By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The show deals with ideas Silverman‘s been probing her entire career. “You could say it took a month to write or you could say it took 13 years,” she says. In Jesus, Silverman hits on 911, the Holocaust, sex, ethnic jokes . . . She loves a good ethnic joke, loves to futz around with blue buzzwords. Never one to shy away from a hot topic, even if the topic is herself, Jesus includes pointed commentary on the troubles Silverman got into while guesting on Conan O’Brien last year.
“I was on Conan and was talking to the censor before the show. He asked me what I was going to say, and I told him a joke that used the word ‘chinks.’ He said I couldn‘t say ’chinks‘ on the air. I asked what I could say, and he said ’dirty Jew or spic.‘ So, of course, I said ’chinks.‘”
She took it on the chin for that one. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans made a big fuss. NBC made public apologies. And her friends won’t let it go. Back at the poker table someone says, “I thought this was an equal-opportunity game -- so how come there are no chinks playing tonight?”
Silverman smiles and shrugs off her friends‘ gibes. She claims she’s guided by a simple rule: “I really think everything is fair game. That‘s not to say that I don’t find anything offensive. But I think you can make fun of anything as long as it‘s funny enough. But it has to be funny enough.”
The game progresses into some version of Anaconda, which involves passing cards and heavy betting. Louie’s looking to take everybody‘s cash. Marc sings “titty-fucker-wannabe.” Lizz says, “Come on, Marge, it’s your turn to bet.” Some guy who plays some guy on Dawson‘s Creek doesn’t need to be told twice. Chips fall thick into the pot. Most of the comics at the table use the evening to sift through new material, tossing off quick zingers and testing reactions, as when Louie turns to Marc and asks, “Are you Jewish?”
“Yea . . . ,” Marc starts.
But before Marc can get the answer out, Louie slaps him across the face.
The animated protocol of the poker game is interesting because Silverman is the least animated, the least “on.” In fact, she was more “on” earlier in the day while having tea at Mani‘s (where else would you have tea with a Jewish comic?). There, she was asked about the history of one of her jokes, and while thinking about things for a moment her face did contortions that went yards beyond the normal tics of expression. Her right eyebrow whirled upward and her left eyebrow whipped downward and her nose compressed into a wave of wry wrinkles and her mouth sucked inward and spun slightly so her lips were offset and the whole effect was like watching a goldfish trying to mow the lawn.
Part of the thing that made this elastic facial circus so unusual is that Silverman thinking in private was more animated than Silverman in public. Onstage you would expect these kinds of robust antics from any of the other poker-game players, but Silverman’s comedy is not about slapstick, it‘s about maintaining the exact level of playful understatement necessary to pull off her jokes.
So Silverman’s kinesthetic comedic facial reaction -- like everything she‘s learned and left out of her act -- resurfaces as part of her life. Which is what it means to have comedy in your blood. And if you ask Sarah Silverman why she chose comedy, she’ll say it‘s because, for her, doing standup “is like being gay -- I was just born that way.”
But it’s more than that. While everyone else at the card table is blabbing and testing and trying, Silverman keeps studiously quiet. She listens and watches, a serious scholar of the game. She is deciding what to discard and what to hold. In comedy, as in poker, that‘s how you trump the big boys.