Funny-girl Sarah waxes lyri­cal

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - R14EVIEW -

Sarah Sil­ver­man, the star of Dis­ney’s new movie, sits down with Donal Lynch to chat about men­tal health, bad jokes, beauty catas­tro­phes, chil­dren and her de­sire to be the ‘fun dad’

‘SO… am I ev­ery­thing you imag­ined?” Sarah Sil­ver­man asks as she curls up in an over­sized arm­chair at the Mer­rion Ho­tel. I want to say yes, but, in fact, she seems a lit­tle too much on the money of the Sarah Sil­ver­man brand to be quite real: that slightly he­lium-in­flected voice, the whim­si­cal woman-child mus­ings, the win­some body lan­guage — it’s all so per­fectly ob­served you half-won­der if she’s an im­per­son­ator. Yes! My God, you are onto me, the real her is much surlier,” she laughs. “Don’t tell any­one: I’m her body dou­ble, I do all her in­ter­views, while she sleeps.”

Which might work, ex­cept, of course, prob­a­bly no stand-in could be as ef­fort­lessly funny as she is. Sil­ver­man is, of course, a com­edy icon in Amer­ica, a stal­wart of Sat­ur­day Night Live, a Simp­sons cameo and a stand-up le­gend, but some­how it’s in in­ter­views — un­scripted and im­pro­vised — where her in­stinc­tive, play­ful wit shines the bright­est. You can see why she hit it off with a talk show host like Jimmy Kim­mel, whom she dated for years. To­day she’s on a hard­core pub­lic­ity tread­mill, but still seems ef­fer­ves­cently en­thu­si­as­tic in tiny slices of ac­cess.

She’s in town to pro­mote her new film — Ralph Breaks The In­ter­net — a clev­erly writ­ten an­i­mated fea­ture about the lim­its of friend­ship and the neu­roses the in­ter­net in­fects us with. It cen­tres around Wreck It Ralph and Van­nel­lope — imp­ish rene­gades from 1990s-era ar­cade games — who ven­ture out into the in­for­ma­tion su­per­high­way in search of the same things we all want: cash and af­fir­ma­tion. The an­i­ma­tion — at once highly re­al­is­tic and fan­tas­ti­cal — is eye-pop­ping and the mis­chievous hu­mour in Sil­ver­man’s girl­ish voice was aided, she says, by the free­dom the di­rec­tors gave her and co-star John C Reilly (who voices Ralph) to im­pro­vise when the urge took them. “The di­rec­tors let us be so loose to­gether. We could re­ally play the scene and re­act to each other. There are bits that may go above the kids’ heads. The in­ter­net kind of hap­pened to us and it brought out things in us that were al­ways there, but maybe it made them even worse than they were. Just take, for ex­am­ple, the fact that the ‘ bad guy’ in the film is re­ally Ralph’s own in­se­cu­ri­ties; that’s the story of the in­ter­net — it’s us ver­sus our­selves.”

One of the cen­tral mes­sages of the film is that seek­ing ful­fil­ment in an­other per­son — even a pla­tonic friend — is not the way to go. Sil­ver­man tells me that her mother taught her early on that she had to be, first and fore­most, her own best friend. It was some­thing that sus­tained her through a some­times dif­fi­cult child­hood in New Hamp­shire, where hers was the only Jewish fam­ily for miles. As a child, she was a chronic bed wet­ter — she made it the ti­tle of her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy — and would have to carry the shame­ful se­cret of a spare pam­pers in her bag to sleep­over camps. In her teens, she would suf­fer from crip­pling de­pres­sion — by the age of 14 she was tak­ing 16 Xanax a day. When her step­fa­ther asked what it was like to be de­pressed, she replied: “I feel home­sick.”

The sil­ver lin­ing to all this was that com­ing out of the de­pres­sion, which she fi­nally did in her late teens, gave her a new-found ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the lit­tle things in life. “I re­mem­ber driv­ing in a cab and just feel­ing ap­pre­cia­tive, for in­stance, of the wind on my face,” she re­calls. “I was in Los An­ge­les and I was on my way to get my eye­brows waxed. My room­mate had said, hey, why don’t we get your brows done, so there are, you know, two: one for each eye. And I was like “mmm, I guess, OK” and we went to the place in the cab and there was this lady in the wait­ing room and she said “Sarah?” and I was fol­low­ing her into the wax­ing room and she turns around and goes “what are we do­ing to­day? Just the mous­tache?” And I was like “What?! No! My eye­brows!” And in­side I was think­ing, “what is she talk­ing about? I bleach my mous­tache, that means it’s com­pletely in­vis­i­ble”. And it was, as in ‘ bright yel­low in­vis­i­ble’. And she did the wax and when I came out of the sa­lon, I could feel this strange new sen­sa­tion; the wind on my up­per lip. So yeah, maybe it was com­ing out of de­pres­sion that made me ap­pre­ci­ate it, or maybe it was just not be­ing as hairy any more.”

Af­ter school, she en­rolled in the drama course at New York Uni­ver­sity and started do­ing open-mic nights all over the city. At 22, she got hired as a writer-per­former for Sat­ur­day Night Live, where she lasted only a sea­son (Bob Odenkirk — Saul from Break­ing Bad and a writer on SNL — once said that her voice was too idio­syn­crat­i­cally her own to last at the show). The men­tal health dif­fi­cul­ties would con­tinue to stalk her — she be­gan suf­fer­ing from panic at­tacks. She was pre­scribed med­i­ca­tion which helped, she says, and she made her men­tal health is­sues a sta­ple of her standup. Dur­ing these years, she says, she spent “many years bomb­ing in clubs and stay­ing in ter­ri­fy­ing mo­tels”, but in 2005, her one-woman show, Je­sus Is Magic, was made into a film, which won her na­tional at­ten­tion. On the stand-up tour in sup­port of the film, she ut­tered the im­mor­tal line: “I was raped by a doc­tor. Which is, you know, so bit­ter­sweet for a Jewish girl.

“There are so many jokes I make that I cringe at, that I would never

Sarah Sil­ver­man voices Van­nel­lope in the new ‘Wreck It Ralph’ movie — which ex­plores

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