The funniest bit from the summer's raunch smorgasbord The Aristocrats was hearing Sarah Silverman tell the infamously profane family-act joke at the center of Paul Provenza's documentary. Where Robin Williams, Drew Carey, George Carlin, and a hundred other funny folks were serving up naughty variations in various shades of blue, Silverman was bringing it all back home. No longer was it a third-person joke about a family auditioning for a talent agent by performing myriad acts of bestiality, incest, and violence -- the basis for most comedy, mind you -- it became instead a first-person tale about Silverman auditioning for infamous New York talk-show host Joe Franklin, who made her, ya know, do things. Sitting on an oversized chair, curled up like a fetus, Silverman suddenly comes to the realization "Joe Franklin raped me." She delivers the punch line as though ashamed, even shocked, that she said it out loud, but nonetheless with a dry, deadpan delivery -- the oh, well shrug the flamethrower tosses the fireman. That's her whole act -- amusing and appalling all at once, getting you to laugh and then vomit in your mouth. And word is, Franklin wasn't amused: He threatened to sue.
But offending is part of Silverman's shtick; why else would she insist, as she does early in her concert film Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, that "I'm one of the few people that believes it was the blacks" who killed Jesus Christ? (And if the Jews did in fact crucify Christ, she adds, "Good . . . I'd fuckin' do it again in a second.") She wants you to oooh and aaah and groan and twist in disbelief that someone so disarmingly pretty -- long neck ("six inches flaccid"), bright grin, model thin -- would dare say things so ribald and odious, even about September 11, the day she discovered the soy chai latte at Starbucks had 900 calories. "It was also the day we were attacked," she then adds, like it's a big duh.
Hers is the deep well of insults and taunts and jabs reserved not only for ethnic groups (because babies love ethnic jokes, she claims) and retards ("and by retard, I mean they can do anything"), but also her Nana (who Silverman believes died at 96 of rape and other foul play) and boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel (a Catholic who believes that yes, Jesus is magic). And she doesn't spare herself either: When Silverman, explaining from the stage the pattern of dysfunctions and humiliations that led to her becoming a comedian, says she wet her bed till well into her teens, she wasn't lying.
Her talk of raising kids Catholic or Jewish leads into her comment about who killed Christ, which stumbles into her revealing that a certain sexual practice reminds her of how much she's like her mother, which winds up with a bit about how she goads her favorite niece by insisting that when she fails at something, an angel gets "full-blown AIDS." What makes Silverman a truly gifted comic is her timing and delivery: She spills her monologue as if it's off the cuff, one tangent leading to the next, till it builds into something profound or profane -- maybe a little of both.