Sarah Silverman thinks young women need better role models. The potty mouthed comedian says she sees the women on The Bachelor or The Real Housewives of New York, women defined by their money or their need for a man, and she fears for girls watching television.
Of course, some might say that a comedian with a penchant for swearing and making rape jokes might not be the ideal role model either. But while Silverman has had her fair share of controversy over the years, her humour, she says, is always meant to reveal the stupidity of anyone who might think the way her onstage persona does.
"I can't control how people infer my jokes or hear them. But to me, I'm always the idiot in my jokes. I may have jokes that invoke rape or the Holocaust and awful, tragic, terrible things. But I'm never making fun of those things," she says.
In her new memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee , Silverman offers a glimpse into how she became one of the most popular comedians working today, from her early days doing stand up in New York, her brief stint on Saturday Night Live, through to her work on her television show, The Sarah Silverman Program. Much of the book delves into deeply personal territory, such as spending most of her teen years on various pharmaceuticals in her battle with depression and the shame of wetting the bed well into high school thanks to having a small bladder.
"I didn't want to be a comic who transcribes jokes onto pages," she says.
Instead, Silverman explains how she first got hooked on making people laugh. Perhaps not surprisingly, it all started with swearing. She learned to swear from her father when she was just three years old, growing up in New Hampshire. Every time she said a bad word, her dad cracked up uncontrollably.
"He got a kick out of hearing a little girl swear and I think I kind of got into getting that reaction of approval from grown-ups. It became a little addicting," Silverman says. She's been chasing that high ever since, she adds.
But it was peeing the bed that proved to be pivotal for the 39-year-old comedian.
"It was a source of a very early sense of humiliation," she says. Yet all the years of living in fear of waking up with wet sheets at a sleepover or camp made the idea of performing on stage seem easy by comparison. "The prospect of bombing when I was starting out was not so scary."
The jokes have certainly landed Silverman in trouble. In 2001, for example, Silverman used a derogatory word for Chinese-Americans during an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien that resulted in her coming under fire from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans.
At the MTV Movie Awards in 2007, Silverman took aim at Paris Hilton, who was in the audience and about to go to jail for drunk driving. Silverman's jabs were decried as "nasty" and "vicious" across the blogosphere.
But she's learned she has to take her lumps.
"Part of taking a chance is that you're taking a chance that it's not going to go well, and you have to suffer the consequences."
Yet while Silverman has no problem mocking celebrities or bringing up subjects like the Holocaust in her comedy, there is one thing she says she won't joke about.
"Fat jokes about women just burn me out," she says.
As often as she puts up a hard exterior, she never wants to come across as mean. "I care about being funny and being kind," she says.
Yet it is hard not to want to be that much more edgy or insensitive as a female comedian working in what's essentially a boys club. But Silverman is judged by other standards as well. She's made Maxim magazine's hot 100 list twice - and has appeared on a few worst dressed lists over the years. You would never see Zach Galifianakis' wardrobe being criticized by the entertainment industry. But Silverman has learned to brush it off.
"That's a double standard I could give a shit about," she says. "I never really second guess the stuff I do. I never try to wonder, 'What do people want to hear?' before I write. I think that's the killer of comedy," she says. "When you're wondering what 14-year-old boys want to hear, you're not going to be putting out anything worth seeing."
Silverman is certainly not worried about what some might think about God being the author of the afterword of her memoir. The supreme being was not hard to get on the project, Silverman says.
"He's a total pushover. Give him like, two compliments, and he'll do anything," she says.
Her act is just a Rorschach test, Silverman says. People will see what they want to see in it.
"I embrace the fact that my intention is not always going to be what people take in, or infer. And once it's out there, it's the audiences's to hear," she says. "But if they glean something from what I saw, or it makes them think, or they take something away from it that's smart, that has more to do with them than me. But I'll take all the credit they want to give to me."