Silverman's Comedy Gold

Stand-up comic Sarah Silverman delivered a knockout performance in Tel Aviv, but her humor's not for the fainthearted.

Just like Bob Dylan's show here, in which two warm-up acts - one a local with connections abroad and the other entirely American - preceded the main performance, so it was with comedian Sarah Silverman at Zappa in Tel Aviv this week. In her case, there were two stand-ups: the excellent ultra-Orthodox comic Yisrael Campbell and the American, Todd Glass. And then Silverman appeared in jeans, a striped shirt ("I started this trend" ) and a cardigan sweater, sending regards from Dylan, who had refrained from doing so himself. In this way, in her playing-it-dumb, slightly childish style, she tweaked the audience for feeling insulted by the cornerstone of folk-rock because of his bad manners.

The performance by Silverman, a daring and funny comedian, was simply marvelous. She has her own pace. Unlike Todd Glass, who shot out his jokes energetically, she is slower and more moderate, and makes more twists and turns. Her punch lines take you by surprise, and suddenly the audience finds itself in a fit of laughter. She has also apparently come to a few conclusions after her first show here, which took place at the Wohl Amphitheater a day earlier, and she didn't prolong the audience Q&A slot. In general, she spoke a lot about herself, about what she knows, and a little about us.

silverman - AP - June 28 2011
Sarah Silverman AP

Her jokes feature a lot of vaginas, even the shaved one of a baby girl whose diaper she had changed. There are also lots of erections and ejaculations, even those of her father, whom she corrupted when she was really, really, really little; at least one bleeding anus (of a 17-year-old dog ). She also jokes about terminally ill infants and a few rape victims.

She accompanied herself on the guitar when she sang about a diva who she called a not nice word that rhymes with runt; and a song she used to sing for her grandmother, that she would soon die. Her range of subjects was fairly broad. Here and there she spoke with the audience. Improvising, she told a story that she and the security guard protecting her - stationed at the edge of the stage, and who didn't stop laughing at her jokes - were having a relationship like the one in the Whitney Houston film "The Bodyguard."

Silverman on stage is slightly gentler than she was in her television show, "The Sarah Silverman Program," which was axed last year after three seasons. On the show, she consistently broke with convention, sometimes exhaustingly so. In the first episode, she had a one-night stand with God, who appeared in the form of a black man, who had to cope with her rude rejection of him the morning after. In the concluding episode, titled "Wowshvitz," she and her sister compete for the job of emcee at a Holocaust ceremony. On Sunday, too, she threw out Holocaust jokes, which were not as well received as the others - not because of the subject, it seems, but because of the English wordplay. Most of the audience, based on the accents of those who spoke with her, was Israeli.

With the cancellation of the TV show, broadcast by Comedy Central, Silverman turned to other pursuits. A few months ago, the film "Peep Show" - with Michael C. Hall (Dexter ) and Rainn Wilson (The Office ) - was released. She has made a guest appearance on "The Good Wife," whose second season debuted this week on Yes Drama; she told stories about the filming during her show. And a year ago, she published an autobiographical book, "The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee" (Harper Collins ).

In the book too, her humor slides into poo, pee pee, and farts. She is the first to admit this. She includes electronic correspondence about the book's subtitle with her editor, David Hirshey. In English, one may write "pee" or "pee pee," and each has its own slightly different significance. Silverman preferred the former as being more direct, and the editor preferred the latter, because it was slightly less so. Silverman won, of course.

In the book, more than her show, the 40-year-old Silverman relates to her Jewishness. She comes from a Jewish family, the only one in the area of Bedford, New Hampshire, where she grew up. She talks a lot about her black hair and hairy arms (in her show, she spoke about shaving her toes, having one continuous eyebrow, and also about her mustache ).

The last question from the audience was about why all her meetings with Israeli media and government representatives seemed somewhat twisted, and radiated discomfort when shown on television. After a few chuckles and hesitations, she replied, as if summing up her essence: "I like twisted discomfort."