Wednesday 24 May 2017

Britney, Obama and me -- up close and personal with Sarah Silverman

Chris Ayres

The first thing to know about Sarah Silverman is that she's nothing at all like Sarah Silverman. Granted, the comedian turns up for an 11am breakfast in Hollywood wearing an anti-fashion ensemble of jeans, T-shirt and army jacket.

But, there isn't a trace of 39-year-old Silverman's on-stage ironic narcissism, which she has translated so effectively over the past decade from the New York-Los Angeles stand-up comedy circuit into a cult TV show, The Sarah Silverman Program, and now a new memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee.

You can hardly imagine that this tiny, dishevelled presence is the same woman who got up after Britney Spears's humiliating 2007 MTV Music Video Awards performance and declared: "Wow. She is amazing. She is 25 years old and has already accomplished everything she is going to accomplish in her life."

Silverman claims that this almost unbearably on-the-bone insult -- along with her sweetly delivered reference to Spears's children being "the most adorable mistakes you will ever see" -- was pre-written, with "no doubt in my mind that she was going to be amazing. People think I was watching the show, but I wasn't: I was backstage, pacing nervously and holding in diarrhoea. I was shocked when I saw it the next day."

The Bedwetter should help win over those who still hold this against her. You get the real Sarah Silverman, who grew up in a liberal Jewish family in the conservative, Christian town of Bedford, New Hampshire.

This was a girl who was on a course of 16 hospital-strength Xanax antidepressants a day by the age of 14 (thanks to a doctor who hanged himself halfway through her treatment); and who -- no joke -- was a bedwetter well into her high-school years.

She wore nappies to summer camp -- until she tamed her nocturnal spills with a kind of nightly self-hypnosis. "I didn't think twice," she says, about making revelations in The Bedwetter. "I'd have a lot of nerve to be embarrassed by anything at this stage."

She confides her depression has lasted into adulthood -- although her medication isn't at previous levels.

"To defend my parents, I was given the Xanax at a time when you didn't question doctors. It was a registered nurse who put me on it 16 times a day." She now takes a less potent anti-depressant, Zoloft.

Silverman clearly found a release through her toilet-trained mouth, performing at New York comedy clubs, which led to writing for US TV show Saturday Night Live. She then landed cameos on everything from Star Trek: The Next Generation to The Larry Sanders Show and Seinfeld.

But it was Silverman's stand-up act that stood out. Her speciality became mocking the racism and hypocrisy of her audience via the prejudice and self-absorption of her on-stage persona. "I was raped by a doctor... which is really bitter-sweet for a Jewish girl," goes her most famous line.

By the mid-2000s, she was in a high-profile relationship with the late night US talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, for whom she made the viral YouTube video I'm F***ing Matt Damon. He infamously responded with another video, I'm F***ing Ben Affleck, complete with an A-List celebrity choir. That romance is now over, although they stay in touch.

Silverman is now dating Family Guy writer, Alec Sulkin, whom she met after sending him a message on Twitter. "I want to have kids, but I'm not ready," she says, adding that, "I'm OK with turning 40 -- but thank God I'm not famous for my looks, because I'm gonna hit a wall."

Though The Sarah Silverman Program was cancelled, her book's bestseller status in the US and her forthcoming role in the Hollywood drama Take This Waltz has more than helped to make up for it.

She can also take comfort in her burgeoning friendship with US President Obama, who credits Silverman with "putting me over the top" thanks to a 2008 campaign video entitled The Great Schlep.

In it, Silverman mobilised young Jews to persuade their conservative grandparents in Florida to vote for the black candidate with a Muslim-sounding name. It worked -- and when Obama visited Los Angeles last week, he summoned Silverman to his hotel to thank her.

"He was like, 'Sarah, you're very funny -- although I have to turn the volume down when the girls come in the room'," she recalls.

"He's so beautiful. He looks like Fred Astaire, but more handsome. And brown."

But what did this odd couple find to talk about? "Movies. I told him, 'I don't like Pixar movies. Just the thought of a lonely robot. My heart can't take it'. He said [lowers her voice], 'Sarah, we're going to have to agree to disagree on that one.'"

"It was so exciting," she squeals. Then her face quickly darkens.

"But it was also exciting to go home afterwards and watch Bachelor Pad."

Irish Independent

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