Penn Interview

Penn tells the story behind the dirtiest joke ever - The Aristocrats!

He's part of the magic duo Penn & Teller, but Penn Jillette has embarked on a whole new part of the entertainment world - producing a movie. He, along with his good friend and stand up comic, Paul Provenza, got 100 of some of the funniest comedians around to tell one of the biggest inside jokes in comedy today.

This film combines laughter, horror, sci-fi, kids - basically, you name it and it's in there.

We sat down with Penn and Paul to have them explain how the movie came to be.

I'll warn you first though, it's not for everyone, but you should be laughing all the way to the theater. Take a read:

How did you guys decide to do this?

Penn Jillette: Paul and I have been friends for years and we were in Las Vegas sitting at a table at The Peppermill –

Paul Provenza: (in a loud voice) The Peppermill!

Penn Jillette: Yeah, we should get free burgers for that! But we were talking about improvisation and what it truly means. We were saying that you hear musicians play the same notes in the same performance, but you never hear a comedian tell the same joke. And you leave and you think this comedian has told this fantastic joke and you're trying to recapture it but you never leave a musical performance and try to ‘do, da, do, da' and try to re-create that – and it really is the singer, not the song. And we wanted to see if that would come through in comedy and it's not a good idea. But we wanted to get a few of our friends to try this so we got a few mid-level consumer cameras and Final Cut Pro and spent four and a half years and started monkeying with it.

Can you dissect a joke or humor in general? Does it make it less funny?

Paul Provenza: I don't think so, I think you could know possibly everything there is to know about the physics of light and color and mixture and paints you're still not going to paint a Picasso. And that's what Eddie Gorodetsky says in the film – ‘That's the art of it, that's the craft of it cause that's the thing that you can't bottle. That's why this is such an interesting thing for most people in the movie because it's real simple, everyone knows it and everybody did something different and everybody did something that was unique to them.

Penn Jillette: What's interesting about this movie is comedy is something you can dissect while being funny, and a love of words is something you can talk about. So for that particular question, I refer you to Paul Riser where he analyzes the joke while making fun of the joke and that's something that comedy is very good at. But it's kind of nice in that you can tear comedy apart while doing comedy.

Was it easy to get everyone on board for this or were there some who said 'no?'

Penn Jillette: Studios are desperate and sad and studios have to engage talent; we called friends and that is the biggest difference in this movie. There were a lot of people who said ‘no' but there was no seduction; if someone said ‘no' we didn't push past a certain point. If they said ‘I'll call you next week' we were graceful and gave them their space. If you call up a friend and invite them to have coffee, you don't say ‘Why? Is it because I'm too loud? Is it because you don't trust me? Is it because you're too busy? Is it because you don't like coffee?

Paul Provenza: Wow, those are pretty good hypotheticals! (lots of laughter)

Penn Jillette (continued): You don't need an answer. And on this movie which I think makes it so, so good is that everyone's there because they want to be. And they might have different reasons for it, they might have loved the project or they might have had loyalty to us. It's not a very good idea on paper, but these people might have seen it differently or they said ‘Yeah, I'll give you a half hour to f*ck around. What do I have to lose by that.' And I think if we would have had muscle behind us and we would have been able to get some of the people you wanted, maybe people who you would have wanted to see in the movie that we just don't know, it might have made it less loving.

Was there anyone hard to convince?

Penn Jillette: We spent a little time on a few people because we knew they needed it explained a little more. Chris Rock said ‘yes' immediately, but then it took a long time because his schedule was so insane. There were also another 30-40 people who said ‘yes' unconditionally, like Lorne Michaels, Mike Nichols, Conan O'Brien, Bobcat Goldthwait were absolute yeses. But we'd be in LA for these pockets and windows of times, cause we both have other jobs, and we would call up these people, and it'd be kind of insulting. We called up Jason Alexander saying ‘We're at Phyllis Diller's house right now, we're ready to do this and we're finishing up. Are you somewhere near here?' And he said ‘I'd love to, but I'm out to lunch with Peter Tilden.' And we said ‘We'd love to have Pete Tilden! Can we come there?' That's not the way it's supposed to be run; that's the way fun is run.

Paul Provenza: It really was about what we could get, let's have a good time with people and make something out of what we get and it couldn't have been more pure and beautiful about that way. And also the random factor in it, the fact that a lot the people who we wanted couldn't do it, but a lot of people popped up at the last moment and we said we'd do it with them. There's no way we could have planned how it was going to be.

Are there any favorites of yours you can mention?

Penn Jillette: No, we can mention them; Taylor Negron is my favorite for an idea because where Provenza puts him in the movie, it goes from abstract to concrete because he's actually talking about sex and you never thought that would happen in the movie, Gilbert Gottfried is my favorite for pure skill, Wendy Liebman is my favorite for an intellectual idea and then just flips it around, Billy the Mime is my favorite for just taking it out of the movie. But what you're talking about here is collaboration through one person's eyes and the movie doesn't exist without Provenza. Provenza went through 140 hours and transcribed it all himself so Provenza has the entire 140 hours memorized and he sat for three months and put the ideas in his head. So what you're really seeing is two of the most important things in art which is an individual vision and a collaboration that really gets shown through. If I showed you the entire 140 hours, there's some things in there that are so funny and you would die laughing, but, believe me, it's a lot better filtered through Provenza's image. When we talked about it four and a half years ago, there were ideas and when we went through this project together and meeting these people and taping them, ideas came up and conversations came up and that's really what the movie is about.

What can we expect from the DVD release?

Paul Provenza: Oh, there'll definitely be a DVD release and there will be some extras on it, but we're looking to do something more elaborate. And if it looks like people are into interested enough, then we'll go ahead and do that

Penn Jillette: Yeah, you want to be held by the hand by Provenza when you're doing something like that. We had this dream to be successful in five years, and it would be called the Aristocrats project and it would just go on for like seven hours.

Are there lines in comedy this kind of comedy?

Penn Jillette: I think there were lines in Lenny Bruce's day, but now the people who are trying to sensor have almost no power. You can't shut up Eminem; there's no way you'll be able to shut up Eminem. The rappers have done something so important that all the Freedom Fighters and the ACLU couldn't do; 2 Live Crew went to jail over it, which is one of the saddest and most humiliating times in American history. But the rappers have taken this to a wonderful, wonderful place where you can't go back, and Hollywood is playing into it because Hollywood wants to be a martyr. America is a very free country, it's not red state or blue state. We all believe in freedom, and part of freedom is loving a dirty joke. You show me one 4th of July party where there wasn't somebody in the corner saying ‘Ok, these two guys walked into a bar' (laughter)

Paul Provenza: That whole thing is propaganda and it's not true. If you want Eminem records, you get him to multi-platinum sales, if you want pornography, it's a multi-billion dollar industry. Anything you want, you can get and no matter how long they try and fight it, it doesn't matter because people want it. And the truth is there is no right-wing swing, people are buying into that, studios are buying into that, and the truth is that's a bunch of bologna. Because, the proof is, when you check into a hotel, they give you the bible for free, but the porno is still $9.95 and that's all you need to know! (lots of laughter)

Did anyone ever count the number of 4-letter words?

Paul Provenza: Radar magazine, radar online did a piece called ‘The Aristocrats: Blow by Blow' and it gives you by category, in alphabetical order, from anal, oral, fisting, and any permutations of that and it is hilarious and we're really sorry we didn't think of doing that ourselves.

Penn Jillette: One of the people from the movie wrote to me asking if I saw the thing on Radar online and he said if you take it out of context, it's really not funny; I wrote back to him if you take it out of context, it's hysterical! (laughing) Just the idea, for someone who's seen the movie, it's a little funny, but for someone who hasn't seen the movie, it's like ‘Hmm, there's been a little buzz on this, let me do a search; oh, here's a list of everything – WHAT!' (lots of laughing)

Who's idea was it to put a microphone on the mime?

Penn Jillette: It was Rich Nathanson's idea and we're still laughing about that. Rich is a buddy of ours who showed up and we asked him to hold the camera for us for a couple hours. We've really shown that in this day and age, cameras are so easy to operate and anyone in the world can run a camera competently, except me! None of my footage of mine is used, because for some reason, I just shoot the back of Provenza's head.

Paul Provenza: But I'm so glad you noticed that (mic on the mime) because that's one of the best easter eggs in the movie for me. The other one is the blurring out of the breasts; I love it when people are like ‘What the? What?

Penn Jillette: Someone at a Q&A asked me once ‘Now why with all the obscenities in this movie would you have pixilated the breasts?' And I said ‘Ok, are there any other people here who didn't get the movie?' (lots of laughter)

Tell people why they should go see this movie.

Penn Jillette: They shouldn't. They should go see this movie if they really want. We've got a hundred guys in the back room, we're all telling dirty jokes and we're all laughing. If you wanna come by, come on by, we're all having a blast. There's no reason to see this that's important; yes, it's a beautiful movie and it's about how beautiful comedy is. It's about how much love; it's the only movie you will ever see that has no conflict, it has no violence, it has no hostility, it's just people loving each other. But that's not the reason to go; the reason to go is because it's really fun to laugh and it's really fun to feel free and it's really fun to get sent to the principal's office. If you have ever, in your life, been offended by a word, not a context, not an idea, not a feeling, not a motive, but just a word sitting in front of you, if that word has been said and you've been offended, don't come see this movie – you have zero chance of getting it and if you don't get it, we sure can't explain it to you in 87 minutes.

Paul Provenza: Yeah, it's not for everybody, and that's why we can hold our heads up high as well about releasing it unrated, because we are telling everybody that it's filled with vulgarity, full of words that people have problems with. We're telling everybody that, we're not rating it and a rating doesn't tell near anything we're telling you anyway.

Penn Jillette: Christopher Hitchens saw the movie. He told me ‘Don't let anyone call this movie offensive. Do not let anyone do that to happen.' Cause ‘offensive' is implying that the people in this movie are trying to make people uncomfortable and they're not – they're trying to get people to laugh. Offensive is when there's hate behind it, offensive is when you say ‘I hate these people, let's see if I can make them have a horrible time.' That's what ‘offensive' is; this is obscene and there's a big, big difference. And not that there aren't times where you want to be offensive, not that that's not a perfectly reasonable interaction, you just ain't listening.

The film is not rated, but as Penn said - if you want to laugh for 89 minutes, go see this movie! It's outrageously funny and disgustingly hilarious!

The Aristocrats opens in Los Angeles and New York July 29th, but look for it everywhere else in the next few weeks!