In GQ’s profile of comedian Sarah Silverman, the through line is empathy. She has tons of it: for Trump voters and misogynistic Twitter trolls, for her friends Louis C.K. and Al Franken. It seems partly, if not overwhelmingly so, that she believes so much in the power of empathy, connection and the ability for a person to be transformed, because Silverman has herself, she claims.
This article was originally published at Salon
In the past, the comic had a rolodex of racist, despicable jokes, including performing an entire episode of her Comedy Central show in blackface. “Comedy by nature is not at all evergreen. So if you’re doing it right, you look back at your old stuff and you’re horrified,” Silverman told GQ. “I don’t stand by the blackface sketch. I’m horrified by it, and I can’t erase it. I can only be changed by it and move on.”
“That was such liberal-bubble stuff, where I actually thought it was dealing with racism by using racism. I don’t get joy in that anymore. It makes me feel yucky. All I can say is that I’m not that person anymore,” she continued. “I’m just fundamentally different.”
Is atonement and forgiveness for sexual harassment and other abuses possible? That’s a question that has been bubbling since the first #MeToo was uttered. Often the question comes in the form of prioritizing the abuser’s loss of career status over the wellbeing of the abused — in most cases in entertainment, the powerful and celebrated man over the mostly powerless woman, whose career we can’t fully compare or quantify because it undeniably suffered as a result of harassment or abuse. Some men seem to be testing the waters on the possibility of bypassing atonement for the sake of a comeback.
Silverman’s feelings about her disgraced friends are a bit more nuanced. “Fuck you! ‘Let me tell GQ about my conversations with Louie.’ Life is complicated. Love is even more complicated,” she said of Louis C.K., who admitted to masturbating in front of women without their consent. “But you can’t not do it. I don’t have some definitive sound bite or nutshell of how I feel about it, even to myself. But I’m also okay with that.”
They’ve been friends for a long time, though Silverman’s sister tweeted that she saw C.K. masturbate in front of her multiple times. Silverman continued on C.K.’s potential comeback:
I think that there are people who were caught and there were people who were not caught, but the important thing is that they are forever changed. And if that’s the case, I don’t see any reason why they can’t continue being artists. Now, whether they’re popular artists or not is up to the audience. I have compassion. There are people that just deny everything they’re accused of and they continue to be the politicians or the filmmakers that they are. And there are people that come and say, I’m guilty of these things, and I’m wrong, and I want to be changed from this. And yet those are the ones that kind of are excommunicated forever. He’s my brother, so it’s hard. I may not have a very clear perspective on it, but I’m trying to.
For Aziz Ansari, who she’s still friends with, she said: “I was just like, Gross, I don’t wanna know that about Aziz! Hopefully he’s dealing with things, looking inward, and will blossom from it.”