Few comedians truly tell jokes. A proper joke seldom fits the format and atmosphere of stand-up comedy, and jokes end as soon as the audience knows the punchline.
One joke prevails over all others, however: The Aristocrats, a joke comedians keep back to tell each other (or themselves, as a warm-up act). The details of the joke change with every telling (and who tells it), but the basic structure remains the same no matter what:
1) A family act goes in to see a talent agent. While the agent doesn't want to hear them out (because he considers family acts too cute), the father finally convinces him to give them a chance.
2) The comedian telling the joke describes the family's act in as much detail as they prefer. Sometimes, the father tells the agent a blow-by-blow description of the act, while other times, the family performs it live for the agent. The act always involves the family performing shocking, heinous, risqué, disgusting, and possibly even illegal acts.
3) At the completion of the description, the shocked agent can only ask what the family calls their act. The father proudly replies, "The Aristocrats!"
In the past, the joke served as a form of satire about the upper class, but that take doesn't really apply these days; in modern times, it's not particularly funny as a joke anymore (since it's essentially a "Shaggy Dog" Story with a weak bit of irony as the punchline). The real point of the joke these days involves the description of the act itself: anyone who tells the joke must cross the line as many times and in as many directions as humanly possible. Most comedians traditionally invent the act on the spot as they tell the joke, which turns it into an improv comedy exercise. Standard ingredients for the description of the act include incest, paedophilia, rape, death, necrophilia, coprophilia and urophilia note , bodily fluids, bestiality, and pretty much every vile sex act and fetish one can think of — and every horrific act of violence, depravity, and otherwise immoral human behavior that nobody wants to think of. Extra risqué versions will also try to work in offensive political themes on top of everything, such as racism, blasphemy, sexism, homophobia, etc. (like the family insisting on including blackface and minstrel songs into the act).
A variation upon the joke leaves the act completely tame, but gives it a shockingly disgusting name.
We call it: The Tropes!
- Aristocrats Are Evil: If the punchline isn't taken as ironic, then it would be a straight example of this trope.
- Black Comedy Rape: In most retellings.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Given the amount of depravity inherent in the body of the joke, this is to be expected. Gilbert Gottfried, however, takes it Up to Eleven, as he does with most of his material.
- Crosses the Line Twice: Invoked.
- Sarcasm-Blind: In some versions, the disbelieving agent says "What the hell would you call an act like that?", meaning the punchline is this trope.
- Serial Escalation: It's common to engage in this to ramp up the shock factor even more.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: With the "decadent aristocrats" angle pretty well discredited, the joke has become this, with the punchline serving as a weak bit of irony.
- Straight Man: The talent agent that witnesses and responds to the depraved acts before him.
Different variations of this joke:
- The ones in the movie.
- Notably Gilbert Gottfried's version from the Roast of Hugh Hefner, which he'd done to recover from a Too Soon joke about "Miss[ing his] connecting flight at the World Trade Center". During the bit, after describing all manner of vile things, he finally draws the line at sweat involved in the act. He also briefly pauses to point out that the talent agent is doing nothing to stop any of this.
- Another notable rendition of the joke would be Sarah Silverman's subversion in which she ditches the original punchline by referring to her fictional family troupe as The Aristocrats in the beginning, then going into detail describing how her family executed the eponymous routine (chiefly consisting of mutual masturbation) in a rather introspective manner while rehearsing under the watchful eyes of radio and TV host Joe Franklin but then faltering after a while while recounting how she was invited on Franklin's Casting Couch and closing with the line: "(beat) Joe Franklin raped me..."
- That Guy with the Glasses did a nifty version. You can check it out here. Doug also held a contest on YouTube to determine who could tell the best version of the joke. The winner was an overweight, bald, heavily tattooed man with the handle "Church of Dave," who describes an act climaxing in the souls of every evil person being raped by the souls of every good person, which is called Justice.
- This TGWTG review of the game FATAL ends by implying the game is one big Aristocrats joke.
- The Nostalgia Critic:
Grandpa: Uh, this is no time to practice our act, Budgie!Nostalgia Critic: ...'Kay, I don't want to know what kind of act requires her to pull his pants down...but it's probably called "The Aristocrats"!
- In his review of FernGully 2: The Magical Rescue, the Critic references this joke (followed by a Rim Shot) when Budgie accidentally pulls down her grandpa's pants:
Nostalgia Critic: Seriously, what woman — especially seeing her daughter get eaten — would take the time to raise her arms in the air and throw them down? You do that while telling a joke: "The Aristocrats"!
- He also references it (again followed by a Rim Shot) in his review of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, when mocking the mother's over-the-top scream:
Count Maxwell: "So other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show?"Nostalgia Critic: Strange enough that there's a Lincoln assassination joke in this, but to have that classic followed up by crickets? Ain't none of you know good comedy! Hey Dracula, tell your version of "The Aristocrats"!
- In his review of Scary Godmother, when Count Maxwell the vampire tells the old one-liner about Abraham Lincoln's assassination:
- Oancitizen of Brows Held High (quoting Phil Buni of The Bunny Perspective) compares the content of A Serbian Film to this joke. Instead of the usual punchline he delivers a very stern "Art!". *beat, finger snap*
- A Something Awful Photoshop Phriday did the same joke.◊
- This very wiki briefly described Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom as: The Aristocrats meets Hostel, only worse. The same thing was also said on this wiki about The 120 Days of Sodom, the Marquis de Sade novel that Salo was based upon.
- The Cinema Snob said that Caligula, being a big-budget mainstream porno film for those "craving the finest in bestiality and the finest in Shakespearean actors", was "like tracking down Laurence Olivier and asking him to perform The Aristocrats joke."
- More of a reference than an example, but a couple of times during some of the live episodes of What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?, when Nash got to a particularly nasty news article, either he or one of the people in the live chat would yell out "The Aristocrats!" after reading it.
- Natalie Portman made an intentionally lame attempt at this joke on Saturday Night Live. Considering this is the same episode as her infamous rap video, one can't help but wonder what it would be like if she really gave it a go.
- In "Beach Games," The Office's penultimate third season episode, Dwight attempts to tell this joke in what is more or less a Funny Background Event — since the audience's focus is on Pam doing the coal walk — in order to win Michael's job. He also completely misses the point of what makes the joke funny. (Which is why it's so hilarious to the viewer.)
- Brian Berris subverts this trope. In his version, the act is incredibly tame and standard and the punch line is altered.
- Hellsing Ultimate Abridged: When Abraham Van Hellsing confronts Alucard about his many, many atrocities, Alucard responds with this. Sir Hellsing is not amused and then proceeds to ram his stake threw Alucard's chest.
Sir Hellsing: Vampire King... You lay upon the blood soaked death of your ruined land, castles plundered, dominions in ruin, servants destroyed, all to end the hellfire with which you sought to cover the world. A bloody conquest having consumed hundreds of thousands, countless villages razed to the ground, and over twenty thousand impaled and prostrated by you and you alone, to strike horror into the hearts of mortal men! WHAT SAY YOU!? MONSTER! DEMON! DEVIL CONCEIVED BY THE BLEAKEST WOMB! WHAT SAY YOU NOW!?
Alucard: ...The Aristocrats.
- raocow, after completing an extremely hard and sadistic level in A Super Mario Thing, ends the level by declaring "The Aristocrats!"
- In a short gag strip in GastroPhobia, we see Gastro finishing telling the joke to a very angry Phobia. In the last panel we see Klepto bandaging Phobia's hand.
Klepto: Gastro, look at what you did to your poor mother's spanking hand!
- Namedropped in Robert Bloch's 1976 short story "Crook of the Month" regarding the latest quickie crime novel the main character is ghostwriting.
"... I like that hero of yours, Lance Pustule. And having him murder his parents at the age of eight—it's going to win a lot of reader sympathy, because everybody has a kindly feeling for orphans."
"That scene where he's raped by his grandmother is terrific! And all those killings and tortures he uses to get control of the television network—you really tell it like it is! The drugs and violence and kinky sex are dynamite. By the way, what's the title of the book?"
- One part of the Robot Chicken segment "Who's Killing The Muppets?" has Fozzie say "And then the dad says, 'The Aristocrats!' Wocka-wocka!" before the mysterious killer in the segment visits him.
- On the blog Rejected Disney Princesses, the entry for Elisabeth Bathory (a noble-born Serial Killer of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Hungary) has a lengthy description of the various crimes Bathory was accused of in her lifetime, the things she was accused of after her death, the torture and execution of her accomplices, and how she was bricked up in a room for the rest of her life. The section finishes with, "In conclusion: the aristocrats!" (The post does go on to give a more accurate explanation of Bathory's life, and discusses the possibility that Bathory was innocent.)
- Sgt. Frog: The dub of episode 18 has Koyuki attempting and failing to tell the joke.
- Luigifan invokes the punchline, in similar fashion to What the Fuck Is Wrong with You? mentioned above, to lampshade an argument between Justin and Lydia (who are siblings) during the "Growing Pains in the Neck" roleplay of White Dark Life. Notably, what he actually says is "The Aristocats!", but he does so on purpose for the sake of a pun and as further lampshading of the argument (Lydia's boyfriend, who Justin intensely dislikes and mistrusts, is part-cat).
- Lydia, being an unabashed fangirl of the Disney Animated Canon (and pretty much everything Disney-related, for that matter), immediately thinks of the movie. Justin, on the other hand, immediately realizes what Luigifan is actually referencing, and is not pleased.
- In one episode of The Odd Couple, on a Show Within a Show Oscar is hosting, he announces an act called the Aristocrats, but we never actually see the act.
- In the Real-Person Fic "Enter Backstage", Robert Sean Leonard, of all people, tells a puppet-centric version of this joke to some of the rest of the House cast.
That's disgusting! (Pause) ...So how much for season tickets?