<EM>The Sarah Silverman Program</EM> The Sarah Silverman Program
Sarah Silverman is one of America's most popular comedians, despite never having had her own TV show or a starring turn in a big-budget Hollywood flick. That ends (well, at least the TV part) when The Sarah Silverman Program premieres on Comedy Central tonight at 10:30pm/ET.

So why is the Bedford, New Hamphire, native so well known? The most obvious explanation seems to be that her good looks and dainty delivery serve as a surprising counterpoint to her caustic, sometimes controversial material, which deals with hot potatoes such as race, religion and sexuality. Never one to pull punches, she's gotten attention for offending Asians by using the word "chink" on Conan and by leveling a deadpan rape accusation against TV host Joe Franklin as the punch line in the movie The Aristocrats. When asked about her history of causing offense, Silverman pleads ignorance.

"I don't know what's wrong with me that I come off this way," Silverman says to TVGuide.com. "I get this question a lot, but I genuinely am not looking to offend. This may sound pathetic, but I'm just trying to be funny."

With her new Comedy Central venture, she succeeds. Following the daily exploits of a blithely narcissistic character named Sarah Silverman, the Program is inspired by Silverman's stage show turned movie Jesus Is Magic. She made various attempts to develop the show for HBO, including two pilots she scripted with Seinfeld and Borat director Larry Charles, but neither panned out. Last year, the project finally landed at Comedy Central, and while Silverman's approach has had to be reined in a bit for basic cable, the story lines are no less outrageous than what you'd expect.

Tonight's premiere, for instance, opens with Sarah singing a crude musical number, and later finds her guzzling cough syrup when her sister (played by real-life sib Laura Silverman) decides to go on a date rather than join her to watch their favorite TV show, "Cookie Time." Sarah's dextromethorphan-fueled hallucinations are captured with animated segments reminiscent of the world of Pee-wee's Playhouse, and proceed into a jealousy-fueled bender and then an all-out rampage. In the end, however, Laura eventually comes to the rescue.

"I'm a fan of hers, and she's very, very fun to be with," says Silverman about working with her younger sis. "I lucked out. She puts up with me!"

Also thrown into the mix are Silverman regulars Steve Agee and comedian Brian Posehn, playing a gay video-gaming couple who live down the hall from Sarah. In the premiere, Brian tries to convince Steve he's bisexual. Their awkward exchanges provide a low-key sidebar to Sarah's high-energy antics.

"We never went through a casting process for them," says Silverman. "We wrote parts for them with their names, even. They didn't really know each other in the beginning, but I was close to both of them separately, and we knew it was a perfect fit. It was fun to watch their real-life friendship blossom while shooting. ‘You love Halo? I love Halo!'"

Since The Sarah Silverman Program follows the daily interactions of a character named Sarah Silverman, much of the press surrounding the show has made comparisons to Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm. When asked about the connection, Silverman tries to draw some key distinctions. "It's flattering to be compared, though Curb is improvised and this is a scripted show," she says. "Curb was about Larry as himself, while I — though my name is Sarah Silverman — am playing a character who is not me, not a comic, not in or around show business, and not particularly nice!"

The deliciously real Silverman is probably smart to distance herself from the fictional, seeing as future episodes of her Program will deal with Sarah's irreverent treatment of the homeless, Anne Frank's diary and AIDS testing.

But separately.

For more from Sarah Silverman, see the Jan. 29 issue of TV Guide.

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