The Aristocrats…

    Remind me to never doubt the genius of Gilbert
Gottfreid again. I have not seen the film yet, but the description of
his section in the film made me cringe and laugh. I gotta see it for
myself. In case you haven’t heard, “The Aristocrats” is a documentary
about the biggest in joke that comedians have. It is filthy,
disgusting, and can be hilarious. It is rarely told in public because
of its vileness, but when it is, it can be a doozy. It’s a subtle
thing, much like the Philip Glass composition of silence (I think it’s
called 15 minutes or something like that), the audience’s reaction is
far more interesting than the joke itself. The combination of shock value and the unwitting participation (you and your reaction are the joke) is what makes this joke work. Google “The Aristocrats” and get an idea of how it works. Be prepared to be offended…

The joke has also been used to rattle rookie comedians right before they go on stage. Here’s anonther example of that kind of hazing I found on another website.

” Joke-teller: So this [insert racial slur of your choice] goes into the baker’s, and asks for a loaf of bread. And the baker says “Brown or white?”. And the [racial slur] says, “It doesn’t matter – I’m on my bike.”

At this point everyone except the mark laughs loud and long and waits for the mark to join in. At that moment, everyone should stop laughing:

Joke-teller: [to the mark] Why are you laughing? It’s not a joke.” A comedian and the audience members in the know can have the same kind of fun and laughs when the aristocrat joke is sprung on them.

    I first heard about this joke when I read a piece in
the NY Times about GIlbert Gottfried’s performance of it at the Friar’s
Club. They were roasting Hugh Hefner several weeks after 9/11 and there
was a weird vibe in the air. Gottfreid’s reaction to this was the most
edgy, problematic, and heroic that I can think of. He started off with
some planes flying into buildings jokes. When the inevitable boos came
raining down on him, he launched into “The Aristocrats.” He threw their indignation right back at them. The audience
was horrified at his telling of this unbelievably vile, unholy, unnatural
joke. Appearently it was all they could do to gasp at his first line and then sit there dumbstruck at the torrent of vileness that Gottfreid was able to improvise. His fellow comedians on the other hand were literally falling on
the floor with laughter because they couldn’t believe that he had the
balls to tell it to an audience. Not only was he saying it to an
audience, but to a nervous, unsettled, hostile one. By all accounts, his rendition embodied the best of improvisation, delivery, and shock value, all the things that are necessary for the joke to be effective. The reviewer for
the NY Times said that it was a blow to the gut, it was Gottfreid
ramming medicine down the throat to cure the  post 9/11 gloom. The
joke itself isn’t funny, but it was needed, it (in the reviewer’s mind)
made it OK to laugh again in NYC.  It also shows how great
comedians work. They go to places that you hate, are afraid of, or are
disgusted with, and make you laugh at them. You also get to see how the
comedian improvises, what motivates him and how far he is willing to go
for the reaction.
    The film builds on this and shows 100 different
comedians telling the history and technique of the joke along with
their own versions of course. I will rent this as soon as it comes out
on DVD.


3 replies on “The Aristocrats…”


I heard that the filthiest comedian by far in the film was Bob Sagget, you know, the wonder bread guy from Full House and AFV. Hearing that is enough reason for me to seek out the film.


Re: Aristocrats…

I keep hearing that his version is beyond filthy, that it’s on another level. I dunno if I really want to hear it, some of the ones I’ve heard (like the south park one) are pretty unsettleing. I do wish we could have heard people like Lenny Bruce or Buddy Hackett tell it, I’m sure it would be transcendent… It also occurs to me that people that wonder why Andrew Dice Clay wasn’t in the film don’t really get the joke at all.


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