Sarah Silverman is a saint. In both her stand-up routines and scripted roles, she doesn’t shy away from anything—politics, sex, racism, whatever—and, sure, shock value abounds, but it always accompanies a principled message. Her marque of comedy may offend some, but to her fans it is an intelligence test. Her jokes mock to shed light, not to offend. She is offended that you’re not already offended. Sarah is in town for the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival this weekend in Brooklyn. We interrogated her before her first set.
AUSTIN NELSON: Like just about every great comedian out there, you’ve mentioned that Steve Martin was a big influence on you when you were starting out in comedy. What in particular drew you to his brand of stand up?
SARAH SILVERMAN: He was super smart but never had to prove it. Instead he was absurd and silly and beautiful and arrogant in the best, silliest way.
NELSON: Who or what were some of your other earliest comedic influences?
SILVERMAN: Dave Attell, Laura Kightlinger, Mark Cohen, Louie…
NELSON: You came up with comedians like Louis CK and Marc Maron. I don’t think many people understand how tough it can be for young comedians to suffer through sometimes decades of being on the road before they arrive at some level of success. Where do you think that drive comes from?
SILVERMAN: It’s just who you are. When you’re a comic, it’s like being born gay. It’s what you want to do every night when your other friends are out at night going to parties. There’s nothing you’d rather do than sit in the back of a club and try to get on.
NELSON: How did you get your start doing stand-up?
SILVERMAN: I passed out flyers for the Boston Comedy Club in the village every day from 4 pm to 2 am, and they’d put me on for five minutes. I did all the open mics and got better and better little by little, started passing at clubs… the usual way. I knew I wanted to be a stand-up since third grade.
NELSON: You’ve mentioned how much you love Tig Notaro’s stand-up. Are there any other great comedians out there that you think people should be picking up on?
SILVERMAN: Yes! Chelsea Peretti, Natasha Leggero, Jen Kirkman, Todd Glass, Henry Phillips!
NELSON: As far as your show The Sarah Silverman Project goes, it was critically acclaimed and adored not only by the general public, but also your comedy peers, who can be the toughest crowd. Now that it’s been a couple years since filming ended, what are your feelings looking back on it as a whole?
SILVERMAN: I’m so proud of it! All of us are. It was a dream. I worked with my best friends.
NELSON: Your comedy special Jesus Is Magic was also hugely popular. Do you plan on doing more stand-up specials in the future?
SILVERMAN: Yep. 2013.
NELSON: You wrote briefly for SNL in the early ’90s, and from what I understand you didn’t really enjoy it. Why was it not a good fit for you?
SILVERMAN: It was an amazing experience. I don’t know what Lorne saw in me. As I look back, I was so far from being ready for that place. But it was an experience that helped inform my whole career, without defining it… well, because I was fired, but still… [laughs]
NELSON: Short of the stated goal, what do you hope is accomplished with your site scissorsheldon.com?
SILVERMAN: Yes, that vid is silly but there was a goal—to make people aware of the fact that pockets are being lined and politicians who take money from corporations and billionaires will be beholden to said corporations and billionaires. It’s something people should be aware of as they see Romney change his views on things that behoove these “people.”
NELSON: When did you first become active in politics?
SILVERMAN: I’m really not. I just see what’s out there and react. When policy gets into my underwear, it’s hard to ignore. When it keeps loved ones from having the same rights as everyone else—it’s in my everyday life and as a woman who loves my country and lives off of it’s freedoms, I’d be an asshole to not get involved in the ways that I can.
NELSON: The subject of gay marriage seems to be an important issue to you.
SILVERMAN: How can it not be? I don’t get this shitty attitude that only gays should care about gay issues and only women should care about women’s issues.
NELSON: Would you ever consider running for any kind of office?
SILVERMAN: No fucking way.
SARAH SILVERMAN WILL APPEAR TONIGHT AT THE BELL HOUSE IN BROOKLYN ALONG WITH NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON AND EUGENE MIRMAN. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE EUGENE MIRMAN COMEDY FESTIVAL’S FACEBOOK PAGE.