September 10, 2005 -- “The Aristocrats” is a documentary film devoted to the world's dirtiest joke. Reading that, one might think this film is filled with a lot of profanity and verbal images of the most disgusting kind imaginable. One would be right. The film does have its moments. There are some funny bits. Some versions of the joke are better than others, and there are a few jokes that are somewhat different than the main joke. On the whole, the joke does not bear repetition well (unless you happen to be a show business veteran), and it is repeated often in this film.
Speaking of the main joke, just what is it? Well, it is a joke that comedians mainly tell each other. It is an entertainment industry inside joke that plays upon people's experiences with talent agents, booking agents and other power brokers in the theater, TV and movie business. It is not a joke that comedians tell on stage that much. There are two stage examples of the joke shown in the film, the rest are all done in interview form. O.K., the joke, here is a simple form of it: A family of four, including a young boy and girl, audition for a talent agent. They get up on stage and promptly take off all their clothes and defecate on the floor, then they roll around in it, getting it all over their bodies, then they proceed to have group anal, vaginal and oral sex with each other. Finished, they take a bow. The shocked talent agent says, “I've never seen an act like that. What do you call it?” They reply with pride, “We are the aristocrats!”
The film gives us many versions of this joke. When comedians get together, the idea is to use the most disgusting verbal images you can describe, including vomiting, urine, blood, semen, vaginal fluids and any other kind of bodily fluids you can imagine. The joke can, and often does, include bestiality and any kind of sexual activity you can imagine. I had never heard the joke as described above, but it turns out that I did hear another version of the joke some years ago. It has to do with three men captured by a dangerous tribe of primitives. They are given a choice of death or severe, injurious sexual assault. The term “Aristocrats” is used in this joke during the film, but is totally unnecessary. The version of this offshoot joke I heard was funny, and did not use the term aristocrats at all.
A large number of top comedians and other famous people appear in this film, including Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria, Shelley Berman, David Brenner, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Billy Connolly, Tim Conway, Frank DiGiacomo, Carrie Fisher, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried, Hugh M. Hefner, Eric Idle, Penn and Teller, Richard Lewis, Bill Maher, Howie Mandel, Martin Mull, Kevin Nealon, Kevin Pollak, Paul Reiser, Andy Richter, Don Rickles, Chris Rock, Rita Rudner, Rob Schneider.... Himself Dick and Tommy Smothers, David Steinberg, Scott 'Carrot Top' Thompson, Fred Willard, Robin Williams and many others. The film does go into some detail in numerous interviews with comedians about what makes a joke funny, how much of a joke's effectiveness is due to writing, and how much to delivery, etc. It is interesting stuff.
Some of these people, like Tim Conway and Whoopi Goldberg, are very funny, while others are downright creepy or scary. In the faces of some of these comedians, you can see an enormous anger boiling just under the surface. Rickles and Idle, for instance spend most of their time on screen explaining how they really don't do these kinds of jokes. In fact, most comedians these days don't really tell jokes in the conventional sense of a drawn-out story with a humorous climax. Instead, they make funny observations about people and society. They do short one-liners. Everything is very short, quick and to the point. Classic jokes, like the aristocrats, take time to build up. The attention spans of audiences are not sufficient to support real jokes these days. Some versions of the aristocrats joke can take up to 90 minutes to tell. Nobody tells a 90 minute joke anymore, unless the audience is all drunk comedians at a late night party.
The film looks like it was shot on the cheap with video cameras. The lighting and camera work are haphazard at best. The editing, by Emery Emery (his real name, I guess) and Paul Provenza (who also directs the film) is really good, however. One of the camera operators is Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller, who also was an executive producer of this film). Jillette says in an article he wrote about the movie, that it is a very funny film, “But, you shouldn't see it if you've ever been offended by any word ever ever.” I suppose it is possible that there are people who have never been offended by a word, but most people have, particularly if those who have been described by a word, like slut, whore, bitch, queer or moron, or been described by racial or ethnic slurs, for instance. That is the sort of thing that usually gets people upset. Some of these words are even called fighting words. So take Penn Jillette's advice and don't see this movie if you've ever been offended by a word. This film rates a C.
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