Nasty As They Wanna Be

Columbus Alive | August 18, 2005
The premise sounds deadly—scores of comedians all telling the same joke over and over—but co-directors Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette turn their documentary into an essay exploring the principle of “the singer and not the song,” as Jillette puts it. It also takes slight, semi-scholarly detours to discuss the nature of comedy, show business and the coarseness of our culture.

And it dwells on incest, bestiality and scatology, with more dick jokes per minute than the lowest lowbrow Hollywood comedy could ever get away with.

The bill alone should guarantee attendance (it’s almost easier to list who isn’t featured than who is). Suffice it to say that no matter who you are, chances are at least 10 of your favorite comedians will appear. From those old enough to have guest-starred on Scooby-Doo in the ’70s to a couple of infants who play straight men to their fathers; from those you’ve probably never heard of, to those you’d think are too big for a bit part in this chorus line, like Jon Stewart, who declines to tell the joke because he only works from teleprompters these days, and Chris Rock, who says the joke is more of a white thing, since black comics have always worked dirty.

It can be a very dirty joke (particularly when told by Bob Saget), but it’s flexible enough that it can be told in almost any style: card trick, slapstick, ventriloquism, daredevil juggling, animation, a surprisingly funny mime act (why don’t more mimes work blue?) and even as an extended impersonation of Christopher Walken.

Provenza and Jillette piece together the history of the rarely publicly told joke; comedians often tell it to impress one another, trying to come up with the longest, most elaborate or most vulgar version. Personally, I’ll declare this contest as a three-way tie between the editorial staff of The Onion, Sarah Silverman and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, all of whom artfully dance across the few taboo lines left to cross in our culture: race, religion, rape and… ah, why spoil the surprise?

Just go ahead and wallow in the filth. There is a deeper meaning under all the bodily fluids—or enough deeper meaning to make it feel like you’re doing more than listening to a dirty joke. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

Columbus Alive

Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
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