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"The Aristocrats" (also known as "The Debonaires" or "The Sophisticates" in some tellings) is an exceptionally transgressive (taboo-defying) dirty joke that has been told by numerous stand-up comedians since the vaudeville era. Over time it has evolved from a clichéd staple of vaudevillian humor into a postmodern anti-joke. Steven Wright has likened it to a secret handshake among comedians, and it is seen as something of a game in which those who tell it try to top each other in terms of shock value. It is thought of as a badge of honor among expert comedians and is notoriously hard to perform successfully. It is rarely told the same way twice, often improvised.
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.
Traditional format 
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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.
- 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!"
- The intention of the punch line is in the reading of the joke as a satirical comment on the decadence of the aristocracy.
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, Vol. 2, 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."
2005 film 
A film called The Aristocrats premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Co-produced by Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza, directed by Provenza and edited by Emery Emery, the film is 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.
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. Penn Jillette notes in the movie that no one has ever been able to listen to Chevy for an hour.
See also 
External links