Sarah Silverman Is Magic
Updated: Dec 10, 2021
by Brad Balfour
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 amazing.
Was there anything you hesitated to put in or used at first, and then took out?
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 routine?
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.
Sarah Silverman in “Jesus is Magic.”
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…
Sarah Silverman in “Jesus is Magic.”
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 abortion.
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 like pee.’
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 perform.”
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.”
Sarah Silverman in “Jesus is Magic.”
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 actress.
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.
Sarah Silverman in “Jesus is Magic.”
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 answer.
Sarah Silverman in “Jesus is Magic.”
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 it.
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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