Featuring: Jason Alexander, Shelley Berman, Lewis Black, David Brenner, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Tim Conway, Andy Dick, Phyllis Diller, Joe Franklin, Judy Gold, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried, Eric Idle, Eddie Izzard, Richard Lewis, Bill Maher, Howie Mandel, Merrill Markoe, Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling, Michael McKean, Larry Miller, Martin Mull, Kevin Nealon, The Onion editorial staff, Penn & Teller, Emo Philips, Kevin Pollak, Andy Richter, Don Rickles, Chris Rock, Bob Saget, Harry Shearer, the Smothers Brothers, David Steinberg, Jon Stewart, Larry Storch, Rip Taylor, Dave Thomas, Peter Tilden, Bruce Vilanch, Fred Willard, Robin Williams, Steven Wright.
I saw this film on its opening weekend, but I was prevented from writing about it by a bout of dysentery I picked up after a month of working the swing shift at a Mexican burrito factory…
Every so often a piece of art comes along that must fight the weight of societal disapproval and censorship. Such historic battles as Joyce’s Ulysses or Miller’s Tropic of Cancer against the US postal system or the original Bad News Bears versus the parents in my neighbourhood come to mind.
The Aristocrats is a shot across the bow against the current climate of censorship and conservative values that is trying so hard to crush both the arts and free speech these days. In the United States this film is not even rated – bypassing the bunch of phoney-baloney, hypocritical, two-faced creeps that pass for a censorship board in America. I believe it’s rated 18A here in Canada – meaning you have to be eighteen or older to see this film without adult supervision. There are no shocking visuals in this film - well, Bob Saget really close-up and Steven Wright’s hairline; the shock value is all in the words. This is a movie that’s all about words. It’s a celebration of words and the absolute mastery comedians have of language.
It’s a simple joke. Have you heard it? A guy walks into a talent agent’s office and says, “Have I got an act for you!” He then proceeds to describe a family act (usually made up of father, mother, sister, brother, grandma and pet dog) of unheard of viciousness and depravity; more often than not involving elements of incest, bestiality, sado-masochism, vomiting, urination, defecation - and the accompanying coprophilia - necrophilia, murder, suicide…yes, it does tend to go on. At the end of the joke, the agent, understandably shocked, asks the guy the name of the act. “The Aristocrats!” he says.
The joke isn’t very funny. The humour lies in its performance. I didn’t count, but apparently there are over 100 comedians in this movie; most of them very well known, if not by name then at least by face. I have to admit I went to this movie not expecting much. “A bunch of comedians telling the same joke over and over?” I asked myself. “Oy vey!” However, not everyone tells the entire joke and there are so many variations of it that it’s impossible to get bored of it. Even when it’s told in its entirety, it’s interrupted by cuts to other comedians. (There’s a mime version of it! He performs it! In public!) It’s fascinating to see each comedian take the joke and make it his own. Some tell it straight, others deconstruct it. The concept is so flexible; everyone can have his way with it. I guess that’s what makes the joke work; it’s both bad and good.
Most importantly, the film is funny. At one point, I took a sip of pop and then had to spend half a minute laughing with my mouth closed or I would have gagged on it or sent it spraying all over the baseball cap wearing homeys in front of me. Speaking of those guys, my initial thought when I saw them was, “Wrong theatre, dudes. The Dukes of Hazzard is that way.” When one of the guys joined his buddies in the theatre and said, “What movie is this again?” I thought, “Oh, brother.” And one other took a cell phone call as the movie started; I was ready to run from the theatre screaming. Five minutes into the movie though and they were hooked – as was I.
I can guarantee that this movie isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy the odd dirty joke and are ready to have everything you thought good and decent shredded, soiled and jumped up and down on in front of you, then I can heartily recommend it. Oh, and there’s an old man and an old woman sitting together in a rest home. The old woman turns to the old man and says, “I bet I can guess how old you are.” The old man says, “Okay, how old am I?” She reaches over and unzips his fly; she then puts her hand into his pants and feels around a bit. “You’re eight-seven,” she says. “That’s incredible,” he says. “How did you guess?” And she says, “You told me yesterday."