“You know who has a tiny vagina?” Sarah Silverman asks, her raven hair gleaming in the spotlight, her brown eyes glittering like dark-roast coffee beans. “Barbie,” she says. Pause. “Not Klaus Barbie, the infamous Nazi.” Pause. Left turn. “Nazis are a-holes. Although they’re cute when they’re little, I will give them that. They’re sooo cute. Why can’t they stay small?”
In the context of the PC holocaust that is Silverman’s standup act, this little sortie is innocuous. It’s followed by things like:
“When God gives you AIDS … make lemon-AIDS.”
And: “The best time to have a baby is when you’re a black teenager.”
And: “I hope the Jews did kill Christ. I’d do it again!”
Silverman is clearly in the line of such fearless comedy forebears as Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor. But she’s not an improv riff-master like Bruce (her material is carefully prepared), or a cornucopia of addled characters like Pryor (she has one character: Sarah Silverman). She is nastier than either of them, though, and it’s the nastiness that sets her apart. She gets away with it because, one, she’s extraordinarily cute (even, as she would be the first to say, hot), and, two, because the version of herself that she presents onstage is so completely and obliviously self-centered. Sure, 9/11 was a terrible day, but mainly because it was the day she discovered that soy chai lattes had 900 calories in them.
This is a kind of contemporary knucklehead we’ve all known, so while a lot of what she says is appalling, not all of it — given the source — is entirely surprising, when we think about it. What is surprising, and unsettling, is how many of the unattractive thoughts she expresses we may have harbored, at one shameful moment or another, ourselves. In this respect, it might be said that she speaks for us, and this is not a happy thing to hear.
Silverman, who’s 34, has been honing her act since she dropped out of NYU to hit the Manhattan standup circuit. She’s written for “Saturday Night Live,” she’s appeared in TV shows like “Seinfeld” and movies like “There’s Something About Mary” (and, most recently, that scabrous joke-a-thon, “The Aristocrats”), and she’s always seemed to be on the verge of breaking through big-time. Now, with the release of “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic” — and the simultaneous appearance of long, adoring profiles in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone — it looks like her time has come at last.
The movie, which was filmed in a North Hollywood theater, is built around Silverman’s standup act, but it’s more than just a standup documentary. The director, Liam Lynch (creator of the outré MTV sock-puppet series “The Sifl and Olly Show” and star of the memorable nudnik music video, “United States of Whatever”) has opened up the act with backstage bits and video-like musical interludes, such as the one in which she takes her folkie guitar and ravishing, lopsided grin to an old-age home and entertains the wrinkled residents with a song called “You’re Gonna Die Soon.” (“It’s not cold in here, you’re just dyinnngg.”)
This divertimento approach gives Silverman’s stage act — which might be overbearing in one long big-screen dose — room to breathe. So we’re always happy to get back to it, to hear her saying things like, “I guarantee that if you take a shower with your boyfriend, by the time you get out of that shower, your breasts will be sparkling clean.” Or telling the story about the time her young niece came out as a lesbian, “and my sister punished her for it. Can you believe that? No pu— for a week.”
Nevertheless, at 70 minutes, the movie is a little long; and when a bit goes flat (like her awkward mock-confrontation with two unamused black men), you may feel like you’re trapped in a room with an exceptionally clever brat. There are also instances of simple meanness without any larger meaning (like the old-age-home interlude). And oddly, for a performer so unflinchingly and delightfully foul, there is one place Silverman won’t go. She won’t do fat jokes about women — that would hit too close to home, apparently. As she says at the end of this mostly hilarious movie, “I don’t care if you think I’m racist. I just want you to think I’m thin.”
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