Sarah Silverman on Getting Old and Having Kids
With her new memoir, The Bedwetter, America’s favorite potty-mouthed comedienne is primed for a comeback—if she doesn’t age too quickly. Rebecca Dana gets beyond the jokes.
On December 1 of this year, Sarah Silverman will turn 40.
"It's so funny out here because when I tell people I'm 39, they act like I just said I survived cancer," she said one recent afternoon from Los Angeles. Then, affecting a funereal tone: "Oh my God, you look amazing. Good for you."
With middle age looming, the famously foul-mouthed comedian has turned just a tad more reflective of late. One consequence is The Bedwetter, a memoir, out today, which Silverman noted via Twitter is also the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth. The book traces her evolution from the lone Jewess in a New Hampshire town to superstar, lightning rod, and reigning queen of the penis joke.
“If you keep doing those jokes, you just become a weird, sad caricature of yourself,” she said. “I want to be vital.”
It is a slim tome, just over 200 pages long and filled with pictures of the comedian's friends, family, and colleagues' genitalia. The narrative touches, without dwelling, on Silverman's childhood depression, her parents' divorce, her therapist's suicide, and what it was like to sleep with half the New York comedy scene in the 1990s. Cursed with a tiny bladder, she wet the bed well into adolescence, a shame she carried into adulthood and which helped her become fearless on stage.
Silverman's big break came with a cameo in 2005's The Aristocrats, when she told a jarringly bawdy version of the famous joke. She went on to star in the feature-length comedy special Jesus Is Magic and to develop her own sitcom, now in its last throes on Comedy Central. At the height of her fame she signed a $2.5 million contract with HarperCollins to produce a book that quickly became the bane of her existence. Much of The Bedwetter is taken up by Silverman writing about thinking about writing it: the porn she watched while procrastinating, the different exposed body parts she photographed and sent to her boyfriend, pages copied from her childhood diary and testy email exchanges with her editor, reprinted verbatim.
"I was eight months late," she said. "They were all in a tizzy. But you know what? I'm not gonna shit out something I don't like. It's got my name on it."
If this hard-won principle isn't apparent on every page, it is at least imbued in the subtext. She said she spent a lot of the writing process—when she wasn't watching Internet porn—imagining teenagers, especially young girls, reading the final product. "I think about the daughter I don't have all the time," she said, when she's working and also when she's participating in her favorite pastime, reality TV. "My boyfriend and I will watch The Bachelor, Real Housewives of New York, and we laugh at it, or whatever, but it just horrifies me to think there might be young impressionable girls who think this is what being a woman is, being a rich conniving backstabbing cunt or someone who is flattered to be one of 25 girls some guy gets to pick from."
This is the angry feminist side of Sarah Silverman, which usually takes a backseat to the adorable vulgarian side, the one that wrinkles her Samantha Stevens nose and delivers some of the most profane bits ever to grace cable. This season on The Sarah Silverman Program, on top of the usual proliferation of fart jokes, Silverman dated (and later dumped) God. In one episode, titled "A Fairly Attractive Mind," she urinates in a mailbox.
Silverman wants her own kids some day, but says she doesn't feel ready yet. "I want to have kids when there's nothing else I want more, and I can make them my world. I figure, I'll be a super-young-grandma age when I have kids," she said. "Grandparents are way more laid-back anyway. I'll just go straight to grandmotherhood, like Diane Keaton."
But what happens when the enfant terrible has enfants of her own? Does the whole Sarah Silverman thing still work if she ages out of "winking sexpot" phase and into "concerned mom"?
Silverman has a pragmatic view of aging, especially for someone who's spent the better part of her adult life in Hollywood. "You have to work on perspective a whole lot when you're a woman out here," she said, "even if you're like me, whom you wouldn't think cares about this stuff. But everybody does. First of all, when you do shit to your face, now you can't get cast as anyone except someone who has weird shit done to their face."
On top of not getting plastic surgery, she has also been working to evolve her act. The previous night, she said, she had bombed at a comedy club. But it's either that or just keep at it with the same old material, hoping it too ages gracefully. "If you keep doing those jokes, you just become a weird, sad caricature of yourself," she said. "I want to be vital."
These days, she spends most of her time finishing up The Sarah Silverman Program. That and watching TV, her first love. "The biggest thing in my life right now are these last episodes of Lost," she said.
Aging, for the time being, is a less pressing concern.
"There's really no point in being bummed about it. I mean, Jennifer Aniston will always be a year or two older than me, and she's Jennifer Aniston!," she said. "Which I realize is a fucked up perspective, but still."
Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she has also written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.