Robyn Von Swank

Sarah Silverman is funny. And with her new role, the comedy continues.

Sarah Silverman, by her own admission, is not everyone’s cup of tea. A boundaries-pushing veteran of television, film, live theater and social media, the 43-year-old Silverman appears this month in Seth MacFarlane’s new film, A Million Ways to Die in the West, a riotous send-up of Westerns. Later this summer, a PBS documentary series will honor Silverman, along with Jane Fonda, Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes and others, as a “woman who makes America.” Love her or not, Silverman knows how to find your funny bone, and she’s not afraid to use it.

American Way: You play a prostitute in A Million Ways to Die in the West. How do you prepare for that role?
Sarah Silverman: Well, I shadowed a lot of prostitutes and watched what they did. No, I’m just kidding. What did I do to prepare? Um, nothing. Nothing at all. They put an outfit on me and then I said the words and then the magic happened.

AW: What attracted you to the project?
SS: It’s a Seth MacFarlane movie! If you’re not already a fan of Family Guy, if you didn’t already love Ted, then there’s this. It’s wall-to-wall funny. The script is just so good — it makes me want to quit writing.

AW: When did you know you were funny?
SS: I knew I was funny when I was about 3 years old because my dad would have me swear, and when I did, all of the adults would give me this wild approval, in spite of themselves. And I became addicted to that feeling. I grew up in Manchester, N.H., a very hairy, tiny little girl among blond, Aryan people, in a farm town, and being funny was about making fun of myself before other people did. It’s just that classic comedian stuff: defense mechanism, survival skill.

AW: The author Kurt Vonnegut once said that the youngest child in a family has to be funny if she’s going to get any love or attention.
SS: Everyone in my family was funny, but as the youngest, I was the dancing monkey for sure. They’d call the telephone operator and put me on to sing songs to her and swear and stuff. I would do anything for a laugh.

AW: Is there anything you won’t do for a laugh now?
SS: I don’t like hurting people’s feelings. On the other side of that coin, you can’t protect everybody from comedy. But I try not to hurt people.