A documentary whose sole existence is meant to repulse its unsuspecting viewer, Paul Provenza’s 2005 all-star assault on the olfactory, The Aristocrats is an aimless, pointless talking heads mash-up filled with empty words and a lack of anything worthwhile, or funny. Sparked by comedian Gilbert Gottfried’s attempt to break the ice with an audience rubbed the wrong way by a “too-soon” 9/11 joke, the film is really about how he was able to win the audience back – by telling a joke that’s been told since time immemorial called “The Aristocrats.” The difference here is that the joke is really an in-joke among comedians that has never been told in front of a live audience, for a couple of reasons – it’s incredibly dirty and incredibly unfunny (a few of the 100 comedians interviewed for this say as much). Basically the joke contains a backstory (a hook), an improvised middle section, and a punchline. It’s actually really easy to make one up of your own. Here is my attempt:
“A family walks into a talent agent’s office and tells the agent they do the most amazing act that will definitely be a hit on Broadway. The agent asks them to perform the act so he can be the judge. The family bows down before the agent and begins to play out their act. They all have sex with each other – the mom, the dad, the kids, the family dog, etc. At the end of it, the talent agent is left aghast, but still asks what the name of the act is. The family announces that it’s THE ARISTOCRATS!” (tee hee).
What we get in this film is about 15 or so different takes of what goes on in the middle of the joke. While my version is fairly tame (and probably close to the way it was originally told), the “they all have sex with each other” part is substituted by whatever the most disgustingly imaginable thing the comedian could improvise on the spot. People like the late George Carlin, Billy Connolly, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried, and Bob Saget, just to name a few, offer their versions and they are some of the most disgusting, unpleasant, and unfunny things I’ve heard in a while. Incest and necrophilia are just the tip of the iceberg. And yet, that’s what makes this joke legendary (reportedly) – it’s the fact that the funny part is the middle section where we see how far each comedian is willing to push their deprivation.
As expected, the film gets quite boring fairly quickly and the only fun anyone might be able to get out of it is to try to spot their favorite funnyman. Other than that, it’s simply too long and the film strays away from revealing the real reason this joke never became a mainstay in stand-up – it’s simply bad. Look for this movie to garner a similar reputation.