Sarah Silverman on Hollywood Harassment, Jewish Representation On Screen

"It has to change, so that’s why things have to be hard right now, and people should be afraid and think before they act. That’s a good thing," said the star of Hulu's 'I Love You, America.'
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Vulture Festival
Sarah Silverman

Vulture Fest attendees expecting the signature quirky punchlines and cleverly deployed profanity that Sarah Silverman is known for witnessed the actress and comic’s more serious side as she offered her considered takes on topics ranging from Middle American voters to sexual harassment to Jewish representation in Hollywood to the tactics of President Donald Trump.

Silverman – who currently headlines Hulu’s satirical series I Love You, America, in which the progressively political host often travels across the country seeking common ground with people of wildly diverging political and cultural views — joined New York Magazine’s left-leaning op-ed writer and consulting producer on Veep, Frank Rich, for a wide-ranging conversation on many of the subjects her show explores.

While she didn’t speak directly about the sexual misconduct charges admitted to by her longtime friend and fellow comic Louis C.K. — something she specifically addressed in the monologue of the most recent episode of her show — Silverman said she saw the current attention on sexual harassment currently rocking Hollywood and other major corners of the culture as positive and necessary, but also considerably complicated.

“It seems to me that we’re going through a moment in time that’s vital, and there will be detritus,” said Silverman during the pop cultural festival held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Sunday. “I think it’s a kind of putting a healthy fear in men… It has to change, so that’s why things have to be hard right now, and people should be afraid and think before they act. That’s a good thing.”

But she also pointed to a recent incident involving Dancing With the Stars host Tom Bergeron making an off-the-cuff, risqué remark aimed at dancer Whitney Carson during a recent broadcast as an example of grayer territory.

“I have no ill will towards him,” said Silverman of the ABC host. “He’s a lovely man. He meant no harm by it. But it’s a great example of someone who comes from another time, where we just don’t know better… With him, that’s just something that’s been ingrained in the culture so much that he’s a product of that. We have to see it not just as something that guy did wrong. The more we are just black and white, and have no compassion or empathy towards someone who said the wrong thing, what this teaches us is we need to raise our daughters and sons to know what is unacceptable behavior. I think it’s interesting, and we should look at it, and we should wonder where it comes from.”

She continued, “It’s okay to point it out and examine it, but he doesn’t have to go to like show business jail for it,” she added. “It’s just something that we should wonder about. It’s something to be mindful about.”

On the topic of anti-Semitism and Jewish representation in films and television shows, the comic grew pointed. “If Winona Ryder had stayed Winona Horowitz, would she have starred in The Age of Innocence?” offered Silverman. “She wouldn’t. That has nothing to do with her talent — she’s brilliantly talented. I learned very early on that I was not going to be an ingénue, and that’s what I wanted: I was young, I wanted to be an ingénue.” Instead, she said that earlier in her career a well known director, also Jewish, told her “that I could never be cast as someone who deserved love.”

“I was talking to a guy and I said, ‘Jewish women don’t star in movies,’ she added. “And then he goes, ‘Oh, what about Woody Allen?’ And I said, ‘That’s a very niche example, and that couldn’t be the worst example. Who are the female stars of those movies? Scarlett Johansson, Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow. Brilliant, brilliant actresses, but no, couldn’t be less Jewish.” (Contrary to Silverman's comment, Johansson is, in fact, Jewish.)

She said despite many Jews working in powerful positions in Hollywood “they don’t want to see us reflected in art, unless we’re the sassy friend that gives exposition to the main character, or the cunty first girlfriend before the guy learns what love can be. It just wasn’t an option for me. It’s very exciting when I see people like Jenny Slate play parts that deserves love in a big thing.”

Silverman said her show did provide an unexpectedly sunny revelation during her encounters with people across the country, including many Trump voters. “When you’re one-on-one with someone who doesn’t agree with you, or whose ideology is different than yours, when you’re face to face, your porcupine needles go down,” she said. “The surprise was… I fell in love with them. I had a great time with them and I felt comfortable.

“I’m trying to be open,” she explained. “I’m finding if I do engage with someone who is angry at me, or angry and I’m a place where they can put that anger… it’s almost always a good experience, because more than anything, all of us what we have in common is, we want to feel seen. We want to feel like we exist. We really should  all of us — work on not getting our self-esteem from outside forces, but it is so much when somebody just sees you. It’s just like, everything melts away. We just all just human out again.”

She felt less charitable toward Trump himself. “We’re waiting for him to hit bottom. There’s no bottom. It’s bottomless,” she said, pointing to what she called a “wealth addiction” among many leaders across the Western World who crave wealth and power above all and surround themselves with other addicts and an enabling coalition – a “very rotten, rotten sickness” she says needs to be treated like a traditional dependency issue.

“I’m working on a monologue right now for an episode coming up that just compares politicians with The Real Housewives,” she revealed. “You watch The Real Housewives and you go, ‘These are women my age and older, middle-aged, full grown women of means, and how can they behave this way?’

“You’d think with cameras they’d be their best selves,” Silverman continued. “But the reason why they behave this way is not because the world is watching or the country’s watching, but because the people closest to them, the off-camera producers, are giving them wild amounts of praise for this bad behavior. And this is I think what’s happening in politics.”

When Rich asked Silverman for her fantasy vision of Trump leaving office, she admitted she hadn’t put much thought into it, but quickly quipped, “With no hair or makeup.”

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