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By Bob Westal | July 28, 2005

Although comedians have been telling it to each other for eons, The Joke is dumb. It’s been called the world’s dirtiest joke, although in its basic form, it doesn’t even come close. But The Joke is special because it provides a medium for comics to improvise. Just as John Coltrane can take a pretty but somewhat saccharin melody like “My Favorite Things” and turn it into a signature moment in the history of recorded jazz, The Joke provides a basic outline for comic improvisation that the teller can alter to create something wholly original. With roots going back to the days of vaudeville and the Borsht Belt, the limits of filth and just plain revolting mayhem that can be added to the Joke are without limit.

Directed by comedian Paul Provenza (with Penn Gillette acting as executive producer/sound recordist), “The Aristocrats” is a brilliant solution to the eternal problem of how to discuss the creative process behind comedy without becoming boring. It’s also m***********g funny. (Hey, if comedians can “work blue”, why can’t film critics? And, in any case, mother f*****g is one of the many unspeakable acts that frequently occur in The Joke.)

Versions of The Joke, and thoughts about it, are gathered from a truly astonishing assortment of comedians, gag writers, and others. Chances are, your favorite comedian is in “The Aristocrats”; chances are your least favorite comic is also in it, since the film pretty much runs the gamut from Chris Rock to Carrot Top. The best and worst comics of all generations, ages, and styles are on hand. The Joke is told by a mime; as a card trick; as the world’s longest and most disgusting poop joke by George Carlin; it’s told by Eric Cartman to a disbelieving Kyle; it’s even rewritten by the editorial staff of The Onion. Thankfully, the Joke is never actually demonstrated.

In case I haven’t stated thing clearly, “The Aristocrats” may not be a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking – it was personally shot by comedian Paul Provenza on consumer cameras — but it’s also an essential for all serious humor fans who don’t mind verbal grossness of the most extreme sort. And did I mention it’s m***********g funny?

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