The Aristocrats

Dir: Paul Provenza, Penn Jillette, 2005


If ever there was a film that championed free speech, then this is it.

An odd documentary, The Aristocrats focuses on a joke. A single, solitary joke that can be changed, altered, adapted, drawn out, shortened, whatever. You can do anything you like with it. All you have to do is make it as offensive and obscene as possible.

The premise of the joke is always the same. A three part gag, it begins with a family/circus act/talent group, going to see a talent agent/producer and performing their act. For the second part, the routine is described and the final part is the pay off, where the person who is watching, with astonishment, says “wow! What an act! What do you call yourselves?”. Then the punchline arrives as the head of the act says “The Aristocrats”.

As a joke, it’s dreadful. The punchline is cringeingly bad without a shred of amusement in it.

However, it’s the second part that holds all the comedy.

To tell the joke is a kind of endurance test. How long can you keep the joke going for and how sickening and vile are you able to make it?

The joke has, literally, no limits. The more taboo, the more appreciation is poured upon it. Because their is no set script, comedians, in private, can go wherever they want with it.

The Aristocrats is a series of comedians reciting their version of the joke or variations of it.

It’s a fascinating documentary, featuring many well-known names, such as Eric Idle, Billy Connolly, Trey Parker and Matt Stone in a South Park skit, Drew Carey and several others, including a few that might draw a blank with British audiences.

However, it’s not very funny. The joke, itself, isn’t amusing. Shock humour can be hilarious. Jim Jefferies is tears rolling down the eyes hysterical, but, “The Aristocrats” gag is offensive purely for the sake of it.

By trying to be shocking, you, ultimately, take away the shock factor and then the joke makes itself redundant.

I can’t stress this enough, but if you are easily offended then stay a million miles away from the film. Every single taboo is broken, here. Paedophilia, incest, rape, murder and hundreds of other, atrocities are joked about in graphic detail without a single ounce of sorrow but pure glee.

The Aristocrats shouldn’t be a celebration of a crude joke, but a celebration of free speech and the right to laugh, regardless of the subject matter.

An excellent film that is well worth your time.


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