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Sarah Silverman Spreads Her Love Between Elvis Costello and Miley Cyrus

Sarah Silverman, listening in

On November 23, Sarah Silverman will star in her first-ever HBO comedy special, Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles. Filmed in front of an audience of 39 people at the Largo in Los Angeles, the hour-long set finds the comedian/actress under the spotlight in an incredibly intimate setting. She got on the phone with SPIN recently for a one-on-one chat to reminisce about some of her most memorable concert experiences and gush about her favorite artists.

What was the last concert you went to?
Let me think. I just missed a concert I was supposed to go to and then couldn’t at the last minute. It was the National at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. But the last show I saw was probably Jenny Lewis at Largo six months ago, maybe. She blows my mind. I love seeing her live. Another show I missed that I was dying to go to was one of my all-time favorites, Patty Griffin. She was at the Wiltern, and I couldn’t fucking go.

Do you remember the first concert you ever went to?
Yes! I have a cool answer, but I’m not cool. It was in Manchester, New Hampshire, where I’m from, and it was Neil Young. I had never heard of him before, and a cool friend of mine took me to it. I was like, ‘Who’s this?’ I wasn’t old enough to appreciate that it was fucking Neil Young.

How old were you?
I was probably, like, 15. I thought it was cool, but not as cool as I should have. I became a fan later.

So if you were 15, then what year was that?
[Laughs.] Fuck you. It was… 1986. Happy? The year you were probably born.

The year before, actually.
Oh my God.

You have a bit in the new special about your older sister — did she ever turn you on to any music?
I have three older sisters, and, yeah, they all did. Now I’m really going to date myself, but my sister Laura turned me onto Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. My sister Jodene was the one who first knew of, like, U2. She knew bands before they hit New Hampshire, like the Cure. I’m dating myself. [In mock teen voice:] ‘She turned me on to Miley Cyrus!’ [In regular voice:] I obviously do love Miley Cyrus, from “The Climb” and “Party in the U.S.A.” to “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop.” I don’t know why — I like whatever my earholes like, I don’t judge it.

Who are some of your all-time favorite artists?
I love a lot of folk-country — Patty Griffin, Mary Gauthier. But the staples for me are Elvis Costello, who’s my favorite, and I love Joe Jackson. And you know, it’s funny, because two weeks before Lou Reed died, I was at Upright Citizen Brigade Theatre and I just have always wanted to do this, even though it’s not a comedy thing, but you can make UCB completely void of light. So, the last eight minutes of my set one night, I turned all the lights out and I had people just come out and lie down on the stage and in the aisles, and I played Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” The first couple of minutes the audience was kind of laughing, looking for the joke, like, “Is there something I’m not getting?” Then they realized there wasn’t, that it was just an experience I thought would be cool. It was weird, too, because literally a day before Lou Reed died I was listening to Transformer. His music had cycled back into what I was listening to.

What was the last song you listened to before we spoke?
My alarm is actually “Mexico” by Cake. It’s just a really good song to wake up to, and I love songs that are waltzes. There’s a song called “Table for One” by Liz Phair, and that’s a waltz too, and it’s so heartbreaking and beautiful. I love heartbreak. It’s totally about her being a failure, alcoholic mother and wife, but it’s to the beat of a waltz.

When you’re writing a song for your act, like “Diva,” are there are any artists or styles you’re nodding to in your head?
I think “Diva” is a combination of a children’s song and a country song. There are only so many chords I know, so it’s going to be in that wheelhouse. You’re not going to have a lot of, like, B-minor sevenths.

In We Are Miracles, you discuss a lot of the same topics that you’ve been covering for years, but with a very different approach. Are there any musicians you love that have pulled off a similar sort of transition?
Well, I would never actually compare myself to anyone that I would bring up, but… Elvis Costello changes his sound, and he’s interested in music, and he experiments with so many different things, like classical, and he did that whole album with Burt Bacharach that was amazing. And I love My Aim Is True and all that too, but it’s still always him. With my first special, Jesus Is Magic, I was saying the opposite of what I meant and assuming that what I meant transcends through, but that was the “arrogant ignorant.” And this special is different in that I’m saying what I mean. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just growth and time and being a human being. But it’s still coming out of the same nasally mouth. Not that I think I’m Elvis Costello by any means.