Sarah Silverman’s ‘I Love You, America’ wants the country to hug it out
It’s hard to say, “I love you, America,” right now.
Which is why the messages of compassion and acceptance that run through the heart of Sarah Silverman’s new Hulu show feel so striking.
“That’s one of the things that made me wanna do the show more than anything: how divided the country is,” Silverman told us after the taping of a recent episode tackling the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election. “During the process of making the show especially, I learned that facts don’t change people’s minds. Which is at once terrifying, but also hopeful, in that what does change people’s minds is the emotional.”
I Love You, America‘s format might feel familiar to those who watch weekly talk shows, including the prerequisite monologues, interviews and pre-taped segments.
But that’s where the similarities end. The monologues often focus on Silverman’s personal experiences, instead of current events — or, rather, they use current events as a way to discuss their personal implications. Weekly guests are not celebrities, but average people who fall under the shared theme of having experienced an extraordinary change in their lives.
The show even provides a White Guy at the Desk (AKA Mather) to bring a sense of familiarity whenever it starts feeling too non-traditional. But, Silverman revealed, the character is part of a 10-episode arc that reveals “the journey of the disenfranchised male ego” that our country is now currently dealing with.
The segments between Mather and Silverman don’t ridicule him, but rather show Silverman offering him sympathy for his growing irrelevance, in both the show and world at large.
As a female comic, Silverman has every reason to hate the White Guy at the Desk. But emphasizing our differences isn’t the way to help us move forward. “The answer’s always gonna be inclusivity: we need to make sure everyone knows that they belong, and that we are one,” she explained.
Silverman traced the biggest problem in America right now to the “latent empathy gene, that is dormant in so many of us as right now.” That’s why she insisted that the show’s guests should only include people who could speak to “the joy of change” — even if movie stars would have been a safer ratings bet.
“There are people who think that there’s failure in saying sorry, or realizing you were wrong,” she said. “I mean, just look at our president. Often, our approach to these kinds of people is to try shout at them until they do admit to being wrong. But that hasn’t been working out great for us so far.”
Instead, Silverman chose to give voice to people who aren’t afraid to share experiences of growth, like a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church.
“It’s important to understand the things that we fear, and investigate it.”
Some liberals might accuse I Love You, America of being just another well-intentioned leftist project that professes to explore the “Real America,” while inadvertently giving toxic ideas a national platform.
But the show feels both too vulnerable and too self-reflective to be so easily dismissed.
“It’s important to understand the things that we fear, and investigate it. We need to at least understand the spirit of their rage — where it’s coming from,” she said. “And also to look inside ourselves.”
Democrats, Silverman used as an example, spent all of 2016 critiquing the Republican party for the identity crisis that was Donald Trump’s primary election win. “Then he won the presidency,” she said, and the identity crisis was revealed to be much larger than that. “We like to point at others and then accuse them of what we are in fact doing ourselves.”
I Love You, America is a show that could only work in the hands of a comedian like Silverman, who has never shied away from putting herself under the microscope, as much as anyone else. She’s also a comedian with the unique ability to speak volumes with a poop joke.
“I’ve always wanted to do a show that just spoke honestly and with vulnerability and silliness,” Silverman said. “I love that we can do anything. I love that we can say anything. I love that we push those limits. I love that it can be silly enough to earn a little heart, even.”
Certainly, I Love You, America proves its sincerity through the sheer risks it takes — which could make it a target from both sides of the political aisle. Conservatives have the entirety of Silverman’s “divisive” career to get angry about, while liberals are critiquing the show for not tackling the real issues closer to home.
Yet, somehow, each episode of I Love You, America rises above these ideological screaming matches. Silverman begins each one by baring her soul to the American populace, before ending the show by going to bed and declaring her love for each and every one of them — even the ones that hate her.
It feels like a Day in All Our Lives, waking up each morning to the relentless horrors of the 24-hour news cycle, before crawling into bed and trying to find some sort of peace amid the chaos so that we can sleep at night.
“I don’t know the answers to everything, that’s for sure. But I do know the answers to everything big are always simple,” Silverman said. “You’re really only open when your porcupine needles are down. And that can be as simple as giving a hug hello. Or just seeing that person you hate so much online, face to face.”
In the age of snarky takes, virtual hate mail, and a sitting President who acts like a Twitter troll — Silverman is trying to do something radical with the online platform of a streaming show, to wrap her arms around this big global mess.
“Until we look inside ourselves, we can’t expect other people to also change,” Silverman said. “Which is really, really easy to say. And might grow harder in time. And that’s why it’s a practice.”
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the New York Times published its report regarding allegations of Louis C.K.’s sexual misconduct towards female comedians. Silverman’s reps didn’t respond to Mashable’s requests for comment, but she retweeted a NYT article on “Being a Female Comic in Louis C.K.’s World” with the note, “Beautifully written and clear as a bell 4 anyone looking to understand or be mindful or be changed by some solid truths. Not everyone may be aware of these things, but now you can.”