Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic Review

Without wanting to lead anyone on as regards this film, there is not a single laugh in Jesus Is Magic, the feature-length record of Sarah Silverman's stand-up show from 2004. Not one. Watching it has led this viewer to wonder exactly who she's for, who it is who finds her funny. Being on this side of the Atlantic and without Sky, one's exposure to Sarah Silverman has been mercifully brief. For anyone limited to DVDs and to Freeview, aside from her cameo appearances in a few films, Silverman hasn't really registered over here. With an Internet connection, you can see some of her material but her I'm Fucking Matt Damon was overshadowed by boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel's response, I'm Fucking Ben Affleck. In the US, she seems to have garnered a name for controversy, particularly so after saying, "I wrote [on a jury selection form] 'I love chinks'...and who doesn't?" on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans took her to task on Politically Incorrect, during which Silverman lost her composure and called Guy Aoki a douchebag.

The problem with a performance that relies on racial slurs and on its frank discussion of sexual matters is that we've seen it all before. Growing up with the likes of The Comedians on television, we've not been starved of seeing comics discuss coons, chinks, poofs, paddies and jocks on the television, particularly the late Bernard Manning. Alternative comedy used both aggressive slating of such casual racism and the satirising of it to good effect, such as The Young Ones' sunglasses-wearing policeman telling the white-skinned representative of Corn Flakes, "That's white man's electricity you're burnin', ringin' that bell...that's theft!" We've been through those particular skirmishes in the battle for comedy, which leaves the likes of Sarah Silverman as something of a latecomer to the fight. It's hard to think of anyone of my age or thereabouts who won't have heard all of this before.

Silverman seems to have adopted the persona of a Jewish princess, one whose good looks and sweet nature has her able to talk of anal sex, sucking cock and masturbation with a sing-song voice that suggests innocence. In this, she is liberal with her use of racial slang but she's also canny enough to know that she would be wise not to cause anyone real offence. Much like those artists who would cast the crucifix out of their own shit (if it hasn't been done so already, it surely will) but would avoid doing so to any of the symbols of Islam, Silverman knows that Christians are much less likely to object to her material than Muslims. Regardless of whether or not anything might happen, Silverman holds her tongue as regards anything that might get her into real trouble.

It's perfectly clear that Silverman means not a word of what she says. Depending on where one stands on comedy, that may or may not be a problem. There are plenty of comedians who declare their shows to be nothing but an act, that it's all a performance and that they are simply playing a part. But I prefer passion. I would rather have the howl of outrage of a Bill Hicks (and the Donovan to his Dylan, Dennis Leary), a Lenny Bruce, a Mark Thomas, a Chris Morris or even a Ben Elton and his tirades against 'Thatch' to the likes of Silverman. They might be wrong-headed at times, perhaps even most of the time, but when they raise their voices in anger, at least they seem to believe in what they say. Silverman is just another actress playing at comedy. Silverman's act rarely rises above, "Isn't it funny how..." school of comedy, albeit that the question usually ends with her thinking how like her mother she is while licking jelly out of her boyfriend's cock, of being caught saying 'niggers' within earshot of two black men and of withholding pussy from a seven-year-old lesbian. And what's with the songs? Jimmy Carr might be so bad as to warrant letting loose a pride of lions within any venue silly enough to host him but at least he avoids singing. Silverman's songs are genuinely terrible and do nothing other than prove she is at least as bad a songwriter as she is a comedian.

This entire movie seems to be a promo as much for Silverman's role as all-round entertainer as much as it is her comedy. That must be the reason why she avoids saying anything that's really controversial. Sure she swears and makes gags about religion and sex but you would have to be puritanical to find any real offence in this. Maybe there's a lot more to Silverman than we Freeview viewers have been privy to - we being the paupers of this digital age! - but that's probably one of the reasons for Silverman's success to date. Rather than upsetting anyone, particularly the Christian right, network television is rather puritanical. Within the safely corporate confines of something like the MTV Movie awards, Silverman probably does just fine. With public relations teams on hand to make sure absolutely no one says anything that might upset 'the talent', the audience or the sponsors, Silverman puts a toe over the line of what might be acceptable and everyone gasps. In this part of the world, where sections of the national newspapers show breasts, blame immigrants for the gradual decline of society and write 'fuck' without the use of asterisks, there seems to be less respect paid to, well, just about everything. That's not even to question the influence of British television, which, in shows like Blue Jam or The Thick Of It, say things that Silverman would probably describe as being beyond the pale. Or the everyday conversations that you can hear up and down the country, which describe sex in such a way as to leave Silverman blushing. Compared to all that, Silverman seems safe. Granted, she might not be asked onto daytime television but this is neither as shocking nor as funny as what passes for off-peak comedy in this country. Jesus could well have been magic but on the evidence of this, He probably had better gags as well.


Anamorphically presented on DVD, this looks pretty much as a standup show ought to, with Silverman framed in the middle of the picture and looking reasonably sharp. There are a few musical numbers in the show, which cut away to a filmed insert and there are off-the-stage scenes that bookend the movie but, otherwise, it's simply Silverman onstage and telling gags. It's not a bad release but nothing special. The only problem comes with the DVD sticking for a second what I'm assuming is the layer change. It does get moving again but it wasn't a one-off, happening on every subsequent attempts to progress normally past this point. This isn't a retail copy, which may explain the problem, particularly so when the disc went unrecognised by my computer so this may not occur on the finished disc. There are no such problems particular to the audio track, which offers a choice of DD5.1 and DD2.0 audio. Other than the lack of laughter, which was only surprising in the sense that a whole audience who paid to see Silverman thought it as funny as I did, both soundtracks sound fine at delivering Silverman's set but do nothing else. There are no subtitles.


Commentary: It was about forty-five minutes in to Jesus Is Magic that I decided to hit the AUDIO button on my remote to check out what, if anything, there was to accompany the film. Two stereo odd, I thought, as I flicked between them. They aren't. It's just that there are long - very long! - gaps in this commentary track. Silverman and Liam Lynch are together in this track, which often features Silverman skitting over her own material with Lynch either laughing along - too enthusiastically if I'm honest - quoting the material or praising Silverman rather more than is wholly necessary. She's not that good!

Making Of Jesus Is Magic (35m37s): More than half an hour on the making of a standup movie? Two minutes in and I felt like they'd said enough to wrap things up but there were still thirty-three long minutes to go. Still, complaints aside, this features Silverman and director Liam Lynch talking backstage during the filming of their movie, which is broken down day-by-day over the course of the production. This comes together over 23-24 September 2004 when the standup part of the movie is filmed but, before and after these dates, there are the music videos, dressing-room sequences and introductions. There's just too much here with the feature introducing Silverman's band, which would be fine if we cared.

The DVD also features a trailer for Jesus Is Magic as well as the video for Silverman's song Give The Jew Girl Toys (2m22s) and Silverman's contribution to The Aristocrats (5m44s) but, contrary to what I originally posted here, the retail DVD does not include the trailer for The Aristocrats.

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