Jesus Ain’t That Magic

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic

Sarah Silverman: cover girlSarah Silverman is no Snakes on a Plane, but the slapdash movie bearing her name suffers from the same problem: overexposure.

It’s a decidedly modest, hipster form, but it’s overexposure all the same, and deadly. Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic would play much better if you’d never heard of the comedienne, or had only watched her walk off with The Aristocrats.

But that’s not really possible, is it? If you’ve sought out Jesus Is Magic, you’ve likely seen her act before, or read some articles about her, such as the New Yorker profile that cemented Silverman’s place as the “it” comic of 2005. (Or perhaps: the five-minutes-ago comic of 2005.)

And if you’ve read about Silverman, her movie is a bore. “Everybody blames the Jews for killing Christ, and then the Jews try to pass it off on the Romans,” Silverman says in her routine. “I’m one of the few people who believe it was the blacks.”

It’s funny ... the first time you hear it or read it. The second time? Not really. And the movie’s 72 minutes have no more than a handful of jokes that the pop-culture literate won’t have encountered before seeing the film.

A seam-y (as in: the antonym of seamless) construction of comedy concert, music videos, and clumsy framing device, Jesus Is Magic feels forced, lazy, and tired from the outset. And the long-form showcase exposes fundamental weaknesses in her act. It’s evident from Jesus Is Magic that much of the buzz surrounding Silverman comes from her handsomeness and self-confident sexiness.

The movie is a disjointed mess from moment one with its pointless, humorless introduction segueing into a musical bit and then concert footage. The music-video-like songs are the best things in the film, but they’re inserted so awkwardly that they disrupt the performance rhythm. And the stand-up routine is edited so aggressively that you begin to suspect that director Liam Lynch knew that Silverman couldn’t hold the audience’s attention with merely her act.

None of that would matter if the routine were funny, of course. Silverman’s transgressive material is still effective in its way, but it’s thin. The jokes are largely a series of non sequiturs and don’t build upon one another.

A larger problem is that Silverman isn’t a strong comic performer; her delivery rarely adds anything to the material. Silverman uses the Rita Rudner deadpan — pausing before the punchline, waiting for a reaction as if the funny part had just passed, and then tossing off the outrageous bit as if it were the most mundane thought in the world.

This method is neutered by the stand-up setting, in which people are anticipating the jokes. Silverman’s style and material demand, to a certain degree, an unsuspecting audience, and the possibility that this isn’t an act but a real person. That’s why her bit in The Aristocrats worked so well.

But there’s something knowing and winking about Silverman’s comic manner in Jesus Is Magic. She’s too self-aware, or self-satisfied, or undisciplined, to stay in the character of “Sarah Silverman,” the vain and blithely racist Jewish girl without the filter that traps the inappropriate words in the mouth before they can be unleashed on the world. “Sarah Silverman” will casually talk about rape, or the facial as a form of birth control, with an endearing, clueless smile. Sarah Silverman, on the other hand, lets you know that she’s in on the joke.

That’s inherent in the stand-up setting, and it’s accentuated in the musical bits, but it’s also in her body language and voice.

What “Sarah Silverman” needs is a vehicle that plays it completely straight, that understands her shtick needs the element of surprise. It is not by its nature funny; what’s funny is how inappropriate it is.

But that requires a context in which something can be inappropriate. That context is not a comedy concert.

“Sarah Silverman” is begging for a reality-TV series on HBO or Showtime. She’d go on blind dates, or lecture at business seminars, or shop for a new car, or go to the gynecologist. Think of the horrified looks. Now that would be funny.

Jesus, wtf is up with her boobs?

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