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Paul Provenza Discusses "The Aristocrats"

By Fred Topel

Page 2

Paul Provenza on Including People Who Don't Tell the Joke in "The Aristocrats:" “Well, Jon Stewart made the choice not to tell the joke, which is fine. There were people who said, ‘I’m happy to do this and this sounds like a really cool project, but you’ll never get me to tell this joke. It’s just too disgusting and I don’t really want to do it.’

And we would say, ‘Okay, that’s fine,’ because in any group of comedians, you put more than two comedians in a room together, you’ll never get anybody to agree on everything. And that’s perfect and that’s part of what being in that world is like is, that everybody has their own particular unique perspectives on everything.

We would say, ‘You don’t have to tell the joke. Talk about the joke.’ And that’s what Jon did. He talked about the joke and it was very, very funny. Everybody was compromised to a certain degree because of time constraints, but the DVD will have excerpts that aren’t in the movie of what it was like just hanging out with these people. You’ll see Jon being really funny without ever telling the joke. There were quite a few people like that actually in the movie, and that has just as much validity as anything else.

There were people who chose not to tell the joke and in doing so actually told the joke in their style. Jake Johansson comes to mind. Jake basically talked about why he is the wrong person to tell this joke and in doing that, he essentially tells a version of the joke without actually telling the joke. And if you know Jake’s work at all, it seems like a well honed Jake Johansson routine because that’s the way he works. He never actually approaches anything on the nose. He always comes around the back. There were quite a few people who don’t actually tell the joke but in their own way do tell the joke.”

On What Makes the Joke Dirtier in Different Incarnations: “That’s sort of the thrust of the movie, the main premise of the movie being it’s the singer, not the song. That it’s not the joke, it’s what people do with it and it’s what they bring to it. It’s what their individual artistry does with it. That’s the answer.

Eddie Gorodetsky put it really funny. He said, ‘The interesting thing about this joke is that what is considered offensive is such a variable that if you were in a room full of a Jews and Muslims, you could just have people eating pork.’ Who knew what it would be? He said, ‘For me, the most offensive thing would be to see Nancy Reagan in an open mouthed kiss.’ So everybody’s standards are different and every context is different.”

Is Part of That That the Bare Bones Version of the Joke Isn’t Funny? “That’s part of it. It depends on who you are really. We get back to the essence of the exercise right there. It depends on who you are. I could listen to Gilbert Gottfried read the phone book and be in stitches. That’s the whole point.

But again, I also have to take issue that the joke is funny. The joke itself, even in its basest form, is a classic structure. It is possibly the most simple comic structure which is just pure irony. It’s a 180 degree switch is what it is. It’s known as a switch, which is you go very far in one direction and the punchline goes all way in the other direction. And anybody who knows anything about comedy or has an instinct for what’s funny can see it coming a mile away. You know that it’s going to be 180 degrees in the other direction.

…There is an inherent structure to it which is pure comedy. It may not be funny because you’re savvy to what’s funny and you can sort of see it coming. It may not be funny because ‘The Aristocrats’ doesn’t necessarily resonate. Who knows why it’s funny or not funny? That’s an aesthetic. But the joke itself is a perfectly crafted joke, as Chris Albrecht, the president of HBO says in the movie, ‘It is a perfectly crafted joke.’ It’s got a two word punch line, the middle is wide open, it’s 180 degrees in the opposite direction. It’s a perfectly crafted joke. But having said that, is ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ which is a perfectly crafted song, as interesting or as compelling or as beautiful as a Mozart symphony?”

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