the career of Sarah Silverman, typical '90s "alternative" comedian --
which in her case means a nice Jewish girl with a sweet delivery and a dirty mouth.
A middle-class New Hampshire kid from a family with four daughters, Silverman is, yes, the
class clown. She starts doing open-mike nights early. By age 17 she's playing the
old Stitches next to the Paradise on Comm Ave. When she gets to NYU, she works every
weekend for a year leafleting for New York's Boston Comedy Club on Macdougal Street, where
many adventures ensue. On the corner with Sarah every weekend is a guy in a chicken
suit working for the Pluck You all-night chicken stand. One night a bunch of drunken
high-school guys start to hassle the chicken. The
insults turn into a shoving match and suddenly, instinctively, Sarah's between the chicken and the thugs, telling the thugs to back off. "Believe me, in no way did I think I was being heroic or gallant. I just figured I'd be adorable and they'd stop." Instead, she gets cold-cocked -- boom, flat out cold on the sidewalk.
Sarah gets some spots at the Boston Comedy Club and other open-mike nights around Manhattan. Every chance she gets she's hanging out in comedy clubs.
One night she sees Chris Rock, and the thing she comes away with, besides how unbelievably funny and great he is, is how quiet he talks when he comes on stage, just talking really quiet over a noisy late-night comedy club crowd, like, "Hey, I'm doing some shit over here if you wanna check it out."
The open-mike nights lead to real gigs. She's out of NYU, she's on the road, she's in LA. She gets scouted by Saturday Night Live and, at 22, is a writer and performer on the show. But, as in all SNL stories, she eventually gets fired. Back to the road -- Conan, Letterman, a couple of episodes as Kramer's girlfriend on Seinfeld and a few episodes on The Larry Sanders Show, where she plays a "girl" writer whose jokes keep getting cut because the schmuck head writer thinks girls aren't funny.
Something to know about Sarah's "alternative" comedy: you could say she's dirty, but she usually doesn't swear. It's just that her scenarios are slightly . . . off. "So there I was licking jelly off my boyfriend ... and I thought: Oh my God, I'm turning into my mother!" A childhood memory:
"I saw my father naked once . . . But it was okay . . . Because I was soooo young . . . and sooo drunk."
Her movie Who's the Caboose? played last week at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, as part of the Jewish Film Festival; the Coolidge is giving it a regular opening this Friday. In it, she plays Susan, a young comedian much like herself who goes out to LA to try out during pilot season. Much as in Sarah's real life, Susan's boyfriend Max follows her out there and begins racking up pilot credits while Susan struggles to get one gig -- then loses it. Much like Sarah's then-boyfriend, Sam Seder, the director and co-star of Who's the Caboose?, followed her out to LA and started getting pilots.
Before the Jewish Film Festival screening, in front of a packed house, Sarah tries some very "alternative" jokes that get some nervous and some wholehearted laughs -- but, surprisingly, not much for her best: "I heard a rumor that Marilyn Manson's Jewish . . . Which is cool . . . That must mean that somewhere there's 20 or 30 people who can say, 'Oh yeah, Marilyn Manson, I went to Hebrew School with that guy.' "
biographical details: August 5 1998
On one of the hottest days of the year I had no idea I would come face to face with Sarah Silvermans father, but yes, the amiable gentleman telling the expectant audience that a dress rehearsal was in progress inside the theatre was indeed the patriarch of this remarkable family. It was a great surprise and a great pleasure to meet Mr Silverman (call me Donald!) this evening at the HBO Workspace Theatre in Hollywood before Sarahs performance of her one-woman show Susan Says Cheese.
He was preparing to fly to New England the next morning, and Sarah herself is preparing to fly to Vancouver for her part in Pittsburgh, so he had very little time to answer my questions: but with a great deal of courtesy, and with many other people wanting to chat to him, he did just that. Sarah is not - as Id assumed - a California girl but was in fact born in New Hampshire. She completed one year at NYU (New York University) and then said to her dad: I want to drop out and do stand-up comedy. Most fathers would have reacted, um, predictably (lets be diplomatic here), but Donald said Im not going to stop it Im going to pay for it. And he did just that: he funded her early career, knowing that in point of fact she didnt need to go to college at all.
Donald had surprised Sarah the night before at her show she had no idea he was in town. I wondered if she would have changed the show to a PG rating if shed known her father was in the audience, and he replied with a loud burst of laughter. He cant get on with the current hot weather (Los Angeles is currently suffering from a severe heat wave) but says all of his daughters prefer the heat. I wondered if her New England accent ever becomes prominent? Its certainly never been in
evidence in her TV performances.
She is lucky enough to have three fine sisters. Susan, a rabbi, has (together with her husband Yosef Abaramowitz) written a book called Jewish Family & Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Todays Parents and Children. Laura Silverman is of course well known as a cartoon character shes the receptionist on Comedy Centrals Dr Katz: and her other sister Jody has written a screenplay which shes hawking around town. (Anyone knows that half of Hollywood has written a screenplay perhaps I can post more details of hers as soon as I find out).
When more biographical details are forthcoming, Ill be pleased to post them on this site. Nothing I say will ever intentionally violate the familys privacy, and to this end I thank Donald for this brief information he gave me tonight. Naturally, my standards of propriety are as high as the Silverman family, and I can understand Donalds statement that if its OK by Sarah, its OK by me: but I can also be glad that we have at least opened up a line of communication with this fine family, and hopefully have convinced them that we are sincere in our attempts to create a viable fan Web-site, and that Im not some nutty cyber-stalker. (Well, nutty is perhaps a matter of opinion !)