“The Aristocrats!” the punchline to an old myth of a joke that few people knew or had even heard of, became an instant classic film 10 years ago this month when Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette convinced dozens of their famous funny friends to tell their own distinctly dirty and unique versions of the joke.
Fellow comedy journalist Julie Seabaugh takes us back down memory lane in a new oral history of The Aristocrats for Desert Companion (which only begs for an actual oral version for us to listen to, right?!?). Seabaugh talked with Jillette and Provenza, cameraman Emery Emery, Gilbert Gottfried, Doug Stanhope, Bob Saget, Wendy Liebman, Sarah Silverman, The Amazing Johnathan, Carrot Top, and Jeff Ross.
Reading what went into making the movie — and comedians reminiscing about how Provenza and Jillette convinced them to participate, with the late great George Carlin providing a vital piece of advice in addition to his own footage — creates great foreplay and excitement should you decide to watch The Aristocrats again with fresh eyes today.
Sadly, Provenza said that’s tougher to pull off on the big screen in 2015 for the 10th anniversary. “The company doesn’t exist, the rights are tied up in this legal quagmire until they expire,” Provenza told Seabaugh. “We got about three or four, maybe more, offers to do a 10-year anniversary re-release. We can’t sell it to Netflix. We can’t do any foreign sales. Deals to re-release it were coming out of the woodwork. There were five in the U.S. alone that we just couldn’t engage in, no matter what the deals were. And there were a couple foreign deals, too. A DVD release in Australia. Easily half a dozen to 10 possibilities to do something else with it. But we can’t do anything.”
Bob Saget offers some great perspective on the joke’s place in comedy, and within show business itself.
“I’m not so sure many of the people who told the joke knew the actual purpose of the joke. Or the point behind the telling of the joke. The fact that it was a wannabe showbiz family so desperate to make it in the business that they would do anything in front of an agent to get a career — well, that was the point of the joke. And it’s kind of where we are now as a society. It’s why people are wannabe celebrities — a career that requires no skills except wearing a radio microphone while they shoot a reality show which allows people to hear all of their most private life moments, as they try to reach for what they imagined to be ‘the brass ring.'”