More in-depth film festival coverage than any other website!
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 32.98%
Average: 8.51%
Pretty Bad: 7.45%
Total Crap: 3.19%

11 reviews, 28 user ratings

Latest Reviews

Enter the Fat Dragon (2020) by Jay Seaver

Sea Fever by Jay Seaver

Synchronic by Jay Seaver

Downhill by Peter Sobczynski

Man Standing Next, The by Jay Seaver

Dustwalker, The by Jay Seaver

Proxima by Jay Seaver

Mystery of the Night by Jay Seaver

Lodge, The by Peter Sobczynski

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) by Peter Sobczynski

subscribe to this feed

Aristocrats, The
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brian McKay

"Have you heard the one about (Insert incestuous atrocity here)?"
4 stars

The adage that “Humor is subjective” has never been demonstrated more thoroughly than in THE ARISTOCRATS, a documentary that explores the origins and myriad permutations of an insider’s joke that goes all the way back to the Vaudeville days (if not earlier). Culled from over fifty hours of video footage featuring approximately 100 professional comedians, director Paul Provenza and producer Penn Jilette (also comedians) hit the road with store-bought camcorders and a shoestring budget in order to share a joke with the world which has traditionally been shared only between comics – until now.

Bearing the same name as the film’s title, the origins of the joke in question are murky, so much so that any tales about how the joke started are regarded as mere urban legend by modern comics. The premise of the joke, however, is simple. It always has the same beginning and same ending (although not really, because people have riffed on those too!), but allows the teller to improvise the middle portion to the hilt with increasingly foul and shocking descriptions, until ultimately arriving at the non-sequitur punch line. In essence, the telling of “The Aristocrats” for a comedian is like a Jazz musician doing scat, or a guitarist breaking out with a 20 minute solo in the middle of a song. It’s all about improvisation, free-form, making the joke your own, and above all, one-upmanship. While some comedians just muddle through the telling, doubtless regurgitating elements from versions that they’d heard before, others truly shine, giving the generations-old joke a new spin. One comedian tells the joke spectacularly with the aid of a deck of playing cards, another puts on mime face and acts the entire joke out in silence. Another tells an uncharacteristically clean version, and then alternates by putting the filth in the punch line. Perhaps one of the funniest renditions, however, comes from clean-cut comedian Bob Saget who throws in some horrifically funny variations, only pausing long enough to laugh at himself and, perhaps in a fleeting moment of conscience, ask “What the fuck am I doing!?” Even the SOUTH PARK team gets involved, creating an animated short that features Cartman telling his rendition of the joke to an increasingly disgusted Stan, Kyle, and Kenny.

Ultimately, THE ARISTOCRATS is an opportunity for all involved to show off their own rendition, while also analyzing the nature and origins of the joke. Many of the comics involved agree that the joke itself actually sucks, but depending on who tells it, it can be comedic gold. Unfortunately, not everyone tells it well (I’m looking at you, Emo Phillips), and it’s these moments which occasionally drag the film down, as we listen to an unfunny rendering of a joke that was much better in the hands of the previous five comics. But Provenza and company deftly edit the whole thing together with quick cuts, multiple angles, high-low shots, and any other tricks they can think of to keep the visual pacing moving along as briskly as the narrative usually does.

Although one would think that hearing the same joke repeatedly in the course of 90 minutes would grow incredibly stale, only rarely is this the case. Provenza and company have tapped into an element of the professional comedians’ subculture and taken it mainstream. Horrendously filthy and vile with no taboo spared, THE ARISTOCRATS is boisterously funny and equally fascinating. Unless this film somehow dies a horrible death in the box office and in home video sales, it is guaranteed that you will hear someone attempting to tell “The Aristocrats” at a party within the coming year.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 07/14/05 07:58:33
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. For more in the 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest For more in the 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/19/11 Magic A great dissection on what makes a joke funny. Even if it's as crude as the Aristocrats. 4 stars
7/02/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess You know your a sick fuck when child-rape puts you in stitches 5 stars
8/24/06 AnnieG Not for the faint-of-heart (and avoid eating while you watch), but an amazing film. 4 stars
5/15/06 Jen Awesome. A great movie. 5 stars
4/17/06 Michael Garbage All The Way. Very Disappointing 1 stars
4/16/06 millersxing A crash course in scatological humor; come armed with a funny bone. 5 stars
3/04/06 Indrid Cold Original and good for a laugh or three. Don't watch with grandparents or children! 4 stars
3/02/06 Phil M. Aficionado Amusing and outside the box;wears out its welcome by the end;be in a mood to be grossed out 3 stars
2/08/06 bitch fuck you janet fucking prude bitch 5 stars
12/17/05 Marty Hilarious, smart and fearless. A new form of documentary. 5 stars
11/30/05 joey squids it was great...sarah silverman just jumped out of my ass! 5 stars
10/11/05 the untrained eye Not as funny as those who've seen it would like those who haven't believe 3 stars
9/14/05 Marty Funniest, smartes movie I've seen in ages. 5 stars
9/12/05 janet nave This film was so offensive and stupid that I left--UGH 1 stars
9/11/05 ajay it got a little slow at times, but there were tons of laughs. 4 stars
9/07/05 guy funny if you're still 13 2 stars
9/06/05 Martin Totaly disgusting and vulgar piece of crap 1 stars
8/30/05 Ayatolla of Rockinrolla The funniest movie I've seen in a while. Cartman RULES 5 stars
8/29/05 bullit16 Production values are lacking, but it's wet-your-pants funny 4 stars
8/23/05 bizenya great if you're interested in comedy as an art form. 4 stars
8/21/05 walter it's just hilarious and brilliant. period. 5 stars
4/16/05 Simon This is GENIUS. Funny as hell and even smarter than that. 5 stars
2/21/05 fiona just lovely... 5 stars
2/17/05 Jen SO GREAT. Awesome job by Provenza & Emery. 5 stars
2/02/05 Tammera Mack great movie 5 stars
2/01/05 Gladys Paradowski This is hilarious. Such a contrast to today's special effects monstrosities. 5 stars
2/01/05 Emery Emery I'm Biased. I edited the thing. 5 stars
1/30/05 Casey Tells good 4 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  29-Jul-2005 (NR)
  DVD: 24-Jan-2005



Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About Australia's Largest Movie Review Database.
Privacy Policy | HBS Inc. | |   

All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast