How Garry Shandling's Death Informed Sarah Silverman's Netflix Stand-Up Special

The comedian dedicates 'A Speck of Dust' to "three of the closest people in [her] life," including late writer Harris Wittels and her mom, and jokes about and shares video of her time in the ICU.
Courtesy of Netflix
Sarah Silverman in 'A Speck of Dust'

[Warning: The following story contains spoilers from Sarah Silverman's Speck of Dust Netflix special.]

With her special, A Speck of Dust, now streaming, Sarah Silverman is the latest high-profile stand-up comic to move to Netflix.

Silverman's special, her first in four years, comes after the streaming service has released stand-up programs from Amy Schumer, Tracy Morgan, Dave Chappelle and others, with future specials from Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock in the works.

Silverman's last special, the Emmy-winning We Are Miracles, aired on HBO in 2013, and when asked why she chose Netflix for A Speck of Dust, she simply indicated that Netflix made an offer when she "felt ready to do another special," she says.

The comedian filmed the special in the middle of February, but has been working on it ever since Miracles.

"It just kind of organically felt ready," Silverman tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I could hone that material for 15 more years, but at some point you have to let it go, kiss it goodbye and start over."

She touches on two relatively recent events in her own life, starting off by apologizing to the audience for making them go through metal detectors — a response in part to a tweet in early February that was interpreted as calling for a military coup — and later discussing a harrowing experience in the ICU after a sore throat turned into "a freak case of epiglottitis," an experience that Silverman said at the time left her "insanely lucky to be alive."

She says was indirectly informed by the near-death she experienced, as well as the those of several close to her. In addition to ending the special with some of the video footage of her time being treated, A Speck of Dust is dedicated to three people she lost in the span of two years — her mom, Garry Shandling and writer-comedian Harris Wittels.

Speaking with THR in New York recently, Silverman talked about the real-life experiences that made their way onstage, as well as her involvement with the Wreck-It Ralph sequel.

At the beginning of the special, you say there were metal detectors because you'd tweeted something.

Yeah, the last few legs of this tour, I got some — I'm not even that aware of it because I don't look at my mentions much or anything; I don't really understand Facebook — I got, I guess, some threats and calls to my manager's office and stuff and that made it so that they said you have to get metal detectors and security. I'm not Britney Spears. I have to pay for myself, so it really cuts into — but I mean I'd rather be alive. They had to have metal detectors at all my gigs and it was a little ridiculous. People get very angry. I'm not everybody's cup of tea.

Was that about the tweet you sent out that was interpreted as you calling for a military coup?

Yeah, and many other things, but that was the instigating one.

You talk about and feature some video footage of your experience in the ICU. You say in the special that you don't remember a lot of it but there's video. Why did you want to include that footage?

I don't have any visual memories of it, even though my eyes were open, which I didn't even know, and most of the stories I told were just told to me. I wasn't consciously there. I was just technically awake because they couldn't put me to sleep because my blood pressure was too low. My manager and close friend Amy had the poor taste to videotape the beginning part. So I just thought it was interesting to talk about it and then, as kind of an Easter egg, have the actual, horrendous footage.

You dedicated the special to Harris Wittels, Garry Shandling and your mom. Why did you want to do that?

In the time between my last special and this special, actually in the span of under two years, I lost three of the closest people in my life and almost died myself. In a lot of ways, even if not on the surface, it really informed what the special was and it was kind of a no-brainer to dedicate the special to the people I lost. Preparing for this special had so many starts and stops. I mean, I wasn't preparing for a special necessarily, I was just doing stand-up and starting over in that way. A lot of times those starts and stops are because you're working on a TV show or doing something that takes you away from stand-up. But these starts and stops were all very emotional and were stops where I would go, "I can't imagine. What am I supposed to go onstage and tell jokes now?" I couldn't even picture that. And then each time I would always go back to stand-up because I think that's how comics survive life is by doing stand-up. That's how they get through things always. It always led me back to there and I'm sure in lots of indirect ways informed the material I did.

Is there anything specific in terms of the material that you can point to as being influenced by one of the three people you dedicate the special to or your experience with them?

So much of what I've learned about stand-up comedy comes from Garry, who was a mentor to me. Harris was like a son to me and a friend and also a completely inspiring peer — just one of the best writers that I've ever had the benefit of working with. And then my mom, who is everything I am. I don't know if there are direct jokes, like that joke about God coming in your mouth? No! But all of them have influenced me in huge ways.

What can you tell us about your involvement in the Wreck-It Ralph sequel?

I've been recording. It's so good. They just do that so well and they encourage us to improvise, and I really love it. I love my character [Vanellope]. I love what she is. As a Disney princess, she's pretty great.

Do you think that fans of the first movie will be happy with the sequel?

100 percent. It's so good in my opinion.

Sarah Silverman: A Speck of Dust is streaming now on Netflix.

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