The Aristocrats
©  2005-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

    Think of the dirtiest joke you’ve ever heard. Now, unless the
punch line is “the aristocrats” (or “the debonniares” or “the
sophisticates”), you’ve probably NOT actually heard what is
considered the filthiest joke around. Even if you have heard it,
your exposure to the joke will be influenced by whomever is telling
it. At least, that’s the case as outlined in the new nonfiction film

    Comedian Paul Provenza and magician Penn Jillette have
teamed to produce this film (directed by Provenza) which revolves
around this joke – a sort of secret handshake among comedians.
No one really knows the origins of it: some claim it dates back to
vaudeville, others say it is of more recent vintage. Whatever the
case, I won’t spoil it for viewers who may not have heard it. The
film includes any number of riffs on it and depending on your
sense of humor, you’ll either be appalled, amused or something in

    While I was amused to hear the joke the first time, after
hearing its various permutations, it begins to lose something.
Also, I think I tend to agree with Whoopi Goldberg who makes the
case that what was once taboo has now almost become
mainstream. So much has happened in the world that something
that might have been shocking to our grandparents or parents no
longer carries that burden.

   Still, the “joke” is more of a performance piece with each
comedian attempting to spin it in a manner that would top
another. The biggest surprise may be that former TV dad Bob
Saget offers one of the crudest versions of the tale. Equally
shocking was that Gilbert Gottfried would resort to the joke at a
televised roast for Hugh Hefner – and knowingly acknowledging
that “they’ll have to clean this up for TV.”

   Perhaps the biggest taboo in the film is that Provenza and
Jillette reveal this anecdote to the general public. Jillette (along
with partner Teller) has made a career out of debunking magic
tricks. In a way, that’s exactly what he’s accomplished here:
showing the emperor he has no clothes. The “joke” per se isn’t
terribly funny; it’s supposedly in the delivery, but very few of the
more than 100 people involved in this movie -- all of whom are
noted comics – even skirt something that smacks of being amusing.

   Humor, as I’ve always been wont to point out, is subjective. I’
ve found some films hilarious which others have claimed are laugh
challenged. So, far be it for me to suggest this film isn’t funny.
I’m sure there will be many who will find it a non-stop laugh riot. I
only was mildly amused for some of its 92-minute running time,
but I would recommend sticking around through the end credits for
some additional footage.

Rating:                     C+
MPAA Rating:        NONE (language)
Running time:          92 mins.

                  Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room