Silverman Shocks Her Way To A Third Season Sarah Silverman's Comedy Central show — quirky, snarky, often wildly inappropriate — strikes some audiences as clueless and tasteless. To fans, including Fresh Air host Terry Gross, it's really funny satire.
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Silverman Shocks Her Way To A Third Season

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Silverman Shocks Her Way To A Third Season

Silverman Shocks Her Way To A Third Season

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The third season of "The Sarah Silverman Program" began this week on Comedy Central. It's a sitcom that likes to define topics which even in these more permissive days of comedy are considered fairly taboo and then to tackle them head-on. AIDS, abortion, sexual predators, religion, the physically or mentally challenged, it's all fair game for satire, and sometimes, that game can make for some intentionally uncomfortable comedy.

Sarah Silverman recently won two Emmies for her video short, the title of which includes the name Matt Damon and a verb I can't say on the radio. She has a recurring role as an obsessed neighbor on the TV series "Monk" and has provided voices for characters on "Robot Chicken," "Futurama," and "Crank Yankers." Terry Gross spoke to Sarah Silverman in 2007 during the second season of the Sarah Silverman program.

TERRY GROSS: Let's hear a clip from an episode from last season called "Not Without My Daughter," in which - it's a kiddie beauty pageant episode, and there's this Little Ms. Rainbow Pageant, and you always wanted to win it. So even now as an adult, you're still auditioning for - even though you're totally much too old for it. And right before you're disqualified, you're doing your dramatic monologue on stage hoping to become Little Ms. Rainbow. Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of TV show "Sarah Silverman Program")

Ms. SARAH SILVERMAN (Comedian): (As herself) November 9th, 1942, Peter found some crackers. Mama says we mustn't choo-choo louder, the Germans may hear. To think we were once Germans ourselves. Well, Hitler's taken our nationality, and he's taken our humanity. But he's not going to take our rhythm.

(Soundbite of tap dancing)

Unidentified Man: Sarah, stop.

(Soundbite of tap dancing)

GROSS: Sarah Silverman, did you write this monologue?

Ms. SARAH SILVERMAN (Comedian, "The Sarah Silverman Program"): It's basically from the "Diary of Anne Frank." But...

GROSS: Wait a minute, Anne Frank didn't say, but Hitler couldn't take away our rhythm. That's not from "The Diary of Anne Frank."

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yes. It's - well, let's say it's inspired from "The Diary of Anne Frank," and we used a little poetic license with it - creative license because then it goes into, of course, a tap routine.

GROSS: Right. Why did you think that this would - what give you the idea of borrowing from "The Diary of Anne Frank" for this audition piece for the pageant?

Ms. SILVERMAN: We wanted something that was inappropriate, you know, and did not go well with a tap routine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, I guess that was it.

Ms. SILVERMAN: So, yeah. That presented itself and was kind of the perfect choice, the least tasteful choice.

GROSS: I think most of the episodes end with your character in bed, and before she goes to sleep, she reflects on the day and what she's learned, her lessons learned. And she talks to her dog, Doug about, you know, what's happened to her that day. So I want to play an example of that, and this is at the end of an episode in which you've tried and failed to become a lesbian.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And you're talking to your dog Doug about it.

Ms. SILVERMAN: (As herself) I don't know where to start with this one, Doug. I mean, I failed at heterosexuality. I failed at homosexuality. I guess I just have to stop thinking that the right person is just going to come along, you know. I have to be the right person. I have to come along. I'm a me-mosexual. Well, anyway, goodnight, Douggie. I hope you die in your sleep tonight. Nah, I'm just kidding. But if it had to be one of us, I hope it's you.

GROSS: That's a scene from "The Sarah Silverman Program." Sarah, how did you come up with the idea of talking to your little dog Doug at the end of each show?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Well, we - when we first thought of - conceived of the show, we thought it would be one full day that starts when I wake up and ends when I go to sleep. And most of the episodes are that, but we didn't - we decided not to like marry ourselves to that because we didn't want to sacrifice a good story or something to some rule, you know, of the show that didn't make it better or worse or anything. It was just kind of a convention that we thought was interesting.

So, we still - we do almost always and with going to bed with Doug and figuring out what we learned, and, of course, what I learned is never, never very - about morally valuable, and it just seemed like a good way to kind of bookend the show and to make it all one complete piece, and it was also, you know, we used my real dog.

GROSS: Oh, I was wondering about that. Really?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah, that's my dog, and his name is actually Duck, D-u-c-k. But in the show, it's Doug, which was just a complete whim that I just thought it was funny that we all had our own names, but, you know, Duck is Doug to protect his anonymity.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: Made me giggle, but no, I'm constantly explaining, and those who have known Duck forever is like, is it Duck or Doug? And then I have to be like, no I have a - all right. So - but it's because it's just my dog. He's not some specially trained dog or anything. We tried to make it pretty easy for him. So the goodnights are perfect. He just lies in bed like he does with me anyway at night, and we shoot him for a second while I talk to him and go, hey puppy, look away here, you know, and have some good cut-aways. And the second episode this season, actually - he's got the A story, so it was a really fun episode, but I don't think I would want him that heavy in a show again because I really felt like a showbiz, a real scummy showbiz mom or something like, you know - just get through this, and I'll give you a treat, you know. You know, he's just like, I want to go home.

GROSS: Your dog is so cute at the ends of the show. He puts - it's something like he puts his head on your leg, and it's just adorable, and you're telling him all these ridiculous...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: He just kills me.

GROSS: All this ridiculous stuff.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Something about his face that looks like he's hearing what you're saying and yet is simultaneously kind of dead inside, which is I find compelling and sad.

GROSS: One of the things that you've been doing lately is hosting award shows. You hosted, like, the Video Music Awards on MTV or VH1, I forgot which one it's on. You hosted the Independent Spirit Awards, the Independent Film Awards on the Independent Film Channel, and you're really hysterical. What - you know, you're hilarious when you do the award shows.

But you sometimes say things that really get you into trouble. Like on the Music Video Awards, you said something about Paris Hilton, and she was in the audience, and the camera had a closeup on her face as you were talking about her. She looked quite pained.


GROSS: Did you know that the camera was going to be on her?

Ms. SILVERMAN: I didn't. But I'll tell you, I don't think that Paris was upset by my joke. I think what was upsetting, which made my heart sink for her personally, was when I set up the joke and said, you know, Paris Hilton is going to jail in two days, the crowd cheered for a minute. You know, like, it was just like a solid minute of cheering, and I felt bad for her at that point because I was looking right down at her, and there's a 50-year-old, you know, cameraman in her face, and my heart sank for her because I just thought, wow, this is her example of adults. You know, this is her like - these are her role models.

But I went on with the joke because it's a joke, you know, and I was there to be funny and to talk about all the topics and all the things that were going on in pop culture and the MTV world. And with the VMAs, the Britney stuff, I did a couple of jokes about Britney because I followed Britney. I was put on immediately after her, and then I went on and did a whole bunch of jokes, and they were completely overshadowed by the entree into the monologue which were, you know, how about that? There was Britney Spears, you know, and a couple of jokes about that. I don't think that I said anything different than any late night talk show host has before and after that, but I just - I was first, you know, and I kind of got - I kind of got scapegoated. Surprise, surprise, the Jew is the scapegoat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: God forbid she rehearse or whatever, not stay out till 7 a.m. I'm the bad guy. It's, you know...

GROSS: You're one of those people who has managed to kind of create a career on your own terms, You know, by doing like stand-up and then doing your own very unusual movie and having your own really eccentric TV show because it's not like other people were writing roles that would have suited you or not that they were giving them to you.

Ms. SILVERMAN: No. Yeah. I've been really lucky. I mean, the ability to write and to generate and to kind of be the creator of what you do, you know, is such a benefit, you know. If I were just a straight actress, I'd be screwed, you know, because - you know, I've been in movies, and I'm pretty much am cast as the bitchy girlfriend before the guy finds out what love can be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: Or the, you know, the sassy or bitchy or roomatey friend, roomatey, I guess if that's a - that not really a right adjective. But, you know, I had a realization, and after this last season of my show, and I don't know how long my show will last or if it's, you know, not long for this world or whatever, but this is what I love to do. I love - I'd still like to be in a movie, sure, but I don't have that need anymore. I would much rather be in my show that I love or do stand-up than play the friend. I just, I have no use for it anymore. It doesn't do anything for me spiritually or careerwise or...

You know, I got a script sent to me from one of my agents, and it said, you know, on the cover letter like so and so is set to play the role of Rebecca. Please look at the part of Sue's, and I just laughed because I just thought, I don't want to be Sue's anymore. I just have no desire to play Sue's, you know what I mean? Like, the quintessential friend that is written, in lieu of good writing, you know, it's - the part is solely to be the exposition of the main girl character, you know. And I just - a good writer will write that in the actions and the dialogue of the main character, but to have a best friend part solely to be the exposition of the main character, it just doesn't do anything for me. It's killing my soul. I don't want to be Sue's anymore.

GROSS: How did - your sister is your co-star in the "Sarah Silverman Program."


GROSS: But how does your extended family feel about it because your character is so inappropriate all the time. Are they on the wavelength to kind of get it, or do you have friends or family who are kind of embarrassed about the whole thing?

Ms. SILVERMAN: No. They love it, and they're completely supportive. And it's funny because I know I'm talking about how this - I'm talking about this character I play like she's this completely different entity, and I know that she's probably a lot more - I'm probably a lot more like her than I want to admit to myself, but I have to somehow because it's funny.

I don't know if I told you this the last time I was here, but there's a book called "Drama of The Gifted Child" by Alice Walker - Alice Miller rather, Alice Miller, sorry. And I was reading this book that Laura had given me, my sister, and I'm like, this is unbelievable, you know. It's all about me. You know I related to it so much, and I was talking about it to my other sister Jody and her friend, Kathleen, and I said, oh, this book is amazing. Have you read "Drama of The Gifted Child?" And Kathleen said, oh, by Alice Miller and I said, yes, yes. And she said, you know, it's a funny story that Alice Miller originally titled that book "Drama of The Narcissistic Child."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: But she knew that no one who needed to read it would buy it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's really funny.

Ms. SILVERMAN: And yeah, that was very funny and little bit embarrassing.

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

Ms. SILVERMAN: Thank you. Oh, my gosh, did we do it?


Ms. SILVERMAN: Whew. That was fun.

GROSS: Yes, it was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Sarah Silverman speaking to Terry Gross in 2007. The third season of "The Sarah Silverman Program" began this week on Comedy Central.

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