Sunday, February 26, 2006

"The Aristocrats"

Just watched "The Aristocrats," and I suppose I can see why some people didn't like it.

They're the people who buy tickets to Bill Engvall shows, and there are a hell of a lot of them.

Me, I loved it. The premise is this -- comedians explain their love of a vaudeville-era joke that is something of a secret handshake between professional comics. The joke begins, "A man walks into a talent agent's office and says, 'I've got a great act for you.' " The punchline is "The talent agent asks the guy, 'What do you call yourselves?' And the man says, 'The Aristocrats!' "

In between the set up and punchline is a string of the filthiest material whoever is telling the joke can come up with. Depraved acts, bodily fluids, animals, and violence are used variously depending on who's relating "The Aristocrats."

And the movie is basically comedians breaking it down and explaining why it's funny -- which is almost a cardinal sin, since explanation always ruins a joke. But the magic of "The Aristocrats" is that each comic is identifiable merely by his or her performance of the joke. George Carlin, who opens the film, has a very matter-of-fact, technical delivery -- he has the man sort of breeze through the most unimaginably depraved things as if they're nothing out of the ordinary. Gilbert Gottfried, who performed the Aristocrats at the Friars Club roast of Hugh Hefner three weeks after 9/11, has a violent, manic, and increasingly loud delivery.

I'm a huge fan of comedy, but not the hack stuff. So it's refreshing to see comedians "in their element"... the film is sort of a Jane Goodall/Gorillas in the Mist for comics. Noticably absent from the film are folks like Larry the Cable Guy and every comedian whose act is an hour's worth of race jokes. No, instead you have people who have really worked hard at being original -- Bob Saget and Stephen Wright, for example.

Anyway -- if Bill Hicks makes you angry, or Dane Cook offends you, or if you can't get a chuckle if men vs. women isn't brought into a bit, skip "The Aristocrats." But for serious comedy lovers out there, give this one a go. It's worth it just to see Howie Mandell use incredibly foul language.