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Comedy veterans and co-creators Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza capitalize on their insider status and invite over 100 of their closest friends--who happen to be some of the biggest names in entertainment, from George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg and Drew Carey to Gilbert Gottfried, Bob Saget, Paul Reiser and Sarah Silverman--to reminisce, analyze, deconstruct and deliver their own versions of the world's dirtiest joke, an old burlesque too extreme to be performed in public, called "The Aristocrats." Written by
Sujit R. Varma
For all its over-the-top vulgarity -- with large helpings of pornography, scatology, and incest -- "The Aristocrats" is fundamentally an intelligent and affectionate film. One gifted comedian after another dives into the time-honored muck of this joke, keen on retrieving the filthiest possible diamond from the sludge. The result is some of the most hilarious film-making of recent years.
It's difficult to select just a few favorites from this assemblage. Bob Saget is surely the most startling (and one of the funniest). George Carlin offers both great humor and insight into joke telling. Sarah Silverman's deadpan first-person account is unforgettable, and Gilbert Gottfried's post-9/11 version is a jewel. Billy the Mime has riotous sexual encounters with various invisible family members. Only a few comedians misfire: perhaps most notably, a guy who tries to pull off a "clean" Jerry Lewis sort of physical comedy routine.
And this is the paradox of the both the joke and the movie: clean versions just don't work. The hilarity comes from the clash between the pornography and the punchline, the comedic brilliance and the carefully crafted vulgarities.
90 minutes on one joke may seem like overkill, but the film skillfully avoids monotony. The broader subject matter is the art of comedy: the comedians' insights are fascinating and their enthusiasm is endearing.
Two minor complaints. First, it would have been helpful to identify each comedian *during* the film, not just during the (excellent) closing credits. Second -- and more seriously -- some of the camera-work was intrusive and distracting, with rapid MTV cutting that flipped back and forth between full-face and profile shots. This got so bad at one point that I had to look away from the screen until the segment was over.
9/10. A masterpiece of filthy good cheer.
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