Sarah Silverman (Todd Barry’s onetime housemate in the East Village) was at the 92nd Street Y last night, so we sucked it up and headed uptown to see her chat with Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker. Twas an elucidating convo in which she revealed some of her embarrassing high school jokes (“I don’t know why my fish died, I put it in a tank… top”) and shouted out her favorite comedians, including Kyle Dunnigan, who she’s dating, and Claudia Lonow, who it turns out gave her one of her signature jokes: “I was licking jelly off of my boyfriend’s penis and I thought, oh my God, I’m turning into my mother.”
We’ve transcribed the highlights of the conversation below, and you can watch the whole thing above.
Another one of her “terrible” high school jokes
“If you say something that rhymes by accident, what do you say? ‘I’m a poet and I don’t even know it.’ But what if you say something free verse by accident, what do you say? ‘I’m a poet and i never realized that.'”
On lunching with Kanye
I write so much on my phone and I think to myself, “People around me think I’m a douchebag but I’m really being really creative right now.” Because there’s that legal pad. You know, I actually had lunch with Kanye West — he took me to lunch a few months ago… No, I know, I don’t know how else to say it other than that happened and it was very interesting and I remember he said that his idols were Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. And then (there’s no reason for me to say this but just to be, uh, whatever) I said, uh, “Even though he’s a holocaust denier?” about Walt Disney. And he goes, “Well, what he does in his free time…”
And he’s actually very bright and earnest and wide-eyed. And what can I say, I’m in a Disney movie but I will say that if they do not make a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph I am going to speak my mind. But um, we had both noticed that we both use that Notes app on the phone (him for rap lyrics and stuff and me for buds of jokes) so we went kind of one-for-one and he was like, “Weak is a description, weed is a prescription,” and I was like, “My grandma gets really heavy periods… Just kidding, she’s dead.”
On being called “god-awful” by the curator of TED Talks… and the correct term for “retarded.”
I was just so surprised because I have so much love for the TED Talks and I felt kind of betrayed because I quadruple-checked [whether she could be herself] and really worked hard on it and was nervous and excited about it… and I guess he had… it’s funny because Temple Grandin was in the audience. She had done a presentation and I have since worked with her… I’ve worked a lot with, um, re– can I say retarded adults? Can I say retarded to mean retarded? I don’t even know what, mentally challenged adults? I’ve, you know, worked a lot with this…. I have a great love for retarded adults, I don’t know how… I don’t know what the right… I want to say what the latest thing is because I believe in doing that. You know, I used to say — and now I’m going off onto a million tangents, and I can’t imagine what’s in your head right now…
Borowitz: No no no, I’m just trying to think if there’s a better word for retarded.
Silverman: I feel there must be: mentally challenged, but you never hear mentally challenged adults. I really want to know because retarded is an actual word that means to retard, retarded, slow, but you know I don’t say it derogatorily. And it makes me think of “gay.” I was very protective of saying gay for a while: “I say ‘gay,’ I’m from Boston — I don’t mean ‘gay’ homosexual, I mean ‘gay’ like, you know, ‘lame’ or whatever.” And then I heard myself and I thought, “I sound like the guy who says, ‘What? I call black people colored, that’s not racist, that’s what we do.’ And that man is right — he is earnestly from a time, but you have to change with the times. You have to. So that was a good lesson for me…
So anyway, he writes this thing and what I think is, Chris Anderson, maybe someone said something to him that made him panic and he disassociated from me… And he wouldn’t post it — you know, they post all the TED Talks, he wouldn’t post it — which secretly I think I was happy about because there was a lot of raw material that I knew I could make much better and also it’s more badass to be the one that they won’t post your TED Talk, it makes it seem much better than it probably was. But just for him to tweet that was so odd. And I didn’t respond for a while and then I remember I did, I wrote something like, “Congratulations @chrisanderson, or whatever his thing is, for making the TED talks an unsafe haven for all. You are a barnacle of mediocrity on Bill Gates’s asshole.”
Because I feel like here’s a guy, he’s not doing a TED Talk, he’s the curator. He isn’t the people doing the TED talks but he associates with them and by association he feels very hoity-toity and the second he thinks your shit might stink he cuts the cord. And I don’t think that’s a very safe haven for a place that’s supposed to be a safe haven of shared ideas. (I know I said safe haven twice!)
On writing a network tv pilot
I’m not weary of network because I want to say “pussy” on NBC, I just want to be able to be far out without a network worrying about what people in Poughkeepsie think. I think people in Poughkeepsie like far-out stuff, but they’ll never know…
I don’t have ill will towards [NBC]… I did a pilot for them and they even let me post it on the internet which was very gracious of them (usually they don’t do that kind of stuff). The thing about network in my opinion is it’s not that it’s so bad, it’s just that you literally have to jump through 11 hoops for every shit you take and it just wears you down. I don’t like that lifestyle, placating egos — like, a separate thing of notes for the studio and a separate thing of notes for the network. It’s just silly wastes of time that irk me.
On her current pilot for HBO
It was so fun… I remember the guy who wrote it — Bruce Eric Kaplan, who has written on many shows and is also a New Yorker cartoonist… very funny… Patty LuPone plays my mother. I know. It’s like, she might be Italian but the Jews are her people. Actually, we play a Jewish family and I’m the only Jew in it. Topher Grace — the great Jewish actor Topher Grace [laughs] — and I play brother and sister and she’s our mother. And there’s no high concept about it — it’s just characters, it’s character-driven so there’s not much to say. I work at Lord and Taylor and he’s a locksmith and… but Patti LuPone is, I mean I already knew that I worshiped her and that I was a huge fan but I thought maybe there would be some tantrums or… I was excited either way, but she happens to be the loveliest woman I’ve ever met. She lives in like South Carolina with her husband (and Connecticut) and knew everyone’s name… I usually really never break and I couldnt keep it tohgether with her — she’s so crazy funny in this, it was amazing.
On rape jokes
[An audience member asked why she got away with a rape joke on the same night that Daniel Tosh got flack for it.] I don’t know if the same night I made a joke about rape but I can’t also deny it, I don’t know. I don’t know what night it was… I wasn’t there [at Tosh’s set] but standup, especially live standup, in a small intimate club has a context all its own even beyond your own material. He was saying something in the moment that was going back and forth with people in the audience. You know, he may be unlucky in that he looks a little date rapey and if it was coming from someone who didn’t look that way or whatever… This is what I say: it’s fishy, it happened at the Laugh Factory and so did the Michael Richards thing and so did another thing and I just think it’s fishy when there’s always footage at a certain club and then the club owner is on the news circuit talking about it. I just don’t work there anymore because I feel like it’s a betrayal of the comedians and he kind of uses it…
But I just think you can’t judge unless you are there because comedy is just so dependent on the moment and the beats and the little words and the exchanges and the energy and you just don’t know what… You can’t say nobody should do rape jokes, because there could be a brilliant take on such a heinous thing, same as the holocaust, same as any major tragedy, heinous crime. Those things have to be legal in comedy and nothing can be off-limits because there’s always some kind of angle on it that could be illuminating… Whatever happened to saying, “Oo, that’s not my cup of tea,” instead of, “Nobody can enjoy this, I don’t enjoy this because of the way I’m hearing it in the context of my own life and now I don’t want anybody to, and I want to make a rule about it.” That’s a very personal thing.