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EXCERPT: Sarah Silverman Got Me High

Sarah_Silverman_MAGNET_cover

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: There is more to Sarah Silverman than just ‘fake-racist meta-jokes’ and fucking Matt Damon. There is also doody jokes. But seriously folks, after 34 episodes of The Sarah Silverman Show, 30 movies, two Emmys, and one memoir, she’s just getting started. On the doody jokes. Just kidding. You’ll see. The following is an exclusive excerpt from my 6,300 word MAGNET cover story. Enjoy.

________

When I meet Sarah Silverman for the first time she is coming out of the bathroom. It seems somehow fitting. Her sets are rife with grimy bathroom humor, ‘doody’ is her favorite word and she’s been telling audiences as of late that she wants to make a phone app “that will let you know when your friends are shitting.” For the first and probably last time in my life the prospect of asking a complete stranger if she made a doody actually seems like not just a good idea, but a great one. Still, I think better of it and it passes. Probably all for the best.

Like everyone on TV, Sarah Silverman is smaller and more vulnerable in the flesh. She looks trim, adorable and 10 years younger than her 43 years — which she chalks up to her zero intake of booze or meat. And yet, upon closer inspection something is wrong. There is a dull black bruise under one eye. There is something deeply disturbing and angry-making about a woman with a black eye. Right away, your jaw clenches and your hands ball up into fists. All you want to know is who did this and where is he now.

“Oh, shit. I keep forgetting how crazy I must look,” she says, when I ask what happened. “I tried covering it . This is with cover-up on. I thought it’d be gone by now. I got a concussion playing basketball, like I just landed on my head.”

It is the middle of August and we are backstage at Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, New Jersey, where Sarah is performing as part of OddballFest, Funny Or Die’s moveable feast of comedy, featuring state of the art stand-up practitioners circa now, people like Louis CK, Amy Schumer, Bill Burr and Aziz Ansari.

We sit down on her dressing room couch and chat about her career (in less than two weeks she will win her second Emmy and be tapped to host SNL), her dad (‘Hey, he does look like Harry Dean Stanton, now that you mention it.”), her weed (never before a show; no regrets about showing America her pot pipe on the red carpet at the Emmys, it’s legal in California), her vegetarianism (“I don’t eat meat or fish, but I eat dairy and eggs. I don’t eat anything dead, but I’ll eat it if it comes out of an animal’s boobs or vagina.”) where she draws the line in pursuit of a laugh (“Nothing’s off limits if it’s funny enough, and it doesn’t make me feel more rotten than excited to tell it. That’s the only gauge you can really go by.”) her nervousness about her impending appearance on the Howard Stern Show (“It’s my first Stern being with Michael.”)

Michael is the esteemed actor Michael Sheen, born in Wales, graduate of London’s Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts, three-time BAFTA winner, better known in the UK for his stage work, probably better known in this country for playing David Frost, Nixon’s chief interrogator in Frost/Nixon, and for playing Tony Blair in 2006’s The Queen. Or his current incarnation as Master’s Of Sex’s titular Dr. Masters. (Sarah played Betty’s ex-GF Helen for two episodes this season and is expected to return next season) In some quarters he will be better known for being Kate Beckinsale’s main squeeze/baby father from 1995-2003. When she goes on Stern in a few weeks, he will point out that Kate Beckinsale is one of the most gorgeous creatures on the planet ask if Sarah feels intimidated by that fact. This is one of those carbomb questions Stern likes to drive into guests, one of the questions she was dreading, but she defuses it like Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker. You can almost see the gears turning. Do I cut the red wire — threaten to scratch that bitch’s eyes out? Or the blue wire — acknowledge Beckinsale’s extraordinary beauty, but instead of being intimidated, take the high road and say you are flattered that her boyfriend is surrounded by all these beautiful creatures “And he chose me!” She snips the blue wire and…nothing happens. Defused. Crisis averted.

She has a cute story about meeting Michael that she clearly loves to share, so let’s indulge her:

“We were fixed up, without knowing it, by Mark Flanagan who owns the club Largo in LA. I did a benefit show there that I will talk about tonight if I remember, and he was there. Flanagan introduced us, and the next day, Flanagan was like, ‘He has a crush on you!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, he’s cute.’ And then without me knowing, he told Michael, ‘She has a crush on you.’ He connected us by e-mail. We went out to dinner, and we were both so confident, because we thought the other one had a crush on us. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t not true. It wasn’t until his 45th birthday dinner, and one of his friends said, ‘How’d you meet?’ And I was like, ‘I’ll take this. Michael had a crush on me, and he told Flanagan, and they made a plan for him to come to one of my shows.’ And Michael’s just politely listening, and then he was like, ‘That’s not true.’ It was so embarrassing.”

And then Louis CK walks in. Just to say ‘hi.’ That almost never happens to me.

_________

Being Sarah Silverman looks easy these days, what with the Emmy for We Are Miracles and the SNL guest host slot and her Stern appearance and her memoir (2010’s BEDWETTER: Tales Of Courage, Redemption And Pee) and the TV show (The Sarah Silverman Show which ran from 2007 to 2010) and the movies (30 since 1997, and two in the can) and fucking Matt Damon etc. But that was not always the case.

She was born in New Hampshire, the youngest of three sisters (Susan, who grew up to be a Rabbi in Jerusalem; Jodyne, who grew up to be a screenwriter; and Laura who grew up to be an actress and would play Sarah’s sister on The Sarah Silverman Show). Her mother was George McGovern’s official campaign photographer when he ran against Nixon and her father owned a small chain of discount ladies apparel called Crazy Sophie’s. Her parents divorced when she was six, which was right about the time she started wetting the bed, a chronic condition that she would not grow out of, literally, until her late teens. She suffered bouts of depression, a condition not soon alleviated by her search for professional help. One shrink hung himself while she sat in the waiting room, another put her on Xanax and continued to up the dosage until 14-year-old Sarah Silverman was popping 16 Xanaxes a day. A third shrink, displaying a moral clarity and professional judgement heretofore not encountered by Sarah or her parents, points out that prescribing a 14-year-old girl 16 Xanaxes a day is a dereliction of duty verging on child abuse and slowly weened her off. In time, Sarah came back from the pharmaceutical twilight zone and finished out her school days reasonably well-adjusted, socially-engaged and largely happy.

Invariably in the biography of all great artists there is a period of childhood illness and social isolation that triggers an inward stare and the precocious development of a rich interior life. It is then that said artist discovers a tremendous latent aptitude and the time and space to develop it. When Sarah was five years old she got her first taste of the kind of reactions you could get from telling a joke, specifically a joke that steps on the third rail of taboo, a joke that speaks the unspeakable. In 1965, five years before Sarah was born, her brother Jeffrey asphyxiated in his crib while in the care of her Nana and Papa. Obviously, this tragedy devastated the Silverman family. Fast forward to 1976. Five year old Sarah is sitting in the backseat of her Nana’s dark blue Cadillac Seville with her sisters. She’d been getting big laughs by blurting out things like “I love tampons!” or her adorable enunciation of the swear words her father taught her when she was three. She liked getting laughs, it lit up her brain and made her do the Snoopy dance.

So, when grandmother called out from behind the wheel for everyone to put their seatbelts on, without missing a beat Sarah chimed in with “Yeah — put your seatbelts on — you don’t want to wind up like Jeffrey!” Total silence. It was like somebody opened the airlock and all the oxygen had just been sucked out of the capsule. Her sisters stared at her wide-eyed with an admixture of shock and anger, followed by the sound of her Nana violently sobbing. Sarah didn’t exactly learn how to get laughs that day, but she learned how a few words arranged in the proper order had the power to turn the mood of a room inside out in an instant, until the seams of raw emotion were showing. It would take years of trial and error and outrage and even a little ignominy, but in time she would learn to wield this power with Jedi-like precision.

Fast forward 25 years. Sarah is living in Los Angeles and establishing herself as a must-see comedian with regular sets at Club Largo, a tiny night club that A-list comedians use to incubate new material. Before leaving for the club, a lightbulb goes off. Sarah dabs some red paint on the crotch of her khakis and ties a sweater around her waist. She did five minutes with the sweater tied around her waist and then took it off and did a cartwheel across the stage and then leaned over the drumkit on the stage with her back to the audience as if reaching for something she’d dropped, ensuring that everyone could see the red paint. Then she did another five minutes, savoring the mortified stares and nervous, strangled laughter of a sold out crowd watching a comedienne unwittingly humiliate herself. And then she let them off the hook. She looked down and acted like she just noticed the red spot on the crotch of her khakis.

‘‘Oh my God! Oh my God! This is so embarrassing,” she told the crowd. “You guys must’ve been dying for me. Did you think I got my period, or something? …No, no, no, I just tried anal sex for the first time.”

_________

There are probably 20,000 people in the audience for the Philly stop of Oddball Fest, and they’ve been drinking for hours in the sun. This being the city that booed Santa Claus, Philly has a rep in comedy circles for being confrontational. Back in 2006, in this very venue, Bill Burr locked horns with a drunken and abusive crowd. For 12 minutes straight he unleashed a torrent of scorching scatological invective and obscene, anatomically-impossible imprecations like somebody opening the release valve on the Hoover Dam of Hate. It was to insult comedy what Slayer is to Simon & Garfunkel. It is the stuff of legend. Sarah goes on in T-minus 30 minutes. Number of jokes written down on the piece of paper she’s holding: 0.

Here’s how she will prepare for her set:

1. Drink 1 cup of coffee
2. Smoke 1 Kamel Krush
3. Run to the bathroom, evacuate nervous diarrhea
4. Drink one bottle of Poland Springs to replace fluids lost in step 3
5. Drink half bottle of Red Bull, kill

By now it’s show time. Zero dark thirty. Time make the funny. Sarah stands in the wings of the cavernous Susquehanna Bank Center until DJ Trauma cues her entrance with “Cola” by Lana Del Rey — the song with the inimitable opening line, “My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola.” Sarah rolls her eyes vamps her way onstage and then turns deadly serious when she gets to the microphone. “But seriously, that song is important to me…I was brutally gang-raped while that song was playing,” she says impishly. “I really puts me in the mood.”

A couple jokes later she launches into a new bit that is pure Silverman:

My oldest sister is a Rabbi. We’re close. She came to town, and she had a meeting, and she said, ‘I’ve got a meeting with this amazing woman. She runs an adoption center out of Ethiopia. This amazing Ethiopian woman, and we’re meeting at 8 am, can I use your apartment?’ And I said, ‘Sure, I’ll be sound asleep.’ But she woke me up because she forgot her key, so I had to wake up. My eyes were like, glued shut. So I open the door and she was like, ‘This is Amber!’ And I was like, ‘Oh hey Amber! Heard so much about you.’ I grabbed her hand, and both of her hands were hooks. But I had to commit; I had already grabbed them. I didn’t see. So I just really gave her a good shake. ‘Hi, nice to meet you!’ I can feel the fastener jostling, and there was nothing you could do about it. I went back to sleep. Later, I was like, ‘Suzy, really? Rabbi Suzy.’ I mean, she must have told me nine different things about Amber. Two of them should have been the hooks. She’s so liberal. She doesn’t see color. She doesn’t even see hands. That’s how beautiful my sister is. She doesn’t see hands. Me? I’m too honest. I see hands.

I’m honest to a fault, you know, like sexually. I like to give handjobs. I’m a righty. I give hand jobs with my left hand, cause then it feels like someone else is doing it. What is the etiquette on where you put your balls-asshole hand for post-coital cuddling? Is it just straight out to the side? Do you just sever it? Just cut it off?

That’s how Amber lost her hands. [audience groans]

Just kidding. I’m kidding, it was landmines. [audience groans louder]

It’s OK…she was eight. [audience laughs uproariously]

That’s typical of a Sarah Silverman joke: Like a rollercoaster ride through the dying thoughts of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now — the horror, the horror. Her jokes all start out with a slow steady climb up the hill of transgression with Sarah sitting backwards in front car like a cockswain barking out encouragement to the rowers — hooks for hands! balls/asshole hand! landmines blew her hands off! — and then at the top she calls out “It’s OK…she was eight” and as we plunge vertiginously down to the very bottom, all we can do is put our hands in the air and scream. MORE

DOWNLOAD: The Complete Sarah Silverman MAGNET Cover Story [PDF]

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