Judge Brendan Babish thinks, despite the title, religious fundamentalists are not going to like this DVD.
"I don't care if you think I'm racist. I only care if you think I'm
Early in Jesus is Magic, a hybrid of stand-up comedy and absurdist showtunes, Sarah Silverman (The Larry Sanders Show) makes a joke about her traumatic childhood: "I was raped by my doctor…which for a Jewish girl is so bittersweet." This is a perfect litmus test for Silverman's brand of humor. If you think rape is an entirely inappropriate subject matter for comedy and were offended by the joke, I'd strongly advise you to steer clear of Jesus is Magic. Trust me on this. It only gets worse (or better, depending on your affinity for political correctness).
Those who are not offended, like myself, are going to find much to appreciate in Silverman's insensitive, yet oddly sweet, brand of humor. The PC police have been so effective at stomping out ethnic or race-based humor (with good reason, for the most part) that Silverman's subversive comedy carries with it an undeniable allure of breaking taboos. In addition to frequent offenses directed at her own people, the Jews, she takes aim at Asians (she drops the other "c" word frequently), Mexicans, gays and blacks ("The best time to have a baby is when you're a black teenager"). Silverman wisely says something to offend everyone, which effectively defangs her jokes without ever inhibiting the laughs.
In addition to the natural appeal of her routine, Silverman seems to be the perfect conduit for this blithely derogatory humor. If Dennis Miller or Jay Leno or, God forbid, Jeff Foxworthy, were to drop the "n" word in the middle of their stand-up, at best the audience would respond with great discomfort (I would hope). Somehow Silverman works in a few mentions of the "n" word with surprising charm. How does she do this? There are a few reasons. As the great Wayne Campbell would say, she's a fox. Silverman's feminine pulchritude has a way of disarming her audience. Additionally, she is able to affect a stage personality that, though insensitive, is so cheerfully ignorant it is hard to hold anything against her.
About one-third Jesus is Magic's 72-minute running time is taken up with musical numbers that are, at best, mildly amusing, but have the undesirable effect of weighing down an otherwise taut and strong stand-up performance. Silverman performs stand-up for 10 minute stretches, in front of a supportive audience, then invariably cuts away to a musical number. These musical numbers are ambitious, with lavish set designs and full backing bands. However, the songs are neither really funny nor melodical. Often the songs are built around one joke (Silverman singing at a retirement home and telling the old people they're about to die), and often even that joke isn't so funny. Additionally, though Silverman's voice is occasionally in tune, her lackluster vocal delivery shows that she has no intention of allowing her songs to become too catchy. These songs—which would be more appropriate for an abrasive Comedy Central sketch show—end up being a real killjoy for Jesus is Magic. It seemed that whenever Silverman gets momentum going in her stand-up, we are abruptly whisked away to some odd musical number that we are forced to wait through to get back to the good stuff.
In Jesus is Magic, Silverman shows herself to be a comedienne with a strong routine and great stage presence. Traditionally, in stand-up comedy, most of the women who achieve prominence—Ellen DeGenerous, Rita Rudner, Paula Poundstone—do so with material that is, whether funny or not, highly chaste. It is refreshing to see a comedienne show that a woman can be just as raunchy as Bob Saget and still be funny (I am speaking, of course, of Saget's surprisingly bawdy stand-up routine, not his super clean performance as Danny Tanner on Full House). And make no mistake, Silverman is funny. It's just a shame that her film is marred by the unwise musical inclusions. Still, for anyone who enjoys a good laugh at the expense of minorities and the marginalized of American society—and really, who doesn't?—this is a must see.
Visual Entertainment has produced a fair DVD transfer of Jesus is Magic. The sound is clear and-hiss free, which is a boon during Silverman's stand-up, a bit of a mixed-blessing during the musical numbers. The picture gets dark and lacks sharpness during some shots of Silverman on stage, but never to the point of distraction. The bonus materials include Silverman's hilarious contribution to the film The Aristocrats and some marginally funny outtakes from the movie. Additionally, there is a commentary track with Silverman and the film's director Liam Lynch (who wrote and performed the former MTV buzz clip, "The United State of Whatever"). The track largely consists of Lynch fawning over Silverman's unrecognized genius, and thus only worthwhile for Silverman die-hards.
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic is found guilty of atonal music numbers, but sentence is suspended due to a lively stage show.
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