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The Frontier of Jokedom

August 14th, 2005 (02:22 pm)
surprised

current mood: embarrassedly surprised

© 2005 D. Gordon

So I caught The Aristocrats yesterday. Maybe a better title would have been Anatomy of a Joke.

It's a little hard to describe this one - it's a discussion (it's certainly not a straight narrative plot), so nothing's a spoiler and yet everything's a spoiler. It's a sit-down with quite a few of the most prominent comedians in show business today, describing their individual takes on the most notorious joke known to them: the "Aristocrats" joke.

This has got to be the most obnoxious, most tasteless, but most basic joke ever told: there's a setup (a group of people about to perform an act, usually pretty rank) and the punch line (they give their act a completely opposite spin), but the filler - the main part of the joke - is up to the individual raconteur. Many choose to fill it with the most over-the-top hyperbolic descriptions they can think of (and these folks can definitely come up with some amazing stuff).

That's part of the charm (yes, charm) of the joke, and more importantly, the film: you hear the joke told over and over and over, with plenty of bodily fluids, incest, and bestiality - and the joke is actually funny. And that's the key - you start to realize it's not the joke you're laughing at, but the craft that went into it, and you appreciate just how much really comedy can be an art. The joke is told with the raunch / class ratio flipped, with a priest / rabbi / Buddhist combination; includes racial and sexual taboos; discussed in restaurants, cafes, homes, backstage at a few venues; even done by a mime on a boardwalk - and it's still funny.

Now, don't get me wrong: I would never discuss the existence of any of this with Mama Wakasa, for example. This isn't for everybody. There are definitely people I know who'd never get past the raunch. But a lot who can will laugh despite themselves.

One minor criticism - there are a lot of interviews over the course of the film, and none are identified until the closing credits (although several aren't too bashful to advertise their website / network / current show during their piece). It might've been better to put up some names as they appeared onscreen for a little more context. As it is, Billy Connolly will now always make me think of him as John Cleese doing a long hair-Scottish schtick thing.