Sarah Silverman, the woman who once wrote jokes about rape and AIDS, has taken to making television about love and extending radical empathy to bullies and bigots.
But the famously offensive comedian, (who points out that, for what it’s worth, her most recent comedy special jokes about the etiquette of having sex with God,) still has an edge. She doesn’t apologize, she says, just because people are offended.
In an interview with Jim Jefferies, Silverman reflected on the controversy surrounding Samantha Bee’s use of the word “c**t” to describe Ivanka Trump. “Should comedians ever have to apologize for a joke?” asked Jefferies.
“I believe you should only apologize if you feel remorse,” Silverman responded.
If this seems like a predictable opinion from a person who wrote a song called “Give The Jew Girl Toys,” it’s actually not — demanding apologies is a public pastime in the Internet age. Tweeting, blogging, and boycotting a person — public figure or civilian — until they release an apology for their offending behavior is as common on the web as a sentimental listicle about “The Office” (i.e. extremely common.)
In his book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson writes about a version of this phenomenon, in which people — sometimes deservedly, sometimes less so — are Internet shamed, sometimes causing reform, and sometimes leading them to suicide. Public shaming and outrage have an important role, but Ronson notes that especially online, they lead to “a world where the smartest way to survive is to be bland.”
It is that world — the bland, the disingenuous, the desperate to be loved — that Silverman seeks to avoid. It’s certainly not comedy. It’s also not a great sign of integrity.
In her interview with Jefferies, Silverman also looked back on her greatest apology controversy to date. In 2001, Silverman was criticized by activist Guy Aoki over her use of the slur “c***k” in a comedy special. The network that produced the special apologized, but Silverman did not. And she’s still not sorry.
“None of my jokes were from a racist place,” she said of the Aoki fallout. “We’re gonna look back at our s**t and cringe if we’re doing it right,” she told Jefferies. “Time is always changing and progressing.”
There’s still no way, says Silverman, to determine what people will find offensive, and caring about that wont create better, or more impactful comedy. So what’s a girl to do?
“I go with what I think is funny,” Silverman said.
Jenny Singer is the deputy lifestyle editor for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny