Here's the second installment of the Lenny Questionnaire: our adaptation of your and Proust's favorite 19th-century personality quiz. Today, we're talking to Sarah Silverman, a woman who makes me feel cozier than a small dog wrapped in a polar fleece.
I first met Sarah in 2010, when I was tasked with interviewing her for Paper magazine. Girls had not aired yet, so I had no veil of mild-but-Zeitgeist-y celebrity to protect me. I wasn't sure how someone as brilliant and established as Sarah would tolerate a young "journalist" with only a blog and some clogs to her name. My greatest hope was to avoid a question so offensive it would force her to walk out of the Los Feliz diner we were sitting in. My modest hopes were surpassed: what I got was full, warmhearted generosity, thoughtful answers to questions she'd clearly been asked a million times, and an invitation to come lie on her carpet with her and her beloved dog Duck, may he rest in peace. Since that point, she has been a safe space for me in what often feels like a sea of insincerity and chicken-cutlet boobs. Whenever I see Sarah, I make a beeline for her, because being in her presence is a special sanctuary.
Since she is my friend, and I was a fan before that, it is all the more incredible to see what she does in her new film, I Smile Back. In this sparse and impressionistic drama, Sarah depicts Lanie, a woman whose depression and rage threaten to consume her and her family. Often when a noted comedian turns to drama, there is a sense they are straining for seriousness, trying their darndest to show us that they too can make us cry. But when Sarah steps into Lanie's clothes, what's remarkable is how lightly she wears them, how committed she is to showing the full range of her humanity, even in the moments when she's laughing or taking a bite of dinner or driving anxiously. What is remarkable is that Sarah knows the line between laughter and tears is razor thin. It's a little like being alive.
Lenny: What's your first memory of your mother?
Sarah Silverman: It was cold, and she was standing at a distance on an empty school playground in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was walking toward her, and she was waving. I must have been 2 or 3. It feels like a dream, but I think it was real.
L: Which of your body parts do you feel the most affection for?
L: What is a moment of overcoming the patriarchy that you have witnessed or taken part in this week?
SS: Lizz Winstead, who started Lady Parts Justice (and the Lady Parts Justice League), made an app called Hinder that looks like Tinder but presents/exposes politicians who are anti-choice. It's satirical and informative and brilliant. She is an unsung hero of feminism who works tirelessly, and I love her.
L: What music was playing during your first kiss?
SS: Ooh. Seventh-grade dance, Chris Bardoff, and the song was … shit — I'm terrible with remembering — it was either Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" or Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball."
L: What snack can return you to sanity?
SS: Snickers. Straight up.
L: What is your power outfit? (What you need to wear when you want to feel "fucking rad/like a business bitch.")
SS: I enjoy shorts and tights with leather boots and a hoodie. I like being covered head to toe whilst still having my thighs out. I lead with my thighs.
I enjoy shorts and tights with leather boots and a hoodie. I like being covered head to toe whilst still having my thighs out. I lead with my thighs.
L: What book have you reread the most?
SS: Ways of Seeing, by John Berger. It's a book about art, but it's about everything. It's about seeing through the prism of our own experience and everything that that means. Or at least that's what it's about to me — ohmygodijustblewmymind.
L: What was the worst choice you made before turning 21?
SS: Whip-its/nitrous. I felt a chunk of my brain burn out that night.
L: What was the worst choice you made after turning 21?
SS: Defending a joke. I had to learn that I can't control how what I put out there is perceived. What you see through the prism of your own experience is your truth. That's what art is. (Oh shit, I learned that in Ways of Seeing, y'all!)
L: What's the most embarrassing item in your search history?
SS: Ooh, porn searches for sure. I cannot clear my history enough.
L: When was the last time you cried?
SS: About eight minutes before I did Colbert in October. No concrete reason, just lost it for all the things I hadn't cried about in the past month or so I suppose. I tend to do it at one big totally unpredictable fell swoop.
L: What's your favorite curse word?
L: Who was your last text from, and what did it say?
SS: It's [my partner] Michael, and it's this: 🐴🐴💕🎩🎩🎩🎩, which is that I (the horse) love him (fancy pants).
L: What superstition do you believe in?
SS: If I see it's 11:11, I remember all the people in my life that have passed and make sure I really remember them with specifics so I never forget. Like with my step-dad, John O'Hara, I say, "I love you, John," and I remember a moment of many warm side-hugs, then him pulling apart and looking at me with a sly smile and saying, "I don't care what they say, I like you."
Sarah Silverman believes in science and love.