Exclusive interview with Laura Silverman: The ‘comeback’ kid

Comedian Sarah Silverman and Rabbi Susan Silverman cast long shadows, but their sister Laura Silverman possesses the golden touch in the HBO hit ‘The Comeback.’

Silverman sisters – from left, Susan, Jodyne, Laura and Sarah with Abramowitz children and Yosef  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Silverman sisters – from left, Susan, Jodyne, Laura and Sarah with Abramowitz children and Yosef
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With high-profile siblings usually grabbing the headlines in their respective fields of comedy and liberal Judaism, she is enjoying her time as the current buzz-list Silverman.
Sandwiched between older sister – Jerusalem-based rabbi and Women of the Wall champion Susan, her bawdy, worldwide phenomenon kid sister Sarah, and successful screenwriter Jodyne, Laura Silverman’s star has risen thanks to The Comeback, the dark HBO comedy series she appears in starring Lisa Kudrow of Friends fame, that has turned into a hipster smash in its return nine years after its initial one-season run.
Taking an almost decade-long break between seasons doesn’t seem to be the best strategy to maximize popularity, but it’s proven to be a winning formula for The Comeback, Silverman told The Jerusalem Post last week from Los Angeles.
“The theme of the show actually lent itself to that length of time passing – it’s actually kind of perfect,” said Silverman, who plays Kudrow’s producer Jane Benson in the show.
That theme, nine years ago, was somewhat radical – presaging the era of reality TV shows by presenting a show within a show. When asked to describe the premise in a theoretical 30-second elevator pitch, Silverman offered a nervous laugh that recalled sister Sarah – and then proceeded to kill it.
“The original series was about an actress named Valerie Cherish [Kudrow] who had been relatively successful in a sitcom – not a great one but a popular one. But not a whole lot happened for her after that. She gets a chance to come back to network TV for a new sitcom, called Room and Bored, but part of the deal is that she has to let cameras follow her around for a partner reality show called The Comeback,” said Silverman.
“So the show that viewers saw was kind of one step away from the final cut of what The Comeback would have been. And now we’re picking it up again nine years later when Valerie [who has been out of the limelight ever since] gets offered another sitcom.”
Back to real life, thanks to the Internet age, YouTube and downloads that first season of The Comeback has garnered many more fans than actually viewed it in 2005. The faux cinema verite concept, including Silverman’s character Benson “accidentally” being caught onscreen in every episode despite the premise of her being heard off screen, was just one of the elements that raised the show to TV folklore in the ensuing nine years. So when the idea of revisiting the characters was raised, Silverman didn’t have any trepidation.
“We had done the first season before it became normal for everyone to be followed around with a camera like Real Housewives and have their lives shown on screen.To come back in when it’s become almost a joke and find out what Valerie has been doing and what she is going to do next was a really interesting concept,” she said. “And it’s kind of a trend to bring things back that have never lost their following, and in fact have gained a new following via all the access online. We have a huge new following of younger fans that had never seen the show when it was first on.”
In season one, Silverman’s Benson was in charge of following Valerie around for the reality show in progress and soliciting reactions from the often-bewildered star, with most of her involvement being heard off screen. The current season finds Valerie tracking down Benson to produce the new version of The Comeback to chronicle her hoped-for comeback and presents a larger, on-screen role for Silverman. Benson’s backstory is revealed for the first time as an Oscar-winning gay Jew.
“It’s not that different for me because I always ended up on screen in the first season – it was a running joke that I was trying to stay off camera but there was all these little moments when the camera would inadvertently catch me,” she said.
“It was very well planned. Despite the show having the feel of being an improvised documentary, it’s very well scripted. Every little bit that you see is not an accident.”
Silverman’s foray into acting also wasn’t an accident, although it was considerably less scripted than The Comeback. Born and raised in Bedford, New Hampshire, Silverman and her sisters grew up in a nurturing environment that encouraged them to express themselves. But she kept her acting aspirations to herself, especially in light of her more extroverted younger sister Sarah.
“I don’t think anyone knew I wanted to be an actress, it was a surprise to everyone. I was more interested in writing,” said Silverman.
“We had no idea that she wanted to go into performing,” said her sister Susan, an activist for religious pluralism and international adoption who moved to Israel in 2006 with her husband, solar energy innovator Yosef Abramowitz. “She was somewhat of an introvert.”
But the inner actor began to emerge when Silverman was studying fine arts in Boston in the late 1980s, and she started doing some sketch comedy writing for local groups including future stars like David Cross (Arrested Development), Jon Benjamin and Sam Seder.
“I was writing for this group that didn’t have any women in it, so I ended up playing the female roles,” she said.
That led to some voice-over roles on TV shows and then a bigger break when she joined her sketch comedy partners Benjamin and Seder in the animated comedy series on Comedy Central Dr. Katz Professional Therapist from 1995- 1999.
“It was just a fluke but that was the turning point – it was popular and successful for what it was and I wanted to keep doing it, so I moved to New York and later to Los Angeles. When I first started, I thought I would be doing dramatic acting, but I kept getting cast in comedies. But you gotta do what people think you’re good at.”
Silverman proved to be very good at composing naughty songs, and following the first season of The Comeback, she joined sister Sarah in the cast of The Sarah Silverman Show beginning in 2007, appearing as her sister and contributing such ditties as “White Dog Poop.”
“We like to make each other laugh. I like to write funny songs and I would always sing them to Sarah. Some of them ended up in the show, which is pretty cool,” said Silverman, adding that the two sisters separate their personal and professional relationships.
“She tries jokes out on me all the time, but in terms of our careers and show biz, we don’t talk about it at all. There’s no rivalry or competition, not even in the littlest bit.”
But when the four sisters get together in Israel (as they are doing later this month, minus Jodyne, for a family occasion and Sarah’s appearance at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival where her HBO comedy special, Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles, will be screened), the mirth flows effortlessly.
While Laura and Sarah may be the professional jokesters, it’s Rabbi Susan who claims to be the funniest.
“We just get into bed together and laugh,” she said.
For Laura, her visits to Israel provide an opportunity to leave behind the Los Angeles entertainment scene and reconnect with her five Israeli nieces and nephews.
“I’m pretty obsessed with those kids, I usually don’t do much besides hang out with them and see what their lives are like. Whatever they want to do, that’s what we do,” said Silverman, adding that she feels as comfortable in Israel as she does at home.
This time however, Laura Silverman might be the family member who’s stopped on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for autographs.
For her and her sisters, that would be a good laugh, but it surely won’t be the last one.