Finally saw the movie today. It’s really more of a documentary than a performance film, there’s only a couple of examples of the joke being told the whole way through. It’s mostly comics talking about the joke and snippets of them performing it. There are a couple of standouts. Sarah Silverman is amazing, and there’s another woman who does an art school inspired one that is pretty good as well. George Carlin does a good job of giving insight into the joke. The joke was seemingly written for Gilbert Gotfreid, his rendition has forever changed my associations to the words Popeye and longshoremen.
At first, the joke operates purely on shock value. The acts described are beyond horrible and you can’t believe the images that they conjure up. The mediocre comics stay in the shock realm, the punch-line is anticlimactic and what is funny is the shocking acts that he thought of. The better comics take it beyond that. They too start off with shock, but as they go along, something changes. You can get anesthetized to descriptions of incest, bestiality, necrophilia, etc. What comes to the fore is the comics ability to string you along and tell a story. The key is to tell it in a way such that the comic doesn’t see what the big deal is about the acts. He can’t be offended, or even excited by these things. If it is delivered properly, the only indication that the comic knows how terrible the acts are is in the irony of the name of the act. In some ways, it tests the comic’s joke telling abilities to the max.
My favorite thing on the DVD is a variation on the joke. I don’t know the comedienne’s name, but she showed what a great delivery she has with jokes. She looks and sounds as sweet and nice as can be, and tells the entire thing in a soothing, wondrous voice.
“A man walks into a talent agent’s office and says, “I have a great act for you, you’ll love it!”
“What kind of act is it?”
“It’s a family act, there’s a mother, a father, Timmy an 11 year old son, and Suzie the 8 year old daughter eating dinner together. It’s a wonderful dinner and they all enjoy it very much. The maid comes out and starts to clear the dishes and the mother suggests that they retire into the drawing room for some after dinner fun.
In the drawing room, the mother braids Suzie’s beautiful blonde hair while the father and Timmy play chess. The maid comes out with strawberries and cream and they all have a wonderful dessert.”
“That sounds wonderful! What a nice act. What do you call it?
“The motherfucking cocksuckers.”
Obviously it’s a lame joke, but with the right delivery it’s laugh out loud funny. I don’t think a guy would ever get the same reaction as a sweet natured woman telling the joke. If you want to get a feel for the actual aristocrats joke, google south park aristocrats and see the clip from the movie. It’s actually pretty good, the funny part not so much being the joke itself but the reaction to it. Even the reaction of Cartman telling it is pretty funny. None of this is for the faint of heart or the easily offended, but if you want a glimpse into how a comic’s mind works and how a joke works, check out The Aristocrats.