On Saturday night, Justin and I went out to see the new film, The Aristocrats, and I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a theatre full of people gasping for air and wetting themselves in quite the same way either.

First off, The Aristocrats is definitely not for everybody. Ostensibly, the film is a documentary about the history of the world’s dirtiest joke. (And trust me, it is filthy.) But the film is about so much more.

The film features interviews with about 70 different comedians and comedy writers, during which many of them tell the versions of the joke that they like to tell. And because the joke has been handed down from comedian to comedian since the Vaudeville days, there are lots of versions. But quickly you learn that it’s not about the different versions.

The joke has become something of an art form unto itself. The setup for the joke stays the same, and the punchline stays the same (mostly), but the dirtiest bits in the middle? That’s where the magic happens!

Truth told, the joke really isn’t all that funny, as they point out repeatedly in the movie. The humor, and the artistry, comes in the jazz-like improv riffs that comedians do to fill in the filthiness in the middle. For example, just about 10 minutes into the film, George Carlin begins telling what I think was one of the funniest renditions, made all the more hilarious because he was so clearly improvising. It was a glimpse into comedic genius as he let his mind wander down particularly vile and disgusting tangents and cul-de-sacs of depravity until he finally broke down laughing at his own disgustingness.

Now, you might think hearing a few dozen retellings of the world’s dirtiest joke would get boring after a bit, but actually what you get to see is an amazing insight into the minds of some of the world’s best comedians, and how they both practice, and appreciate, comedy as true art.

It may seem a strained example, but the closest analogy I can think of is this: Imagine one of those PBS shows with Sister Wendy, the art appreciation nun, where she spends 90 minutes analyzing two millennia of the Virgin Mary as represented in art. All the works are essentially the same theme, but many variations, done in many media, and each one a brilliant work of art in its own right conveying a different message.

Then imagine Sister Wendy hoisting her habit and taking a dump on stage, and you have a good beginning for the meat of the joke. ;-)

There was a bit of controversy when the film was first released, because it is unrated, and therefore several movie theatre chains will not carry it. And the AMC chain said No, just because they could. The original release of the film was only to a handful of “art-house” theatres, but as of this week it’s starting to show up at a few Multiplexes.

For those of you who have seen it, whose rendition was the best? I gotta say George Carlin… with Gilbert Gottfried a close second. Honorable Mention: Sarah Silverman. And Lee Marshall’s catholic priest joke during the credits made me drop my box of jujubees. :) Leave me some comments and tell me whose version you liked most!

Finally, if you can’t stand the suspense and want to hear one of the renditions of the joke, this one put together by the creators of South Park, featuring a highly offensive updated riff on the victims of 9/11, you can kick your kids out of the room, put on your headphones, and click here for Quicktime, or here for Windows Media Player. There’s also a “bleeped” montage version of the joke here entitled “Bleep.”