The Joke’s On Them


Aristocrats, The (2005) Review 5
Director:Paul Provenza,
Starring:Paul Provenza, Penn Jillette, and the world’s greatest comedians.
Length:92 minutes



A priest, a rabbi and a monk walk into a movie theater, where they watch 100 of the most famous comedians on the planet tell the same joke over and over again…

Okay, so that may not be completely true, but at least part of it is. And if you think the prospect of over-analyzing one of the oldest jokes in the business and beating it into the ground for almost 90 minutes takes all the fun out of it, then think again. Crudely shot over the course of 2 years for just $20,000, “The Aristocrats” – directed by comedians Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette – easily fits the bill as one of the funniest films to hit the big screen in years.

It’s also one of the dirtiest, as the movie is being released in select theaters without an official rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. And for good reason, since it has more profanity per square word than your average Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino film.

Dating back to the years of vaudeville, the actual “Aristocrats” joke has become something of a legend among stand-up comics, who hold it with such high regard because of its unique structure (or lack thereof). In this rare case, the punchline doesn’t matter, nor does it even make sense. It’s all about the set-up, and in an effort to out-gross each other, the comedians interviewed here waste no time in hitting below the belt to tell the joke in the most outrageous and disgusting way possible.

Most of them succeed, and strangely enough, therein lies the film’s charm. For the first time ever (and quite possibly the last), some of the funniest names in show business – including George Carlin, Robin Williams, Drew Carey, Rita Rudner and even the cast of “South Park” – band together for an informative, surprisingly intimate and downright hysterical analysis of the joke’s timeless appeal.

While no one can agree on the right way to tell it (since there really is no right way), everyone does agree that it’s all about the delivery. And that says a lot about the person telling it. Whether it’s long, short, loud, soft, told with a dummy or demonstrated with props, the key to making it work is by making it your own – that is, if you can get through the whole thing without cracking yourself up. And in an interesting observation, the joke seems to be divided between genders, as the men who tell it seem to get away with a lot more vulgarity than the women do.

The movie tends to get a little stale at times, but Provenza and Gillette freshen up the proceedings by periodically introducing a few new faces. Just when you thought you heard enough from the likes of Phyllis Diller, Billy Connolly and Paul Reiser, fellow peers like Carrie Fisher, Steven Wright and Sarah Silverman jump in with their own crass perspectives. And for the record, who would have thought that one of the funniest deliveries would come from someone like Billy the Mime?

There’s no doubt that the story behind the dirtiest joke ever told will go down in history as one of the dirtiest movies ever made, but it’s also a fascinating look into the mindset of the nation’s top comics and the techniques they use to stay on their feet. It’s funny, entertaining and somewhat endearing, which also makes it unlike any other movie you will see (or hear) again for a long time.

And what’s it called? “The Aristocrats!