The Aristocrats (2005)

DVD Cover (THINKFilm)
Genres: Comedy, Culture & Society, Standup Comedy
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Paul Provenza Paul Provenza
Chris Albrecht Chris Albrecht
Jason Alexander Jason Alexander
Hank Azaria Hank Azaria
Shelley Berman Shelley Berman
Steven Banks Steven Banks

6.3 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: October 05, 2005
Some people call it 'The Sophisticates'. Others call it 'The Royalty'. Some don't even have a name for it. Most comedians, however, call it 'The Aristocrats'. This is sort of an 'in house' joke that has been circulating for decades upon decades, from comedian to comedian, since comedy was funny. Though some differ, most versions of the story start out with the same set-up -- "This guy walks into the office of this really famous talent agent" -- and ends with the same punchline -- "What do you call your act?" followed by "The Aristocrats". The middle portion of the joke is really what makes it so hilarious, and that middle portion changes from performer to performer. The key idea is to make it as vile, disgusting, and offensive as possible, whether that means involving rape, incest, diarrhea, or whatever might make a person cringe when listening to it. It is by far one of the most disgusting jokes ever, but that level of disgust various, depending on the person telling the joke. Bob Saget, by far, told the most horrendous version of the joke, making it up as he went along, but it was Gilbert Gottfried who told the most electrifying version. You have people who change the emphasis on the joke and turn the punchline into the humor rather than the middle portion, and there are others who go over-the-top with their rendition. This is a film about all of those different versions of the joke itself, "The Aristocrats".

Though the film is directed by Paul Provenza, it was really spearheaded by one half of the comedy/magic duo Penn & Teller, Penn Jillette. His face pops up periodically all over the film. "The Aristocrats", basically, is ninety minutes of various stand-up comics and comedic legends talking about the joke, explaining the rules of the joke, or simply telling the joke in their own way. George Carlin really gives us the first stripped down version of the joke, and this is a stroke of genius in that his version is really one of the more tame re-tellings. By the time we get to Andy Richter and Doug Stanhope telling the joke to their infants, we have seen just about every kind of translation, from Eric Idle telling the joke in gibberish, to the kids from "South Park" reading it off, to a mime telling the joke with his hands. This film pulls out all the stops when it comes to this particular joke. A large portion of the film is spent talking about Gilbert Gottfried telling the joke at a New York Friars Club Roast shortly after the 9/11 disaster. Most in attendance agree it was the greatest version ever, with Gottfried holding absolutely nothing back. There is also a large portion of the film that deals with Sarah Silverman accusing promoting great Joe Franklin of rape. There are some scenes in this film that really don't belong there, but they are so funny, we kind of want to just overlook them all.

For the most part, "The Aristocrats" is a funny film. It is lewd, offensive, cruel, and downright disgusting at moments, but you catch yourself smiling the entire time. In a weird way, the film does the same thing that the joke does -- it makes the foul humor of the joke non-threatening, thanks the punchline. The punchline of the joke is really the punchline of the film, therefore when we hear a wooden dummy talk about sticking a hot curling iron in a woman's vagina, it doesn't come off as bad to us as if someone were telling us this on the street. My personal favorites in the film were Bob Saget's balls-to-the-wall version of the joke, and Lisa Lampanelli's rant on inserting racial and ethnic jokes into it. They both stole the film, in my opinion, though Drew Carey and Robin Williams also managed to throw in some added flavor, even though they were a little less racy that most of the other re-tellings. The film just builds and builds, with the audience thinking the entire time -- "What could possibly come next? Can it possibly get any dirtier?" In that, the film also finds its one true flaw, and it is big enough to make this a less than great picture.

While most of the humor in the film works, it just goes on for far too long. We are hearing the same joke over and over again; and, even though it comes in different forms, from different comedians, it is still the same damn joke. The comedians in the film talk about the same things over and over again, like what makes the joke work and what else can be done to the basic formula. It is repeated numerous times until we are tired of hearing it. As much as the film entertained me throughout, it made me never want to hear that joke again, even if Lenny Bruce came back to life just to tell that one particular joke. I also disliked the fact that most of the great comedians they mention in the film do not actually appear. They talk about how Chevy Chase use to throw entire parties centered around this joke, yet he does not appear in the film. Where were the great comedians like Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy? I didn't have a problem, so much, with those guys not being there as I did with the redundancy coming from those who were. My primary concern with even going to see this film was whether or not they could make a joke work for ninety straight minutes, and for me, they certainly could not. It just lost energy.

As mentioned earlier, for the most part, "The Aristocrats" worked. If you are not easily offended and love a lot of obscenity, this might turn out to be your "Gone With the Wind". If you are someone who loves documentaries and the documentary form, this one will not float your boat. The camera-work is shoddy, the sound is sub-par, and the entire film looks very dull and drab, even though the subject matter makes it much better than it actually is. This was a film that kept me laughing consistently throughout, but primarily because I was thinking about versions of the joke I had heard in the first thirty minutes or so. After we see Gilbert Gottfried deliver what is described as the definitive version, why continue on? It really doesn't get any better than his version...it just goes downhill from there. The film ends with Tim Conway making us laugh, and a tribute to Johnny Carson. I would like to think that Johnny Carson would have possibly delivered the 'new' definitive version of this joke, were he alive. "The Aristocrats" is all heart, but only minimal soul.

Tristan #1: Tristan - added 05/16/2006, 09:46 AM
There were only some versions of the story that were funny. Bob Saget pwned.
Chad #2: Chad - added 12/26/2006, 02:43 AM
I hated the editing on this. Going on and on about Gilbert's telling of the joke and only showing clips of it (while cutting back and forth to people talking about this telling) was a stupid decision. Would it have been so hard to show us what the people have to say and then show us the entire telling of the joke? Bob Saget's telling is handled in the same way: he tells a little bit, we cut to someone else talking about it, Saget tells a little more, cut away, repeat. I realize that it's the same damned joke told over and over again, but when that single joke is the selling point of the movie, I don't think that it's unreasonable to expect to see it told in its entirety by the greats. 4/10.
Optimus Prime #3: Optimus Prime - added 01/28/2009, 11:25 AM
When they told the kids the jokes was about the funniest part of the movie. Overall, it wasn't that funny. 4/10
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