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December 21, 2014

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Sarah Silverman on her start in comedy, performing in casinos and Sheldon Adelson

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Robyn Von Swank

Sarah Silverman

Sarah Silverman

Comedian Sarah Silverman arrives at the premiere of Launch slideshow »
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Sarah Silverman at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party at The Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles on March 7, 2010.

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Sarah Silverman.

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Ben Affleck, Joe Reitman, Sarah Silverman and Annie Duke.

Sarah Silverman has crafted no overarching strategy about her live performances. She doesn’t seem to have crafted any strategy, actually.

“This opportunity just kind of came up, and I went, ‘Yeah!,’” Silverman said during a phone conversation this week. “I don’t know. I don’t do enough planning in my work or my career.”

So Silverman’s appearance at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms is not an indication that she’s investigating the sort of six-weekend-a-year schedule Bill Maher performs at the resort.

She likes the room and is still a busy standup comic, although at the moment she is filming the Seth MacFarlane-directed comedy “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris and MacFarlane (who also co-wrote the script) are in the cast. The film is due out next year.

During the interview, Silverman talked of performing in resort casinos, her decision as a teenager to become a comic and the fallout from the video she made last fall, in which she made an odd offer to resort mogul and then-Mitt Romney supporter Sheldon Adelson. The highlights:

Johnny Kats: You’ve performed in all sorts of venues. I saw you in a reconfigured ballroom at Caesars a few years ago, a midnight show during the Las Vegas Comedy Festival. What type of room do you prefer?

Sarah Silverman: I started out in clubs, and I’ve always liked clubs. I like theaters because people are there for the show. Even though comedy clubs are for comedy, you know it’s a little more focused in a place like the Pearl. You don’t have to worry about the bar being in the room. I like a theater that can be fairly large but have a small feel, where it feels like a show.

J.K.: Comics have often said casinos can be a challenge for performing comedy.

S.S.: Right. You get a lot of people who just have tickets to a show and are not specifically there to see you. It’s like the gambling comes first and the show is not a high priority. I don’t want a high roller falling asleep in my show or leaving early to go out and gamble. But the Pearl is a theater venue and is good for comedy.

J.K.: I’m reading your Wikipedia entry here. I ask this of a lot of celebs: Do you read that, and is it accurate?

S.S.: It’s funny; I haven’t in a long time. I mean, I look up Wikipedia pages all the time, but not my own.

J.K.: What was the catalyst for you to become a comedian in the first place?

S.S.: It’s a pretty typical story. I was always the class clown, I made my family laugh, and that was when I was always happiest. I grew up listening to stand-up comedians’ albums and watching them on TV, on “The Tonight Show” and Letterman. I wanted to be a comedian. I didn’t want to be anything else. When I was 17, I went to summer school in Boston, and that’s the first time I did it, at Stitches (Comedy Club). I moved to New York when I was 18 and passed out fliers for a comedy club, and that was it. I had wanted to be Eponine in “Les Mis,” but everything went out the window. My whole life became about standup.

J.K.: I would expect that walking onstage for the first time as a comedian would be somewhat terrifying. Can you recall what it was like to be onstage for the first time at Stitches?

S.S.: Oh, yeah. I was really nervous; I do remember that. The love of my life, my history teacher Mr. Burke, and his wife came (laughs). And, you know, I had my five minutes planned out. But I do remember the first time I walked into Stitches before I got to go up on open-mic night. I remember who was onstage — a very young Wendy Liebman. I remember her jokes well. She was so amazing. She said, “Someone told me I look like Ruth Buzzi. I don’t know her. Is she pretty?” (Laughs). She is so amazing, and there is a certain structure to a Wendy Liebman joke. She was the first person I saw onstage, and I was like, “Whoa!”

J.K.: You’re in the middle of filming a movie right now and are about to go onstage and do a stand-up show. How do you keep your act sharp?

S.S.: I’m always writing; I’m always jotting things down on paper or making notes in my iPhone. Then I’ll make myself sit down and kind of shape it up, but there’s really no other way to practice other than onstage.

J.K.: Where does that happen?

S.S.: Ultimately, it’s just walking up to the Comedy Store (in Hollywood). There are three different rooms, and I can just go bomb in all three of them and start over. They are really nice and let me do that. It’s better than practicing in front of the mirror.

J.K.: You are active in all sorts of mediums: movies, TV, YouTube, Twitter, your live act.

S.S.: I love making videos on my couch. You can put those on the Internet fast. I can express myself. I love Twitter. I didn’t used to — I remember Jon Favreau was the first person I ever saw who did Twitter. We were playing poker at my apartment, and I was making fun of him, like, “You’re craaazy with that!” I was relentless with him. Then a couple of days later, I was listening to Howard Stern, and he was talking about having a Twitter account, and I started thinking, “What is this Twitter?” The next thing I knew I was in love with this new form of expression. It’s a message in a bottle. I test out jokes, I write feelings, I love it, and it’s great for joke writing.

J.K.: I’m reading it now. One post is, “Does anyone think it DOESN’T take a village?”

S.S.: I express every feeling. That came from being so frustrated, in general, with legislation and politics and the amount of suffering in the world that is totally disregarded.

J.K.: You caused a stir around here with the video you made offering Sheldon Adelson a certain sex act if he would donate to President Barack Obama instead of Mitt Romney. Have you ever heard from Adelson or anyone representing him about that?

S.S.: I never did hear from Sheldon, but I met two different men at two different times who claimed to be very close friends with him, and they seemed delighted by the whole thing (laughs). But that happened all in a day, on my couch. He was in the news, and I was just riffing. You know, I feel like he’s chock full of charisma (laughs).

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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