‘IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT PEOPLE DEFECATING ON EACH OTHER'
Heard the one about the comedian who made a film about the filthiest joke ever? PAUL PROVENZA tells Brian Donaldson the foul story of The Aristocrats.
aste and decency. It‘s hard to know what those
words mean any more. In an age when people
die in massive natural disasters or terrorist atrocities (state-sponsored or the other kind). it‘s probably proper to wait maybe 24 hours before starting to work out a punchline and firing it onto the internet or throwing it across the barroom floor/playground/office. Only in America though would they give more than a few days grace in the aftermath of something like ‘)/I I. Then. a joke told by a manic. shouty comic Gilbert Gottfried about not being able to get a direct flight to (‘alifornia because planes were all making unscheduled stops at the Iimpire State Building brought about boos and whistles from an exclusive crowd at a dinner for Hugh Hefner. There was only one way he could save the day. And that was to tell the comedy in-joke known as ‘the Aristocrats‘.
What could have remained an insider deal was now out in the open and even comics who had never heard the mythical gag were now summoned into this secret society. One such comic was Paul Proven/a (pictured). who was so entranced by the legend that he went out and made a documentary about it. ‘I remember hanging out with a bunch of comedians. swapping a bunch of jokes and ideas and once the subject came
up. everyone was like. “Hey. this guy's never heard of
the Aristocratsl" Iiveryone gathered round. as close as one could imagine to an initiation of sorts.‘
Ten minutes into the documentary. when a guy who appears to have been around when the Vaudeville era began. tells an early version of the joke. you might
wonder what the fuss is all about. The joke is neither especially amusing nor particularly nasty. But throughout the following hour and a half we hear how the ‘the Aristocrats‘ mushroomed into a cloud of lilth and depravity down the decades as each comedian tries to get one over their rival with everything from surreal twists of fate to splashing entrails. which will quite literally make you want to gag. Among those adding their own vulgar versions are the likes of Billy Connolly. Whoopi Goldberg. Iiddie Izzard. (‘hris Rock. Iiric Idle and Robin Williams while the Sour/I Park crew and a guy called Billy the Mime add their own ingenious takes. If you had been really ‘Iucky‘. you may even have caught a live impromptu stage version during the Fringe at the Underbelly.
But rather than just show the technical mechanics of a joke‘s progressioil/regression down the years. the film is also there to show how we question where those boundaries of taste and decency lie. probing what is acceptable now and comparing it with attitudes of the good old days. ‘Taylor Negron puts it in a greater cultural context that it‘s not about people defecating on each other or having incest with their kids.’ deadpans Provenza. ‘It‘s about sexuality. He basically takes the joke and nails it down to the issue of “why can‘t boys be with boys and girls be with girls'.’ Why can‘t you go to orgies?" It's just so interesting because all of a sudden it‘s not abstract; it‘s very real.~
The Aristocrats is on selected release from Fri 9 Sep. See review, page 42.
THE BEST FILM & DVD RELEASES
* Vengeance Is Mine Yet again the best ﬁlm of this fortnight is over 20 years old. Japanese filmmaker Shohei lmamura’s chilling 1979 revenge drama set the template for much that followed in its wake, and hows your chance to see it on the big screen for the first time ever in the UK. See review, page 40. Fi/mhouse, Edinburgh (Fri 9-Mon 12 Sep only) and GFT, Glasgow (Wed 14 and Thu 15 Sep only).
* The Aristocrats Paul Provenza’s jazzy. funny. cleverly structured documentary film sets out to detail the history of the world’s ﬁlthiest joke - the one only told amongst comedians. See preview, left and review. page 42. Selected release.
* Wolf Creek Rather ﬁne and sparse Australian outback horror film from new kid on the block Greg McLean. See interview and review. page 41. Selected release.
=l= Five This is the ﬁrst proper Scottish screening of Abbas Kiarostami’s stunning and lyrical tribute to his hero Yasujiro Ozu. Fi/mhouse, Edinburgh (Tue 13—Thu 75 Sep only).
* Whisky Quirky tales from an Uruguayan sock factory. It's really much better than it sounds. GFIZ Glasgow (Mon 19—Thu 22 Sep only).
* Stan Brakhage Great selection of short films by the late great US avant garde ﬁlmmaker. Part of the Experimenta season. Fi/mhouse, Edinburgh (Sun 17 and Wed 14 Sep only).
* An Autumn Tale The great 1998 seasonal fable from the great Eric Rohmer is ﬁnally available on DVD. Artificial Eye (out now).
8 2’? 80;) 9005) THE LIST 39