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Champion of "The Aristocrats"

Comedians compete with their versions of infamous filthy joke at the People's Improv Theater.

Last summer’s documentary “The Aristocrats” explored what may the filthiest joke in comedy and how comedians take to it like a jazz improvisation, injecting their own personalities and styles into the joke. Some of the comedians in the film turn it into a torrent of filth, while others put their own inventive spins on it.

The basic format of the joke is about a family -- father, mother, son and daughter -- pitching their act to a show business agent. The act consists of a variety of unspeakable things, made up by the comedian telling the joke. The joke closes with the lamest and most unfunny part, invariably the agent asking what the act is called, and being told, “The Aristocrats.”

As the documentary makes its way to DVD in late January (with a CD of various comedians’ version already about to hit stores this week), the People’s Improv Theater has been hosting an occasional show it calls the “Aristocontest,” in which a mix of improv, sketch and stand-up performers tell their versions of the joke.

The PIT’s show worked on a higher creative level and consistency than the comedians in the movie. All the performers did something wildly inventive with the joke, covering a broad range of styles that included everything from rap to drama, and from characterizations to political jokes (within the main joke).

Bob Wiltfong of the Daily Show was unrecognizable at first, dressed in character as a grandfather with a cane as he shuffled his way to the stage, then invited a girl from the audience to sit on his lap as he proceeded to tell the joke to her as though it was a bedtime story -- even as his grandfather character tried to steer his way around the dirtiest acts with nonsense euphemisms for private parts.

Kurt Braunohler turned the joke into something out of a CSI episode, seated in a spotlight as he played a sober and serious-voiced coroner (in some versions of the joke, one or more of the family members are killed) reciting what occurred from his autopsy report. The dramatic framing he used put a sicker and darker spin on the joke that didn’t even seem possible before.

Andres du Bouchet made his own mark on “The Aristocrats” by taking the point of view of the talent agent and telling the story, then gleefully setting up all sorts of devices for the mayhem to follow -- like a Bigfoot monster in a box, a full length mirror, body suits of cellophane and turkey basters, and images of fire to scare Bigfoot. Du Bouchet pulled humor out of turning the joke into a Rube Goldberg contraption of depravity.

Bob Powers, closing the show, had a tough task following these versions, but succeeded with boundless energy as he even worked some sick humor about New Orleans’ Katrina disaster into the proceedings. His version clocked in at about 15 minutes, the longest of the show.

This was the PIT’s fourth such “Aristocontest” show, and with this level of creativity, it could certainly continue as a recurring series.




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