Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Aristocrats / ** (UR)

Jason Alexander, Shelly Berman, Lewis Black, David Brenner, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Tim Conway, Andy Dick, Phyllis Diller, Joe Franklin, Judy Gold, Whoopie 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 Phillips, 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.

ThinkFilm presents a documentary directed by Paul Provenza. Running time: 87 min. Not rated by the MPAA (intended for adults).

Have you heard the one about the documentary director and the magician/ comedian who set out to make a documentary about the dirtiest joke in the world? They get all their friends together (and with friends like these, it would be hard not to bust a gut), including major stars and lesser-known comedians from throughout the country, and interview them about this joke that is some sort of urban legend in the comedy world. Many of them, like George Carlin and Billy Connelly, provide the history of the joke, which in most versions is known as “The Aristocrats” but is also known under other titles like “The Sophisticates,” and many, like Paul Reiser and Drew Carey, philosophize on what makes the joke so great (although it is Carlin who provides the best analysis on this matter), while others, like Richard Lewis and Eddie Izzard, argue the legitimacy of the joke’s legend and success, and still others, like Phyllis Diller and Dick Smothers, are just astounded by the vulgarity and ungainliness of it.

Here’s the catch, the joke itself isn’t funny in the slightest. Of course, this setback has a profoundly depressing effect on the film, which really depends on the success of the joke to live up to all the hype the filmmaker’s heap on to it. The joke is mostly an excuse for the teller to be as vulgar and vile as their imaginations will allow them to be and just about everyone in the film has their own crack at the joke, with a fairly consistent failure to draw laughs from it (except from the filmmakers in the background). And much of the insistence by the participants that the joke is funny is somewhat hard to swallow. There are a very few performers who are able to put enough of their own take on the joke to make it work, most notably Bob Saget, who scrapes laughs from his own ability to shock himself as to just how disgusting this former Full House TV star can be, Kevin Pollack, who tells the joke in a spot on Christopher Walken impersonation, and Gilbert Gottfried, the only person who is able to draw laugh from the joke itself simply with his delivery during a Comedy Central Friars Club Roast of Hugh Heffner. But Sarah Silverman’s “autobiographical” version is a sad reminder of just how lame the joke is, and Martin Mull, Robin Williams and Eric Idle can’t even bring themselves to attempt the shoddy joke and instead tell different jokes of a similar nature that are only marginally more successful. It is the film’s sorry subject matter that becomes its own downfall.

“Interesting. What is it called?”

The Aristocrats.

“I don’t get it.”

Neither do I.

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