Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic [TV edit] (2005)

2009 #45
Liam Lynch | 50 mins | TV | 15

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is MagicStand-up concert films are an awkward business (as are rock concert films), raising questions that are oft pondered on this blog about what constitutes a “film”. After all, if this were just shown on TV or released direct to DVD rather than released in cinemas, no one would be considering it a feature. Indeed, Channel 4’s TV showing cut the 70-minute (PAL) version down to just 50, much as they do for the TV showing of any other direct-to-DVD stand-up gig. But the fact remains that this was released in cinemas (albeit not many) as a feature film. Though if it’s worthy of review under this blog’s remit, and direct-to-DVD movies are worthy of review too, surely direct-to-DVD comedy gigs should be? It’s enough to make your head hurt — something Jesus is Magic might also do, if it hasn’t sent you to sleep.

All comedy is an acquired taste, of course, but what Silverman offers here must take some acquiring. I mostly like what I’ve seen of her work in the past — I’ll admit to having I’m F***ing Matt Damon circling round in my head for weeks after first hearing it — but the lack of laughs here is enough to put me off bothering with her in future. Most of her material seems to be an excuse to say extremely rude or controversial things, and in fact often relies on these things being so rude as to provoke laughter just for that. The audience seem happy to go along, but there’s nothing inherently funny about a rude sentence — it needs a point, be it satire or surrealism (which she tries, but fails at) or something else. I have no problem with edgy or ‘offensive’ comedy, but this isn’t it.

Occasionally Silverman hits on something worthwhile amongst all the dross. Some of her comments on 9/11, the Holocaust and a handful of other edgy (and, indeed, ‘edgy’) areas raised a smile, maybe even a chuckle, proof (were it needed) that difficult topics can be covered as comedy. Even then, however, it’s only one or two gags among a raft of blabbing on those topics. At other times there are lines that desperately want to be funny, and if she’d managed to build up a head of comedic steam they’d garner a laugh as they passed, but in isolation they’re just not enough.

On a related note, the whole thing is bizarrely slow-paced. I don’t know if that’s an American thing or if British comedians are exceptional in their rapid-fire delivery — or just “relatively rapid-fire delivery”, because even the slowest joketeller you’d encounter on something like Live at the Apollo can spit them out twice as fast as Silverman — but she seems to take forever to get anywhere. Anywhere at all, that is, never mind to an actual joke. Few, if any, British comedians would survive at this pace.

Directorially, it’s a simple concert film, perhaps an over-edited one. Lynch splashes out during a couple of musical numbers, producing the occasional background gags this way — the people Silverman passes during I Love You More, for example — though at other points he’s just as guilty of spending too long on something that’s either not funny or that becomes humourless through exhaustion, such as the black people she encounters at the end of the same song.

Based on comments in online reviews, it seems Channel 4 mostly cut documentary material for their abbreviated TV showing. Whether these insights add some weight to proceedings or just slow the film down further I don’t know, but I’m thankful I didn’t have to suffer through another 20 minutes of this. As noted at the start, this editing (just like other stand-up DVDs transferring to TV) lends credence to the idea that this isn’t really a film. Whether it is or not ultimately doesn’t matter, other than if you’ve paid to see a comedy it would be nice to hear some gags — why go to the cinema for a humour-free evening you could stay at home with Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and actually have a laugh?

1 out of 5

Also see Eamonn McCusker’s review at DVD Times for a similar perspective. I’d especially echo his final paragraph: “Or the everyday conversations that you can hear up and down the country, which [would] leave Silverman blushing. Compared to all that, Silverman seems safe.” It’s great to be British.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2009, which can be read in full here.

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