For almost 20 years now, Sarah Silverman has been a shining blue beacon of amusing yet slightly alarming remarks about race, sex, politics, and weed. And while she’s always acted, recently she’s picked up steam in Hollywood, appearing in films like Take This Waltz, Wreck-It Ralph, and A Million Ways To Die In The West, as well as TV shows like Masters Of Sex. Silverman just won her second Emmy, this time for Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles, an HBO special that aired on actual TV last year but will be released as a CD, LP, and audio download this month via Sub Pop records, just in time for the impending global apocalypse.
1. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Sarah Silverman: I used to pass out fliers for a comedy club when I was first starting out in New York City called the Boston Comedy Club. My first year of doing it, I was in college. I went to one year of college. I would work from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and then have classes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. I couldn’t keep my eyes open during my classes and I felt so guilty. But it was a crazy little job—you had to deal with a lot of people. It was the first time I got punched in the face—knocked out unconscious.
The A.V. Club: Why did you get punched in the face?
SS: I was breaking up a fight between some scary gaggle of teenagers drinking 40s who were beating up on the Pluck You chicken, who was also passing out fliers on the same corner. I went to try to break it up—not being a hero, just thinking nobody would hurt a girl. And I was wrong. I got punched in the temple and knocked unconscious. That was my last day working as a person passing out fliers, but I did it for two years. When I pass people who pass out fliers, I always take them because I know how depressing it is. A lot of interesting things happened on that corner. A homeless vet started strangling me. I think I met eyes with him. New Yorkers are the best because the second his hands went around my throat, three different people pulled him off me.
2. What did your parents want you to be?
SS: They always knew I was going to be a comedian or maybe in musical theater, because I loved musical theater. I grew up wanting to be Éponine. When I was 18, I moved to New York and continued with stand-up and everything else went to the side. They were always really supportive.
3. Who would be your pop culture best friend?
SS: A fictional character?
AVC: On TV or in a movie, just someone you’d like to hang out with.
SS: Oh, I thought it was someone in pop culture. I was thinking maybe Stephen Colbert.
AVC: That’s a good one. As a real person?
SS: I thought you meant real people when I looked at other ones.
My heroes are Phil Donahue and Mr. Rogers. Phil Donahue is alive, and if Mr. Rogers were still alive—the world would be a better place if they had some kind of bat signal we could summon them with.
AVC: Have you ever met Phil Donahue?
SS: No. I love him so much.
SS: Stephen Colbert, I just love. I love what he does so much and I think he’s such a special person. I know him peripherally and we hug hello, but I don’t really know him. I think he’s so special and he’s got so much heart. I really fell in love with him when I was driving and I heard him on [“Fresh Air” with] Terry Gross, talking about being Catholic. He’s one of the few comedians out there that isn’t a lapsed Catholic. He is Catholic. He was raised in the best possible way you can be raised with religion. I remember him saying his mother exposed him to Jesus Christ Superstar. Because he was a kid and they were religious, he said, “Mom, this is blasphemous, this is against God,” and she said, “No, it’s art.” I think that’s beautiful. He’s a beautiful person.
AVC: I think he’s going to do a great job on The Late Show.
SS: I hope so.
4. What game show do you think you would be good at?
SS: I find myself watching Family Feud a lot. I feel that I can usually guess what the most popular answers on the board will be. Anything television trivia I’m good at. But when you’re on your couch, you’re really good at it, but when you’re standing there, it’s probably scary.
I feel I would be good at Family Feud. The Feud.
AVC: Who’s your favorite Family Feud host? Do you like Steve Harvey or Ray Combs?
SS: I was not a Ray Combs fan. May he rest in peace. Wait, is he dead?
AVC: He is.
SS: I love Steve Harvey. I grew up with Richard Dawson. He was great. But I’m loving Steve Harvey. Those big giant teeth and the Steve Harvey suits. He makes really good faces. He’s a good foil for the families.
5. How would your enemies describe you?
SS: Oh, that’s so easy. All you have to do is go on Twitter. “Jew cunt,” I guess, more than anything. Maybe “liberal Jew cunt.”
6. If a deli named a sandwich after you, what would be on it?
SS: Jack cheese, tomato, avocado, on wheat with mustard. Boom. Or grilled peanut butter and jelly.
AVC: That sounds good.
SS: It’s so good.
7. What was your first big, grown-up purchase?
SS: I bought a practically new Toyota Corolla, my first car as a full-grown woman in Los Angeles. It was practically new. It was one of the cars that you get a little cheaper because one of the car salesmen drove it first a little bit, so it had a thousand miles on it. I had just moved to Los Angeles. My dad, who is hilarious and has a very extreme New England accent and is really smart in a lot of ways—but I remember he called me and he said, “What’d you get?” I said I got a Toyota Corolla. He said [In a New Hampshire accent.], “Does it have airbags?” I said, “Yeah, dad, it’s got dual airbags.” He said, “How many?” “Two, I guess.”
AVC: How long did you have that car?
SS: I had that for a long time. I really liked the primer coat of cars. I started taking the paint off with a circular sander thing. Steve Agee helped me. We smoked pot and gave up after one panel. So I drove around with a half-painted car. I liked that because people don’t steal cars like that.
8. What’s your go-to karaoke song?
SS: I don’t know why, but “Hungry Heart.”
9. What’s the worst living situation you’ve ever had?
SS: I had an apartment with a roommate in New York City. It was a five-floor walk-up. I was two floors above Todd Barry. Not to name-drop, but that was a great element about it. I still look back on it fondly. It was a five-floor walk-up. We had mice, and we just lived with them. I didn’t want to kill them. After a while, you get used to them, and they’re much better than rats. They’re smaller. They’re incredibly malleable. They can make themselves flat, so shutting your bedroom door doesn’t keep them out. They mostly stayed in the walls.
We also had one spoon, one knife, and one fork. We let our friends, who had become junkies, stay at our place when we were gone once. When we came back, there was a hole in our one spoon.
AVC: How could you sleep with mice around? I’d be worried they’d run across my face.
SS: It’s really crazy how you get used to it.
I also had no dresser—I just had a big wardrobe box that I moved all my clothes in and I lived out of that. That was my dresser: a big box.
AVC: It’s amazing how people age out of that stuff, especially once you stop. I lived in really crappy situations when I was 20 and 21, but once you get something better, you’re like, “No, there’s no way I could go back.”
SS: It’s for the young. New York City is for the young or the rich.
10. Who could you take in a fight?
SS: I’m not very physically strong. I’m athletically inclined, but I have no upper body strength. I’ve never ever once won at arm wrestling. I do know that I can take a punch. I’ve been punched in the face three times. That’s, I think, a really important thing to know about yourself. It helps you in life. It helps you be brave when you know you can take a punch. I’m a lover, not a fighter. But, God bless me, I can take a punch.
11. Do you have anybody’s autograph?
SS: When I was about 12, I wrote a fan letter to Steve Martin and I got one of his classic letters that he would send fans back, which is an autographed picture that says, “Best Fishes.” He’s wearing his white suit with the fish in it. There’s a letter that comes with it that’s like, “Do you think Steve has time to respond to fan mail? Of course not.” It’s a really funny form letter. I cherished it.
One time, after I hosted the MTV Movie Awards, Jack Nicholson sent me flowers and I kept the card. I’d made a joke about him. He was in the audience and I said, “Oh my God, Jack Nicholson, you’ve been in every one of my favorite actresses!” And he sent me a card.
Bonus question from R.L. Stine: Why did you do this interview?
SS: I did this interview for various reasons. One: I’m a fan of The A.V. Club. That’s always who I look up to look at television reviews. Two: I have a love-hate with The A.V. Club because they broke my heart many times reviewing my show. And three: I’ve got a record coming out! Come on! The We Are Miracles album comes out September 22. September 23 worldwide.
Oh fuck, so am I thinking of a question for the next person?
AVC: Yeah. You have to give me your question for the next person.
SS: Fuck! I didn’t think about this. Do you know who the next person is?
AVC: I don’t. It can be pretty random.
SS: Let me think about this. Something specific. “The television show Lost: Are you with me or against me? Should we go back to the island?” I don’t know. Is that a good one?
SS: It probably should be something they could answer better. Maybe, “What are your thoughts on boobs?”
AVC: That’s better. What are your thoughts on boobs?
SS: I think fake boobs have done great things for real boobs. I think people finally appreciate real boobs. People like real boobs. I do. I also enjoy the fact that they are life-nourishers.
AVC: And you got some good press coming out of the Emmys because you said some good things about your boobs as well.
SS: They’re the lowest they’ve ever been and the highest they’re ever going to be again!