By Peter Landau
Comedian Paul Provenza
and magician Penn Jillette
decided one fateful day to document the story of show business's filthiest joke, the Aristocrats. The Aristocrats
is the name of their movie, with over a hundred comics riffing in the most foul way. It's also the punch line to that infamous heehaw, but that won't ruin the telling, because with the Aristocrats joke getting there is more fun than the actual destination.
The set-up is simple: A guy walks into a talent agent's office and says he's got a great family act for him. He then goes on to describe the most heinous and obscene act of degradation imaginable. And that's the fun part, listening to funnymen from Robin Williams
to Chris Rock
try to out gross-out one another in setting up the punch line. What's the name of the act: The Aristocrats! Rim shot, or maybe rim job would be more appropriate in this context.
is directed by Provenza, who, with Jillette, took his digital camera and casually recorded his famous and funny friends ruminating on ribald humor. Provenza knows a thing or two about knee slapping. He's been a regular on The Tonight Show
and Late Show with David Letterman
, had his own sitcom called Pursuit of Happiness
, appeared on Empty Nest
, and played Lisa Whelchel
's boyfriend on The Facts of Life
. Now that is funny.
Most recently Provenza has been promoting The Aristocrats
, which caught Mr. Skin
's attention when it was released unrated. While there's no nudity in the film, Provenza was happy to discuss his own forays into the world of cinematic skin, how Anne Bancroft
ruined him as a young boy, his young introduction to the carnal carnival of Times Square, and an impassioned defense for the return of that hedonistic Eden from the Mickey Mouse stranglehold of Disney.
Why make a documentary about the world's dirtiest joke?
You know what, I fell back in love with comedy right about the time we started The Aristocrats
. The opportunity to work with Penn. We had this nutty idea and no idea how it would work out. It just spoke so loudly to me.
Are you proud that your movie is unrated even though there is no nudity in it whatsoever?
There is a little bit of pixilated nudity. I hope Mr. Skin puts that up. Kelly, the girl who that is, would be so thrilled. I'm proud of everything about this movie, all the crazy, nutty, hilarious things they say. And the fact there is no nudity in the movie.
In telling the Aristocrats joke, each comic perhaps unconsciously exposes a bit of themselves. When you tell the joke is it more scatological or sexual?
I go for the more sexual. The scat thing, even for me, is a little too puerile. It's just the icing on the cake [laughs]. There are certain versions of the joke where people have permutations that you need a protractor to figure out, and that gets me hot.
Here're some Mr. Skin questions. First, do you recall the first nudity you saw onscreen as a kid growing up?
You know, I don't remember the first, but I can tell you the most profound: The Graduate
. The movie theater in my neighborhood played Saturday matinees and I found I could hide behind the curtain and sneak into the adult films that they showed afterwards. That's how I got into The Graduate
. I had never seen anything like it at the time. It was a nude scene (Picture: 1
) that had a clandestine feel to it because I sneaked in, which made it way the fuck better.
Is Anne Bancroft your number-one sex symbol or do you have others?
I have a rather eclectic collection. Franka Potente
from Run Lola Run
--she is hot, I love her--Maggie Gyllenhaal
(Picture: 1 - 2 - 3
), and Jessica Lange
How about B-movie queens from more exploitative fare?
When it's too obvious it's no longer a turn-on for me. I like the ones that I might actually have a chance with. And I got to tell you, Johnny Depp
, without a doubt, is the sexiest actor that ever set foot in front of a camera, ever! And Gael Garc?Bernal
Maybe we can launch a Mrs. Skin for your eclectic tastes. You're a classically trained actor?
Yes, I am. The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts is very proud of me right now.
But do you have a soft spot in your heart for exploitation fare?
Oh, I love it, especially the Russ Meyer
films. Interestingly enough, when I was like fourteen or fifteen I used to go down to the Improv, before I started doing comedy, just to go and watch comedy all the time. So I spent a lot of time in Times Square and saw all that stuff back then and loved it.
Here's my theory about Disney in Times Square. There's got to be a place for that kind of thing, what the Deuce used to be. There's got to be a sexual playground. There just has to be. And until they put glory holes in Pirates of the Caribbean
, I don't think [Disney] belongs in Times Square. That's where people go for handjobs; they don't want it done with three fingers! Disney doesn't belong there. You understand what I'm saying? There's a lot of Disney everywhere. Why can't we have a little bit of Amsterdam in New York?
That whole thing about the percentage of adult content and other content that's not pornographic makes me insane. I actually went into one of those businesses and I pointed to a copy of Troop Beverly Hills
and I shouted, "How can you carry this filth! Have you no dignity or shame? What's wrong with you people?"