It was dictators and dirty jokes last night on Channel 4. First up was Saddam’s Tribe, a docu-drama dealing with the last few years of Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq as seen through the eyes of his daughter Raghad. Much moustache twirling ensued as Saddam (played with gusto by Stanley Townsend) and his revoting son Uday (Daniel Mays) murdered their way through the years, occasionally coming to blows over Uday’s compulsion to kill everyone around him. Saddam was suitably evil, even cackling like a pantomime villain at one stage, and the portrayal of his family as either layabouts, maniacs or naiive saints added to the whole ‘he’s behind you’ cartoon feel of the piece. At one stage a poor unfortunate had his tongue cut from his mouth, which was vile, and at another Saddam shoots a load of Rottweillers to teach his son a valuable lesson (the lesson being: if you shoot my brother and all his friends with an AK47 because he’s taken the piss out of your speech impediment, my boy, I’m going to damn-well shoot all your dogs in the face … you dig?). Saddam was also very forgiving of his runaway daughters … though he did have their husbands murdered – give with one hand, take away with the other. As is customary with biopics about dictators, we also learned that Saddam (or ‘Grandad’) was really nice to kids … even murderous lunatics have a soft underbelly, bless.
Speaking of evil dictators with a soft-spot for children, Hitler: The Comedy Years explored the ‘comedy career’ of Adolf Hitler over the past sixty years. This was one of those clip show/talking heads programmes with a smug voiceover, exploring how comedians have used Hitler and the Nazis in their acts since the war to the present day. We were told that Hitler, thanks to Allied propaganda, was derided during the war and turned into a figure of fun. The laughter died down a bit when the Russians walked into Auschwitz-Birkenau and didn’t really get going until Mel Brooks took the piss out of Mein Furher in 1968’s The Producers, arguing that ‘the Nazis had plenty of mileage out of the Jews – it’s about time the Jews had some mileage out of the Nazis’.
After Brooks broke the taboo the floodgates opened and we were presented with the various comedy incarnations of Herr Hitler from Python’s Minehead election sketch, to a porno Hitler, to Basil Fawlty’s reaction to his German guests, to Father Ted and the Chinese, to Big Train’s Hitler party sketch. I’m not entirely sure what the point of all this was, but I suppose it was entertaining in it’s way and was interesting in as much as it showed what Herr Flick looks like in real life – which is about twenty years younger than you’d expect and a damn sight camper if you can believe it.
Following on from all this Hitler-related hilarity was another pointless exercise. The Aristocrats is a film that explores the many many variations of what is universally acknowleged to be the dirtiest joke in the world. For those unfamilar with the joke it goes a little something like this:
A family walk into a talent agency, a father, mother, son, daughter and their dog. The father says to the talent agent,
“We’ve got a brand new act we think you should see.”
“Sorry,” says the talent agent, “I don’t represent family acts.”
“If you just let us show you our act,” replies the father, “I think you’ll represent us.”
“Oh alright,” the agent sighs, “What is it you do?”
There then follows a description of the filthiest family act ever devised. Paedophilia, bestiality, coprophillia, incest – whatever the comedian can throw in to make it as dirty and depraved as humanly possible. The joke ends with the family sweating, exhausted, covered in spunk, shit, piss and God-knows what else and the agent asking,
“What do you call yourselves?”
And that’s the fucking punchline. I’ve heard a version of this joke from a stand-up comedian acquaintance of mine that went on for forty-odd minutes and couldn’t believe how shit the punchline was when it finally reared it’s ugly head, so I wasn’t particulary enamoured with hearing it over and over again from various comedians – because that’s all The Aristocrats is. Comedian after comedian, from Billy Connolly to Richard Lewis, Eddie Izzard to Robin Williams, telling their own version of this crappy joke over and over again. It’s a joke hardly any of them tell on stage, using it instead to prove their wits at the art of improvisation amongst other stand-ups. Because of this, The Aristocrats feels like a party you’ve not been invited to. Its’s also interminably boring … unless you like watching famous people saying the same thing over and over again for two hours, that is.