So seldom does comic Sarah Silverman break out of her snarky, foulmouthed persona, that even the Emmy-nominated star's biggest fans know little about her. Her revelatory new memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, however, offers a rare window into "how a rebellious comic perspective evolved." Here are four of the most telling anecdotes from Silverman's youth:
A comic is born
When Silverman was 4, a dispute broke out between her father and her "Nana," who later emerged from the kitchen carrying a plate of brownies, saying "Sarah, Nana made brownies for you!" Silverman looked at her father, he nodded, and Silverman, as instructed, turned to her grandmother and said, "Shove 'em up your ass!" Everyone burst out laughing. "From that moment on," writes Silverman, "everything I did was in search of that rush."
Her therapist's suicide
By age 13, Silverman was taking Xanax, under the direction of her first psychiatrist, who told her to take the drug "whenever you feel sad" ("as medically incorrect," notes Anne Fenn in the Toronto Globe and Mail, "as it was dangerous"). Just before her second appointment, another doctor ran into the waiting room screaming, "Dr. Riley hung himself!" Reflecting on the experience, Silverman says, "There needs to be some protocol, some set of standards, for how we tell depressed teenage girls that their shrinks have killed themselves."
Bed-wetting and depression
Silverman's struggle with bed-wetting, which lasted into high school, triggered unbearable embarrassment. The trauma came to a head after the prospect of an eighth-grade camping trip led Silverman and her mom to stuff her sleeping bag with Pampers. "As quickly and casually as someone catches the flu," she recalls, "I caught depression, and it would last for the next three years."
How The Tonight Show cured her: One night, Silverman was watching actress Jane Badler regale Johnny Carson with her own bed-wetting tales. The experience, says Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times, made Silverman realize she had to take "ownership of her own embarrassments—an insight that helped make her a stand-up comic unafraid of failure." As Silverman puts it, "My early trauma was a gift, it turned out, in a vocation where your best headspace is feeling that you have nothing to lose."