Sarah Kate Silverman (born December 1, 1970) is an American stand-up comedian, actress, producer, and writer. Her comedy addresses social taboos and controversial topics, such as racism, sexism, politics, and religion, sometimes having her comic character endorse them in a sarcastic or deadpan fashion. For her work on television, she has won two Primetime Emmy Awards.
Silverman was a writer and occasional performer on Saturday Night Live, and starred in and produced The Sarah Silverman Program, which ran from 2007 to 2010 on Comedy Central, for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She released an autobiography The Bedwetter in 2010. She also appeared in other television programs, such as Mr. Show and VIP, and starred in films, including Who's the Caboose? (1997), School of Rock (2003), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), and A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).
In 2015, she starred in the drama I Smile Back, for which she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role.
Silverman was born in Bedford, New Hampshire, to Beth Ann (née Halpin; 1941–2015) and Donald Silverman. She was raised in Manchester, New Hampshire. Beth had been George McGovern's personal campaign photographer and would found the theater company New Thalian Players, while Donald has training as a social worker and also ran the clothing store Crazy Sophie's Outlet. Silverman's parents divorced and later remarried others. Silverman is the youngest of five siblings. Her sisters are Rabbi Susan Silverman, screenwriter Jodyne Silverman, and actress Laura Silverman; her brother Jeffrey Michael died when he was three months old. Born into a Jewish family, she considers herself secular and non-religious. She was in attendance when women lit menorahs at the Western Wall for the first time, in December 2014. Her ancestors were from Poland and Russia.
The first time Silverman performed stand-up comedy was in Boston at age 17. She described her performance as "awful". After graduating from The Derryfield School in Manchester (Class of 1989), she attended New York University for a year but did not graduate. Instead, she performed stand-up comedy in Greenwich Village.
1992–2007: Career beginnings and Jesus Is Magic
After beginning her stand-up comedy in 1992, Silverman was part of the 1993–94 season of Saturday Night Live (SNL) for 18 weeks as a writer and featured player. She was fired after one season where only one of the sketches she wrote survived to dress rehearsal and none aired, although she did appear on the show as a cast member in skits, usually in smaller supporting roles. Bob Odenkirk, a former SNL writer, explained, "I could see how it wouldn't work at SNL because she's got her own voice, she's very much Sarah Silverman all the time. She can play a character but she doesn't disappear into the character—she makes the character her." She has stated that she was not ready for SNL when she got the job. She said that when she was fired it hurt her confidence for a year, but after that nothing could hurt her and that she attributes her time to SNL as being a key reason why she has been so tough in her career. Later, she was grateful that her SNL time was short because it didn't end up defining her. She parodied the situation when she appeared on The Larry Sanders Show episode "The New Writer" (1996), playing Sanders' new staff writer, whose jokes are not used because of the chauvinism and bias of the male chief comedy writer, who favors the jokes of his male co-writers. She appeared in three episodes of Larry Sanders during its final two seasons.
She also starred in the HBO sketch comedy series Mr. Show (1995–1997) and had the leading role for the 1997 independent film Who's the Caboose?, about a pair of New York comedians (Silverman and director Sam Seder) going to Los Angeles during pilot season to try to get a part in a television series; the film features numerous young comedians in supporting roles but never received a widespread theatrical release. Silverman and Seder later made a six-episode television series sequel entitled Pilot Season in which Silverman stars as the same character and Seder again directed. She made her network standup comedy debut on the Late Show with David Letterman on July 3, 1997.
Silverman made several TV program guest appearances, including on Star Trek: Voyager in the two-part time travel episode "Future's End" (1996); Seinfeld in the episode "The Money" (1997); VIP in the episode "481⁄2 Hours" (2002); Greg the Bunny as a series regular (2002); and on the puppet television comedy Crank Yankers as the voice of Hadassah Guberman (2003, 2007). She had small parts in the films There's Something About Mary, Say It Isn't So, School of Rock, The Way of the Gun, Overnight Delivery, Screwed, Heartbreakers, Evolution, School for Scoundrels, and Rent, playing a mixture of comic and serious roles.
In 2005, Silverman released a concert film, Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, based on her one-woman show of the same name. Liam Lynch directed the film, which was distributed by Roadside Attractions. It received 64% positive ratings based on 84 reviews on the film critics aggregator Web site Rotten Tomatoes, and earned approximately $1.3 million at the box office. As part of the film's publicity campaign, she appeared online in Slate as the cover subject of Heeb magazine and in roasts on Comedy Central of Pamela Anderson and Hugh Hefner.
Silverman played a therapist in a skit for a bonus DVD of the album Lullabies to Paralyze by the band Queens of the Stone Age. Silverman also appears at the end of the video for American glam metal band Steel Panther's "Death To All But Metal." On Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Silverman parodied sketches from Chappelle's Show, replaying Dave Chappelle's characterizations of Rick James and "Tyrone" as well as a Donnell Rawlings character based on the miniseries Roots. In 2006, Silverman placed 50th on Maxim Hot 100 List. In 2007, she placed 29th and appeared on the cover.
2007–2010: The Sarah Silverman Program
Her television sitcom The Sarah Silverman Program debuted on Comedy Central in February 2007, the series had 1.81 million viewers and portrays the day-to-day adventures of fictionalized versions of Silverman, her sister Laura, and their friends. A number of comedic actors from Mr. Show have appeared on The Sarah Silverman Program. Silverman was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for her acting on the show. At the awards ceremony, she wore a fake mustache. Comedy Central canceled The Sarah Silverman Program after three seasons.
In June 2007, she hosted the MTV Movie Awards. During her opening act, she commented on the upcoming jail sentence of Paris Hilton, who was in the audience, saying: "In a couple of days, Paris Hilton is going to jail. As a matter of fact, I heard that to make her feel more comfortable in prison, the guards are going to paint the bars to look like penises. I think it is wrong, too. I just worry she is going to break her teeth on those things." In September 2007, she appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards. Following the comeback performance of Britney Spears, Silverman mocked her on stage, saying: "Wow, she is amazing. I mean, she is 25 years old, and she has already accomplished everything she's going to accomplish in her life."
In January 2008, she appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to show Jimmy Kimmel, her boyfriend at the time, a special video. The video turned out to be a song called "I'm Fucking Matt Damon" in which she and Matt Damon sang a duet about having an affair behind Kimmel's back. The video created an "instant YouTube sensation." She won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards. Kimmel responded with his own video a month later with Damon's friend Ben Affleck, which enlisted a panoply of stars to record Kimmel's song "I'm Fucking Ben Affleck". On September 13, 2008, Silverman won a Creative Arts Emmy Award for writing the song "I'm Fucking Matt Damon". Silverman guest-starred in a second-season episode of the USA cable program Monk as Marci Maven. She returned in the sixth-season premiere and for the 100th episode of Monk. According to the audio commentary on the Clerks II DVD, director Kevin Smith offered her the role that eventually went to Rosario Dawson, but she turned it down out of fear of being typecast in "girlfriend roles". However, she told Smith the script was "really funny" and mentioned that if the role of Randal Graves was being offered to her she "would do it in a heartbeat." She appeared in Strange Powers, the 2009 documentary by Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara about cult songwriter Stephin Merritt and his band The Magnetic Fields. Silverman wrote a comic memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, which was published in 2010.
2011–present: Take This Waltz and other projects
Silverman played Geraldine alongside Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen in Take This Waltz, written and directed by Sarah Polley. The film was well received when it premiered in Toronto in 2011 and was picked up by Magnolia for U.S. distribution in summer 2012. At the Toronto International Film Festival, she told the press she'd deliberately gained weight for the part, which required a nude scene, emphasizing that Polley wanted "real bodies and real women." In interviews, she warned fans not to expect too much. However, she later told podcaster and author Julie Klausner that she had not really gained weight for the role and that the statements were meant as self-deprecating humor.
On September 20, 2012, Silverman made a public service announcement (PSA) criticizing new voter identification laws that create obstacles to the ability of certain groups to vote in the November presidential election, i.e., young, old, poor, and minority citizens. The project was financed by the Jewish Council for Education & Research (JCER) and was co-produced by Mik Moore and Ari Wallach (the pair that also co-produced The Great Schlep and Scissor Sheldon).
Silverman voiced Vanellope von Schweetz, one of the main characters in the 2012 Disney animated film, Wreck-It Ralph. She is in the creative team that writes and produces the content for the YouTube comedy channel called Jash. The other partners are Michael Cera, Reggie Watts, and Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim (also known as Tim & Eric). The JASH channel premiered online March 10, 2013. In Seth MacFarlane's western comedy film, A Million Ways to Die in the West, she played Ruth, a prostitute, who is in love with Edward (Giovanni Ribisi). It was released on May 30, 2014.
In 2013, HBO announced that Silverman would star with Patti LuPone and Topher Grace in a situation comedy pilot called People in New Jersey, produced by SNL's Lorne Michaels. The pilot was not picked up for a series order.
In 2017, Silverman became the host of a new talk show on Hulu called I Love You, America.
Media Action Network for Asian Americans incident
In a July 2001 interview on NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Silverman used the ethnic slur "chink" in explaining that a friend advised her to avoid jury duty by writing a racial slur on the selection form, "something inappropriate, like 'I hate chinks.'" Silverman said she decided that she did not want to be thought of as a racist, so "I wrote 'I love chinks' – and who doesn't?"
Silverman said the joke satirizes the racist thought process. Guy Aoki of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) objected to her use of the slur. NBC and O'Brien apologized, but Silverman did not. Later, appearing on Politically Incorrect in July and August 2001, Silverman questioned Aoki's sincerity, accusing him of exploiting the opportunity for publicity. On a later episode, Aoki appeared with Silverman and stated he did not accept Silverman's explanation, saying that it was not successful satire and that comedians should consult groups such as his before performing such material. She stated in an NPR Fresh Air interview that she was asked to repeat the joke on Politically Incorrect, among other places, but eventually dropped it from her act because she felt it was becoming stale.
Silverman has since turned the complaint into grist for her standup act, saying that the experience helped teach her the important lesson that racism is bad: "And I mean bad, like in that black way."
A minor controversy arose over Silverman's performance in the documentary film The Aristocrats (2005). The film shows her doing the Aristocrats joke – a sample of transgressive art told by numerous comedians since the vaudeville era – like it was an autobiographical account of her life as a child sex performer. As part of the routine, she mentions that Joe Franklin, a New York radio and TV personality whose nostalgic programs aired from the early 1950s until shortly before his death in 2015, would ask her to perform privately for him in his apartment. Silverman looks at the camera and, in a deadpan voice, accuses Franklin of raping her. The film was edited in such a way that it appears as if Franklin knows what Silverman said about him. Later, after her clip, Franklin is shown stating, "Sarah Silverman is a young lady to watch." After the film came out, Franklin took offense at Silverman's using his name in the routine and considered suing her. A month later, The New York Times noted he remained undecided but had said, "The best thing I could do is get Sarah better writers so she'd have funnier material."
Silverman became a vegetarian at the age of ten. She is open about her lifelong battle with clinical depression, which at one point led to her developing an addiction to Xanax. She credited her subsequent emotional health to taking the prescription drug Zoloft. She struggled with bedwetting from the time she was young until well into her teens and stated in a 2007 interview that she had wet the bed recently.
Silverman's autobiography, published in April 2010, entitled The Bedwetter, explores the subject of bed wetting, among other subjects. She stated she did not want to get married until same-sex couples were able to. In 2014, she tweeted "Just read that I wanna get married which is hilarious b/c I will never get married," adding, "Why would I want the govt involved in my love life? Ew. It's barbaric."
She stated she does not want to have biological children because "there's just millions of kids that have no parents" in the world and to avoid the risk that they might inherit her depression. In 2017, Silverman also said that she has prioritized her artistic career, constantly on tour, instead of motherhood.
Silverman's biological sister, Laura, played her sister on The Sarah Silverman Program. An older sister, Susan, is a rabbi who lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Yosef Abramowitz, the co-founder and president of Arava Power Company, and their five children. Silverman considers herself culturally Jewish, which she has frequently mined for material, but says she is agnostic and does not follow Judaism, claiming, "I have no religion. But culturally I can't escape it; I'm very Jewish."
Silverman dated comedian and fellow SNL writer Dave Attell. Silverman began dating Jimmy Kimmel in 2002. She referred to the relationship in some of her comedy, joking: "I'm Jewish, but I wear this Saint Christopher medal sometimes; my boyfriend is Catholic – but you know ... it was cute the way he gave it to me. He said if it doesn't burn a hole through my skin, it will protect me." In July 2008, Vanity Fair reported that the couple had split. However, in October 2008, the media reported they were on "the road back to being together". The couple attended the wedding of Howard Stern and Beth Ostrosky, but split again in March 2009. At the Emmy Awards in August 2014, Silverman acknowledged she and Welsh actor Michael Sheen were in a relationship. Silverman said in February 2018 that the two had broken up over the holidays.
In July 2016, Silverman spent a week in the intensive care unit at Cedars Sinai Hospital with epiglottitis.
Politics and activism
In 2015, she signed an open letter which the ONE Campaign had been collecting signatures for; the letter was addressed to Angela Merkel and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urging them to focus on women, as they serve as the head of the G7 in Germany and the AU in Ethiopia, respectively, which will start to set the priorities in development funding before a main UN summit in September 2015 that will establish new development goals for the generation.
In 2015, Silverman endorsed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for President of the United States, saying, "He says what he means & he means what he says & he's not for sale." She had previously introduced Sanders at a rally in Los Angeles, California that drew an audience of over 27,500 people.
Silverman spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in support of Hillary Clinton. She urged other Sanders supporters to back Clinton and later, amid some boos from some Sanders supporters, said, "Can I just say? To the 'Bernie or Bust' people, you're being ridiculous." The Washington Post and Politico called this one of the most memorable moments of the night. The New York Times called her speech "the perfect breath of fresh air." Michael Grunwald of Politico coined the term "Silverman Democrats" for Sanders supporters who followed Silverman's advice to support Clinton in the presidential election.