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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 32.98%
Just Average: 8.51%
Pretty Crappy: 7.45%
Sucks: 3.19%

11 reviews, 28 user ratings

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Aristocrats, The
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by Aaron Ducat

"Not a film you want to go see with your teetotaling reactionary grandma"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SEATTLE FILM FESTIVAL: Imagine a movie which features not one or two of your favorite comedians, but well over one-hundred of them. Hank Azaria, Jason Alexander, George Carlin, Wendy Liebman, Michael McKean, Kevin Pollak, Paul Reiser, Rita Rudner, Jon Stewart, Steven Wright, Robin Williams… the list goes on and on. They’re not doing stand-up per say, and instead are all using more or less the exact same formulaic structure to tell the dirtiest, most lewd, filthy and offensive joke they possibly can. When I saw this film screened there was ample warning that the material was highly offensive and that audiences had been walking-out in disgust. Although there’s no sex or violence, if you’re easily put off by vulgarity this is not the film for you.

“The Aristocrats” is a joke which has apparently been told amongst entertainers since Vaudeville times. There’s a simple formula, though its permutations are infinite, and this film tracks some of today’s funniest people giving their particular spin on this classic joke. The gag involves and intro and a two-word punch-line, with the middle portion of the joke left to the teller’s discretion. It works something like this: A husband and wife walk into a vaudeville agent’s office and tell him they have an act he needs to see. The comic is now free to go in whatever direction he likes; the act can be scatological, incestuous, violent, psychotic, nonsensical, racist, or preferably all of the above, as long as he or she does their best to offend. At the end of the rant, the talent agent asks what the name of the show is, and the comic triumphantly says, “The Aristocrats!”

Although the joke’s roots are unknown, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the aristocracy was the upper class that often censored public speech in the name of decency. It’s not difficult to surmise the joke’s original tellers using “The Aristocrats” as the punch line as a way of reclaiming certain territory and ways of speaking (one can imagine a modern version utilizing the punch line, “The FCC!”). If this is true, such an approach would revel in its offensiveness, a giant “Piss off!” to those who said you couldn’t use such words.

This is a difficult movie to review, because the joke’s structure and intended content is both the premise and the content of the film. Everyone in the film is either telling the joke, or telling why the joke works as well as it does. There’s no use in even attempting to repeat the various ways the joke is told, and even if I tried the censors would be all over it. To put it simply: this is not a film you want to go see with your tee totaling reactionary grandma, though it is intriguing, shocking and hilariously frightening to see some of the filth these various minds create.

Most of the filming was done backstage or in someone’s house: there are very few shots in actual comedy clubs. The filmmakers, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette, have entertainment credentials which allow them to just hang-out with these comedians and catch them simply riffing. Of particular amusement to me were segments including Bob Saget, who, if you’ve never seen him do stand-up, is the antithesis of his sappy, family-guy Danny from “Full House.” His filth is so stank I cringe just to think of it again. There’s also an especially funny “South Park” version of the joke, and Sarah Silverman tells a wicked version as well.

Ultimately, even though it’s less than 90 minutes long, The Aristocrats begins to drag. There’s only so much vulgarity one’s ears can take, and after a while the idea of a father anally raping his daughter becomes neither shocking nor funny (as in, “I can’t believe he just said that!”), and instead becomes vapid and empty. Further, eventually you realize that the whole point of the joke - which is to offend the listeners’ ears by pushing them beyond normal limits – fails. Sex and violence and feces as themes can be offensive if you’ve either been living under cleric rule or if you’re sixteen, but if you’ve had your head in current culture over the past thirty years you know these topics are no longer as odious as they once were.

I found the only truly risqué element of the joke was when it was performed with race as the offender. It’s one thing to talk about sex with your mother, quite another to play on racial stereotypes. Sadly, this aspect is only minimally considered, and yet it’s the only angle which can still carry offense and actually shock modern listeners. Racial tension resides like an impatient and bubbling pool of lava under most Western cultures, and it takes a truly courageous person not only to admit it’s there, but to make jokes out of it. Mostly The Aristocrats has very funny people doing a joke which is occasionally funny, always lewd, and rarely offensive. If “The Aristocrats” as a joke is to continue to thrive as a symbol of challenge to the status quo, new comics hopefully will pick up the mantle and truly threaten listeners' ears.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11199&reviewer=374
originally posted: 05/20/05 18:21:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. For more in the 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest For more in the 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/18/11 Magic A great dissection on what makes a joke funny. Even if it's as crude as the Aristocrats. 4 stars
7/01/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess You know your a sick fuck when child-rape puts you in stitches 5 stars
8/23/06 AnnieG Not for the faint-of-heart (and avoid eating while you watch), but an amazing film. 4 stars
5/14/06 Jen Awesome. A great movie. 5 stars
4/16/06 Michael Garbage All The Way. Very Disappointing 1 stars
4/16/06 millersxing A crash course in scatological humor; come armed with a funny bone. 5 stars
3/03/06 Indrid Cold Original and good for a laugh or three. Don't watch with grandparents or children! 4 stars
3/01/06 Phil M. Aficionado Amusing and outside the box;wears out its welcome by the end;be in a mood to be grossed out 3 stars
2/07/06 bitch fuck you janet fucking prude bitch 5 stars
12/16/05 Marty Hilarious, smart and fearless. A new form of documentary. 5 stars
11/30/05 joey squids it was great...sarah silverman just jumped out of my ass! 5 stars
10/10/05 the untrained eye Not as funny as those who've seen it would like those who haven't believe 3 stars
9/13/05 Marty Funniest, smartes movie I've seen in ages. 5 stars
9/11/05 janet nave This film was so offensive and stupid that I left--UGH 1 stars
9/10/05 ajay it got a little slow at times, but there were tons of laughs. 4 stars
9/06/05 guy funny if you're still 13 2 stars
9/05/05 Martin Totaly disgusting and vulgar piece of crap 1 stars
8/29/05 Ayatolla of Rockinrolla The funniest movie I've seen in a while. Cartman RULES 5 stars
8/28/05 bullit16 Production values are lacking, but it's wet-your-pants funny 4 stars
8/22/05 bizenya great if you're interested in comedy as an art form. 4 stars
8/20/05 walter it's just hilarious and brilliant. period. 5 stars
4/15/05 Simon This is GENIUS. Funny as hell and even smarter than that. 5 stars
2/20/05 fiona just lovely... 5 stars
2/16/05 Jen SO GREAT. Awesome job by Provenza & Emery. 5 stars
2/01/05 Tammera Mack great movie 5 stars
1/31/05 Gladys Paradowski This is hilarious. Such a contrast to today's special effects monstrosities. 5 stars
1/31/05 Emery Emery I'm Biased. I edited the thing. 5 stars
1/29/05 Casey Tells good 4 stars
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  29-Jul-2005 (NR)
  DVD: 24-Jan-2005



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