Think of the most vile, perverted sexual and violent acts you can think of. Now extend those thoughts for 90 minutes, altering them as much as possible but never delving into other territory. If you can actually do that, you’ll know what it’s like to watch “The Aristocrats.”
As much as I love the vast majority of the comedians in this film, “The Aristocrats” is one of those movies that really only appeals to those who want an inside peek at the biz. I guess it’s almost like “Adaptation,” where wannabe screenwriters nodded their heads knowingly at so many of the things Charlie Kaufman said but non-wannabes scratched their noggins and wondered what all those geeks were so excited about.
So, if you’re a wannabe comedian, you’ll probably get a kick out of the way “The Aristocrats” peeks behind the curtain and shows how many of today’s best comics blow off steam and entertain each other when there’s no audience around. Personally, I found watching endless variations on the same basic joke—it involves a guy who goes into an agent’s office and describes the most vile stage act you can imagine, with the punchline being “I call it The Aristocrats”—tiresome after a while. I get it already: grandma is doin’ the hoochey with grandpa while daddy does the unspeakable with his kids and mom takes a big dump all over the stage and then everyone wallows in it and we call it The Aristocrats. Now repeat it, except grandma blows off grandpa’s head with a shotgun and mommy and daddy are doin’ it and their daughter goes down on…
Admittedly, there are funny moments where some comedians actually try unique twists on the joke, such as the one where the stage act is nice and sweet but it’s called The C**k-Sucking Motherfuckers, but those moments are few and far between. And the anecdotes, such as the one about the comedian who would hold contests to see how long someone could sustain the joke without repeating themselves, are fun in a peek-behind-the-curtain kind of way. But otherwise, I honestly think this is something that could have been covered in about 30 minutes, not 90.
If this kind of material is right up your alley, however, you’ll love this DVD, which features another two hours of bonus material, including extended versions of various comedians reciting the joke and opining on its place in comedy history. (You’d think it was “Citizen Kane” the way some of them talk about it.) That one goes on for 90 minutes by itself.
Directors Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza provide a commentary in which they mostly offer background information about the film’s participants and chat about the history of comedy. Again, if you’re into comedy in this way, then you’ll be thrilled by this track.
We also get a featurette dedicated to Johnny Carson, who was apparently a fan of the joke but was so private I’m sure he never publicly revealed that fact while he was alive. In addition, there’s “Behind the Green Room Door,” in which some of the comedians deliver other jokes they really like, a compilation of comedians providing one line each to create an uber version of the joke (“The Aristocrats Do The Aristocrats”), and the two winners of the “Be An Aristocrat” contest, who had their own bizarre versions of the joke immortalized on this disc.
Unless you’re a fan of the comedy business (as opposed to someone who simply enjoys watching comedians do their acts), I’d say this one is a rental.