Filed Under Movies
Recently I had a long conversation with the director of The Aristocrats, Paul Provenza. We covered a lot of topics about the film and comedy in general, enough to make me regret that I don’t own a tape recorder, as my pen failed to catch all of our discussion. But what I did get was just grand. It’s all after the jump.
Filed Under Movies
The most common retort I see online from people talking about “The Aristocrats” movie is “I’m curious but 90 minutes of the same joke getting told over and over again is going to get old fast.” This movie is not that simple. The Aristocrats is about one joke, but really about comedy and laughter’s ability to unite us, even when all of us sing a little bit different.
If you’re not familiar with the joke, it goes like this: A family walks into a talent agent’s office. They offer him a chance to represent them and he agrees to watch them perform. The next part is always improvised by the teller, but it could involve all manner of bodily fluids, sexual behaviors and disturbing images - giving the joke the comic’s unique signature. The punchline is always the same, the agent asks the name of the act and the family replies “The Aristocrats!”
The Aristocrats joke is traced back to the days of early vaudeville and it’s sort of an initiation rite for many a comic. Or possibly a masonic handshake. The ultimate insiders material, it’s never really been considered for public consumption. In some sense to be told the joke by a fellow comic was almost a private version of being invited to the couch by Johnny Carson (to whom the film is dedicated). It’s the marker of “hey kid, you’re in.”
Talking about funny stuff can be a real snoozefest than the laugh riot some expect (hence my own warning on the top right hand corner), but “The Aristocrats” keeps the conversations about the joke involving and funny as well, floating from speculation on why the agent in the joke just doesn’t stop the act right at the first sign of depravity to the disappointment of screwing up the punchline after a marathon hour-long telling of the joke.
The jokes most well-know public performance gets featured near the end. Gilbert Gottfried, one of many comics attempting to mine laughs at a Friar’s Club Roast only a few week after 9/11, begin to tell the joke after losing the crowd with material that’s just too soon to tell. Deploying the joke at that moment brings howls of laughter, reversing the room’s mood in an instant. With 9/11’s brutal reminder of how fragile we are, a joke that revels in the depravities of our bodies was exactly what’s needed.
Laughter won’t unify anybody who finds this material too coarse. But Producer Penn Jillette has a simple solution: don’t come.
Video excerpts are up from the “Making Fun of Filmmaking” conference at the SxSW Festival. Interesting stuff from Patton Oswalt and Paul Provenza about censorship, sort of a contrast to my last post. Particularly insightful is how audiences, both left and right, are the main censors at comedy clubs.
Audiences have only one expectation from comedians: laughter. But as the now-deified humor writer Michael O’Donoghue argued, a laugh is only one response to a joke and not always the most desirable one. It’s a little confusing, but when you are feeling uncomfortable at a comedy show, that’s a good sign. Patton’s right, anyone who tells you they’re “edgy and dark” isn’t and is simply attempting to fake the atmosphere and tension that real comedy creates.
Filed Under Movies
The South by Southwest festival has put up a trailer for a documentary about Sarah Silverman's stand-up show “Jesus is Magic.” (click on the low bandwidth version, the high doesn't seem to work at all). I saw the show a couple of years ago, but from the short bits shown none of stand-up looks new. But this looks to be more than just a concert film with sketches and songs interspersed throughout, almost like a TV show development execs should have been begging her to make but probably couldn't, since the trailer has at least two jokes that could cause a “chink” controversy, 'cept with a different ethnic group. Like “Aristocrats,” I'm hoping this film gets enough distribution to be an underground hit.
On Blogging Sundance, Jason Calacanis wonders if there should not be a separate award at the Sundance Film Festival for Comedy, citing that funny films just can’t compete against films that are “socially important.”
I’m of two minds on this. I can see the value of having an award… comedy is far too often overlooked, not just for awards, but as something that does contribute to society in valuable ways. Having a separate award would certainly give some well-deserved attention on people not grinding out ha-ha films for Hollywood. And it could start creating a higher standard for film comedy, which tends far to often to rely on premises that are only sketch-thin.
But I dislike putting comedy aside, like it’s something incapable of reaching the heights of a dramatic film. It can and has (see “Doctor Strangelove”). Look at how powerful late night monologues have come about defining our political leaders, traits that were broadly stroked by Johnny Carson have become pinpointedly defined by Jon Stewart. There’s no reason why film comedy can’t be as effective in defining our times.
I’m also well aware that a reason why comedy can reach people better is that they’re guard is down. They aren’t expecting something good for you… something “socially important.” Let dramatists beat people over the heads with “points” and receive the accolades. Far better to be ignored and have the ideas sink in the back way.
Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette premiered their new film “Aristocrats” at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is primarily the telling of one joke over and over again by comics as varied as Phyllis Diller, Steven Wright and Jon Stewart. The punchline is revealed in the title of the film. But even if you didn’t know it, the real humor comes from how darkly filthy the joke is told, with some versions including incest, bestiality, coprophilla and whatever else the comic can improvise at the moment.
The MPAA will likely rate it NC-17. If the language doesn’t kill ‘em first.
Shecky Magazine speculated that the film is a hoax, but the traditions of the joke are well established. Probably the most famous telling of the joke was by Gilbert Gottfried during the Friars’ Club Roast of Hugh Hefner… the joke never made it to air of course.
At 87 minutes of the same joke over and over again, the film could be close to a Bataan Death March of comedy, but it might be of the Mike Myers’ school of extended joke, where it because funny because it is so relentless. Personally, I can’t wait to see it. If you want to sample a segment of the film, a link to the “South Park” version of the joke can be found here (highly adult language, you have been warned…).
It strikes me this can be almost a comedic Rorschach test, with the improvised middle section revealing something of the comedian’s own dark weirdness when he or she starts describing the Aristocrats act. Or just a really good excuse to curse. Either one.
Filed Under Movies
Jim Carrey’s getting the AFI Star Award at this year’s Aspen Comedy Festival. Yawn. Considering the state of film comedy, I’m surprised Jim Carrey didn’t win sooner. Of course, I don’t see a single one of his early films on the circa-2000 AFI’s 100 Laughs list. What happened? Did somebody just get around to watching Dumb & Dumber?