Recently, “Sarah” — the character played by Sarah Silverman on Comedy Central’s The Sarah Silverman Program — was upset because in today’s world it just wasn’t safe anymore for children to get into strangers’ vans. So, she started a “good van” service. She picked kids up. They got popcorn and candy and played Rock Band. All was swell until one of the little boys had to tinkle. “You can pee in my mouth!” said Sarah, brightly. Uh oh . . .
Silverman — both her deranged alter ego on TV and her own bad self — relishes stepping in deep doo-doo. The 39-year-old writer and comic likes political humor; she also likes a good potty joke. Silverman’s star was on the rise after her concert film Jesus Is Magic came out, in 2005. It shot up further in 2008, when “I’m Fucking Matt Damon,” a song-and-dance video with Damon, aired on then-boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel’s show and went mega-viral on the Internet. This past Tuesday, HarperCollins published Silverman’s memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee. Our interview was conducted via e-mail.
You write about your Jewish upbringing in New Hampshire — the closeness and the distance to the culture. It’s a defining factor and, then again, maybe not. There’s a lot of ambivalence.
It defines me in a lot of ways, despite myself, even. As a kid, I was really only aware of being Jewish at all because it was how I was different from the other kids. They saw me as different — their parents explained to them that I was different, so I felt different, and that different feeling was that I was Jewish. But we had no religion. My parents never spoke about God, like, as a real entity. I was Jewish because everyone around me was blond and I had a full head of black hair on my arms and legs.
Did you have any trepidation about revealing the frequent bedwetting episodes — to say nothing of titling your book The Bedwetter?
No trepidation at all. It’s silly. I was tiny and had a bladder that was too small and needed to grow. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But as a kid I was sure it would be the darkest secret of my life. In a way, I think of this book as a letter — silly as it may be at times — to my kid self. It would have been great to have known then that it didn’t matter. That it wasn’t a big deal and that it wasn’t my fault.
I know you dislike analyzing comedy, but I’m guessing you come up with what’s funny first, and then, if you must, see how the humor fits with the character?
Yeah, one way that works for me is to think about how I feel about something and then present it the opposite way. I can’t make “Gay marriage should be legal — equal rights for all” funny — but maybe if I found ridiculous absurd reasons why gays shouldn’t be allowed to get married, that would be my angle. I don’t need my real beliefs to be expressed in my stand-up. More often than not, it’s the complete reverse. The honesty comes from hopefully just being real in the moment and somehow transcending — and I realize that some kind of honesty is important for a joke. It doesn’t have to be in the words, but somewhere — in the ether. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes I walk off stage feeling like a fraud. It’s a process.