For anyone who enjoyed "The Aristocrats" (beyond just its unrelenting filth) as an invitation into the clubby world of comedy, Showtime's "The Green Room With Paul Provenza" breezily extends that experience. About as efficiently produced as a show can be, the series assembles a handful of comics -- with Provenza as the de facto ringmaster and only recurring player -- to riff on, well, pretty much any topic that arises. The edited half-hours doubtless had to discard a lot of dreck, but what emerges is frequently funny, occasionally uncomfortable and often offensive -- in short, precisely what it's intended to be.
"If you've ever been offended by anything, don't come in," Provenza -- who directed "Aristocrats" -- says as each installment starts, before leading viewers down a corridor to the small stage, complete with studio audience, where that week's discussion occurs.
The four comics participating with him rotate each week, but it's a fairly impressive roster, including Eddie Izzard, Drew Carey, Larry Miller and Reginald D. Hunter in the premiere.
Not surprisingly, the producers lead with the strongest of the half-dozen episodes made available, perhaps because it contains the most banter about the actual craft of comedy. Insights include how the best standups "ruin a generation of comics" -- Hunter says Richard Pryor "ruined three or four generations of black comics" -- while Izzard suggests that in live venues, "Music and comedy don't mix well."
Much like "The Aristocrats," the comics seem to revel in a freewheeling forum and utter absence of sacred cows, whether the give-and-take involves use of racial epithets, the Holocaust or abortion.
Some of the exchanges are awkward, but even that rawness feels invigorating -- and it's amusing to hear the petty gibes flung toward those comics who have hit it big (a la Carey), while others still struggle in clubs or, in Provenza's case, reminisce about playing cruise ships, where the gig existed strictly as crowd control by preventing a mass crush to the buffet.
There's also an interesting range of talent, including octogenarian Jonathan Winters, Pryor's daughter Rain and Martin Mull, who -- weighing in on whether he believes in God -- describes an agnostic as "an atheist who is in their late '60s."
Provenza is hardly a stern taskmaster in moderating the sessions, but he's essentially done his job simply by assembling everyone in the same room. And Showtime has found a clever way to milk the camaraderie among comics that "The Aristocrats" mined a little longer.