How Sarah Silverman Turned Her Trump Fears Into a Show About Love

I Love You, America image
Sarah Silverman tries to grab some liberty. (Photo courtesy Hulu)

If the 2016 election ended differently, it's possible Sarah Silverman might not have created her Hulu show I Love You, America. The comedian was a vocal supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders during the primaries, but backed Hillary Clinton once she clinched the Democratic nomination. Silverman says in one episode that the fear she felt around Trump's election left her feeling like a "liberal doomsday prepper."

And in that moment, she understood the people who were once afraid of Obama.

I Love You, America is Silverman trying to heal the ideological, political, and cultural divides in our country through humor and empathy. She told John Horn on KPCC's The Frame that she wanted to create a show that could send a message of love — like a "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood for adults." (Read highlights below or subscribe to The Frame podcast for more.)

What did you take away from the first season?

We're kind of streamlining it this year. I think to do 10 shows — I'm so happy with them. But with this kind of show, you need at-bats. I'm a slow honer, so I need a lot of chances.

But I learned so much in that first season. I'm changed, I think, kind of fundamentally as a person, with each episode. I learned quickly that nobody is changed by facts or poll numbers — especially right now, where we're getting our facts from different places, [and] some of them aren't facts.

"When you go towards people with love, even people you disagree with, you have a better chance to connect and see yourselves in each other."

What did you take away from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood?

He's my number one hero. And the show really came about because of my adoration of him, and wanting and feeling like we need a Mr. Rogers for adults. And what are adults but kids plus time — a little more closed, a little more scarred?

The things he said — like, everything we are has to do with love, or the lack of it. That's everything. When you see the choices people make in life, it's always because they're going towards where the love is, whether that's an extremist group, or a hate group, or men's rights activists things, or a wonderful thing.

And that's why when you go towards people with love, even people you disagree with, you have a better chance to connect and see yourselves in each other than to just then just sling vitriol and be right. And I try to keep myself in check on it.

You know, and it's nice to be right. But it's even better to connect.

Your show, like Mister Rogers', is about building bridges.

I think if you can see the best in someone, there's a better chance that they might see the best in themselves and be changed. I'm not saying I'm going around changing people, not at all. I'm most certainly changed by this experience.

It sounds so serious... It's extremely silly as well. And the challenge of bringing hard comedy into this earnest lovefest has been really, for me, exciting — to be just so aggressively dumb. And my favorite kind of comedy is so silly, and also so earnest.

You talk a little bit about feelings and about how feelings connect people more than facts — but if people have political views that are different from your own, how to do you end up sharing common ground on feelings?

One thing that Mr. Rogers — actually he didn't say this, he quoted someone — a woman, who said, "there isn't anyone we couldn't love once we've heard their story." And I think that's true of all of us. And that's kind of the place where I try to come from in this. With the guests that we've had, they're all people who have been changed in some way, and I think about it a lot.

We had a guest, Christian Picciolini, who was a neo-Nazi, skinhead, and changed, and now helps people get out of hate groups. And when I asked him for advice, he said, "find someone who doesn't deserve your compassion and give it to them, because that's what happened to me." Someone did that for him. And then I wonder, if I met him before he changed, would I see the potential in him for change?

And that happens with another guest — the woman raised in the Westboro Baptist Church, whose mind is changed by someone with a different way of thinking.

Growing up in the Westboro Baptist Church — it's this tiny community, but they're totally self-sufficient. Any one of us who, if we grew up there, would have been her. It was all she knew, it was everything she loved.

They go to soldiers' funerals with "God hates fags" posters. And when social media became a big thing, they wanted to get the word out, and they put Megan [Phelps-Roper] in charge of their social media.

And, of course, people came at her with vitriol and everything. Westboro Baptist Church is just pretty heinous. But a couple people came towards her with love, and she engaged with them, and it changed her life.

When you meet somebody like that, or meet somebody who grows up as a neo-Nazi and changes his view of the world, how does that change you?

I just feel like we are all so similar. And I think dividing ourselves is a way to define who we are.

Father Gregory Boyle — he was on the show — he's a Jesuit priest who started Homeboy Industries. And he said something like, "if we don't make peace with our wounds, we will be tempted to despise the wounded."

And isn't that all of us in various degrees of ways? I think about it so often, and it affects so many parts of my life.

And boy, this show doesn't sound funny. I promise it is — it's pretty ridiculous. We sandwich anything heady with real ridiculousness.

Given the traditions of comedy, and stand-up, how do we think about ways that comedy could work differently?

There's a lot of different comedy, and what is funny is always changing. And the world is always changing. It's like how they say, you can go see the same painting at a gallery every single day, and what changes is the world around you and your personal life and experience.

And the world's experience changes what you see in the art, changes what it means. And so I think that comedy changes.

And I'm not trying to do a gentler comedy. I like hard comedy, but I don't think it has to be mean to be hardcore.

The next season of I Love You, America debuts on Hulu on Sept. 6.


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