This is the full online version of the interview WebMD did with Sarah in November (apparently first posted 11/2/12). A ten question Q&A version was in the November/December 2012 print issue of WebMD Magazine.
WebMD – Q&A With Sarah Silverman
The comic talks about her health, her career, and her role in “Wreck-It Ralph.”
By Gina Shaw
A comedian, writer, actress, singer and musician, Sarah Kate Silverman often tackles controversial topics such as politics, racism, and sexism. She began her career with Saturday Night Live, where she worked as a writer and performer. But her career really began to take off when she created The Sarah Silverman Program, which ran on Comedy Central from 2007 to 2010. Silverman’s concert film, Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, based on her one-woman show of the same name, was released in 2005. Since then she has appeared in a wide range of venues, including The Simpsons, The Good Wife, Take This Waltz, and stand-up shows across the country. She sat down with WebMD the Magazine to talk about her role models, her history of depression, her exercise routine, her ideal day, and just how much she has in common with Vanellope Von Schweetz in Wreck-It Ralph, due out this month.
GS: From your early days on Saturday Night Live to your concert film, Jesus Is Magic, to your hit Comedy Central show, The Sarah Silverman Program, you’ve been one of the leading female comics of your generation. Who have been some of your greatest role models in comedy?
SS: Steve Martin. I worshiped Steve Martin as a kid. And Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, Joan Rivers. I loved Joan Rivers’ book, Enter Talking, as a kid. And now she’s more vital than ever. I can’t believe the stuff she gets away with on Fashion Police!
GS: You’re voicing the 9-year-old video game character Vanellope Von Schweetz in the Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph. Is she much like you as a kid?
SS: Precocious-wise? Oh yeah. She’s this 9-year-old girl living in a video game that won’t let her participate, and all she wants to do is be able to race. But she’s got this glitch, and I think it’s kind of parallel to Ralph’s [voiced by John C. Reilly] own story. His character is the bad guy, but he just wants to participate and win a medal and get love. We both find that our biggest shames become our greatest assets, and I think that’s true in life. I found that even with my own self, the things I thought would be my greatest shame-filled secrets really informed the things that I found my strength in later. Like being a bed-wetter. (Silverman’s book, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee, was a New York Times bestseller in 2010.) I’ve learned the value of being honest and using the things I once felt shame in as a story.
GS: You’ve talked publicly about having had depression and going through therapy in your teens. How do you handle it now?
SS: It’s just a constant struggle. Probably more than half of all therapists are cuckoo, but if you can find the right one for you, it can really be a lifesaver. I think the difference from being miserable to finding happiness is just a matter of degrees, of change in perspective. If you live your life defining yourself by what other people think of you, or what you think other people might think, it’s a form of self-torture. Hey, we could all be brains in jars!
GS: Do you think most real comedy comes from a darker place?
SS: Probably yeah, real comedy comes from pain. But I don’t think that the pain is something you have to maintain as a kind of fuel. Some comics may think that way, but I’ll take happiness over a really dark, good, angry joke. I think it’s worth trying to find happiness or be less miserable. Also, because if you don’t keep growing as a person, you can’t grow as a comedian. And then you’re just kind of the same. Either you don’t find success or you become a caricature of yourself.
GS: There’s been a lot of press over your nude scene in Take This Waltz, although it’s not sexual, it’s just you in the shower. Why do you think it’s been such a big deal?
SS: I think it trickles down from a conservative male perspective. As women, we’re made to feel that our value is in our sexuality and yet it’s also what women are punished for. [The focus on women’s bodies is] a lot more about men than it is about women. But I think women buy into it and become their own worst enemies. Whether you look like you’re getting old or you look like you’re getting Botox, there’s constant punishment and judgment.
GS: What’s your favorite part of your body? What body image issues have you had? How do you deal with them?
SS: I like my teeth! I like it all. It works, it’s strong. I think I still struggle with it like everybody does. I’d love for young girls to think I’m comfortable with my body — and more and more, I am. When I was younger I was tearing myself apart about having cellulite on my thighs and all of a sudden I realized, you know, no woman ever started a revolution complaining about her thighs. You can’t change the world complaining about your thighs.
GS: What’s your best health habit?
SS: Probably stretching. I really try to stretch every day. I feel like I’m in training for living the rest of my life comfortably. Before I work out, I stretch for a half hour. I try to get yoga-style patience with it and get into it and love it. But I also have the TV on.
GS: Your worst?
SS: I’ll have a cigarette or two occasionally.
GS: Is it hard to eat well on the road as a vegetarian?
SS: Yes! Here in LA you have access to healthy things, but on the road, you get “Oh well, we have grilled cheese, that doesn’t have meat.” You get a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I love cheese and milk and eggs — if I could cut out dairy, I’d be perfect. But I love cheese so much, I’m probably addicted to it. If I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound, I’d just eat shells with butter and grated jack cheese every day. And sheet cake.
GS: What’s your personal health philosophy?
SS: Moderation! Have a little cookie. But make it a treat. Don’t devour cookies or any one food that’s crappy for you like it’s your job. Make it a treat.
GS: What’s the last exercise you did?
SS: I’ve been hanging out with these two young comedians, I call them my kids. One is a certified yoga instructor and we’ll hang out in my living room and pull out yoga mats, and play “meditation” music that I downloaded from iTunes, and she’ll lead us in yoga. Or I’ll go on my elliptical and watch all my favorite shows, the ones I’m only allowed to watch when I’m on the elliptical: Damages, Project Runway, Mad Men, The Walking Dead. Game of Thrones is the best for the elliptical. The theme is like my workout music!
GS: Who has influenced you most when it comes to your health?
SS: My three parents, I guess. My mom is really flexible. She’s like a rubber band. And my dad rides his bike every day and plays tennis, so I just grew up playing sports. My stepmother plays tennis and golf and wins everything. She took me to a kickboxing class once and I figured it would be an easy class for older people. Ten minutes in, I was gasping for breath, like “F this!” and she’s just going, “Doo-dee-doo. … ” She’s so strong, it’s crazy. So I see the difference between people who stay in shape and those who don’t, and I know I feel better when I feel like I’m strong.
GS: What would be your perfect day?
SS: I used to have a perfect day when I was living in New York in the summer and doing standup on the weekends. This was my Monday: I’d sleep late and then go play softball at 2 p.m. with the Improv softball team in Central Park. We’d laugh and have fun, and then after the game I’d stay and do field practice, taking millions of balls and just hitting them to anywhere in the field. Then I’d walk from the west to the east side of Central Park and always go home by way of the polar bears at the Central Park Zoo. I loved watching them swim underwater like giant, hairy men. They’re so cute! Then I’d hop on the 6 Train back home downtown to the East Village, shower up, and play poker with some friends sometimes until morning, and then go out for breakfast. Oh, the comic’s life!
GS: Now, I play basketball with a bunch of friends on Sunday and we’ve all grown old together. We’ve been playing for the past 15 years, and now we have our knee braces and we have to do our special exercises because basketball will really mess you up. So we break to go out for pizza sooner. I love doing group sports with my friends and laughing.