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Maureen Dowd: 'Are Men Necessary?'

In today's sexual politics, are women equal — and are men even needed? That's the question New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asks in her new book, 'Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide'.


Other segments from the episode on November 9, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 9, 2005: Interview with Maureen Dowd; Interview with Sarah Silverman.


DATE November 9, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Maureen Dowd, columnist for The New York Times,
discusses her new book "Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Maureen Dowd writes an op-ed column about Washington for The New York
Times. It's widely read, usually satirical and often controversial. Dowd
became a columnist for The New York Times in 1995 after reporting on the White
House during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. She won a Pulitzer
Prize for her columns on the Clinton impeachment. With the same skepticism
and humor with which she examines Washington, she looks at relationships
between the sexes in her new book "Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide."
It considers how the women's movement and the sexual revolution didn't turn
out as she expected. For instance, the number of women who want to be on the
cover of Maxim leads Dowd to wonder if women have gone from fighting
objectification to seeking it. She speculates that feminism has been defeated
by narcissism.

Maureen Dowd, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

You write, `I assume that one of the positive results of the feminist movement
would be a more flexible and capacious notion of female beauty, a release from
the tyranny of the girdled, primped ideal of the '50s. I was wrong. Now the
ideal of feminine beauty is more rigid and unnatural than ever.' Are you
referring there to plastic surgery and stiletto shoes?

Ms. MAUREEN DOWD (Columnist, The New York Times; Author, "Are Men Necessary?
When Sexes Collide"): Yeah. I mean, women used to demand equality. Now they
just demand Botox. If you want to see something really scary, just go into
the shoe department at Bergdorf's and watch the women get off the elevator.
You know, many of them have one face, one body. It's only--I don't mind
self-improvement. Anything a woman wants to do to improve herself is fine.
What I don't like is self-effacement and, you know, this--where we're headed
toward unnatural selection, where you don't--no longer look like your mother
or daughter, or you all just look like each other, sort of these--Cosmo
magazine, for instance, recently did a story called "Are We Heading Toward
Being A Nation of Plastic Dolls?" Now you know you're in trouble when Cosmo
thinks it's gone too far.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You know, some people have the attitude, `Well, now that we're
liberated, we can just celebrate beauty and go back to caring about, you know,
being attractive because it's no longer a sign of, you know, female
imprisonment or second-class citizenship.' Do you buy that?

Ms. DOWD: Oh, of course. I mean, at the beginning, that's what I didn't
like. I wanted, you know, to be able to wear nice clothes and look for cute
guys without the sisters in turtlenecks and Birkenstocks frowning at me. You
know, I always liked high heels. I've covered six presidential campaigns in
high heels, but what I object to is the conformity at either end. I mean, in
those days, the women all looked alike and thought alike and now they're all
looking alike and thinking alike. They're all trying to have the same face,
the big eyes, small nose, big mouth face, the same hourglass shapes. And, you
know, it's not like in the days of Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn where you
could have all different body shapes and they would be gorgeous. And I don't
know--just the conformity of it all gets to me.

GROSS: Well, who can we blame for this? You know, I mean, like, what's going

Ms. DOWD: That's a good question. I don't really blame anyone in the book.
I just comment on the weirdness of it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DOWD: I don't--you know, there are things I miss about the original
feminist movement which is the seriousness of it. I worry sometimes that
women, you know, are so obsessed with their next Botox treatment that they're
not paying attention to the fact that the Supreme Court is about to swing into
an era, you know, that could be very detrimental to women's rights.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is New York Times columnist
Maureen Dowd. Her new book is called "Are Men Necessary? When Sexes

Do you think that newspaper pages have been changed in any way by the presence
of women reporters and columnists and editors? Like your paper, The Times, do
you feel that the things that you can point to in the paper and say, `The tone
has changed, the style has changed, something has changed because there's more
women writing or editing'?

Ms. DOWD: Well, I think that in my case I tended to focus more on the
person, not necessarily the personal or, you know--but just the person of the
president. And up until that time I think that a lot of the boys on the bus
had focused on the, you know, horse race aspect of it, which didn't interest me
quite as much. I was always more interested in, you know, `Let's find out who
this person is that will have life and death decisions and whether what he's
saying seems to be really what he's going to do,' because politicians often
make campaign promises and then do the opposite. Bush Sr. said, you know, no
new taxes and then raised taxes. Bush Jr. said no nation building and now
we're into nation creating in Iraq.

GROSS: Now you recently wrote a column on your colleague at The New York
Times Judy Miller. And Judy Miller is, of course, The New York Times reporter
who had been covering weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq,
and when asked by the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, to testify, she
chose jail instead until finally deciding she would talk. So anyways you
wrote a column on her recently that started like this. `I've always liked
Judy Miller. The trait she has that drive many reporters at The Times crazy,
her tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar
mixture of hard work and hauteur have never bothered me. I enjoy operatic
types.' Why did you decide to start the column that way, in a really kind of
personal way and bring up what you describe as her tropism toward powerful

Ms. DOWD: Well, Judy is a very controversial figure at The Times and I never
had any problem with her. But a lot of people at The Times do and the place
has been in turmoil about it. She----between her first-person piece and the
front page piece about her, The Times had just written 11,000 words in which
she admitted she got it completely wrong on WMD but said, `I'm only as good as
my sources.' And I just felt since I'd been writing about WMD and Chalabi and
I had the first interview at The Times with Joe Wilson about Valerie Plame,
I'd been writing about these issues for five years and Judy was often a
phantom character in my columns, the ones published in "Bushworld," because I
was describing how an echo chamber was being set up where one or two sources
provided by Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi defectors, seemed like multiple sources
because they were going through the administration and Chalabi was, you know,
leaking to journalists, so the journalists and the administration might have
the same source, but it would sound like more and the administration would be
able to use stories that had been in The Times to bolster their case to go to
war. So I just felt for the credibility of my column with my readers, I
needed to address that. And also, you know, I criticize institutions I care
about, like the White House, for a living. So I have to be able to criticize
an institution I love like The Times if it's in this kind of public turmoil.

GROSS: But, you know, in the part that I read, you write that the traits that
you're pointing out about her never bothered you. So why did you bring them
up in the first place? It's kind of...

Ms. DOWD: Because she has been a controversial figure in The New York Times
for the whole 20 years I've been there and these are some of the reasons.

GROSS: I see.

Ms. DOWD: People, you know, don't like her, but those are not my readers. I
like her. I just think that some of the stuff she did was--and some of the
stuff in her own piece that she wrote needed to be addressed.

GROSS: Now you've said that one of the really difficult parts about being a
columnist is that, you know, you want to be liked. You don't want to be
disliked. But when you're writing a column, you're often writing negative
columns and, you know, you're not going to be liked by the person you're
writing about for writing that column.

Ms. DOWD: I know. I know.

GROSS: So did this column cause you any particular, like, personal anxiety
because, you know, some people I'm sure really applauded you for the column
and other people, I'm sure, were appalled. So was it tough one for you

Ms. DOWD: Oh, yeah. Every one is a tough one for me because I'm not
naturally suited to this kind of work. But this one, you know, again, I
hesitated because I didn't want to be in WMD cat fight. And I write about cat
fights in this book and I say--you know, I thought--that was another thing. I
thought after feminism that we wouldn't have cat fights but now I realize that
we're never going to get rid of them because they're economically profitable.
They sell a lot of newspapers and magazines and shows like "Desperate
Housewives." So I've kind of given up that we're ever going to get rid of cat

So I knew that that would be the reaction if I did it, and--but I just felt
that the reasons I needed to do it were stronger than my fear of going through
that, although I'll have to say, you know, the thing that happens that really
is very painful is to write something on substance--if you write about the
substance of WMD, you know, fake evidence of the war or the substance of the
problem with Judy and WMD--and then your critics go straight to criticizing
your love life. You know, it's like you're writing about WMD and they go,
`Well, she dated so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so.' So that, to me, is
something that they tend to do only with a woman. I don't see them doing that
with David Brooks. So that's just another painful thing you have to expect,
but I'm a big girl. And, you know, I never get used to it but because of the
illogical nature of it, but there it is.

GROSS: Did you see "Saturday Night Live" a couple of weeks ago when...

Ms. DOWD: Oh, I heard about it.

GROSS: You heard about it.

Ms. DOWD: Yeah.

GROSS: What they did...

Ms. DOWD: No, well...

GROSS: was like a news quiz and they had quotes from your column about
Judy Miller and quotes from, I think it was, Paris Hilton.

Ms. DOWD: Right. Right.

GROSS: And you were supposed to decide which was from Paris Hilton and which
was from your column. And this little game show was called "Bitch Fight News

Ms. DOWD: I know. I know. I know. I know. Well, that's what I was scared
of and it happened, but my reasons for doing it stayed the same. And, you
know, I love Tina Fey. She's very funny. So cat fights sell.

GROSS: Did--so now that you've made it to "Saturday Night Live" level of
notoriety, is that in some ways a very good thing because it means more people
know who you are?

Ms. DOWD: Oh, I don't know. You know, didn't Norman Mailer have some quote
about writers should always be irritating someone? No, stuff like that just
makes me want to crawl under the bed and never get out and also re-evaluate
how long I can do a column. You know, I'd much rather go into some quiet form
of writing.

GROSS: My guest is Maureen Dowd. She writes an op-ed column for The New York
Times. Her new book is called "Are Men Necessary?"

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest, Maureen Dowd, writes a column about Washington for The New
York Times. Her new book is called "Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide."

Now another column I want to ask you about is a column that you wrote after
President Bush selected Harriet Miers to be his nominee for the Supreme Court
and you wrote about the strong women in President Bush's life and called them
office wives. And these are people like Harriet Miers, Condoleezza Rice,
Karen Hughes, his wife Laura Bush and you wrote. `W. loves being surrounded
by tough women who steadfastly devote their entire lives to doting on him,
like the vestal virgins guarding the sacred fire, serving as custodians for
his values and watchdogs for his reputation.' What made you start to think of
them as the president's office wives?

Ms. DOWD: Well, I thought it was hilarious that President Bush is so
insulated and so infantilized by his staff that he actually mistook someone
fonding on him for someone who would have the qualifications for the Supreme
Court. I mean, that was an astonishing moment. In my book, I write about,
you know, the National Journal had a study where they saw that in the Bush
White House you were five times more likely to be single than your male
counterparts. I think 7 percent of the men are single and 33 percent of the
women. And so Bush has, you know, Condi, who was with him constantly and
that's the way she succeeded in, you know, moving up to secretary of State.
And I didn't--you know, if she had a family, that would have been very hard to
do and the same with Harriet Miers. And they are this cordon of strong, sort
of nannylike women who just take care of all the president's needs. Condi was
his foreign affairs coach during the first campaign and Harriet Miers took
care of all his personal legal needs. And it's funny because the Bush White
House for the first term was so hyperaggressively masculine and militaristic
going into two wars and now Bush just seems to be kind of wandering with this,
you know, team of nannies.

GROSS: What do you find most interesting or perhaps contradictory, perplexing
about the president and women in terms of his political policy views on women
and the women who surround him in life?

Ms. DOWD: Well, it's interesting because Laura actually was quoted as saying
that he liked having strong women around him because of his mom. But on the
other hand, other people seem to think that his mom, you know, who has a very
tart tongue and was not always doting on him the way these women dote on him,
that that's why he likes having them 'cause they're kind of giving him the
doting he wasn't getting from the tart-tongued far. I'm not sure which of
those is true. He does, you know, love being surrounded by these women like
Karen Hughes and Condi who devote their lives to him, but at the same time,
you know, a lot of his policies on women are not very progressive.

GROSS: Like?

Ms. DOWD: Oh, just, you know, I mean, he's trying to appoint a Supreme Court
that will roll back abortion rights.

GROSS: You describe the president as having a feminist foreign policy but not
a feminist domestic policy.

Ms. DOWD: Right. Well, that is another one of the ironic opposite things
that has happened with this president where he sets out to do one thing and
somehow manages to clumsily make the opposite occur. He, you know, and Laura
both used feminist speeches about how we had to support women's rights in
Afghanistan and Iraq as a justification to go to war in those countries. But,
unfortunately, it's turning out the opposite. We seem to be creating an
Islamic state where women will have fewer rights under law and be under
burqas. So...

GROSS: Now one of the issues you touch on in your new book, "Are Men
Necessary?" is this: When women become really powerful and win awards in
their profession, does that intimidate men? Is that your experience that that
intimidates men and does it intimidate the kind of man that you'd be
interested in in the first place?

Ms. DOWD: No, not at all. I think--I used an example in The Times excerpt
that I think led people to believe I was whining about my personal life or
saying that strong women are, you know, going to be penalized. They may be
but I wasn't saying that it's anything they can't get beyond. They may have
to look a little harder, choose different men. But I used the example of this
Broadway producer who came up to me at a Broadway opening and said, `I thought
about asking you out between marriages, but then I decided that, you know, you
criticize men for living and maybe you'd be critical of everything, you know,
every aspect of a man, in other words.' And also I just decided I wanted
someone who was more awed by me. But I wouldn't be interested in him anyway
because if he wanted someone who was totally awed by him, that would just be
silly. I mean, after you get to know someone, they're never going to be as
awed by you.

And I just--you know, there's a Woody Allen interview in Vanity Fair this week
and he talks about how great it works with Soon-Yi because there's no equality
in the relationship and it's a paternalistic relationship and there's no
conflict and that made it so much easier just to have her revolving around him
and the kids. And there's another interview with Sarah Silverman in Radar,
you know, this week that says when she was at comedian clubs at being a
stand-up comic that the comedians would want to date the waitresses because
the waitresses would be more in awe of them and she would want to date the
comedians because they had a shared passion.

So I do think there's a bit of a trend in the culture toward men, you know,
wanting to date women who are either in staff support or in some way could
revolve around them or be in awe of them. But I also don't think, you know,
this is necessarily bad for strong women. They've just got to look for, you
know, those guys who want a snap and crackle of a relationship between equals.

GROSS: This is your second book, your new book, "Are Men Necessary?" and it's
a more personal book than your first book, "Bushworld," which was a collection
of your columns, 'cause, you know, I mean, it's not an incredibly personal
book but you write a little bit more about yourself and you muse more about
personal things like relationships. So what does this mean in terms of your
life of, you know, writing in a more personal way?

Ms. DOWD: Yeah, it isn't a memoir or anything. I just thread in a few
personal things. I mean, I think a lot of people assume because I wrote a
little about myself that they can ask about my personal life or they'll say,
you know, `Well, how can you be writing about men unless you have one?' And,
you know, that's painful. And, in fact, some of my girlfriends warned me not
to do the book for that reason. But, again, I've covered these issues for 30
years and I really thought it would be fun to have a breezy kind of look at
male, female, you know, how they play, how they work in movies and politics
that could start a national conversation. And I have been really thrilled to
get, you know, a ton of e-mails and calls from especially guys--guys and
women. But guys seem to really want to talk about this stuff, too, in really
fun ways.

GROSS: Well, Maureen Dowd, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. DOWD: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Maureen Dowd writes an op-ed column about Washington for The New York
Times. Her new book is called "Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide." You
can read an excerpt on our Web site,

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Sarah Silverman talks about her career in comedy

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

If you were only half-listening, you might think that comic Sarah Silverman,
was racist. But if you're really listening, you're likely to laugh out loud
at her humor, which skewers racism, anti-Semitism and stereotyping. A recent
profile in The New Yorker said, quote, "Silverman crosses boundaries that
would not occur to most people even to have. The more innocent and oblivious
her delivery, the more outrageous her commentary becomes," unquote. Rolling
Stone and Entertainment Weekly have called Silverman the funniest woman in

She has a new concert movie of her stand-up act. It's called "Jesus is Magic."
She's also featured in the comedy documentary "The Aristocrats," and has
appeared in the films "School of Rock" and "There's Something About Mary," and
the TV shows "The Larry Sanders Show," "Seinfeld" and "Mr. Show with Bob and
David." Here's a sample of her comedy from her new film.

(Soundbite of "Jesus is Magic")

Ms. SARAH SILVERMAN: Look, I don't want to be labeled as straight or labeled
as gay. You know, I just want people to look at me and see me, you know, as

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: And then I found--I can say that, by the way, 'cause I used to
go out with a guy who was half-black who totally broke up with me, 'cause I'm
a (censored) loser. And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: I just heard myself say that. I'm such a pessimist, the
worst attitude. He's half-white. And he totally broke up with me...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN: And it's funny now, like--What is it?--hindsight's 20/20 or
whatever. Like I know--it's so obvious to me now why he broke up with me, you
know, 'cause he has (censored) low self-esteem, you know, and I can't compete
with that. Like he--everybody knows somebody who--it's like anything you say
to them, they're going to take it--they're going to hear it in the most
negative way, you know what I mean? And he was like--you could give him a
comp--like, I gave him a compliment, all right? I told him he probably would
have made, like, a really expensive slave in the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVERMAN:, in the olden-timey days, not now. And what does he
do, right? It goes through the Rube Goldberg, you know, crazy straw of his
low self-esteem, and it hit his ear, and he heard something (censored), you
know? I can't control that. Like, I can't control what he hears, you know?
He has to learn how to love himself, you know, before I can stop hating his
people, you know, as a people. I don't care if you think I'm racist. I just
want you to think I'm thin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Sarah Silverman, welcome to FRESH AIR. I think your movie is really
funny. I'm wondering how often people think that you're genuinely racist or
homophobic or anti-Semitic or whatever.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Not often. It doesn't happen often, but it certainly happens,
I mean, probably more often than the average person. But, yeah, I have an old
boyfriend who would call it `mouthful-of-blood laughs,' where the audience is
completely laughing at the wrong thing, not understanding any of the irony or,
you know...

GROSS: Now why do you want to work that territory?

Ms. SILVERMAN: It's the stuff that makes me laugh. It's stuff--it's subject
matter that is interesting to me. It's--you know, for me, like, taboo stuff
and, like, elephants in the room is--you know, I'm not brave or something.
I'm just--you know, to me, it's like I don't know how everyone wouldn't be
interested in talking about this stuff. You know, it's exciting stuff to talk
about. It's, you know, global gossip, you know.

GROSS: You got in trouble with one Asian-American media watchdog group. The
head of that group didn't like you using the five-letter word that starts with
C-H. It's used as a derogatory word to describe Asians. So you used that on
"Conan O'Brien," I think it was?


GROSS: So what happened?

Ms. SILVERMAN: It was simply a joke about racism. I had to say the most
racist word I could say on television, and you know, and they said, `Well,
could you say "Jew" instead?' And I said, `Hm, maybe dirty Jew would be'--like
I could--but it wasn't good enough, because I'm Jewish and it becomes
self-deprecation, and it had to be racist. And it was the whole point of the
joke, and anyone who heard it, for the most part, understood that there is a
context to it, and...

GROSS: So what was the thing that you--what was the bit of your act that's
sort of a controversy?

Ms. SILVERMAN: The joke?

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. SILVERMAN: The whole crazy joke is this: I got a notice in the mail
for--to do jury duty and I really didn't want to do jury duty, and you have to
fill out this whole form, and then send it in, and then you're randomly
chosen. And I did not want to do jury duty, and a friend of mine said, you
know, `Why don't you just write something really racist on the form, like "I
hate Chinks"?' and I thought to myself, yeah, you know, but I don't want
people to think I'm racist. I just want to get out of jury duty, you know?
So I wrote--I filled out the form and I wrote, `I love Chinks.'

GROSS: Well, that's funny, and it's a joke--I mean, it's a joke all about
racism, and you don't get it. You're ...(unintelligible) get it.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Clearly, I'm the ignoramus.

GROSS: Exactly.


GROSS: You're the ignoramus, yeah. Yeah. So the protests did not get you to
rethink your humor. You just saw it...

Ms. SILVERMAN: No. I mean, I dropped the joke because I ended up having to
say it so many times on "Politically Incorrect" and stuff like that, it just
became old news, you know. But no, I mean, it was a reaction to a buzzword
with no context even being considered, you know. So I can't--you know, even
trying to defend it just implies guilt of some sort, you know.

GROSS: In your act, you talk about having been a bed-wetter until you were
about 15. This is a very embarrassing thing to talk about. Why go there?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Well, I don't know. I guess I grew up really believing that
this would be the deepest, darkest secret of my life, you know. You never
think, as a child who's a bed-wetter, that you would ever tell anyone, ever,
you know. And then you grow up, and it's--you know, it becomes just a part of
your life and part of what makes you--a part of what informs who you are, you
know. And there's a certain amount of pride and there's a certain amount of,
you know, some, I'm sure, unhealthy need to expose myself, you know. And I
mean that literally. But also, you know, there's something about it that
feels good, you know.

GROSS: Now you also do jokes about, you know, your family. You do jokes
about Jimmy Kimmel, who's your boyfriend. Now being a couple where you're
both comics, you and Jimmy Kimmel, like when you do something together and you
share an experience and you both have funny perceptions about that experience
that you've shared, who owns the experience? I mean, say you both want to do
something about it in your act.

Ms. SILVERMAN: We've never had that. We've never come across that. I mean,
sometimes I've lucked out by being able to--you know, I am an R-rated comic
and he's on ABC, which is owned by Disney, so even if he comes up with
something great, often it's nothing he could use. So I have no--you know,
I've already--I'm an established comedian. You know, I write my own material
and I feel confident enough in my persona to say, `Yeah, I'll take that. I
could definitely use that. That's a great joke,' you know.

GROSS: My guest is comic Sarah Silverman. She has a new movie of her act,
called "Jesus is Magic." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is comic Sarah Silverman. She has a new concert movie called
"Jesus is Magic."

Now a lot of our listeners probably saw you in the movie "The Aristocrats,"
which is a documentary about how different people tell a joke, but basically
the premise of a joke and then each comic who tells it kind of does these
really obscene riffs on the premise. And have you always been comfortable
speaking that blue in front of people?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah. Yeah, because I'm one of those kids that--you know, my
dad thought it was like really hilarious to teach me swear words as a toddler,
and it's funny. You know, I think that I would say them and the reaction I
would get would be so fantastic that I think it--I searched for more and more
and more, you know. And he--I was kind of farmed that way, you know. My
parents--you know, my dad swears. He's the sweetest man, but he--it's just a
part of his language. It's like, `like,' you know, and `totally,' but it's
the F word.

GROSS: So was it supposed to be really cute for a little toddler or a kid to
be using words that we can't say on the radio?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Apparently in the '70s it was adorable. Adorable. So because
of that, I think I've had this kind of comfort with--at least with the
language. I don't even think of myself that I don't swear, particularly a
lot, but just raised in a family that was--didn't have maybe the same spectrum
of boundaries. The--it was bigger, you know, wider. I'm not a oddball in my
family. We're all freaks in that way, you know. So I think that I was
always kind of comfortable saying that. I think the race stuff was stuff I
was not comfortable with until my 20s, you know, because I--you know, for all
the right reasons, you know. If someone said something racial, even in a
joking way, it upset me.

I remember a friend of mine who is a comic put a nickel on his forehead and
said, `Hey, look, Jewish Ash Wednesday.' And he's Jewish, you know,
and--`Jewish Ash Wednesday.' And of course, today, I would--you know, it's
hilarious, but I was like 19, you know. I'd just started new stand-up--maybe
even 20--and I would get so upset. And it's funny how I've changed, you know,
and maybe because of that, you know, it--I was so affected by race and
stereotypes that I kind of--even though it was never mine to begin with, I
think I kind of took it back, you know what I mean? The take back the night,
but the night was never mine.

GROSS: Were you exposed to a lot of racism or anti-Semitism as a kid?


GROSS: Was there a lot of it in your neighborhood or ...(unintelligible).

Ms. SILVERMAN: I have no license--I have no license to be doing what I'm
doing. The--you know, I didn't grow up in an all-black neighborhood or
something. I'm not black myself. I grew up a Jew who--where there were no
other Jews, but what--the only thing I can remember from my life is like in
third grade, a kid on the bus threw like pennies at my feet and said, you
know, `Pick them up, Jew,' like, `You're a cheap Jew' or something like that.
But it was so innocent, you know. I mean, it's a kid doing it, but of course,
I didn't have that perspective then, but at the same token, he became my
little third-grade boyfriend, probably a month later.

GROSS: Oh, really? Did you even get what...


GROSS: Did you even get it then, what...

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah, I did. I was like, `Yeah, Jews are cheap, ha, ha, ha.'
So, you know, I was--you know, I was raised in a place where there wasn't--you
know, people weren't racist. I mean, it was a time in, you know, the '80s or
whatever where--in a world that was very white and there were no Jews, but I
didn't feel threatened at all. So even when that happened, I was just kind of
like, `Huh. Well, that's weird,' you know. I don't know, but my dad grew up
in a very different world, you know. He was beaten up and abused brutally,
you know, for being Jewish.

GROSS: Did he tell you stories about that when you were young?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah. Yeah, he was sent to a prep school, you know. His
parents did well, you know, but it was a--like a--I don't know if it was
a--some sort of Christian prep school. It wasn't--and--or it was just
not--there were not Jews there. And kids would like, encircle him, you know,
and call him, you know, `kike, dirty Jew,' all that kind of stuff, and beat
him up. And, you know, we're from--this is in New England, either--it must
have been New Hampshire, I think, by then. And they would go have ski teams
or whatever, and one time they were all bullying him on the snow, and he
stabbed a guy in the stomach with a ski pole.

GROSS: Yikes.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah, and got suspended for it, of course. But you know,
it--I just--it's so sad, you know. You want to kill those kids. My small
experience with racism was just in a time where I didn't--it didn't threaten
me in any way. I wasn't in a world where it was threatening. But you know,
when I hear the stories that my dad tells, it's so heartbreaking.

GROSS: Now one question about your father. Your father used to own the
Junior Deb/Varsity Shops. Or did he just own a couple of--like, in a
franchise of them?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah. It was a small chain of boys' and girls' clothing that
his father owned, and then he sold them and kind of retired so that he could
write, because his real passion is writing, and wrote some novels and then ran
out of money and had to open a store again, and opened a store called Crazy
Sophie's factory outlet, a discount women's clothing store, and he did his own
ads on the radio.

GROSS: Now I...

Ms. SILVERMAN: And they're hilarious.

GROSS: Oh, really?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Well, he's got this really thick Boston accent. I mean, you
can really hardly understand a word he's saying, and he'd be like, `This is
Crazy Donald, Crazy Sophie's husband.' It's a made-up name, though. He'd
say, `When I see the prices at the mall, I just want to vomit. Come to Crazy
Sophie's. We got Unicorn, Wrangler, this, that,' all these, like, kinds of
jeans you've never heard of. And then at the end he says, `So if you care
enough to buy the very best but you're too cheap, come to Crazy Sophie's.'

GROSS: That's really funny.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah. And then on the other side of the spectrum is my mom,
who's from Connecticut and speaks perfectly and says, you know, things like
`wh-hen' and `wh-here.' She went to the local movie theater and complained
that she could not understand what the person was saying when she called up to
find out what movies were playing, on the recording. And they said, `Oh, you
want to do it?' She was like, `OK.' So I grew up with her, you know, going
with her to the movie theater and to the little booth where they kept all the
not-fresh popcorn, and she would say, `Hi, and thank you for calling Bedford
Mall Cinemas I, II, III and IV, where all bargain matinees are only $2 Monday
through Saturday,' you know? So...

GROSS: Well, that's great. What...

Ms. SILVERMAN: It was different. Yeah.

GROSS: But...

Ms. SILVERMAN: Show-biz family, yeah.

GROSS: You've said that you think most comics are filled with self-loathing.
Does that describe about how you felt about yourself when you were young?


GROSS: Are you..

Ms. SILVERMAN: No, I didn't--I had a--I've always had a pretty healthy
self-esteem, you know. I mean, I think we're--I'm sure I'm riddled with
insecurity as well, but I've got a pretty--I like myself, but I've got a
pretty good self-esteem. I think, like, my comedy came more from humiliation
and from--you know, I say it in the movie, but it's kind of true. It's like I
was a chronic bed-wetter. You know, I had this deep, dark secret, you know.
If I had to go to sleep-over parties, I would like just pinch myself awake all
night, you know. I was--you know, the one thing about being Jewish and the
thing that made me feel the most Jewish, because we weren't religious in any
way, was that I was so friggin' hairy compared to these, you know, Carol
Reed, L.L. Bean, blonde Aryans that I lived with, you know. So there was
that, that kind of--you know, you want to be funny before anyone is funny on
your behalf, you know?

Or--you know, one time I have to--I have Elvis Presley's death to thank for a
party in first grade, a sleep-over party at Heather Paul's(ph) house. And for
some reason, I had no sleep-over clothes. I had to borrow her pajamas. I
slept, you know, in a sleeping bag, soaking wet the next morning and just kind
of paralyzed with fear, didn't say anything or do anything and changed with
the other girls, you know, changed into my regular clothes and just left the
clothes kind of on the floor there. And her mother came in. She was so mean.
And she stepped on my pajamas and she was like, `Who did this?' And I was
just--my heart was just pounding, I was so scared. And right then, her
husband came in and said, `Elvis Presley just died!' Thank God.

GROSS: My guest is comic Sarah Silverman. She has a new movie of her act,
called "Jesus is Magic." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is comic Sarah Silverman. She has a new concert movie called
"Jesus is Magic."

Now you were on "Saturday Night Live" very briefly. Was it, like, one season?


GROSS: In '93?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Ninety-three-'94 season. I was 22, totally not ready to do
something like that. I knew it, too. I remember I found out at the Mann's
Chinese Theatre. My manager told me, and I went to the bathroom, and I was
peeing and I thought, `I will be so much more ready for this in years to come,
but what am I going to do, say no?'

GROSS: How much material did you get on?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Almost nothing. A couple sketches that I wrote with other
people, a few sketches I wrote with other people, but nothing like that is...

GROSS: Memorable?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Nothing memorable. Nothing memorable, but where I really did
well was at punch-up on Thursdays. Thursdays from noon till about 7 AM the
next day, we would punch up all the scripts that were chosen for the show,
that would be in dress rehearsal. And we'd go through each one and punch it
up and add jokes and stuff and rewrite it. And I was good at that. I
contributed a lot to that.

GROSS: So what did it do to your professional sense to have this big break
and be a writer and in the cast of "Saturday Night Live," and yet get very
little material on the air?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Well, I was--you know, I'd always say to myself--because like
Adam Sandler and David Spade and Chris Farley, they kind of--I remember them
saying, like, `Oh, the first year, first couple of years, you never get on,
and it's just part of the dues.' And so I'd be like, `Ah, first-year dues,'
you know. I wasn't--you know, my expectations were not high, you know,
and--for myself, you know. And--but then there was never that second year,

GROSS: Did that hurt your confidence?

Ms. SILVERMAN: Yeah. For a good year, I had no confidence. I just--I
didn't even feel like I was in show business, you know. I just didn't know
who I was. It was a real identity crisis, kind of. I thought I was going to
get fired from everything I was ever hired. But it was really like a broken
bone, you know. It was like when I came out of that year of feeling so
rejected and being fired from something, I was--there was really nothing that
could faze me after that.

GROSS: How would you describe your onstage persona now?

Ms. SILVERMAN: I feel like I've gotten to--I think that doing stand-up all
these years, you're kind of striving to find yourself on stage and to be
yourself on stage, you know. And I think that despite what you might think, I
am--I'm completely myself on stage. I mean, you always strive to be more, but
in terms of the way I talk, my body language, you know, the words I choose and
everything, it's pretty conversational, and it's pretty much how I talk. And
I like that, you know. Internally it's different, you know. It's a little
bit more of a character. It's--you know, I mean, the--I'm playing someone
who's more ignorant and arrogant.

GROSS: Exactly.

Ms. SILVERMAN: A great combination of ignorant but also totally arrogant.
And I like to think that that's not necessarily me. I'm ignorant but not as

GROSS: Do you think that being a woman stood in the way--in your way at all
when you were starting out? Because I think of--I don't really make the
rounds of the comedy clubs, but I think of a lot of the comedy clubs as having
a lot of--and this might be completely coming out of ignorance--but having a
lot of male comics who make a lot of jokes about women and sex and that.

Ms. SILVERMAN: No, because I think you make jokes about what you're thinking
about and your life experience, and it--you know, it doesn't--that never
affected me or bothered me. I made jokes--you know, I lost my virginity as a
comedian, so my act became all about sex for a while, you know, because it's
just all you're thinking about, you know. And I think--I never really felt
like a woman. I mean, there are individual little stories and snags where
I--there was frustration. And I'm sure at the beginning--you know, like I
played basketball, you know. I used to play a lot more but--and I know that
kind of feeling. It's just like being a woman comic and having to prove
yourself with a new set of peers, you know, where you, like, go to the YMCA
for a pickup game, and those first couple games it's that anxiety of having to
prove that you can--that you play hard, you know. And I think that it can be
that way with being a woman in comedy, or anything where the majority of
people in that field are male, you know. It's--there's nothing--nobody's
doing anything wrong. It's just human nature. But I've only ever been a
woman in stand-up, or in life at all, and so I have nothing really to compare
it to. It's been quite a ride. No, it's been fine for me.

GROSS: Sarah Silverman, thanks so much for talking with us.

Ms. SILVERMAN: Thank you.

GROSS: Sarah Silverman's new comedy performance film is called "Jesus is
Magic." It opens this weekend in New York and Los Angeles and will later open
nationally. Here's a song from the film.

(Soundbite of music from "Jesus is Magic")

Ms. SILVERMAN: (Singing) One, two, three, four. I love you more than bears
love honey. I love you more than Jews love money. I love you more than
Asians are good at math. I love you even if it's not hip. I love you more
than black people don't tip. I love more than Puerto Ricans hate baths. I
love you...

GROSS: You can hear another song from Sarah Silverman's new movie on our Web


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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