Sarah Silverman wants to touch you… via her new variety show, that is. Airing every Thursday on Hulu, I Love You, America will find the hot-button comedian reaching out across the country to get a better feel for the social and cultural issues affecting everyday Americans. The weekly series will feature field pieces and insightful interviews with people who might not always share Silverman’s worldview. “I like people,” she says. “I’m a people person. I find that people’s porcupine needles go down with that first hug hello, as long as it’s sincere. It’s very easy to get divided when you don’t see people’s faces and you don’t feel the warmth of their skin.” Can Silverman become this nation’s great uniter? We spoke to her to find out.
What kind of show will this be? How will it be different from the other late-night options?
We were actually just laughing at the dichotomy of the show, because it’s so aggressively silly and dumb but then also very heady. I think it’ll be smart but served in a big, bready sandwich of silly. The show will start with a monologue, but it won’t be jokes as much as a stream of consciousness about whatever is on my mind. There’ll be some bits, some pieces in the studio. We’re going to have an earnest focus group who’ll be an extension of the audience that splurges out onto the stage. I’ll be able to refer to them the way a host does with a house band. And there’ll be an interview toward the end, but it’s not really celebrity interviews. It will be people who have been changed.
What kinds of people?
All sorts. We don’t have them all booked yet, but I have people in mind. I’m friendly with Megan Phelps-Roper. She was born into the Westboro Baptist Church, loved it, was fully a part of it — but she eventually left it and has done a TED Talk on [her experience]. So anyone who has been changed in any direction by new information or through some kind of inciting incident. That’s interesting to me.
You’ll also be traveling the country for field pieces. What places are you visiting?
I just went to Mineola, Tex. Eighty-seven percent of the town voted for Trump. It’s a tiny town, just a handful of 2,000 people. I had dinner with a family in Louisiana who voted Trump and had never met a Jew.
How’d that go?
It was delicious, but it really made me sick after. [Laughs] I’ve never had so much Velveeta cheese in my belly! But it was interesting. I fell in love with this 7-year-old named Blaize who just broke my heart. He and his grandfather, who is five years older than me, talked about how Blaize got one of his guns taken away because he shot it too close to a little girl. This 7-year-old has a shotgun, a BB gun, and a rifle. And I’m not judging it. It’s a different culture.
Will you also be covering current events?
We shoot Tuesday night and it’ll be posted on Thursday, so it has the ability to be fairly current, and we might take advantage of that. There are going to be things where we go, “Oh, this happened yesterday, it’s crazy not to talk about it.” But I’d say that the show is less about the politics of each day and more of this moment in time. It’s political just by virtue of being made in this moment in history. There isn’t anything that’s not political that’s being made right now, whether they know it or not. It’s kind of like when the guy who is forced to have a therapy session [says] at the end, “Shouldn’t I have been talking about my relationship with my father?” And the therapist says, “Oh, you were.”
What surprised you most in the process of making the show?
I think the thing that struck me so far is how surprised I am at how uninterested people are in the events of our country or of the world outside of their town or their household. Just total disinterest. I’m not making a generalization, I’m saying these are the people I talked to and totally got along with and big hugs and pictures and blah, blah, blah, but when all that settled down and the anxiety of me wanting people to feel at home and comfortable and loved [subsided], I was just able to go home and think about what I saw. It was just a lot of f—ing who gives a f—. You know? Just total disinterest in other people’s experience in this country. I mean, yeah, that’s probably not the best… this probably won’t be good in this interview for me, so I probably shouldn’t have said it, but it’s just what I found this past week. I hope next week will be way more inspiring.
Are people skeptical when you approach them?
You know what? So far it’s been totally lovely. We would disagree on things but also… I think I’m disarming when people meet me. You know, the truth is I live in an apartment where I share my washer/dryer with the floor. You know? I don’t have a very celebrity-ish life, and I give big hugs hello, and I’m a pretty big Labrador retriever type of person. I like people and I’m a people person. So I feel I always find that with people’s porcupine needles go down with that first hug hello as long as it’s sincere and real. It’s very easy to get divided when you don’t see people’s faces and you don’t feel the warmth of their skin.
Was Donald Trump’s election what put this show into motion?
Yeah. I mean, I can go back before Trump and kind of understand the country, the direction the country had been going, but yeah, for sure. The night Trump was elected, for instance, I remember thinking to myself I need to get a gun. And I need bottled water and canned food. Then I thought, oh, this is how a whole bunch of people were feeling when Obama was elected, and although I can’t relate to that on any level I can now understand that feeling of not feeling safe or feeling like you need to protect yourself from the government. So although I can’t at all relate to Obama’s election instigating that, I now have to understand what that feeling is. I was suddenly able to.
And also, his election was enlightening to me in a lot of ways that night because leading up to that election I think a lot of us were like, “What? The Republican Party has got a real identity crisis going on, you know? They’re going to have to figure out who they are.” And at the end of election night I realized we were looking in a mirror, Democrats, while we’re saying all these things. We had our smug smiles wiped right off our faces and until you’re able to look at yourself in a micro way or a macro way and see how you need to change you can’t expect anyone else to change.
How did your experiences on the road doing stand-up inform your view of the country?
As much as comedians are enmeshed in the liberal-bubble universe, we’re also the one form of show business that travels the country – all reaches of it — and whose job it is to connect with people no matter how different-minded. We are both Marvel and DC. It’s inherent in our nature.
Is that the ultimate goal, to open or even change people’s minds?
The No. 1 goal is to be funny. Truly. Nothing brings people together more than laughing. And listen, I have very strong political views and I’m not abandoning them. I’m still me, but I’m trying to be as open as possible because unless our porcupine needles are down, change can’t happen. The goal is really to find a way to be funny that isn’t “We’re right and you’re wrong and we’re smart and you’re dumb,” because I just think there’s enough of that. I like to think of us as the unlikely animal friendships of social politics. When things get too heavy, I always Google “unlikely animal friendships,” and I can do a deep dive for several hours of a turtle and a dog that are best friends and my heart feels better. I feel like that’s the show.
Sarah Silverman’s I Love You, America premieres Thursday, October 12 on Hulu