Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Aristocrats (2005)

So, after writing that post about Horror as Transgression the other day, I was thinking about one of the things I said - the part about horror being the best equipped genre to explore the transgression of moral codes (what with people running around murdering other people and all). And I was thinking, is that really true? Is horror really the best genre to explore transgression? Is there another genre that's well-poised to do that? And I thought, what about comedy? There are a lot of different styles of comedy, but one of them certainly involves drawing humor from the transgressing of taboos.

And then I wondered, so how come I'm not a bigger fan of comedy? Because I'll do fantasy, drama, documentary, action, sci-fi - you-name-it, pretty much. Except comedy. And the reason is partly because I'm a serious guy - I derive more entertainment from considering serious truths than I do laughing about something stupid. But another part of the reason is that I have a distinct style of humor, and it's not about doing or saying stupid things to make someone laugh. It's an intelligent, cynical sort of humor, where the humor derives from - get this - transgressing taboos and speaking uncomfortable truths that we're not supposed to be able to talk about.

That's why, I guess, I like Family Guy so much, because they really don't hold anything back, and aren't above making really tasteless jokes that poke fun exactly where fun needs to be poked. See, that's a strange irony - because I'm all about being serious - but as a skeptic, it is my firm belief that nothing should be held sacred in the realm of discourse. No subjects are taboo. That's the fundamental importance of the First Amendment - the freedom of speech. And jokes that take advantage of breaking taboos - it's almost like to hear those jokes, your whole mind and body sighs a breath of relief because it's pure human nature to be curious about what lies beyond that line that everybody else tells you you're not allowed to cross.

That's also probably why I like George Carlin's style of humor so much. I've never, like, sat down and watched comedians do stand-up on any kind of regular basis or anything because usually I don't much go for humor. But obviously George Carlin has a pretty solid reputation, cult or otherwise, and it's impossible for me to avoid having overheard some of his monologues here and there over the years, and I really like his style. It's intelligent, it's biting, and it's unforgiving, and that's just what I like. It's not people doing silly things - what I might be inclined to call "kiddy humor". It's funny because it's so, so true, and yet it's things that most people are afraid to say or even admit to themselves - and hearing somebody make those points so confidently thrills me!

So anyway, I remembered The Aristocrats, which I heard about around the time it came out (but otherwise casually ignored). The concept is downright fascinating - that there is this sort of "in-joke" among the comedian community, whereby in telling it, the comedian is required to improvise, and encouraged to concoct the most vile, most offensive stage act his mind can conjure. Now, it's a very easy criticism to consider this just the grandaddy of all fart jokes - but the point isn't simply to be disgusting - the point is that you can be disgusting, that there is no ceiling - no taboo, whatsoever. It's the ultimate celebration of free speech and that's why I love it.

I love it, but not because it's funny. Most of the time, it's not even that funny. For me, it's not about being funny. Even when it is funny. But whether it's humorous or scary, enticing or downright repulsive, it all depends on the joke-teller. But the mere fact of its existence, and what it stands for, and the fact that comedians are willing to "go there", to exercise free speech and break any and all taboos - the bigger the taboo, the better the joke - and understand and respect the need to be able to do that, is so incredibly refreshing in a world with powerful authorities ("aristocrats", if you will) hell-bent on censorship and 'cleaning up' speech to make it palatable to their own disgustingly sanitary sensibilities.

But I sense it's the sorta thing you either get, or you don't.

For those of you who have seen the movie, I think my favorite version of the joke was Jon Ross's, because I like the way he used symmetry and build-up, and the way that it seemed more calculated for effect rather than "let me just run off all the most disgusting things that come to mind". But I also liked the mime's version, and the card magician, both of which were very clever. The South Park version was good, too, though I can't quite put my finger on why. And the deadpan way that Sarah Silverman was willing to efface herself for the sake of the joke. And how Taylor Negron told it so compellingly, it didn't even sound like a joke. I love that this joke really brings out the personality of the joke teller; that's definitely one of its selling points, and why it's actually interesting to hear dozens of comedians tell their own versions of the joke (that are bound to be hit-or-miss depending on your individual taste), and why a documentary like this one works.

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