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10 Years Later, 'The Aristocrats' Still Tests The Limits Of Free Speech

Ten years ago, Las Vegas resident Penn Jillette and comedian Paul Provenza released the movie, “The Aristocrats.”

And if you didn’t see it, you missed a movie that comedians – and the shocked audience who saw it – still chuckle over a decade later.

The movie is easy to describe.

Comedians tell a joke that begins with a family auditioning before a talent agent. They do their act. And at the end, the stunned agent asks what they call themselves. Why, “The Aristocrats.” They answer.

The irony of that answer comes from the fact that the act is positively disgusting, but the name Aristocrats connotes sophistication.

There’s a lot more to the movie, though.

Provenza and Julie Seabaugh, who writes about comedy professional, joined KNPR's State of Nevada to talk about the movie's legacy.

"We shone a very bright light on a very tiny little piece of minutia in the comedy world," Provenza said. "I mean, it's not like some comedy illuminate is going to be hunting us down for revealing the secrets." 

According to Provenza, he and Jillette would call friends to see if they were interested in being part of the project, but no one really believed it would be a film, until they talked to the legendary George Carlin. 

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"I knew when we had George Carlin in the can we could had least have something that could be structured," Provenza explained.

Carlin told the filmmakers he had been thinking about the joke for years and had notebooks on it.

Provenza said that the film and the joke is really about "the singer not the song."

Similar to jazz musicians taking well-know songs and putting their own twist on it, the film tells more about the comedian doing the joke than the joke itself.

"Through the single prism of this one joke, and the film that Paul and Penn made, you can see the artistry that every comedian is trying to express," writer Julie Seabaugh said

From Desert Companion: One Big Joke


Paul Provenza, comedian, co-producer of The Aristocrats; Julie Seabaugh, journalist

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KNPR's State of Nevada
Apr 23, 2007

Sam Kinison