Sarah Silverman has a bright, toothy smile; a sweet, innocent demeanor; and the most outrageously impious sense of humor of any comedian working today. And I don’t just mean she’s dirty. (She’s filthy.) She makes fun of things other comedians wouldn’t acknowledge, let alone mock.
It’s easy to misunderstand Silverman (if you’re inclined to), as the head of an Asian American watchdog group did when he publicly denounced her for using an ethnic slur in a joke on network television. The joke was not an ethnic joke, but a joke about the selective use of slurs. (There’s an unspoken hierarchy of acceptability, she suggests, which is mainly fear-based). The incident tacked on another punch line to her punch line:
“What kind of world do we live where a totally cute white girl can’t say ‘chink’ on network television? As a member of the Jewish community ... I’m totally concerned we’re losing control of the media.”
Silverman’s fictional persona is that of a faux-naif whose deep-seated awfulness is only heightened by the lip service she pays to political correctness. She makes fun of bigotry by pretending to be a bigot; hypocrisy by pretending to be a hypocrite; and stupidity by pretending to be dumb. Her nice-girl naivete enables her to poke fun at the most grotesque attitudes that lurk under the surface of society by pretending to be well-intentioned -- everybody’s favorite excuse.
Her formula hardly ever varies and never fails: She says something terrible, and it immediately dawns on her that she’s said something terrible. Then she tries to clear it up with something worse."Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic” is a filmed stand-up show book-ended by two hilarious skits skewering the clench-toothed envy cloaked in support that passes as a social life for the average creative striver. At the start of the movie she squirms as two friends (her sister Laura Silverman and Brian Posehn) regale her with tales of landed pilots, upcoming albums and sold scripts. Desperate to get out of there without looking like a loser, she blurts out that she has a show opening later that night -- a musical about AIDS and the Holocaust, but funny.
After an inspired number in which she determines, MGM-style, to make the show happen and make herself the star, the movie settles into her stand-up routine -- all “Nana was at one of the better concentration camps,” and “they’re treating the unions that de-bone the Ethiopian babies really badly.” The stand-up act is punctuated with yet more musical numbers, backed by her band the Silver Men, like a cheerful song called “You’re Gonna Die Soon” in a retirement home; or wonders why any Jew would drive a German car, which leads into a dead-on lampooning of the idea of reclaiming pejoratives that remain offensive in all but the most specific contexts.
It’s not as though she’s not sensitive though. She cries while watching those C.A.R.E. commercials that feature “1- and 2-year-old babies, 9 months pregnant.” The only reason she doesn’t send money is because she doesn’t want them spending it on drugs. “Learn-medy” she calls it.
‘Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic’
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: For sophisticated audiences
A Roadside Attractions release. Director Liam Lynch. Producers Heidi Herzon, Mark Williams, Randy Sosin. Written by Sarah Silverman. Director of photography Rhet Baer. Editor Liam Lynch. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.
At Landmark’s Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379; Edwards University Town Center 6, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 854-8818.