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Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic

It's never a good idea to explain why a joke makes you laugh. You run the risk of sounding humorless. But it's an even worse idea to explain why a Sarah Silverman joke makes you laugh. You run the risk of sounding racist. Silverman's been kicking around the comedy scene for over a decade now — turning up in bit parts in movies and TV shows including "Run Ronnie Run" and "Mr. Show." She has a knack for playing shrewish girlfriends. She played the shrewish girlfriend in School of Rock (2003). She absolutely killed as the profanity-spewing shrewish girlfriend Ryan Phillippe punches during the opening of Way of the Gun (2000). But while she was building a cult following in the movies, Silverman was also honing her stand-up act. And it's her hysterically wrongheaded comic persona — immortalized in the one-woman show Jesus Is Magic (2005) — that's been twisting politically correct writers into descriptive knots. You see, in Jesus Is Magic, Sarah Silverman plays "Sarah Silverman," a self-absorbed Jewish American Princess who also happens to be casually, cluelessly racist. Here's how "Sarah" describes her act to her pals (Laura Silverman and Brian Posehn) before the show: "It's about the Holocaust. And AIDS. But it's funny. And a musical."

Directed by Liam Lynch, Jesus Is Magic plays pretty much exactly as described. Every word out of "Sarah"'s mouth is offensive, but the comedy isn't in the punchlines. It's in her earnest, smug obliviousness to how offensive she's being. She covets a rare gem taken from the tailbones of Ethiopian babies. She jokes about her dead grandma's personalized Holocaust tattoo. She thinks she's striking back at the terrorists by buying OsamaBinLaden.com. She frets that there aren't enough Jews in porn. She bags on God's Chosen People for driving German cars. She lays into "Martin Loser King" just for kicks. She sings a duet with a body part or two that would make Linda Lovelace proud. She visits an old folks' home in pigtails and sings a song that tells them, "You're gonna die soon." She tells people with AIDS to "make lemon-AIDS." And she offers the caveat "I don't care if you think I'm racist — I just want you to think I'm thin." Silverman's material taps into the same deliberately inflammatory vein explored by VICE magazine and Lenny Bruce (though her show's far too slick to earn deeper comparisons to Bruce's pioneering envelope-pushing). At one point near the end of Jesus, she lets the curtain down just a little and asks the uncomfortably tittering audience: "Is that an 'edgy' joke or is that a 'racist' joke?" One suspects that the real Silverman finds that ambiguity provocative. Certainly, there's a thrill in seeing a smart, good-looking woman talk this dirty, and her timing is calibrated to the nanosecond. At any rate, when the film sticks to her live act, it's hilarious. Unfortunately, it doesn't. Perhaps feeling the need to relieve and contextualize the unmitigated "edginess" of Silverman's stage persona, Lynch throws in far too many backstage skits and music-video digressions featuring Silverman in funny-sexy outfits, and they all fall horribly, horribly flat — even when comic genius Bob Odenkirk shows up to play her weaselly manager. The film starts with a long musical number that's such an unearned parodic orgy of Silverman self-love — why is this woman telling us how great she is, and why do we care? — that it's actually kind of off-putting. While the movie's funny, the stage show by itself would have been funnier. And, frankly, gutsier.

Visual Entertainment's DVD release of Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio. Extras include a commentary track with Silverman and director Liam Lynch, the documentary "The Making of Jesus Is Magic" (35 min.), the music video "Give the Jew Girl Toys," trailers for Jesus is Magic and The Aristocrats, and Silverman's much-talked-about scene from the latter film. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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