Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
The best movie you’ll probably hate
The story is by now a classic: Four days before the official D.C. release of The Aristrocrats, the Penn Jillette/Paul Provenza documentary about a dirty joke and the comedians who tell it, there was a sneak preview at a local theater. As the ushers watched the hipsters, comedy geeks, and other disaffected young adults file excitedly into the theater, a grandmother approached with her two young grandchildren. “Is this The AristoCATS?” she asked (stress mine). The ushers, not knowing anything about this movie given its one-shot-only status, and not caring enough to learn anything about it, shrugged and let her in. Twenty minutes after it started, the now horrified grandmother fled the theater with the kids in tow.
It is easy to tell, by a person’s reaction to this story, whether or not they have seen The Aristrocrats. Those who haven’t seen it feel sympathy for the grandmother and wonder what her grandkids were subjected to. Those who have seen it CANNOT BELIEVE that she lasted TWENTY WHOLE MINUTES.
This, in a nutshell, should tell you everything you need to know about this movie, and whether it’s something you should see.
At this point, I should state that I loved this movie. LOVED it. While nothing more than 90 minutes of people talking about, dissecting, and telling the same joke over and over again, it was also, in my humble opinion, the single funniest thing I have ever seen in my entire life. I had tears streaming from my eyes, and I was frequently laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. And yet, when I got home that night, I had the following exchange with my wife:
Her: How was the movie?
Me: It was HILARIOUS! I laughed the whole time.
Me: Yeah. Don’t see it though. You’ll hate it.
That was my advice to her, and by and large, that’s also my advice to most of you as well. Here is a small list of reasons why:
1. Nothing Happens – There is no story here. There is no arc. There is no forward momentum. There isn’t even any discernible point to this film. It is made up entirely of talking heads, well, talking. They discuss the history of this particular joke, how it is passed from person to person, how they all feel about it, and of course, how each comedian’s version differs from all the others. So, in an age where the latest Michael Bay film would get panned, by some reviewers, for being too PLOT heavy, it would seem that many filmgoers would not have the patience for something as talky as this, no matter how funny the words.
2. It is Dirty – I’ve been tiptoeing around this point for a while now, so I might as well state it right out: The Aristocrats is FILTHY. The joke, by design, describes the most heinous acts that people could ever perform on one another. And that is just for starters. Siblings, children, grandparents, pets … they all get “into the act.” (The joke is essentially framed like this: A family goes into a talent agency looking for representation. The agent asks, “What’s your act?” The family then describes/demonstrates the act (insert horrors here). The horrified/intrigued agent asks, “What do you call this act?” The family responds, “The Aristocrats.”) Just when you think you’ve become numb to what has been said, they find a way to lower that bar even more. Let me put it this way: the FIRST comedian to actually TELL the joke (eight minutes or so into the movie) is George Carlin. (This is also the point when the first older people started filing out of the theater.) His version is utterly disgusting and obviously scatological, and yet it ends up as one of the tamest in the entire film.
3. It is Uncomfortable – No matter how forward-thinking or laid-back you are, it is a near certainty that something in The Aristocrats will offend you. Incest, necrophilia, sodomy, violence, and bestiality are just some of the things used to comic effect in the tellings of the joke. If that doesn’t get you, maybe watching a mime act out these things will be too much. Two comedians actually narrate their joke to their infant children. There are moments where 9/11 is referenced as part of the joke. And in what is perhaps the most interesting twist, a good deal of the people I spoke to who’ve seen it are fine with all of this, but are themselves disturbed by the realization that Bob Saget is the dirtiest comic in the business today. (Legend has it that, a scant hour or two after his baby daughter was born, he told his friends who came to wish him well that they could “finger her for a dollar.”) His version of the joke goes on for a long time, and augers such phrases as “tape ribbon cock” and “socket fucking.” The man does more than narrate kicks-to-the-nuts on video, folks!
4. It is Amoral – While I sorely do not want to include this as a potential reason for this movie’s lack of popularity, the fact is that we currently live in a society where our president “hasn’t decided” how he feels about evolution yet, and a half-second flash of a female nipple on national television has led to an all-out war on “indecency.” Given this state of the world, you’ll forgive me if I conclude the lion’s share of people out there will NOT have the same good time watching The Aristocrats that I did.
So in conclusion, please consider this a two-page disclaimer to The Aristocrats. If any of this gives you even a moment of pause, then please do us all a favor and rent the Non-R-rated-non-socket-fucking version with the singing cats. However, if you read this and found yourself more intrigued than ever, then you are in for a rare delight. You sick fuck.