Sarah Silverman on how to tell a good lesbian joke and performing at An Evening With Women

Sarah Silverman is an Emmy winner who is also an advocate for human rights, and she’s been forthright about her views on equality since she started in stand-up at age 17. The feminist comic, writer and actor also included lesbian and gay storylines and characters on her show, The Sarah Silverman Program, which ran on Comedy Central from 2007-2010. (It included one of the greatest gay jokes ever: “As a lesbian I resent your laughter…and all laughter.”

Last year Sarah joined the cast of Masters of Sex to play Helen, the closeted lover of Betty (Analeigh Ashford) and has plans to return to the Showtime series in Season 3. But this weekend, she’ll be performing alongside No Doubt and Sia at An Evening With Women, an annual event that benefits the women’s programming of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

We got Sarah to answer a few questions before Saturday’s gig, where we can’t wait to see her kill with her smart, hilarious and sexy stand-up. You’ve been a huge supporter of the LGBT community, as well as part of feminist campaigns like Lady Parts Justice. Why is using your platform as a public figure so important to you?

Sarah Silverman: I grew up in a home where my parents showed us that being part of America was being an active citizen. The fact that I have the chance to reach more people than average just adds to that responsibility to voice my opinions as an American citizen.  Especially when so many of the voiceless are often not being represented.  I grew up in a house filled with posters and buttons my mom wore like, “Question authority,” and “War is not healthy for children and other living things,” and, “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” My dad taught us that paying taxes is an honor and it goes to paving our highways and to schools and to people who need help.  That the more money you make the more money you can afford to give to those things that make America great. 


AE: You are very inclusive of gays and lesbians in your work—like on The Sarah Silverman Program, when LGBT people still weren’t visible on TV. Did you ever receive any kind of pushback from networks on those kinds of storylines?

SS: Before we were on the air we got pressure from one of the executives to not make Steve and Brian gay because he was afraid they would lose their key frat boy demo. THAT’S a hill I’m willing to die on. I said if you’re more afraid of losing your homophobic demographic than this show, I am not for you. Even just nine years ago, it was a different time still. Can you believe that was a fight? Disgusting. But they allowed it and I’m sure they are *gla(a)d they did. Wow. That just gave me a stomach ache. (Editor’s Note: The Sarah Silverman Program was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series  at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2008.)


AE: Loved seeing you on Masters of Sex this year as Betty’s lover. What can you tell us about next season? Will we see more from Helen and Betty?

SS: Gosh, I hope so. We’re trying to figure it out now schedule wise. It’s an exciting time because they are in 1966 this season and times are a-changing.


AE: People get so easily offended about jokes about minorities, but you always have a nuanced way of pointing out the joke is on the kind of person making the bigoted/homophobic/racist, etc. statements. What’s the key to writing/telling a good lesbian joke? Will we hear some at An Evening with Women?

SS: Oh I don’t know. I think what makes someone get away with a joke that rides that line is the spirit of the joke, who the joke is REALLY about, and mostly, the heart of what transcends beyond the words.  If some frat boy says a joke about a race or sexual identity that is not his own it’s going to be received differently than someone who’s heart and position is clearly on—let’s say—the right side of history.

But comedy isn’t timeless. It has to change WITH the times. There’s stuff in my old special Jesus is Magic that makes me cringe in the context of TODAY, that doesn’t say the same things or would have a different inference in this time of our current epidemic of white cops killing black teenagers, for instance. You know? That’s what makes it art, dare I say. Simply that, what it is and what it means depends on whose eyes it’s being seen through, in the context of their experience and the context of the time in history it’s being seen.


AE: At this point in your career, you can probably carefully select what kind of events you want to align yourself with, and where you want to perform. Why is An Evening with Women a place you want to perform?

SS: If it’s a cause I believe in and I’m available, I’m in. The LGBTQ community is a big part of my personal and professional life.  But even if it wasn’t—I’m a human person capable of empathy—no cause needs to be my own for me to take part. I wasn’t raised that way.  


AE: Your sister Laura played a lesbian on The Comeback this season. Since you’ve played one first, how did she do?

SS: Um… She nailed it? What could you possibly be looking for me to say here? That she was JUST LIKE a lesbian? Haha. She was brilliant at playing one human person who’s also gay.


You can get tickets to see Sarah Silverman perform at An Evening with Women at the Hollywood Palladium this Saturday, May 16 by visiting See you there!