Four Years After Being Fired from 'SNL,' Sarah Silverman's Pursuing a Film Career

By Steve Vineberg

Consider the career of Sarah Silverman, typical '90s "alternative" comedian -- which in her case means a nice Jewish girl with a sweet delivery and a dirty mouth. A middle-class New Hampshire kid from a family with four daughters, Silverman is, yes, the class clown. She starts doing open-mike nights early. By age 17 she's playing the old Stitches next to the Paradise on Comm Ave. When she gets to NYU, she works every weekend for a year leafleting for New York's Boston Comedy Club on Macdougal Street, where many adventures ensue. On the corner with Sarah every weekend is a guy in a chicken suit working for the Pluck You all-night chicken stand. One night a bunch of drunken high-school guys start to hassle the chicken. The insults turn into a shoving match and suddenly, instinctively, Sarah's between the chicken and the thugs, telling the thugs to back off. "Believe me, in no way did I think I was being heroic or gallant. I just figured I'd be adorable and they'd stop." Instead, she gets cold-cocked -- boom, flat out cold on the sidewalk.

Sarah gets some spots at the Boston Comedy Club and other open-mike nights around Manhattan. Every chance she gets she's hanging out in comedy clubs. One night she sees Chris Rock, and the thing she comes away with, besides how unbelievably funny and great he is, is how quiet he talks when he comes on stage, just talking really quiet over a noisy late-night comedy club crowd, like, "Hey, I'm doing some shit over here if you wanna check it out."

The open-mike nights lead to real gigs. She's out of NYU, she's on the road, she's in LA. She gets scouted by Saturday Night Live and, at 22, is a writer and performer on the show. But, as in all SNL stories, she eventually gets fired. Back to the road -- Conan, Letterman, a couple of episodes as Kramer's girlfriend on Seinfeld and a few episodes on The Larry Sanders Show, where she plays a "girl" writer whose jokes keep getting cut because the schmuck head writer thinks girls aren't funny.

Something to know about Sarah's "alternative" comedy: you could say she's dirty, but she usually doesn't swear. It's just that her scenarios are slightly . . . off. "So there I was licking jelly off my boyfriend . . . and I thought: Oh my God, I'm turning into my mother!" A childhood memory: "I saw my father naked once . . . But it was okay . . . Because I was soooo young . . . and sooo drunk."

Her movie Who's the Caboose? played last week at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, as part of the Jewish Film Festival; the Coolidge is giving it a regular opening this Friday. In it, she plays Susan, a young comedian much like herself who goes out to LA to try out during pilot season. Much as in Sarah's real life, Susan's boyfriend Max follows her out there and begins racking up pilot credits while Susan struggles to get one gig -- then loses it. Much like Sarah's then-boyfriend, Sam Seder, the director and co-star of Who's the Caboose?, followed her out to LA and started getting pilots. Before the Jewish Film Festival screening, in front of a packed house, Sarah tries some very "alternative" jokes that get some nervous and some wholehearted laughs -- but, surprisingly, not much for her best: "I heard a rumor that Marilyn Manson's Jewish . . . Which is cool . . . That must mean that somewhere there's 20 or 30 people who can say, 'Oh yeah, Marilyn Manson, I went to Hebrew School with that guy.' "

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