Comedian Sarah Silverman on her career, harassment and why she still believes in America

Comedian Sarah Silverman

CBS News

Comedian Sarah Silverman is known for her edgy comedy that often tackles taboo subjects. The latest convention she's targeting? That we live in a hopelessly divided nation. CBS News contributor Jamie Wax caught up with her on the set of her new Hulu show, "I Love You, America" and took a look back on her two-and-a-half decade career in comedy.

Silverman is both sweet and sarcastic -- charmingly eager and shockingly edgy. And she's never afraid to test boundaries, but there are some jokes from earlier on in her career that she'd never do again. 

"Absolutely not. Yeah. I mean, I think any comic with a long span of being a stand-up, I think you want to look back at the stuff, the old stuff you did, and cringe. Otherwise, there's no growth," she said. 

That growth began as a kid in one of just a handful of Jewish families in Bedford, New Hampshire. Like so many comics, she found humor was a way to fit in. It's a memory she describes in hilarious detail in her bestselling memoir, "The Bedwetter."

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Sarah Silverman in "I Love You, America" Hulu

"Any comic, the reason why they become funny is survival -- is a means of survival; surviving their childhood. You know, they're the fat kid, they make the fat jokes first. And so I became funny," she said. 

"My dad taught me swears when I was, like, 3. And I would say them and it would get this reluctant laughter from all the grownups. And it felt so good. It made my arms itch with glee. I don't know how to explain it. I do think that was, like, the bug of wanting -- of the joy of being provocative," she said. 

Silverman built a career on being provocative. Now 47, she has been performing stand up since she was 19. 

At 22, she got what looked to be her big break: a coveted spot as a writer and performer on "Saturday Night Live." She was let go after only one season.

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Sarah Silverman on "Saturday Night Live" Broadway Video

"Let's say being a bed wetter and going to sleepover camp every summer from when you're 6is so humiliating that the idea of,  like, bombing doing stand-up, is not very daunting to me. 'Saturday Night Live' was such a dream and I loved it and then when I was fired from that I just went back to stand-up, which is always who I am," she said.  

Now, she spends most of her time here working on her latest project "I Love You, America" which, as is so often the case with Silverman, is not what you might expect.

"I Love You, America" is an un-ironic look at all the things she loves about America, including the different types of people that comprise it.

"I want to be an example of what a patriot can look like. Patriotism can't be never criticizing your country. That's what dictatorships have, or, you know what I mean? I believe in us and I don't think it's ever a mistake to have compassion for people, even people who do bad things…It's also a comedy, by the way," she said. 

"I like to sandwich the thoughtful stuff with aggressively stupid, ridiculous and silly bread and serve that sandwich," she added. 

In the course of handling topical issues, the recent wave of sexual harassment allegations was one she just had to address. 

"I wanted to do it on my own show with my, in my own way. It is touching everyone's lives and from all sides. And just when you think you know all the answers and everything is black and white your perspective changes. And you know, that's gonna happen to a lot of people, maybe even everybody," she said.

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Sarah Silverman prepares for her Hulu show "I Love You, America" CBS News

"I love Louis. But Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true. So I just keep asking myself can you love someone who did bad things?" she said on her show of comedian Louis C.K.

"I know we're actually living in a moment right now that's vital. It has to happen and it's good," she said.

"I don't have anything to say to 6-year-old me. I have something to say to, like, every woman, every person which is just, like, we're on a rock in outer space. Like, make this life count."