Sarah Silverman, Who Did Blackface, Doesn’t Think You Should ‘Cancel’ People

"It’s almost like there’s a mutated McCarthy era, where any comic better watch anything they say."
Chicago, US
Sarah Silverman, Who Did Blackface, Thinks Comedy Criticism Has Gone Too Far

In July 2001, Sarah Silverman appeared on NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien and used the racial slur "c---k" multiple times in a joke during the interview. Her remarks came under fire by the Japanese-American civil-rights activist Guy Aoki, who criticized her for casually using the epithet. The two publicly feuded on episodes of Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher and, in her 2005 stand-up special Jesus Is Magic, she said, “There are only two Asian people I have a problem with. One is, uh, Guy Aoki. The other is my friend Steve, who actually went pee-pee in my Coke. He’s all, ‘Me Chinese, me play joke!’"


This is just one example of this type of remark from Silverman's often controversial career in which she's been publicly criticized for racism, including a 2007 sketch where she wore blackface as well as a 2010 tweet captioned "I'm having minstrel cramps" with a photo of her donning the same makeup.

With these incidents in mind, the comments she made Monday to the Los Angeles Times about the 2019 climate surrounding comedy didn't come as a huge shock. She told the publication, "I also think it’s interesting what’s happened on the left. It’s almost like there’s a mutated McCarthy era, where any comic better watch anything they say." She brings up criticism of Dave Chappelle's latest special as an example of this mutated McCarthy era. (During the actual McCarthy era, hundreds were imprisoned and thousands lost their jobs as a result of investigations carried out by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Chappelle is a highly successful comedian with lucrative Netflix specials and sold-out tours, who is receiving the John F. Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in October.)

Silverman continues, "I’ve said it before, there’s this kind of 'righteousness porn' going on with canceling people over their past, a thing they said or a moment they had, with no earnest hope that they may be changed." (Silverman, who has been at the center of this kind of criticism multiple times throughout her career, has just received an Emmy nomination in the variety sketch category for her recent Hulu series I Love You, America.)

In a 2017 interview with Fast Company, Silverman looked back at her early career and stand-up specials. She said, "It’s so from another time, and it’s interesting to have done comedy through such totally different times." She then goes on to add, "There’s so much in my first special that makes me cringe, but I’m not ashamed of it. You have to be accountable. And if you don’t look back at your old shit and cringe, you’re not growing."