Interview: Sarah Silverman

Controversial US comedian Sarah Silverman may have bombed in London last week, but she found time to give Adam Sonin her views about God, Obama and her obsession with Boots.


By Adam Sonin, October 23, 2008
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What do we know about Sarah Silverman? She is 37, lives in Los Angeles, and has a dog called Duck. Oh, and she is regarded as the world's hottest and most controversial comedian, having carved a reputation in her native United States for taboo-busting stand-up routines - subjects covered include race, rape and abortion - delivered in the persona of a sweet-faced Jewish princess.

Occasionally, her desire to shock misfires - her use of the word "Chink" to describe Chinese Americans resulted in her having to defend her humour on national TV.

She recently hit the headlines for a non-comedic reason, being the impetus behind "the Great Schlep". Under the slogan "Vote for Obama, gonna visit Grandmama!", she has been campaigning to urge US Jews to visit their grandparents in Florida and persuade them to vote for Barack Obama in the presidential election. She protests that only a "douche-nozzle" - an unflattering reference to an intimate medical appliance - would not try to convince their grandparents to vote Democrat in next month's poll.

Like Obama, Silverman herself has been trying to win over a nation - in her case, the British. She brought her stand-up show to London last week, although the move may have backfired. Her material -a mix of old and new - went down fairly well, but some audience members were angry that she was on stage for only 45 minutes.

Nevertheless, she maintains she loves us Brits, thinking we are smarter than her "retard" of a nation - and she cannot get enough of Topshop and Boots, visiting the stores "three days on the trot" during her latest trip, she says.

The JC caught up with Silverman before her show and on the night, in person and by email, to find out more about her retail preferences, and ask whether being Jewish has anything to do with her non-PC humour.

 Jewish Chronicle: Playing with prejudices can be risky, for example your "I love Chinks" comment. Are there any boundaries?
Sarah Silverman: Well I just assume - at least hope - that the true intent of any comments come through. I don't think half my stuff would be funny if the audience didn't feel at least a little bit safe that it's not how I truly feel. Or that who I really am transcends through the a******e just enough.

 JC: Do you think comedy should be about dark subjects, raising awareness about difficult issues - the Holocaust, for example?
SS: I think you said it. Though, people can't help what topics cut them deep. It all depends on who's inferring - and what the contexts of their lives are at the time, you know?

 JC: What made you want to be a comedian?
SS: Making my family laugh when I was little - it became an addiction. It was a kind of survival. And it continues. Desperate? Yes. Hidden as well as possible.

 JC: How do you write material for stand-up? Do you have a routine or formula?
SS: If I have to write by a certain time, I can pull through, but usually I just let stuff happen, hanging out with comic friends - or bringing a basic idea on stage and seeing if it goes anywhere.

 JC: How do you prepare for a performance?
SS: I don't think or worry about it until right before the show. Then I take a half-hour and really focus and make a basic game plan, then there's no time to worry because it's showtime.

 JC: Who are your influences and heroes of comedy?'
SS: Garry Shandling, Steve Martin, Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, [US actress and writer] Ruth Gordon.

 JC: Why the current support for Obama?
SS: I've never been moved by a politician. Obama is the first one in my lifetime that has inspired me, and so many people. Plus, I'm genuinely terrified of the alternative.

 JC: Do you think your profile is helping raise awareness among younger and older Jewish voters, and can Florida be turned?
SS: I hope so. Any little bit will help. Florida is Bush land.

 JC: How does being Jewish influence your comedy and your life? Does it annoy you to be labelled as anything other than a comedian?
SS: The "major Jewish comedian" label can be less than thrilling - to be co-opted by a people because (to some people) I may be "good for the Jews". I am Jewish and proud of this culturally and ethnically - the ways in which I was born this way and am happy with whom I am. I really don't have religion, though. I am agnostic to the core. Hopeful, but agnostic. I just can't imagine many of these things [in Judaism] are true. My sister, though, is a rabbi and she's taught me lessons that, God or not, have taught me good things.

 JC: Do you enjoy being Jewish - not so much from a religious point of view, but the assumptions that come with it and the identity?
SS: Sure. Can't imagine not.

 JC: Do you still enjoy what you do, or has some of the romance evaporated from the days when you would do open mic spots and really graft?
SS: I love it. I always have and I still do. I love the community of comedy and comics and I love getting out there.

 JC: What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?
SS: We just finished 10 more episodes of my show, The Sarah Silverman Program, and the DVD of Jesus is Magic is out or about to be out soon.

 JC: When will you be back in the UK?
SS: I don't know when I'll be back, but I'm loving it here. I could live in Boots.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic is released on DVD by Warner Music Entertainment

Snapshot

BORN: December 1, 1970, in New Hampshire, the youngest of four daughters. Father was a clothing retailer, mother a photographer.

CAREER: Writer and performer on Saturday Night Live in 1993 but sacked after one series. Has appeared on numerous American TV shows and her own show, The Sarah Silverman Program, which began in 2007. Her in-performance film, Jesus is Magic, was released in the UK earlier this year.

CONTROVERSIES: Offended Chinese Americans by using the word "Chink" to describe them, and rowed with a community representative on TV over the issue. New York radio personality Joe Franklin considered suing Silverman after she jokingly accused him of rape.

Last updated: 1:59pm, August 28 2014

COMMENTS

concerned

Thu, 11/06/2008 - 16:50

Rate this:

0 points

Charmingly spontaneous as well as cleverly witty. The "Great Schlep" into Florida was very informative to me, who had been aware of this lovely venture. My guess is that this 37 year old will become more aware, during the next two or three decades, of how her humor may affect many people. The experience with Chinese Americans may be a rather tactful call from God to begin to take notice. I am hoping that she will still be fun when she learns the lessons that God may have in store.


concerned

Thu, 11/06/2008 - 17:33

Rate this:

0 points

Charmingly spontaneous as well as cleverly witty. The "Great Schlep" into Florida was very informative to me, who had been aware of this lovely venture. My guess is that this 37 year old will become more aware, during the next two or three decades, of how her humor may affect many people. The experience with Chinese Americans may be a rather tactful call from God to begin to take notice. I am hoping that she will still be fun when she learns the lessons that God may have in store.