Sarah Silverman Biography

Comedian (1970–)
Sarah Silverman is best known for her politically incorrect humor and courting controversy through stand-up specials and shows.

Who Is Sarah Silverman?

American comedian Sarah Silverman was born in New Hampshire in 1970. After dropping out of NYU, she focused on the stand-up comedy circuit, receiving her big break in 1993 as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live. She went on to work for many years as a writer, comedian and actress, earning notoriety for the sort of politically incorrect humor highlighted in her 2005 film, Jesus Is Magic. Beginning in 2007, she starred in The Sarah Silverman Program on Comedy Central for three seasons, and she later hosted another program on Hulu, I Love You, America. Silverman has also appeared in films like A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014), I Smile Back (2015) and Battle of the Sexes (2017).

Early Life

Born on December 1, 1970, in Bedford, New Hampshire, Sarah Silverman has been an equal opportunity offender, entertaining and shocking audiences with her raunchy, politically incorrect comedy. The youngest of four daughters, she was taught to swear by her father when she was just a toddler. Her knack for saying outrageous things continued as she got older.

As a teenager, Silverman went through a difficult time. She felt like an outsider as one of the few Jewish girls in a mostly Christian town. For years, she also struggled with a bed-wetting problem, which she explored in her 2007 autobiography The Bedwetter. Silverman also battled depression as a teenager and began taking medication to treat her problem. Despite her personal challenges, Silverman developed a love of comedy.

During high school, the budding comic took the stage at a Boston club on an open mic night while attending summer school there. She also appeared in musical theater productions during the school year. Silverman then enrolled at New York University, but instead of focusing on her dramatic studies, she spent most of her time trying to catch a break at the local comedy clubs. Silverman eventually dropped out to work on her comedy full time.

Breaking Into Comedy

For years, Silverman performed on the stand-up comedy circuit. Her big break came in 1993, when she landed a gig as a writer and performer on the late-night comedy show Saturday Night Live. At the time, the show featured such comics as Phil Hartman, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Kevin Nealon and Tim Meadows. Unfortunately, this dream job turned into a disappointment for Silverman. She only appeared in a few sketches and most of her jokes were rejected. To top it all off, Silverman learned that she had been fired from a fax sent to her agent by the show’s producer, Lorne Michaels.

While deeply disappointed in this turn of events, Sarah Silverman soon bounced back as a cast member of Mr. Show with Bob and David in 1995. This HBO sketch comedy show featured Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. She also did a few guest appearances on The Larry Sanders Show as a television writer, which made fun of her stint on Saturday Night Live.

Around this time, Silverman also started getting small parts in feature films, including Bulworth (1998) and the hit comedy There’s Something About Mary (1998). She was often cast as a pushy or mean-spirited friend—a stereotypical role she would grow to resent.

Controversial Comedienne

In 2001, Silverman got caught up in a media firestorm over her appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. She used a racial epithet about Asians during her routine, which caused an outcry by many viewers. A member of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans went after the show’s network, NBC, and Silverman. While the network issued an apology for the incident, Silverman refused. She received a lot of angry letters about her comment, many of which included attacks on her Jewish heritage.

Returning to series television, Sarah Silverman played Alison Kaiser on the short-lived sitcom Greg the Bunny in 2002. This fantastical program explored the backstage adventures of a children’s television show, and the title character was a rabbit puppet that was treated like a living being. True to type, Silverman played the part of an aggressive network executive.

One-Woman Show: 'Jesus Is Magic'

Around this time, Silverman began performing her one-woman show, Jesus Is Magic, in Los Angeles. She managed her own unique way to crack jokes about a number of usually off-limits subjects, including the September 11th terrorist attacks and the Holocaust. The 2005 film version of the project drew a mixed reaction from critics. Entertainment Weekly called her “a bomb-tossing jester in the blasphemous-and-proud-of-it tradition of Lenny Bruce and Howard Stern,” and Variety described Silverman as the “love child of Lenny Bruce and Sandra Bernhard.” In addition to her stand-up routine, the film featured musical bits of humorous, off-color lyrics set to catchy tunes.

Still, there were many who thought she went too far at times in the film, especially when she sang “You’re Going to Die Soon” to a group of senior citizens at a retirement home. And many thought she went too far at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards, too. Silverman was the host for the award show and again drew fire for a joke about troubled pop star Britney Spears.

'The Sarah Silverman Program' and 'We Are Miracles'

That same year, Silverman debuted a new show on the Comedy Central cable network, The Sarah Silverman Program, which blurred the lines between the person and her comic persona. Playing a fictional version of herself, she came off as an odd combination of naive and offensive, making all sorts of insulting remarks about people from a variety of backgrounds and orientations. Her character largely sponged off her sister Laura—who was played by her real-life sister. 

Still, there was plenty of room for the fantastical on the show, with music videos by Silverman being incorporated into the mix. Proving there was an audience for decidedly politically incorrect humor, the show was among the most popular ones on the network, running until 2010.

In 2013, the comedienne performed a routine for the HBO special Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles. The show was nominated for a slew of awards, winning the 2014 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special.

Sarah Silverman's Films 

Silverman contributed voice work to the animated smash Wreck-It Ralph (2012), before landing a recurring role in the Showtime drama Masters of Sex and a part in the 2014 Seth MacFarlane comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West. The following year Silverman starred in I Smile Back, which earned her a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.

Follow-up efforts like Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) and The Book of Henry (2017) failed to make much of a box-office impact, though Silverman went on to a prominent role in Battle of the Sexes (2017), about the celebrated 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. In 2018, she returned to animated fare with the sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet

Political Activism

In 2015 Silverman endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. When Sanders was unable to clinch the nomination, Silverman endorsed Hillary Clinton when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. 

"I will vote for Hillary with gusto, as I continue to be inspired and moved to action by the ideals set forth by Bernie, who will never stop fighting for us," she said during her speech. "I am proud to be a part of Bernie's movement and a vital part of that movement, and a vital part of that movement is making sure Hillary Clinton is the next president of the United States."

Always one for controversy, she scolded die-hard "Bernie or Bust" Sanders supporters, saying they were being "ridiculous."  Her comments received boos from the Bernie crowd and cheers from Hillary supporters. Soon after, her Twitter account was hacked with anti-Hillary tweets.

'I Love You, America'

In October 2017, Silverman launched a new endeavor in conjunction with the video-streaming service Hulu, a talk show called I Love You, America. While adopting many traditional talk-show elements, Silverman put her own twist on the format with monologues that reflected her personal views and guests who fell well short of celebrity status.

On the November 16 episode of her show, Silverman dove into the controversial topic of Louis C.K., a fellow comedian who had recently confirmed accusations that he exposed and fondled himself in front of women. "I love Louie. But Louie did these things," she said. "Both of those statements are true. So, I just keep asking myself, can you love someone who did bad things?

Expressing her anger at C.K.'s actions as well as the culture that enabled them, she continued, "I believe with all my heart that this moment in time is essential. It's vital that people are held accountable for their actions, no matter who they are. We need to be better. We will better. I can't [expletive] wait to be better."

Despite drawing plenty of critical praise and an Emmy nomination, I Love You, America was canceled in January 2019, after just one season.

Personal Life

Silverman dated late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel for several years. In February 2008, Silverman created a popular viral video in which she sang about her affair with movie star Matt Damon. Kimmel responded by making a video of his own, showcasing his relationship with actor Ben Affleck, a close friend of Damon’s. When People named the pair its Funniest Couple Alive, Sarah Silverman said their relationship worked "because we really, really, really like each other. He's kind and funny and maybe the most thoughtful person I know." Added Kimmel, "Sarah is funny and smart and good to look at."

Silverman went on to date comedian Kyle Dunnigan for two years, and was later romantically linked to Masters of Sex star Michael Sheen. In 2018, she revealed that she had broken up with the Welsh actor due to the difficulties of sustaining a long-distance relationship.  

Silverman has been open about her battle with depression and how prescription drugs have helped her gain balance. In July 2016 she was diagnosed with epiglottitis and spent a week in intensive care.

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