Actress Sarah Silverman admits she got away with offensive comedy routines because liberals can say “the words that are unsayable.”
The comedian appeared on the November 30 episode of the podcast Smartless, hosted by funny guy actors Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett. “There are a lot of problematic things looking back, but such is comedy. It’s not evergreen,” she remarked.
Silverman is known for risqué comedy that often mocked different races, religions, touched on sensitive subjects like rape. Arnett brought up a bit she performed on her 2007 Comedy Central program about getting an AIDS test, noting that he didn’t know if she could get away with performing the joke in today’s climate.
“I think people might be offended today, I don’t know,” he said. Silverman acknowledged that the comedy routine was offensive. “There are a lot of problematic things looking back. But, you know, such is comedy,” she replied. “It’s not evergreen.”
When Will & Grace star Hayes remarked that some of her comedy is pretty dark. Silverman defended that her intention wasn’t malicious. “Like especially back then, I always said the opposite of what I thought, you know? And that was the joke kind of.”
Her jokes don’t always land. In 2001, she used an Asian slur in a satire about “the racist thought process” on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and was met with harsh criticism from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. She parlayed the controversy into a bit in her following live shows, where Silverman claimed she learned that racism is bad, “and I mean bad, like in a black way.”
In the interview, she told Hayes that her edgy jokes were accepted because, “that comedy I did, you’re right… It’s okay, because you know I don’t mean it.”
Silverman explained that her politics excused her comedy. “It also is kind of like, ‘We’re liberal, so we can say anything. We can say, you know, the words that are unsayable. You know I don’t mean it, so I can say it.’ There is kind of a liberal douchiness about it, I think, in retrospect. I mean, I don’t know, it’s a weird balance.”
Arnett went on to blame non-liberals for robbing comedians of their ability to satirize charged topics. “Things have gotten so serious because everybody who is not liberal is so serious and so dark and so real about their negativity or hate or racism,” he commented. “I don’t even want to joke about a lot of things that are rough or maybe pushing boundaries because you feel like, ‘I don’t want it to be taken the wrong way because there are so many people who mean it.’”
Silverman agreed with him. “There’s not enough distance, you know, it’s like so close.” But distance from a joke doesn’t always matter, she was recently let go from a film role over a 2007 episode of The Sarah Silverman Program, where she wore blackface during a skit.
“I recently was going to do a movie, a sweet part, then at 11pm the night before they fired me because they saw a picture of me in blackface from that episode,” Silverman confirmed on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “I didn’t fight it. They hired someone else who is wonderful but who has never stuck their neck out. It was so disheartening. It just made me real, real sad, because I really kind of devoted my life to making it right.”