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Sarah Silverman wants to play with your kids.
What began as a passing thought over brunch while entertaining a friend’s toddler — Hey, I would make a pretty great babysitting app! — wound up taking the comedian more than a year to produce, delayed even further by a launch week marred by technical glitches. But “Uncle Sarah” is at last up and running.
Think of it as a 99-cent vacation, allowing overworked parents to indulge in some me-time as Silverman occupies their kids with a round of peek-a-boo or a suspiciously quotidian fairy tale, like the one that begins, “Once upon a time there was a princess, and all she wanted was some coconut water in a glass bottle from Whole Foods.” Spoiler alert: It’s a happy ending. (Watch her tell the story in an exclusive clip on the next page.)
If you find yourself the least bit apprehensive at the thought of leaving young children alone with the 41-year-old Silverman — a provocative stand-up and actress whose pet topics include rape and racism and who once called summer camp “the second-worst camp for Jews” — allow her to be the first to set you at ease.
“I have a ton of material for toddlers,” Silverman tells The Hollywood Reporter. “My friends are all having babies now, and I love kids.”
That this uncharacteristically G-rated venture should coincide with the release of Disney’s animated feature Wreck-It Ralph — in which Silverman voices sweet-toothed video game character Vanellope von Schweetz — wasn’t intentional but rather a “kind of kismet,” Silverman says, before acknowledging that “both are odd things for me.” And why shouldn’t Silverman enter the fray, when even the most hallowed of children’s entertainment properties — Sesame Street — isn’t immune from controversy?
“That guy created one of the most indelible children’s characters of the past generation,” Silverman says, referring to Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, who resigned last week amid multiple allegations of having had sex with minors.
“That’s so sad,” she says. “Especially because Sesame Street is so pristine. … Was it rape? I know technically it was statutory rape, but was it consensual? But who cares if it was consensual. Right. I mean, look: Statutory rape is a little different from rape — a lot different. I guess that’s not the quote I need to be giving.” She pauses, then puts on her best Todd Akin voice: “It wasn’t legitimate rape.” After struggling to make sense of a story that ultimately makes little, Silverman concludes, “I don’t know what to say. It’s pretty weak.”
It was anyone but Uncle Sarah who appeared on NBC’s The Tonight Show late last month, ditching her tomboy uniform for something she calls “the sexy secretary look” — her hair worn up in a messy bun, a sheer tangerine top offering viewers a peek-a-boo of a very different nature. She looked hot, and the audience responded in kind with enthusiastic cat calls.
The show’s host, Jay Leno, made mention of Silverman’s pro-Barack Obama political videos, the most recent of which — a dirty-minded PSA on voter fraud tactics released six weeks before the presidential election — went viral, racking up 2.6 million views in a matter of days. (It’s a staggering number, especially when you consider that the president’s own Election Night victory speech has amassed a little more than 500,000.) She called the video “Let My People Vote” — a title that drew a scathing rebuke in the Jewish Press from Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt.
Rosenblatt objected to how the video was “framed in biblical language.” He also admonished Uncle Sarah for the absence in her life of a (Jewish, presumably) husband and her own brood. “[Raising a family] will allow you to understand and appreciate the traditional lifestyle’s peace, security and respect for human dignity — things you have spent your life, so far, undermining,” he wrote.
“I get hundreds of those a day,” Silverman laughs as she recounts the story. “I didn’t even see [the letter] until The Huffington Post published it with my dad’s comments. I was like, ‘What’s this?’ ” Indeed, the letter would most likely have gone unnoticed were it not for an angry response left beneath it by Donald Silverman, Sarah’s father.
“Hey Rabbi Idiot,” he wrote. “Is your wife allowed to go to a minion or sit at the front if a bus or choose between abortion or birth? Take your false god and shove god up your judgmental ass. Check your wonderful Bible and learn about your cruel god from a book you believe in literally.” Donald had similarly colorful language for commenters who later came to the rabbi’s defense.
“I just laughed,” Silverman says of her initial reaction. “He’s such a piece of work. He was like, ‘I thought seven people would read it. I didn’t know!’ I’ve never had so many people come up to me to say, ‘I wish your dad was my dad!’ It makes me so proud.”
The good rabbi will in all likelihood have to hold his breath. Silverman has publicly declared that until all same-sex couples are afforded the same right, she refuses to marry — she calls it a “cult that doesn’t include everybody.” She also has expressed a reluctance to having children for fear they may inherit the depression that runs in her family.
Which isn’t to say she’s closed to love. Silverman ended her five-year relationship with Jimmy Kimmel in 2008 — a union that produced one hit song (“I’m F—ing Matt Damon”) — and was romantically linked to Family Guy writer Alec Sulkin in 2010, after introducing herself with a direct message on Twitter. Last year, she started dating Kyle Dunnigan, an actor and comic who’s a regular on the late show circuit. The two are still together.
It was her breakup with Kimmel that served as fodder for Susan 313, a comedy pilot from last year’s development season about a woman regaining her independence after leaving her boyfriend of 10 years. The script, co-written by frequent collaborators Dan Sterling and Jon Schroeder, was ordered into production by NBC and had good buzz behind it: Jeff Goldblum played the ex, and comedian Tig Notaro — whose profile later soared following a comedy set performed hours after being diagnosed with breast cancer — was cast as Sarah’s neighbor. Silverman says she wanted the show to be different from her Comedy Central series, the sunny-but-oh-so-dark The Sarah Silverman Program.
“I didn’t want it to be a certain amount of jokes per page,” Silverman explains. “I wanted it to be emotional and real. I remember telling [NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt that I wasn’t worried about being on network because I want to say ‘pussy’ or something. I just want to be able to be far out and have you trust that people in Poughkeepsie will still be into that.”
But Susan 313 never made it past the pilot stage. Despite Greenblatt’s enthusiasm for the project, Silverman says the executive, who had just taken over at the struggling network, was “beaten to a pulp” by other powers that be. (“Every shit we took had to go through four hoops” is how she puts it.) NBC ultimately went broader with its comedy slate, picking up the vet-set Animal Practice, which already has been canceled, and the Jimmy Fallon-produced Guys With Kids, which earned a full-season order along with the Matthew Perry grief-counseling sitcom Go On.
The rejection stung, but Silverman thinks that network TV was probably the wrong place for her. “I was like, ‘This isn’t what I want. I don’t think I want the network-TV-sitcom life.’ I just felt like, I don’t want to make 22 of these. I don’t want to make 22 of anything in a year. I’m a quality-of-life person.”
Silverman says she sees herself more suited for cable TV, doing 10 or 12 episodes per season of a show in the vein of HBO’s Girls or FX’s Louie — Louis CK’s Emmy-winning meditation on death, life and everything in between. Silverman appeared in a Louie episode this past season, in which both comedians — friends for years in real life — talk on the phone as they marvel at decades-younger versions of themselves on TV. Sarah looks the same — perhaps even more beautiful now — while Louis is virtually unrecognizable from the svelte, ginger-haired kid slinging jokes on the screen.
“First of all, [Louis] made it be ‘Retro Comedy of the ‘80s’ and I was like, ‘I was not doing comedy in the ‘80s. I don’t need you to age me more! It was the early ‘90s!’” she recalls. The scene was shot without the benefit of the vintage stand-up footage, which Silverman only saw once the final cut had aired: “Oh my God, when I finally watched it, they put the videos in there. It was so crazy to watch,” she says. “[Louis] especially. That was the kid I met!”
As for the future, Silverman is continuing in the digital realm with a new YouTube channel but says she definitely has plans to return to TV — though she has no idea yet when, where or what form it will take.
“I’m in daydream mode right now,” she says. “I usually sit in my chair where I’m sitting right now in my living room and just daydream until it hits me.”
“Uncle Sarah” – a “musical comedy fun house of funny playtime magic!” — is available for purchase at the iTunes Store.
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