The Aristocrats (2005) / Documentary-Comedy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably NC-17 for pervasive graphic language and crude humor
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: George Carlin, Drew Carey, Paul Reiser, Gilbert Gottfried, Billy Connolly, Phyllis Diller, Robin Williams, Eric Idle, Martin Mull, Penn Gillette, Jackie Martling, Jon Stewart, Jason Alexander, Andy Dick, Richard Lewis, Larry Miller, Richard Jeni, Whoopi Goldberg, Dick Smothers, Tom Smothers, Fred Willard, Bob Saget, David Steinberg, Howie Mandel, Eddie Izzard, Bobby Slayton, Taylor Negron, Rita Rudner, Dave Thomas, Steven Wright, Kevin Nealon, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rip Taylor, Dom Irrera, Dana Gould, Pat Cooper, Kevin Pollak, Emo Phillips, Carrie Fisher, Hank Azaria, Bill Maher, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, David Brenner, Don Rickles, Joe Franklin, Chuck McCann, Carrot Top, Andy Richter, Larry Storch, Gary Owens, Tim Conway, Trey Parker (voice), Matt Stone (voice), Teller
Director: Paul Provenza
Review published December 21, 2005
The gist of the joke: a man walks into a talent agent's office to tell him about an act he HAS to book. He goes into detail describing the most filthy and obscene act imaginable featuring a couple, their children and a dog, among other things. After a lengthy, longwinded account of the disgusting act, the agent asks what the act is called. The man replies, "The Aristocrats".
I've often slammed conventional comedies for being a figurative one-joke premise, but I never thought I'd actually see the day where there would be a literal one-joke movie. The Aristocrats is a documentary surrounding an infamous joke that has apparently been going around in comedian circles for decades, usually so raunchy that it would never be uttered on regular TV, and so stupid in its punch-line, only those that study the technique of comedy, like other comedians, could really appreciate the cleverness with which it is told.
The premise of the film is to interview various comedians about the joke, why it has had such staying power, and to ask some of them to elaborate how to properly tell it, in all its graphic detail. At its best, The Aristocrats is a revealing look into the mind of the stand-up comic, what they find funny, their opinions on what makes a joke work, and the camaraderie they hold with one another behind the scenes. At its worst, this documentary is often repetitive, showcasing interviews with comedians that have no purpose in the film save to cram as many in as possible. An hour and a half full of talking heads all gushing about one stupid joke can be a tedious watch, so this is one of those movies of which enjoyment squarely lies in the funny bone of the beholder.
The albatross of the film lies in the fact that the joke itself isn't funny, unless you find yourself snickering at the mere mention of raunchy renditions of sordid sex acts in full detail. From my point of view, the entertainment value wears very thin early on, and once you get the gist of the film, the only thing to look forward to is the cavalcade of comedians that make an appearance to speak about the joke. Occasionally someone adds a new and interesting perspective, but for the most part, most of the comics add nothing at all except name recognition and perhaps endorsement of the joke as a time-honored classic among comedians.
Sometimes there are things that happen behind the scenes, or in the underground of entertainment, that probably need not be explored save for the few that are fascinated by it. The Aristocrats is a film by comedians, for comedians, about a joke that only a true comedian at heart could really appreciate. Unless you're a comedian or are fascinated by how metaphorical comedic sausage gets made, The Aristocrats is about as obvious an excuse to engage in excessively filthy humor as the joke is itself.
©2005 Vince Leo