Sarah Silverman does eat with the same mouth she talks with. The naughty minx stretches out on the cafe settee and groans with belly pleasure.
"I'm so disgusted with myself."
The waiter looks down at her, still supine, and mentions dessert. "Ooooh. I'm so full. I ate like an animal!" Like it was his fault she ate a wedge of iceberg lettuce. "With [expletive] blue cheese dressing," she says in her daddy's-little-girl voice. "With chopped walnuts." The waiter says the gelato is yummy. "Then you eat it," Silverman hisses.
She rises up and smiles her big unnaturally bright white smile. It's all just flirty fun. But maybe the waiter thinks, and maybe you think, too: This chick is crazy.
Crazy in a good way, yeah? It's an act.
Silverman is very hot right now, very outre, very edgy. In the current issue of Fade In magazine she's photographed sitting on a toilet; in Entertainment Weekly she's on a swing set in a cocktail dress.
Swing set and toilet. That's Sarah Silverman.
Long a favorite among a hip crowd who followed her stand-up career and admired her small but memorable turns on "Greg the Bunny" or "The School of Rock" or the dirty-joke documentary "The Aristocrats" or the Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson (where she quipped, of Courtney Love's deranged appearance, "I'm glad she's here. I left my crack in my other purse"). Now she is in the big room with a movie all her own, performing her off-Broadway comic routine in the film "Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic," which opens today in Washington.
In the movie, Silverman performs a couple of kitsch singing numbers (she does "Amazing Grace" sung by her various body parts and a folk song at a retirement home with a lyric that goes "It's not cold in here. You're just going to die soon") and there's some backstage sketches -- Sarah and her bong; Sarah and her sister; and Sarah throwing a fit because her agent provides the wrong bottled water, which "tastes thick."
But most of the film is her doing her stand-up before an audience in L.A., an act in which her "persona," a character like and unlike the real Sarah Silverman, muses upon starving babies, body smells and rape.
She mentions that her grandmother, her beloved nana, survived the Holocaust -- at "one of the better camps." She tackles religion ("everybody blames the Jews for killing Christ. And then the Jews try to pass it off on the Romans. I'm one of the few people who believe it was the blacks").
She does a riff on a (made-up) past boyfriend who was "half-black," but then corrects herself for being so pessimistic. "He was half-white." She tells him it's okay, "he would have made a really expensive slave in olden times."
But: "How can I be racist?" she asks the audience. "I went out with a Mexican man. Do racists go out with Mexicans? Noo. They're filthy."
Her movie, which opened in limited release in New York and L.A. last week, has gotten some strong reviews. "The most outrageously funny woman alive," Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone, comparing her work to Lenny Bruce's.
Others are less smitten. "Once you become accustomed to the material and begin to anticipate it, some of the shine comes off the act," said Pete Vonder Harr in online magazine Film Threat. A.O. Scott of the New York Times observed that "this kind of transgression has long since become ritualized and normalized, and Ms. Silverman's act is the latest evidence that mocking political correctness has become a form of political correctness in its own right. Her version of insult humor is actually flattering, both to herself and to those who find it funny."
Silverman reminds us that she makes this stuff up.
"I am a character different from myself onstage," she says. "But I'm still pretty much myself."
A character that is oblivious.
"Think of an arrogant ignorance."
A kind of sweet sociopath?
But you're, or rather she's, awful.
"I just do the stuff that tickles me personally. I'm tickled by the idea of the unreliable narrator." She says, "I enjoy complete absurdity, presented very small and real."
"Her work is so minimalist. Like a haiku," says Paul Provenza, director of "The Aristocrats." "It's beautiful."
Much is made of Silverman's looks. Maxim pronounced her hot. She is a swizzle stick of a thing, dark-eyed, raven-haired, a 34-year-old ingenue in a tight T-shirt, sneakers and jeans, which is her offstage outfit. "Sarah's femininity is handled differently than other women comics'," Provenza says. "It is art at its best. It's unselfconscious self-awareness. She's aware of her sexuality. Every guy in the room is. It's fundamental to what she does. But she uses it as a bass line."
To lull the audience and then strike -- like how can these disturbing things come out of that cute little mouth?
Silverman grew up in a middle-class, smart-alecky Jewish household in New Hampshire. Her parents divorced. She suffered from depression in her teens. Her father owned discount clothing stores, including one called Crazy Sophie's. Her mother ran a theater company at a college. Her sister Laura Silverman is an actress who appears in "Jesus Is Magic." Another sister, Susan, a rabbi, is the author of a book titled "Jewish Family & Life: Traditions, Holidays and Values for Today's Parents and Children." Sarah Silverman dates Jimmy Kimmel, the ABC late-night host, formerly of "The Man Show."
"I was a class clown," Silverman says. "I went to summer school in Boston when I was 17, and that was the first time I did stand-up. I moved to New York when I was 18 and started passing out fliers for comedy clubs. I knew I wanted to do it."
She attended NYU. "My dad cut me a deal where if I dropped out of school, he'd pay for the next three years -- sophomore, junior, senior years -- of rent. And that saved him tons of money from college. And gives me that time to do stand-up. It's good because by the time I would have graduated, by the time I turned 22, I was on 'Saturday Night Live.' "
She lasted a year.
"A certain amount of disillusionment can be a good thing," Silverman says.
They canned you.
"They faxed my agent. A month before my second season. It was a slaughter. It wasn't personal. I didn't make an imprint at all. I was also destroyed. It took me a year to get my confidence back. But like a broken bone, I was stronger. After that, nothing fazed me."
She did get in hot water for using an ethnic slur for Chinese people on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." She reprises the incident in "Jesus Is Magic." Her use of racial, ethnic and sexual labels isn't unique, but it is consistent: She uses them -- a lot. And often in a way her admirers find clever (like "Guess what, Martin Luther King? I had a dream too. I had a dream that I was in my living room . . .").
"It's just what I'm into," she says. "I hope I move on from it. Because it's getting really race-heavy, my material. But I feel like it's this elephant in the room. What, are we going to pretend that there's no racial tension? It will never go away."
It takes us a moment to realize that Silverman is being serious.
"Because there's resentment and then there's white guilt and then there's resentment of the guilt and so there's a never-ending thing that separates us. I'm not trying to say my comedy is about something. I value those jokes as much as the stupid fart jokes or whatever. I want it to be silly. I want it to be funny above anything else. But that's why I write material like that. Because I'm obsessed by it."
Sam Seder, a former boyfriend who directed Silverman in an obscure miniseries called "Pilot Season," a showbiz mockumentary, says: "I never understood why stand-up was so important to her, and I still don't. But it is." Unlike many comics, Seder says, Silverman doesn't see stand-up as just a stop on the way to her own sitcom or a career in acting. But that may be where she is headed.
Last month, Silverman taped a pilot for Comedy Central about . . . Sarah Silverman. The cable network has not yet announced its fate, but there may be much more Sarah Silverman in the future.
"The pilot episode," she explains, "is just about me and I need four AA batteries for my remote because I can't change the channel and the TV is stuck on this CARE commercial about kids with leukemia and of course it doesn't dawn on me to actually manually change the channel. So I go out on an adventure looking for AAs and obstacles are in my way."
"A wheelchair marathon, blocking the road. And I'm like, what's this? I go to the barricade and ask the cop and he says what does it look like? Umm, some kind of anti-leg rally?"
There you go.
"I can go on and on, beat by beat," she says. Eventually the Sarah character meets God, who happens to be black. "We end up having sex. There's this uncomfortable morning after." Silverman smiles a dreamy smile. "But he was just . . . amazing."