The Aristocrats

The joke begins like this: a guy walks into a talent agency and tells the agent "I have an act that will knock your socks off." "Okay," the agent replies. And then the person telling the joke inserts whatever sexual, scatological, incestuous commentary he/she can into the joke. When finished, the agent will ask, "what's the act called?" The punch line is "The Aristocrats." It's not a very funny joke. The humor lies in the juxtaposition of the debauchery in the middle of the joke with the word "aristocrat," which seems like just the opposite of what came before. The Aristocrats, written and directed by Paul Provenza (Fixing Frank, Stealing Candy) assembles a veritable who's who of living comedians together to tell and deconstruct the joke.

The aristocrats joke began in vaudeville. Comedians love it because it allows them to improvise. It's something they tell each other, like a game of one-upmanship. Each person will add his/her own spin to the joke, and they will see how long and how disgusting they can make it before coming to the conclusion. The reason that no audiences ever hear this joke is because no comedians tell 'jokes.' They tell stories, or a series of jokes connected thematically. As a result, the aristocrats joke is akin to an insider perk that comedians have with each other.

Provenza and Penn Jillette interview comic after comic about the first time they heard the joke, or their favorite version of the joke. Each comedian eagerly relates his/her aristocrats experience like a happy childhood memory. The list is beyond impressive. Eric Idle, Billy Connolly, Martin Mull, Jason Alexander, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, Robin Williams, Fred Willard, Larry Storch, The Smothers Brothers, Drew Carey, Emo Phillips, Joe Franklin, Don Rickles, Taylor Negron, Kevin Nealon, Kevin Pollack, Harry Shearer, Richard Lewis, Jackie Martling, George Carlin, and Larry Miller are just some of the people appearing here. This is a joke that is older than all of them, and history behind it. Phyllis Diller claims to have fainted when she first heard it. Other potty mouths like Bob Saget and Sarah Silverman give particularly nasty renditions. And Gilbert Gottfried (of all people) gives what seems to be the definitive version of the joke. It is concise, it is disgusting, and has incest, pedophilia, and bestiality.

The Aristocrats is not a movie for easily offended people. The humor goes beyond the toilet into the very disgusting. What people need to realize is that this is the point of the joke. Still, it is one joke repeated for nearly ninety minutes, and even with the variation, it begins to get a bit old. The constant stream of expletives and grotesque imagery begins to gel together after a while, and amazingly, the shock value dissipates. The joke also begins to wear a bit thin, so near the very end, Provenza goes on a few related tangents. It was funny for a while, but it was interesting to get a glimpse into how comedians interact with each other.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 26 minutes, Not Rated but contains very explicit language, an easy R.