of the mainstream clubs. Anything could happen
and I definitely take stuff that I've done in the Largo or at
Luna Lounge and incorporated it into the mainstream. I have faith in the
mainstream, you know.
How long were you doing the scene at clubs like Rebar and Luna?
Luna is Rebar, Rebar moved to Luna. Even before that it was at a place
called Night Club for like the first couple weeks.
When did you make the move out of those clubs and out of the city?
Well, I moved to LA and spent probably four or five months in New York and
then six or seven months in LA. In LA there was the whole scene like with
Janeane Garafalo and David Croft and all them started with Largo and before
that, it was Pedro's Grill, and before that it was Onyx. And there's the M
Bar now in the UCB Theater which is in LA. All those rooms, Oh My God, there
are so many rooms. But when did I decide to move?
When did you think you were ready to make the transition?
To a theater?
Or to getting out of the city, to moving to LA, to moving to a theater;
what compelled you and how did you do it?
Well there was not much left for me [in New York] and I met this girl at a
party, Tracy Katsky, whose roommate was moving out, so I was like, "Ah, I'm
just going to go over there." It was like a one day decision. So I moved in
with her, who is now like one of the heads of HBO [senior VP of indie
production]. It's so funny because we would both be out of work playing
solitaire on the rug listening to the guy who sang that Whitney Houston song
over and over again, the Dolly Parton cover…
Go on, say it.
"I Will Always Love You."
What rights are you most looking forward to losing if the new Supreme
Court nominee takes his seat?
I mean, is there anything left? I guess abortion. That'll be fun to just
have to sneak around to do that, just to put the excitement back into
Or the sodomy law.
The sodomy law?
They could have sodomy laws again.
Yeah, I thought they were never really [gone].
Whenever they post your picture, one of them has a shirt that says 'I
Oh, my sister made that shirt.
You like pee.
Well I like pee in that it’s refreshing.
How you like it?
I mean it is true that sometimes Jimmy [Kimmel, her boyfriend, the talk show
host] and I will be talking and we'll be in the bathroom and he'll start to
pee and he'll be like "are you staring at me peeing? What are you looking
at? Why are you obsessed with it?" It’s just interesting but I don't like
being peed on or anything.
Have you ever infiltrated a hive of nice Jewish girls and felt compelled
to blurt out something.
That's such a specific question. Is that like a movie you're writing?
Forced to go to some religious Jewish context.
Has a [Rabbi? Synagogue?
2nd Ave Deli?] ever called and said "We'd love to have you
I have had that experience. First of all, Jews are usually the best
audiences because they let a lot slide. But I was asked to perform at a
temple to raise money for [another] temple in LA that's supposed to be
great. I'm Jewish, I'm ethnically Jewish, but I'm not religious. I have no
religion. I'm almost positive there is no God. So in terms of that, yeah I
did it. My sister is a rabbi and I'm like a very good friend to her. But I
kept saying, "They know what I do," like I don't have a clean version. Not
that I'm square but I mean its going to be racy, "Oh they love that. Yes,
yes it's very progressive."
I lost them almost immediately.
[Laughter.] Do you remember what joke did it?
I don't except that, you know, once it starts going bad I go full force.
Not time to do a Bayer Aspirin type joke.
I probably did that. I did Holocaust jokes. I got nothing. Just kind of
upset groans. But I just kept going because there's that part of me that
feels like I should do my time they asked for or whatever and when I got off
stage, one person clapping. This is all I heard. [She claps.] And I
look, it's my sister.
She's a Reform rabbi??
Well it was a different sister that came with me, my sister Laura, who's an
And the other?
Very reformed, she's practically Catholic.
(Laughter) What's the best Jewish joke you ever heard?
Oh I don't know.
Do you hate them?
I don't hate them, they don't offend me. They're just boring. Why do Jewish
men die before their wives? They want to.
What's your favorite concert film that you've seen?
I mean, so many. To be honest, I mean the one that I remembering being so
impacted by growing up is like Eddie Murphy Delirious! but I love
Bill Cosby's Himself, it is the one that I really watched in
preparation for this for some reason. I loved it in terms of how subtly it
was, no tricky camera work, no weirdness, just a camera on him literally
just from shoulder length up and then if he stood up or if he did anything
with his hands they went three quarters. But besides that it was just a
colored background that just very subtly changed with each topic that you
don't even notice, but I liked that.
Are there any classic roles you wish you had and any roles in movies
recently you're glad you didn't get offered?
Holy shit, that's something I'd have to think about. I really liked the
Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club. Loved that part. I actually got
the script [to audition] for the part, because at first it was a small
movie; and then it got bigger and bigger. I never got to go in or anything
but I was just like, "Oh this is wonderful!" I would have loved that part.
Is there a role that really pissed you off or disgusted you, that you're
glad you did not get offered the role?
I don't know. I'm sorry I can't think of anything.
Well no, nothing's holy, I mean I think in terms of what I would touch
comedically. I think anything goes as long as it's funny enough. You know,
to my subjective view of what is funny. It has to be funnier than it is sad
or upsetting or you know. But I don't like being mean – you may not
agree--or talk about specific people. I talk about people, but when I do I'm
usually the asshole.
Do you have any serious roles, serious movies, serious directors that
you'd want to work with, not comedy?
No. I mean I'd like to, I just don't have any plans or anything. I mean
there are directors that are not wacky that I love. Like P. T. Anderson or
Wes Anderson or anyone named Anderson.
It's just Anderson Cooper direct.
If you could pick your ideal male and your female lead, who would be your
favorite male and female lover?
You mean just like male and female stars I like besides Jimmy.
The one you want to make out with?
It can't be Jimmy.
You couldn't see him with you in a movie?
Listen, I gotta live with him.
Who do you see yourself making out with?
A girl you mean?
Oh My Gosh, there's lots I like. I like Zooey Deschanel. I was thinking, no
but you want sexy, I was thinking Meryl Streep but I wouldn't want to make
out with her.
You don't want to make out with her.
Dame Judi Dench. I'm going with Dame Judi Dench. (Laughter) That's my
Do you want leads in movies?
(Laughter) Why not?
There are a lot of differences. They’re boring; the female part, in comedy
movies, [is] not the funny part. But, I'd love to have the Bill Murray-like
part in Stripes or something like that.
I was in Rent. I'm shooting a movie called School for Scoundrels
which is a Todd Phillips/Scot Armstrong collaboration and the Comedy Central
series pilot is finished.
What's the Comedy Central series?
I play Sarah Silverman, that same kind of assholier virgin. It's that great
combination of absurd but played really real and small. It’s got a song in
The plot in it?
I need four AA batteries, I can't change the channel and it's on this like
CARE commercial for kids with leukemia and I can't crash, there's a
wheelchair marathon which I at first think it's an anti-leg rally, I peed my
pants a little bit and I sing a song about that and about how I wish the
world was a place and every child had a mother and that kind of stuff.
Do you want to usurp Margaret Cho from her throne?
No. I don't. First of all, I mean I'm a fan of hers. I haven't seen her
movies, but I knew her from like Largo
and serious clubs in LA. And I mean serious, she is just funny, but I'm not
looking to be the king of the gays.
Would you classify yourself as a fag hag?
No. I have gay friends. I was much more [of a 'fag hag'] when I was a
teenager, because I was really into musical theatre and had huge crushes on
the gay guys.
Then what happened?
My life just happened to fall into it.
Well, you never know.
But, no, I mean I have gay friends but I'm not into like, my gay friends
don't tend to be like transvestites or call me girl or anything.
(Laughter) Did you date a gay guy?
No. Oh my God that's an old joke.
Yeah, I forgot about that. No I didn't date a gay guy. I mean. He didn't
start out a gay guy.
Is there any advice you'd give children given your world philosophy?
Watch out, don't get AIDS.
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