Dirty talk with Sarah Silverman

Sarah Silverman’s in town for a one-night-stand of back-to-back comedy galas at Just For Laughs. Here’s what she has to say about it.

Sarah Silverman.

“I remember getting stuck in an elevator at the Delta Hotel many years ago. It was crazy. It was, like, four in the morning, jam-packed,” Sarah Silverman says of her memorable Montreal experience. “People started to panic. I did not, I just want to say. Even though I had to pee.”

Silverman, no stranger to the bladder-voiding urge, judging from her 2010 memoir The Bedwetter, is coming back to town for the Just for Laughs festival, where she’s hosting back-to-back galas on July 27. Her first line-up features Australian comedian and TV personality Wil Anderson; stand-up/TV comic Kyle Dunnigan (Silverman’s squeeze since 2011); Tig Notaro, known for her post-mastectomy cancer comedy; and the bleakly hilarious Kyle Kinane. The second show features Flight of the Conchords alum Arj Barker, stand-up comic/TV writer Pete Holmes and WTF podcast host Marc Maron.

“I can’t say enough about all these people; I can’t think of enough adjectives,” she says, effusively praising each in turn.

And you can trust Silverman’s judgment. She’s been part of some of TV’s best comedies, from bit parts on Saturday Night Live, Mr. Show and The Larry Sanders Show to the Comedy Central roasts and, from 2007 to 2010, her own vehicle, The Sarah Silverman Program. There was also the concert film Jesus Is Magic and a memorable bit in the comedy doc The Aristocrats, both released in 2005. Like Stephen Colbert, much of her comedy pokes holes in racism, sexism and other intolerance by articulating the kernel of shitty logic at their centre (i.e. “I want to get an abortion. But my boyfriend and I are having trouble conceiving”), a style that often offends those who miss the irony.

“I’m not, like, hunting for uncomfortable topics and taboo topics — that’s just the stuff that is at the front of my brain,” she says of her sometimes controversial blue material. “People see comedy just like you see anything, through the lens of your own personal life experience. So, like, if a banana killed your mother, then you’re going to be sensitive to banana jokes. There’s just no way to be aware of everyone in the audience’s mishegoss. But I think if you have the best intentions and some kind of heart that transcends through the icy cold brutal mess of any joke, it’s usually okay.”

In March, Silverman co-launched Jash, a channel for short comedy videos, with Michael Cera, Reggie Watts and Tim & Eric. The site lets its collaborators execute sketch comedy ideas on a budget, posting everything from 25-minute short films to 25-second bits.

“We just wanted to have this site that was kind of like a comedy collective where we had total autonomy, and any one of us can wake up and think of an idea and shoot it that week. It’s just so cool and so fun, with lots of opportunities to try and fail and do weird things.”

The actress also recently wrapped Seth MacFarlane’s latest feature, A Million Ways to Die in the West, a Western spoof starring MacFarlane, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris and Charlize Theron. “I play a prostitute in the Old West that won’t have sex with my boyfriend, Giovanni Ribisi, because we’re Christians and we’re not married.”

It’s the first film Silverman’s acted in since her dramatic turn in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, in which she played recovering alcoholic Geraldine — a role that required much-ballyhooed full frontal, totally unglamourized nudity and plumbing into gooey emotional depths.

“I just do what kind of becomes available to me. I mean, Sarah Polley was the first one to watch my show and see ‘acting’ in it,” she says of the move into meatier roles. “It’s so funny — when we were doing press for it, every single person asked Seth Rogen and I, like, ‘What’s it like to do drama?’ And we just looked at each other, like, acting, it’s the same. It’s pretending. It’s just saying lines, honestly. It’s not like our comedy is crazy wacky. You know, we’re not Jerry Lewises.

“It’s just so odd that people see them as totally different entities,” she continues. “There’s so much melancholy and sadness in any comedy you might see. And in the reverse, not everyone can go from drama to comedy. But then there are people like Alec Baldwin who are just amazing at it. A lot of people think that there’s some kind of, like, comedy sauce you put on things, but you don’t.

“I’m going to make some,” she says. “Yeah, sell it online. Sarah Silverman’s Comedy Sauce.” ■

Sarah Silverman’s JFL galas happen at Place des Arts on Saturday, July 27, with Wil Anderson, Kyle Dunnigan, Tig Notaro, Kyle Kinane (8:15 p.m.), Arj Barker, Marc Maron and Pete Holmes, (11 p.m.), each $41–$72. 

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