The Aristocrats (now beyond a joke in so many ways)

Posted by Tim Ireland at July 20, 2005

Category: Teh Interwebs

This entry was posted on
Wednesday, July 20th, 2005
10:52 am and is filed
under Teh Interwebs.

Vaudeville came to us before the turn of the last century, and it has left a legacy that, well… I’m not sure how to describe it…

A tradition grew out of it whereby comedians would try to out-do each other by telling the sickest and/or most demented joke possible within a set framework. This meme is named after the requisite punchline; The Aristocrats.The joke always begins with a family walking into a talent agency. There’s always a father, mother, son and/or daughter. And perhaps a dog. Or a marmoset. Whatever players are required. The father says to the talent agent; “We have a really incredible act to show you.”The agent says; “Sorry, I don’t represent family acts. They’re too cute.”But the family convinces him to watch the act anyway.The AristocratsFrom here the comedian begins to describe the most perverse, bizarre and/or shocking act imaginable, using a sickening or absurd level of detail. The aim is to shock, confuse or bewilder the (usually private) audience.The act ends with a big “Tah-dah!” moment, followed by the agent sitting there in shock. Finally, he manages to say; “That’s one hell of an act. What do you call it?”And the father says; “The Aristocrats!”Now Penn and Teller have brought us a movie version, featuring many, many comedians telling their own versions of this same beyond-a-joke. Take a look at the cast list and you might begin to fathom exactly what you’re in for should you choose to see it. If you get the chance, that is. CNN reports here that it’s been turned down by at least one chain of theatres. The film’s rating alone may also limit its distribution…New York Times – A Joke Too Blue to Repeat, and the Movie That Dares to Tell It, Repeatedly: Mr. Jillette; the comedian Paul Provenza, who directed; and the distributor, Think Film, have decided to release “The Aristocrats” at the end of July without any rating, a decision that will probably make the film even more difficult to sell, since some moviegoers may be wary of an unrated film. But they preferred that option to releasing “The Aristocrats” with an NC-17 rating, which is what the producers figure it would get if submitted to the ratings board – a voluntary step for distributors like Think that are not attached to one of the seven major studios. NC-17 ratings are almost always reserved for films with explicit sexual images. Yet “The Aristocrats” features nothing more than talking heads. Still, the “funny human beings” in the film – famous comedians from Robin Williams to Chris Rock to Phyllis Diller to Jon Stewart – are not merely swearing, as Mr. Jillette said. They’re telling their versions of a joke that involves every imaginable form of sexual perversion in graphic detail, including but not limited to incest, scatology, bestiality and sadism. Rabelais would blush. The official site is at, but you can also view the trailer and see some details here at THINKFilm. The official site has a competition challenging you to submit your own retelling in video or animation. (Which is a ‘good’ thing, as the joke completely fails to come across as text. Though I’m curious to see how this comic project turns out.)If you want a taste of what’s to come, then find a quiet moment to yourself and check out this totally not-safe-for-work and deeply offensive retelling by the South Park team. (That’s a Quicktime link, BTW. There’s also an article by LNR that contains a link to a WMV version here.)If you haven’t seen this clip or if you haven’t experienced a telling of The Aristocrats, then there’s nothing further I can say to prepare you. So I won’t bother.Final tangent: Oh dear. How unfortunate.

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