Thursday, August 17, 2006

More Fair-y Tales - Homer's Show

Last weekend Trophy Wife and I jumped in the car and headed out to our not so annual pilgrimage to The Sussex County Fair. We met up with my buddy Paul and his lovely wife and their cute little baby boy. Since Paul is a big shot in the local media, and a former radio coworker of mine, I tagged along while he went off to cover the Talent Show. While he shot some footage in the hours before the show, I struck up a conversation with an old friend of mine - the talent agent who actually books the acts.

Homer IV, or as the kids call him on their MySpace sites… H4... is the third generation in his family to book talent at The Sussex County Fair‘s talent show. His great grandfather Homer I actually won the lumberjack competition in the early days of The Fair. His grandfather Homer II started the talent show many years back, and after a brief conversion to Judaism, his dad Moshe Yankel was in charge and now its Homer IV at the controls. The stories involving the talent show always impressed me from the days that I worked in local radio in Northwest NJ in the early 1990’s.

While we were chatting a few hours prior to the big show, a middle age man who resembled John Cleese with the manic urgency of Matthew Lesko breathlessly barged in carrying an unusually large suitcase… “Excuse me”, he exclaimed…”but we traveled a long distance by bus and I was hoping.. just hoping I would be allowed to audition for tonight’s Talent Show”. Homer IV was used to last minute audition requests, but there was something about this guy’s passion and desperate eagerness that intrigued him yet scared him. Homer happened to know that a local teen baton twirler was possibly going to drop out of the talent show after she sustained a hand injury and rumor had it, it wasn’t because she was milking cows with the 4h club.. “Homer IV“, said the gentleman, “My family and I have an act that is so unusual we want to be considered for any open slot you might still have“. Homer IV had heard all the stories already, but he leaned forward, took a puff on his corn cob pipe and we listened intently to what this well traveled man had to say..

“Y’see” said the gentleman to Homer IV as he drew in a deep breath and started his pitch, “my family and I have fine tuned our act and we think you will like it…. Its my wife, my paw and my five daughters…. and our ventriloquism act,…. We have puppets and we try our very best not to move our lips…but we always end up moving ’em anyway… oh and some of us are mimes too. We all play a game... Kind of like a cross between “Hollywood Squares” and “Make Me Laugh“ but there isn’t any tic tac toe involved.…The object of the game is my puppet Yasser tries to make the other puppets laugh. Plus, we also have a Paul LoDuca puppet… he takes bets from the audience on which puppet will win plus he flirts with my 19 year old daughter using double entendres involving the words hand and puppet. That’s not be confused with my 17 year old daughter who usually ends up at every county fair naked behind the counter with some toothless Carny worker who has spent 14 straight hours at the water pistol horse race.”

Oh, there was more…“Maw’s puppet is Wayland Flowers….. my wife's puppet is Shari Lewis... get it.. puppets of dead puppetteers.... Oh, and my daughter’s puppet is Brooke Astor. That works out well because they are mime ventriloquists and they can’t throw their voices too well anyway… There is also a Fidel Castro puppet…and he tends to win. . But of course he is competing against 2 dead puppets… and the Castro puppet doesn’t laugh much anyway… So after the Paul LoDuca puppet takes the bets… Yasser Puppet comes out and he reads Doonesbury cartoons to the other puppets but with a Russian accent, and a bit of a lisp… . Like Yaakov Smirnoff.. And with a Mel Tillis stammer.. With a little Mel Brooks thrown in…

“Then we go to the next round… and that’s where it gets kind of uh sexy. If nobody laughs, Yasser has to smear apple jam on the other puppets feet and then he has to lick the puppet’s toes until they giggle…. If that doesn’t work… we unscrew their heads and switch them around to the other puppets…gosh you oughta see Fidel Castro’s head on Brooke Astor’s body… its like a transvestite! And if those damn puppets still don’t giggle, I prick the other puppeteers with little pins until they make those Goddamn puppets laugh. Then we come out take a bow and throw the dead puppets into the audience.. But my brother and sister, who happen to be married to each other actually stand in the audience so they can retrieve the puppets for our next show…”

At this point Homer IV’s corn cob pipe was pretty much out of his mouth as his jaw had dropped open hearing about this family…. He straightened up, collected his thoughts and looked at the gentleman and asked…. “And what pray tell do you call this act?”

Ok folks… did you catch on yet? Today’s column is about ….“The Aristocrats”... the oddest documentary of 2005.

Here’s an old joke.. a man goes on a prison tour and as he is being shown around he hears one inmate yell out 30.. and all the other prisoners start laughing.. Another prisoner yells out 47.. and they all laugh.. a 3rd one yells out 225 and they all laugh.  The man on the tour asks the tour guide why all the prisoners keep laughing at these numbers.  "well", explains the tour guide, "these people have been stuck here in prison for so many years that they know each and every joke known to mankind.  Therefore, each joke is simply assigned a number so instead of going to the trouble of telling the whole joke.. the inmates simply yell out the number".  

Moments later a prisoner yells out 325.  And there’s dead silence.  The tourist asks the guide.. "Why didnt anybody laugh"... "oh".. said the tour guide.. ."that's Griffin.. he just doesnt know how to tell a joke!"  

With that in mind.. take "The Aristocrats", a lame-o joke used for years by comedians as a mental exercise to keep their storytelling skills sharp.  The premise is the same... A man walks into a talent agency and tells the talent agent his family has a great act.... the end of the joke is always... What is this act called.. and the person tells the talent agent.. "the aristocrats".  Its the body of the joke that is always different as comedians throw in any kind of combination of body fluids, sexual position and animal sexual position combined with animal body fluids and vice versa to make it extremely unlikely that such a crazed act would ever be called "The Aristrocrats".  In the context of the movie.. you know what’s coming.. but in the context of this blog by segueing into it from a SC Fair anecdote you may not have immediately realized where the Homer story was going.  Its all about context.. 100 short movies about a comedian telling the same joke is funny.. One movie with 100 comedians telling the joke can get a bit cumbersome despite some nifty direction and well directed camerawork.  

One of the best parts of the film appears near the end of the movie, and maybe should be where the movie should have started.  Comedy Central is filming The Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner just weeks after 9-11 and Gilbert Gottfried is trying to be funny but his jokes are falling flat.  So he calls an audible and goes for the Aristocrats joke.. but in the process of telling it (it may not have been as popular back then) cracks up the audience with his incredible delivery.  From there on.. about 100 different comedians tell the same joke with some others notably Robin Williams and Drew Carey telling a different much funnier joke about a piano player at a jazz bar. Oddly enough in the closing credits Comedy Central is thanked for providing that clip and another one featuring the cast of South Park telling the joke.. Yet both scenes are too vulgar to have ever seen the light of day on Comedy Central.  

Some of the comedians versions are downright hysterical.  I’m not a big fan of Judy Gold.. (She went to high school with my buddy Mike), but while pregnant, she tells an outrageous version from the perspective of a pregnant woman involving her unborn fetus.  Likewise Sarah Silverman... the object of lust for every nice Jewish boy (except the married ones like myself) injects herself into the joke and injects talk show legend Joe Franklin into herself... (Poor Joe doesn’t seem to be in on the joke and probably thinks Sarah Silverman is the matriarch of the Silverman hotel in the Catskills.. kind of like Jennie Grossinger from Grossinger’s... hey its time for Simon Says with Lou Goldstein!) Bob Saget who is really a vulgar comedian despite his Full House fame has an amusing take on it and Jon Ross is hysterical telling the joke in a men’s room.  Reportedly comedy legends Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett had to bow out of the movie because they were too ill when it was being filmed.  

Nonetheless, you have to give the producers credit for originality and for being able to maintain the pace for more than an hour. It also gives you insight into what makes comedians click as they attempt to fill that act with the most vulgar ideas they can think of.  I thought about the idea for this column early on in the film and prayed that nobody would inject puppets into it...  There is a mime .. and his performance is un-mime-ingly amusing, considering he is acting out graphic sexual movements as innocent people stroll by on a beach boardwalk.  

On a scale of 1 to 4 bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom.. The Aristocrats gets 2 and a half bladders which will be removed from the performers daughters, mixed with a pile of horse poopie, passed in a liquidy goo by the horse that won the Lou Dobbs Grand Prix at last weeks Sussex County Fair, and then mixed with lemonade from the lemonade buckets that the carny workers used as their own personal urinal.. the contents of which is mixed in with a funnel cake and served a la mode to some unsuspecting snobby ventriloquist mime.. Now how aristocratic can you get?

1 comment:

Neil said...

I enjoyed The Aristocrats a lot... but about 2/3 of the way through, I started to nod off. Mostly a very good film, it could have been cut down a little.