Skip to main content

Silverman and 'Jesus Is Magic,' Now on DVD

Comedian and actress Sarah Silverman's concert film Jesus is Magic is about to come out on DVD. It's the screen version of her one-woman off-Broadway stage show, with scenes performed before a live audience interwoven with musical numbers and backstage shots. Silverman's act tends to walk the line between irreverent and possibly offensive, with jokes about Sept. 11, AIDS and the Holocaust. This interview originally aired Nov. 9, 2005.


Other segments from the episode on July 2, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 2, 2006: Interview with Sarah Silverman; Interview with Tiny Tim; Review of the film "The war tapes."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Sarah Silverman talks about her career in comedy

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News sitting in for Terry Gross.

If you were only half-listening, you might think that comic Sarah Silverman
was just a little bit racist and just a little bit clueless. But if you're
really listening, you're likely to laugh out loud at how she skewers racism,
anti-Semitism and stereotyping. A recent New Yorker profile said, quote,
"Silverman crosses boundaries that would not occur to most people even to
have. The more innocent and oblivious her delivery, the more outrageous her
commentary becomes," unquote. Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly have
called Silverman the funniest woman in America. She was featured in the
comedy documentary, "The Aristocrats," and appeared in the films, "School of
Rock" and "There's Something About Mary."

Terry spoke with her last year following the release of her stand-up concert
movie, "Jesus Is Magic," which will be released next week on DVD. Before we
hear their conversation, here's an excerpt from the film.

(Soundbite of "Jesus Is Magic")

Ms. SARAH SILVERMAN: Look, I don't want to be labeled as straight or labeled
as gay. You know, I just want people to look at me and see me, you know, as

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: And then I found--I can say that, by the way, 'cause I used
to go out with a guy who was half-black who totally broke up with me, 'cause
I'm a (censored) loser. And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: I just heard myself say that. I'm such a pessimist, the
worst attitude. He's half-white. And he totally broke up with me...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: And it's funny now, like--what is it?--hindsight's 20/20 or
whatever. Like I know--it's so obvious to me now why he broke up with me, you
know, 'cause he has (censored) low self-esteem, you know, and I can't compete
with that. Like he--everybody knows somebody who--it's like anything you say
to them, they're going to take it--they're going to hear it in the most
negative way, you know what I mean? And he was like--you could give him a
comp--like, I gave him a compliment, all right? I told him he probably would
have made, like, a really expensive slave in the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: in the olden-timey days, not now. And what does he
do, right? It goes through the Rube Goldberg, you know, crazy straw of his
low self-esteem, and it hit his ear, and he heard something (censored), you
know? I can't control that. Like, I can't control what he hears, you know?
He has to learn how to love himself, you know, before I can stop hating his
people, you know, as a people. I don't care if you think I'm racist. I just
want you to think I'm thin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(End of soundbite)


Sarah Silverman, welcome to FRESH AIR. I think your movie is really funny.
I'm wondering how often people think that you're genuinely racist or
homophobic or anti-Semitic or whatever.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Not often. It doesn't happen often, but it certainly
happens, I mean, probably more often than the average person. But, yeah, I
have an old boyfriend who would call it `mouthful-of-blood laughs,' where the
audience is completely laughing at the wrong thing, not understanding any of
the irony or, you know...

GROSS: You got in trouble with one Asian-American media watchdog group. The
head of that group didn't like you using the five-letter word that starts with
C-H. It's used as a derogatory word to describe Asians. So you used that on
"Conan O'Brien," I think it was?


GROSS: So what happened?

Ms. SILVERMAN: It was simply a joke about racism. I had to say the most
racist word I could say on television, and you know, they said, `Well, could
you say "Jew" instead?' And I thought, `Hm, maybe dirty Jew would be'--like I
could--but it wasn't good enough, because I'm Jewish and it becomes
self-deprecation, and it had to be racist. And it was the whole point of the
joke, and anyone who heard it, for the most part, understood that there is a
context to it, and...

GROSS: So what was the thing that you--what was the bit of your act that's
sort of a controversy?

Ms. SILVERMAN: The joke?

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. SILVERMAN: The whole crazy joke is this: I got a notice in the mail
for--to do jury duty and I really didn't want to do jury duty, and you have to
fill out this whole form, and then send it in, and then you're randomly
chosen. And I did not want to do jury duty, and a friend of mine said, you
know, `Why don't you just write something really racist on the form, like "I
hate Chinks"?' and I thought to myself, yeah, you know, but I don't want
people to think I'm racist. I just want to get out of jury duty, you know?
So I wrote--I filled out the form and I wrote, `I love Chinks.'

GROSS: Well, that's funny, and it's a joke--I mean, it's a joke all about
racism, and you don't get it. You're ...(unintelligible) get it.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Clearly, I'm the ignoramus.

GROSS: Exactly.


GROSS: You're the ignoramus, yeah. Yeah. So the protests did not get you to
rethink your humor. You just saw it...

Ms. SILVERMAN: No. I mean, I dropped the joke because I ended up having to
say it so many times in--on "Politically Incorrect" and stuff like that, it
just became old news, you know. But no, I mean, it was a reaction to a
buzzword with no context even being considered, you know. So I can't--you
know, even trying to defend it just implies guilt of some sort, you know.

GROSS: In your act, you talk about having been a bed-wetter until you were
about 15. This is a very embarrassing thing to talk about. Why go there?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Well, I don't know. I guess I grew up really believing that
this would be the deepest, darkest secret of my life, you know. You never
think, as a child who's a bed-wetter, that you would ever tell anyone, ever,
you know. And then you grow up, and it's--you know, it becomes just a part of
your life and part of what makes you--a part of what informs who you are, you
know. And there's a certain amount of pride and there's a certain amount of,
you know, some, I'm sure, unhealthy need to expose myself, you know. And I
mean that literally. But also, you know, there's something about it that
feels good, you know.

Now a lot of our listeners probably saw you in the movie "The Aristocrats,"
which is a documentary about how different people tell a joke, but basically
the premise of a joke and then each comic who tells it kind of does these
really obscene riffs on the premise. And have you always been comfortable
speaking that blue in front of people?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah. Yeah, because I'm one of those kids that--you know, my
dad thought it was like really hilarious to teach me swear words as a toddler,
and it's funny. You know, I think that I would say them and the reaction I
would get would be so fantastic that I think it--I searched for more and more
and more, you know. And he--I was kind of farmed that way, you know. My
parents--you know, my dad swears. He's the sweetest man, but he--it's just a
part of his language. It's like, `like,' you know, and `totally,' but it's
the F word.

GROSS: So was it supposed to be really cute for a little toddler or a kid to
be using words that we can't say on the radio?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Apparently in the '70s it was adorable. Adorable. So
because of that, I think I've had this kind of comfort with--at least with the
language. I don't even think of myself that I don't swear, particularly a
lot, but just raised in a family that was--didn't have maybe the same spectrum
of boundaries. The--it was bigger, you know, wider. I'm not a oddball in my
family. We're all freaks in that way, you know. So I think that I was always
kind of comfortable saying that. I think the race stuff was stuff I was not
comfortable with until my 20s, you know, because I--you know, for all the
right reasons, you know. If someone said something racial, even in a joking
way, it upset me.

I remember a friend of mine who is a comic put a nickel on his forehead and
said, `Hey, look, Jewish Ash Wednesday.' And he's Jewish, you know,
and--`Jewish Ash Wednesday.' And of course, today, I would--you know, it's
hilarious, but I was like 19, you know. I'd just started new stand-up--maybe
even 20--and I would get so upset. And it's funny how I've changed, you know,
and maybe because of that, you know, it--I was so affected by race and
stereotypes that I kind of--even though it was never mine to begin with, I
think I kind of took it back, you know what I mean? The `take back the
night,' but the night was never mine.

GROSS: Were you exposed to a lot of racism or anti-Semitism as a kid?


GROSS: Was there a lot of it in your neighborhood or ...(unintelligible).

Ms. SILVERMAN: I have no license--I have no license to be doing what I'm
doing. The--you know, I didn't grow up in an all-black neighborhood or
something. I'm not black myself. I grew up a Jew who--where there were no
other Jews, but what--the only thing I can remember from my life is like in
third grade, a kid on the bus threw like pennies at my feet and said, you
know, `Pick them up, Jew,' like, `You're a cheap Jew' or something like that.
But it was so innocent, you know. I mean, it's a kid doing it, and of course,
I didn't have that perspective then, but at the same token, he became my
little third-grade boyfriend, probably a month later.

GROSS: Oh, really? Did you even get what...


GROSS: Did you even get it then, what...

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah, I did. I was like, `Yeah, Jews are cheap, ha, ha, ha.'
So, you know, I was--you know, I was raised in a place where there wasn't--you
know, people weren't racist. I mean, it was a time in, you know, the '80s or
whatever where--in a world that was very white and there were no Jews, but I
didn't--I didn't feel threatened at all. So even when that happened, I was
just kind of like, `Huh. Well, that's weird,' you know. I don't know, but,
you know, my dad grew up in a very different world, you know. He was beaten
up and abused brutally, you know, for being Jewish.

GROSS: Did he tell you stories about that when you were young?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah. Yeah, he was sent to a prep school, you know. His
parents did well, you know, but it was a--like a--I don't know if it was
a--some sort of Christian prep school. It wasn't--and--or it was just
not--there were not Jews there. And kids would like, encircle him, you know,
and call him, you know, `kike, dirty Jew,' all that kind of stuff, and beat
him up. And, you know, we're from--this is in New England, either--it must
have been New Hampshire, I think, by then. And they would go have ski teams
or whatever, and one time they were all bullying him on the snow, and he
stabbed a guy in the stomach with a ski pole.

GROSS: Yikes.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah, and got suspended for it, of course. But you know,
it--I just--it's so sad, you know. You want to kill those kids. My small
experience with racism was just in a time where I didn't--it didn't threaten
me in any way. I wasn't in a world where it was threatening. But you know,
when I hear the stories that my dad tells, it's so heartbreaking.

DAVIES: Sarah Silverman speaking with Terry Gross. Her concert film, "Jesus
Is Magic," will be released next week on DVD. We'll hear more after this

This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: Let's get back to our interview with comic Sarah Silverman.

GROSS: Now one question about your father. Your father used to own the
Junior Deb/Varsity Shops. Or did he just own a couple of--like, in a
franchise of them?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah. It was a small chain of boys' and girls' clothing that
his father owned, and then he sold them and kind of retired so that he could
write, because his real passion is writing, and wrote some novels and then ran
out of money and had to open a store again, and opened a store called Crazy
Sophie's Factory Outlet, a discount women's clothing store, and he did his own
ads on the radio.

GROSS: Now I...

Ms. SILVERMAN: And they're hilarious.

GROSS: Oh, really?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Well, he's got this really thick Boston accent. I mean, you
can really hardly understand a word he's saying, and he'd be like, `This is
Crazy Donald, Crazy Sophie's husband.' It's a made-up name, though. He'd say,
`When I see the prices at the mall, I just want to vomit. Come to Crazy
Sophie's. We got Unicorn, Wrangler, this, that,' all these, like, kinds of
jeans you've never heard of. And then at the end he says, `So if you care
enough to buy the very best but you're too cheap, come to Crazy Sophie's.'

GROSS: That's really funny.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah. And then on the other side of the spectrum is my mom,
who's from Connecticut and speaks perfectly and says, you know, things like
`wh-hen' and `wh-here.' She went to the local movie theater and complained
that she could not understand what the person was saying when she called up to
find out what movies were playing, on the recording. And they said, `Oh, you
want to do it?' She was like, `OK.' So I grew up with her, you know, going
with her to the movie theater and to the little booth where they kept all the
not-fresh popcorn, and she would say, `Hi, and thank you for calling Bedford
Mall Cinemas I, II, III and IV, where all bargain matinees are only $2 Monday
through Saturday,' you know? So...

GROSS: Well, that's great. What...

Ms. SILVERMAN: It was different. Yeah.

GROSS: But...

Ms. SILVERMAN: Show-biz family, yeah.

GROSS: Now you've said that you think most comics are filled with
self-loathing. Does that describe about how you felt about yourself when you
were young?


GROSS: Are you...

Ms. SILVERMAN: No, I didn't--I had a--I've always had a pretty healthy
self-esteem, you know. I mean, I think we're--I'm sure I'm riddled with
insecurity as well, but I've got a pretty--I like myself, but I've got a
pretty good self-esteem. I think, like, my comedy came more from humiliation
and from--you know, I say it in the movie, but it's kind of true. It's like I
was a chronic bed-wetter. You know, I had this deep, dark secret, you know.
If I had to go to sleep-over parties, I would like just pinch myself awake all
night, you know. I was--you know, the one thing about being Jewish and the
thing that made me feel the most Jewish, because we weren't religious in any
way, was that I was so friggin' hairy compared to these, you know, Carol Reed,
L.L. Bean, blonde Aryans that I lived with, you know. So there was that,
that kind of--you know, you want to be funny--you want to be funny before
anyone is funny on your behalf, you know?

Or--you know, one time I have to--I have Elvis Presley's death to thank for a
party in first grade, a sleep-over party at Heather Paul's house. And for
some reason, I had no sleep-over clothes. I had to borrow her pajamas. I
slept, you know, in a sleeping bag, soaking wet the next morning and just kind
of paralyzed with fear, didn't say anything or do anything and changed with
the other girls, you know, changed into my regular clothes and just left the
clothes kind of on the floor there. And her mother came in. She was so mean.
And she stepped on my pajamas and she was like, `Who did this?' And I was
just--my heart was just pounding, I was so scared. And right then, her
husband came in and said, `Elvis Presley just died!' Thank God.

GROSS: Do you think that being a woman stood in the way--in your way at all
when you were starting out? Because I think of--I don't really make the
rounds of the comedy clubs, but I think of a lot of the comedy clubs as having
a lot of--and this might be completely coming out of ignorance--but having a
lot of male comics who make a lot of jokes about women and sex and that.

Ms. SILVERMAN: No, because I think you make jokes about what you're thinking
about and your life experience, and it--you know, it doesn't--that never
affected me or bothered me. I made jokes--you know, I lost my virginity as a
comedian, so my act became all about sex for a while, you know, because it's
just all you're thinking about, you know. And I think--I never really felt
like a woman. I mean, there are individual little stories and snags where
I--there was frustration. And I'm sure at the beginning--you know, like I
played basketball, you know. I used to play a lot more but--and I know that
kind of feeling. It's just like being a woman comic and having to prove
yourself with a new set of peers, you know, where you, like, go to the YMCA
for a pickup game, and those first couple games it's that anxiety of having to
prove that you can--that you play hard, you know. And I think that it can be
that way with being a woman in comedy, or anything where the majority of
people in that field are male, you know. It's--there's nothing--nobody's
doing anything wrong. It's just human nature. But I've only ever been a
woman in stand-up, or in life at all, and so I have nothing really to compare
it to. It's been quite a ride. No, it's been fine for me.

GROSS: Sarah Silverman, thanks so much for talking with us.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Thank you.

DAVIES: Sarah Silverman speaking with Terry Gross. A DVD of her concert
film, "Jesus Is Magic," will be released next week.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "The War Tapes." This is FRESH AIR.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews the documentary film,
"The War Tapes"

In 2003, Deborah Scranton declined an offer from the New Hampshire National
Guard to be an embedded journalist in Iraq. Instead, the former TV reporter
trained soldiers themselves to be cinematographers and kept in touch with them
by e-mail. The result, "The War Tapes," won the best documentary prize at
this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Film critic David Edelstein, who was a
member of that jury, has a review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: In the '60s, the critic Michael Arlen called Vietnam
`the living room war' because TV brought the bloodshed into people's homes.
But even with today's small light cameras, TV reporters in Iraq have been
hamstrung when it comes to getting close to the action, first by government
restrictions on their movements, then by the escalating danger of being
kidnapped or blown up by roadside bombs. The director Deborah Scranton found
a way around the problem in 2004. With the approval of the National Guard,
she supplied several Guardsmen stationed in Iraq with mini-DVD cameras along
with tripods to mount them on vehicles. The upshot, "The War Tapes," is among
the most revelatory documentaries of the Iraq war years. This isn't raw
cinema verite. Scranton and her team edited more than 1,000 hours of tape
down to a taut hour and a half, and the film's 96-minute running time includes
interviews with families and friends back home, yet the movie gives you a
sense both of the dread of waiting for the violence to erupt and the panic of
actual engagement. Although several Guardsmen sent back footage, Scranton
focuses on just three.

Sergeant Steve Pink is a carpenter and an aspiring writer.

(Soundbite of "The War Tapes")

Sergeant STEVE PINK: Every once in a while as we're driving down the road,
creeping along on patrol, I have a recurring epiphany: "This is happening,
and it will have a lasting impact for the rest of my life." The debate we had

earlier in the day over the consistency and texture of a severed limb was not
some far-off grotesque assumption. It was a genuine argument between the guy
who swears it resembles hamburger ground up but uncooked and the guy who
believes it looks more like a raw pot roast. There's no argument, however,
that human intestines are pink pork sausage links, if, of course, you imagine
a butcher's block as the background instead of the screaming, then soon
quietly moaning casualty.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: The second subject, Specialist Mike Moriarty, is a gung-ho
patriot who cites September 11 and the lives of his kids as reasons for going
to Iraq and who sometimes mouths "nuke 'em" platitudes to stay revved up, even
when confronted by Iraqi police instead of insurgents.

(Soundbite of "The War Tapes")

Specialist MIKE MORIARTY: Come on (censored). I dare you to shoot just once.

(Soundbite of rooster crowing)

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Soldier #1: (Unintelligible)...left side.

Spc. MORIARTY: Come on (censored). Keep going, brother. You want to play?

Unidentified Soldier #2: (Unintelligible).

Spc. MORIARTY: They're shooting at me. I don't give a (censored) if they're
the pope.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Sergeant Zack Bazzi is the more inscrutable specimen, a
Lebanese American whose doting mother brought him to the US from what was, she
says, the worst place on earth, and who enlisted to go to another as soon as
he came of age. She can't understand it, and neither can he fully. There's
little talk about why the Americans are in Iraq, only that, according to Zack,
they've been taught next to nothing about the culture of the people whose
country they occupy.

"The War Tapes" portrays day-to-day life in a world without a compass. A
soldier carves a wooden pistol because he's not allowed to carry a real one.
Guardsmen express irritation with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and
Root which runs all the American stores and charges hefty amounts for paper
plates of bad food. We don't see anyone hit by bullets, but the camera is on
the fringes when a convoy comes upon an IED, an improvised explosive device.

(Soundbite of "The War Tapes")

(Soundbite of explosion)

Unidentified Soldier #3: IED.

Unidentified Soldier #4: Are we on fire?

Unidentified Soldier #5: IED! IED!

(Soundbite of gunfire)

(Soundbite of soldiers yelling)

Unidentified Soldier #6: Man down! Man down!

Unidentified Soldier #7: Where? Where?

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Because of the Geneva Convention, the only footage the
director couldn't show was of the dead insurgents from that battle. But we
see plenty of bodies of civilians. In the film's most haunting scene, the
camera surveys pieces of a young woman who made the mistake of crossing the
road on which American trucks barrel recklessly along. A soldier says he
watched helpless as she was knocked unconscious by one truck and then turned
into `Well, it looked to me like hamburger.' But that description isn't his.
He's weeping, that his people have just killed someone they were sent there to

When the three Guardsmen return to the US, Scranton just scratches the surface
of the scars they bear, in part out of respect for men who have revealed so
much already, in part because not a lot needs to be said. "The War Tapes"
make the case not that war is hell, but that this war is a corrosive mixture
of hell and purgatory with carnage so random and ubiquitous it would be
laughably absurd if it weren't so tragic.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.


DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Nicole Kidman says being an indoor kid and a bookworm led her to acting

While her friends and family went to the Australian beaches, Kidman stayed indoors reading — and imaged herself as a character in the books. She says reading is what led her to acting. We talk with the Oscar-winning actor about ageism in Hollywood, singing in a cover band as a teenager, and playing Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos.


Jazz trio Artifacts gets to the point quickly, and sticks to it, on a new album

Flute player Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed all came up on Chicago's new jazz scene about 20 years ago. Now they revisit their roots on ... and then there's this.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.


Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue