Sarah Sil­ver­man, the star of Dis­ney’s new movie, chats to about mental health, ill-ad­vised jokes, beauty catas­tro­phes and why she never had chil­dren

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

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 stand-up. 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 make to­day,” she says, rue­fully shak­ing her head. “Com­edy ages like noth­ing else. I see things now I said and I think, yeah, that’s real prob­lem­atic, but that is the na­ture of life, and it’s worth it for me if I re­flect on it and I ac­knowl­edge it and am for­ever changed by it, which I can say was the case with some of the things I said.”

What about the things that were said to her? One of the more in­ter­est­ing mo­ments in her ca­reer came five years ago at the Roast of James Franco, where she and Jonah Hill sparred vi­ciously with each other from the stage. He and Seth Ro­gen por­trayed Sil­ver­man as some kind of Hol­ly­wood crone. “Sarah [Sil­ver­man] is a role model for ev­ery lit­tle girl who’s ever dreamed of be­ing a 58-year-old, sin­gle, stand-up co­me­dian with no ro­man­tic prospects on the hori­zon. They all dream of it, but Sarah did it,” said Hill. “No, but lis­ten, I was bru­tal to Jonah,” she says, when I re­mind her. “I de­fend to the death all those jokes they made about me.”

But surely he was gen­uinely fat, whereas you weren’t gen­uinely old, I ven­ture. “Yeah, but re­ally he was brac­ing him­self for fat jokes, whereas I wasn’t brac­ing my­self for old jokes, be­cause I didn’t know I was old. I wasn’t even the old­est one on the raised plat­form. I think ev­ery­one has to go to bed for a few days af­ter a roast and lick their wounds.”

And to say she had no ro­man­tic prospects was, it­self, so laugh­ably far off the mark, it could hardly have ne­ces­si­tated too long re­cov­er­ing in bed.

From 2002 she dated chat show host Jimmy Kim­mel, fa­mously pok­ing fun at him in a video she made with Matt Da­mon, ref­er­enc­ing a mock feud the two men were car­ry­ing on. For the last few years, she had been dat­ing Welsh ac­tor Michael Sheen (he of the al­most su­per­nat­u­ral abil­ity to chan­nel Tony Blair) but they split ear­lier this year. She

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