Sarah Silverman’s I Love You, America is wildly original and thought-provoking in how it approaches the idea of a late night talk show in 2017 and the pursuit of awareness. As host, Silverman breaks bread with people whose views are fundamentally different than hers and seeks out guests who have changed in their lives. It’s a show with hope at its back and a fair amount of ambition when it comes to its goals. But as Silverman explained when we spoke with her last night just after the show premiered its first episode on Hulu, it’s also “aggressively dumb and silly.” Eager to not want to make the show sound as though it’s trying to single-handedly save the world, there’s no doubt that Silverman was talking about some of the bits from I Love You, America that don’t have a lot to do with the state of political discourse in America. But those words could, of course, serve as an apt description for that discourse as well.
In the interview, we touched on the need to cross ideological battle lines, the hazards of the liberal bubble, that pursuit of awareness, why Donald Trump isn’t going to be a frequent topic, and the hope-giving virtue of unlikely animal friend videos.
This is a really interesting idea, but I’m your target audience. I’m a liberal. I’m kind of mystified by the whole other side that’s driving the car right now. What’s the sales pitch to people that aren’t like me, people that are conservative?
It’s not a hard sell. I’m not begging Republicans to watch it, but I hope that if they do they’ll be able to enjoy it.
It’s really just about… I think what I found with this is that yelling facts and poll numbers at each other doesn’t change minds. People dig in deeper to what they believe, whether it’s fact or a house of cards thing you can believe as fact. We’re divided because there are powers that be that need us to be divided. I think that’s the biggest reason why we’re divided. I think it’s by design. I think we take in our news, and our news has a completely different set of “facts,” you know? If we can’t even agree on the basic truth or the basic facts that we’re arguing over, then the whole thing’s moot. It just turns into like entropy of madness.
That can be really overwhelming and just make you go like, “Oh, what the fuck is the point?” But when you get a chance to be intimate, to be one on one with someone whose sets of beliefs are different than your own, there’s an opportunity for our defenses to be down. I always call them porcupine needles — sometimes our porcupine needles go down with that first hug hello, and then we see we’re not so different. It’s easy to just think of things black and white and say these people are bad and these people are good. Gee, that sounds like the fundamentalist sects of any religion, actually, and that certainly bleeds into our politics on both sides.
Listen, I obviously have very firm opinions and beliefs, but I do think if you have an opportunity to be one on one with people, like when I went to this family dinner [in the first episode]. People aren’t changed by facts, they’re changed by emotions. We’re changed by our feelings. And we’re changed by exposure.
The fact that there isn’t as much LGBTI awareness or acceptance of people who are different than them, that’s fear based. That’s stuff that they’re not familiar with. And it’s partly because all of us “weirdos,” people that they aren’t used to seeing, moved to the coasts.
I recently had a physical therapist and she’s a young lesbian living out here, but she’s from Nebraska or something, and she said, “You know, my friends and I really are thinking about moving back home and embedding ourselves in our hometowns for the sake of others, for the sake of showing the people we grew up with that who we are is normal and not scary.” And it’s exposure that makes people not scared anymore.
All the changes throughout the history of our country come from just mindfulness, from awareness. You hear “awareness” a lot. But that’s a real thing. The more you’re aware of something, the less scary it is and the less it feels like something that you have to protect yourself from. By protecting yourself, a lot of times what that is is people keeping other people from having rights.
I hear what you’re saying. I went to a rodeo for the first time with my wife a couple weeks ago and I hated every second of it. My liberal superiority complex was bursting through. So, I agree there’s a need to be exposed to other things. With what you’re putting out here with the show, I’m guessing you feel that the liberal bubble is a hazardous thing that we need to try and break.
I think any time you live in any kind of bubble and are not open to the existence of other people and how they do their lives, that’s hazardous. But yeah, I am someone that might look for avocado toast if I’m in Kansas City. And guess what? There is avocado toast in Kansas City.
There you go.
Like three different vegan restaurants.
You want to be open to other ideas and other people, but there are some ideas — and you encountered it in the first episode with the birther thing — that don’t necessarily deserve a seat at the table, right? How do we determine that?
I sat and listened when they talked about how Obama just gave out gifts, “Here you go, here you go, here you go. You don’t deserve it, but here you go.”
I’d bite through my tongue.
I asked them where their insurance came from, and they said Medicaid, Medicaid, Medicaid. Then clearly Brandy goes like, “I don’t know, the state? Probably the ACA.” And I wasn’t going to jump on that. I just kind of let it be. We even said, “Should we fact check it, should we put up a chyron, should we…” And I said, “No, let people react how they’re going to react.” But we became friendly enough that when she starts talking about “is he really from this country,” we were friends enough that I could go, “Brandy, come on.” But it’s kind of a portrait in that we don’t have to agree and we can think she is absolutely bananas for believing something that is actually a fact that he was born in Hawaii. I think I can say that’s a fact and not an opinion.
Yeah, I feel like that’s pretty solid.
But I do think you leave the piece not hating her, not hating them. Having some kind of empathy, seeing some version of some part of ourselves.
Are there any ideas that you’re just not willing to entertain on the show?
Not that I can think of, but I kind of think the sky is the limit, and sometimes when you just have blue sky, it’s hard. You want boundaries in a way with comedy. I always go with my gut, what feels bad or what feels good.
It’s not about giving equal time to racists or something. But listen, after World War II, everyone — but I could say especially Jews — pretty much spent the next 60 years trying to understand the pathology of a Hitler. I don’t think it’s wasted time to be trying to understand people’s pathologies before they become Hitlers. The art school Hitler, the Weimar Republic Hitler. Taking an interest in people that you don’t agree with can be important not just for yourself but for them. Someone who feels heard is less dangerous than someone who doesn’t feel heard.
I have my own struggles with that, after saying that, and this is something we were talking about in the writers’ room today. I don’t know how this will come to fruition on the show. This is not a point I’m proud of or that I think is something that should be heeded, but you could probably say in hindsight that during the birther fucking movement, if Obama invited Trump to the Oval Office for five minutes and gave him some attention, not only would he drop the birther movement, he would have probably never run for president. You could also say if he won an Emmy he wouldn’t, but it’s not our job to coddle people who can’t handle not winning.
That said, all this shit that’s happened with Trump is a big whitehead that was festering anyway, no matter what happened. He is the product of a big oily whitehead that’s about to burst.
How prominent is he going to be on the show? Because you bring up a good point. He is kind of the head of a thing that has been brewing. It’s not like it all came from him. There’s a lot of anger and a lot of people displaced in this country and I think he’s just a part of it. Obviously, he’s got a big role in inspiring it.
Yeah, he just saw a role he could take. Someone else probably would have if not him. Who knows?
I’m not avoiding talking about Trump, it’s just that the show tends to be more about humanity and what is of this time, and not specifically what this schmuck did today. But I’m not going to shy away from it if there’s a great connection to be made. We’re just now talking about the pathology of Hitler. It’s hard to not bring up Donald Trump in that conversation.
“Trump did this today, Trump did that today.” No, it’s not what the show is. We can do anything we want, so I’m not avoiding it. But listen, I can watch Game of Thrones and go, “Jesus, this character is like Trump and this character is like Mitch McConnell.” We live in a time where everything we see happening in the country… you see it in every piece of art, whether it’s intended or not. And in that way, the show is very political just by virtue of being of this moment in time.
He’s everywhere. It’s impossible to not see him in everything. But yeah, you’re talking about issues that could and probably will outlast him. If he were impeached tomorrow, these problems would still exist. I think that’s a smart way to take a look at the issues.
Yeah, so it’s more about humanity, division… It’s very heady to say that this show that is so aggressively dumb and silly is about humanity, division, and the ultimate revelation that we are all connected. I can’t believe I had the nuts to just say that, because what’s coming up is just so silly. To me, this is “Stone Soup.” That’s where it started, and it starts with if it’s mentionable it’s manageable, and all the tenets of a good young girl who grew up with Mr. Rogers and was very lucky to do so.
I’m guessing the Mr. Rogers connection explains taking your shoes off at the end of the first episode.
Of course, that’s what that’s from. Yeah. I didn’t even put that together. Of course, that’s what that’s from.
You asked Megan Phelps-Roper [former member of the Westboro Baptist Church] this question in the first episode and now I’m stealing your question: What is it that gives you hope? Particularly, what is it that gives you hope that we can reach that point where we understand that there’s that connection that we all share?
We’re on a rock in outer space. Nothing matters, but there’s always unlikely animal friendship videos.
That’s a good point. That’s a good silver lining.
I felt like that could be a good out quote.
New episodes of I Love You, America stream on Hulu every Thursday night.