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"The Aristocrats" is a taboo-defying off-color joke that has been told by numerous stand-up comedians since the vaudeville era. It relates the story of a family trying to get an agent to book their stage act, which is revealed to be remarkably vulgar and offensive in nature, with the punch line revealing that they incongruously bill themselves as "The Aristocrats". When told to audiences who know the punch line, the joke's humor depends on the described outrageousness of the family act.
Because the objective of the joke is its transgressive content, it is most often told privately. It came to wider public attention when it was told by Gilbert Gottfried during the Friars' Club roast of Hugh Hefner, a few days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. It was the subject of a 2005 documentary film of the same name by Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette.
This joke almost always has these elements—alternative versions may change this form.
- Setup: A family act (or a representative, usually the male head of household) goes in to see a talent agent about booking their act. The agent asks what their act consists of.
- Act: If the whole family is present, the act is performed for the agent; otherwise it is described, in as much detail as the teller prefers, typically ad lib. Traditionally, the description is tasteless and ribald. The goal is to significantly transgress social norms. Taboo acts such as racism, animal cruelty, incest, rape, child sexual abuse, coprophilia, coprophagia, bestiality, necrophilia, cannibalism, 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!" Some versions have the agent then asking, "So – Is that all ya' got?"
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 said he had heard the joke "fifty years ago".
- "Hilarious 'Aristocrats' gets the joke". TODAY.com. Retrieved 2020-07-19.
- "One big joke". Nevada Public Radio. Retrieved 2020-07-19.
- Czajkowski, Elise (2012-08-15). "Diving Deep Into the Dirtiest Joke Ever in 'The Aristocrats'". Vulture. Retrieved 2020-07-19.
- Rosenberg, Joyce (August 2010). "The Aristocrats". The Psychoanalytic Review. 97 (4): 695–700. doi:10.1521/prev.2010.97.4.695. ISSN 0033-2836.
- Fox, Jesse David (2019-09-09). "After a 9/11 Joke Bombed, Gilbert Gottfried Told the Dirtiest Joke in Comedy". Vulture. Retrieved 2020-07-19.
- Martling, Jackie (2005). ""The Aristocrats" from Rationale Of The Dirty Joke, An Analysis Of Sexual Humor Series Two: No Laughing Matter". Archived from the original on 2005-12-24. Retrieved 2007-03-26.
- Logan, Brian (2005-09-02). "The verdict". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-03-26.