Sarah Silverman: Born to Offend

By | January 22, 2007 at 8:00 pm | No comments | Features

Sarah Silverman: Born to Offend

Stand-up comedian Sarah Silverman has made a career of being hilariously offensive on stage. Now with her new Comedy Central show, The Sarah Silverman Program, she’s turning the traditional scripted comedy on its ear… in part, by pooping her pants at brunch, and then singing about it… in a white dress… in slow motion… on a beach, as waves nip at her feet.

By Dylan P. Gadino

In the premiere episode of her new Comedy Central show, stand-up comedian Sarah Silverman, hits a bottle of orange NyQuil-esque sleepy-time medicine real hard— so hard that when she’s out for a cruise she starts hallucinating. She’s thrown into a cartoon world; her car sprouts eyes, gains the ability to fly and an effeminate Loch Ness Monster pays her the ultimate compliment: “You look really thin. You should eat something.”

This is, quite literally, a trippy sequence. But even when Silverman’s character isn’t soaked in viscous, over-the-counter hallucinogens, The Sarah Silverman Program plays out much like an acid trip. The plots – of the first two episodes, anyway – are flimsy, hastily shift focus and act as little more than a vague strip of cohesion on which Silverman’s jokes are pricked to life.

If The Sarah Silverman Program even once tried to be a normal sitcom, the preceding words would wreak of a poor review. Thankfully, Silverman’s single camera, no-live-audience show is far from normal and in fact, deftly pokes fun at all-too-earnest and zany sitcoms. Most importantly, there’s very little unfunny about what she’s created. The proof: 1.8 million viewers tuned into the premiere.

As is the case with her stand-up, however – see her masterful 2005 concert film Jesus is Magic – you need to be ok laughing at things you know you shouldn’t be laughing at. But that’s been Silverman’s M.O. from the get-go.

The 36-year-old comic grew up in Bedford, NH the youngest of four girls – her sister Laura plays her sister on the show – and was raised by her drama coach mother and her dad, the owner of a furniture store who not only taught but also encouraged Silverman to swear. Her parents split when she was seven and she hasn’t been shy about the effects: As a teen she was plagued with panic attacks and wet the bed well into high school.

Obsessed with Steve Martin since middle school, Silverman did stand-up for the first time when she was 17, moved to New York City when she was 18 and dropped out of New York University after a year; by the time she was 22, she was a writer and featured player on Saturday Night Live. She lasted one season before getting the axe.

Upon her dismissal, Silverman moved to Los Angeles – where she currently lives – and made an impressive dent in the Hollywood comedy scene. Her name grew and she was invited to appear on late-night television. In fact, Silverman went on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2001; there, she told a joke, gleefully using the word “Chinks.” The result? The Media Action Network for Asian Americans staged a protest, O’Brien apologized and Silverman suddenly was on the country’s consciousness.

Since then, in addition to becoming a nationally headlining stand-up comic, Silverman has popped up in a slew of films (most recently School for Scoundrels, Rent, School of Rock) and TV shows like the short-lived Fox sitcom Greg the Bunny, Frasier and Crank Yankers. Now that she’s armed with her own show, chances are good we’ll be seeing a lot more of the comedienne. So we thought now would be a good time to catch up with Silverman and ask her some questions— 17 to be exact.

Sarah SilvermanIn the first episode of The Sarah Silverman Program you and your sister bond over a show called Cookie Party. You don’t really describe what the show is about on the episode, but if Cookie Party really existed, what type of show would it be?
We imagined it as a public access show hosted by a character Rob Schrab [who works as a writer, producer and director on The Sarah Silverman Program] does named Minnie Coffee. She’s a kind of Southern belle transvestite and she just presents the viewer with about 10 different kinds of cookies each week and the viewer votes for the one they like best. But you don’t ever see any of that— though maybe you will in the future.

In the second episode, your character says that she stubbed her vagina. Could you explain how one might stub one’s vagina?
Very carefully.

Most journalists never fail to mention your looks. They especially love talking about your perfect white teeth and your great hair. How important are your looks in relation to your stand-up work?
I don’t know, but hopefully not much because I feel I’m about to hit the wall there.

Do you ever get tired of people making issue of your looks?
Why the fuck would I get tired of that? I can’t even believe it. Plus, I take it with a grain of salt. I know that any comment about my looks is followed by an unsaid, ‘for a Jew.’

At least three writers have mentioned as an aside that you have a “pretty mouth,” which almost sounds kind of creepy. How would you react if a guy came up to you in a bar and said, “You have a pretty mouth?”
I’m thrilled by any compliments. What kind of asshole do you think I am? Many years ago it was summer and I was walking on the street in New York City and some guys on the street whistled. I whipped my head back at them, annoyed, and they said, ‘Not you.’ Since then I appreciate anything I can get.

To say your stand-up has raised more than a few eyebrows and got some social critics talking throughout your career would be a huge understatement. How important is it to be thought of as a political and cultural commentator?
It’s not important to me at all. It’s great when I can hit on stuff that matters to people or makes them see something in a different way, but I don’t rule out juvenility. Whatever makes me laugh I’m happy to bring on stage.

You talk a lot about your religion in your act. How has being a Jewish comic helped your career?
I don’t know. I run Hollywood?

Ok, has it hurt your career at all?
I don’t know. But I do think that people see me as one thing and I’m not. There are a lot of uncreative people in the business of show, cupcake face.

What is it that sets you apart from other comedians?
I have two vaginas.

How has being an outspoken, female comic affected your romantic life? Are guys generally intimidated by you?
Oh Jeez, I don’t know! Anyway, I’m a one-man woman.

By the way, who’s funnier— you or boyfriend, Jimmy Kimmel?
We’re different. He’s a flat-out genius. His brain works faster in a minute than mine works in a day. Dick.

Your comedy has been analyzed a great deal. Is it really worth all the heady discussion?
I don’t think it’s worth it. I think deconstructing comedy is fine if you don’t mind it killing the funny. [ed. Note: Punchline Magazine: Killing the Funny One Article at a Time].

Do you ever stress out about whom you may offend with your stand-up material?
I don’t stress out. If I feel too shitty to say something, I don’t. But if it’s too funny and I want to do it, I do it. I never want to offend, but some people are such pussies.

Would you ever give up stand-up in favor of a career in movies and TV?
I don’t see any reason why you have to give up one for the other. It’s like giving up being a Sagittarius so that I can have black hair.

What makes you laugh?
I don’t know. No one category. I like silly weird stuff. I know that’s not much of an answer but it’s just not an intellectual choice what you laugh at. It’s more physical, don’t you think?

How would you describe the current state of contemporary stand-up comedy?
I think we’re living in a great time for comedy. If you look, you’ll find some of the best comics in years working right now: Zach Galifianakis, Paul F. Tompkins, Jon Glaser, Vernon Chatman, Todd Glass, Tig Notaro. I could go on and on. But I won’t.

Is this Sarah Silverman’s year?
It’s Sarah Silverman’s QUEER.

Sarah SilvermanThe Sarah Silverman Program is on Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central. For more information, check out www.comedycentral.com.

About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.

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