The Aristocrats

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The Aristocrats of the title are the closing line of a joke, a family act that feature in a joke so disgustingly offensive comedians rarely tell it in public, or at least that’s partly why. The beauty of the joke is that the “act” can be swapped out for any one of a million perversions and so the joke has been on the go for decades – it’s reportedly the oldest joke in the industry.

This documentary deconstructs the joke, it’s origins and it’s place in comedy folklore, and features most of the best known comedians currently on the planet giving their understanding and their take on the joke. It’s also the first time I’ve ever be warned that the movie I was about to see was “very offensive”.

Completely composed of face to camera interviews and rehashings of the joke, we learn that it’s the middle part, the impromptu section, of the joke that fascinates. As it’s usually told by comedians for other comedians (after the audiences have left) the middle section relies on the ability to shock rather than any of the more standard comedy techniques – there is no wry observation or biting satire here.

I’ll happily admit that, whilst there are (and I did) laugh out loud sections, any documentary that deals with a topic that deliberately tries to shock is always going to bring uncomfortable moments, but the power of the joke is that whilst you are laughing you are willingly following the comedian beyond the usual line that society deems acceptable. It’s all relative and subjective of course but if you watch this and don’t find ANYTHING that shocks or sickens then you need some therapy.

However, it’s comedy and it’s the laughs that remain at the forefront. On the face of it, the coarse language and topic may seem blunt but that’s half of the point. The comedians ability to deliver the material and be funny with it is what is being challenged here. To take people beyond the subject and into comedy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

This documentary WAS offensive, but like all good documentaries it explains without patronising, and offers it’s subject for what it is, allowing the viewer to decide. I loved it and laughed my socks off; the South Park section being a highlight which is available online.

More info:
The Aristocrats Joke – a database of versions. WILL OFFEND!
Wikipedia entry for The Aristocrat