The Sarah Silverman question is interesting: Will she be burned at the stake first or presented a diamond tiara for courage, comedy and uplift?

From what I know about destruction, I favor fire; but ice is also nice and would suffice.

In the meantime, the best thing to do is simply sit back and listen. She is woman -- well, of a certain sort -- hear her roar. No, actually, hear yourself roar. She can fry up bacon, put it in a pan. Er, no, she can't. What she can do is make you laugh your tonsils out. The fact that she shouldn't be saying those things and you shouldn't be laughing at them makes it even more deliciously painful. She is so funny she should come with a seven-day waiting period.

I should note that her movie "Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic" is really for the rest of us. It's a way to catch up.

Silverman has been a cult figure for some time. Even with a stint on "Saturday Night Live" in the '90s and a vivid part in "The School of Rock," she's remained largely below the radar. She rose ever so briefly as one of the few brilliant performers in the way-overrated Penn Jillette-Paul Provenza examination of the world's dirtiest joke, "The Aristocrats," where she lit up the whole, sad, endless thing for a few brief seconds. (Later this month, she pops up as a TV exec in "Rent.")

This movie, directed by ex-music vid guy Liam Lynch, is basically a performance filmed at a Hollywood theater with a few attempts to break out and find an independent, off-stage reality. As for the latter, let's not mince words: It's completely awful. Really. There are song parodies, trips backstage, some biz with her sister and her agent, but it's all just filler to stretch 40 golden minutes of inspired stand-up -- or is that 40 inspired minutes of golden standup? -- to 72 minutes, just barely enough to pass it off as a feature-length, trip-to-theater-worthy film.

In one riff, dolled up like a '60s girl-group backup singer, she confronts two tough-looking African Americans in a parking lot and tries to get them to laugh at her indiscriminate use of the N-word. It's not particularly funny and it goes on way, way too long. It's not really the racial aspects, however, that are unsettling -- the whole thing is just dull and filmmaker Lynch doesn't have the cinematic wherewithal to do anything interesting with the conceit. Nor is it edited to guide you through a developing comic situation to a punch line. It's not directed, it's photographed.

Then there's an ongoing structural thing: The film opens in her apartment in Los Angeles where she's with her actual sister and brother-in-law and she tells fibs about her fabulous success. Then she has to make good on them -- that's what the performance turns out to be.

All the junk turns out to be worth it. Onstage, Silverman becomes some strange apparition of deliverance, or blasphemy. It's a very tricky thing, similar to Steve Martin's deluded, self-important fool with the arrow through the head, but also much closer to the dangerous edge. She radiates the self-confidence of clueless beauty, playing the stereotypical Jewish American Princess, with an emphasis on self-absorption, moral superiority based on the freakish genetic gift of beauty, amused intolerance for, ick, the many lesser others, and the quiet bravado that only really white, straight teeth can give. It's like her mantra is, "I'm cute, it's allowed."

Her comic persona, then, is the utterly clueless pretty thing with no filter, no impulse control over her statements. Nothing fazes her and she's not consciously speaking in an "ironic" tone, winking or making air quote marks. You must supply your own irony and some people won't be able to and will hate it, and her. So here's the question: Is there a tolerant, compassionate, non-narcissistic Sarah Silverman looking askance at the clueless cruelty of her doppelganger? If so, the shrewd Silverman never betrays her. She rides it out to the end -- there's no Don Rickles cop-out, where she tempers the malice with a spritz of bromide -- "Ya know, ladies'n'gentlemen, it's all in fun, we're all brothers and . . ." No way. So you sit there thinking, good Lord, does she mean it? She can't mean it! Can she say that? Can we laugh? We shouldn't laugh. It's not nice to laugh at . . .

"This past summer I sent 15 really fun cowl-neck sweaters to this village in Africa, in really fun colors, and they culled their money together, whatever they call it, and bought a stamp and sent me a postcard thanking me, and it said thank you and they had enough sweaters for every single member of the village to get one and that they were delicious."

. . . but just try not laughing at it.

She burbles onward, in exquisitely calibrated ways that dare propriety even as they dare you not to laugh at them.

"I was raped by a doctor, which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl."

Always at the center is the uncontaminated self, a creature of rapacious hunger for its own pleasures and utterly convinced of its own centrality. The devastating events of Sept. 11, for example, "happened the same exact day that I found out that the soy chai latte was, like, 900 calories. I had been drinking them every day. You hear soy, you think healthy. And it's a lie."

Silverman may morph safe as she becomes more popular. Like Martin, she may take her great timing and ferocious wit away from the dangerous edge to the more prosperous middle and become a sitcom goddess or the klutzy heroine's best friend in a dozen undistinguished blockbuster movies.

But a woman who can say unabashedly, "I don't care if you think I'm racist. I just want you to think I'm thin" deserves so much more.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (72 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema) is rated R for extreme profanity and sexual imagery and innuendo.

Can she say that? Can we laugh? In "Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic," 40 golden minutes of stand-up are worth sitting through the other stuff.