THUMBS DOWN DOCUMENTARY REVIEW RATING
THE ARISTOCRATS is a failed documentary for many reasons, and I’ll point out the most valid ones in a second. First, though, let me explain what the film is about. It’s about a joke, a very old joke, that has mutated and grown as it’s been passed down from its vaudevillian roots. And it started out going something like this: A man walks into a talent agent’s office and says, "I’ve got a great new act, let me show you." So the guy brings in his wife and kids and they all poop on the floor, then fling themselves into the excrement, flying across the room, then pop up on the other side with their arms and heads held high and say "Ta-Da!" The talent agent then says, "Gee, I don’t know. What’s your act called?" And the guy says, "The Aristocrats."
So that’s the initial framework for the joke. But as times changed and comedy grew, so did the joke. It was basically an inside joke that is just now being let out for some air by these insider comedians who’ve known about it for years, and now the joke has been taken to completely new levels of rude, crude, and socially unacceptable telling. Beastiality, incest, and pornographic tellings abound, but the punch line — "The Aristocrats" — remains unchanged.
The format of the documentary is a smattering and haphazard pasting together of comedians staring into the camera (not on-stage, mind you) and belting out various incarnations of the joke. Most go beyond crude which, so we’re told, is supposed to make the punch-line more effective. But I found these long expletive passages boring and I yawned more than I laughed.
Another problem with the documentary was its target audience. It really isn’t for the general population; it’s more for comedians themselves. Historically, it’s an interesting take on how comedy has altered over the years by focusing on this one joke, but doing a historical recounting of comedy by telling one joke multiple times is overkill and not going to engage many people (at least many people I know).
The final nail in the coffin was that The Aristocrats was trying to be both a serious documentary about comedic changes, while also attempting to be funny. I will say that, on some level, this works because it IS interesting to see the permutations the joke has gone through, but it’s not funny. And that’s what I was expecting when I sat down to watch this. My expectations were that I’d laugh my butt off with the line-up of comedic talent listed in the movie (George Carlin, Drew Carey, Stephen Wright, Lewis Black, Andy Dick, Gilbert Gottfried, Chris Rock, and the list goes on and on), but the laughs were short in coming.
So if you’re looking for a raucously funny film to watch, this ain’t it.