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Sarah Silverman isn’t afraid to offend

Comedian tackles Sept. 11, AIDS and much more in her new film
/ Source: The Associated Press

From AIDS and racial gags to Holocaust humor and Sept. 11, Sarah Silverman fiercely draws guffaws out of the darkest subjects in her concert film playing the Toronto International Film Festival.

Among the punchlines in “Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic”:

—When Silverman wants to motivate her niece to excel in athletics, she tells her whenever she messes up, an angel gets AIDS.

—Silverman angrily declares Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t the only one with a dream. She had one, too: About a swimming pool encounter with a shark wearing braces.

—Regarding the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Silverman says American Airlines could have scored a marketing coup by proclaiming itself “first through the towers.”

Wringing laughter out of tragedy is a natural inclination, Silverman said.

“I think that’s always how it’s been,” Silverman told The Associated Press. “I certainly didn’t invent it. Look at the people who are kind of the funniest cultures, they’re the cultures of the people who have been the most oppressed, black people and Jews. Not that they’re the only funny people, but culturally, it comes from the pain, you know?”

A clown from early onThe youngest of four daughters, Silverman, 34, grew up the family clown and knew early on she wanted to be a comedian.

Silverman got her start in television writing for “Saturday Night Live,” occasionally appearing on-screen, before moving on to the sketch-comedy series “Mr. Show,” the short-lived sitcom “Greg the Bunny” and voice work for “Crank Yankers.”

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She also landed roles in such films as “Bulworth,” “There’s Something About Mary” and “School of Rock,” in which she played the disapproving girlfriend of Jack Black’s roommate.

“Jesus Is Magic,” scheduled for theatrical release in November, grew out of Silverman’s standup act. The film captures her mostly in performance, with a couple of spoof backstage segments and some music sequences, including a bit at a nursing home in which she perkily serenades old folks with a portentous pronouncement about their future, or lack of one.

That musical number came from a skit Silverman originally created for boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel’s ABC-TV show, the routine turning out so well she decided to save it for the film.

Silverman also turned in one of the most memorable moments in this summer’s standup-comic documentary “The Aristocrats,” ad-libbing a gut-busting bit about a not-so-innocent encounter as a child with a talent manager.

Humor in dark placesThough Silverman has drawn comparisons to foul-mouthed but socially probing comic Lenny Bruce, she insists she has no agenda as a cultural critic. She continually chides herself for getting on her high horse in interviews, saying she dislikes “pontificating” about her humor.

At one point, she stops in mid-sentence while analyzing why she includes so much material about racial tensions.

“Oh, this sounds so obnoxious,” Silverman said. “I’m not planning anything out. I’m just trying to be funny. I don’t think any of it’s particularly deep. It’s just what interests me.”

Finding humor in dark places interests her audience, too. Silverman said her provocative material occasionally prompts a few people to walk out offended, “but it’s not as common as you would think.”

In the worst of times, amid misfortunes such as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, people need to laugh, Silverman said.

“It’s human nature. I have a friend who lives in New Orleans whose home is gone, whose job and whole world is gone. He’s living in a shelter, and I got a message from him saying, ‘I’ve got a bit for you. Call me. Oh, you can’t call me because I have no home or phone. I’m on a pay phone, but I’ll call you back. I’ve got a great bit for you.’

“The fact that that could possibly be on his mind is incredible. I think humor is a coping mechanism.”