Sarah Silverman does not Google herself for reviews or critiques that twist her words around in or out of context. “I guess that could get frustrating, but I can’t take any of it very seriously,” Silverman said Wednesday night during a 92nd Street Y talk with Andy Borowitz. “I tell myself and my friends – who are all comedians as well, mostly – you’re the only one Googling you. So relax! And you’re certainly the only one Googling you and sorting it by date. So it’s not as bad as you think. The world is, there’s other things going on.”
With everything else going on in the world, Silverman has been out front and center this week in advance of her own other thing — Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles — which premieres Saturday night on HBO.
It’s her first HBO special and first major stand-up recording since her 2005 concert film, Jesus Is Magic, which had cemented her place among the stand-up comedy ranks as well as her identity as an offensive “ignoramus.” Silverman’s comedy had been characterized by this envelope-pushing, and extended through her Comedy Central/LOGO TV series that followed. She’s still Not Safe For Work by any means. We Are Miracles is bookended by sketches outside of Largo (where she filmed), then within that, bookended by bits that only could play on an uncensored TV channel/network — opening with her online search-term preferences for pornography, and closing with a song she wrote about women who call themselves divas but act simply like cunts (Silverman released a separate music video for “Divas” earlier this week).
While the message and the literal language stays playfully vulgar, the messenger is markedly different a decade later.
“I’m actually saying what I mean and not the opposite of what I mean in this special,” Silverman said this week.
When she jokes about her bedwetting, she has a memoir full of anecdotes to back that up (The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee). There’s a sincerity here accompanying the absurdity and the overt sexual references. That’s true whether she notes that volunteers visiting her mother in the hospital know she’s Jewish because “they count how many times you press the call button” on hospital volunteers knowing her mom is Jewish,” or even about how religion can be ridiculous in allowing Hitler to go to heaven. She follows that up by saying all religions are equally ridiculous upon further inspection — it’s merely easier to spot the lunacy in contemporary ones such as Scientology because their leaders walked among us. “He had to change his name to L. Ron because there was another Ron Hubbard in the Writers Guild. That’s how recent a religion it is,” Silverman jokes about Scientology’s founder.
On a recent appearance on the now-cancelled Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, Silverman lamented how young girls have misplaced goals and information about their own gender, sexualization and ambitions because of how their mothers are acting. She mines that territory in We Are Miracles, as well. At the same time, Silverman is eagerly willing to deconstruct the nature of “rape jokes,” reclaim the word “pussy” and dream up a university study about 9/11 widows and their own sexuality. “I’m sorry,” Silverman tells her audience after the latter bit. “I wanted to say it. I needed to say it.” And after another such punchline that explains her special’s title, she acknowledged the idea might sound off-putting, but added: “It went in my head, and I couldn’t be alone with it.”
That’s as much of an apology as you’ll get out of her. And that’s really all of one that you need.
She has become more vocal politically in the Obama years and addresses that, too. She describes our nation as divided politically as “Red Sox and Yankees,” an apt comparison for the woman who grew up in New Hampshire. As divisive as you might think Silverman is herself when she reveals her thoughts on adopting children versus birthing them, on politicians and their attitudes toward women, or even when she notes, “If Africa was just all labradoodles dying of AIDS, we would take care of it in one day,” there’s a more inclusive, accessible tone.
Perhaps the years, perhaps even more so social media — namely Twitter (@SarahKSilverman) and her YouTube JASH channel — have brought her closer to us. And that, in turn, has allowed her to bring us closer to her true self.
Filming We Are Miracles in the Little Room at Largo in Los Angeles for what Silverman jokingly calls “my HBO 39” makes perfect sense.
Silverman said this week that she did want a slightly hand-picked crowd, even if she didn’t know them as friends or acquaintances. “I didn’t want people who had seen me too much. I wanted to get a good mix of people.” So she went to A Special Thing and had them find her an audience. “Just super-fans of comedy go to it. They did a favor for me.”
Silverman does her fans a favor by making We Are Miracles a special thing, too. It fits the small screen because it’s best enjoyed in your very own intimate setting.
Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles premieres Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, on HBO.