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.