This Saturday, those watching the Screen Actors Guild Awards will see a few nominees enjoying their awards season in the spotlight. Room stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are among the first-time nominees, for example.
What’s especially notable about Silverman’s nomination is that it’s for a dramatic performance that’s nowhere near the brand of comedy that made her famous. I Smile Back has her playing a suburban mother whose struggles with drugs, depression and other emotional issues threaten to destroy her seemingly ideal family life.
In promoting the film, Silverman has openly discussed her own struggles with depression. And in recent interviews, she’s reflected on the ways she has grown and changed since her time as a comedian known to many for making shocking statements. (She still knows how to get a reaction, however, and as recently as December angered some with a Christmastime joke tweet about Jesus being gender-fluid.)
Her fans, however, know that I Smile Back is just the latest performance in a long acting career that began in 1993 with a single-season stint on Saturday Night Live. Since then, Silverman has enjoyed an eclectic mix of roles, and we’re celebrating the movie and TV gigs that led up to this potentially career-changing performance.
(Warning: Some of the below clips contain NSFW language.)
The Larry Sanders Show (1996)
During her year on SNL, Silverman struggled to get sketches on the air. And she probably drew on that experience for her first major post-SNL gig on Larry Sanders, as a new female writer who clashes with the show’s male staff. Silverman reprised the role in two more episodes of the show.
Star Trek: Voyager (1996)
Let it be known that Sarah Silverman can do sci-fi: time-travel sci-fi, no less. She’d also have a recurring role on Futurama, so apparently time-travel is her sci-fi specialty.
Who’s the Caboose? (1997)
Silverman’s first starring role was in this mockumentary comedy that had her playing an actress trying to land a part during TV pilot season. The film boasts a who’s-who of comedians who’d go on to bigger things later, including Kathy Griffin, Marc Maron, Laura Kightlinger, H. Jon Benjamin, David Cross, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Silverman’s sister, Laura Silverman.
Another of the future stars who appeared on the show as one of the characters’ short-lived love interests, Silverman played Emily (she had the “Jimmy legs”) in an eighth season episode.
How You Can Step into the Seinfeld Apartment!
There’s Something About Mary (1998)
Probably the first role that might have made movie-goers ask “Who’s that girl?” (or at least “Isn’t that that girl who used to be on SNL?”) was a supporting one in There’s Something About Mary. She’s one of the friends of Mary (Cameron Diaz), and that’s her at the 1:28 mark, singing “Build Me Up Buttercup” next to Khandi Alexander at the end of the film, along with the rest of the cast.
School of Rock (2003)
A major hit, School of Rock had Silverman playing the cranky girlfriend to Mike White’s character. In a 2010 interview with Playboy, Silverman noted that she’d played the part well enough that she subsequently was offered only similar "mean girl" roles. “I was the c—- girlfriend in School of Rock and now that’s all anyone will accept me as? Surely people have bigger imaginations than that.”
Silverman played Marci, an obsessive fan of Tony Shalhoub’s title character. For the 2008 episode “Mr. Monk and His Biggest Fan,” Silverman was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
The Aristocrats (2005)
This documentary features a host of famous comedians talking about one of the filthiest jokes in the history of comedy. Even alongside legends like George Carlin and Phyllis Diller, Silverman’s take on the joke was a standout. But the target of her punch line allegedly considered suing her for defamation, which in turn helped Silverman’s presence in the film stand out even more.
Rent fans already know, but those familiar with Silverman’s comedy career might be surprised to learn that she played a supporting role in the movie adaptation of Rent. She even put her singing voice to use with members of the Broadway cast in stage performances of the play beforehand.
Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (2005)
Her first concert film actually got a theatrical release – at first in only eight theaters, but then more when that limited run proved successful. In the film, Silverman supplements her stand-up in front of a live audience with sketches that could be viewed as forerunners to the semi-autobiographical TV series she’d star in next.
The Sarah Silverman Program (2007)
In 2007, Comedy Central debuted Silverman’s first sitcom, which centered on a less mature, less successful but probably not wholly off-base version of the comedian. She starred opposite her real-life sister once again, and in this scene, she performs “The Poop Song” with Laura Marano, who’d go on to become the star of the Disney series Austin & Ally. The series ran for three seasons.
Take This Waltz (2011)
Bob’s Burgers (2011)
The Fox sitcom features two neighbor kids, Ollie and Andy Pesto, who are Ralph Wiggum-ish in the way they relate to the world around them. They’re popular recurring characters on the show, and they’re all the more endearing when you realize they’re voiced by Sarah and Laura Silverman, bringing that real-life sibling bond to weird new levels.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Her most successful movie is probably the one that has her playing most against type. As Vanellope von Schweetz, the title character’s sidekick in Wreck-It Ralph, Silverman gets out quite a few good lines, but the scene in which her character cries is one of the saddest in a recent kids’ movie. You can really feel the sting in that line “You really are a bad guy.”
Saturday Night Live (2014)
Despite being fired from SNL – and famously via fax, no less – Silverman returned to the show in 2014 as a host. In one sketch, she paid tribute to one of the brassy, unfiltered female comedians who proceeded her, Joan Rivers, who had died the previous September.