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Sarah Silverman - she can seem both outrageous and innocent, sweet and bawdy, and milk-flying-out-of-your-nose funny.


SARAH SILVERMAN: And I grew up in New Hampshire and there are not many Jews in New Hampshire, but I didn't feel so different until maybe, like, around third grade. Kids started blaming me for my people killing Jesus. I remember, like, even then thinking, like, it's not like we killed baby Jesus. I mean, man, like, he had quite a run. He was 33. And, by the way, you're welcome. If we had not killed him, he wouldn't even be famous.

SIMON: That's a moment - interestingly, one of the few that we can actually play on family-friendly radio - from Sarah Silverman's new comedy special "We Are Miracles." It debuts tonight on HBO. It was taped before a live audience - a very small, but very live audience - and during the course of her set, Sarah Silverman serves up insights on religion, porn, childhood, politics and stereotypes, none of which are left standing. Sarah Silverman joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

SILVERMAN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: I'm guessing New Hampshire is not a hotbed of shtick. So, how did you start doing bits? How did you start...

SILVERMAN: I don't think comedy comes from hotbeds of doing shtick. I think it usually comes from some kind of childhood humiliation or darkness.

SIMON: So, is there material that you take out for a test drive and it just doesn't work?

SILVERMAN: Yes, yes. And if I love it, I'll try it way too many times before finally giving up. But, you know, sometimes a joke that doesn't work just needs a breath or a little word or the tiniest little change to be fixed. So, it can be a kind of a frustrating endeavor to find that skeleton key that's missing. You know, the audience works as such a mob. They either all laugh or all don't laugh, and, you know, changes from audience to audience. And so you want to give it a really good chance if I believe in it.

SIMON: Can you give us some ideas to - do you just start working on a routine by getting up and talking? Or how much of it do you draft? Can you help us understand your process?

SILVERMAN: I'll get an idea or a germ of something will tickle me. And - but you really have to try it onstage, you know. There's only so much you can, like, practice in front of a mirror or pin down your friends to try things on, you know. My special airs tonight and after that I'm pretty much at square one. So, you know, you have to plan on a lot of short sets, places that are not going to go well. Lots of bombing. Lots of disappointing audiences.

SIMON: Is that's what ahead, I mean, after tonight for you?


SIMON: Until you get something going, really?


SIMON: Yeah, but I'm interested in, when you talk about all the bombing you have to go through because you were one of those people - and I'll add Sacha Baron Cohen and Sinbad are the other two - who can make me laugh by lifting an eyebrow.

SILVERMAN: It's not easy to lift my eyebrows.


SILVERMAN: They're cumbersome. Look at me - I'm killing from New York. Oh, my God. I love this guy. I could have done my special for you.

SIMON: Well, it sounds like you didn't do it for a whole lot of other people. It would have been me and 38 others. What made you decide to - an audience of 39? Do we have that right?

SILVERMAN: That's right. But I thought it was neat. It's a whole different timing, you know. It's definitely a different cadence for a comedy special. You know what I mean? I'm trying to use big hoity-toity words because I'm on NPR right now. I don't know if you know that. I use words like cadence.


SIMON: I know. I thank you.

SILVERMAN: It's a big one.

SIMON: Yeah. I'm going to play another clip from this special you have on tonight. And maybe you can help us understand how this bit gets to be what it is. Let's listen.

SILVERMAN: Or boys or girls, like toddler age, like 2-year-olds. If their parents, like, introduce me, I like to go: I'm your new mommy. They're so into, like, their mommies at that age, they're always like, no you're not.


SILVERMAN: And then I go: I'm just kidding. And then just as they start to relax, I go: I'm your real mommy. That's more just fun for me.


SIMON: So, how did this come about?

SILVERMAN: I have - much like my dad - and some stolen from my dad - I have a whole bunch of material just for little kids, you know. And sometimes it's just for me with little kids.

SIMON: Oh yeah, 'cause they run away screaming from something this, yeah.

SILVERMAN: Yeah. But I don't think I would really do that. Right before that, I say how I like to tell little girls that I'm a princess. And I do do that. And it's really fun for me because their brains explode.

SIMON: You watch the audience when you're performing?

SILVERMAN: Yeah. They're my show. You know, everyone can be laughing and if there's one person with their arms folded, it tends to be, like, the person comics focus on. Always kind of glance back to, to see if they're laughing yet or not. And it has nothing to do with you, it could have everything to do with their day or how they're hearing your comedy, you know, in the context of their lives. You know? And you can't control it, but it can really get inside a comedian's head like an illness.

SIMON: Sarah Silverman's comedy special "We Are Miracles" debuts tonight on HBO. Sarah, thanks so much for being with us.

SILVERMAN: Oh, I'm so happy to be here.


SILVERMAN: You can be Hitler and go to confession and say forgive me, Father, I killed six million Jews, and the priest would just be like no problem. Say 10 Heil Marys. And Hitler goes to heaven. Hitler goes to heaven. Scientology is weird because it's new. It feels weird in our ear holes to hear people worshipping a guy named Ron. We know Rons in our life. And people who follow their religion to the letter of the law are just silly. I mean, I want to tell Hasidic Jews I promise you, God will not mind if you wear a nice cotton blend in the summer.



SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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