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"Every failure is an opportunity": Sarah Silverman on growing up, being fired & #MeToo

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Ralph Jones
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In a particularly auspicious interview, we ask Sarah Silverman for advice on getting through bad news

Hi Sarah. You’re one of our final ever Q&As.

Wow. RIP ShortList.

Exactly. Your time at Saturday Night Live ended just as prematurely. Any advice?

When I got the job, I couldn’t believe it. It was a dream come true. Then the experience was hard but great – you’re thrown in the pool to learn how to swim. And then when I got fired, I don’t think it was personal, really. I was a junior writer and a whole mess of us were fired. At the time, I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do with myself. But those are like broken bones – they heal stronger.

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There’s a great podcast called How To Fail, which dwells on moments like that.

That sounds brilliant. Every failure is an opportunity – you’re either gonna sink or rise to the occasion.

At the time it’s quite scary, but did you feel it was a new chapter, not the end of something huge?

I did go through a little bit of not knowing how I was gonna make money. I’m lucky in that I don’t really think about the future much. I never have. I never think: “Where will I be in five years?” I always just keep my head down, do stand-up, and things just happen. One of my favourite quotes is from Charlie Kaufman, who said something like: “Do not fear failure; failure is a badge of honour. It means you risked failure.” And that’s a life-changer if you take it in.

And you quoted someone else the other day – you said, “We’re all basically children plus time.”

No, that’s from me.

Oh that’s from you. A Sarah Silverman quote!

I think about it all time.

What does it mean to you?

Well, I think we afford empathy and care and love to children and not ourselves. And what are adults? They’re just kids plus more years. We live in a world that has so much misplaced rage and anger it’s become dangerous. The people that are running politics, running countries, running companies, are people with massive daddy issues. There are a lot of people in huge positions of power who do not live examined lives. I’m a good comic and that comes from a set of fucked-up things from my childhood. [Ralph Breaks The Internet co-star] John C Reilly is an unbelievable actor. That came from an immense amount of pain from his childhood. You know what [children’s TV presenter] Mr Rogers believed? That adults are here to help children go through these scary transitions in life. And I can be that adult for you, going through this scary transition in life.

Oh, thanks. In your TV show, I Love You, America, you make an effort to reach out to people on the political right in an attempt to understand them. Do you feel as though there’s an equivalent on the opposite side?

I actually don’t know. But I will say that the people on the right that have participated in my show are part of it. I really appreciate everyone who’s participated in it, who was scared but did it anyway. Because that’s so much of what’s going on in our world – it’s just being scared of the unknown, and to lead forward despite it is something I really appreciate.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about how the industry’s altered since #MeToo. Have you noticed any behaviours changing?

Yeah. I see a lot of change. I do think that’s good. I understand that showbusiness was very problematic, but I would guess every business is wildly problematic, and in our business there’s publicity and exposure. It’s not as sexy if you’re working at the doughnut shop to tell someone about what your boss is doing. ShortList isn’t gonna cover it. So there’s less witness-bearing. And I worry about the rest of the world. There’s proper shaming that has to be involved. There has to be pressure. And now that there are men understanding that there are consequences to their actions, that’s when there’s change. And you know what? Good.

So you feel it’s had a real as well as a theoretical impact?

Absolutely, and in terms of inclusivity as well – more representation of what the world is made up of. There are white male writers – hey, there are some that are great, that I love, that are my best friends – but it is funny that there’s been a bit of a thing of [them saying] “I can’t even get a job anywhere.” And to that I say, “Yes you can. Just be undeniable – which is what we’ve all had to be.”

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Ralph Jones

Ralph Jones is a staff writer for ShortList magazine. In April 2015 he won a seven-foot throne of dildos but he’d rather you didn’t mention it. He performs sketch comedy and is on Twitter at @OhHiRalphJones

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