Gift Of The Gaffe
By Kit O’Connor
posted by TheBrag.com
27 Nov 2012
Sarah Silverman flies into Australia this week for the premiere of Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph – and to do her first ever Sydney show, at the Opera House. Those familiar with The Sarah Silverman Program and her cult-hit concert film Jesus Is Magic will know to expect a taboo-busting set from the New York-based comedian, whose memorable moments include wearing blackface and joking about the Holocaust and 9/11. She’s known for material that doesn’t just push but actually explodes the politically-correct boundary – but her candid 2010 autobiography The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, and her role in Sarah Polley’s relationship drama Take This Waltz, show a different side. And of course, a lot of what she says is funny precisely because it’s both true and un-sayable. Given her preference for email interviews (“because I can think for a second. I can craft a sentence”, she has said) we allowed her to respond to our questions in her own time…Possibly naked.
You have quite a few days between your Sydney show and your Melbourne show – what’s on your hitlist?
The days I have off I’ll want to go to the beach probably, and see some key Aussie places, find some vegetarian friendly restaurants…
What compelled you to write The Bedwetter and share such personal stories?
I remember watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when I was little and an actress came on and mentioned that she was a bedwetter as a kid and I couldn’t believe it. I was sure I was the only one and that it would be my shame forever, and to see this grown lady – a beautiful actress –expose that about herself made me feel so much less alone. I always wanted to do that. I don’t have shame anymore about anything in my life and it’s very freeing, and I want kids to feel that same relief. Wow that was not a very funny answer at all….
In your book you talk about going through depression and therapy in your teens. How do you handle it now?
Therapy and perspective and observation, and being able to be quiet and just exist through the hard times. To know no matter how dark it gets that it does pass. My mom said, “Sometimes ALL you have to do is be brave,” and I think it’s true. Sometimes you just have to exist through stuff.
Do you think the best (or the most) comedy comes from a dark or humiliating place?
Yep. I do. Though there are plenty of amazing comics that don’t expose themselves or use their pain as a source of their comedy – Seinfeld for instance: you can watch him do an hour of brilliant material and never learn a single thing about him. It’s interesting.
Who have been some of your greatest role models in comedy?
Garry Shandling is a big one – I got to experience him personally and he is a real mentor for me (and many voices in comedy today). He is so generous with his own life lessons and experience. So funny so vital. Growing up, Albert Brooks – who I first saw on SNL making short films and his movies – I had never seen that kind of realness in comedy. Woody Allen of course. My mother had his double album and was always playing it. There was a summer when we watched Sleeper every day. Steve Martin was my first major crush – also first saw him on SNL and then his specials and books and movies – I worshipped him. Loved how smart he was in contrast to how silly and absurd he chose to be.
At the 2010 TED conference you were talking about excess and the world’s population; you said you wanted to adopt a child who is mentally challenged, but that you were concerned that they don’t leave the nest at 18, and how if you die, god-willing at 80, you would worry about who’s going to take care of your sixty-year-old retarded child. So the solution was to adopt a retarded child who is terminally ill. What is your main goal in saying things like that?
It’s funny because I wrote this material for TED and the topic that year and it was all very scrappy – I’ve now honed it and it’s become part of a greater chunk of material. What is my goal? I don’t know. Laughs, thought provocation, discussion, impact? I don’t really have a master plan. I’m just this thing, you know? I shit things out and you take it or leave it or get mad or delight in it or hate me for it – it’s not in my control anymore. It’s yours to decide what it means mixed with the context of your life experience.
What kind of comedic material offends you?
Nothing offends me really but I don’t respond to material that is dark hearted – when nothing transcends past the hardness of it. You know what I mean? It just doesn’t go into my brain. There are some comics I’ve known for years whose material just bounces off my head – couldn’t tell you one of their jokes.
You occasionally take a lot of heat because of what you say; how hard is that to deal with?
It’s fine with me. I know that I’m not for everyone. I can’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay I don’t fight it.
How did the part in Take This Waltz come about?
Sarah Polley just gave it to me. She had seen my TV show and said she wrote the part for me. Can you believe it?? She’s so cool. To me, I’m always doing drama – it’s the same – just playing the words and the moment honestly. But people usually don’t see that. They think that comedy is this whole separate thing. But to me it’s the same and I was so grateful and happy and LUCKY that Sarah saw something in me.
Wreck-It Ralph has a message about wanting to break out of society’s perceptions of you; how do you relate to that?
I totally relate to that. People, especially in this business, love to think of you as one thing. It’s always the directors that think outside of that box who breakout actors in new ways. Someone saw Robin Williams as Mork and thought he’d be right for Good Morning Vietnam, you know?