Friday, August 04, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: The Aristocrats (2005)

Heard any good dirty jokes lately?

Paul Provenza's 2005 fun documentary, The Aristocrats, is the living chronicle of one particular dirty joke. I don't know if the descriptor "dirty" actually does the joke justice. Anyway, the film features on-camera interviews with a gaggle of first-rate comedians; each of whom boasts some filthy or clever variation on a joke that ends with the punchline "...the Aristocrats."

Among those who appear in the film (in quasi-alphabetical order): Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria, Lewis Black, David Brenner, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Carrot Top, Andy Dick, Phyllis Diller, Carrie Fisher, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried, Eddie Izzard, Richard Lewis, Bill Maher, Howie Mandel, Michael McKean, Larry Miller, Kevin Nealon, Penn & Teller, Emo Phillips, Kevin Pollak, Paul Reiser, Andy Richter, Don Rickles, Chris Rock, Bob Saget, Harry Shearer, Sara Silverman, The Smothers Brothers, Fred Willard, Robin Williams, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Jon Stewart.

Oh, and Billy the Mime...

So yeah, basically this is ninety-or-so-minutes of variations of the same dirty joke. And you know what? The movie is funny as hell. I thought the best two variations on the joke came from the Smothers Brothers - who use their dynamic and brilliant interpersonal chemistry to make the filth fly; and Sara Silverman - who personalizes the story to an uncomfortable degree. Howie Mandel wins the award for filthiest and shortest variation of the joke, while Bob Saget - yes, Bob Saget - must accept the prize for the long-form recounting of the joke. His version is absolutely foul. Gilbert Gottfried also does a stunning, gasp-provoking variation of the joke before a live audience and hits it out of the park, and it's fun to watch Rob Schneider collapse into embarrassed hysterics nearby.

Why, even big-boned Eric Cartman tells the joke to his South Park buddies, and Billy the Mime acts out (silently...) a very *ahem* physical version of it...before the curious eyes of bystanders. Amazingly, the repetition of the joke doesn't really get old during the documentary's running time. The film - like the joke itself - is dependent on timing. New elements of the joke come in at precisely the right time to keep things from getting dull. Provenza had a good editor (or team of editors...) and it shows.

George Carlin may be the film's most valuable player, for he deconstructs and dissects the joke in loving detail and explains each component of the piece. He explains why each piece of the joke's puzzle is important, and what it accomplishes. It's sort of a critical analysis of a piece of shit joke. Yet, in all honesty (and to my surprise), Penn and Teller describe the nature of the joke - and indeed the film - best. The "aristocrat" joke, they suggest, is one in which the singer, not the song is important. The personal traits that each comedian brings to his or her performance is ultimately more important than the punchline; which comedian Larry Miller admits is a tad on the weak side.

Ultimately, the joke featured in The Aristocrats serves as a Rorschach Test of sorts. For the joke to work, the middle section (which involves a family vaudeville act...) must be heavily improvised. Basically, something really disgusting must happen in that middle piece of the joke. What qualifies as "disgusting?" Good question. That's the rub! The answer, I suppose, is that it depends entirely on individual personality. Some comedians go for bodily-function humor (fecal matter, vomit, urination, cum...) while others leap headlong into sexual dysfunction - incest, skull-fucking, name it.

Do you know the joke? This was the variation I heard:

An agent returns to his office after a two-tequila lunch to find a little man in a tuxedo waiting there for him. The agent is pissed off that the fellow is in his office, and quickly sizes him up. He's got a bad comb-over, but he's impeccably dressed.

"What can I do for you?" the agent asks, hoping to get this guy out of his office ASAP. He has more important things to do than book a new talent today...

"I want to show you my act," the man responds gingerly.

"All right, shoot," suggests the agent, already thinking about phone calls he needs to make before the end of the day.

The man nods, sensing the agent's ennui, and goes to the door. He opens the door, puts his fingers in his mouth...and whistles. In no time flat, his family dashes into the office...which is now seeming awfully cramped.

The agent looks around at the bunch. There are two kids, a ten year-old boy and his six-year old sister. There's a well-dressed woman who's clearly the man's wife and the mother of the brood. And then there's a stooped old man with a walker - the patriarch and grandfather of the clan, no doubt.

"I'm waiting..." the agent says after a long moment of silence, resisting the urge to check his watch.

The man makes eye contact with each family member, and there's a feeling of anticipation in the room for an instant. They seem to be counting together in their heads, ticking off the seconds before they begin their routine.

Then, the man unceremoniously grabs his wife. He slaps her across the face, punches her in the gut, tears open her blouse and throws her to the floor. Then, with a grandiose gesture and a smile to his audience, he unzips his zipper, and...

Well, get the idea. You didn't really think I was going to tell THAT joke on my blog, did you?

See the movie. It's called...The Aristrocrats.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:05 AM

    I can't see the word Aristocrats without wanting to say it as AristoCATS. I have to intentionally remember to pronounce the R.



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