The Aristocrats (2005)

Genres - Comedy, Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Standup Comedy  |   Release Date - Jul 29, 2005 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

The Aristocrats is an odd little documentary. The film has the ultimate one-joke premise, and the joke isn't even very funny (as many of the comics in the film note), but it offers an opportunity for several talented, inspired comics to riff on it and make it their own, while commenting on the nature of standup comedy and the intricacies of what makes something funny. The joke itself offers the basest, most falsely transgressive type of humor. While startling, the jokes about incest and spousal abuse don't seem very far-removed from the misogynistic nursery rhymes of Andrew Dice Clay. While it's certain to anger some of the right people, it's hardly a mighty salvo for freedom in the culture wars. Many of the comics seem content to merely shock. The ones who come off the best are those who break down the joke effectively (Jake Johannsen discussing the eponymous act's legal ramifications, and the illogic of the talent agent's interest in what they call themselves) or have a certain credibility derived from the genuinely transgressive nature of their previous work (Gilbert Gottfried, George Carlin). Billy the Mime works thanks to the incongruity of seeing a street performer in whiteface enact such atrocities. And the brilliant Sarah Silverman transcends the mean-spirited nature of the joke by improvising a personal history with the act, and caps it with a scandalous (and, okay, mean-spirited) revelation that is also the funniest movie line in recent memory. Director (and comic) Paul Provenza, who conceived the project with Penn Jillette and co-edited the film with Emery Emery, keeps things moving at a good clip, and structures the film in a slick, consistently engaging way. It offers a much richer, more enjoyable experience than listening to the same joke over and over for 90 minutes.