Review of Sarah’s 2/9/13 London show

Here’s some positive first feedback from someone who saw Sarah’s Bloomsbury Theatre show last night in London (from 2/10/13).

     First, a quick recap: Sarah Silverman makes her long-awaited UK debut in 2008, as probably comedy’s hottest property at that time. We roll out the red carpet and the A-listers for her one-off show at Hammersmith Apollo, which clocks in at 50 minutes of comedy for £50 of ticket. What’s more, anyone who’s seen her 2005 film/DVD Jesus is Magic has heard most of it before. Everyone (including Silverman) goes home a bit pissed off.

     Since then, Silverman’s stock in the US has remained sky-high (despite the slightly mysterious disappearance of her proposed NBC semi-autobiographical sitcom, Susan 313), but to her UK fans, she’s always had something to prove. And so, five years on, like two lovers seeking détente after a messy split, a reunion is tentatively arranged. Silverman apparently turned down the offer to do more than one gig this time round, having been hurt by the criticism last time – so this is it.

      And it is a success. A qualified one, but a success nonetheless. The immediate problem of the £1/minute cost ratio is comprehensively despatched (75 minutes for £25), and a decent chunk of it is very, very funny. And the newness of the material? Well a few Silverman obsessives say that they’d seen a lot of it on YouTube from her US chat show appearances, and not even very recent ones.

     So there is still a question mark over her ability to turn over new material, but all bar the hardcore will have noticed; tonight’s atmosphere is one of consummation, not discontent – if people know about the old stuff, they don’t appear to mind. Her opening bona fide zinger of a routine about her walk-on music being a song she’d once been raped to, sets the tone. There’s more tonight about sexual and gender politics than race and religion, though one of the more memorable gags is one about her own accidental racism towards Barack Obama (personally I laughed more at the screwed-up face she pulls after the punchline).

     Still there is that persona – the off-duty cheerleader who’s learnt no boundaries – but the outright desire to shock appears to have softened a little. Yes there are plenty of gags about sex, paedophilia and rape, but she repeatedly returns to the subject of people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities – and these more thoughtful moments are the under-written, work-in-progress parts currently in need of a punchline (by her own admission).

     The real joy of this gig is that in the relatively intimate Bloomsbury Theatre, her utterly faultless technique can be fully admired. For me it’s all about that ability to switch. Whether she’s pretending to be confused, outraged, sincere, naive … she flits from one to another, nailing each one, with the merest change of facial expression. This is otherwise known as “acting”, but it appears to come so easily to her you wonder whether she’s on the psychopath spectrum.

      You can also really see the steely nerve of a ballsy, hardened gagsmith: as soon as she’s finished with one joke, mentally she’s already moved onto the next. Often she’ll finish a joke by appearing expressionless, or looking aimlessly upwards, utterly disinterested in what’s happened since she stopped talking rather than needily gauging the reaction from the audience (who love that level of confidence). It’s as if words don’t mean anything to her.

      A quick mention of some of my favourite moments: I loved her suggestions of new ways to say the word “pussy” to resuscitate a once-piquing word, her enactment of the absurd things actors do on TV sets (a rare moment of silliness and sincerity), and her near-the-knuckle Make A Wish foundation routine at the end. May they find their way into your life some point soon.

      There’s the sneaking suspicion that were it not for Silverman’s big PR push for her new cartoon movie Wreck-It Ralph, she wouldn’t have been in the UK and wouldn’t have forced an opportunity to neutralise the lingering fart that was that 2008 show. I hope tonight’s success means it’s not another five years until she’s back, with more than one gig, and some more new gags too.

4 stars
Review by Paul Fleckney

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