Sarah Silverman combines comic and crude charm at Zellerbach

Photo: Last Monday at Zellerbach Audtiorium, Sarah Silverman -as expected - shared personal anecdotes with equal parts innocent, vulgar and controversial content matter.
Emma Lantos/Photo
Last Monday at Zellerbach Audtiorium, Sarah Silverman -as expected - shared personal anecdotes with equal parts innocent, vulgar and controversial content matter.

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According to Chelsea Peretti, the comic who opened for Sarah Silverman at Zellerbach Auditorium last Monday, friendship is a boring conversation you have while looking someone in the eye. Held to this standard, the stand-up comic is definitely not your friend. The relationship between comic and audience is a bit odd: The latter barters money for laughter, presented in a pre-packaged "spontaneous" form. Peretti, who has written for the Village Voice and guest-starred on "The Sarah Silverman Program," presented a strong personality onstage, but never seemed to win the audience's trust: The personality was too honed to achieve that spontaneity, too well-rehearsed to be charming.

And then out marched Sarah Silverman, sidling in front of the microphone as naturally as a fish in water. Dressed in a short denim skirt, heels and a leather jacket, she waited for the audience to settle and took her time with the first joke. As if recalling the memory for the first time, she chose her words slowly as she described innocent childhood showers shared with her mother. In deliberate pantomime, she mimicked water dripping off Mrs. Silverman's pubic hair and onto toddler Sarah, looking lovingly up at her mother, as adult Sarah narrated this moment of singular, immaculate happiness.

Silverman was serene and composed throughout her act, her delivery attuned to the audience's reaction and expectations, reflexively capitalizing on them. She wasn't so much delivering a comedy-monologue as holding a fully dramatized conversation with herself. So when her material turned bluer - revelations that "the Blacks" killed Jesus, or the description of the poetic scent of her 17-year-old dog's anus - there wasn't any animosity to the jokes.

The sweet Jewish girl who mime-fucked the comedy stool is just playing with what has gotten her laughs this far. This strategy seems to be working, with a writing stint at Saturday Night Live, starring in a feature-length film, "Jesus is Magic," and a bestselling collection of humor essays, "The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee."

The content of the jokes, no matter how controversial, seemed secondary to the woman telling them. Silverman charmed the audience in spite of the latent shame they may have felt for giggling at her humor: Regardless of how we justify our sense of humor, we may end up in stitches despite ourselves.

Silverman's non-topical and stereotype-laden routine was at once personal (explaining compulsive post-coital verbal ticks) and general, as it so often included blanket statements on race or religion. But as situationally absurdist comedy gains popularity, in the forms of Zach Galifianakis, Demetri Martin or even "Curb Your Enthusiasm," a woman talking about herself onstage may seem quaint. Silverman's performance was never boring and ultimately endearing, a beguiling mismatch of content and appearance.

For a portion of her routine, Silverman opened herself up to audience questions. In a crowd rife with middle-aged Berkeley couples, the interrogation was pretty tame, but Silverman managed to answer the questions with the same composure and anecdotes. Some answers stemmed from preexisting material that she found an opening for and experimented with in a somewhat impulsive format. But it still felt like cheating to hear the same joke again, delivered totally off-the-cuff and naturally. It was a reminder that despite Silverman's charm, the comic is a performer - not your friend.






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