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"A man walks into a talent agency..."
Comedians don't tell jokes. A proper joke seldom fits the format and atmosphere of stand-up comedy, and jokes end as soon as the audience knows the punchline.
One joke prevails over all others, however: The Aristocrats, a joke comedians keep back to tell each other (or themselves, as a warm-up act). The details of the joke change with every telling (and who tells it), but the basic structure remains the same no matter what:
1) A family act goes in to see a talent agent. While the agent doesn't want to hear them out (because he considers family acts too cute), the father finally convinces him to give them a chance.
2) The comedian telling the joke describes the family's act in as much detail as they prefer. Sometimes, the father tells the agent a blow-by-blow description of the act, while other times, the family performs it live for the agent. The act always involves the family performing shocking, heinous, risque, and possibly even illegal acts.
3) At the completion of the description, the shocked agent can only ask what the family calls their act. The father proudly replies, "The Aristocrats!"
In the past, the joke served as a form of satire about the upper class, but that take doesn't really apply these days; in modern times, it's not particularly funny as a joke anymore (since it's essentially a Shaggy Dog Story with a weak bit of irony as the punchline). The real point of the joke these days involves the description of the act itself: anyone who tells the joke must cross the line as many times and in as many directions as humanly possible. Most comedians traditionally invent the act on the spot as they tell the joke, which turns it into an improv comedy exercise. Standard ingredients for the description of the act include incest, paedophilia, rape, death, coprophilia and urophilia, bodily fluids, bestiality, and pretty much every vile sex act and fetish one can think of -- and every horrific act of violence, depravity, and otherwise immoral human behavior that nobody wants to think of.
A variation upon the joke leaves the act completely tame, but gives it a shockingly disgusting name.
In 2005, Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza made The Aristocrats, a documentary featuring about a hundred comedians telling their own version of joke and their own stories about the history of the joke. While the joke isn't funny (which they note during the film), the comedians talking about the joke are frequently hilarious.
We call it: The Tropes!
- Aristocrats Are Evil: If the punchline isn't taken as ironic, then it would be a straight example of this trope.
- Black Comedy Rape: In most retellings.
- Cluster F-Bomb
- Crosses the Line Twice: invoked
- Dead Baby Comedy
- The Movie
- Refuge in Audacity
- Refuge in Vulgarity
- Sarcasm Blind: In some versions, the disbelieving agent says "What the hell would you call an act like that?", meaning the punchline is this trope.
- Serial Escalation
- Shaggy Dog Story
Tropes specific to the movie:
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the version Gilbert Gottfried tells, he frequently recapped all the bodily fluids the family was covered in -- including blood, urine, and feces -- and only made a big deal out of the sweat.
- Beware the Nice Ones: How many discovered that Bob Saget ain't exactly a family friendly comedian despite evidence to the contrary.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Sarah Silverman's version, which places herself in the position of having been an Aristocrat, and eventually concluding that Joe Franklin raped her.
- Deconstructed Trope: Sarah Silverman's version is arguably a deconstruction of the joke itself, because being one of the people involved in performing the act would probably not be an enjoyable experience (unless one is a Nightmare Fetishist).
- Don't Explain the Joke: Completely inverted. The whole purpose of the movie is to explain it. Due to the simple foundation of the joke and the tremendous amount of adlibbing and embellishing involved making each telling different, the joke is not killed in the explanation.
- Headscratchers: Gilbert Gottfried points this out in explaining why the joke is funny:
And then the talent agent says, "That's awful. What do you call the act?" Like he wants to know, like the name's the important thing! I don't understand why he would say that. It doesn't matter what it's called! Because no one is gonna book this show! Where did these people find employment?! How did they develop this act?! What made them think this was entertaining?! I mean it's surprising they haven't... that they're not all in jail! I mean... and waiting... waiting for the death penalty! You can put people to death for what goes on in the best versions of this joke! Because you're probably saying, if you have any sense of human decency, "Well, why didn't he stop them the minute he saw the father unzipping his pants?!" And saying, "This is totally wrong! Call the cops! Something horrible's happening! This is a family who are raping their own children, and performing bestiality! Why, oh, why, is he allowing this to happen!" But that's a whole other story. But, anyway, he says, "What is it called?" because in a joke that's what happens. There's no legal system at all in play in a joke.
- Inversion: The inverted version of the joke is an inversion; the act is sedate, the title is profane.
- Precision F-Strike: One version inverts the joke: describing an extremely bland, sedate act... and then the interviewer asks "What do you call that act?" "The Cocksucking Motherfuckers."
- Self-Deprecation: Carrot Top -- "It's not a fucking prop act, is it?"
- Orphaned Punchline meets Memetic Mutation: Since the movie took it from an In Joke among comedians to something better known, "...the Aristocrats!" has gained status similar to "that's what she said" in some circles.
- The Voiceless: One version is told by a Steven Banks as a mime... in pantomime. The best part is he does it in public while wearing a lapel microphone.
- What Could Have Been: Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett were both originally going to have scenes, but had to opt out due to health issues. Both of them passed away before the film's release.
- Wild Mass Guessing: Billy Connolly muses that the guy explaining the act in the joke will go back to his family and only then explain what they have to do.
Different Variations of this joke:
- The ones in The Movie.
- That Guy With The Glasses did a nifty version, you can check it out.
Critic: ...Kay, I don't want to know what kind of act requires her to pull his pants down. *beat* But it's probably called THE ARISTOCRATS! *rimshot*
- Oancitizen of Brows Held High (quoting Phil Buni of The Bunny Perspective) compares the content of A Serbian Film to this joke. Instead of the usual punchline he delivers a very stern "Art!"
- Doug had earlier held a contest on Youtube for who could tell the best version of the joke. The winner was an overweight, bald, heavily tattooed man with the handle "Church of Dave," who describes an act climaxing in the souls of every evil person being raped by the souls of every good person, which is called Justice.
- More of a reference than an example, but a couple of times during some of the live episodes of What the Fuck Is Wrong With You, when Nash got to a particularly nasty news article, either he or one of the people in the live chat would yell out "The Aristocrats!" after reading it.
- Natalie Portman made an intentionally lame attempt at this joke on Saturday Night Live. Considering this is the same episode as her infamous rap video, one can't help but wonder what it would be like if she really gave it a go.
- Brian Berris subverts this trope. In his version, the act is incredibly tame and standard and the punch line is altered.
That's disgusting! (Pause) ...So how much for season tickets?