THE ARISTOCRATS (8/12/2005)
Director: Paul Provenza
Cast: A Galaxy of Comedy Stars
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 79% Certified Fresh
PLOT: One hundred comedians and comedy writers tell the same very, VERY dirty, filthy joke–one shared privately by comics since the golden age of Vaudeville.
I laughed longer, harder, and more often during “The Aristocrats” than at anything I’ve ever witnessed, except perhaps when Penni and I saw George Carlin perform live at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center on New Year’s Eve, 1999. I laughed until I hurt. I laughed so hard, at one point I pitched over in my own seat and hit my head on the back of the seat in front of me. I was ill. The film opens with, wouldn’t you know it, George Carlin and several others deconstructing the joke for uninformed audience members, then proceeds with Carlin’s intensely scatological version of the joke, which will, in fact, be one of the tamer versions you’ll hear during this film.
Some of you will not “get” this movie. That’s okay. I feel sorry for those people, but that’s okay. The humor in it is not universal. The Aristocrats joke is not about the punchline. Indeed, seen by itself, the joke is a BAD joke. The joke is not about the destination, but the journey. It provides comics the opportunity to riff and improvise about the dirtiest, filthiest scenarios imaginable in order to surprise and shock the listener. No family members, nor, indeed, any animals are safe in the telling of this joke.
The funniest versions of the joke are told by a ventriloquist and his dummy; George Carlin (of course); Eric Cartman; and, of ALL PEOPLE…Bob Saget, whose filthiness must be heard to be believed.
There’s also an interesting, and mildly serious, section when comics fondly and admiringly remember Gilbert Gottfried’s famous performance at the Comedy Central Roast of Hugh Hefner, which took place barely three weeks after 9/11. After he tries, and fails, to break the ice with a couple of airplane-crash-related jokes, he launches into the Aristocrats joke, and the mood of the room instantly transforms. Rob Schneider is seen literally falling to the floor with laughter. It’s a brilliant example of comedy as therapy. Shock therapy.
There may be a deeper “meaning” to this joke. Several of the comics in the film get a tad pretentious when discussing its historical importance. But that’s beside the point. When I saw it, I laughed and laughed and laughed. This and the “Jackass” films are my go-to movies to watch when I need to really, genuinely laugh my cares away
P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this film was recommended to me by none other than Greg Palmer, who watched it with me at the AMC Hyde Park Theatre, lo, these many years ago. Greg, it still makes me laugh. Good call.