"The Aristocrats" (also called "The Debonaires" or "The Sophisticates" in some tellings) is a taboo-defying off-color joke that has been told by numerous stand-up comedians since the vaudeville era.
The joke was the subject of a 2005 documentary film of the same name. It received publicity when it was used by Gilbert Gottfried during the Friars' Club roast of Hugh Hefner in September 2001.
This joke almost always has these elements—alternative versions may change this form.
Setup: A family act going in to see a talent agent; either the whole family or just one family member (usually the father).
The agent asks what they do.
If the whole family is present, the act is performed for the agent; otherwise it is described.
Act: It is described in as much detail as the teller prefers.
While most tellings follow one of a few basic forms, the description of the act is meant to be an ad lib.
Traditionally, the description is tasteless, and ribald. The goal is to significantly transgress social norms. Taboo acts such as incest, rape, child sexual abuse, coprophilia, coprophagia, bestiality, necrophilia and murder are common themes.
Punch line: The shocked (or intrigued) agent asks what the act is called, and the proud answer (sometimes delivered with a flourish) is: "The Aristocrats!"
History in print
In 2005, Jackie Martling's website cited "The Aristocrats" as appearing on page 987 of Gershon Legman's Rationale of the Dirty Joke, Second Series, published in 1975. Legman retells the joke, complete with its traditional vaudevillian flourishes, although he does not attribute the joke to vaudeville roots. Instead, Legman learned the joke from a young man who grew up in a broken home.
In a 2005 interview, comedian Barry Cryer claims to have heard the joke "fifty years ago".
In 2010, comedian singer/songwriter Mark Silverman did a musical telling of the joke on his third album titled "Perverse Milkman Art." Track number five is simply titled "The Aristocrats" The song lyrics follow the traditional set up, and punchline, but go so far as to include Satan being summoned from Hell to wage a new world war and, "rule the earth for a millennium."
A film called The Aristocrats premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. It was co-produced by Penn Jillette, Matthew Maguire, and Paul Provenza; directed by Provenza; and edited by Emery Emery. It's based on hours of digital video taken over several years, featuring comedians and others in the know talking about and telling their versions of the joke. "The Aristocrats" was Johnny Carson's favorite joke. Because of this, and because Carson died days after the film was screened at Sundance, Penn Jillette decided to dedicate this film to his memory. The Aristocrats features performances and commentary from some of Hollywood's biggest power players in comedy, TV and film. Included in the film is a mostly unedited recording of Gottfried's Friar's Club performance from 2001, which had been deleted from the TV broadcast.
Rumors cited in this film suggest that Chevy Chase used to hold parties at which the goal was to tell the joke for an hour, without repeating any of the acts contained in its performance. Jillette states in the movie that no one has ever been able to listen to Chase for an hour.
Fusion Music Band
The power trio named The Aristocrats (band) was formed at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention in Southern California on January of 2011 when these three accomplished, talented, inspiring and virtuoso musicians met for one scheduled performance at NAMM the day before the event after the original guitarist became a late dropout. The performance was so electrical that the formation of the band became instantaneous by the clear realization of the musicians and the overwhelming reaction of the audience, similar to Led Zeppelin's first rehearsal together.
The three members are known individually in the music scene for their virtuosity and boundary pushing musicianship as well as for their efforts to expand the knowledge of music through education: Guthrie Govan (Guitar), Bryan Beller (Bass Guitar) and Marco Minnemann (Drums). Despite living apart from each other they recorded their first record together in only eight days, three months after their first performance. With song titles for their instrumentals like "Sweaty Knockers" and "Boing! I'm in the Back" The Aristocrats became the name of the band when Guthrie Govan realized the similarity of the humor of their song titles to the joke of the same name.
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