Notorious potty-mouth and obscenity-mongerer Sarah Silverman is infamous for her role in urging people to elect her socialist idol Barack Obama in a 2008 video called “The Great Schlep,” but she's also chipped away at common American decency in her notably vile standup act and her propagandist Comedy Central show, “The Sarah Silverman Show.” This year, she'll further corrupt America's youth with the animated movie “Wreck-It Ralph” and the indie film “Take This Waltz,” but first she'll be promoting her liberal agenda in a Just For Laughs showcase this Saturday.
RedEye caught up with Silverman, who tricked us into talking politics, shared some insights on her favorite comedians and pretty much crushed the premise of descriptions like the one above with general awesomeness.
What are you doing these days? What is the day-to-day life of Sarah Silverman?
Oh my god. Um, I get up and I stare at about four legal pads and then I avoid them all day desperately.
What's on those legal pads?
All my different ideas, jokes, thoughts. I'm working on a video – maybe, maybe – another video for the election, but I don't know! I'm daydreaming lately.
Well you single-handedly won the election for Obama in 2008, so is anything in the works for the 2012 election?
I don't know. I mean, that idea [2008's “The Great Schlep”], it was perfect. I don't know. It would have to be good. The thing is, people who are going to vote for Obama are going to vote for Obama, but they're not as mobilized as they were in 2008 because they're not inspired with the poetry of “hope” and “change.” I still believe in Obama and everything, but I think what's going to mobilize people, like actually mobilize people is – I hate to say it – is the threat of the alternative. It's like a choice between some hope of progress and really going back into the '50s. So many issues like gay rights – and having gay people have the same rights as, um, other people – and women's rights. I mean, the first thing Romney said he was going to do is turn over Roe v. Wade! So it's kind of a little bit of a horror movie...The right uses like “patriotic” and “American” and “un-American,” and they're very threatening and it's so odd because what's more un-American than thinking you deserve more rights than anybody else? Than any other person! But that's not funny!
Seriously, you're going to depress all our readers!
I know, I didn't sleep well. I'm drinking coffee.
It's okay. Chicago's a pretty pro-Obama city, so hopefully people won't be too shocked.
Well speaking of abortion rights, your show, Sarah's Pro-Choice, is what we're previewing. Can you talk a little bit about the comics you picked – Marc Maron, Reggie Watts, Natasha Leggero, Kyle Dunnigan – and what drew you to them?
Ugh, they're just the best comics. The choicest comics. To me, they're all like so magical, they make me laugh so hard. Chris Hardwick [who was previously scheduled] can't go. For a good reason: he has to shoot more of his “Walking Dead” show. He's not in “Walking Dead,” he does the show that comes on after “Walking Dead” that talks about “Walking Dead,” which is so awesome. It's hilarious. So I'm going to replace him with – I'm not sure who – one of four comics who are all amazing as well. Reggie Watts – have you ever seen Reggie Watts?
I was just watching some of his stuff online.
Oh my god. He is just, like, bizarre and amazing and you never know what he's going to do because he doesn't know what's going to do. He's like the opposite of most comics. He cannot have a plan. He's most comfortable with no plan, and it's just so cool to watch. Natasha is so brilliant and amazing. I mean this in a Jewish way and not in a lesbian way – but I just want to eat her when I see her. She's so [bleep]ing adorable. Marc Maron I'm sure you're familiar with.
Yeah, I'm modeling this whole interview off of a WTF Podcast. That's my goal. I'm going to ask you about your upbringing next. And your religion.
Did you hear his interview with Todd Glass? It was so amazing. Todd's one of my favorite comics as well. It was just incredible. And the funniest [part] – I think it's so funny: Todd, so he came out on Marc Maron's show, and it surprised so many people because he's not – I think even the strongest gaydar may not have picked up he was gay. But he still has such a hard time saying the word “gay,” for whatever reason, that he just says “Marc Maron.” He's like “You know I'm, uh, you know, Marc Maron.” It's so funny. It's become, like, a new word for “gay.”
I'm sure Marc appreciates that. It's good branding.
I'm sure he does! It's so funny. He's great. He's so brutally honest about himself and others and things. It's fun to watch. It's just really smart and funny. Sometimes comics are smart and sometimes comics are funny, and sometimes they're smart and funny. You know how there are smart comics where you don't really laugh? You just go like “oh yeah, yeah, that's right.” But he's both, which is a very exciting combination.
Where do you place yourself on smart versus funny?
Oh gosh, I don't know. I have a very good perspective, like so many people, on everyone else, but [I'm] pretty blind to my own – [laughs].
It must be pretty cool to be in the role to curate a show of comics that you like.
It'll be pure fun for me. I'll be the standup in between everybody, and I'll kind of measure the amount of time I do by whatever's best for the show and how it's going, whatever time is displaced. I'll be like a professional emcee! That's what they do! Keep the show going, fill in spots. It'll be fun. I get to kind of watch, which is fun. When I close a show or when I do a long set I'm too nervous to watch the acts in front of me. That's why I like to go – I have a show once a month out here at [comedy club] Largo – and I always go second to last, so I can at least relax and watch the person after me. Before it's just, like, too stressful.
You still get nervous before you perform?
I still get nervous. It depends on the crowd and, like, the connection. And also, yeah, I wouldn't be nervous if I was doing the same hour for the past 20 years or something, but that's not very inspiring! I'm nervous because I'm in a state of constant flux with my own act. Just like figuring out who I am and what I'm thinking about and what I'm working on. I'm kind of in a constant transitional state. It keeps me on my toes because I still want to please the audience.
You've kind of become someone younger comics look up to, but your career is sort of based on inappropriate jokes. Is it weird at all to be admired for that?
Well when I started out – and ten years in, when I finally started getting good – people don't come to see you. They're forced to either discover you and realize that they hate you or like you or people walk out. There's an excitement in that, like “I'm going to prove myself.” But then there's a point – which is great – when people come specifically to see you. And then if what you do is surprise or shock, are you giving them what they're expecting by doing that?
There are definitely moments in every comic's career – I think it's healthy – to have a kind of identity crisis. Because you don't want to give the audience just what they expect. Especially if what they're expecting is to be surprised. It becomes a lot of second-guessing. And then what you have to realize is comedy just doesn't thrive in second-guessing. There's nothing funny about second-guessing what the audience might want to see and then trying to do that. Then the realization is just, like, “I have to get back to what I think is funny today” or “who I am now, what is funny to me?” And you hope your audience or a new audience or someone also thinks that's funny.
But you can definitely – if you look at comics in the '80s, they were such personas, such iconic personas. They're still alive now but they still do [in a mock-funny voice] “hickory dickory dock” or whatever. You have a choice of being a caricature of yourself that becomes very dated, and it might be what people came out to see, but it's, to me, the wrong choice. You need to keep moving, like a shark, like anyone else in the world. Grow and change and let your comedy reflect what that is at that time. Oh my god, I'm not being funny in this interview at all! You caught me in a deconstructionist morning.
Yeah, I don't know how we're going to rescue this one.
Oh [bleep]! See that's why I always want to do emails because I can think for a second, but everyone gets so offended! I mean, I love talking to you, hearing your voice, talking in the moment, but if you need a better answer you can email me and then I can think about it for two seconds. But then when I say “how about an email interview?” the article always starts with “she only does interviews by email.” It's because I need to think about [bleep]! Give your thoughtful questions a thoughtful answer. I mean, I understand, talking, there's a back and forth, but I don't know...I'm not so quick like other people. I don't do much crowd work.
As a comedian, people must confront you a lot in public like “Sarah Silverman, say something funny.” What do you do when, like, the barista at Starbucks confronts you like that?
I'm either hilarious or a wild disappointment. I don't know at any given time. I just woke up. I live in Los Angeles now so it's very rarely that anyone is impressed or starstruck. Nobody's impressed out here. But that's another thing – like, people recognize me, but there are stars [who] live out here and stuff – I'm definitely more approachable, so I think people definitely come up to me more than like a Gwyneth. People think they know me. I'm like the person where people go like “did we go to camp together? How do I know you?”
Since your act can be so inappropriate, do people come up to you and say really inappropriate things?
Oh yeah. I can't tell you how many times. People will think I'm disgusting! They talk to me and tell me the grossest things, and I know it's because they think I'll like it, so I'm forced to, like, swallow my disgust and go like “oh, ha ha ha ha, yeah, that's great.” And it's like “ew! I'm a lady!” Like every time I do press it's like [in faux-intimidating voice] “potty-mouth Sarah Silverman” and I just don't think of myself that way at all! I understand that I am clearly creating this, but, I don't know, I don't think of myself as dirty. I am, I guess, but I don't think of that.
Somebody on Twitter sent me a picture from a textbook, like in Texas or something, a real textbook. And on the page – this must be for kids! – it's describing the two meanings of “offensive.” And one is a football player, like, on the offense, and then one is me! Like it's nationwide common knowledge that I'm offensive! You're teaching kids that I'm the definition of offensive? Show a picture of like, the Real Housewives of wherever. That's offensive. That's unacceptable behavior for women.
I think I'm great for women. I think I'm a better role model for little girls than white-wine-drunk housewives being [bleep]-y to each other. Or the behavior of grownups judging people for who they love. What's more offensive? Or old white men telling women what to do with their vaginas. Topeka, Kansas just made it legal to beat your wife! It's like we're really scarily plummeting into the '50s. If the '70s could see us now, they'd be horrified...
I hate to be “us and them” about it because I want to feel like everyone on both sides of this very divided country wants the same things and loves their families. But the right is just motivating people with fear, and I think that's just such a negative, scary, dangerous thing. Women just got like a little too independent and powerful [for them]. Just the notion that your employer can decide if he wants to cover your birth control or not? I guess we live in a Christian country. These people who are so protective of the Constitution, it's really bizarre. I find them pointing fingers at people at things that they are doing.
Oh my god, I've torpedoed this! I get so political, and I get so charged and not funny! That's why I don't talk politics in my act because I think I would lose sight of comedy. Don't worry! It'll be dick jokes and vagina jokes! I'll keep it simple, just stuff that I can laugh at and isn't terrifying. I'm so sorry I keep bringing up [politics].
It's okay! But your fans might not want to come to your show after this. They'll be worried it'll just be a political speech.
I went a dark way in this conversation. Come to the show! It's going to be a blast! Bring everybody!
Now I'm all charged up politically. I'm going to go write some letters to my congressman.
I mobilized you!
Oh, I didn't even ask you about your movies. You have movies coming out this year. Any comment on those?
“Take This Waltz” comes out on the 29th [of June]. It's like this really beautiful, interesting indie movie. I'm a fan of Sarah Polley, [who] wrote and directed it. She's amazing. And of course Michelle Williams and – Seth Rogen is amazing in it! And I'm naked in the shower, and it's extremely, oddly, not as exciting as you think. And then Thanksgiving, the [animated] movie, “Wreck-It Ralph”, is out. It's so good! It kills me! It's a movie that will just rip your heart out and rebuild it and stick it back in. It's brutal, but kids love it. They love feeling heartbreak, I guess. And it's hilarious.
Just for Laughs Chicago – “Sarah’s Pro-Choice” with Sarah Silverman, Reggie Watts, Natasha Leggero, Marc Maron and Kyle Dunnigan
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Tickets: $48.50, justforlaughschicago.com