Sarah Silverman: Forty-Hour Waking-Week

Nov 13, 2020
Originally published on November 13, 2020 5:33 pm

When quarantine first began, comedian Sarah Silverman knew how she would pass the time.

"I just had this instinct to go to Gamestop and buy a console," she told Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton on NPR's Ask Me Another. Her goal, she explained, was to fill her waking hours with Call of Duty and sleep as much as possible. "A lot of people have a forty-hour work-week, I had a forty-hour waking-week."

Silverman used her gamer headset to Zoom in from her home in Los Angeles, sitting in front of a wall filled with photos of friends and colleagues from the comedy world.

Her standup, tackling racism, anti-semitism and sex, can be controversial — or, as she deadpanned, "a little divisive." As an actor, however, she's appeared in more family-friendly fare, starring alongside Jack Black in School of Rock and voicing roles in Disney's Wreck-It Ralph and the long running animated series Bob's Burgers. Her latest project is a podcast titled... The Sarah Silverman Podcast.

Although Silverman achieved celebrity status early in her career, she's known to keep her living simple. She said her business manager once told her she spends the least money on clothes of "any of his clients, male or female."

She said when aspiring comics ask for advice, she tells them, "Keep your overhead low." Not just for financial reasons: "You can't be a comedian and be funny and live a totally detached life where you don't do errands and stuff."

Silverman also spoke about her postponed Broadway musical The Bedwetter, with music and lyrics penned by the late Adam Schlessinger. And she explained her love of the Law & Order franchise, the subject of her first Ask Me Another challenge.

Interview Highlights

On not overthinking her podcast title:

Whatever clever name you give it, people are just gonna say, "Oh, did you hear the Sarah Silverman podcast? Do you listen to Marc Maron? Do you watch Samantha Bee?" No one's saying, "Did you see Last Week Tonight?" So I just skip the middleman. I like to think of myself as creative, but a realist.

On learning to play video games at the beginning of the pandemic:

Of course, I knew Nintendo 64 from years ago. But this was a whole new thing, I had to get a whole new muscle memory for various, myriad buttons and things. And I really just got into one game, Call of Duty: WWII. But, yeah, my plan, and I think it was a good one, now I'm busy and life is taking hold, but for those first three months, my plan was: I slept as late as I could, I played video games, and I went to bed as early as possible.

On postponing her musical The Bedwetter, based on her memoir of the same name:

My dad keeps saying, "How much longer do I have to stay alive?" You know, he's been waiting, it's been an eight-year process. It takes a long time to do a musical. He finally had his tickets and his flight. You know, so it's just, "Dad, you gotta hold on a little longer." I mean, he's fine, he's not sick. He's 83, he goes on this app that calculates how much longer you're gonna live. He's like, "I only have six more years!"

Heard on Sarah Silverman, Sarah Paulson, Rickey Thompson & Denzel Dion: Influencers

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit


It's time to meet our first famous Sarah on today's show. She's a comic whose voice can be heard in "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Bob's Burgers." She starred in "The Sarah Silverman Program" on Comedy Central and hosts the new "Sarah Silverman Podcast." It's Sarah Silverman. Hello.


EISENBERG: I know that you are a gamer. What have you been playing?

SILVERMAN: Well, I'm really not a gamer. I just - when quarantine started, I was in New York City, and I just had this instinct to go to GameStop and buy a console and say this would be the time...


SILVERMAN: ...To learn video games. Of course, I knew, like, Nintendo 64 from years ago, but this was a whole new thing. I had to, you know, get a whole new muscle memory for various - myriad buttons and things. And I really just got into one game, Call of Duty: World War II. But...


SILVERMAN: Yeah, I just - you know, my plan, and I think it was a good one - you know, now I'm busy, and life is taking hold. But for those first three months, my plan was - I slept as late as I could, I played video games, and I went to bed as early as possible.

EISENBERG: And what kind of hours are we talking?

SILVERMAN: A lot of people have a 40-hour work week. I had a 40-hour waking week.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: Yeah. Just keep the days moving. Keep them moving right through.

SILVERMAN: In my defense, I have a very, very busy dream life, and I have to be there a lot. Yeah.

EISENBERG: So what are you saying? No more Call of Duty - you're done with it?

SILVERMAN: I haven't played it for a while, but I do enjoy it. I like - gee, I don't know a nice way to say this, and it sounds so terrible, but it is just pretend - killing Nazis.


COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: I think it's fair.


SILVERMAN: I especially loved stabbing.



EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah.

COULTON: And are you playing online with other people, or are you just playing through the story? Are you squadding up with people and doing that sort of thing?

SILVERMAN: I actually - my now-boyfriend was the person that I played online with.

EISENBERG: Look at that.

SILVERMAN: Yeah, we had a little - we knew each other, but we had a Call of Duty online gaming romance that turned, like, actually real.

COULTON: (Laughter) That's very romantic.

SILVERMAN: It really was. It was very - you know - well, you know, war brings people together.

COULTON: That's what they say (laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah. That's right.

SILVERMAN: Wait; is that what they say? That can't possibly be what they say, can it?

COULTON: John Lennon - John Lennon said that, right?

SILVERMAN: Yeah, yeah.


SILVERMAN: I think that's what his bed-in was about. Yeah.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: (Laughter) Yeah, that's right.

SILVERMAN: I've been having a very underpublicized bed-in myself.


EISENBERG: You said you live in an apartment building. You know, I find this just so fascinating because I think most people, when they picture a celebrity, they picture someone living in the lap of luxury. And I think it was a 2017 Guardian interview that you revealed that your business manager had said - once told you that you spent the least amount of money on clothes of all of...

SILVERMAN: Of any of his clients, male or female.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).



EISENBERG: And that you lived in a small apartment and - that had a shared, like, laundry facility. So...

SILVERMAN: Yeah, yeah. I like to live far below my means...


SILVERMAN: ...Not far below. I'm living less and less below my means, yes.


SILVERMAN: But I always tell - that's always the advice I give people when they're like what - you know, tell me - give me advice about - I go, like, keep your overhead low, you know?


SILVERMAN: And I just - like, I don't want more than one key, you know?


SILVERMAN: Also, I just think - I don't know. You can't be a comedian and be funny and, like, live a totally detached life where you don't, like, do errands and stuff.

EISENBERG: Right. Once all of the struggle is gone and you're completely out of touch with - because you're supposed to be talking to every person more or less.

SILVERMAN: But, I mean, listen; I would love to, like, do a Neutrogena commercial. I just seem to be a little divisive for mainstream commercials.


SILVERMAN: But I would love - if you're out there, come on. My skin is - my face is my fortune.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah. But you have a new podcast...

SILVERMAN: Oh, yeah (laughter).

EISENBERG: ..."The Sarah Silverman Podcast." In the tradition of "The Sarah Silverman Program," titled "The Sarah Silverman Podcast."

SILVERMAN: I even think of it like that, except that I just am of the belief that whatever clever name you give it, people are just going to say, oh, did you hear the Sarah Silverman podcast?

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

SILVERMAN: Do you listen to Marc Maron? You know, do you watch Samantha Bee? No one's saying, did you see "Last Week Tonight" on Sunday?


SILVERMAN: So I just skip the middleman.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Skip to the chase.

SILVERMAN: I like to think of myself as creative but a realist, you know?

EISENBERG: Extremely...

SILVERMAN: A dreamer but a realist.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) No - you also wrote a great memoir, "The Bedwetter," which is now a musical or was slated to start performances this year. Obviously, it is on hold.

SILVERMAN: Yeah. They're sticking with it, you know, and now it's moved to, like, June. But I can't imagine it won't be pushed again.

COULTON: (Laughter).

SILVERMAN: It'll happen when it happens. I just - my dad just keeps saying, like, how much longer do I have to stay alive? You know, he's been waiting - it's been, like, an eight-year process. You know, it takes a long time to do a musical.


SILVERMAN: And he finally had his tickets and his flight, you know, so it's just...

COULTON: Oh, no (laughter).

SILVERMAN: Dad, you got a hold on a little longer. I mean, he's fine. He's not sick. He's, you know, 83, so he's just like - he goes on this app that calculates how much longer you're going to live.

COULTON: Oh, geez.

EISENBERG: Like an actuary? A fun actuary...

COULTON: Come on, dad.

SILVERMAN: Yeah. He's like, I'm going to live six more years.


EISENBERG: You know, I find it also unique that your dad basically tried to convince you to quit college. I think you were already doing stand-up and already good at it. And he was like, no, quit college so you can pursue this, which I don't know of any other comics' parents who have said that to them.

SILVERMAN: Yeah, very rare. I was - I went to NYU, and I had a very small scholarship. And my dad paid everything else. And I went one year, and then I said, I want to take a year off to just do stand-up. And he said, OK. And then I was all ready to start my second year, although I left the drama program. I wanted to do arts and sciences because I just wanted to learn stuff, you know?


SILVERMAN: I felt like I could take acting classes outside of college. But to pay for college to take acting lessons seemed like...


SILVERMAN: I don't know. I wanted to learn - get information, you know? But...

EISENBERG: You're like, what else? What else do people know around here?

SILVERMAN: Yeah. I was working from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. passing out flyers and then going to school. And I - it was a lot - and then doing stand-up, you know? So he - yeah, he called me. And he said, you know, listen; if you drop out of college, I'll pay your rent and utilities for the next three years as if it's your sophomore, junior, senior year. And you can keep doing stand-up.

COULTON: Wow. That is a great offer.

SILVERMAN: I go, yeah, OK. And I'll tell you what I did. I stole classes because they're just such big classes at NYU, lecture classes.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

SILVERMAN: I just went to them...

COULTON: (Laughter).

SILVERMAN: ...You know? I mean, I didn't need a diploma. I didn't need to get papers graded. So it was - you know, I suggest anyone to do that if they don't have, you know, money for...

EISENBERG: You would just show your student ID for that one year and go through?

SILVERMAN: Yeah. Or I'd use - like, all my friends still were there. And they were psyched to not go to classes. So it was...


EISENBERG: You know, I was reading, too, that you are a - you're not just a huge fan of "Law & Order," you watch it before you go to bed as like a - is that like a...

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: ...Your palate cleanser to, like, bring you off to sleep nicely?

SILVERMAN: I think it's - my guess is because it's wherever - you know, when you're a comic, you're on the road all the time, usually. And...


SILVERMAN: ....There's something about - like, I would bring this plaid blanket from Target that I love...

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

SILVERMAN: ...Everywhere. I'd squeeze it into a ball into my luggage. And then wherever I was, I'd put it on the bedspread, and it felt like I was at one place. And then another thing like that is "Law & Order." Wherever you are in the country, you can find a "Law & Order" marathon. So it just - it's - I think it was like - it became my transitional object, you know, like, my blanket or something.

COULTON: (Laughter).


SILVERMAN: You know, I can't fall asleep unless it's to the, like, dulcet tones of soft-core murder, you know?


EISENBERG: Did you have a version that you liked the best?

SILVERMAN: I watch it all. I watch them all. I watched "Law & Order: LA" as well. It's just one season, very good - Corey Stoll, Terrence Howard.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah. OK. All right, you know your stuff. So we wrote a "Law & Order" quiz for you.

SILVERMAN: I hope I do well.

EISENBERG: So - and I know you just played a "Law & Order" quiz on your own podcast. And I'm just going to say that this is different.

SILVERMAN: Good, because my producer that picked those questions never - doesn't know "Law & Order" and just went on to, like, "Law & Order" trivia, like, on IMDb.

COULTON: Oh, no.


SILVERMAN: That's like impossible to answer. It's like...


SILVERMAN: ...Fun facts, you know?


SILVERMAN: All right.

EISENBERG: Yeah, this is far less obscure and multiple choice - and multiple choice.

SILVERMAN: Oh, my gosh. OK. I better do well. Here we go.

EISENBERG: All right, what "Law & Order" franchise actor holds the distinction of playing the same character in the most consecutive seasons of any American TV show? Is it...

SILVERMAN: I know who it is. It's Olivia Benson - Mariska Hargitay.

EISENBERG: Yes. You are correct.

SILVERMAN: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: That is correct. She's appeared in 20 consecutive seasons of "Law & Order."


EISENBERG: It's like all the fashion she wore in the beginning came back.


SILVERMAN: It's - that's so true because I've been watching old ones, and I'm like, ooh, I love that.


SILVERMAN: And, like, the makeup style and everything even is, like, cool.

EISENBERG: Yeah. It's, like, the pantsuits and the hair. Yeah, you're like...

SILVERMAN: You're like, oh, I miss it when she has a bold lip.


COULTON: That's right. All right, here's another one. Which character from "Law & Order: SVU" has appeared on at least 10 different scripted TV series, including "Homicide: Life On The Street," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"...

SILVERMAN: Munch, baby. Richard Belzer.

COULTON: ...And "Arrested Development." You don't even need the multiple choice. You are correct - Detective Munch, Richard Belzer.

SILVERMAN: I love him. He was like the liberal conspiracy theorist of the group.


COULTON: That's right (laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah. With the shaded glasses so you're like, oh, I get it. I know why he feels that way. I get it.

COULTON: (Laughter) All right, this is the last question. Which of these is not a real "Law & Order" spinoff - A, "Law & Order: LA," B, "Law & Order: UK," or C - "Law & Order: DC" (ph)?

SILVERMAN: D.C. not - no D.C.

COULTON: You are correct - no D.C.

SILVERMAN: Oh, love this trivia game - wish I could do it all day.


COULTON: You're killing it.

EISENBERG: Yeah, LA. You knew that. "UK"...

SILVERMAN: Yeah. I started watching "UK" when it came out because I couldn't - I was so excited. And I - I can't understand what they're saying at all.


SILVERMAN: So - but I went back to it recently because I've watched a ton of British television. And it's not that I've gotten better at it, but now I have the closed captioning on at all times.

EISENBERG: Right. Right.

SILVERMAN: And I can - I can watch it.

EISENBERG: All right, I just have to say this - this is the joke - it's the - "Law & Order: UK" was created, of course, by spotted Dick Wolf.


COULTON: That's pretty good. That's pretty good.


EISENBERG: We will have more with Sarah Silverman after the break. Plus, we'll play a music parody game with actor Sarah Paulson. And if you thought "American Horror Story" was scary, good news, this won't be scary at all. I promise. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.