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It’s an old vaudeville story: An actor, nearly penniless and struggling to feed his family, walks into a talent agent’s office with a new pitch.
“My whole family is involved in this one,” the actor says.
“I don’t represent family acts,” the agent replies. But the performer is insistent, he won’t leave the agent’s office without telling the rep all about his latest endeavor.
What follows is a indeterminately long description of filth, bestiality, incest, excretion, and bodily harm. The whole thing is better known as “The Aristocrats,” a formerly inside joke between comedians but made famous by Paul Provenza‘s 2005 documentary of the same name.
For practicality’s sake, “The Aristocrats” is generally told instead of performed. But Cherry Red Productions, the self-professed “Only Theater Company Devoted to Smut” is going out with several types of bangs. The company is producing its final show Aug. 27 with a live staging of The Aristocrats.
“The dirtiest joke of all time,” the promotional material reads, “is about to get fucked in the ass.”
Beyond the core group of actors playing the filthy family, Cherry Red artistic director Ian Allen just added 33 more performers to his Aristocrats, bringing the cast to 41 for a version of the joke Allen hopes to stretch to nearly an hour.
Allen has tapped District of Columbia Arts Center executive director B Stanley to narrate the familial perversions to be performed by Tony Greenberg, Yasmin Tuazon, Joe Pindelski, and Judith Baicich, along with Melissa-Leigh Bustamante as the pooch in this shaggiest of shaggy dog stories. The rest of the cast, Allen says, has a range of skills they will add to the show.
“We’re currently writing the script to fit the actors we’ve cast based on certain skills and talent,” Allen says.
If the “rehearsal video” Cherry Red has posted on its website is any indication (not safe for most workplaces), one cast member’s skill is setting fire to his genitals. Arts Desk asked Allen if the video was something he pulled of the Internet. No, he replied. The clip is indeed one of his actors attempting to torch his own scrotum before Allen can be heard off-screen admonishing the actor, whose name was withheld for obvious reasons, for enduring less than three seconds of fire. By showtime, Allen hopes to double the length of that gag:
“We think we can keep his balls on fire for at least five or six seconds,” he says.
Over Cherry Red’s 16-year history, the company earned admiration for “pungent, sex-drenched, nekkidness-obsessed theatrical tomfoolery that often turns out to have an actual point,” as City Paper theater critic Trey Graham wrote in his review of last December’s Wife Swappers. That show, about newbies at a swingers party, was a hedonistic morality tale that exposed just about every body part on its way to tittering just about every critic in town. But Allen, who now lives in New York, decided 16 years was enough.
“As a company we’ve staged most bodily fluids and sex acts and many acts of violence,” he says. “Honestly, how long does it need to go on?”
The concept of closing out Cherry Red’s run with the biggest, bawdiest joke around has been kicking around Cherry Red’s creative team for nearly a year. So for its last act, the company will go out with the “biggest, loudest, and filthiest bang” it can muster, Allen says.
The Aristocrats dates back to the vaudeville era as a secret handshake between comedians. It blasted into the public lexicon in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Not long after 9/11, the New York Friars Club roasted Hugh Hefner. One of the evenings roasters was Gilbert Gottfried, whose routine tanked with an ill-timed joke about a plane flying into the Empire State Building. With the audience incensed, Gottfried pulled one last dirty trick to save his time at the dais. The affair was later recounted by The New York Observer and included in Provenza’s film.
“I’m a huge fan of Gottfried and I’ve seen his standup act more times than I care to admit,” Allen says.
But Gottfried has only ever told the joke; Allen is going to actually perform it.
“We have shit planned that’ll be disgusting and incredible.”
Saturday, Aug. 27 at 8:30 and 11 p.m., at the Warehouse Theater, 645 New York Avenue NW. $29-49.