Sarah Silverman in <EM>Jesus Is Magic</EM> Sarah Silverman in Jesus Is Magic
Sarah Silverman has made a name for herself cracking wise about topics — rape, AIDS and teen pregnancy included — that other comics wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. (In fact, if you are easily offended, you may want to skip this Insider and reread the Keira Knightley one or something.) But there are times when even Silverman is leery of going too far. Before filming her new concert film

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, based on her long-running stand-up show of the same name, Silverman cut a joke that had to do with the Holocaust — specifically, the rumors that an aspirin company tested its products on concentration-camp prisoners. 

"I was talking about how it's a headache medicine and that they'd probably give it to a couple of campers who would be like, 'OK, my headache is better than the hunger, but it's not as bad as how much I miss my family,'" she shares. "Or, 'You know, it's better than when I was in labor and you sewed up my vagina.' But the bit was so heavy and the punch line was just too iffy.

"It's one of those jokes that, unless it has a killer ending, it's too much of a bummer to live through," she admits. "I thought, 'Life is too short and I don't need it,' so I just cut it."

In general, though, Silverman proudly stands by her opinion that "nothing is holy. Anything goes, as long as it's funny enough in my subjective view of what's funny." That attitude yields so-wrong-they're-strangely-right lines like "The best time to have a baby is when you're a black teenager" and "I was raped by a doctor, which is a bittersweet experience for a Jewish girl." 

According to Silverman, the key to "getting" her humor is recognizing that the audience is supposed to be laughing at her, not the things she's saying. "I'm the bad guy," she explains. "People say, 'You make fun of rape and AIDS,' and I certainly don't. Those things are horrific, but hopefully in those jokes you are laughing at me" — or, at any rate, the character she's created onstage. Speaking of that, how does she keep her stage persona separate from the "real" Sarah Silverman? Simple. "The real me is much prettier."  

Although she has regularly appeared in movies (Saving Silverman, School of Rock) and on TV (Mr. Show, Greg the Bunny) since the mid-'90s, Jesus Is Magic is Silverman's first leading role and her first opportunity to bring her brand of comedy to a wider audience. Originally, the 34-year-old New Hampshire native wanted her solo debut to be an HBO special. "It's one of those things that's a dream for comics, like doing Letterman," she says. Yet despite having a development deal in place with the cable network, they weren't interested in turning her stage show into a special. 

As Silverman then toyed with the idea of making it into a feature, an incident that occurred during one of her performances sealed the deal. "I was doing a run of the show in L.A. and a friend of mine asked if he could watch from the wings," she remembers. "At one point I did a joke where I flicked a tear off stage and I look over and I saw him pretend to catch it and then pleasure himself with the lubrication of my pantomime tear. I laughed so hard and the audience was completely flummoxed. In that moment, I realized that it could be a visual thing, like a movie where you don't just see the audience's point of view but mine as well. Sort of a different version of a concert film." (The bit with the tear does appear in the movie, along with several surreal musical numbers, including Silverman's unique interpretation of "Amazing Grace.")

To prepare for Jesus Is Magic, Silverman revisited some of her favorite concert films, including Eddie Murphy Delirious and Bill Cosby: Himself. "[Cosby] was the one I really watched in preparation for this. I just loved how subtle it was — no tricky camera work, just a camera on him and a background that changed colors very subtly." The stand-up portion of Jesus Is Magic was shot over seven days in North Hollywood's El Portal Theater. "I think everything that's in the show made it into the movie," Silverman says proudly. "The director and I looked at each other when we were done and said, 'This is exactly what we imagined.' It's only 72 minutes, but I like it when movies are short. No one ever goes, 'I wish that were longer' — and if they do, that's good."    

In addition to Jesus Is Magic, Silverman can be seen on the big screen this month in the movie version of Rent, and she also has a part in the comedy School for Scoundrels, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder and due for release in 2006. But her next leading role will be in a possible TV series for Comedy Central, in which she'll again play herself. Silverman recently completed work on the pilot, which finds her on-screen persona enduring a series of mundane but humiliating adventures. "I need four AA batteries for my TV remote because I can't change the channel and it's stuck on this commercial for kids with leukemia. But I can't cross the street [to the store] because there's a wheelchair marathon, which I think is an anti-leg rally at first. Then I poop my pants a little bit and sing a song about that and about how I wish the world was a better place where every child had a mother and stuff." 

In other words, it's just an average, ordinary day in the life of Sarah Silverman.