While fans of her 2005 special, Jesus Is Magic, will not be disappointed with the material in Sarah Silverman’s highly anticipated new release, there is no denying that this pot and poop loving comic has grown up a bit. There’s still plenty here to offend the wince-ready audiences with no patience for AIDS jokes and religious irreverence, but when placed next to her smash-hit special from eight years ago, with We Are Miracles Silverman has taken her format of childish prodding and wrapped it in a provocative message of therapy and social commentary.
“At the Largo? That’s, like, barely 300 seats!” a tattooed Mexican laughs with his car-full of friends during the cold-open of the film, after Silverman explained to them she’s about to shoot an HBO special at the club. “Well, I’m actually doing it in the littler room,” she clarifies, admitting that she’ll be performing for only 39 people, which inspires laughs and suggestions that she get a new agent from the vatos outside the club.
Yet it’s hardly groundbreaking that Silverman would choose to place her special inside the intimate, cafe-like walls of The Largo’s smallest room. Just last month, Marc Maron’s Thinky Pain brought fans inside the close quarters of Greenwhich Village’s Le Poisson Rouge, which was practically the Hollywood Bowl compared to last year’s The Special Special Special!, where Maria Bamford was filmed before an audience of only her mother and father. Whether it’s standup becoming comfortable as a respected institution that doesn’t need to prove itself with massive audiences, or that provocative material works best with miniature crowds, there seems to be a trend with the hippest comedians preferring clubs that resemble a city council meeting in Buford, Wyoming.
It’s difficult to say whether this makes it more or less awkward when Silverman confronts the audience with a bristly set-up, such as why rape jokes are great (“who’s gonna complain about a rape joke? I’d say rape victims, but they’re traditionally not complainers”), or why 9/11 widows give great handjobs (which was probably the only moment during the show where Silverman took a huge risk and bombed). Though these kind of I-dare-you-to-laugh-at-this jokes have been Silverman’s speciality for years, and anyone who would walk out on comments about iPhone gang-bang porn or that Jesus wouldn’t have been famous if the Jews hadn’t killed him, was surely not familiar with the salty comic’s reputation.
Those same anal-retentives may balk at the idea that you can be a feminist while joking about rape and tossing around the words like “cunt,” but in my view there are few voices today who are illustrating the fucked up world that women still confront in the twenty-first century quite like Silverman. “I want to tell all the women in here that you don’t need a vaginal deodorant,” she says, asserting that greedy corporations are plaguing on insecure girls with fabricated problems. “Just use whatever you wash your asshole with, surely that’s strong enough for your ‘disgusting’ vagina. And if there’s still a rancidness, go to the doctor. Don’t spray perfume on it, that’s what a crazy person would do.”
More than just a concern for media-assaulted young women, Silverman tackles a whole buffet of social issues, like those who preach the merits of dog shelter adoption over breeders, yet never consider orphanages over birthing their own babies (“If Africa was all labradoodles dying of AIDS, we’d take care of it in one day”), or how those who constantly complain about the world being against them are in desperate need of some self reflection, at one point asking the direct question “are you living a conscious life?”
Watching a decades-old performance of herself while appearing on Season 3 of Louie last year, Silverman had concluded that “I look even better now,” at the age of 42. This sentiment is undeniably true – performing in daisy dukes and two-tone stalkings during We Are Miracles, she is more than ever the epitome of comedy-nerd pinup – and could be equally applied to her standup skills. While there is some one-dimensional Republican bashing, a Scientology joke told months earlier on Seinfeld’s deplorable internet series, and a closing song about cunts that goes nowhere, for the most part Sarah Silverman’s latest special stands as a monument to a comedian who long-ago mastered the utility of crafting jokes, and is now seasoned enough to use the skill to say something truly profound.