Dozens of leading comedians tell the same very dirty, filthy joke - one shared privately by comics since the early days of Vaudeville - and/or discuss how to make it ever more dirty, depraved and offensive.
Review by Louise Keller:
Vile, vulgar and occasionally funny, The Aristocrats is literally a one joke movie. The simple and daring premise takes one single joke and dares comedians from all over to interpret it, talk about it, and laugh about it. This is the joke that comedians tell each other after the audience has gone home. 'A comedian's friend,' says Billy Connolly. Like the expression 'It's the singer, not the song,' it is clear that the humour lies in the telling, not the punchline. And like jazz, the emphasis is on the improvisation that fleshes out the concept with colourful descriptions. But take heed, this one joke is embellished with smut, four letter words and foul imagery. There are themes of incest, infusion of bodily fluids, animal husbandry and sodomy; plenty enough to offend.
Apart from a few spontaneous laughs, I was bored by The Aristocrats. And surprisingly, the cumulative effect of comedians at large laughing hysterically at the gag does not translate, nor is it catchy. Taking the concept and playing with it is an interesting notion and there are moments of levity. The mime artist playing out the joke on the streets is genuinely inventive, and there are a few smiles with the likes of Robin Williams, Phyllis Diller, Don Rickles, Whoopi Goldberg, Eric Idle and Gilbert Godfrey. But to stretch the concept over 87 minutes is far too much of a stretch, with the experience one of curiosity rather than something to enjoy.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Pro comics will recognise the title as the name of the joke that this film covers from every angle, the more outrageous, the better. It's an in joke, in that it's infamy rests on private retellings between comics, more than public performances. The latter is limited, since even stand up venues find it difficult to handle the depths of depravity that comics try to plumb in order to up the ante and top their competitors.
The Aristocrats is a unique joke: the title is also the punchline, and yet knowing it only adds to the insider tone the film generates. It's not that hilarious a joke, actually, but for the comics it's a chance to be inventive without limits. Indeed, the more offensive they can make their own version, the more it will have achieved its objective of turning the punchline into irony. But even some of the most experienced comics just die trying.
Every bodily function and fluid is given an airing, in the most whacko configurations, complete with additions drawn from incest, bestiality and sadism. The challenge for comics is to find ways to deliver shocks, and to zero in on the most deeply rooted of our taboos, whether private or communal.
The low budget film is decorated with a few big names and a smattering of genuine laughs, but it's much too drawn out and repetitious even for the hardiest comedy lover. It is brazen, with great novelty value and will no doubt spawn a frenzy of conversational imitators. Beware.
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ARISTOCRATS, THE (R18+)
CAST: Comedy routine with Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Alexander, South Park, Hank Azaria, Drew Carey, Billy Connolly, Phyllis Diller, Eric Idle, Paul Reiser, Steven Wright, etc
PRODUCER: Peter Adam Golden
DIRECTOR: Paul Provenza
EDITOR: Emery Emery, Paul Provenza
MUSIC: Gary Stockdale
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 2005