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'Aristocrats' offensive fun

Photo courtesy of Think Film
Clean freak Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) gets down and dirty telling his version of the oldest and dirtiest joke in the business in 'The Aristocrats.'
By Nate Buchik
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 1, 2005
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Do you find it funny when a joke goes to clearly unacceptable levels? When a joke shouldn't be called out for being politically incorrect, because the reason it's so funny is only because it's so offensive?

When I hear a joke that is ridiculously offensive (Have you heard the baby sex series?), I shake my head and laugh.

Still, I feel a bit like a sociopath for liking the documentary "The Aristocrats" this much.

"The Aristocrats" shows how dirty a joke can get by detailing the history of comedy's most famous "in-joke" - one that stand-up comics tell after they leave the stage.


See it
9 out of 10
Rated R
89 Minutes
Now playing

Although there is some variation, the basic joke goes like this:

A man walks into a talent agency and says, "I've got a great new act. It's a family act." Here's the part where the comedian can make the joke his or her own as he describes the act in great detail and makes sure it is shockingly disgusting.

When he's done with describing the act, the agent says, "Well, that's one hell of an act. What do you call it?" The man answers, "The Aristocrats."

More than 100 comedians talk about the joke during the film, with most giving their own version. While the punch line is hardly funny, seeing comedians go to great lengths to offend and create this disgusting act shows who in comedy are the most hilarious.

Gilbert Gottfried, Sarah Silverman, Billy the Mime, Penn and Teller, and Bob Saget (of "Full House" fame) all give great versions. "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone also make a special cartoon of Cartman telling the joke that is riotous. If you aren't convinced yet, Andy Dick, George Carlin, Steven Wright and Robin Williams are also featured prominently.

The editorial board of The Onion also makes a few appearances, as they brainstorm in a staff meeting about what to include in their version of the joke.

There are occasional misses by comedians, and Drew Carey tells a horrendous version, which makes him a running joke throughout the movie.

The sound editing and camera work in the film is amateur and becomes distracting at several times during the film. But this is a film directed and produced by comedians, so I wasn't expecting great production values.

The director, comedian Paul Provenza, chose to edit to space out the tellings of the joke throughout the movie, while providing very funny interviews during the down time. Because of this, what could have been a Comedy Central special becomes a good film by giving the audience fascinating nuggets of information about the fraternity of comics. Getting this deep into the show business world is the same reason a show like "Entourage" works or why anybody ever watches the E! channel.

But the most fun is seeing how far the comics can go with it. Do they include cancer? Make references to Sept. 11? Will the grandparents get involved in the sex?

As they reference in the film, the joke is like a jazz standard, and you can see who are the best at their comedic instruments by judging their versions of the joke.

While the film will be easily dismissed by those who don't appreciate the profane, I loved it. And if that makes me sick, I couldn't imagine being healthy.

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