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JewishJournal.com

October 31, 2002

Subversive Sarah

Comic Sarah Silverman works her "Magic" at the Canon.

http://www.jewishjournal.com/arts/article/subversive_sarah_20021101

It seems only fitting that comic Sarah Silverman has had guest roles on both the vampy "V.I.P." and the geeky "Star Trek: Voyager." She can trade on her good looks, which she milked in her Hollywood exec role on the Fox sitcom "Greg the Bunny." But left to her own devices, Silverman, tomboyishly comfortable in jeans and sneakers, comes across like your dorky, smart-mouthed sister. Silverman will wield her scalpel-sharp wit in her show, "Jesus Is Magic," Nov. 6-16 at the Canon Theater.

"It's very racial and it's sexual," Silverman, 31, told The Journal about "Magic." "I talk a lot about race, about Sept. 11, the Holocaust. I say a lot of stuff I don't mean."

Typical joke: "I'm dating a guy right now who's half-black. And I just know we're gonna breakup.... Wait a minute -- look at me. I'm such a pessimist. He's half-white!"

"Edgy" and "smart" are labels that critics have used to describe Silverman's aggressive brand of stand-up. She loves to blindside people with blunt punchlines candycoated in a deceptively Pollyanna-ish delivery.

"My first goal is to make people laugh. I'm not trying to offend. I just attack stuff that is really funny."

Perhaps New Hampshire, her birthplace, has something to do with it. Adam Sandler, another Jewish comic phenom, also grew up in New Hampshire. What the heck is going on in New Hampshire?

"I have no idea," said Silverman with a laugh, adding that new "Saturday Night Live" cast member Seth Myers also hails from the Granite State. Silverman, who worked with Sandler during her brief stint as a writer for the NBC show in 1992, said that they both mused over their unorthodox New Hampshire upbringing.

"There really are no funny people and no Jews over there," she said.

Nevertheless, Silverman grew up in a Jewish home -- her older sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman, started the Boston-based Jewish Family & Life, the organization behind GenerationJ.com, with husband Yosef Abramowitz; younger sister, Laura Silverman, went into comedy and voiced the jaded receptionist on Comedy Central's wry "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist" cartoon; and a third sister, Jody, is a screenwriter.

Despite having a rabbi in the family, Silverman described her parents as "not religious people at all. We were ethnically Jewish."

"My identity as a Jew wasn't coming from the inside. It was modified by the gentiles around me [while growing up]."

Silverman, who has lived in New York and Los Angeles since college, had to adjust to the concept of large Jewish populations while attending NYU.

"I remember saying, 'I'm going home for break, there's this thing called Chanukah that we celebrate,'" Silverman said. "And they looked at me like I was crazy."

Since graduation, Silverman has followed her comic muse, working with the industry's hottest comedians, such as Garry Shandling on "The Larry Sanders Show" and in Mike Nichol's 2000 feature, "What Planet Are You From?"

Silverman has no explanation as to why puppetry has played a significant role in her recent career. Last year, it was "Greg the Bunny." Now she voices puppet prank caller Hadassah Guberman on Comedy Central's "Crank Yankers."

Silverman's personality has proven so fascinatingly oddball that Jon Favreau invited her on twice as a guest on his unscripted talk show "Dinner For Five" -- a distinction even Favreau's cinematic partner-in-crime Vince Vaughn has yet to enjoy. On one episode, Silverman shared awkward exchanges with Rod Stieger, taped shortly before the actor's death (no connection, she insists). On the other, Silverman bemoaned how hard it is, despite Hollywood's Jewish presence, for a Jewish- surnamed actress to land movie parts beyond the plot-servicing "best friend" roles.

"There's some sort of self-hating connection," Silverman told The Journal. Take Winona Ryder, who changed her Jewish surname.

"If her name is Winona Horowitz, do you think she would get those parts?"

Even after years in the business, Silverman is perpetually bubbling under the surface of mainstream success. Earlier this year, Entertainment Weekly designated Silverman their "It Comic." This summer, she rated on Rolling Stone's "Hot List."

"They made me look like a whore," she said, laughing about the accompanying supermodel-parody "Hot List" photos -- before fessing up that it was her suggestion to simulate humping a lapdog.

So after repeatedly ranking as the up-and-coming comic, isn't it about time that she came already?

"Every year, it's like, 'Wow, this is your year,'" Silverman said of the decade-long phenomenon.

Of course, if superstardom is a cookie-cutter sitcom called "Life With Sarah," based on her supposed domestic life with her WASPy husband and their three carrot-topped little boys, Silverman would rather stick with the creative rewards of her eclectic career.

"I'm one of those people that likes the people who like me," she said.

So what would be the ideal career leap for Silverman? A romantic comedy lead? A loopy vehicle in the vein of Chris Elliott's "Get a Life?" A lethally smart HBO series, a la Larry David or Shandling? The latter is something Silverman definitely covets.

"They don't realize how much they need me to do a special," she said. "I'm gonna do it. Mark my words."

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