A recommended interview for new SS fans. For long-time Sarah fans, these are mostly stories you’ve heard before. (Though with some new tidbits about life with daddy post-divorce.) But it’s always enjoyable to experience the entertaining loving banter between Donald and daughter. (To see that sort of interaction recently, go to this video segment from November 2013 HuffPost Live.)
by Hadley Freeman
13 December 2013
Sarah Silverman is infamous for telling jokes that spark a reaction that’s at least as much a gasp as it is a laugh. Some of her best-known gags have included making a music video for her then boyfriend, US talkshow host Jimmy Kimmel, in which she sings angelically about “fucking Matt Damon” (“On the bed, on the floor, on the towel, by the door, in the tub, in the car, up against the mini-bar,” Damon crooned in the background), and recounting on national TV how a friend advised her to get out of jury duty by pretending to be racist and saying, “I hate chinks.” “But I didn’t want to be thought of as racist, so I wrote, ‘I love chinks,’ ” she said sweetly.
When I go to her west Hollywood apartment to meet her and her father, Donald, it takes less than a minute to see where her sense of humour comes from.
“This was the first Thanksgiving we were all together since his mother died,” Sarah says, gesturing to her father, and then adds solemnly, Silvermanishly, “She was murdered.”
“By a rapist! She was murdered by a rapist!” chirrups Donald, who looks like Judd Hirsch, but more handsome and cheekier.
Sarah’s mouth drops open, the shocker shocked. “Dad!” she gasps.
Chatting with the two Silvermans – the Silvermen – is like listening to one of Sarah’s standup shows in stereo. They have exactly the same sense of humour – “We even sit the same way!” Sarah laughs as she notices they are both slumped identically in their seats – and take delight in repeating the same family stories, especially ones about how Donald taught his youngest daughter the joy of shocking people.
“She was just so cute as a baby, so I taught her the worst words,” Donald recalls fondly. “One day when Sarah was about four, my mother came over with some brownies and Sarah shouted at her, ‘Shove ’em up your ass, Nana!’ It was terrific.”
Throughout her career she has been criticised by everyone from ethnic minority rights groups to the National Rifle Association. But in October 2012 Sarah, who is Jewish, acquired a rather unexpected critic: a rabbi. Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt took it upon himself to write an open letter to Sarah, urging her to “channel your drive and direct your passion to… something that will make you a better and more positive person… Marriage and children will change the way you see the world.” Sarah didn’t see the piece, but Donald – who Googles his daughter “a lot” – did, and was not impressed. “Hey Rabbi Idiot, shove God up your judgmental ass… Sarah was on the [most influential Jews in the world] list. I missed your name. You don’t fuck with my family,” he wrote underneath the rabbi’s article. The comment went viral.
“I went on to Huffington Post that morning and was like, ‘Oh God, what have you done?’ I loved it,” Sarah says.
Does Donald find it painful to read criticism of his daughter? “Here’s the thing,” he begins in his thick Boston accent. “Most of what people write is glowing. But sometimes you get schmucks. Or like the rightwing, who are just total assholes.”
Donald’s relationship with his own father was difficult. “He loved my mother, but he didn’t like my brother and me,” he says, looking down at his knees.
“His dad used to hit him round the head!” Sarah cries, still palpably pained at the thought.
So when he became a father, he made a conscious decision to have a different kind of relationship with his children. His and Sarah’s interactions with one another consist of about two parts ribbing to one part unabashed love. “I’m like that with all my girls,” he says, referring to his three daughters and stepdaughter from his second marriage. “The other day I said to Susie –”
“My oldest sister. Daughter number one…” Sarah says.
“…in order and love!” chimes in Donald before continuing. “I said to Susie, ‘Susie, I can’t describe the love I feel for you guys. It fills my guts!’ And she said, ‘Daddy, I’m so glad you feel that way because none of us can stand you!’ Hahaha!”
When Donald and his first wife divorced when Sarah was six, he made sure to stay close to his children, moving just down the road from the family home in New Hampshire. He would take Sarah swimming in the local YMCA in the mornings and then come over in the afternoons to take her for walks.
“And Egg McMuffins! You’d buy me those sometimes after swimming,” Sarah says.
“Oh, you remember that?” He smiles.
But when Sarah was a teenager, something “washed over me, as fast as a cloud covering the sun,” she writes in her memoir The Bedwetter. For the next few years, she was crippled by depression. “Dad was always coming up with schemes to fix me,” she recalls affectionately.
Donald is still unable to think about this period with anything but a heavy heart. “I was so worried about her. I’d be making these decisions [about how to help her] that you don’t know are the right ones, you’re just hoping. Yes, I was extremely worried,” he says quietly.
He made two decisions that she thinks contributed to her recovery: putting her in a smaller school, and making her attend it. “I drove over to her mother’s house one day and found Sarah getting dressed and she said, ‘I’m dropping out of school and getting a job at a hotel.’ And I said, ‘No, you’re not – you’re going to school.’ “
“And he threw me in the car and drove me there. I was hysterical,” Sarah remembers.
“She was so angry. I had no idea what I was doing; I just hoped it was the right thing. Then, after four days, she said, ‘Daddy, I’m not feeling the same fear about going to school any more.’ ”
A few years later, Sarah was studying at New York University when she went to her father and, a little nervously, told him she wanted to drop out for a year to pursue standup. To her amazement, he told her to go for it and that he’d continue to pay her rent. The gamble paid off.
“When people say to me, ‘My parents were never supportive,’ I just can’t relate,” Sarah says.
Donald says, “My feeling was, you throw the bird up into the air, and if it falls down, you dust it off and throw it back up. And it all seemed fine to me. Sarah just seemed ready.”
Even though Donald and Sarah’s stepmother live in Florida and she’s on the west coast, he has remained just as involved in her life. When she broke up with Jimmy Kimmel in 2008 after a long-term relationship, Donald sent her a sepia-tinted photo of himself looking sympathetic.
“I emailed Jimmy on his birthday this year and he wrote back, ‘Thanks, you’re the first person to wish me happy birthday – except your dad, who emailed 10 days ago.’ ” Sarah laughs.
Did she ever try to pull away from her father? Sarah looks puzzled at the suggestion: “Um… well, we just really like each other.”
Sarah recently released a music video in which she delineates the difference between being a diva and “a cunt”. Donald loved it so much that he tweeted a link to it.
“Awww!” grins Sarah.
“And it’s great, because in Florida we have lots of divas and cu–”
“Oh, Daddy!” screams Sarah. She rolls on the sofa, horrified and a little delighted, while her father cackles away.