Sarah Silverman is once again using her platform to call out antisemitism—in the world and, perhaps, even in her own act.
In her new HBO special, Sarah Silverman: Someone You Love, the comedian returns to HBO for the first time since 2013. Filmed at the Wilbur Theater in Boston, the special finds Silverman in peak form as she sends up everyone from the Boy Scouts of America to the Catholic Church, to anti-abortion advocates, to Jewish mothers, to anyone who, for whatever reason, hates Jewish people “so much.”
“I mean, I get a little,” Silverman mumbles from one side of her mouth. “But so much?”
Silverman, who can convey paragraphs of subtext simply through her tone of voice, often treads a fine line between irreverence and sincerity. After opening Someone You Love with a bit about a Jewish mother gushing that her child was “the best one” in a gangbang, Silverman later playfully ruminates on how some of her humor might be “selling out my culture for laughs.”
While some of the material in Someone You Love can occasionally feel stale (like an extended bit about how ironic it is that men’s fragile balls have come to symbolize toughness) it’s in these moments that Silverman reminds us why she is, as she herself jokingly asserts, “one of the greats.”
At one point during her special, Silverman asks the audience to name the book that Adolf Hitler once wrote. “Some of the non-Jews, I feel like, answered that as well,” she said, after the crowd answered Mein Kampf. The comedian then asked the audience to translate the title: My Struggle.
“My struggle.” Silverman says it a few times, batting the words around vocally and making them more ridiculous with each repetition. “My struggle. Is there a more Jewish-sounding book than actual Hitler’s book?” Then comes the sincerity, as Silverman asks herself why so many of her discussions on The Sarah Silverman Podcast can be “so Jew-y.”
Silverman has discussed Jewish identity on her podcast numerous times, including during a 2021 episode in which she talked about growing up as one of the few Jewish kids at her school in New Hampshire. Some of her classmates, she recalled, still used the word “Jew” as a verb to indicate haggling someone down to a lower price. She looked back on performing stand-up at her high school and saying, “Jew isn’t a verb. It’s me—your friend.” From then on, she recalled, “at least around me, they stopped saying it.”
Silverman also spoke out last fall, when Kanye West posted an antisemitic rant on Twitter, and once again that winter after her friend Dave Chappelle delivered a monologue about West’s debacle on Saturday Night Live that employed antisemitic tropes of its own. While comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart avoided condemning the comedian, Silverman went another way on her podcast.
After watching the SNL monologue, Silverman acknowledged that most people watching the monologue did not come away hating Jewish people—“because they were busy laughing at all the other stuff, and the brilliant stuff.” While some of Chappelle’s jokes were “hilarious,” Silverman said, “that’s what made the antisemitism in it so scary. It bolstered it.” She likened the phenomenon to the game two truths and a lie—in which the antisemitic narrative embedded within the jokes serves as the lie.
During her special, Silverman theorizes that perhaps she’s speaking out so much on her podcast “because there’s been such a rise in antisemitism.” She explains, “It’s like if you go, ‘My mom’s a bitch,’ and your friend goes, ‘Yeah, your mom’s a fucking bitch.’ And you’re like, ‘What did you say about my mom?’”
At the same time, she reveals that her boyfriend has pointed out that her own stand-up includes punchlines that boil down to “Jews are gross; Jews have diarrhea.”
“I’m selling out my culture for laughs,” Silverman says. “I mean, if you think about it, what could be more authentically Jewish? I’m sorry; I can’t help it. It just makes me so much money.”
In a perfect closing button to the bit, the comedian adds that it’s not her audience’s problem to deal with—“this is my ‘kampf’ to deal with on ‘mein’ time.”
For more, listen to Sarah Silverman on The Last Laugh podcast.