Monday, May 22, 2006

The Aristocrats (2005)

Starring a whole host of comedians, writers and other hangers on
Not Rated, 89 minutes

I just got finished watching “The Aristocrats,” a film made by comedian Paul Provenza and Penn Jilette of Penn & Teller fame. I don’t know what this movie would be like if I went in blind, so I’ll also save you the time by setting up what the whole thing’s about. “The Aristocrats” is an old joke told for generations by comedians mostly for other comics. The idea is simple: a talent agent is pitched a family act. A mother, father, their son, their daughter and the family dog all do vile things to one another. They have various forms of sex, many incestual in nature; they engage in bestiality and swim in a sea of their own bodily fluids. What do they call their act? “The Aristocrats.”

Okay, so it’s not funny. But most comics know what the joke is, and their way of describing this most foul act is what makes each telling unique and is where the true humor lies. Most sources described the film as a large number of comedians giving their interpretation of the joke. After getting a preview in the form of one telling, I wasn’t sure how a hundred of those in a row would hold up. Thankfully the actual film is not just the joke over and over, but rather a documentary of the joke and its variants interspersed with some full-length performances, as well as many that are edited.

There are a number of highlights for me personally: George Carlin’s telling, some of the cleaner renditions of the joke, Martin Mull’s variant, Pat Cooper’s appearances, Bob Saget’s telling, Howie Mandel’s version, etc. Some of the other luminaries in the movie include Drew Carey, Robin Williams, Don Rickles and many more.

Still, after breathing a sigh of relief over the documentary form taking shape versus one hundred versions of “The Aristocrats,” I still came out of it feeling nonplussed. Some of the editing choices made as far as whose joke gets full play, who gets cut down to a scant few clips…they’re weird. At some points I was checking how many minutes there were left to go. The movie doesn’t end particularly well either, especially given that the filmmakers had a perfect thing to end on (which I think will become evident if you see the movie).


It’s a weird animal because it is so vulgar and there’s no point of comparison. If you’re into stand-ups and aren’t easily offended, I still wouldn’t go in with high expectations. I was anticipating seeing this movie once I heard of it, so my excitement levels were high going in. But the best way I can describe it now having seen it is a mere curiosity if you don’t mind giving up 90 minutes. I would think most would laugh at something in the movie, but you’d be very hard-pressed to find somebody guffawing top to bottom.

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