Q&A: Sarah Silverman on the Joys and Terrors of Politically Charged Advertising | Adweek
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Q&A: Sarah Silverman on the Joys and Terrors of Politically Charged Advertising 'This couldn't be worse for my career'

Photo: Michael Tran/Getty Images

Sarah Silverman is no stranger to controversy stemming from her politically charged PSAs. In her latest polarizing video, released last week, she bonds with Jesus Christ while they watch an NCIS marathon and discuss the state of women's reproductive rights in America.

The five-minute video, predictably lauded by the left and reviled by the right, has surpassed 800,000 YouTube views in its bid to promote "V to Shining V," a national pride day for women scheduled for Sept. 27.

Past progressive messages from the comic include "The Great Schlep," a Barack Obama-boosting clip that went mega-viral in 2008, and a 2012 video in which she offered to fool around with ultra-conservative tycoon Sheldon Alderson if he agreed to donate $100 million to Obama instead of Romney.

In a Q&A with AdFreak, Silverman vehemently denies the new spot is a rant against Christianity, and laments that there are haters who, in response to such videos, "call me 'Jew' and wish me murder and rape and it scares the shit out of me."

AdFreak: What was the genesis of the "Jesus" PSA?
Sarah Silverman: I noticed that women's rights were being very quietly chipped away, a lot like the voter suppression stuff. I think the Right knows that making abortion illegal in this country would be a bear of a task, so they're kind of just knocking out the headlights of our car, state by state, and then saying, "Oops, looks like you can't drive, you got a broken headlight."

Were you worried about the possible backlash, or perhaps looking forward to it, because that would build buzz?
I try not to read the angry tweets and threats. It's hard because there's so much of it. But if I let myself read it, I start to tremble and get really scared and I'm afraid it will make me stop doing this kind of stuff.

Are you pleased with the response it's gotten so far? Has anything about the response surprised you?
Yes, I am pleased. I'm perplexed when I see the Breitbart and Tea Party headlines like, "Jew Sarah Silverman Makes Video Blaspheming Jesus, Attacking Christians."

I'll never be surprised, but it's just frustrating because that is most certainly not what this video is. To me, it's information that people need to know, with comedy. I can respect people who believe that abortion is murder. If you believe that, then you are not going to want people to have abortions. It's the politicians and policy makers who are so comfortable pitching laws that take away women's access to affordable healthcare, contraception and, should she choose, abortion, that gross me out. I think it's far more Jesus-y to do what you believe is right than to do what lines your pockets with money and promised votes.

It's just odd to me that a people who are so against big government are so willing to mandate what a woman can and can't do with her own body. They're so protective of easy access to guns, and are making it so hard for a woman to get contraception.

The actor playing Jesus was awesome…
It's the awesome Michael Weatherly! He plays DiNozzo on NCIS—get the joke?

So, using Jesus makes a point about other groups that are using religion to make their points, right? Any groups in particular you had in mind?
Look, I just love the idea of Jesus. Genuinely. This awesome hippy that knew that if you don't deal with your shit, your shit will deal with you. Gosh, I wish the people who are shitty to others in his name would be brave enough to look inward just a little. This is not a rant against Christianity! It's a rant against those who can't get their heads around the fact that there are people with different beliefs than them and that has to be OK. I have friends and family with religion that I love and respect and adore and look up to. I don't have religion personally, but that's just my deal.

Was there dialogue you left out, a scene deemed too controversial?
You can't see it well, but in the end Jesus is wearing a T-shirt with one of those Jesus fish on it, but inside it says "Feminist." And there was a crude sex joke in there, but I didn't want it to be the thing people talked about. I didn't want to take away from the stuff I thought was more important.

What have you learned from doing social issues videos, and how do you gauge if they've been successful?
I just put it out there and move on … I want people to sign up at ladypartsjustice.org and march with me and hopefully hundreds of thousands of women and men in their home-state capitals on Sept. 27.

Did any of your political videos get a positive response that exceeded your expectations?
"The Great Schlep" was a big beautiful surprise.

Are you shocked by the amount of hate tossed your way because of these ads? Are haters on YouTube like hecklers at a comedy club?
No, because you see hecklers. You can look right at them, right in the eye, and no matter how shitty they are, they are right in front of me and the whole audience, and they have to take responsibility for any shitty stupid thing they say. On the Internet their identity is often shrouded. Their avatars always seem to be some scary cyber monster or some masked and armed animated killer and they call me "Jew" and wish me murder and rape and it scares the shit out of me. That's why I try not to look. I don't wanna be scared out of doing junk like this. Especially not by the faceless boogymen that spew threats with no accountability. Pussies, I think.

Look, this couldn't be worse for my career—trust me, I get no money for this, no paid work comes from alienating potential movie and TV consumers. I do it because I'm like the scorpion from The Scorpion and the Frog. I may drown in the process, but I can't help it. It's my nature.

What recent issue-oriented ads do you respect? Any campaigns come to mind that make you say, "I wish I'd done that"?
Not really. There are issue-oriented commercials? The one for Cheerios when the kid says, "When we have Cheerios it's kind of like we're having breakfast with Nana" makes me cry like a baby every time.

What's your favorite ad of all time, or your favorite ad character?
There are so many great ads out there—some of the funniest stuff. I love the Skittles commercial where this girl thinks this man is so lucky because everything he touches turn to Skittles, and then he turns and is like, "I can't hold my own grandson!" Or something super serious. I can't remember exactly, but I loved it. And there was an ad for Imodium or something where this guy is in a hot tub with all these hot chicks and his friend walks by and is like, "Hey Jeff, how's your diarrhea?" I also like the ad with the awesome guy in a Speedo with a drink, and the only audio is, I think, a David Byrne song. I'm not explaining it well, but it's pretty perfect.

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