The Aristocrats


George Carlin
Robin Williams
Whoopi Goldberg
Chris Rock
Drew Carrey
Gilbert Gottfried
Don Rickles
Phyllis Diller
Bob Saget
…and just about every comedian who has ever told a joke…except for Jerry Seinfeld

With lots of foul language and descriptions of just about every possible deviant sex act imaginable–and some too scary to visualize–The Aristocrats is the perfect litmus test to find the line between what is funny and what is offensive.

Ever wondered what a joke by your favorite comedian might sound like when told by another one? Well, now’s your chance, as this documentary by Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette dissects a classic insider’s joke among comics that gets raunchier and raunchier depending on who is telling it.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.

Yeah, it’s far from a classic, but it’s still the most famous joke known to humankind. Now what if every time that joke were told, we learned exactly what the chicken did before he crossed the street, after he got there and everything that happened along his journey? And what if it involved bodily fluids and a lot of filthy deviant sexual acts? Well, that should give you some idea whether or not you’re strong enough to sit through this new documentary’s ninety minute analysis of a joke that stand-up comics would often tell amongst themselves after the comedy clubs have closed in order to pass the time.

Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette spent years filming stand-up comics at different levels in their careers and in various locations to create a low-fi DIY documentary that gives an incredibly comprehensive look at what some might think to be a limited subject matter. Improvisation is the key to the movie working, because when you have so many creative and warped minds at work, it’s simple enough to just turn the camera on and go. You really have to give Provenza and Gillette a lot of credit for getting such a huge list of comic actors and stand-up comedians to open up and let loose with some of their raunchiest humor. Of course, the most recognizable ones will be the likes of Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Carrey and Chris Rock, but they’re really the icing on the cake of some amazing routines from unexpected place.

Of course, there’s almost no irony in starting the movie with George Carlin, and it starts out innocently enough by telling the framework of the joke about a family who goes into a talent agent’s office to show him their unusual act. The set-up and the punch line are fairly innocuous, since it’s the description of their act and how it differs from comedian to comedian which makes up the body of the film’s laughs. That is, if you aren’t completely grossed out or offended by some of the subject matter described. At first, your immediate reaction is “Eww…”—at least I should hope so—but as each comedian tries to top the last, it becomes so graphic and funny that you can’t help but let yourself go and laugh. Needless to say, once certain lines are crossed, there’s no going back.

It’s a regular who’s who of comedy, ranging from veterans like Pat Cooper and Don Rickels to newer comics, with some novel interpretations like Kevin Pollack doing a note-perfect impersonation of Christopher Walken telling the joke. It’s certainly no boys’ club, as the women prove that they can be just as filthy as the men. After a very sweet reverse on the joke by Wendy Liebman, a very pregnant Judy Gold gives you a visual that you will not quickly get out of your mind. Some of the comics, like Taylor Negron, just come off as creepy, while the Brits can’t seem to get their act together to tell the joke without breaking out into fits of laughter or drunken babbling, as is the case with Eddie Izzard.

About halfway through, the movie hits a lull—as opposed to a “low point”– because after numerous jokes about sodomizing children and animals, the scatological humor starts to get too repetitive and overbearing. Thankfully, a few comics come into save the day. Martin Mull takes the idea of “aristocrats” and runs with it, telling a completely different joke that actually ends up being quite a bit funnier by the time we’ve heard the classic one told in dozens of variations. Likewise, Sara Silverman goes off on a tangent telling the joke as if she were a part of the act herself and creating a build-up to the funniest punch line of the movie. But it’s not just a lot of yakking, as the joke is also told by a juggling duo, a sleight-of-hand magician and yes, even a mime. Because they’re so different, these three performances stand out as the most memorable.

And then there’s Bob Saget—Mr. “Full House” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos”–who gives one of the raunchiest and trashiest versions of the joke, as if giving confession, and then immediately flails himself for going too far. As a number of comics admit, you can tell a lot about your peers by what aspect of the humor they go for, whether it be using sh*t and p*ss or going into far more taboo areas. It’s possibly as cathartic and therapeutic for anyone watching the movie as for those telling the jokes.

Interspersed with the snippets of the joke are bits with the editorial crew of the Onion, trying to analyze the joke’s appeal and humor, and frankly, they don’t really do much except slow things down and give you a break in between laughs as to avoid hurting yourself. Either way, the movie is masterfully edited together and leaves enough room that anything left should provide hours of entertaining fun for the DVD.

The Bottom Line:
There are few movies that offer as many solid laughs as this one, but it will often leave you wondering how you can laugh at something so crude and inappropriate…and then you’ll laugh even more. With that in mind, what do you call a movie this f*cking funny? The Aristocrats.

The Aristocrats opens this weekend in New York and Los Angeles.