Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/22/06 16:19:58

"Tedious, overlong, and so very, very, very unfunny."
1 stars (Sucks)

Sarah Silverman is a comic who only works well in the smallest of doses. Her lone shtick - that thanks to her sugary-sweet attitudes, she is blissfully, naďvely unaware that she is saying the most awful, racist, offensive things, and isn’t that paradox hilarious? - succeeds only from immediate shock factor. (She once got in trouble for telling a joke culminating in a racial slur on ABC’s now-defunct “Politically Incorrect;” it was funny not because the slur was used, but because it came out of nowhere, from this smiling imp, and then disappeared very quickly.) Once we get a read on her intents, the joke runs out of gas.

Now we get “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic,” a combination stand-up/sketch-com movie that not only wears this gimmick down, but elbows us in the ribs - hard - the entire time, as if to remind us that boy, is she ever naughty, to the point that we want to elbow right back - harder - to say no, not really. I like Silverman (her appearance in “The Aristocrats” ranks among that film’s funniest), but here, she’s astoundingly unlikable, as if she’s purposely gone out of her way to be horrible. She’s not only not funny here: she’s downright awful, delivering what could very well rank alongside Eddie Griffin’s stand-up film as one of the very worst ever produced in the genre.

The depressing revelation here is that her brand of comedy simply cannot work as stand-up. Her stage performance is nothing more than her awkwardly telling one-liners about Hitler or Martin Luther King or rape or AIDS or anything else that might be in intentionally poor taste. (Samples: “The best time to have a baby… is when you’re a black teenager.” “When God gives you AIDS, you make lemonaids!” Etc.) She’ll simply begin a sentence, no matter if it’s connected to the sentence before it, then wrap up with some line that she “doesn’t realize” is tasteless. Repeat this for an entire concert. She hasn’t constructed a stand-up routine; she’s written a series of giggly-rude thoughts, and that’s all the effort she plans to put forth. It’s as though she’s uncomfortable doing the traditional stand-up thing, so she hides behind this feeble gimmick.

Once we get into the rhythm of her act, we see that there’s nothing there. It’s all too easy to see the punchlines far in advance, which reveals just how undercooked her routine is. All too often does she take the lazy way out, putting little originality or effort into her writing. Think of the lamest possible ending to her joke, and that’s the one she’ll most often use. She ends her concert by pretending to have her various orifices sing in harmony to “Amazing Grace” (her rear end being the bass, natch); it’s a gag that screams “I’ve simply given up and will now do whatever it takes to shock you.” It’s the kind of limp comedy that a class clown might use because he knows he can get a giggle from the room by saying the word “poop,” or that a crappy morning-zoo shock jock might use because he’s just not clever enough to think up anything actually humorous.

It also does not help that the film feels curiously staged. Stand-up concert movies and TV specials are supposed to have a you-are-there push to them, documenting the energy in the room that boosts the comic. In “Jesus Is Magic,” we never feel that crackle. Director Liam Lynch refrains, for the most part, from showing us the audience, with the cold exception of a generic overhead shot (Lynch seems to be copying a bland mid-shot/close-up/mid-shot/overhead audience/repeat formula from countless television productions, leaving this movie looking as unappealing as possible.) The audience may seen and heard laughing, but we never get the notion that they’re truly enjoying the show.

And yet this is not the worst part. Some of you may remember the Comedy Central series “Pulp Comics,” which combined stand-up performances with roughly produced sketches which elaborate on a comedian’s routine. The show was a hit-and-miss affair that almost always missed, and the reason for such failures is the same reason the similar idea fails in “Jesus Is Magic:” splicing in a bunch of half-baked skits effectively ruins the pacing of a well-planned stand-up routine. Here, like in the series, rhythms get lost as we cut away at inopportune moments to watch some backstage antics or, worse, miserable musical numbers.

You see, Silverman thinks it’d be a hoot to turn her comedy movie into a musical, so we jump away from the stage (always at clumsy, ill-timed moments) and watch as she sings these mediocre pop songs that share her I’m-offending-you! sensibilities. One song, delivered to an audience at a retirement home, is about how they’re all just about to die; another is a long string of racist stereotypes (“I love you more than Jews love money,” har har). The rest of the tunes exist merely as if the idea of Silverman singing while wearing costumes is funny enough, which is most certainly is not.

Watching “Jesus Is Magic,” I made the slow, sad realization that Silverman may very well be the Andrew Dice Clay of our generation. Like Clay, Silverman fails at what she does not because she says dirty things, but because that’s all she says, and she’s not very good at it. Other comics have turned the offensive into comedy gold, but Silverman turns hers into comedy mud. She’s tiresome and unappealing, her smug irony not nearly enough to carry her through. “Jesus Is Magic” clocks in at a mere 70 minutes, and that’s still far too long for a one-joke flop.

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