Sunday, December 18, 2005


Director: Paul Provenza
Cast: George Carlin, Gilbert Gottfried, Sarah Silverman, Billy the Mime

Tagline: No Nudity. No Violence. Unspeakable Obscenity.

As most of BBC, Channel 4 and especially VH1’s talking head shows so frequently reveal, comedians tend to make the least competent experts in every subject, making such brilliant observations as “When Michael Jackson held his baby child out of that window, I was like ‘Oh my God! You can’t do that! Nice parenting skills buddy!’” or “and he goes ‘Is that your final answer? Is that your absolute final answer? Is that your completely, absolutely…’ Yes, it’s me bleedin’ final answer!” or “Monica Lewinsky? Now dat’s a real weapon of mass destruction, bitch!”. As this documentary shows, they’re even more inept when required to explain humour.
The Aristocrats is a badly edited sequence of people badly explaining a single bad joke, but it’s tremendous, both as a unique exposé of the comic circle’s pretentious, unimaginative, often delusional approach to analysing its own excrement, and a celebration of the comedy of variation, or lack thereof. The tales of bestiality, violent incest and attempts to swim in puddles of bodily fluids make things tedious and occasionally harrowing enough to induce walkouts. Three self-congratulatory luvvies reference John Coltrane (the joke is improvised, and hence, considered jazz), another three do digs at Gallagher, a one-joke-wonder from the eighties whose gimmick was hitting fruit with a hammer and at least five don’t get the joke. There are some unique tellings though, such as Steven Wright’s version, which is more disturbing than anything he talks over in Reservoir Dogs and is also bereft of anything remotely humorous, Sarah Silverman’s ‘It really happened, I was there’ tale, or Billy the Mime’s hysterical silent account of the baby buggery. The climax, Gilbert Gottfried’s rendition is one of the best, and it works so well because it is a statement of how safe non-consensual sexual perversions are in comparison with speaking against your nation in a time of uncertainty (and because it makes literal the expression ‘enough to make Hugh Hefner blush’). We still have a long way to go in taboo distortion; comediennes are still segregated, Islam is still unmentionable and 9/11 and race only come up once each in the finished joke. The spirit of change may be muted by stupidity, but hopefully the next time a family walks into a talent agency, the outcome will be altogether more dangerous.


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