More noise than signal

The Aristocrats

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

What do you say about a film that’s entirely about an obscure dirty joke comedians like to tell amongst themselves? Well, niche as it may be, it’s still a film. So let’s break it down like MC Hammer. I’ll go fetch me baggy gold lame trousers.


Hammer Time!

On reflection, breaking this down like MC Hammer isn’t going to work very well. Instead, let’s make a few poor references to early 90s hip hop laughing stocks to distract people from the fact that this review will be vanishingly slender. I’ll go fetch me baggy gold lame trousers.

I suppose I could write this review in some intriguing style without repeating the joke that this film explores, but seeing as that would just send you off to Google there’s little point. Okay. A talent scout walks into a theatre bookers office, telling him about this interesting act. “What do they do?”, the booker asks. “Well, they [THIS IS DUMMY TEXT. INSERT YOUR OWN LIST OF DEPRAVED, DISGUSTING, ILLEGAL IN FORTY NINE STATES ACTIVITIES HERE]”, says the agent. “Hmm. Interesting. What do they call themselves?”, enquired Mr. Booker. “The Aristocrats!”, exclaims the agent. “STOP!”, said MC Hammer, later adding “Hammer Time!”. A diagrammatic representation of the amusement factors of this joke can be found here.

Practically every comedian in the world weighs in at some point during The Aristocrats; Drew Carey, Hank Azaria, Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Gilbert Gottfried, Jon Stewart, George Carlin, Emo Phillips, even, erm, Carrot Top. Their insights into this joke range from the inconsequential to the ignorable, but the one concept that comes out of this is that often, it’s the singer and not the song that decides the worth and laugh factors of a joke. The point, as much as I can gather, is that this joke turns into a sort of elaborate pissing contest to see who can improvise filth best, although this may be misreading it. Perhaps it’s to say a good comedian can make a bad joke funny. In fact, I’m not really sure what the point of this exercise is, bar glorifying a poor joke.

There was some suggestion, I think primarily because Penn Jillette, who we hope is not the best a man can get, was partly behind this film in executive producer mode, that The Aristocrats joke is a hoax, and never told before this film. This handily explains why the joke is so pitifully non-funny, but can be discounted on the basis that were this true it would hold a Guinness World Record for Most Pointless Hoax Ever, which our roving Norris McWhirter correspondent confirms has not been issued. Quadbike Erat Demonstrandum. I mention this only to make a weak advertising pun and name drop Norris McWhirter. Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.

At the end of the day there’s no escaping the fact that this is a bunch of comedians dancing around a dirty joke, with little real relevance to styles of the comedians generally – it’s really too specific, the frameworks too rigid. It’s entertaining enough, but having seen it once I’ve no inclination to ever watch it again and could quite happily have lived out the remainder of my days having never known a jot about The Aristocrats joke.

So it’s a documentary about something that doesn’t really require to be documented. Bit of a downer, but there’s enough laughs from the dizzying array of comedians on hand to at least make it diverting. It’s not trying to be a comedy though, so despite the few moments of hilarity we can’t recommend it as a comedy either. It’s a niche film about a dirty joke. If that sounds like the sort of thing you’ll have an interest in then away, lad, fill your boots. If that seems like to thin a concept to be worth a padded out ninety minutes of your time (this could probably be done in half that time, and it does often feel like it’s repeating itself) then proceed to avoid touching it with someone else’s bargepole. Join us later for more fence-sitting.