Monday, August 22, 2005

Not a Date Movie

Over the weekend I had the occasion to see what might be one of the best movies out right now, The Aristocrats. It also might be the most repellent and off-putting movie of all time, simply because of its subject matter. The movie is a documentary of sorts that focuses on a single joke, apparently known far and wide among stand-up comics and show business folks, but largely unheard (until now) by the general public.

Let me just start off by saying that joke in question is (or can be -- there are infinite permutations to the telling of it) easily the most disgusting, raunchy, filthy, crude, vile, ugly, nasty, obscene -- did I mention disgusting? Did I mention vile? -- joke that anyone has ever heard, anywhere, any time, ever. The initial telling of the joke by George Carlin is potentially a deal-breaker in itself, enough to make anyone without a strong stomach and a broad sense of black, gallows humor walk out before the film even gets started. If you can grimace and cringe and scream your way through Carlin's version of it, it's all downhill from there. But make no mistake, it is a bad, bad joke.

That said, the movie itself is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. It features a veritable Who's Who of comedians, comic actors and writers and other folks either telling the joke themselves or telling stories about others telling the joke or otherwise commenting on it in some fashion. The cast ranges from old-timers like Shelley Berman, Phyllis Diller, Don Rickles and Larry Storch to more current practitioners of the comedic art like Dom Irreira, Jake Johannsen, Larry Miller, Andy Dick, and dozens of other stalwarts and lesser lights. Robin Williams. Whoopi Goldberg. Jason Alexander. Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. Billy Connolly. Eddie Izzard. Bruce Vilanch. Bobby Slayton. Paul Reiser. Bob Saget (!!). Fred Willard. Rita Rudner. Carrot Top (??). Sarah Silverman. Chris Rock. Dave Thomas. Rip Taylor. The Smothers Brothers. Jon Stewart. Merrill Markoe. Penn and Teller (Penn Jillette produced and Paul Provenza directed). Lewis Black. David Steinberg. David Brenner. Drew Carey. Carrie Fisher. Dana Gould. Eric Idle. Bill Maher. Andy Richter. Martin Mull. The editorial staff of The Onion. And the real star of the movie, the incandescent Gilbert Gottfried (yes, that Gilbert Gottfried), for whom I have a new-found respect after seeing his performance.

The movie is more than just a telling and retelling of one joke, though. It is, in a larger sense, a commentary on the nature of comedy itself, on how people can find amusement in subjects that don't -- or shouldn't -- necessarily lend themselves to comedy, on taboos and changing mores in society, and a complete deconstruction of the joke through the course of the movie. There is also an element of tribute to the people who have made modern comedy what it is today, a tip of the hat to the early vaudeville comics that paved the way for today's situational observers and comic actors that make us laugh at ourselves and our shortcomings. Plus, by the end of the movie, you feel as though you're a member of the group, a comic insider with a secret shared only by other insiders and members of the comedic brother- (and sister) hood.

Which is why I won't tell the joke here. Because that would A) spoil it, and B) let you into the circle without your having paid the price of admission. Instead, I highly recommend that you pay the price of admission and go see the film. I give it two thumbs up... and you can use your imagination to figure out up where those thumbs might go...
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