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Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic

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Sarah Silverman’s hilarious new concert film “Jesus Is Magic” is just the balm I needed after seeing Margaret Cho’s self-indulgent “Assassin.” (I happened to see them within 24 hours of each other. It was a strange weekend.) Silverman is everything Cho used to be (and thinks she still is): socially observant, wickedly funny, and genuinely unafraid of being politically incorrect.

Cho spends so much time bragging about how fearless she is that you start to wonder if she’s trying to convince herself. Silverman seems legitimately apathetic.

“I don’t care if you think I’m racist,” she says. “I just want you to think I’m thin.”

“Jesus Is Magic” has a few backstage skits and musical numbers of varying quality interspersed, but mostly it’s a filmed record of her standup act, in which the pixie-ish girl with the sweet voice and adorable face waxes scathing on the usual comic subjects of sex, politics, war and race.

All humor relies on the element of surprise, but Silverman’s more than most. A majority of her jokes begin with a setup that sounds serious, both in word choice and delivery, and then she twists it into something funny at the end. After a while you start trying to predict what the joke will be while she’s setting it up, but I was never able to. Her mind is sharp and her delivery is absolutely perfect. She goes places I wouldn’t have expected, but always for a laugh, never just for the shock, or out of anger, or out of political outrage.

Many of her jokes involve race (blacks are a particular target), but I doubt she’s actually racist. She’s too self-aware for that. The jokes are more like ironic twists on racism. Actual racists wouldn’t laugh; the jokes aren’t basic enough to amuse them. But people who know that racism is ignorant and that racial humor is taboo will laugh.

“Everybody blames the Jews for killing Christ,” she says. “And then the Jews try to pass it off on the Romans. I’m one of the few people who believe it was the blacks.”

Her own ethnic group is fodder, too. “I was raped by a doctor,” she says early in the film. “Which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.”

Most pleasingly, she mocks the idea of “edginess” in comedians, offering a savage commentary on the modern humorists who are more interested in being shocking than in crafting a good joke. (“Nazis are a-holes, and I’ll be the first to say it,” she says, imitating such comedians. “Because I’m EDGY!”) Of course she has fashioned her own humor to be surprising, and of course she knows many will be offended. The point is that none of that design shows onstage. You see only her creation, her perky, adorably foul-mouthed persona, not the skill and craftsmanship that make it work.

B+ (1 hr., 12 min.; Not Rated, probably R for abundant harsh profanity and sexual dialogue.)

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