The SNL alumni sits with A.V. Club and gets down and dirty with Sara Silverman.
Name something that comedians do, and Sarah Silverman has done it. She got her start on Saturday Night Live, and spent the next decade guesting on such timeless programs as The Larry Sanders Show, Mr. Show With Bob And David, Crank Yankers, and that creepy Greg The Bunny. On the big screen, she’s starred in films like Jeff Garlin’s I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With, her very own Jesus Is Magic, and the recent show-biz dramedy Peep World. Having just finished her third season of The Sarah Silverman Program, she is now touring with her book, The Bedwetter: Stories Of Courage, Redemption, And Pee, and makes an appearance thisSaturday at the Chicago Theatre. Before the show, though, she found time to chat with The A.V. Club about her favorite dirty jokes, life with comedians, and the differences between penis and vagina.
The A.V. Club: So you’re kind of the queen of dirty jokes. What are your top five favorites of all time? No holds barred.
Sarah Silverman: Holy shit, hmm… No. 1: The pedophile is walking into the woods with a little kid. The kid says, “I’m scared, Mister!” The pedophile says, “You’re scared—I have to walk home alone!”
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AVC: We’ll pause for the laugh. Does anyone know who wrote that one, or is it kind of a classic?
SS: Yeah it’s just a joke comics were telling each other a few years ago. Spread like wildfire. Someone wrote it, but no one knows who.
AVC: Hit us again.
SS: A man and a woman are in an elevator. The man turns to the woman and says, “Can I smell your vagina?” The woman said, “NO!” The man says, “Oh. Then it must be your feet.”
AVC: It’s funny that you chose these two old school-style setup/punch line jokes, especially since you started your comedy career at such a young age.
SS: When I started, I didn’t know who I was. I was—like lots of beginning comics—heavily influenced by the cadences around me. If you look you can see glimmers of who I was to become, but jeez: I had this “aw shucks” voice, this “I’m no threat to you” kind of cadence. But the contrast was there.
AVC: The contrast between saying dirty stuff and being cutesy. What was the first joke you ever told?
SS: My father taught me swears when I was little because he was a young dad who thought it was hilarious. He would have me say them for his friends, and they would all be shocked and laugh. I liked how that felt.
AVC: Did people ever react adversely?
SS: Nope. Because who scowls at a 4-year-old? Aaaaand the contrast was born…
AVC: Do you ever wish you could get away from that? Like, do you ever wish you weren’t a hot lady?
SS: Well, at 40, I love that you are calling me a hot lady. My hot lady-ness will only last for so long as I wrinkle and prune, but I don’t think my comedy stands on that. At all. Come on, I look very horse-face-y/monkey/Jewish-y, which I’m fine with, but don’t accuse me of hotness unless you really mean it. You may be lifting other interview questions from 15 years ago…
AVC: You seem to have managed to escape the Hollywood trap of really obsessing about how you look, one way or the other. That’s refreshing. It seems like worrying how you look can also keep a person from being funny, because ugly equals funny.
SS: It’s true. I was shooting a bit for Jimmy Kimmel Live a few years ago that Bobcat Goldthwait was directing, and he was shooting straight up my big gigantic two-car-garage nostrils, and I was like, “Must this be the angle?” And he said, “You wanna shoot this pretty, or you wanna shoot it funny?” And I was like, “Touche, Goldthwait. Now do your funny voice!” But yeah he was right …
AVC: So why even talk about how ladies look? Let’s stop that right now. Who are some comics you like … who may happen to have vaginas?
SS: Jeez, there’s Paula Poundstone, and Joan Rivers—who is so totally vital and thriving as we speak … Ruth Gordon is one of my heroes. Some of the hands-down best comics today are women: Tig Notaro is one of the most mind-blowing comics right now, also Chelsea Peretti, Natasha Leggero, Heather Lawless. Look at Tina [Tina Fey] and Amy [Poehler] and Chelsea [Handler]—they are running comedy right now. We aren’t the underdogs, so we’d better act accordingly.
I think somehow society has drilled it into our heads that there’s only one slot out there for women in any given field, and that pits us against each other. That exists only if we allow it. There’s plenty of room for every one of these brilliant comics. Do people sit around and go, “Who’s better, Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock? Who’s better, Dave Chappelle or Louis C.K.?” No. People don’t go up to Chris Rock and say, “You are my favorite black comedian!” It’s been sanctioned as fine to say, “You are my favorite woman comic!” I know people mean well, but they mean well just like people who said “colored people” meant well. It’s from some other time and shouldn’t be seen as offensive, so much as a relic.
AVC: So do you get tired of people talking about “lady humor” vs. “man humor”?
SS: I don’t even entertain it. It doesn’t bother me, but it’s just not a part of my world. It’s like saying, “Do you get tired of the whole Lawrence Welk thing with the bubbles?”
AVC: Man, we forgot about your other favorite jokes. You owe us like three more.
SS: Louis C.K. used to have a joke about reading the back of a porno DVD at a porn shop, and the owner says, “Hey—this isn’t a library!” and Louis says, “If this isn’t a library, then why is there cum on the floor?”
AVC: Louis C.K. talks about cum a lot. Do you ever wish that vaginas did more funny stuff?
SS: No. I never wish that my vagina did more stuff. I can’t keep up with all the stuff my vagina does. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of my lower half.
Oh yeah—another Louis C.K. joke, I’ll quote terribly I’m sure, but it was so brilliant … Something about how soon after 9/11 is it okay to masturbate …
AVC: Here it is.
SS: Yeah, he was probably the first person to do “the terrorists win” thing. It’s become a little overdone since.
AVC: Is there a certain kind of joke or shtick that you dislike?
SS: That “given” that jokes about airplanes and rental cars are “hacky.” Those topics became hackneyed because comics were always on the road in rental cars and on planes—that’s where that comes from. But younger comics that work exclusively in alternative clubs have just adopted the bitterness of comics that actually worked the road and earned their bitterness. It’s like the son in The Squid And The Whale just adopting his father’s bitter cynicism without the experience. (Amazing movie. Brutal.) But to answer your question, for me there’s no topic that turns me off if there’s a funny original angle to it.
AVC: Speaking of The Squid And The Whale, you’ve been open about your depression. It almost seems that depression is more prevalent in comedians than in the general population. Do you think depression fuels comedy?
SS: I think that comedy starts as a way to survive a bad situation, and [comics] can often stay in that mentality. But I think there’s got to be a way to be happy without sacrificing being funny. Because I don’t think we’d be happy if we weren’t funny, right? Ugh …
AVC: Do you ever get tired of comedy?
SS: I don’t get tired of it, really. I love doing it, I love hanging out after with comics, and doing bits, and acting like idiots. But as for TV and movies, I love dramas. Damages is the best show ever.
AVC: One more joke.
SS: A comic named Greg Travis has this pickup line: “I go up to a girl and say, ‘I’m gonna rape you!—I’m just kidding. What’s yer name?’” A comic named Bonnie MacFarlaine told that to me, and I always thought it was amazing.
AVC: You’ve gotten flack for your love of rape jokes in the past, but you seem to be pretty immune to criticism by now. Do you truly not give a shit if people are offended by you?
SS: It’s not that I don’t give a shit. I’ve just learned that I can’t control it.
AVC: Is there such a thing as a joke that’s too dirty?
SS: Nah, not if it’s funny enough.