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In this irreverent comedy, a failed actor-turned-worse-high-school-drama-teacher rallies his Tucson, AZ students as he conceives and stages politically incorrect musical sequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet.
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Sarah Silverman appears before an audience in Los Angeles with several sketches, taped outside the theater, intercut into the stand-up performance. Themes include race, sex, and religion. Her comic persona is a self-centered hipster, brash and clueless about her political incorrectness. A handful of musical numbers punctuate the performance. It begins and ends with her in conversation with two friends: at the start, she's the loser compared to their recent artistic successes; by the end, she's the star, in her dressing room, dismissive and cutting. Written by
[about her half-black boyfriend]
I gave him a compliment! All right, I told him he probably would've made, like, a really expensive slave in the, like, in the olden-timey days.
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Sarah Silverman is subtle, provocative, and disturbing. Her guileless, deadpan parody of profane ideas is like a naive child faithfully repeating something horrifying that she overheard her parents whisper. Reviewers who compare her to Andrew Dice Clay don't understand her comedy. Clay pandered to his audience's bigotry without irony, telling his audience what they wanted to believe but were afraid to say themselves.
A more apt comparison would be to Carroll O'Connor: a gifted writer, comedian, and actor. Sarah Silverman presents a persona that makes people squirm; she creates a dissonance between her apparent lack of anger or malice and her socially unacceptable material. To accuse her of racism, sexism, homophobia, internalized anti-Semitism, or going for cheap shock is to miss the point. Holy cows make the best hamburger, but it's easy to choke on if you're laughing.
Silverman forces audiences to confront their own gut reactions about unacceptable ideas without providing anyone easy to blame. She is a polite, educated, attractive young woman. To hear her say things we refuse to believe polite, educated, attractive young women think or would even admit is disturbing.
The Anti-Defamation League, the National Organization of Women, NAACP, and the Human Rights Campaign won't laud her as a transgressive comedian who forces audiences to confront their own unacknowledged bigotry. Sarah Silverman is not a social crusader; she is a comedian who tickles your funny bone with a sharp spear. She could preface all her material with, "Can you believe there are idiots who think, '(assume character, insert content),'" to avoid controversy. Gutted by incorporated disclaimers, her comedy would lose its ability to induce awkward guilt in her audience. The power of her comedy is its ravaging of social beliefs that we are all supposed to share.
No comedy is universal, but hers is biting, subversive, disturbing, and fascinating. Instead of laughing at her content, you laugh at the attitudes she portrays and worry if you should find them funny. You either miss the irony of her comedy or you have to appreciate her genius as an actor, writer, comic, and social critic.
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