Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Aristocrats

THE ARISTOCRATS (Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette, 2005)

In Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette's documentary THE ARISTOCRATS nearly a hundred comedians talk about or put their spin on a dirty joke that has made the rounds among comics for years. The film boasts a who's who of funny people: Drew Carey, George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Robin Williams, Stephen Wright, and a whole lot more. Shot over four years on the street, in the homes and offices of comedians, and backstage at clubs, THE ARISTOCRATS compiles a verbal history of a joke so nasty that it can't help but be passed along.

The joke, which has roots in vaudeville, centers around a man who goes to a talent agent in hopes of getting his family act booked. Their performance contains all things scatological and sexual and then some. The agent asks what the name of the act is, and the man responds, "The Aristocrats."

Many of the comedians admit that they don't think it's a very good joke or, at least, that the punchline is lacking. The humor comes from the joke teller's improvisational ability and the one-upsmanship that it encourages.

It's an understatement to say that THE ARISTOCRATS is not for those with delicate sensibilities. (For an approximation of the joke's depravity, take the foulest things you can think of and multiple by ten. That puts you in the ballpark.) Although it has no objectionable content except for language--but oh, what an exception!--the film's a cinch for an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. Rather than deal with the logistical headaches that rating brings, ThinkFilm is releasing it unrated.

THE ARISTOCRATS is an unrepentantly filthy movie...and a very funny one. Frequently I'm not enthusiastic about this kind of humor, but the creativity and escalating outrageousness the comedians put into the joke is something to behold. The joke allows comedians to show off their unique skills and artistry while saying things that would make the roughest sailors blush.

Provenza and Jillette include versions that run the gamut from the tame, relatively speaking, to the foulest imaginable (and worse) and the verbose to the word-free. It's impossible to remember who tells the joke best, but two of the most memorable performances include a mime telling the joke on the street--that he's wearing a wireless mic pack may be funnier than anything--and a SOUTH PARK rendition.

Grade: B+

(Review originally appeared in a slightly different form as part of my Deep Focus Film Fest day 2 coverage)


  1. Great review - My personal jury is out on Gilette - but I think everyone should make a movie sometime or other. Have you made one yet?

  2. Thanks for the kind words.

    Unless one wants to count a high school humanities project in which I was part of the brain trust behind TEENAGE TERROR: A TALE OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION, then no, I haven't made a movie. I was an extra, visible from a distance, in A REASON TO BELIEVE, though. I see that it's now available on DVD. I tracked it down several years ago and thought it wasn't very good, but I may have to take a look at it again for curiosity's sake.

  3. Anonymous6:31 PM

    Of course Penn Jillette would be in on a movie like this. Anybody who would put a steel jailhouse toilet into his person house would have a weird sense of humor. You notice I said weird and not sick. For this type of humor, although not to my liking isn't sick, just weird.

    I can remember seeing him in one of those women in prison movies, one with Linda Blair in it. The title I can't remember. Plus all parts with him and Blair in it was add for the US release years latter and had nothing to do with the movie originally.

    In this movie, Blair walks into a office building lobby and heads for the elevator. Penn Jillette as the security guard yells after her something like "Hay bitch, get back here and sign in."

    She stops goes back to the counter. And before you know it shoots him between the eyes. Then enters the building.

    This seen because you didn't expect it was the funnies think I've seen in a woman in prison movie and I've seen thousands of these kind of movies.