Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
Saturday Night Live, The Sarah Silverman Program, Wreck-It Ralph
Currently Known For:
Stand-up Comedian, Actress, Producer and Writer
2000s - Present
December 1, 1970
Saturday Night Live, The Sarah Silverman Program, Wreck-It Ralph
“I’ll tell you why we make fun of midgets: we’re not afraid of them.” Known for her obscene sense of humor that addresses controversial topics like religion, politics, racism, and sexism, it’s no surprise that Sarah Silverman is one of the most famous names in comedy today. Silverman launched her stand-up career in the 1990s as a writer and featured player on Saturday Night Live. Fired from the show after one season, she made the rounds on television with several appearances on series like Mr. Show, The Larry Sanders Show, and Seinfeld before she skyrocketed to fame in the new millennium with The Sarah Silverman Program on Comedy Central.
With the series earning Silverman a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, Silverman’s confidence blossomed as she released her 2010 autobiography, The Bedwetter, and ventured into film with credits in Wreck-It-Ralph (2012) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014). In 2015, she garnered even more fame with her award-nominated drama, I Smile Back, and has since settled in as one of Hulu’s newest late-night talk show hosts with her own series, I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman. So, how did the New Hampshire native get her start in such a male-dominated industry?Early Life
“I don’t set out to offend or shock, but I also don’t do anything to avoid it.” The youngest of five children raised in a devout Jewish home, Sarah Kate Silverman came into this world on December 1, 1970, in Bedford, New Hampshire where her mother, Beth Ann, founded the New Thalian Players theater company and her father, Donald, was a social worker. Silverman’s older brother, Jeffrey Michael, died when he was three months old, leaving Silverman to grow up under the watchful eyes of her three older sisters—future Reform rabbi Susan Silverman, screenwriter Jodyne Silverman, and actress Laura Silverman.
Long before her sisters found success in their own fields, Silverman knew she wanted to become a comedian and often used her family’s Jewish faith as the basis for her jokes. However, before she ever took the stage, Silverman faced a major setback when she was diagnosed with depression as a teen. “I had been an extremely social person with best friends and the class clown and all of that meant nothing suddenly. Being with friends felt like a burden. I remember just sobbing,” Silverman said of her first bout with depression.
“I was sent to a psychiatrist who said, ‘I’m going to give you a prescription for something called Xanax, and whenever you feel bad, you take one,” Silverman said. Her mother dropped her off for her second appointment and left Silverman to sit in the waiting room. After some time, Silverman learned her doctor hung himself in his office earlier that morning. “This is before cell phones or anything, way before, and I just had to wait for the hour to be over for my mom to pick me up… After that, my parents, who just wanted to help me, they found this woman who was a registered nurse in Boston. And so, we would drive an hour to Boston before school and I would talk to her. And she would just prescribe more Xanax, more Xanax, and her husband was a doctor, and he would write the prescription.”
Silverman took 16 Xanax pills every day before she finally found a doctor in New Hampshire willing to help. He gradually decreased her dosage of Xanax and prescribed a low dose of Zoloft to help with her depression. By her 16th birthday, Silverman felt like herself and, a year later, was confident enough to perform her first stand-up routine at a local club in Boston. Although the performance was awful, Silverman knew she wanted to pursue comedy full time and, after graduating from The Derryfield School in Manchester in 1989, she enrolled at New York University. She never graduated since she spent most of her free time perfecting her stand-up routine at comedy clubs in Greenwich Village.Launching Her Career
“By the time I would have graduated, at 22, I was a writer and featured performer on Saturday Night Live.” Silverman performed her routine at various clubs throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s during a time when males dominated the industry and she faced ongoing sexism. However, she refused to let any setback stop her and, in 1993, caught a huge break when she was hired as a writer and featured player on the 1993-1994 season of Saturday Night Live. Joining the ranks of Adam Sandler, Tim Meadows, Mike Myers, and Phil Hartman, Silverman had high hopes that SNL would launch her career but she saw that dream shattered when she was fired after one season. Producers didn’t like her material and only cast her in smaller roles as former SNL writer and Mr. Show creator Bob Odenkirk later said, “I could see how it wouldn’t work at SNL because she’s got her own voice. She’s very much Sarah Silverman all the time. She can play a character but she doesn’t disappear into the character—she makes the character her.”
Although Silverman later argued that she wasn’t ready for something as big as SNL, she made a huge comeback in 1995 when she joined Odenkirk on his new HBO sketch comedy series, Mr. Show with Bob and David. Also parodying her short stint on SNL in an episode of The Larry Sanders Show, Silverman took her humor to new limits as she landed the leading role in the 1997 independent flick Who’s the Caboose? and made her standup comedy debut on the Late Show with David Letterman later in the year. She ventured into film with credits in Overnight Delivery (1998), Bulworth (1998), There’s Something About Mary (1998), and The Bachelor (1999) in addition to making guest appearances in Seinfeld (1997), Brotherly Love (1997), JAG (1997), The Naked Truth (1997), and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (1998).
By the new millennium, Silverman was well known for her extreme sense of humor that knew no limits as she poked fun of everyone from her family to the disabled and homeless as well as tackling controversial topics like religion, the Holocaust, AIDs, sexism, and racism. “I like talking about things that are taboo because it makes them not taboo anymore,” Silverman said of her comedy style. “I grew up in a house where there were no taboos, so it came originally from a pretty innocent place, where I was shocked at the things that shocked people. But I do enjoy and feel compelled to talk about things that are taboo. One, because I think I’m a troublemaker inside, if someone says, ‘Don’t say that,’ it’s all I want to say. And also, something I learned in therapy—which is darkness can’t exist in the light, and then that made me think of something that Mr. Rogers said, which is, ‘If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.’”
This mentality is what inspired Silverman’s next project—her 2005 concert film of her one-woman show, Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, which earned $1.3 million at the box office. While the film wasn’t a massive success, it was enough to boost Silverman’s name recognition as she returned to television in the 2007 Comedy Central sitcom The Sarah Silverman Program. This time, the show was a massive hit and earned a Primetime Emmy Award nomination as Silverman played fictional versions of herself going on a variety of adventures with fellow comedians, friends, and family members. Amid the show’s success, Silverman hosted the MTV Movie Awards and made the rounds on television with appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Monk. In 2010, shortly after the show was canceled, she released her autobiography, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee.
Over the next few years, Silverman stayed busy with an appearance in Take This Waltz (2011). In 2012, she voiced Vanellope von Schweetz in Wreck-It Ralph and returned to HBO in 2013 for Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles, which earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special. A year later, she joined Seth MacFarlane in A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) and surprised fans once again with a stellar performance in the 2015 drama, I Smile Back. Silverman’s performance didn’t go unnoticed as she earned a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role. Since then, she’s appeared in Ashby (2015), Punching Henry (2016), Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016), The Book of Henry (2017), and Battle of the Sexes (2017) in addition to reprising her role as Vanellope in Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018).Life Today: Personal Relationships and Current Projects
“Well, I’m not afraid to say something if I think it’s funny, even if it’s harsh or racist.” While her work in film has certainly kept her busy over the last few years, Silverman’s biggest focus has been on television. She landed a recurring role as Helen on Masters of Sex from 2014 to 2016 and even returned to the SNL set to guest host an episode in 2014. Since then, she’s appeared in Lady Dynamite (2016), Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special (2017), and Crashing (2017). She also released her Netflix special Sarah Silverman: A Speck of Dust in 2017. Most recently, she hosted the Hulu late night talk show, I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman, which ran for 21 episodes before it was canceled in January 2019.
Apart from her latest comedic venture, the 48-year-old Silverman is the first to recognize that her career and her style of comedy is always changing. “I’d cringe if I were still doing the same material I was doing in my 20s and 30s,” she says. “Comedy has to be a reflection of where you’re at and not something where you’re beholden to a character that got you famous. You have to be brave enough to lose fans or gain new fans or, God forbid, have older fans grow with you. And the sh-t I was doing doesn’t necessarily age well. I like the stuff I did earlier in my career, it’s just not totally me anymore.”
Her changing style of comedy is also reflective of her evolving personal life, which she addressed in her biography, The Bedwetter. Also discussing her lifelong battle with clinical depression as well as her struggle with bedwetting into her teens, Silverman is the first to poke fun of herself, her struggles, and her relationships. So, what about her relationships?
In her early career, she dated fellow SNL writer Dave Attell and, in the new millennium, she dated late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel. In true Silverman fashion, the relationship wasn’t off limits in her stand-up routine as she later joked, “I’m Jewish but I wear this Saint Christopher medal sometimes; my boyfriend is Catholic—but you know, it was cute the way he gave it to me. He said if it doesn’t burn a hole through my skin, it will protect me.” Silverman gave the medal back in 2009 after she and Kimmel parted ways.
Over the next few years, Silverman focused on her comedy career before she confirmed at the 2014 Emmy Awards that she and actor Michael Sheen were in a serious relationship. Sheen nursed Silverman back to health after she spent a week in the intensive care unit at Cedars Sinai Hospital for severe epiglottitis or swelling of the base of her tongue. The couple broke up two years later in February 2018.
Today, Silverman continues to hone her talents as a comedian, actress, producer, and writer in addition to working as a political activist who supports the Democratic party. She also continues to speak out about her lifelong battle with depression and admits that she’s one of the lucky ones to have found a treatment that works. “I’m very lucky in that I still experience highs and lows and I think those lows are important, but I am not totally paralyzed and it keeps me from just a complete state of paralysis emotionally and almost physically.” Those highs and lows are what push Silverman’s constant pursuit of comedy as she connects to her audience whether it’s on stage, on television, or in film. “Being funny just instinctively came about as a way to put people at ease around me,” she says, and luckily, it still does even if she’s one of the most controversial comedians in the industry today!