Friday, 7 April 2006

The Aristocrats

The Aristocrats
The Aristocrats (by Paul Provenza) is a documentary about the world's most offensive joke, supposedly an old Vaudeville tradition recited backstage amongst comedians as a furtive rite of passage. The joke is as follows: a man walks into a talent-agent's office and says, "I have a great act for you". The act consists of multitudinous defilements. After he finishes describing it, the talent-agent asks him what it's called. He replies: "The Aristocrats!". The set-up and punch-line are always the same, with the body of the joke providing an opportunity for extended improvisation.

In this documentary, 100 comedians give their own interpretations of the joke and its significance, with the film effectively representing a barometer of contemporary taboos. Gilbert Gottfried, who was performing in New York a few weeks after the Twin Towers were destroyed, made a 9/11 joke and was heckled by the audience. To recover, he told them The Aristocrats instead, one of the first times it had been performed in public. In the documentary, Gottfried is praised as a fearless pioneer for daring to make The Aristocrats public, however it seems to me that he would have been more daring if he had continued with the 9/11 material.

Our true contemporary taboos are race, sexuality, disability, religion, and terrorism - one comedian not involved in the documentary, Jerry Sadowitz, would have surely contributed the most truly fearless, shocking version of the joke. Having said that, my favourite version of the joke is Howie Mandel's, because he claimed that the only English word his Polish grandmother knew was...

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