Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Aristocrats

I've heard/read a lot of theories on "the essence of comedy," but in my mind comedy boils down to two things: the twisting of expectations and the acknowledgement of the darkest side of human nature. The joke featured in this documentary is the perfect example of both. If you haven't seen the movie or don't know the joke already, it's basic framework is that a family or group auditions for a talent agent and then reveals that the name of their act is "The Aristocrats." Their performance is left up to the imagination of the joke's teller, and is usually the most vile and awful acts he can imagine. It's not a good joke, as many of the comedians in the picture are quick to point out, but the humor is supposed to come from the shock of the baseness of the act (incest and bestiality were common themes) juxtaposed with the name "The Aristocrats." What I found most fascinating was the joke's inate ability to reveal the depths of the teller's perversity and imagination. While there were a lot of common elements throughout the different comedians' versions, the ones that stand out are the ones where the teller put an imaginitive spin on it. For example, Kevin Pollack performed it as an impression of Christopher Walken telling a story about his uncle who happened to be the talent agent. Another framed it within the confines of a card trick. Several reversed the joke by describing a wholesome family act and then giving it a shocking name, like "The Cocksucking Motherfuckers." But whoever told the joke told it their own way and each time they cracked themselves up with their own rendition, no matter how lame or filthy it was. I didn't find myself laughing much during this, revulsion was my usual response, but I did find it fascinating to see how such a simple framework could produce such varied and disgusting results. Apparently comedians are a weird and different lot.


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