Reel Time

Silver Showers

Sarah Silverman’s great geysers of filth.

She is a nerd’s wet dream: a darkly pretty Jewish princess with a potty mouth, reveling in the JAP stereotype while propelling it into the nether-reaches of absurdity—and obscenity. Your Jewish grandmother would meet her and say, “Thank you for bringing home a nice Jewish girl!”—and then, bam! The old woman would hear, “I was raped by a doctor… which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.’” And yet… Grandma might still approve. She’d ask, “Was it a Jewish doctor?”

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (Roadside Attractions), directed by Liam Lynch, is a glorious piece of showmanship—easily the best stand-up film by a Jewish comedian (let’s jettison “comedienne,” shall we?) I’ve ever seen. It’s not a cultural milestone like Richard Pryor Live in Concert, but it has its own explosively twisted originality. It’s a geyser of exhilarating tastelessness.

Silverman’s onstage persona might be limited, but it’s endlessly resonant. Staring down from behind a large pair of nostrils, she impersonates the over-entitled, solipsistic, materialistic, prejudiced, and insensitive American upper-middle-class female—or, rather, her uncensored doppelganger. She exuberantly free-associates—she’s a pipeline to the id. Sexually voracious and unashamed to the point of arrogance, she compliments a black man she’s dating by telling him that he would make “a really expensive slave.” His indignation doesn’t faze her: “I don’t care if you think I’m a racist, I just want you to think I’m thin.”

I have a list of 50 jokes that are instant classics—but giving away more would be an act of criminal selfishness. What I can promise is that the ratio of splendors to stinkers (there’s one involving the World Trade Center) is about five to one—a winning ratio by any measure. When you get on Silverman’s wavelength, you brace yourself for the joke—and then it swims up from behind, like the shark in Jaws, or it Jackie Chans you with some pretzel contortion you didn’t think a human being (let alone a complacent princess) could execute.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic has some hugely entertaining song and dance numbers (Yes, she sings, too. Can she cook?) and a moderately amusing (maybe too facetious) framing device. Off-stage, she excoriates her manager (the criminally underused Bob Odenkirk) for allowing the wrong kind of mineral water into her dressing room. But that’s not the genius part: It’s the detail with which she describes the taste of the offending water. Her jokes don’t have much sting. Their beauty is that they’re mindbenders. “You’re a star,” she whispers to her reflection in her dressing-room mirror. “And I’m a star-fucker.”
… 8:20 a.m. PT