The Aristocrats

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria, Lewis Black, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Billy Connolly, Andy Dick, Phyllis Diller, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried, Eric Idle, Bill Maher, Howie Mandel, Penn & Teller, Paul Reiser, Bob Saget, Sarah Silverman, Smothers Brothers, Jon Stewart, Robin Williams
Director:  Paul Provenza
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  ThinkFilm
Features:  See Review
Length:  90 Minutes
Release Date:  January 26, 2006

"Interesting act...what do you call it?"

Film **

We've all heard of a one-joke premise, and The Aristocrats is that premise personified.  It's a 90 minute documentary about the so-called dirtiest joke ever told.

For those who may not know the joke, here's the basic version:  a guy walks into a talent agent's office and says he has a great act.  He and his family come out on stage, drop their pants, and defecate on the floor.  What is the name of the act, the agent queries?  "The Aristocrats."

For top comedians, and there certainly are a slew of them in this film, the joke isn't so much about the punchline as in the telling.  It's like a modal jazz composition to them...the middle is wide open for them to bring whatever they want to the table.  The longer and more disgusting they can make the joke, the better.  They even speak of legendary sessions where one comic would milk the joke for an hour or better.

It's an interesting concept for a documentary, but one that probably looked better on paper than on film.  You can only hear the same joke so many times in the course of an hour and a half, no matter how well it gets embellished, without wanting to scream "uncle".  I was amused for about the first 30 minutes.  The rest of the way I was checking my clock to see when I could finally stop the disc and start the review.

I suppose there are highlights, but it all runs together so much that it's hard to pick them out.  To hear the comics tell it, Gilbert Gottfried told the all-time best version of the joke at a roast for Hugh Hefner.  And his version is pretty good.  I thought the best one came from my favorite comedienne Wendy Liebman, who offered a most unexpected twist.  Another fellow whom I didn't recognize told the joke while spinning card tricks to great effect.

I used to wonder why anyone ever thought Bob Saget was funny, but I have to confess:  after hearing his version of "The Aristocrats"...I'm still wondering.  His is easily the most painful moment to endure in the film.

The cast of comics is certainly first rate...certainly a who's-who of the funniest men and women working today.  But I guess it didn't occur to anyone to ask the most basic question:  is hearing the same joke over and over again worthwhile entertainment?  The best relief was when Robin Williams and Drew Carey told a completely different entertainment industry joke.  But they could have recited the Gettysburg Address and it would have been just as welcome a relief.

There are laughs, but not enough to sustain the running time.  If you've ever wanted to punch a co-worker because he couldn't stop repeating the same joke, this isn't the movie for you.  But it might just be the one for him.

Video **

The film was shot on video, and as such, shows some of the normal limitations of the medium.  It looks perfectly fine given what the material is about...no real complaints, but nothing to inspire.

Audio **

5.1 audio was a nice touch, though a curious one.  You couldn't find a film that required digital surround less than this one.  But the dialogue is all clean and clear, even when the words are dirty...par for the course.

Features ****

This ThinkFilm disc really excels in the extras department...many of them are more entertaining than the picture itself.  For starters, there's an enjoyable commentary from director Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette that's an entertaining listen.

There is a highlight reel of the comics telling the joke, and extended versions of some of the ones in the movie, in case you didn't get enough of that.  Much better is a "Behind the Green Door" segment in which the comics get to tell their OTHER favorite jokes...some priceless ones can be found there.  There is a tribute to Johnny Carson (to whom the film is dedicated), and a look at amateur tellers of "The Aristocrats" who were contest winners.


A hundred comedians, one dirty joke.  It sounds like a winning formula, but after seeing the movie, you'll realize that somebody should have left The Aristocrats on the drawing board.

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