Review: Sarah Silverman

The controversial US comedian often upsets audiences with her non-PC humour. At her London premiere last Sunday, it was her time-keeping and the brevity of her performance that enraged the audience.

By Paul Lester, October 23, 2008
Sarah Silverman arrived late and finished after a mere 45 minutes.

Sarah Silverman arrived late and finished after a mere 45 minutes.

Hammersmith Apollo, London W6

When the audience, muttering resentments, spilled on to the street at around 9.15pm, barely 45 minutes after notorious American comedian Sarah Silverman came on stage, one was reminded of that old gag, recounted by Woody Allen in Annie Hall: "The food here is terrible - and such small portions."

Silverman's live UK debut hardly capitalised on her reputation as the funniest woman on the planet. The doors opened late, support act Steve Agee, who plays one of Silverman's gay neighbours in her series on US cable channel Comedy Central, cancelled due to illness, and the first 10 minutes of what should have been her set comprised a show-reel for her new series.

Worst of all, when she finally did appear, to many in the crowd, including celebrity audience-members David Walliams and Chris Morris, much of her material would have been familiar from her television show or recent stand-up DVD, Jesus Is Magic. Factor in her hesitant, seemingly ill-prepared will-this-do? manner - routinely part of her shtick, only this time it served to undercut her jokes rather than enhance them - and you had 3,000-plus seriously disgruntled fans, who felt the £30-40 ticket price was too much for too little.

The problem with visiting American comedians is the impression they give of casting pearls before swine, and never mind the tired notion that Americans have no sense of humour. Quite the opposite - they've got a superiority complex, and for good reason. An on-form Silverman effortlessly makes our best comics seem like end-of-the-pier entertainers.

Tonight, she was coasting, but even a sub-par Silverman performance contains enough explorations of the dark side of the human psyche to keep your mind reeling well into the night - in which case maybe it was money well spent. "I have had an abortion. Abortions. And obviously it's, like, one of the top 50 hardest decisions a woman can make," she deadpanned at the start of the show. Later, she explained that she does not give money to starving African children because they will only spend it on drugs, so she sends DVDs instead. She enquired about the Jewish quotient of the audience, and imagined it might be a terrorist plot to get all the Jews in England under one roof.

She also wondered at the Nazis' lack of business acumen, with their genocide of a people who would have inevitably become the best customers for their Volkswagen and Mercedes cars.

And with her acoustic guitar she satirised the sincere troubadour genre, most notably during the ditty in which she dreamed of a world where "retarded" people might be "re-smarted".

The ditzy JAP persona which she uses to spear bigotry unravelled, however, when she returned for an "encore" and, having run out of material, tried awkwardly to engage with the audience "as herself", with an impromptu question-and-answer session. After a couple of bland enquiries, one woman shouted out: "Sarah, you're overhyped, I want my money back," to which Silverman turned her back, bent over, mimed breaking wind, then headed off stage, this time for good, a desultory end to a disappointing performance.

Last updated: 11:20am, October 23 2008