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Interview: Sarah Silverman from The Sarah Silverman Program

Interview: Sarah Silverman from The Sarah Silverman Program


We had the pleasure of talking with Sarah Silverman from The Sarah Silverman Program about her controversial material, how far she is willing to go, and what’s coming up on the new season of the show.

I was wondering what kind of subjects are you going to be touching on this season. Like, what kind of taboo and controversial subjects? You tend to do that a lot in your show.

Sarah Silverman: We do, although I don’t think we ever really go, “What can we tackle this season?” I think that would kind of be a slutty way to go about it. We just continue to still try to just write stuff that makes us laugh, and when a bunch of comics are in a room, it takes more to make us laugh; or less. I mean, aggressively stupid goes a long way in the room and on the show.

Let’s see, I find out I was born with both looks and personality? My imaginary friend from childhood comes back as an adult and we have a lusty affair. Steve and Brian have a great [time] this season; their love as well as Jay and Laura; there’s some wedding action, and it’s very funny. There’s a new mayor in town who makes gay sex and brunch illegal. I should just look through the—let’s see, I go on “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Let’s see, Andy Samberg plays my imaginary friend this year. Ed Asner is in an episode as a Nazi war criminal. It was really, really—let me tell you something about older actors. Ed Asner is about 80, and Murray, who is on our show, Gershams, is 87, and they’re such pros that when they’re not shooting, they are in their chair sleeping, just like containing their energy. We have some really great pictures of elderly Nazi war criminals in set chairs sound asleep.

Billy Crudup plays himself on the show in an episode. I know you didn’t ask who guest stars were. Let me think. There’s some heavy psychedelic drug-taking in an episode. There’s a lot of drugs this season, actually.

There’s one episode; our eighth episode actually is a Steve and Brian story line that, you’ll actually, dare I say, cry at the end. It was written as a drama. Rob Schrab, actually, who directs most of the episodes, and writes so much and created the show with me, wrote this episode; and he wrote the “A” story like it’s a drama. I don’t think it’s like a very special “Family Ties,” but I think you might get choked up at the end.

It seems like you’ve got kind of a shock and comedy and shocking comedy, and you know some things are just there to just, I think, shock. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but

Sarah Silverman: No, I don’t think shock is bad. I don’t think it is. I don’t think it’s derived in particularly sweaty ways. I think it comes a little more organically. I do think we’re not more beholden to shock than story, or anything. I think—like what do you have in mind when you say that …?

During the writing process, how much is, “this is really hilarious” versus “this is kind of shocking and funny?”

Sarah Silverman: We never go for shocking if it’s not funny to us. I mean, I think that we go for aggressively dumb, but I don’t know because that has been what really makes us laugh in the room lately, like the biggest compliment you can get is, “That is so … dumb.”

But shock—I don’t think we go like, “Ooh, that will really shock them.” I mean, does anything shock anyone anymore? I think we kind of hopefully reach beyond that a little bit with our fart jokes, no. But, I think that this season there is actually growth and character arc and stuff. Hopefully still just really dumb and funny and silly. And anything smart you can infer from it from you smart brain is great. I don’t know that it’s pure shock value. I don’t know how long that can last, and maybe that’s what you’re saying. I feel like we’ve got a really, really full season.

I noticed the first couple episodes of this season have more of a cinematic tone that reminded me a lot of Jesus is Magic and I wasn’t sure if that was deliberate, or—

Sarah Silverman: No, not deliberate, but I think cinematic certainly—I’m glad you guys got some of the episodes. I think the first one, “Proof is in the Penis” feels really cinematic to me. We just haven’t been on the air in 14 months, and that kind of kills us in our hearts, but we just really wanted to start with this one because it just felt like for people who are fans of the show, we know you’ve waited a long time, and here’s something that may be kind of special, or worth the wait; that has slow reveals, and just feels maybe like something special. We love that episode.

Can we expect big musical numbers all season long, or is this just the first couple of episodes?

Sarah Silverman: No, no, no. There’s musical—it’s very uneven. We’ve just kind of went organically with how it went, so there are a couple episodes that have no music. There’s an episode that has, I think the second episode has three songs. It’s just kind of however it works with the story and however we’re moved when writing the outline.

Usually in the room, someone will just start, get a snag in their brain of a—there’s an episode where Steve writes a song that becomes famous called, “I’m glad you hurt your hand because Brian like hurts his hand.” That just came from the writer’s room of me. Rob Schrab hit his hand, and I was in an extra obnoxious mode, and I just started going, “I’m glad you hurt your hand. I’m glad you hurt your hand.” Then Rob wrote it into the script.

Now, if you didn’t make it into comedy, what would you be doing?

Sarah Silverman: I would probably work with retarded adults.

That sounds like a good episode for your show. Maybe season three?

Sarah Silverman: You know what? It is an episode this season, but it’s not exactly that. It’s less. But there is an episode this season where I get in trouble for peeing in a mailbox, and I get sent in to work at this place called, “The Little Buddies Program” which works with retarded adults; but I think I’m paired with a mentally handicapped adult, and she thinks she’s paired with a mentally handicapped adult, and we’re so condescending to each other that we never realize who’s retarded, because it’s like, “Do you like ice cream? I love ice cream!” “Do you like ice cream? I love ice cream!”

I was wondering, since you were nominated for an Emmy, has that created higher expectations for yourself, and for the show now?

Sarah Silverman: Well, we’ve always had high expectations for the show. Not in terms of accolades, but we work on it the same. I think everyone that works on it has this awesome love for it. I know it’s so corny when people say that, but we really are like a group of friends. We stand on the set, not just the cast and the writers, but the crew. With all our huge, crazy insane gaps in production, all the crew works their way back to the show because we just have such an awesome time. We stand around going, “Oh my God. We’re making show business. Like this is going to be on TV.” It doesn’t seem fair to get to do what we all love so much.

We didn’t expect it so much, that none of us knew they were even announcing the Emmy nominees. I just woke up to my alarm clock and looked on my phone, and saw like eight calls, and I thought there was an emergency. It just never occurred to us ever, and then it was so great. We couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it, and we’re so happy that anyone, especially the hoity-toits, would appreciate our show as much as we do. It was awesome.

It would have been great to have some sort of momentum with the other award shows in the season, but we weren’t eligible for any of the others; Golden Globes or SAG Awards, or any of that stuff because we weren’t on the air in 2009, at all. It will have been 14 months since the last time we were on when we air on February 4th. You’d think we were “The Sopranos” or “Lost” with these gaps, and not a 21-1/2 minute show about fart jokes, but we’ll take it. We really love it. We love being together and making this super-super dumb, funny, silly show.

How difficult is it for the writers to create the show in your voice. Did you ever have times where you say, “Sarah wouldn’t do that” or “Duck wouldn’t do that”? You probably know what Duck can’t do, but that sort of thing.

Sarah Silverman: I’m there the whole time. I’m one of the writers. There’s just like five of us, so there’s never a problem. There hasn’t been much turnover; it’s been like Dan Sterling and Rob Schrab and I, and then John Schroeder, tall John, he’s 6″10″, and Harris Wittels and Chelsea Peretti, and our writer’s assistant, Eric Schaer, who’s written two great scripts in the past two season. But, it’s just a small group. We work out of my apartment usually the first three weeks, because we never have office space when we finally get picked up. So it’s very intimate. My hands are all over it, but also, the guys know me so well; sometimes more than I know myself.

So it’s literally a case that sometimes you go, “I wouldn’t do that,” and they go, “Yes, you would,” and you go, “Yeah, maybe I would do that.”

Sarah Silverman: Yeah, sometimes, but sometimes it’s such a fine line that I’ll go, “Eew, I don’t want to do that.” And I’ll do something so very similar to it, but it’s just one of those things that there’s no rule book. It’s just kind of by feel, and that’s it. Some writers get far more excited about—you know, I mean, writing for Jay is super fun—like everyone has such a specific voice; between Laura and Brian and Steve and Jay. I know Dan Sterling loves writing Jay’s stuff, his professions of love—is that right? Professions?

Now how many episode ideas have been shot down by the network?

Sarah Silverman: None. None. I could complain about Comedy Central about plenty of things, I guess, but they are super cool about the most important thing, which is content. They may have gripes or they might complain or try to lure us away from a topic, but they never put their fist down and say, “No.” It’s awesome. They really have not meddled with any of the content we like to do.

They’re great about it. They never really sensor us, and even the standard and practices people can make is crazy, but really as long as we can give them a way to defend it, they’ll let us go. They just always need to know how to defend something that they’re worried about.

You are now being televised on The Logo Network, and the commercial is hilarious. How do you feel about your gay fans?

Sarah Silverman: Well, they saved us. We wouldn’t be on the air if it wasn’t for Logo. Not that that’s the only reason why, but I mean—it’s funny because I was talking to some gay friends of mine, and they were just like; it’s not just that Steve and Brian are gay, it’s just kind of the subversive humor. It’s that kind of like absurdist stuff is I guess the cup of tea of a lot of people in the gay community; maybe more in general than the straight community. I don’t know, but yeah. I’m just so grateful.

I know that gays belong to Kathy, but any fall over, I’m not going to take. I’m just so grateful to Logo. They didn’t even think twice about helping us, and in terms of the content, never, ever had even a request. They really are amazing over there, and I can’t express how grateful we all are for them, because we wouldn’t have had a third season without them, and they asked for nothing in return. The fact that their end of the bargain is that they get to air the episodes, it’s like really? It’s amazing to us, too. Its so win-win and we’re just so grateful. So totally grateful.

What kind of cool things can fans expect from the DVD of Season 2, Volume 2 that’s coming out soon?

Sarah Silverman: First of all, let’s see. It’s the rest of Season 2. Season 2 got split up by the strike for us. There’s also a bunch of animated shorts. There’s some great behind the scenes stuff. We did audio commentary.

The behind the scenes stuff is really cool on it, actually, because we always just have somebody around with a flip camera or something, backstage, and they grab us between scenes, or whatever, and make something cool out of it. And then, just all the episodes.

Can you talk about the animated shorts? Like how you did those?

Sarah Silverman: Those were done by this guy named Justin Roiland, who is an amazing animator and writer, and Rob Schrab knew him from Channel 101, which is a website that they do together. It’s a live show here in L.A., too, where people make TV shows that are under five minutes. I don’t know if you know anything about it; it’s pretty spectacular, and it’s how I met Schrab, and Dan Harmon—the three of us created this show together.

There’s just this crazy pool of talent, and Justin does this great animation, so we just kind of gave him free rein, and he would write cartoons and stuff, and grab us in between scenes to record them. And that’s that.

Your character on TV uses bad language, rants unashamedly, and is full of sticky-sweet self-importance at the best of times. But in real life, honestly, is there anything taboo to you? Some subject or person that you won’t touch; and if so, why?

Sarah Silverman: Well, I don’t like to make fun of people, real people, and the only times I’ve done that is if it’s a Roast or stuff like that. You know what I don’t like? When people ask me that, I always think of the same thing, which is I don’t like jokes about fat women. I don’t like fat jokes about women, and it’s just not tit for tat, you know? Like fat women in white America don’t deserve love, and I don’t think that’s anything to make fun of, you know what I mean? It’s a bummer.

Actually, there’s a quote from “Family Guy,” that’s so brilliant about that, that encapsulates exactly how I feel about it, which is like—oh, I’m not going to say it right, but it’s—you know the father, Peter, and the son—what’s his name, Chris? Chris is like, “Well, we’re fat,” and Peter goes, “Chris, fat guys aren’t fat. Only fat women are fat.” It’s just so true in our society, and it bums me out to make—it never makes me laugh, it just makes me go, “Ugh.”

Beyond the show, you also have a movie that’s starting today. But I was wondering, what was Steve Buscemi like to work with, and what was the movie like to work on?

Sarah Silverman: Oh, he is so amazing. I’m so happy to know him now, and he’s just the kindest, most sincere, but like also the silliest man. He just takes my breath away. Sometimes we’d be doing a scene, and I would just be watching him. Like you forget you’re part of it, because you just want to sit and just watch him.

But he’s such a great guy, and he’s so in love with his wife and his kid. Whenever his phone would ring and he would see it was one of them, he’d just go like, “Oh!” and it’s so cute. I just loved it; to work with him and Peter Dinklage and Romany Malco, who is like, I want him to be my life coach. He’s just got everything figured out. He’s such a neat guy.

But, it was a blast. We had a lot of fun. It was nice to play somebody nice, and I actually was replacing a woman who was—I can never remember her name, she was great. She was in Lovely and Amazing. Anyway, she for some reason had to leave; she had a family emergency.

The only bad story I have from that is I flew in to New Mexico. I mean, I just took it right away, because I was like, Steve Buscemi, okay, whatever. I flew the next day, and I had to go straight from the airport to wardrobe. And we started trying things on and nothing fit. The wardrobe woman just starts tearing up, literally getting choked up with tears, and she goes, “I got all size 0s, and you’re like an 8.” I was just like, “Oh, I’m sorry.” So humiliating, but what are you going to do?

It ended up being super fun, and even she was really nice, but it was hard to feel like you hurt someone’s feeling because you’re too fat. But it was really fun. I’m so happy it’s coming out. I just started seeing ads for it on TV, and I was like, “Oh my God.”

I’ve heard you talk before about your battle with depression. I was wondering, when you’re in that dark place, how do you continue to think and write comedically?

Sarah Silverman: You know what? I think the best answer to that is just practice. Practice, you know, when you do it every day, and it’s part of what you do. You’re able to channel it through whatever mood. And also, I think my sadness or my happiness, or any kind of manic thing; it forms whatever kind of work I do in that day.

Sometimes it’s hard. I have dark times. Honestly, I’m pretty much a happy person, and I like being happy. I like being content. I think people that romanticize it don’t really know how bad it is, like sadness.

There was a time, actually—you know when you’re just like—I don’t cry a lot, but I felt like tears had been filling me up for days, and I’d been pressing down. Then I was shooting one morning, so I’m in my pretend bed with my real dog, and we’re about to shoot all the good nights, and it just happened where literally Rob said, “Action” and I went to talk and nothing came out. And just like tears. I felt so—and it was just one of those things where I said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” It just almost became totally physical. I just was like—and they were, “It’s okay. Let’s take five.” And half of me is crying, I don’t even know why, and half of me is crying because I just feel so bad for holding things up.

It’s just so cool, because my real life sister plays my sister, and she was there to do the scene after that, and so they were like, “Do you want us to get Laura?” And I was like, “Yes.” And she came in and she got into my pretend bed, and just rubbed my hair and told me stories about when I was little, and it just made everything better. It was just such a sweet, weird, bizarre, but homey, almost, experience. And then I felt better, and I was like, “I feel better, but I’m afraid to call the crew back, because I know when I see their faces, I’ll cry. Because they love me.”

But we ended up making the day, no problem. It was good. It was just one of those big cries that you don’t expect every couple years, and it was so weird. But I think of it almost fondly, because I just love those guys so much, and to have my own sister right there was nice.

How much is the character of your sister like you and your sister’s relationship in real life?

Sarah Silverman: Similar, only she, I think, I hope to think we take care of each other more. More of an equal—Laura is actually in real life older than me, but I make her my younger sister because; one, she looks … really good, and two, I decided it would be funnier for me to be mooching off of my little sister.

But there’s four of us, four girls, and we’re all really close. Sometimes I just feel bad for people without sisters. I remember one time I was having a fight with a boyfriend, and I was like forwarding all our emails and stuff to my three sisters. And we’re having a whole conversation by email about, “If he said this, and you should …,” and I accidentally copied him in one, and he literally saw the whole thing. But I was just like, “You know what? Whatever you say to me, you should assume that all of my sisters can hear. That’s how you should talk to me. I don’t take it back. That’s how it’s going to be. So watch it.”

How do you challenge yourself when it comes to the shows? Is it something like, “I’m going to do this, this season; or maybe I should challenge myself to go outside this box this season?”

Sarah Silverman: Gosh, I can’t say that I’ve really stood outside of it and thought about it, and deconstructed it to that level, but it just kind of happens, haphazardly. There are like, two episodes this season. You’ll only notice it if you look for it. In one of them, it’s just kind of a fading thing, but I have a real thing with necks. Like, why isn’t there bone there? There’s so much important stuff in there. Like in your neck and your throat. It’s crazy that evolution didn’t put something there to protect it. It makes me mad.

So anyway, there’s like some times when I talk about it, and it became into this episode where I get hit with a Frisbee in the neck, and it becomes my obsession. Actually, I think it’s the second episode, if you were sent it. It turns out that, oh yeah, I have to be looking up and not anticipating a Frisbee is about to be thrown into my neck. My biggest fear. It’s mean, it’s not … with dolphins, or whatever that was.

And just in terms of acting? This is really corny, but I try to—as corny, or as absurd, or as aggressively … stupid something is, I know that I try to play it real, because without that contrast, if I was acting like, “Whew, I’m crazy,” there would be no contrast to how stupid the material is. I am kind of aware of that.

Have you ever thought about giving Doug a co-star? Like an animal co-star on the show.

Sarah Silverman: I don’t know. Like should he have a pet? He should have a fish. Would that be a good idea? Do you want to have a fish on the show? … I don’t know, we haven’t really thought about it, though Laura always brings her dog to the set, and they’re like best friends.

I just wanted to know about your YouTube videos that are such hits. Have you thought about releasing another one? What are your other ones about?

Sarah Silverman: I never, you know obviously I make no—we shoot it in my apartment, I do it for free. We just make it because we just love doing that stuff when we think of something. I’ve been approached to do something where I have to pump out a certain amount, and it would be monetized, but it’s just not worth it because I feel like I don’t want to have to come up with stuff. It’s just like if it moves me, and I think of something, we shoot something in my apartment and put it up there. I kind of just like it that way.

I own my Saab and my apartment. I don’t want to ever have to produce something, even if it’s not inspired, you know what I mean? Like just for the sake of it. Right now I don’t have any—we did everything. We did all the ideas we had. Although there is one more video we’re thinking about doing, but—

I just kind of whenever I think of something and want to do it, I’ll do it, but I don’t like to be beholden to it in that way, and I really love the internet. I love it as a medium. I just want to do stuff I’m super-jazzed about and not be beholden to any kind of production schedule.

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