Why Sarah Silverman is Pretty Radical and Currently My Hero

Sarah Silverman in 2007

By Angela Noel


Since my last post on performing radical acts of empathy, my friend Hayley posted a story on Facebook about comedian Sarah Silverman’s actions in response to a fellow who called her the c-word.

This twitter exchange, and how the guy responded to her outreach has been shared many times over. No one necessarily needs me to comment on it or to say any more about it. But I’m going to because when this kind of beauty happens just when I’m thinking about what it means to perform radical acts of empathy, I’m pretty sure that’s a sign from the universe.

In last week’s post I talked about the importance of actions; how small things, like reading as way to expand our empathy, can have a huge impact on how we live and operate in the world. I wrote that I wanted to answer the call when it came–to stand with those most in need at the moment when they might need it.

Then Sarah Silverman popped into my world.

She could have ignored the guy, or blocked him. She could have engaged in a negative-fest of words back and forth. Maybe she could have offered a type of patronizing sympathy about how his life must be so sad to have to do this kind of thing. I’m not in Sarah’s head, so maybe she looked through his twitter feed initially to find that kind of ammunition to fire back at him. She is a comedian after all and human foibles are her stock in trade. But, in the end, what she wrote speaks of none of that. She related to him. She showed him she’s invested in his experience. She’s not apologizing to him or for him. She’s just saying, “I’m here. I get it. We’re in this together.”

And that, I think, is the essence of empathy.

Sarah Silverman, famous comedian, has power in an economic and social sense. She could crush this guy and the world would likely tell her she’s justified, and we’d all move on to the next thing. But instead she used her power to stop the ugly train. She used her empathy to learn more, to question, to meet him where he was and respond not from a position of power, but from a position of humanity.

Sure, the woman does a lot of vulgar jokes in her act, but in the end she’s making a point. That’s what art does–it gets our attention in one way or another, holding space for a new idea to sneak through. In this case, instead of trying to make us laugh, Sarah held space in a different way. By doing the work, spending the time, and trying to understand, she changed the same old combative narrative. It took effort to do this. It took self-awareness and a willingness to subvert ego towards a greater good.

Perhaps I don’t think every joke she makes is funny.  But I don’t need to be a fan of her comedy to be a superfan of her humanity.

Frankly, I’m glad there’s a practitioner of radical acts of empathy in the world who makes poop jokes.

It’s going to be one heck of an interesting year.

Your Turn: What do you think of what Sarah did? How would you have responded if you’d been in her shoes?

Featured image by Joan Garvin (kirby10011) – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Link

Author: Angela Noel

On a quest to become a better human, I write about parenting, leadership, and personal development. I tell my stories so you can find your own.

28 thoughts on “Why Sarah Silverman is Pretty Radical and Currently My Hero”

  1. Yes! I was absolutely blown away by this commendable humane act. I have so much respect for. I think she’s a very intelligent woman and she uses that intelligence and like you say, her power in the right way. The more people react like Sarah the better this world will be.

    1. I totally agree. It takes a lot to respond with love. So hard to do, but so worth the effort. Thank you for sharing the original article that fit so perfectly with this idea of being radical, but in a constructive way.

  2. I have to say that Sarah’s response was refreshing. Refreshing in a way that is different from the typical backlash you would normally see. You are correct. This was a perfect follow-up to your post on empathy last week. Your write-up is straight-to-the-point and powerful. Bravo!

    1. Refreshing is a great way to put it. I do think it’s so easy to be a jerk. When a celebrity does the right thing and in her own way I think it makes a big impact. I like to think if I met Sarah on the street we could have a good conversation. Thanks for reading lovely Erin.

  3. I saw this story initially on FB (I think it was you who shared it) and I genuinely haven’t stopped thinking about it since… If that were me, I’d have immediately blocked and reported him, but the fact that she took the time to figure out that he was in pain and needed help really stood out as something that I need to start considering more – you never know someone’s story until you take the time to find out more…

  4. suzie81speaks brings up a most valid point: “you never know someone’s story until you take the time to find out more.” So true. We all have background for why we act negatively, even when we don’t realize what our actions may trigger. So, before I condemn a person for lashing out or doing something that puts me in combat mode, I need to recognize those actions often come from baggage that we all carry. The world would be a better place if we could stop feeling “offended” and refrain from seeking retaliation. Retaliation is a no win situation. But empathy can save not just the situation but also the spirit of our humanness. Empathy is not a weakness or a “giving in”. It is the strength to set aside one’s own agenda and seek to understand another.

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  6. This is a perfect example of #resist that we should all strive for. Resisting the hate, resisting the stereotypes, connecting with our fellow man. I loved reading all the comments in that thread, so hopeful!

    1. Yes! I think that’s a great word for it: resisting. It helps to suggest an action word. I don’t know who said it originally, but there’s a quote about if we don’t stand for something, we fall for everything. I think that might be true in terms of resistance and acceptance too.

  7. Great post, Angela. I loved reading Sarah Silverman’s Twitter thread when that story broke. She is everything we hope to be.

  8. Great post, thanks. Sarah Silverman has not been on my radar to do but that’s changed now. Thanks

    1. I’m so glad. She definitely “goes there” in some serious topics. But it’s great to know that she’s thinking seriously about ways to help the world be a better place.

  9. I love this. I also like Chelsea Clinton’s twitter feed. She gets ripped apart constantly by people and usually she chooses to ignore these horrible comments. But sometimes she does comment and it shows the character she has when she responds to vitriol with love and kindness. We need more Chelsea’s and Sarah’s in the world.

  10. What a beautiful statement from her. A little random that she even saw it. Thanks for sharing!
    Btw I tried to subscribe to this blog but can’t seem to find a subscribe button…?

    1. It is random that she saw it–must have been some kind of special kismet moment. Whatever it was it was perfect timing for me too! She exemplified exactly the kinds of things I want to see and do more of.
      As to the subscribe thing, you should be able to “follow” but there’s a subscribe bar on the sidebar too. I hope that helps, and I’m grateful you want to follow me!

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