Sarah Silverman is a comedian whose one-woman show will be released on Friday as a feature-length film, Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic. Silverman appeared most recently in The Aristocrats, where her contribution led to a threatened lawsuit from Joe Franklin. (Silverman’s version of the joke revolved around her “recollection” of a childhood rape by the longtime TV host.) Silverman made her comedy debut as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live when she was 19 and has since been a frequent guest on programs ranging from Seinfeld to Mr. Show With Bob and David. We met in the bar of the Regency Hotel in New York, where Silverman curled up on a worn sofa in the corner.
Slate: You’re often compared to Lenny Bruce and Sandra Bernhard, and you’re on the cover of Heeb magazine this month. Do you think of yourself as a Jewish comedian?
Silverman: I just think of myself as a comedian, really. I mean, I talk about being Jewish a lot. It’s funny because I do think of myself as Jewish ethnically, but I’m not religious at all. I have no religion.
Slate: Have you ever been pressured to pull a Winona Ryder (aka Winona Horowitz) and change your last name?
Silverman: I haven’t. I’m thinking of changing my name to Horowitz though.
Slate: How did three of the Silverman sisters end up getting into show business and one is a rabbi?
Silverman: Ach, it’s the same thing.
Slate:Your sister wrote a book, Jewish Family & Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children.Are you going to follow her advice?
Silverman: Only when I’m visiting her. I just had Sabbath dinner at her house. And it’s so great. It warms my heart because it’s the whole family together and seeing the kids. I do love the idea of ritual. I’m a very ritualistic person. I have to wash my face twice, and on the second wash before I rinse, I brush my teeth, then I rinse, then I floss, then I put on moisturizer. I’m ritualistic. Jewishness is very ritualistic.
Slate: Do you have any rituals with Jimmy [Kimmel, her boyfriend]?
Silverman: When we have a night alone, like a Saturday night with no kids, we’ll go to this restaurant we really like and sit at the bar and play Scrabble on our phones. We have two games going, so we can go back and forth. There’s constant action.
Slate: You don’t get confused between the two games?
Silverman: There’s never any confusion about who’s winning.
Slate: So, who wins more?
Silverman: I really want to say me, but he wins more. The motherfucker.
Slate: Do you go out with his kids, too?
Silverman: I’m not “going out” with his kids. We’re not dating. When we go out with the kids, we play games. We play 20 Questions, which is one of my favorites. It transcends all ages. But you have to make sure it’s somebody everyone knows. Like people in the family or people they love from TV or movies.
Slate: Have they seen your new movie?
Silverman: No. They’re not allowed. I’d let them because I have no boundaries. But Jimmy’s a good dad.
Slate: Do you and Jimmy test out material on each other? Did he have any hand in your movie?
Silverman: Oh yeah. Definitely. He’s on ABC, so he’ll come up with jokes that he couldn’t possibly use. And if it’s something I think I can use, I will absolutely take it. I don’t feel like it’s going to give me some kind of identity crisis.
Slate: So, what did you pilfer in the film?
Silverman: You know what’s his? Lemon-AIDS. [“When someone gives you AIDS, make lemon-AIDS.”]
Slate: You’ve been open about your own depression. Are you still on Zoloft?
Silverman: Yes. Yeah! I never went off it. I really lucked out because I see people always trying a million different antidepressants. Whatever chemical imbalance I have, Zoloft fit perfectly because I take a half-pill every night before I go to bed. I don’t feel like I don’t have highs or lows, but what’s missing is that complete downward spiral into despair about nothing.
Slate: When did you feel that despair so acutely that you went on Zoloft?
Silverman: I went through it from 13 to 16. Then, when I was 22, it hit again really hard. So when I was 23 or 24, my mom and her sister, who’s a psychologist, talked to me about it.
Slate: You’re never tempted to go off it?
Silverman: I’m very good. I go to this psychiatrist every six months, like you’re supposed to, to make sure you’re on the right track. I’ve mentioned to him, like “I feel great, I feel so stable. After all these years, I wonder what it would be like to be free of it, this medicine.” And he’s like, “Why? If someone has diabetes, they don’t say, OK, let’s see what it’s like to not take insulin.”
Slate: What do you think of humor that makes fun of depression or psychopharmacology?
Silverman: I haven’t heard anything. It must be out there! It seems like an easy target. Maybe I should—good idea. I just don’t know how to talk about it because it works for me. I have a friend who wants to start a softball league, where the people on Zoloft will play the people on Paxil, and Wellbutrin will play Effexor. Or there should be a team of people not on antidepressants but you believe should totally be on antidepressants.
Slate: Why do you think people find what you say in your act somehow more offensive than what Chris Rock says?
Silverman: Technically he has more license to talk about black people. I mean, he does totally racist jokes about black people. That’s why on The Chris Rock Show, he had the most racist writers. They’re the best writers for Chris. I think he’s brilliant. Traditionally, I have no right to talk about race. I’m white; I didn’t grow up in an all-black neighborhood. But the license I see for myself is I’m a member of the world.
Slate: Do you self-Google?
Silverman: Yeah, of course. I bet you self-Google. Everyone self-Googles. And, I have, of course, the Google alert. But I don’t have the time lately to read it. I’m actually losing interest in Googling myself. I’m so sick of myself after these past couple of months.
Slate: How often do you write?
Silverman: I don’t have a routine. If I have a deadline, I’m really good. I’ve always been someone who got my homework assignment done immediately, before I even got home from school. I’d find every pocket of time. But when I don’t have a deadline, I’m lazy like every writer.
Slate: There was a bit in The New Yorker about your having notes around your house, and one that said “stubbed my vagina.”
Silverman: I feel so awful because [the writer] looked around my place and wrote that down and of all the things in the world, I didn’t write that! It’s hilarious, but please write this—the guys I wrote this pilot with for Comedy Central—one of them, Dan Harmon, wrote that. It’s a line in the pilot.
Slate: What’s the premise of the pilot?
Silverman: It’s a one-camera sitcom. I play the version of myself that’s in the movie [Jesus Is Magic].
Slate: The “version of yourself” that’s in the movie?
Silverman: Yeah. I actually think of it as a character. I mean, I don’t have a weird voice or always have to be angry. I’m completely myself on stage. I talk the way I talk and I move the way I move, but inside, I think she’s—She! That’s so obnoxious! I—I’m more ignorant, yet arrogant.
Slate: What’s your biggest insecurity?
Silverman: This is so … totally … not unique. My thighs. Isn’t that the most un-unique thing you’ve ever heard a woman say? My fucking thighs! They’re not what they were when I was 19. They look all right, but you should see them in person. They’re, like, covered in some sort of cottage cheese oatmeal-type stuff.
Slate: One of the criticisms that’s leveled at your work is that it hasn’t changed much over the past few years, that with a few small exceptions, you’ve been recycling the same material.
Silverman: I’ve been doing this show, Jesus Is Magic, and honing it. It has new material and I throw away older stuff. But it’s a show and this is the movie of it. I’m doing like 10 20-minute spots in town now. I write new material and then sandwich it in old material that works. When the new stuff gets strong enough, I shed the old material. That’s the way stand-up is. I may not be as prolific as Margaret Cho, with a new concert movie every year, but that’s OK with me. If it’s OK with you, that’s good, but if it’s not, whatever.