On paper, the concept of “The Aristocrats” sounds terrible: it is, essentially, 90 minutes of comedians being interviewed about a very dirty joke with the titular two-word punch line, “The Aristocrats”, and the role said joke plays in the comedy community. From this, one would deduce that the movie would get tiresome after about ten minutes and three different variations of the same joke. However, “The Aristocrats” is in fact a very interesting, philosophical and — above all — funny film that knows just what it’s doing.
As mentioned before, “The Aristocrats” brings together 100 comedians (including the likes of Billy Connelly, Penn and Teller and Robin Williams) to tell their various versions of the same joke, and then talk about its origins. And, as I also mentioned before, it somehow never manages to get boring. The quick cutting and occasional comic genius gracing the screen manages to keep the pace rapid and capture the viewer’s attention all the way through to the end.
The joke starts with a man walking into a talent agency and describing (or sometimes acting out) his act to the agent, and ends with the punch line, “The Aristocrats”. What the man’s act actually contains is completely up to the comedian. Along the way, incest, scatology, pedophilia, self-mutilation, sadomasochism, auto-asphyxiation and bestiality are mentioned. And therein lies the comedy.
Suffice to say, “The Aristocrats” is not a movie for the easily offended. The descriptions given by the various comedians range from very graphic to downright ridiculous. (Andy Dick’s version is particularly bizarre) Those who do take offence easily are best to avoid this one.
However, if you have a strong enough tolerance for dirty joke telling, then “The Aristocrats” should entertain. On display are some very funny people telling their modified versions of the joke in their own way. And while some of the comedians are not particularly funny or well known, “The Aristocrats” has the occasional flash of genius and sheer hilarity. For instance, after becoming accustomed to seeing Bob Saget play the dad in TV sitcoms, I was both surprised and delighted to see him tell one of the lewdest and longest versions of the joke in the movie.
But despite the comedy element, there really isn’t much else to enjoy in “The Aristocrats”. Yes, the somewhat esoteric philosophy behind the infamous joke is examined, but not quite enough. While some viewers will pick up on it, others will be feeling left in the dark by the time the credits role. Also, the history of the joke is never explained. Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller) claims that the joke has existed for over a hundred years, but after that its history is never mentioned again. Furthermore, a lot of good comedians are reduced to sound bites to make way for a bunch of mediocre comics and their unfunny versions of the joke. It irks me that the likes of Chris Rock are given a 30 second segment, while some random ventriloquist whose lips are clearly moving has about five minutes of screen time.
“The Aristocrats” is one of those movies you either “get” or you don’t. It helps if you already know the joke before viewing, as it does take some time to get settled in to the kind of humour on display. Having said that, for fans of the obscene, the art of joke telling, or just comedy in general, “The Aristocrats” should serve up an adequate 90 minutes of fun; even if it isn’t good or clean.
Paul Provenza (director)
CAST: Chris Albrecht, Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria, Steven Banks, Shelley Berman, Lewis Black, David Brenner, Mario Cantone