by Michael Bowen & r & & r & Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n Jesus Is Magic, comedian Sarah Silverman ruthlessly plays the part of complacent upper-middle America, fiddling while the lower class burns. "I don't care if you think I'm racist, as long as you think I'm thin," she says.
Speaking of a black ex-boyfriend, she tells a story about how she would always manage to offend him. "I said, 'I bet you'd have been like a really expensive slave.'" She then argues, at length, that his anger has nothing to do with her, but is a self-esteem issue he has with himself. There are a smattering of laughs, and a lot of uncomfortable silence before she concludes, "He has to learn to love himself before I can stop hating his people."
The crowd roars, realizing that she's not just picking cheaply at racial stereotypes; she's gone much further, embodying the archetype for an entire way of living. It's that step past shock comedy that makes Jesus Is Magic an incredibly cunning parody of a society that encourages each of its members to construct our own cult of personality to the detriment of our understanding of each other. She's lampooning our self-possessed culture's least-noticed source of bigotry: not institutionalized racism but pervasive myopia, the inability to relate with those from outside our own cul-de-sac. That inability, Silverman suggests, gives us a free pass in our minds so that we don't feel the need to give a shit about race relations, starving children in Africa or the disenfranchised in America. (They aren't on our condo boards anyway.)
Silverman's audacity has been compared to Lenny Bruce's, but the way she dons her character and sticks with it, come laughs or high water, makes her more like Andy Kaufman. Silverman places the task of editorializing upon the audience, forcing us to infer irony. Even in a world where Kaufman lived, that's still a gutsy thing.
The stage performance, though, grates against probably the worst musical skits I've ever seen in a comedy film. The DVD features contain the only workable song on the disc, a Christmas paean called "Give the Jew Girl Toys." That's unfortunate, but Silverman's brilliance onstage -- in character, playing to a crowd -- more than makes up for a few crappy skits.