Will Sarah Silverman give the MTV Movie Awards what she's brought to the Independent Spirit Awards?
MTV executives probably hope she will and she won't.
Typically candid and brash in hosting the latter event on Independent Film Channel, the acerbic star of Comedy Central's "The Sarah Silverman Program" may have to tone down her humor a bit to preside over the basic-cable music channel's 16th annual film honors Sunday, June 3. Marking the first time it will be televised live (in the eastern half of the country), the ever-irreverent show has another first, with "Survivor" mentor Mark Burnett serving as executive producer.
"I think they assume that I know the stuff that flew on IFC doesn't go on MTV," says Silverman, who managed to make cheese an object of controversy in her last Independent Spirit Awards remarks. "I've been around a long time, but I'm still shocked at the things you can and cannot say. It's like anyone at any network: 'Can we have your edge, but rounded?' "
Silverman doesn't try hard to smooth things over in discussing her latest employer, though she professes affection. "I grew up with MTV," she reflects, "but I think, and I say this out of love, it's having a little bit of an identity crisis. There's very little 'M' in MTV these days.
"I love all that crap like 'Laguna Beach' and 'The Hills,' but some of those shows like the one where your parents decide who you'll date ('Parental Control') feel so fake, you don't catch any real moments in what's supposed to be reality television. Or that thing where they hook kids up to a lie detector ('Exposed'); it's so cheeseball. But then there's good stuff I love on MTV, like 'My Super Sweet 16,' which is delicious. I do miss the music videos, though."
Even if she hasn't seen all the films she'll poke fun at during the MTV Movie Awards -- originating from the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif. -- Silverman doesn't deem that a problem. "I always want to see movies and never end up doing it," she says. "I'll probably see a few of them, but only knowing the basic ideas doesn't impair me in writing jokes about them."
That could be even easier for Silverman, since MTV Movie Award nominees generally are more mainstream than the films she lampoons at the Independent Spirit Awards. The ancient-war film "300" leads with five nominations, and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" follows with four.
However, Silverman notes, "I don't know what to expect from the MTV crowd anymore. It's a totally different world now, so you can't put yourself in the shoes of that demographic by virtue of your own experience.
"That's why I just have to be myself. People will either like it or not. I don't want to try to conform to something I think I'm supposed to be. Sometimes, you see people get a big break when they do something like this, and it ends up [awful] because they don't remember to do what they do and not make such a big deal out of it."
Silverman will have lots of company onstage at the MTV Movie Awards. Musically, Rihanna is slated to team with Jay-Z, and British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse also is set to perform. Scheduled presenters include John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Amanda Bynes, Shia LaBeouf, Jessica Alba and her "Fantastic Four" screen mates, and "Knocked Up" co-stars Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen.
While asserting she has "a good plan" for the Movie Awards, Silverman isn't sure it will mesh with producer Burnett's intentions. "He's taking a huge leap of faith by letting me do this," she says. "I had never met him before, and I was shocked that he was even aware of who I was. It's embarrassing to say, but he is so inspiring. He has that Tony Robbins effect on me; I walked out of there going, 'Wow! This is gonna be great! If you can dream it, you can do it!' "
Nevertheless, Silverman knows she and Burnett have "such different sensibilities, this will either be really cool or a disaster. He just does everything so big. He called me and some of the writers I'm working with and said, 'Is there any way you could put a helicopter in the opening? Every show I do has a helicopter in the opening.' I was like, 'What?'
"The guy's a billionaire, so he doesn't have to do this. It's the challenge of making this a superspecial event, so how do I fit into the scenario?"
"I'm on a path, and this is definitely a part of it," she says. "It's really fun for me. Everybody has to look at me and give me attention, and that's good. I'm sure that addresses several childhood dysfunctions."
Silverman has done her own screen work, perhaps most notably in her one-woman 2005 film "Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic," but she considers herself on the fringe of Hollywood.
"I've always felt like I'm on the outside looking in," she says, "with the way it works and the marketing and all. It's not a new idea that (studios and producers) go for the lowest common denominator, the most accessible thing, but I give audiences a lot more credit. If you put something cool or something you think is really funny out there, I think they'll rise to the occasion."
"The Sarah Silverman Program" is bearing that out, at least in its star's view. It features her as a fictionalized version of herself a la "Seinfeld," and she says, "I love the show. I feel completely free in it, especially now that it's having some success. It's just so nice for the suits at Comedy Central to say 'yes' to whatever. We can do whatever we think is funny. It's so cool to do something I'm proud of."