Archive for the ‘Aristocrats’ Category

221 – The Aristocrats

August 24, 2005

The Aristocrats is about a old joke told almost exclusively among stand-up comedians. It’s so filthy, so heinously disgusting that it’s simply not for general public consumption.

The premise of the joke, which has been around since vaudeville days, never really changes: “A guy walks into a talent agent's office and says he has a great new act.” And the punchline never changes: “The Aristocrats!”

Ah, but what happens in between! There's the fun. As Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller; he coproduced the film) notes, it’s the singer, not the song. When you hear a note of John Coltrane, you know it’s John Coltrane – doesn’t matter if he’s playing a complex piece or “Happy Birthday.” In other words, each artist has his own inimitable style.

A joke like The Aristocrats exists to allow comics to show off their style and their ability to ad lib. Each comic takes the joke and makes it his or her own, tossing in all kinds of flowery, naughty descriptive debauchery to draw out the joke’s length and effectiveness. The joke lets the comedian explore the limits of his or her own talent; how much can they improv? For, you see, no one scripts what they’re going to say during a performance of the Aristocrats joke – it’s mostly done off the cuff.

About 100 comedians show up in this film, from such oldtimers as Phyllis Diller and Don Rickles to Robin Williams, Martin Mull, Howie Mandel, and even Emo Phillips. The background of the joke – that is, the performing family act that appears therein – is analyzed: Wouldn’t the family have been in jail for the unspeakable acts they commit on stage in this joke? The comics also discuss how the amount of raunch in the joke has changed over the decades, as the social mores of the country as a whole have evolved. It’s really quite fascinating stuff, and it never moves so ploddingly as to bore the viewer.

One of the biggest highlights of the joke comes when Gilbert Gottfried retells the joke during a recent Friar’s Club roast of Hugh Hefner. Bear in mind that this is not a joke that’s told in public – ever, mostly because of its highly offensive nature. The roast occurred shortly after September 11, 2001, and Gottfried tried to tell a joke about the terrorist attacks, something about having a connecting flight later that night with the Empire State Building. He got booed by a few people, and one guy yelled, “Too soon!” So after a moment’s pause, Gottfried launched into The Joke, and soon people – remember, it’s an audience filled with comics – were rolling in the aisles, wondering how far he’d take the joke. (Literally, in Rob Schneider’s case – he was laughing so hard he fell out of his chair a couple of times.)

We also get to see the boys from South Park (meaning Cartman telling the joke to Stan, Kyle, and Kenny, not Trey Parker and Matt Stone telling it), and we get to witness the darker side of Bob Saget.

The Aristocrats is not rated, although it’s tough to see it getting anything less than an NC-17 simply for the vulgar content. You really, REALLY don’t want to see this if you get offended easily, or even not so easily. Mentioned therein are incest, fecalphilia, bestiality, and all sorts of bodily fluids and functions.

The Aristocrats: ***1/2