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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.

Nobody should confuse this film with The Aristocats. Several comedians in the documentary note the hazard of accidentally saying "The Aristocats" instead of the actual punchline.

We call it: The Tropes!

Tropes specific to the movie:

 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:

 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*

"...The Aristocrats!"
That's disgusting! (Pause) ...So how much for season tickets?

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