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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 Peter Sobczynski

"Stop me if you've heard this one, you #%^#@!"
4 stars

Most films today are one-joke affairs so it is a little refreshing to see that “The Aristocrats” is at least upfront about it. This is a documentary about a single dirty joke–a joke that a good number of you have probably never heard before (or wouldn’t admit if you have)–and it shows over 100 famous comedians as they tell it, explain its history, deconstruct it and/or struggle to understand why anyone in their right mind would want to do such a thing. It sounds like a deadly dull time at the movies–after all, explaining a joke to someone tends to be about as artistically productive as cutting open a drum to find out what causes it to make noise–but it somehow overcomes those odds to become a hilarious and occasionally thought-provoking look at comedy, obscenity and personal boundaries as well as one of the most fascinating and entertaining documentaries in a year chock-full of such films.

The joke at the center of the film is an old bit, dating back to vaudeville days, that tended to be passed on from comedian to comedian since it wasn’t really the kind of material that worked in front of an audience. The set-up is simple: A man walks into the office of a talent agent and says that his family has a great act that he knows would be a sensation. Okay, says the agent, what happens in the act? The man proceeds to graphically describe the most foul, repulsive, disgusting and taboo-shattering things that a family could possibly do to, with and upon each other–in a joke like this, necrophilia, incest and scatology are considered to be building blocks instead of cappers. Finally, the man finishes describing the act and the agent, either in shock or excitement, can only ask, What do you call yourselves? The man replies, “The Aristocrats!”

On the surface, this is not a particularly funny joke (in the film, veteran comedian Pat Cooper flat-out says, “The joke sucks!”) but this is one of those jokes where the humor comes not from the punchline, which is as dumb as they come, but from the embellishments that the person telling the joke uses to describe the various things that the family members do to each other. Like a classic jazz song, the joke is essentially a framework that allows the teller to spin out the most vulgar riffs that he or she can possibly think of. (In the words of Gilbert Gottfried, “This is a joke that makes its own gravy.”) As a result, the joke became popular among comedians who would tell ever-more outrageous variations amongst themselves in an attempt to score laughs from their peers. Thanks to their connections to the world of comedy, Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza have corralled a number of their buddies to bring the joke out from the backstage depths and into the daylight to stun, shock and amuse a new audience.

Anyone thinking that the comedians might find themselves cleaning up their acts with a camera rolling will be disabused of the notion right from the start as George Carlin tells a version so disgusting that it serves quite nicely as a litmus test for the rest of the film–if you laugh, you will probably enjoy the following 80 minutes but if you are disgusted, you had better leave before things get worse. Among those taking a shot at it are such leading lights as Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Carey, Paul Reiser, Jason Alexander Howie Mandel and the “South Park” gang–the most repulsive is delivered by none other than Bob Saget, who seems at times to be astonished at the things coming out of his mouth. Some try to analyze what makes the joke tick and why it is or isn’t funny. Others talk about how it is a joke that inadvertently reveals a great deal about whomever is telling it in regards to taboo material–why does one focus on bodily functions while another fixates on murder while a third might obsess on perverse sexuality? A few even offer advice on how to tell it properly–some recommend a flourish of the arms to accompany the finale while everyone cautions against mispronouncing the punchline so that it sounds as ifthe act is called “The Aristocats.”

The funniest versions are told by those who attempt to put a new spin on the material instead of simply ramping up the vulgarity. Kevin Pollack, for example, does his version in the context of an impression of the “True Romance”-era Christopher Walken. The Smothers Brothers do a rendition in their classic style (adding to the joke is the fact that Tommy knows the joke while straight man Dick has supposedly never heard it). There are versions that incorporate juggling and mime–the latter gets some exceptionally perplexed reactions from passerby on the street. Perhaps the funniest comes from comedienne Sarah Silverman, whose approach is to tell it as a memory piece from her days as one of the kids in the act and concludes with a punchline that is the most hilarious thing I have seen involving Joe Franklin since the time he interviewed Spinal Tap under the impression that they were a real group.

One version that doesn’t quite come off as spectacularly as hoped is the version that Gilbert Gottfried told at a Friar’s Club roast of Hugh Hefner back in 2001. Unfortunately, this roast was held in New York not too long after 9/11 and some of the edgy material that he had prepared (such as his claim that he couldn’t get a direct Los Angeles-New York flight, only one that stopped at the Empire State Building) was deemed by some in the audience to be offensive and inappropriate. In response, Gottfried shifted into a rendition that has been described by many as the single funniest version ever told. Unfortunately, instead of playing the joke in its entirety in one unbroken stream, the film breaks it up to offer explanations and analysis by those who were there and the result is that the rhythm winds up getting screwed up to the point where some may wonder what all the hype was about. Hopefully, Jillette and Provenza will restore the uninterrupted version to the DVD–I suspect that it might become the most popular bonus feature since the Easter Egg on the “Beastmaster” disc.

At a time when popular entertainment seems to be getting blander and blander with every passing week as performers live in mortal fear of offending even the tiniest portion of their audiences by saying something off-base, “The Aristocrats” is a joyous raspberry in the face of political correctness that makes its points about freedom of speech while still providing an enormous number of laughs. If you make it to the end without fleeing in horror or disgust (and some of the renditions are so grotesque that you might want to rethink any visits to the concession stand), you are likely to emerge from the theater with a smile on your face, a laugh in your heart and an unstoppable desire to attempt your own version of the joke on unsuspecting friends or family. My recommendation–go for the arm flourish

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11199&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/12/05 00:34:42
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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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