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George Carlin demonstrates his joke-telling skills in 
    The Aristocrats.
George Carlin demonstrates his joke-telling skills in The Aristocrats.

Did You Hear the One About ?

"You can tell right away our flick ain't for everyone," begins a letter by filmmaker Penn Jillette on the website for The Aristocrats, a documentary he helped make. "Our movie uses that four-letter word that begins with "C.' Our movie uses that word a lot.You know the word; it's the word you say and everyone is automatically sexually harassed. It's the word that adults call "The C- word' in front of other adults.When Aristocrats say the C-word in the movie, it's worse than just using the C-word. We don't use it as anger or as a mere ejaculation. The Aristocrats mean it as the real thing. And even worse, we're doing it just for fun. Just for a laugh. The movie's not for everyone."

But if gratuitous use of the C-word doesn't upset you, just wait. There's incest to deal with, aborted fetuses, bestiality, fecal consumption -- and that's just in the Bob Saget portion. The Aristocrats, which opens August 12 at the Mayan Theatre, is so vulgar, it was the first film to garner an NC-17 rating without even a hint of nudity. But here's the kicker: It's hilarious. Beautiful, even. A swan song for the dick joke, drawn out to epic proportions.

The film takes its name from an old vaudeville-era joke titled "The Aristocrats." Passed from comic to comic, it was never meant for the stage, but served instead as a way to make other comedians laugh -- the ultimate inside joke. The beauty of it is in its simple, almost innocent construction. A quick, intriguing premise and a rapid-fire, two-word punchline: "the Aristocrats." But it's the gooey center that's the best part. Each teller must create his own meat in this joke sandwich, and for years, comics have tried to outdo one another with the most vile, fucked-up and funny fillings. It's like a jazz tune for comedians, setting them free to spin their own perverse versions. Jillette's documentary proves this again and again as it captures 100 comedians -- from George Carlin to Jon Stewart -- telling the joke, all pushing the envelope of taste until it ruptures completely, leaking blood and shit all over the place. It's that bad -- and therefore, that good. The Aristocrats may not be for everyone, but for anyone wanting to see comedians at their most scandalously creative, it's a feast.


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