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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2005 at 12:00 AM

If Lenny Bruce had married a Breck Girl, their daughter might look a bit like Sarah Silverman. Adorably perky, with a gleaming Colgate smile and cascade of raven black hair, the comedian revels in coquettishly bawdy jokes about sexual assault, the Holocaust, AIDS, 9/11 and racial bigotry. Undercutting her absurdly racist quips and sexual nastiness with an “Oopsy-daisy, I can’t believe I just said that” delivery, she tosses off provocative asides like, “The best time to have a baby... is when you’re a black teenager,” without inciting a riot.

Confrontational, socially observant and wickedly funny, Silverman brings her caustic comedy routine to the big screen. Unlike most stand-up concert films, however, Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic clutters up its 70-minute running time with brief skits and song-and-dance interludes. It’s an unfortunate choice; the awkward musical numbers only undermine her confidently casual stage persona.

Shot by director Liam Lynch — who’s done Tenacious D videos — the videos act as unwanted speed bumps, interrupting the comedian’s foul-mouthed momentum. Silverman doesn’t need their scatological lyrics and incongruous sight gags to get laughs. The dissonance created by her ugly one-liners and girlish innocence allows for plenty of fearless riffs on taboo subjects.

She exploits her naive Jewish-American Princess façade with jokes like, “Everybody blames the Jews for killing Christ. And then the Jews try to pass it off on the Romans. I’m one of the few people who believe it was the blacks.”

Silverman’s subversive barbs take us into pretty dark territory, confronting the absurdity of our own hidden prejudices and making her self-involved racism an effigy on our behalf.

An equal-opportunity humorist, however, she targets her own ethnic tribe with self-deprecating glee. “I was raped by a doctor,” she says, “which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.”

It’s clear she despises hypocrisy. Her sugarcoated assault on political correctness reveals a serious critique of insincere pronouncements of tolerance and sensitivity. Unlike most comedians, Silverman removes all sense of self from her performance, never revealing her own politics or opinions. Only in an aside about “edgy” performers — those who rely on shock instead of craft to tell jokes — does she display true scorn.

It’s this personal removal from her comedy that compromises — albeit slightly — the concert-film format. Like the stand-up of Steven Wright, her jokes lack an internal vision or strategy. The routine doesn’t build or develop over time and ends up thematically redundant.

Though the material reveals nothing about Sarah Silverman the person, it does lay bare the bigotry and small-mindedness that hides in our own hearts. It’s a testament to Silverman’s gifts as a humorist that we end up learning so much from someone who reveals so little.


At the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to


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