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Sarah Silverman: Turning Ignorance Into Comedy

Apr 22, 2010 (Fresh Air)

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Comedian Sarah Silverman wet the bed until she was 15 years old.

"It was humiliating," she says. "I was sent to sleepover camp since I was 6, and it was a recipe for disaster. But, you know, I guess the silver lining is, 'There's not much to lose in life after that.' [When I was] doing stand-up when I got a little older, the prospect of bombing was like 'Who cares?' "

Silverman shares her experiences as a bed-wetter, a little sister, a Jewish kid growing up in New England and an aspiring stand-up comic in her new memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee.

She has been called the "funniest woman in America" by Rolling Stone, but one of the most poignant chapters in the book is about the first time Silverman bombed, years before she would ever step on a stage. Growing up, she often heard stories from her older sister about another sibling, Jeffrey. Jeffrey accidentally suffocated to death in a crib several years before Sarah was born. When she was 5, Silverman decided to test a joke about Jeffrey on the rest of her family.

"My grandmother picked us up for our Sunday breakfast at a local diner, and she said, 'Everybody buckle up.' And thinking I was going to kill, I said, 'Yeah, we don't want to wind up like Jeffrey,' and [there was] just silence. My sisters turned and looked at me like I was crazy, and my grandmother just burst into tears," she says.

Silverman says the incident taught her that there are consequences in comedy — and she thinks of that memory when writing her boundary-crossing material.

"I think I've been called edgy — but in all honestly, there is a safety in what I do because I'm always the idiot," she says. "Unless you're just listening to buzz words and not taking into account the context of the situation, you see I'm always the ignoramus. So no matter what I talk about or what tragic event, off-color, dark scenario is evoked in my material, I'm always the idiot in it."

Silverman appears in the films Jesus is Magic, The Aristocrats, School of Rock and There's Something About Mary. She also stars in her own show on Comedy Central, The Sarah Silverman Program.

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