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Interview with Paul Provenza

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Paul Provenza is an edgy stand-up comic and serious actor (he portrayed Abbie Hoffman in the stage version of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial). He is co-producer (with Penn Jillette) and director of *The Aristocrats,* a documentary about a joke that involves incest, scatology and bestiality, as told and analyzed by 100 comedians, each with their own filthy version.

It was the hottest ticket at the Sundance Festival. Originally, the plan was to play only in New York and Los Angeles, but this past weekend it opened around the country. I was interviewed for it at a very funky Venice Beach hotel called The Cadillac, which reveals the larger significance of the joke, the human desire to embellish reality for the sake of image. I interviewed Provenza on opening night of *The Aristocrats.*

Q. What question would you like to be asked that no journalist or reporter or interviewer has asked you yet?

A. "How big is your cock?"

Q. Virtually all the people who have interviewed you, you can't use the language of the film that they're interviewing you about. What temptations have you had?

A. Well, you know, the funny thing is that both Penn and I will actually say that stuff anyway. And it's really funny because they don't get mad at us, because in this context we're clearly not trying to annoy anybody. It's just kind of the nature of Hollywood.

Q. And you give the professional bleepers more jobs.

A. There's this comedian in the U.K., he did the funniest thing. He was talking about doing stand-up in America on TV. He said, "It's weird, what's that about?" The next time I went back, I cursed in all the appropriate places and they bleeped me out, but the joke was on them because I said cunt in Morse Code.

Q. All those 95-year-old veterans are gonna appreciate that.

A. The best interview that we had, I think, was with Elvis Mitchell. And it was because not once did he mention or ask anything about obscenity. He just went right past that, and that was so refreshing. I said to him afterward, "You know, I just gotta tell you, you're the first one who's never talked about the obscenity in any way, shape or form. Why?" And he said, "Why would I waste my time talking about that? I thought it was really great."

And that's one of the things a lot of people don't get -- which is in some ways good and some ways bad. In some ways it's good because a lot of people are funny and this could be kind of a breath of fresh air, thumbing your nose at the PC doctrine, the FCC and all that sort of stuff, and they're getting behind the fact that somebody's out there not playing by the rules. And you know what, no one's getting hurt.

Q. And you have that warning tagline -- "No Nudity. No Violence. Unapeakable Obscenity" -- in the ads. So nobody can say "I didn't know."

A. Exactly. Although, there was one story we heard about a family that went with their kids to see a sneak preview in Florida somewhere, and they apparently thought they were gonna see the Aristo*cats.* So here's the best part. It was a half an hour before they left. They had faith in the dancing and singing cats.

Q. Maybe they thought it would be part of the act.

A. We don't want that to happen. We don't want people blindsided. We're telling everybody, "Hey, the language can get little rough there, come on in with us if you want." So we figure, let's be right up front about it, and some people are under the impression that that's a sort of marketing thing that we're saying, "Hey, it's filthy, come and see our filthy movie." That's really not our motivation. That tagline was actually Penn's idea. He said, "I would really like this said on everything, because it says everything you need to know, and it's not that bludgeon over the head of 'Hey, come see our dirty movie.'" To me and Penn there's so much more going on than the dirty joke. In fact, we didn't even choose this joke because it was dirty, that was secondary, we chose it because of the structure and the history of it and the fact that if you're gonna say to somebody we'll do this joke, imagine that, so many people know it right away, but the fact that it's dirty really had nothing to do with it.

Q. And there aren't that many jokes that allow that level of improvisation.

A. The fact that it was a dirty joke would raise other issues, and it would be interesting and would create an interesting dynamic between the movie and the audience, and also in the audience amongst themselves. But the other thing that was really cool about being a filthy joke was that people really had to let their guards down, that you can't go to these places and still be concerned about your image. And so in an effort to really get behind the scenes and really get free and loose, this joke kind of makes it impossible not to be.

Q. You could always supply masks at the box office.

A. Or those headsets that bleep it out for you. You know that new company called Clean-Film -- I can't wait for them to get their hands on this one. They'd be selling like little tiny pieces of tape, here you go.

Q. Just the title, and that's it. I'm waiting for the pope: "Even worse than Harry Potter."

A. We've already made it onto a few Christian Enemies websites.

Q. That's great, because it just calls attention to rebel Christians who'd want to see it. It can't hurt, it can only help.

A. That's right. A lot of people sitting there taking notes. Reporters always ask me how it's gonna play in the red states. Well, first of all, everybody tells dirty jokes -- there's nothing political about that, really -- I mean, doctors, lawyers, artists, professors, astrophysicists, truckdrivers, Nascar drivers, firemen, everybody tells dirty jokes, so there really is no division, but the thing that's really frustrating is that I don't believe that there's red states and blue states.

What we have is 50 purple states, it's only a couple of thousand people in every state that makes it red or blue, and in a country of 300 million, each of those is statistically insignificant. So what we really have is 50 purple states. There's no culture war, there's just as many people in Tennessee that are on one side of this equation as there are on the other side of the equation. And this notion that these are red states, basically keeps putting forward the propaganda that there's some sort of mandate. This is a crock of shit.

It's the same issue I have with the Christian Fundamentalists. It's the press, really, that's responsible for artists, distributors, networks, film studios, vendors, producers, censoring themselves, because they are all under the impression that "Oh, you can't put this out there, oh, you can't do that." You know what? it's a crock of shit, because Eminem's still selling mega-platinum, porn is still a jillion-dollar industry, and this nonsense is just being propagated as a reality, and it's not at all.

The proof in that is very simple, which is that when you check into a hotel room it's still $9.95 to see a titty movie but they *give* you the Bible for free, because that's what people think of, they'll pay for the titties and they don't wanna pay for the Bible.

Q. That sums it up.

A. In America it works on supply and demand, that's all you need to know. The profit share. The whole Janet Jackson tit thing, we already know that 200 people wrote thousands of letters. Meanwhile, the rest of the country was Tivo-ing back and forth like crazy. You know, put titties on TV and then see how many complain as opposed to how many get upset when you try to take those things away again.

Q. I once asked Ann Coulter what labels she would substitute for conservative and liberal. She answered, "Americans and cowards."

A. By the way, I wrestled her to the ground in the Green Room of *Politically Incorrect.*

Q. You mean literally?

A. Literally. We had a wrestling match on the ground.

Q. Who proposed it?

A. It just kinda happened. I looked at her and I said, "You said the stupidest thing I have ever heard in my life," and then she asked me for a cigarette and I gave it to her, and then she said something else stupid, and I took the cigarette back and I said, "I'm not giving you anything anymore, you're too stupid," and then we went for it. Hilarious. She had actually said on camera that China, all of these Asian cultures, never gave the world anything of any value until it got Christianity. And I said that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard any human being say.

Q. And then what's she say?

A. "It's true." She fell to her knees, her skirt was up to her ass. That's why Bush and his fundamentalist cronies are really so dangerous, because they're really not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. They really genuinely believe this shit, and that's what's really scary. That's worse. Penn believes that she's crafting a character, he believes that she doesn't believe any of it.

Q. In order to deceive others, you have to deceive yourself. How many hours did you shoot for *The Aristocrats?*

A. We shot 140 hours, and had to edit it down to 90 minutes.

Q. Who would you like to have included that you didn't?

A. Buddy Hackett. Rodney Dangerfield. Johnny Carson.

Q. So, last question: How big *is* your cock?

A. Stand back!

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Paul Krassner publishes the Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster, available at paulkrassner.com.