March 23rd, 2006

halelujah, eddie

Definitely Not The Aristocats

I watch a lot of comedy concerts. I like Eddie Izzard, Chris Rock, Margaret Cho and Dave Chapelle. I started out watching Richard Pryor and George Carlin when I was a kid.

I don't mind adult subject matter in my comedy. But I was completely unprepared for the unabated raunch and perversity in The Aristocrats. Even after reading the reviews and knowing that it's slogan was "No Nudity No Violence Unspeakable Obscenity", it surpassed my capacity for imagining the level of lewd and scatological joke-telling presented in this film.

I did spend a good portion of the film with my mouth hanging open at what these comedians had going on during their renditions of the joke while at other times I was laughing until I cried. This movie is worth seeing because it examines what's funny by pushing the art of joke-telling to its limits as you hear the same joke told repeatedly, with intriguing yet shocking variations, by some of the funniest people in show business.

"This is a documentary about a joke. It is a joke only told by comedians to other comedians. The outline of the joke is that a man goes into an agent's office and says he has a family act. He then either acts out or describes the most obscene acts possible. The stunned agent says, "And what do you call yourselves?" and the man answers, "The Aristocrats."

Each comedian describes how he tells the story. Each is different, each tries to get an element of surprise out of their listeners, who are assumed to be other comedians. The joke is told in parts. It is told in reverse order, by men and by women. Each finds a way to make the joke his or her own.

The genesis of the documentary was when Gilbert Gottfried performed at the Hugh Hefner roast three weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Everyone was almost afraid to laugh and Gottfried came on second after the first act had bombed. Gottfried told a highly obscene version of the joke that totally broke up the audience. It was never telecast, but changed the whole tone of the evening. Penn Jillette produced the movie as a documentary on the joke every comedian knows but never tells on stage."
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