Correction to This Article
The Aug. 12 Style review of the film "The Aristocrats" incorrectly said that it carries an R rating. The film, which contains considerable foul language, is unrated.

'Aristocrats': A Dirty Joke That's All Laughed Out

Penn and Teller are among the 95 (!) joke-tellers in
Penn and Teller are among the 95 (!) joke-tellers in "The Aristocrats." (Thinkfilm)

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By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 12, 2005

By now, unless you've been in a coma, beamed down from another star system, or returned from that long-dreamed-of trip to Uzbekistan, you know what "The Aristocrats" is about. It's about a joke -- a scurrilous, repulsive, corrosive, subversive joke -- that has been told in showbiz circles for about a hundred years.

It's the joke you go to at 3 in the morning when the tank-town joint is empty except for a heckler. It's the joke you go to because you were really hot at the Improv, Letterman's scouts were there, and now you're backstage with your buds. It's the joke you go to at the Family Togetherness rally in Tupelo, Miss., because you're a masochist and you really want someone to beat you to a pulp. But it's not the joke you tell 95 times with the same punchline.

A putative documentary, somewhat like the old works of the humorless folklorist G. Legman ("The Rationale of the Dirty Joke, Vols. 1 and 2"), "The Aristocrats" briefly sketches the history of the joke and then stands back and watches 95 professional comedians tell it. Like Legman, it knows everything about humor except how funny it is. Some guys can tell 'em, some guys can't.

Of the 95, the best, in my subjective view, is Kevin Pollak telling the joke as Christopher Walken. Now that's funny. Christopher Walken himself would be funnier, but Pollak is really funny. Then there's a guy who tells it as a card trick. It's much better as a card trick than a joke. Don Rickles does a nice job until he gets to, "But you know, ladies and gentleman, it's all in humor and basically we're all human beings . . . ." Arrrgggghhhhh!

For my taste, the joke is a little too scatological for comfort. As long as it stayed mainstream dirty it was okay, but when it got into perversions the American Psychiatric Society hasn't even named yet, it left me behind.

And nobody left me behinder than Bob Saget.

Yeah, the funny video guy, with the comic aggression of a milkman and the mild patter of a bad salesman. That guy?

God, lock him up. If you see him talking to one of your kids on the playground, it's .357 magnum time. No jury would convict you, a thankful nation would congratulate you, your success with the opposite sex would go way up, and you'd get a shot on Leno.

Anyway, I think the joke goes something like this:

A family -- mom, pop, son and daughter, dog -- comes into an agent's office.

We got an act, pop says, one you never saw before.

The agent, who's older than God and may have known George M. Cohan when he was a kid, says, Oh yeah? He's seen it all.

Okay, says pop, watch this.

He . . . then he . . . they . . . the kids . . . the wife . . . the daughter . . . good Lord, the dog!

Wow, says the agent. I gotta admit it. I never saw anything like that. What do you call it?

I call it, says pop, the end of the review .

The Aristocrats (90 minutes, at Landmark E Street) is rated R for language that really cannot be described in language.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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