‘Aristocrats’ pushes the limits | AspenTimes.com

‘Aristocrats’ pushes the limits

Stewart Oksenhorn
The colorfully lit Comedy Festival tent stands out at Wagner Park on Wednesday night. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

The bar to shock – and thus entertain – a comedian is far higher than it is for the average person. Sarah Silverman, explaining her attraction to off-color material, said a comedian like herself “needs two midgets and a jump rope” to get her off. Laughing, that is.

Paul Provenza’s “The Aristocrats” is a comic-to-comic exploration of comedy. And Provenza – with a cast of dozens, including George Carlin, Gilbert Gottfried, Phyllis Diller, Fred Willard, Harry Shearer, Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser and Silverman herself – throws in the midgets, the jump rope and every filthy, stomach-turning act and bodily fluid, sexual or scatological, one can imagine. “The Aristocrats” features no violence, nudity or even conflict. But if there is another way to offend on God’s green earth, it is to be found in the film.”The Aristocrats” is about a joke, a not especially funny, Vaudeville-era joke whose punch line serves as the film’s title. The joke is malleable enough to serve, as pointed out in the film, like a melody in jazz – something to be stretched, contorted and stamped with personal interpretation. And since the movie was made in backstages and offices, comic-to-comic, and not onstage in front of an audience, those interpretations become a game of who can out-gross who.

Assuming one can stand the imagery – my wife was out of there in 10 minutes, and I see her point – “The Aristocrats” is brilliant comedy. The more offbeat gags tended to work best. The paper cut-out kids from “South Park” telling the joke in sexual detail had me rolling on the floor. Snowmass Village magician and comedian Eric Mead’s version, using a deck of cards and sleight-of-hand to illustrate the joke, had the entire Isis Theater in stitches. Billy the Mime mimed the joke to great effect. Of the more conventional joke-tellers, George Carlin’s vivid gastrointestinal description and Gilbert Gottfried’s delivery at a Friar’s Club roast, weeks after 9/11, were most memorable. Against this content, the blacking-out of a brief nude breast is a great inside joke.

On another level, “The Aristocrats” works as a sociology experiment. At some point – for me, it was when Doug Stanhope tells the joke to his infant child – every audience member is going to question his tolerance for bad taste.”The Aristocrats” has been bought by Think Films, which will distribute it without a rating. It shows today, Saturday, Feb. 12, at 2:45 p.m. at the Isis Theater as part of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival’s Film Discovery Showcase.

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