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Idol Chatter

It may seem like a movie such as “The Aristocrats,” out this week on DVD, would hardly be fodder for a self-respecting spirituality blog like Idol Chatter, but My Friend the Rabbi offered up some wise insights about this film, which consists entirely of well-known comedians reciting their own versions of a raunchy joke–and trying to outdo each other in making the joke filthier and filthier. The joke always starts with the same opening and ends with the same punchline, but everything in between is up to the teller’s imagination (and those featured in the film have quite, um, vivid imaginations). It may not sound like the most promising premise for a feature film, and as I said, hardly the usual fare for spiritually-minded folks.

But My Friend the Rabbi points out that the movie really is depicting the transmission of a faith. Think about it: There is a a defined group, in this case professional comedians (who, the movie tells us, don’t generally tell this joke to audiences, instead reserving it for their own post-show, backstage sessions amongst themselves). And there is a text that is at once unchanging and in need of interpretation, a scripture of sorts that serves as a guide.

The joke always contains three sections–the standard opening, involving a family act and a talent scout who says he doesn’t represent family acts; a middle that is improvised, describing the raunchy act that the family performs for the scout; and a set punchline, in which the scout asks what the act is called and is told, “The Aristocrats.” This joke, which is not even funny in any inherent way, is dutifully passed on from generation to generation in the comedy world, with each generation adding its own layers of interpretation and seeing it through its own unique eyes. Why this joke? Tradition. It was the favorite of the iconic comedians of years past, men (and the occasional woman) who are worshipped by every comic who’s come along in years since. Where’d the joke come from? No one’s sure, but there may have been earlier, slightly different versions that spawned this one.

And should you see the movie and convert to Aristocratism or something like that? Well, only you can decide for yourself if you’ve got “The Aristocrats” in your heart.

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