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Entertainment & Arts

‘Cancel culture’? Sarah Silverman calls it ‘righteousness porn’ and ‘really scary’

Sarah Silverman
Comic Sarah Silverman once wore blackface for her TV show, but now says she’s “changed forever” on that topic.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Sarah Silverman thinks “cancel culture” should be canceled — in most cases.

You know cancel culture: A mistake is made, or revealed, or imagined, and the reaction online is that the person or entity involved be forever exiled. It’s currently afflicting Equinox and SoulCycle, and the New York Times. It has been directed at Taylor Swift, YouTuber Logan Paul and even the late John Wayne.

During an episode of “The Bill Simmons Podcast” last week Silverman criticized the movement to essentially erase people for their past mistakes, even if the mistaken have since recognized their errors. The comedian also discussed some of her own regrettable moments — like performing in blackface in an episode of her show that was about race — for which she hopes the public can forgive her.

“It’s really scary,” Silverman said of the cancel trend. “I call it ‘righteousness porn,’ where it’s like, if you’re not on board, if you say the wrong thing, if you had a tweet once. … Everyone is throwing the first stone. It’s so odd, and it’s a perversion.”

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But not everyone deserves a second chance, in Silverman’s opinion. After all, she’s had no problem jumping on the cancel train for controversial public figures like President Trump and Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. For the comic, cancel culture operates on a “case-by-case” basis.

Comedian Sarah Silverman is blasting a Baptist Florida pastor for calling for her “untimely death” in a sermon. “That’s America today,” she says.

“As I draw lines in the sand — and I wish for other people on the left to do this too — you have to ask yourself, ‘Would I want this person to be changed, or do I secretly want them to stay what I deem as wrong, so I can point to ... myself as right?’ ” she said. “There’s so much to be genuinely outraged by, but you have to say, ‘Is the action I’m taking here creating change or creating further division?’ ”

Silverman also noted that her head has been on the canceling block before, particularly for her decision to wear blackface on an episode of “The Sarah Silverman Program,” which, she said, has cost her work in the industry despite her attempts to address and apologize for it.

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“I’m not saying, ‘Don’t hold me accountable,’ ” she said. “I held myself accountable. I can’t erase that I did that, but I can only be changed forever and do what I can to make it right for the rest of my life.”

A fundamentalist Baptist church in Sacramento preaches hatred of LGBTQ people. Its network of churches with similar views is growing, and experts on extremism say they are concerned about the churches’ spread of violent rhetoric through the internet.

Comedians tend to find themselves at the center of a cancel movement when social media users rediscover bits or comments that have aged poorly — most notably Kevin Hart’s homophobic remarks on his son and sexuality. Silverman can relate.

“I’ve always said that if I look back on my old stuff and don’t cringe, there’s something wrong,” she said. “If you’re putting yourself out there, it’s not going to be timeless — it’s just not.”


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