The standup comic (website) is also the editor of The Aristocrats

You edited The Aristocrats. What did they use to shoot it and what did you use to edit it? Did you use some sort of turnkey, freestanding Avid machine or did you use a desktop computer? (And, if it's the latter, what kind of software did you use?)

It was shot on three-chip, consumer-end Sony, Mini-DV cameras with no special lighting or sound. It's a true guerilla project. The guys handling the cameras ranged from (Aristocrats director Paul) Provenza and me to some dudes who had a lot of experience, to some who had absolutely no experience handling a camera. Penn Jillette interviewed most of the cast members and as Provenza was handling the camera he would jump into the process by helping Penn with the interview.

It was edited on my Macintosh system using Final Cut. It took a year-and-a-half to complete the editing. The shooting had been going on for two years prior to my getting on board as the editor. I was invited to edit the film after a meeting with Provenza and Penn on May 20, 2003. (Rick) Overton, (Bobby) Slayton, Jon Ross and Emo were among the first to be filmed in June 2001, three-and-a-half years ago.

The comedians were astonishing. There were no disappointments! Comic after comic donated his time to the project and delivered amazing performances and/or brilliant insight. Comedy business insiders were filmed. (Chris) Albrecht, CEO and president of HBO, Carrie Fisher, Allan Kershenbaum, the editorial staff of The Onion. There were many people who were not comedians by trade but had an intrinsic and personal understanding of comedy. These people were the glue that helped give the story a narrative and move it along. Drew Carey teaches us how the joke should be told and Geroge Carlin illustrates what elements should be added to the joke but by the end of the film, you know more about the craft and the artists than you ever wanted to know. And it's compelling.

In an earlier posting on this site, we speculated that the film may have been a hoax, that the joke was concocted, perhaps to serve as a framework for a documentary on standup. Is there any chance this is all a giant goof?

The film is not a mockumentary or a hoax. A hoax would never have been invited to compete in the Sundance Film Festival. Competition is very serious at Sundance and I can't imagine Sundance ever allowing a hoax to be one of the 16 films chosen to compete. The film is funny, edgy and very serious, all at the same time. As you know it fared very well at Sundance. (Editor's note: According to the Sundance Blog, the Aristocrats producers reached a deal with an outfit by the name of ThinkFilm, which hasn't even found time to include the film on its website, so wet is the ink on the contract. Note to Tommy James: ThinkFilm's CEO graduated from Syracuse!)

How can a feature-length film about a single joke sustain interest over its entire length?

The Aristocrats is an amazing look into the brilliance of the comedic mind. Yes, it's a documentary about a joke but what emerges is a story about genius. Think jazz. For years there have been jazz greats who reinterpret a piece of music and make it their own. Miles Davis, Slim Gaillard or John Coltrane could each do the same song yet they would all sound wildly different. Well, Provenza and Penn understood that comic genius has a lot in common with jazz. They realized that this film would be a perfect opportunity to illustrate how amazing and original each comic can be with essentially the exact same score.

Do you think it will have appeal outside of the comedy world?

This film reveals so much about the camaraderie of comics and the inner workings of the comic mind and how it plays on the various interpretations of the joke. It illustrates so much about what the comic finds funny and why. It lets us all peer through a crack in the green room door. It's a National Geographic style story of the American Comedian in his own habitat, interacting with other comics in a totally natural setting. The comic's world is like no other and The Aristocrats makes that world accessible to anyone who has the stomach for it.

One of the features being stressed in the marketing of this movie is a somewhat vague (so far) point about censorship. What are they talking about?

One of the most profound points that the film reveals is how far a comic must go to be shocked. To quote George Carlin, "Shock is just another word for surprise and a joke is about surprising someone." Since the comic has made his trade to perfect the art of creating and delivering jokes he understands the inner workings of the craft and like most other art forms the artist is robbed of the enjoyment of it through the process of perfecting it. You would be hard pressed to find a magician who is awed by other magicians. This is why the comedian must take shock to a level that would alienate most non-comics. The imagery and descriptions that appear in the film are far beyond offensive by conventional standards but not for the sake of shocking the viewer, but to entertain the entertainer. That is one very important point that The Aristocrats makes.

There will be many who cannot watch the Aristocrats. There will be people who say it's vile and filthy and while that's true more importantly it's an honest story about real people who love the craft and each other. It's a film about how they think and behave and create. The Aristocrats is an important film about comics. It's a story that has never been told. Those who make this film about free speech will be right to do so but I hope that everyone does not lose sight of the most important part of this film. It's honesty. HOME Back to the Top