Political correctness officially had a massive heart attack and died when South Park hit the air in 1997, but ever since then, Sarah Silverman has been gleefully squatting over its grave and making a cocky. The writer-comic-actress uses her appealing features and twinkly eyes to throw you off as she detonates verbal WMD’s about everything from Jesus’s nailing to the holocaust to 9-11. (She was especially devastated by that last event because it happened on the same day she found out “the soy chai latte was like 900 calories.”) And I—who used to wear combat boots and hold signs picketing both Basic Instinct and the FDA—am only protesting that she please shut the fuck up for a second and let me catch my breath from laughing so hard.
You see, bitches, pop culture has changed to the point where massive representation of various minorities has taken the sting out of any one potentially dicey comment or observation. Thanks to this new, more generous landscape, the liberal public is now willing to embrace more dangerous comedy and even grasp a comic who—just like her fellow stand-up, the raucously derisive “Queen of Mean,” Lisa Lampanelli—performs the delicate dance of mocking stereotypes by smirkily embracing them. Unlike Andrew Dice Clay, the ’80s comic who ultimately became trampled by his stage character (a hateful caricature of testosterone-laden excess), Silverman takes a “this is just me” approach, adding careful helpings of wry detachment and irony. She doesn’t do accents, but in some ways, she’s the upscale cousin of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, draping herself in insensitivity in order to use it as a mirror and reflect everyone else’s.
No, she’s not really racist, she’s actually commenting on racism, and even white people seem to get it. In fact, in sneakily subverting biases in between trumpeting some of her own progressive thoughts (“Nazis are a-holes,” she grins, bravely), Silverman probably is politically correct—and that’s the scariest thing this fudgepacking wop has heard in a coon’s age.
In July of 2001, Silverman grabbed screaming headlines by telling Conan O’Brien that one way to get out of jury duty is to claim “I hate Chinks”—as if we all haven’t fantasized doing just that (and much worse) to avoid the ritualized torture of public service. Since then, Silverman’s sharp-mouthed JAP act has eased deeper into the mainstream, especially now that Michael Richards has shown us what real comedy-club hate can be. (P.c. may be dead, but human decency isn’t; Richards’s “nig”-a-palooza rampage was greeted with universal horror, making Silverman’s zingers look almost adorable by comparison. She should probably send him flowers.)
A wonderfully high-reaching Jew, she does more than just tell jokes. Last year, the slender but amusing concert film Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic mixed her stand-up routines with video-style song segments, caustic sketches, and a dazzling trio performed with her own vagina and butt. Around the same time, Silverman pulled off one more feat, bizarrely popping up in the Rent movie as a TV producer and coming off by far the funniest one in it—though, as she told me at the time, it’s not really that hard to be the funniest one in an AIDS musical.
Now, The Sarah Silverman Program—premiering February 1 on Comedy Central, home of South Park—has Jimmy Kimmel’s real-life girlfriend playing herself as an indulgent, whiny rapscallion from the bowels of the most lazy-assed, privileged part of hell via Valley Village. The free-form feeling of Jesus Is Magic is so intact that the flick was obviously a dry run for this show. Emo songs, exaggerated flashbacks, and visits from a horny “black God” accessorize the basic throughline, which has Silverman assuming the role of the über-bitch of our darkest dreams. Without a shred of shame, she patronizes the homeless, invents a drama to avoid having to help a friend move, and takes out money when her TV gets stuck on a help-the-children infomercial, but only to tape the bills on the screen and cover it up. The hilarious show is both a cautionary tale and an utter fantasy. This is my kind of cunt.
Our cross-country phone chat last week went like so:
Silverman: Hi, it’s Sarah Silverman. Sorry I’m a few minutes late.
Musto: That’s OK. I’m the douche who called you on the wrong day last time. I hope you got over that.
I just recently did.
Anyway, I really like the show. But last time you complained to me about always having to play the bitch in movies. Won’t this show pour extra flammables on that problem?
That’s exactly what Jimmy [Kimmel] said! But for me there’s a difference between a character who facilitates the exposition for the main character, with no layers to it, and a character that has many layers to her. I’m playing someone who genuinely thinks she’s a good person and who is a douchebag, and it’s not flat. I think that’s interesting to watch. What am I gonna do, a show where I’m Mary Richards? Don’t get me wrong, that was my favorite sitcom. But the comedy I do tends to be that contrast of sweet and sour.
The best Mary Tyler Moore episode was the one where Ted has a mild heart attack and proceeds to torture everyone with his realization of the beauty of life.
“Salt! You ever really look at salt?” My favorite might be when Rhoda totally dresses down Phyllis and Phyllis says, “Oh, Rhoda, you don’t know me at all—but it’s amazing how well you know my mother.”
But back to your show: Do you represent the death of p.c.?
It’s not for me to say. There are a lot of elements culturally that led to the death of p.c., but what next? There is no politically incorrect if there’s no politically correct. When alternative comedy started, it was an alternative to something. But you can’t call it alternative comedy anymore because it’s in mainstream clubs. It’s gonna start being that way with the p.c. stuff. It’s all role-playing. I always think of All in the Family. Meathead was p.c. He was telling Archie, “Don’t say nigger, don’t be racist.” But now it’s a role reversal where the liberals are the un-p.c.
Yeah, they can usually handle irony. I mean, someone would have to be a retard to think you’re racist.
I love that you’re saying retard!
Thanks! If you’d been around in the old days, wouldn’t you have provoked way more protests, like Andrew Dice Clay did?
I’m walking a line. I don’t really play a character. It’s not me, but it is my voice and it’s me aesthetically and visually and the way I sound. A lot of comics—Dice or people who do funny voices or weird characters—get huge, and these comics become dated and trapped. For me, there’s a kind of absolute power to saying the opposite of what you feel. The truth is what emanates. What am I gonna say—”I think people should be nice”?
Eew. I prefer you accidentally crapping yourself in that farting contest on the show. But of course that leads to a sensitive song about your sincere wishes for the world. Which is the real Sarah—the crapper or the dreamer?
I think I’m the crapper and the dreamer. It kills me that I fart and shit in an episode. I love aggressively stupid humor, but it was so embarrassing. The truth is, I do wish all the nations were part of one world and our religion was love. But I’m also the retard. To quote you.
Thanks for the shout-out. Did you love getting down with “black God”? I was supremely jealous.
The only bad memory is when we did that love scene, [the actor] was in boxer shorts and I was in paper-thin sweats, and I could totally feel his balls. He’s an older man and nice and dignified, and to feel his balls on me, I really understood the idea of disassociation.
It didn’t make you hot?
No. In fact, my vagina inverted. No, that’s stupid. Don’t print that.
Please, that’s my lead. But I thought vaginas were inverted. (Not 100% sure here, of course.)
They are. But even my labia majora shriveled. That’s disgusting.
That’s my lead. On the show, you learn life lessons under pressure, but they’re rather warped, like how older black women are wise beyond their years and younger black women are prostitutes. Was there ever any effort to make for a real uplifting message? (I hope not.)
I do like having real relationships and real moments on the show. I like the combination of hard jokes and absurdity with a real sister’s relationship [Silverman’s real-life older sister Laura plays her younger sis and mooch target] and a feeling of abandonment when she gets a boyfriend and so on. I like the idea of comedy played real and aesthetically it looks like it could be a drama, if the sound were off.
What does this show have to do with Curb Your Enthusiasm?
Nothing! Somebody wrote that it’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm with a girl.” That’s flattering, because I love Curb Your Enthusiasm, but this show is totally scripted and doesn’t take place anywhere near show business. My name on the show is Sarah Silverman, which is probably a mistake because I’m not playing myself. I used it out of laziness. My name should have been Sarah Morgan.
Or Sarah Zbornak. Do you favor the word cunt?
Yes! I really wanted to use it. “Cookie Party” is a pretty song, and the whole thing is supposed to be that it’s genuine and sweet and then the last line is, “My sister’s such a dick.” Dick is a hard word and hard to get a laugh. Originally it was “My sister’s such a cunt,” but you can’t say cunt, even if you say, “I meant it the way they say it in England.”
In England, they just say “Madonna.” I actually like the song the way it is. I laughed because I didn’t see it coming. Dick delivers. Was being a performer and writer on Saturday Night Live in your early days a ballbusting experience?
No. I’m sure I went through stages, but it was an amazing experience—the perfect boot camp. Once you’ve been there, you can take anything. And I got along with the cast.
Did you fuck all of them?
I didn’t fuck anyone. No, wait, let me think. [Pause.] I was hired at the same time as my on-and-off boyfriend [a writer there], so I was tied down.
Well, nowadays, you’re tied down by a whole other comic. But aren’t funny people completely self-absorbed and narcissistic?
Jimmy isn’t your usual performer. He’s developing shows for other people. He’s the fastest mind and the most prolific writer because he’s so self-disciplined. I try to explain to him, because he gets disappointed in people, “You can’t compare people to yourself. You have to keep your expectations low.”
Is his work compulsion sexy?
It is. The one way it sucks is I can never say “I had such a hard day,” because he works from like 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. It’s like having a parent that’s a Holocaust survivor. You can never complain because they’ve always got it worse.
“I’ve got AIDS, ma.” “So what? I survived the camps!”
“The family is all dead!”
Anyway, darling, all dark roads lead to Michael Richards these days. Discuss.
Not to flatter myself, but I don’t think it’s analogous. He had a breakdown. At least the racist things I say are well thought out and planned in advance. It’s not like I’m getting truly angry. He was out of control. The audience has to know you’re in control. They’re like dogs, they sniff your . . .
. . . anxiety. Great, your new lead will be “Sarah Silverman thinks audiences are dogs.” Once, I had a totally unbalanced set, with too many black jokes for that particular crowd. One middle-aged black man in the audience said, “You’re not funny.” I told him that [black comic] Paul Mooney writes all my material and he should take it up with him. He said, “That’s not true!” I said, “Ask him!,” thinking, “Please don’t really ask him.”
Well, let me ask you one last hilarious thing: Do you think more troops should be sent to Iraq?
George Bush should go to Iraq and be on the front lines. I’m not newsy and I’m probably gonna say ignorant shit, but why are we in Iraq when it has nothing to do with 9-11 and there’s a fucking genocide in Darfur? I grew up thinking the Holocaust could never happen again and . . .
Oh, so you’re one of those people who thinks it did happen?
I love you.