In the month since Sarah Silverman posted a video of her Bernie Sanders endorsement on Facebook, it has been viewed more than 32 million times. She still can’t believe how many people took the time to watch.
“It’s not even that funny,” Silverman marvels in an interview with The Daily Beast. “There was just so much information I wanted to get out plainly and simply. So I was so happy that so many people watched it and shared it immediately.”
For that, she has the people at JASH to thank. Three years ago, Silverman helped found the YouTube channel as a sort of comedy “collective” where she and friends like Michael Cera and Reggie Watts along with Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim could produce the type of funny videos that might be too risky for more traditional distribution platforms. And that includes overtly political content like the Sanders endorsement.
“Does this mean that JASH is endorsing Bernie?” Silverman asks rhetorically. “Another partner could make a video for somebody else. If Tim and Eric wanted to make a video for Hillary, that would be awesome. Or Trump.” She pauses, imagining the possibilities. “That would be hilarious.”
But for now, JASH’s political videos fall squarely on the left side of the aisle, reflecting the opinions of the liberal comedians who create them. Like Funny or Die, which has collaborated with the White House on pieces like the Between Two Ferns episode featuring President Obama, JASH has begun producing videos that help bolster a progressive message.
Speaking by phone two days after Sanders lost four out of five Northeast states to Hillary Clinton, Silverman tries to stay optimistic about her candidate’s chances, but her voice betrays an air of defeat. “I’m not being unrealistic, but there’s no reason not to be an idealist at this juncture,” she says.
“I’m not looking to shit on Hillary because I love Bernie. She was my choice before Bernie came along,” Silverman adds, echoing a point she makes in her video. Unlike some other famous Sanders surrogates, she admits, “If Hillary is the nominee, I will proudly vote for her.”
That being said, she believes that regardless of what happens in the rest of the nomination process, Sanders has “already won” because “he’s proven that Citizens United is not a necessary evil. It’s just evil. It’s just legalized corruption that has to be changed.”
To best describe why she believes Sanders’s populist economic message is so vital, Silverman turns to some wise words that her late friend Garry Shandling shared with her around the time of the 2007 financial collapse.
“He said, this country is being run by addicts. Greed is an addiction,” she remembers. “It’s akin to the country being run by a bunch of cokeheads and somebody putting a bunch of cocaine on the table and saying, ‘Distribute this among your people equally.’”
In addition to helping Silverman push her pro-Sanders message, JASH has used its platform to give one of President Obama’s biggest priorities of the moment an extra push. A few weeks ago, the network put out a video under the hashtag #DoYourJob, which aims to drive viewers to pressure their senators into giving Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a confirmation hearing.
In the 90-second clip, we see what would happen if a cop, a doctor, and a chef (played by comedian Milana Vayntrub) all refused to do their jobs the way Congress is shirking their responsibility on Garland.
“We get to do what we love and we also get to have a positive social impact,” Vayntrub, who helped develop the idea, tells The Daily Beast from the set of the shoot. “And then also it becomes bigger than ‘We made something funny.’” Instead, it’s “We made something that maybe is going to make the world a better place.”
Mickey Meyer, another co-founder of JASH who oversees digital production, explains that the company has been working directly with the White House for the past few years to “find new and interesting distribution methods” for their message. He views JASH as a “matchmaker” between specific causes and “influencers” who feel strongly about those causes.
Meyer says he had some “reservations” about his initial meeting with President Obama, wondering, “Was this going to be something where we are forcing people to choose sides?” But in the end he found it “incredibly refreshing” to hear how the administration views this type of symbiotic relationship. “What the president said was, ‘I’m not here to tell you what you should think of the Affordable Care Act. I’m here to ask for your help in letting people know that it exists,’” Meyers recalls.
JASH views itself as a platform that can help young Americans feel connected to their government, a “bridge” between Washington and society at large. But what happens if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz gets into office next year? Would JASH be as amenable to spreading a conservative message to the masses?
“Ideally, what we’re building still serves a purpose then,” Meyer says, hesitantly. Regardless of who the president is, he believes JASH can still exist as a “tool to communicate to people what is happening in the federal government.”
Silverman is less diplomatic. “Even now with Obama, who I happen to love and revere, we don’t have to do it. We’re not trying to stay in good graces,” she says, imagining a hypothetical scenario in which President Trump comes to JASH and demands that they “Make a video about how the wall will be good!”
“We’re not like a propaganda department,” Silverman says. “We do whatever the fuck we want.”