A documentary feature that revolves around one joke, "The Aristocrats" interviews a legion of notable comedians who discuss a joke that's been passed around for ages (sort of an "urban legend" in the industry.) Essentially, no one really knows the original way the gag goes, as many people have given the joke their own spin.
Essentially, the joke revolves around a circus act and the lead performer going over the foul, dirty, offensive things that the act does. He ends off the whole conversation by telling the act's name. The first part and the last part are standard, but everything in-between is a complete free-for-all, with the comedian allowed to improv as dirty as they please.
So throughout the 90-minute doc, we get to hear a wealth of comedians - Jon Stewart, Drew Carey, Gilbert Godfried, Jason Alexander, Paul Reiser, George Carlin, Bob Saget (particularly raunchy, and he asks for a copy to be sent to his "Full House" co-stars), Robin Williams and tons of others - either discuss the joke or tell their version of it - in terms of the latter, they go over their thoughts on delivering it or their choices in terms of how far to take the disturbing middle part.
The only thing that I found odd about the whole thing? I didn't think the joke at the core of the film was funny (some of the comedians don't, either.) It's clearly about risk, shock and trying to push the envelope. But it's so clearly about just that that it just didn't get much of a laugh out of me. The funniest bit, for me - far and away - is Kevin Pollack doing his version of the joke while doing a brilliant impression of Christopher Walken. Hank Azaria also goes into character while doing the joke, and it's really amusing. Oddly, Carrie Fisher is also one of the highlights, as her delivery is quite funny. Robin Williams also scores some laughs. There are definitely a few good bits scattered throughout the flick (see also Todd Glass, Sarah Silverman, a "South Park" bit and the genius Lewis Black, whose delivery could make the telephone book funny), but you have to go through a lot of average or weak ones to get to them.
It's interesting to see how all of these different comedians put their own spin on the joke, but for 90 minutes? By an hour in, the documentary starts to get repetitive. The fact that the filmmakers seem to cut away to another bit every couple of minutes (or, in a lot of cases, much less) also takes away from the film.
I have absolutely nothing against foul language, mind you. But, when presented with largely the same NC-17-style (the film was presented theatrically unrated, but would have earned an NC-17) material over-and-over again, it starts to become a tedious watch. The aspect of this picture that highlights how comedians spin and improv off one set-up is interesting (Seinfeld's documentary, "Comedian", while not entirely terrific either, provided more behind-the-scenes insight into stand-up), but it would have been more entertaining had the joke actually been funny to begin with. There are some great bits here, but they do something more than string increasingly foul bits together; they keep the foul language but don't focus on it, they give it character, they have unique delivery and add other layers. This could certainly have made for a decent hour-long special if it was edited down to the best bits. However, at 90 minutes, it wears out its welcome.
VIDEO: "The Aristocrats" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame by Thinkfilm. The film was shot on low-budget DV, but considering that , it looks fairly good. Sharpness and detail are average, as the picture could look crisp at times and noticably soft during some low-light interior moments.
Aside from the variation in sharpness, the picture didn't show any other serious concerns. Some minor shimmering was visible at times, but was hardly noticable. No instances of pixelation or edge enhancement were noticed. Colors remained natural and risp, with no smearing or other issues. The image quality wasn't stellar, but for a movie shot on what appeared to be cheap video cameras, it could've looked worse.
SOUND: The presentation is in Dolby Digital 5.1, but the audio might as well have been mono: this is, as one might expect, a dialogue-driven presentation all the way. Dialogue remained clear and easily understood throughout.
EXTRAS: Commentary from director Paul Provenza and producer Penn Jilette, deleted scenes (including a lengthy scene with Kevin Pollack doing the bit while doing an terrific impression of Albert Brooks, as well as more Lewis Black, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart (ripping on Bob Saget), Hank Azaria, Bob Saget and others. There are 21 deleted/extended bits in all, and the total running time, like the feature itself, is also 90 minutes. There's some really terrific bits here; replace some of these bits with some of the less successful bits in the film itself and you'd have a better movie. The other issue is that these bits are nice because, despite the fact that the editing is still bothersome, they're allowed to go on for more than a minute before cutting away to something else, unlike in the feature.
"The Aristocrats do the Aristocrats" is a clip that takes parts and pieces of the bit from many different comedians and edits them together into the whole bit. "For Johnny Carson" is a few minutes long, and discusses how Carson was a fan of the bit. "Behind the Green Room Door" has a series of comedians from the doumentary telling other favorite jokes and "Be An Aristocrat Contest" shows clips of the winners. Finally, there's also trailers.
Final Thoughts: "The Aristocrats" has some very funny moments scattered throughout, but getting through 90 largely repetitive minutes becomes tiring. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality (considering the production values) and a lot of supplemental material. Those interested should rent first.
The Film C-