Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic

Runs Fri., Dec. 2–Thurs., Dec. 8, at Varsity.

If Woody Allen were young, hot, and female, he'd be Sarah Silverman, who admits midway through this concert film: "I'm a bad Jew. I'm a dirty Jew." A lot of Jewish humor derives from the old saw that mocking yourself leaves your enemies with little to say; Jewish comics try to turn the defense mechanism into an art form. And though Magic isn't particularly artful, it's terribly cheeky and occasionally jaw-dropping, and that's good enough—even if Silverman does, on occasion, tip a sacred cow that was already on its way down.

What isn't good is the series of skits—most set to music, none funny—that rudely interrupt her relentlessly naughty act, taped in front of an adoring audience at North Hollywood's El Portal Theatre. The least awful of them takes place in a nursing home, where Silverman strums a guitar and sings a cheery ditty called "You're Gonna Die Soon." The lyrics and music aren't anything special, nor is the premise; what saves the skit is the comic's childlike exuberance, which makes even her meanest jokes seem oddly charming. If you're not Jewish, you may not appreciate her manic self-deprecation— her rejoinder to the claim that Jewish women aren't sexy is a scream— but there's no missing her boldness.

Specifically, I like how Silverman tears the veneer off prettified social convention. "I'm on the birth-control pill, 'cause I do a lot of fucking," she confesses early on. If that makes you wince, you'll have no stomach for her "positive spin" on 9/11: American Airlines, she says, should tout itself as "first through the towers." Jesus may polarize audiences, as you'd expect from Silverman's appearance in The Aristocrats, where she turned the titular joke into a squirm-inducing "true" confession (also earning a lawsuit threat from Joe Franklin for claiming he raped her). Yet for every race gag that isn't calibrated right ("The best time to have a baby is when you're a black teenager"), there's a bit that's all- purpose, and sharper, like her show-long riff on the lingo of social phonies ("Can I steal you?"). Silverman also repeatedly lampoons the idea that she's "a comic with something to say." Her only message is this: In a world plagued by racism, terrorism, and—perhaps worst of all—body odor, everyone would have a better time if they'd just lighten up. (NR)

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