The Aristocrats (18)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner08/09/2005

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 92 mins

Frequently amusing documentary with an impressive array of talking heads, though the joke wears thin way before the end of the film.

The Background
The Aristocrats is, literally, a one-joke movie. Film-makers Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) interviewed over 100 fellow comedians on the subject of a particularly filthy joke which comedians traditionally tell to each other – the title refers to the joke’s punchline. So we get several different versions of the joke, plus a couple of amusing variations and deviations, as well as a number of discussions on the mechanics of comedy. Inevitably the joke wears thin before the end of the film, but there are plenty of laughs along the way.

One of the most interesting things about the film is the fact that it has earned an 18 certificate for nothing more than very strong themes and language. This says everything you need to know about the power of language, although, in all fairness, it really should have been a 15 certificate.

The Story
The film includes a host of well-known faces including Billy Connelly, Robin Williams, Eric Idle, Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock either giving their own interpretation of the joke or making some observation about it. Essentially, the joke tells you more about the teller than anything else. As Penn points out, it’s like jazz, in that it’s about the singer, not the song.

The Good
The high point of the film involves comedian Gilbert Gottfried telling the joke in a room full of comedians at Hugh Hefner’s roast, shortly after 9/11. His 9/11 joke dies (someone yells “Too soon!”) and so he decides to tell The Aristocrats, the room collapses in hysterical laughter and several witnesses discuss the catharsis of being able to laugh again.

The Bad
As for the joke itself, most versions seem to centre on shit, blood, piss and incest and this, inevitably, wears thin after a while. As a result, it's the variations and deviations that get the most laughs such as the mime version, the card trick version and the reversal of the joke.

The Conclusion
There are laughs in a couple of the official versions including Whoopi's version of the joke, the South Park version and a couple of the deviations such as Kevin Pollack's impression of Christopher Walken telling the joke. However, for a film about a joke, the laughs aren't as frequent as you might imagine.

Film Trailer

The Aristocrats (18)
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Content updated: 21/11/2017 10:08

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