If you were teaching a class called Comedy 101 to prospective stand-up comics, what materials would you put on the required reading/viewing list?
Saw The Aristocrats tonight. Wow.
Pipeline gives the crux.
A documentary about a dirty joke. I thought both the idea and execution were
very smart. It's a real case study in comedy --- you take a joke, one that's
not very funny, one that's very offensive, one that has a long and soiled
tradition --- and look at what a bunch of skilled comedians do with it.
Don't buy any popcorn when you go to this movie. You won't eat it. For god's
sake, don't get butter on it.
I'm always drawn to explorations of form in art, and I think that's why I
enjoyed this movie so much. Yes, the content of the joke is horrendously
disgusting, more disgusting than anything I've ever actually heard anyone say
in real life, ever. And I have some foul-mouthed friends. But by the midpoint
or so of the movie, I was kind of tuning out the actual material and tuning
into the delivery, the body language, the style, the cadence, the climaxes (oh,
let's not think about that pun), the variations. And the really extra-offensive
It's Raymond Rousseau's Exercises in Style for stand-up comics. The joke is
repeatedly and rightly compared to jazz and musical improvisation. You've got
to start here, you've got to end there, but everything in between is up to you,
keeping in mind reference to the body of work that came before you.
The movie begins by introducing the joke and its history. In the middle, the
joke. In the final third, a questioning of whether the joke as traditionally
told is still offensive, and some explorations of new innovations in
offensivity that might be necessary to keep it fresh and fucking outrageous in
the modern Fear Factor world.
Though Pipeline suggests this as a good first date movie, for what liking or
not liking the movie can show you about a person, the fact that it may actually
kill any desire for sexual activity in anyone who sees it for at least 24
hours, possibly months, is reason to reconsider that idea.
For added entertainment, try seeing the movie at a crowded time and counting
the number of people who walk out. You should stay all the way through the
On the individual performances:
I have newfound respect for Gilbert Gottfried. I've never thought he was funny
before. But I'm guessing that the performance by him of the joke at the roast
of Hugh Heffner in New York was the impetus for this whole project. Amazing.
I think my favorite version was the joke told via a card trick. It's a good
example of how, just when you think the material is drying up and the film is
going to start dragging, they show something really innovative. In this way,
the structure of the film kind of mirrors the joke itself.
Another example of that is the version told in a Christopher Walken
impersonation. Was this Kevin Pollack? I think so.
And there's a mime. If you don't think that a mime can be dirtier than the
dirtiest joke you've ever heard, I've got news for you.
There's some great examples of comics playing off each other. The Smothers
Brothers are hilarious. The fact that they are in this film is also hilarious.
Eddie Izzard --- my favorite comedian of all time --- fails to complete a
single sentence or thought, I'm pretty sure.
On things to contemplate after the movie:
Running through friends in my mind and trying to anticipate whether they would
like or dislike the movie was a fun exercise. In the movie, they talk about the
joke being a mirror, and what the way it is told can tell you about the person
Notable absences. Many famous comedians were in the movie. Think about all the
ones who weren't. Is there a particular reason why there are only a couple of
black comedians present? Maybe it's the reason given by Chris Rock.
Like your friends list, go through the list of missing comics and think whether
they would tell the joke or not, how they would tell it, and whether they would
be in this film, barring concerns like money and scheduling.
If you were teaching a class, Comedy 101, as in how to be a stand-up comic,
what materials would you include on the reading/viewing list? I'd put this
movie, Comedian, and the Seinfeld episode on the subway where all four of them
are heading to different destinations. I'm thinking maybe Eddie Izzard's
Dressed to Kill.
What would you add, for things that teach you something about
the skills a comedian needs?