Sarah Silverman is not afraid to piss people off. Late last month, the comedian posted a video where she casually chats about abortion rights with Jesus over popcorn. It’s part of her ongoing effort to inform people across the country about Republican-led efforts to limit women’s access to abortion. She’s teamed up with Lady Parts Justice and had been playing fundraisers for the group all over the country.
We spoke with Silverman about the controversial video, how this type of work has impacted her comedy career, her recent efforts to get a sitcom on the air and her future plans, including an Off-Broadway musical based on her 2010 book The Bedwetter she’s working on with Adam Schlesinger.
Why did you decide to make the Jesus video?
Gee, I just started seeing this a lot, like voter suppression. It’s hard not to notice the far right is trying to make abortion illegal. They’re making it a bear of a job and they’re chipping away at it state by state. They’re just doing it quietly, the same way they did with voter suppression. I wanted to make something that was informational, though obviously with comedy.
There’s a lot of women that don’t know what’s going on, and they should, no matter how they feel. And to me, I love the symbol of Jesus. It’s so odd to me that so many people on the far right use his name to justify terrible things that I can’t imagine he’d approve of.
It is true he never mentioned homosexuality or so many other issues people fight over. He was all about love and tolerance.
There used to be a time when if someone was living their life a different way than you, you’d just say, “Well, that’s not my cup of tea.” You wouldn’t create policy around it. And I think it’s fear-based. It comes from a fear of the unknown, fear of change, and clinging to this book that is art. It’s to be interpreted. And it keeps getting interpreted just for people’s own means, people’s own agendas.
And I’m not against Christianity. I date Catholic men! That’s always what they come back with, “Sarah Silverman mocks Christianity!” I’m not! As a matter of fact, I have no religion and many people in my life that I love and respect and even look up to have religion.
I’m not out to prove them wrong. To be able to live and let other people live and be different from you doesn’t seem so difficult, but for some reason it is. When the Tea Party first came around, to me they were like a joke, like the Westboro Baptist Church. But they’re terrifying, and very powerful.
I take it you’ve gotten some negative feedback for this.
I’ve done fundraisers in Texas, New York and Los Angeles. There were all these protesters with Bibles and signs saying, “You’re going to hell!” and blah blah blah. But I can respect them because that’s what they believe in their heart. There was a little girl in a little pink outfit with a sign that said “Abortion Is Murder.” She was clearly raised by lovely people that said to her, “People are trying to murder babies!” If I grew up in that, I would be her. I would be like, “We have to stop them!”
I went out and talked to them. They said I was going to hell, but it wasn’t that bad. We just talked and I didn’t try to fight them. I just said, “Isn’t it great we live in a country where you can feel one way very passionately and stand up for that and fight and protest, and I can feel a different way and do the same thing?”
I just wanted this little girl to see a human face attached to the other side of this. She was like, “God is gonna punish you!” and “You’re going to hell.” I said to her, “But I don’t believe in God. I’m different from you.” And it was fine. I made a doody joke and she laughed despite herself. If you can connect with people, it goes so much further than arguing and trying to convince yourself that you’re right or they’re right.
Do you worry by being so public with all of this that you’re alienating a section of your fan base?
Oh, this is terrible for my career, make no mistake. This is not good for my career, and it definitely lost me an entire kind of audience. For networks that are selling soap, I can’t imagine that it would behoove them to hire me.
First of all, I don’t let myself read the comments. I need to protect myself, because when I’ve done that I’ve found myself trembling, scared that I’m gonna get killed. People on Twitter can be really, really scary. They always have avatars that are really scary cyber monsters. The bio is always like, “Family, Jesus, America.” It’s so odd. My friend told me she wants to write a book called “Jesus Would Hate You.”
You’re clearly very interested in Jesus.
I love the idea of Jesus. The quotes that are attributed to him are so beautiful. I can’t imagine how the people that shroud their hatred in his name would respond if he came today with long hair and Birkenstocks and said, basically, “You’ve gotta deal with your shit or your shit’s gonna deal with you. Look inward to find shit out and realize we’re all connected.”
I feel bad always pointing fingers and saying, “The right, the right, the right.” There are exceptions, and I know that I’m generalizing. I also feel that a majority of Republicans are Republicans because it’s their team, it’s what they grew up in. And they’re being sold a bill of goods. They’re brilliant in the way they very quietly change social policies. They’re spin geniuses. The one thing I notice is they always point fingers and accuse people of doing what they’re doing! That is genius, and it makes you crazy to argue with them.
It’s very impressive how the Tea Party went from not existing to taking over half of Congress in a very short time period.
There’s so much that the left or progressives can learn from them. They’re organized and super vocal. They make a big noise. They’re really, really effective.
They aren’t all talk. They recruit politicians, engage in the primary process and get people elected.
When I write anything about this, I get tweets like, “Oh, you say that from your private jet.” And it’s like, “What? I live in an apartment. A tiny apartment!” I’m fine. I do fine, but you have to realize that I’m famous from videos I make on my couch. I’ve had a couple good runs here and there, but there’s no consistent income.
I just did a commercial and I’m so grateful for that because it subsidizes everything else. There’s just such a misconception about me. I always say that I’m the poorest famous person in the world, non-scandal. If there’s an award for that, it would be my award.
I mean, as I get older I might go, “Oh, fuck. I need to make sure I’m taken care of.” But I’m fine. I keep my overhead very low. And I live a super happy, very comfortable life.
Bill O’Reilly showed part of your Jesus video and said he wanted to throw a pie in your face.
In my face? Oh my God! I had no idea. I like to be protected from that stuff, but I can’t believe that didn’t get back to me. I just want to do what I do. I encourage Bill O’Reilly and everyone else to express themselves however they see fit. I would fight for their right to do that.
What’s the status of People in New Jersey, the pilot you shot for HBO with Topher Grace?
HBO passed on it! It was so fun, though.
It’s got to be frustrating when you put that much time into something like that.
I’ve always been someone that’s ready to move on. I just get excited about the next thing. . .But working on that show was really cool. Patti LuPone is just the coolest chick I’ve ever met in my life.
Do you think the networks need to re-think the pilot system? Unleashing 50 new shows at people all at once feels pretty crazy in this day and age. They’re just burning money.
I don’t have the answer. Everything is so diluted. I’m not against it, but I think that show business has to catch up to the way that people watch TV. They’ve always measured things with ratings. What do they do now? People don’t watch things until they have the whole season, and then they just download it on iTunes. There’s no way to measure success.
Maybe something good will come out of it. Maybe they’ll take creative people and stick with things whose ratings aren’t high because it will become popular when it hits Netflix. Things need to be measured in a different way, but, again, I honestly don’t have any bitterness.
I enjoyed the NBC pilot you put online.
I couldn’t believe they let me post it! I was so impressed with them. For me, something becomes real during the editing process. When we were doing that I was like, “Oh my God, I don’t want to do 22 of anything in a year!” I’m a quality of life person. But I did love that show.
What are your plans for the next year?
I don’t know. I have so many ideas and things, but I don’t know if I want to let them out of my mouth hole. I’m shooting a no-money movie in February and March. That will be a different experience for me. I have a movie coming out in May, Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s insanely funny, I must say. I hope I’m still in it when they finish editing, but it was really fun.
Also, I’ve been obsessed with soap operas lately, just the concept of them. Couldn’t there be a daily show like a soap opera, but it’s awesome? I mean, a narrative, daily show that is shot seat-of-your pants style? That would be cool and I’ve been thinking a lot about that.
I don’t know if I should say this, but I’ve been working on a musical of my book The Bedwetter with Adam Schlesinger [from Fountains of Wayne]. I wouldn’t be in it, it’s about all my childhood stuff.
Will that be Off-Broadway in New York?
Yeah. But it’s such a long process, I probably shouldn’t say anything. But we have a first outline and we’re writing songs. It would be so dark, but a child would star in it. The character goes from six to 19. Adam Schlesinger is the one who thought about turning the book into a musical. I couldn’t believe it. I’m so excited about the prospect of it. It would be so cool.