The Aristocrats (film): Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Aristocrats
Directed by Paul Provenza
Produced by Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette
Starring Various
Music by Gary Stockdale
Editing by Emery Emery and Paul Provenza
Distributed by THINKFilm
Release date(s) August 12, 2005 (2005-08-12)
Running time 89 minutes
Country United States

The Aristocrats is a 2005 documentary film about the famous dirty joke of the same name. It was conceived and produced by comedians Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza, edited by Emery Emery, and released to theaters by THINKFilm. The film is dedicated to Johnny Carson, as "The Aristocrats" was said to be his favorite joke.[1]


The joke

"The Aristocrats" is a longstanding transgressive joke amongst comedians, in which the setup and punchline are almost always the same (or similar). It is the joke's midsection – which may be as long as the teller prefers and is often completely improvised – that makes or breaks a particular rendition.

The joke involves a person pitching an act to a talent agent. Typically the first line is, "A man walks into a talent agent's office." The man then describes the act. From this point, up to (but not including) the punchline, the teller of the joke is expected to ad-lib the most shocking act they can possibly imagine. This often involves elements of incest, group sex, graphic violence, defecation, coprophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, child sexual abuse and various other taboo behaviors.

The joke ends with the agent, shocked and often impressed, asking "And what do you call the act?" The punchline of the joke is then given: "The Aristocrats".

The joke, as first delivered in the film, contains the set-up line "What the heck do you call an act like that?" followed by the punchline "I call it 'The Aristocrats'." The added set-up value of this version of the joke, wherein the pitchman misunderstands the meaning of the phrase "What the heck do you call [that]?" as a request for information, when it is in fact meant to be an expression of incredulity or bewilderment, is lost in subsequent tellings of the joke, with the simpler and less sensible question asked by the agent, "What do you call your act?"

The film itself consists of interviews with various comedians and actors, usually in candid settings. The interviewees engage both in telling their own versions of the joke, and in reminiscing about their experiences with it, the joke's place in comedy history, and even dissecting the logic behind the joke's appeal.

While most of the filmed versions of the joke follow the standard format of a raunchy description followed by the punchline of "the Aristocrats", some versions do vary the joke. Two tellings of it, including that of comedienne Wendy Liebman invert the joke by describing an elegant and beautiful performance act which has been given a lewd and transgressive name. Actor Taylor Negron tells his joke as a mixture of salacious sex acts and calmly delivered observations on life.

Featured comedians

The following comedians are featured in the film, telling the joke themselves and/or providing substantial commentary on its history:

Many other comedians were filmed but not included due to time constraints. According to a letter to critic Roger Ebert from Penn Jillette, Buddy Hackett and Rodney Dangerfield were both intended to be included, but died before they could be filmed. Jillette also indicated that, this being Johnny Carson's favorite joke, Carson was also invited to appear, but declined.[2]

Joe Franklin controversy

In the film, Sarah Silverman tells a version of the joke as if it were autobiographical and she had been one of the "Aristocrats" performers as a child. Silverman builds the story to include her family being booked on the The Joe Franklin Show, and ends with her punch line: a deadpan allegation that Franklin had raped her during a phony rehearsal for the show. The New Yorker reported that Sarah Silverman's telling of the joke led veteran talk show host Joe Franklin, who is also featured in the film, to consider filing a defamation lawsuit against the comedienne.[3]

On the DVD commentary track, Paul Provenza indicated that he had explained to Franklin that it was only meant to be a joke, and defended Silverman by calling her straight-faced performance Academy Award caliber. Additionally, Silverman told Jillette that it would have been a great publicity stunt if he had pressed charges.[citation needed]

AMC Banning

The theater chain AMC refused to show the movie on any of its 3,500+ screens. The theater company tried to avoid an overt ban, by claiming the film had a very limited appeal, causing comedian and co-producer Penn Jillette to comment to MSNBC, "It's the kind of thing that makes you go 'Come on, play fair.' It's not like we're trying to slide this by anybody by calling it Love Bug 2: Herbie Takes It Up the Ass."[4]

Friars Club roast footage

The film includes footage of Gilbert Gottfried's telling of the joke at a Comedy Central/Friars' Club roast of Hugh Hefner which had been almost entirely censored when aired on television. Taped not long after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the incident occurred at a time when, according to one of the commentators in the Aristocrats film, entertainers were uncertain how much comedy was allowed in the aftermath of the attacks. Gottfried followed Rob Schneider, who had received mixed results with his stand-up comedy performance in Hefner's honor. Gottfried began his performance with a joke in which he claimed to have to catch a late flight out of town but was worried because his flight "had a connection at the Empire State Building." The joke, an obvious reference to 9/11, was poorly received by the audience, who showered Gottfried with boos and cries of "too soon." In response, Gottfried told an obscenity-filled rendition of the Aristocrats joke. According to the film, the telling was as much a cathartic experience for the audience as it was a shocking one, regardless of whether viewers were familiar with the joke or not. During his performance, Gottfried told the audience "They might have to clean this up for TV."


External links

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address