Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (2005)
Starring: Sarah Silverman
Directed by: Liam Lynch
Sarah Silverman‘s humour, as exhibited in her 2005 concert film Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, reminds me of a cross between The Office‘s Michael Scott and Borat, saying horrifically offensive things with a lack of menace or understanding of how offensive they are. Of course, Silverman the comedian knows her material is offensive (as does Steve Carell and Sasha Baron Cohen), but the character she plays on stage flippantly tackles topics like AIDS, race, religion, rape, and the Holocaust without an ounce of awareness. Yep, she makes jokes about all these topics, some set to music!
It’s quite evident in Silverman’s delivery that the target of her humour isn’t the subjects themselves, but rather the taboos around the subject, and the attitudes of those who hold the beliefs. It’s an uncomfortable form of humour that plays upon our post-PC culture, attempting to draw the kind of laughs from an audience that some people will feel bad for giving. Which are deliciously subversive kinds of laughs.
Unfortunately, it’s also a fine line to draw, between exploiting the taboo and the stereotype, and exploiting the subject and reinforcing the stereotype, and one that Silverman doesn’t always walk without crossing. It’s not that I get the sense that she harbours ill will towards her subjects, its more that at times her humour gets lazy, and simply goes for offensiveness for its shock value, without the requisite cleverness for it to have a double-meaning.
Jesus is Magic features a stand-up concert performance of Silverman’s in Los Angeles, interspersed with backstage sketches and musical numbers. For the most part, the interludes are cute, but not all that funny and add little to the proceedings (other than helping to establish the impish cuteness of Silverman, the key to her humour being the contradiction between her sweet and amiable presence and her foul, foul mouth). They’re generally one-note jokes, stretched out too long like weak SNL sketches. The movie would probably be better as a more traditional HBO-style stand-up film, with her performance bookended with crowd reaction pre and post show. Of course, had it been a traditional HBO-style video, it probably wouldn’t have garnered a limited theatrical release, earning over a million dollars and increasing her status in the world of stand-up.
Ultimately, the movie has about 30 minutes of solid, laugh-out loud comedy… stretched out over 72 minutes. Definitely not a comedy classic, but viewers should get enough entertainment for the small investment of time required.