Sarah Silverman has been doing stand-up for a long time now. And no matter how many dirty and/or offensive jokes she’s told over the years, you can still hear audience members wincing through their laughter on We Are Miracles. Haven’t we gotten used to her rape jokes yet? Will we ever?
George Carlin once said that shock was just a heightened form of surprise. When we lose our taboos, we lose our capacity to be surprised. For Silverman, a tossed-off joke of choking on her father’s semen when she was five years old needs to remain a taboo. Should we grow complacent with a joke like that (and yes, she was just kidding), then something’s gone wrong with us. There’s even one moment in We Are Miracles were she admits that she’s become desensitized to the word “pussy” and experiments with ways to make it sound edgy once again. Her solution? Say it in a low voice and let your cheeks flap when you do it.
Compared to 2006’s Jesus is Magic, We Are Miracles is a scaled-back HBO special. The crowd is small (more than once she makes references to the 39 people present) and only one song is performed. This encourages a bit more interaction with the audience. For example when Silverman notices that one of her jokes fell flat with one audience member (“I’ve been with a few men who have told me that my vagina smells like a peach. A peach tree! A peach tree dish!”), she adopts the stranger’s demeanor and drolly says “oh Sarah, you’re incorrigible”. There is silence when she gets “deep” by talking about our overall cosmic probability (“Every single person in this room tonight, there was a time in history, a blip ago in the scope of history, where we were all microscopic specs.” ). She balances that out with a joke equiped with a sophomoric twist and enjoys the different reactions from the men when the punchline changes: “Sometimes I get an orgasm from giving a blow job. Is that normal? Oh, not giving a blow job! Taking a shit.” She brings the men and women together in laughter with more of her useless advice: “If you’re drunk and throw up on a man’s penis mid-blow job, you can save the moment if you can muster a ‘ta-da’.”
There are more moments in We Are Miracles where Sarah Silverman stops just short of societal lectures. Some don’t come with punchlines, like when she says “we think self-deprecation is modesty. It’s not, it’s self obsession.”. You can feel the room’s mellow about to get harshed. But the jokes are never far behind. In the midst of all her Jewish ribbing, she turns to Jesus’s teachings and compares them to a band’s greatest hits: “There’s no Jesus b-sides.” Then she lays into our culture’s lazy ones, inviting them to turn inward: “If you don’t deal with your shit, your shit deals with you. You know, but it had, like, ‘doth’ in it.” And no, she’ll never stop picking on her Chosen People. “Kids started blaming me for my people killing Jesus. I remember even then thinking ‘it’s not like we killed baby Jesus.'” When announcing that her niece was accepted to Brandeis, she explains “only from Israel can going to Brandeis be a step down in Jewiness. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Brandeis. It’s technically not a Jewish school but I think the team mascot is a nose.” Of her mother’s recent hospital stay, she said that the hospital personnel could tell that she was Jewish based on how many times you press the call button (this comes from track 2, titled “Speaking of Cum, My Mother’s Been Sick”).
“Diva”, the one and only song and it’s saved for last. Apropos of nothing prior in her set, Silverman softly sings an acoustic ditty to all the prima donnas that have stepped in front of her: “If you call yourself a diva / You better be a singer”. And what’s another word for a female that you dislike? “If you call yourself a diva / It better be for reals / And not some sad, pathetic kind of front”. You already have a good idea of what she rhymes with “front” but, well, here it goes: “If you’re selfish and your thoughtless and your broken and your heartless / You’re probably not a diva, you’re a cunt.” She then goes on to repeat the word “cunt” thirty more times (yes, I counted), each time armed with more soulful inflections. It’s probably one of those ideas she just stopped thinking about halfway through. If you have a favorite song of SIlverman’s from Jesus is Magic or from the soundtrack to The Sarah Silverman Program, it will remain your favorite song by her.
The audience doesn’t seem to mind her lack of effort on “Diva” though. To them, she had ended her set on a high note. And a satisfied audience makes for a satisfying comedy album. A big league comedian performing to a small audience has its advantages. For one thing, you can almost see the people cringe at her joke that rape victims never complain about rape jokes because they’re not known for speaking out. But you can also sense Sarah Silverman herself loosening up and going with the flow. The awkward pauses and sags in momentum of Jesus is Magic don’t reoccur in this tiny room. Sarah fills such spaces by admitting, “I need more rape jokes.”