As often as the following descriptive phrase has been used (usually by disparaging film critics), it has never been literally true--until now. "The Aristocrats" is truly a "one-joke movie." This documentary, directed by funny man Paul Provenza, interviews around 100 stand-up comedians to talk about and tell their version of the same joke.
But it is not just any joke. The Aristocrats has long been an inside gag that comics took pleasure in telling one another but rarely dared to perform publicly. One reason for this is because it is outrageously filthy. The publicity tag line for the film is "No Nudity - No Violence - Unspeakable Obscenity."
It's nice to know that there still is truth in advertising. Think of the dirtiest joke you know and multiply it by 1,000 and you still wouldn't come close to the extreme perversion of The Aristocrats.
The set up is always the same: "A man walks into a talent office..." Likewise, the punch line also remains constant. It is the stuff in between that varies wildly, as comedian after comedian riffs on the premise, trying to top or outdo one other.
Unfortunately, it is also the stuff in between that describes acts so despicable that even the contemplation of carrying them out might warrant immediate psychiatric care, if not a lengthy stay in one of our nation's fine correctional institutions.
In spite of the obscene nature of the joke, The Aristocrats also offers an insightful look into the unusual craft of comedic talents. As each comic deconstructs the joke to explain why it makes people laugh and how they tweak it to make it fit their own style, we glean a bit of the thought processes that go into developing a piece of humor.
We knew that comics often resorted to blue humor, but who knew that those in the funny business could be so serious at trying to make us laugh?
A veritable who's who of comedy offers their respective two cents as comic after comic chime in on the history, composition, and personal approach of what may be the world's oldest and least-familiar dirty joke. Some favor the colorful descriptive elements of bodily functions, while others zero in on deviant sexual behavior. No matter which approach is taken, you can be sure that moral boundaries, if they ever existed in the first place, simply aren't taken into consideration in the telling of the joke. In fact, as more than one comedian notes, the greater they make the degradation, the funnier the joke becomes.
And therein is the problem I have with the film.
While no prude, I have developed the habit of considering where the profit may lie in exposing me (and my family) to certain forms of secular entertainment. I cannot subscribe to the philosophy of "anything for a laugh." Scripture asks us to think about what we say and what effect in may have on the listener.
"Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers"
Ephesians 4:29 (KJV).
Though the film manages to wrest from us giggles and guffaws, it does so at what cost? Certainly there is nothing edifying about the subject matter. If anything it adds to the deterioration of whatever moral standards remain in our culture. The more we press against the boundaries of decency and morality to the point of spilling over them, the weaker we make our society and damage the moral integrity of the generations to follow.