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"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 said he had 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", and 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 to "rule the earth for a millennium."
- 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.