The Aristocrats

How many ways are there to tell the same joke? Quite a few, as the documentary The Aristocrats features dozens of comedians giving their versions of a comics' standard of an inside joke.

The "Aristocrats" joke follows a certain formula. The setup is that a person goes to a talent agent with an exciting new act. The comic then makes up the most disgusting description of the act they can come up with; frequent topics include deviant sex, urine and feces (in massive quantities and put to numerous uses), vomit, incest, bestiality, and pedophilia. After that, the talent agent asks what the act is called, and the person proclaims, "The aristocrats!"

Okay, so it's not an inherently funny joke -- but it's also a concept for comedians. This joke has been circulating among comics for decades, with comics trying to top each other with disgusting details and how long then can tell it. (Some claim there have been comics who stretched this joke to over 90 minutes long.) The performers telling it in The Aristocrats vary wildly: Many seem happy just to be disgusting, some have their clever variations on the formula (the joke is done as mime, a card trick, a South Park sketch, and juggling), and some have their own unique interpretations of it: Steven Wright has a nice addition to the punchline, while Bob Sagat is very self-aware while giving the absolutely foulest rendition of this joke.

Unfortunately, the subjects of The Aristocrats seems a bit bathetic about this joke. A few people try to elevate it to social commentary or a reflection of how much they can get away with, but it's ultimately a big deal to comics and not to the rest of us. It's biggest "outside" moment was when Gilbert Gottfried used it at the Hugh Hefner Friar's Roast when his 9/11 joke bombed for being "too soon." It also doesn't help that every interview is done with two cameras and very frequent cuts, so you'll rarely see two minutes that aren't interrupted by several jumps. The Aristocrats is sometimes interesting and sometimes funny, but not consistently either.

(The dvd bonus materials are very good, ranging from extended interviews (including porn star Ron Jeremy, whose musical rendition of the joke was cut from the original) to people sharing their other favorite jokes.)

Overall Grade: B-

Reviewed by James Lynch

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