Friend of mine told me about it a long time ago, after watching the film. And I was like… “Ok, and where is the funny?” I’ve heard about it plenty of times since then, and had pretty much the same reaction. Tonight, I watched Gilbert Gottfried doing his take on it, and while there were a few moments that might’ve been chuckleworthy–mostly asides talking about how fucking ridiculous the setup is–no amount of filthy incestuous pedophilic scatological urolagnical zoophilic setup made the “punchline” even vaguely humorous.
So… what am I missing with this legendary (and I’m being generous here) “joke”?
It’s shock humor, nothing to really “get”. Some people like it and some don’t. And the punchline, while we can posture about the stark contrast between an act called “The Aristocrats” (implying “high class”) and the content of the joke, in reality the punch line isn’t even the point of the joke. I’m pretty sure nobody actually laughs at the “punchline”.
Concur. The punchline is meaningless and intentionally lame - the point of the joke is the whole making up the worst conceivable act in the funniest of terms bit, all improvised. It’s doubly funny to me when it is told by an actor/personality with a reputation for being “classy” and they do it all deadpan. Think Sir Ian McKellen, Charles Dance or Patrick Stewart.
Although from the film, I also really liked Sarah Silverman’s take on it. Yeaaah, I know, that kind of Stepford Wife-ish tragicomedy is one of her shticks and is perhaps getting a little tired at this point, but it worked this time.
From what I’ve gleaned over the internet, “The Aristocrats” joke really isn’t meant for public consumption. Not only are there few places a comedian can tell such a joke, but the rambling prolonged nature of it means it really doesn’t work in a standup routine. It’s more a challenge between fellow comedians to see who can outgross each other and be more inventive than everyone else.
Jragon and the rest have it right, but I’d recommend watching the movie for a thorough explanation of the phenomenon. You might not find much of it funny in itself, depending on your tastes, but you will undoubtedly come away with a solid understanding of how different comics approach the joke and why they appreciate it. And you’ll get at least a few chuckles here and there.
Gottfried’s bit was probably a suitable entry point, but it wasn’t in itself the funniest or most clever - rather, it was that the setting and the timing (after bombing on a “too soon” 9/11 joke) did a good job of illuminating how comics relate to the joke, both as performer and as audience. If watching the whole movie seems intolerable, I’d recommend at least finding a few more clips.
One thing that strikes me is that the movie and the joke might be a bit dated by now. What with 4chan and various internet trolls, extreme shock humor is becoming old hat for many people. I know that if I were to watch the movie again, I’d be watching for the more unique takes, like Tim Conway or Billy the Mime, rather than the most over-the-top ones.
One approach I can think of is what “Super Dave” Osborne (Bob Einstein) did when he appeared on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson hosted. Often he’d come and relate to Johnny some “inspirational” story that would actually be a slightly off-color shaggy dog joke. What made it funny is he’d deliver the joke in a completely earnest deadpan monotone. Unless I missed that part of the movie, I’m kind of surprised they didn’t have him do that in The Aristocrats.
Another different approach would be to go the opposite direction and boil the joke down to its essence so that it could fit in among a barrage of Henny Youngman-type one-liners.
It also helps to think of the joke in context. It came from a time when except for certain clubs comics had to work totally clean. Even some that worked “blue” told jokes that wouldn’t be given a glance by sensors on prime time tv now. This was the dirty joke that told each other back stage.
I’m pretty sure that it was Drew Carey. (As an aside, after watching that movie, any time that Fella or I do something particularly unclassy–we do the flourish and announce, “Ladies and Gentlemen–The Aristocrats!” Sadly, this comes up rather often.)
I seem to recall not liking the documentary because for what was a fairly low-key topic, the director and editor sure liked their split-second cuts, as if trying to ramp up the visual excitement to Jason Bourne levels. I just gave up on it after a while.
It’s almost more of a shaggy dog story than a joke. The funny part is that the story is so torturously prolonged and wildly obscene- and to hear the comedians in the documentary tell it, they sometimes competed to tell the longest and most horrible version of the story. And then it all leads to a big anti-climax of a punchline.
Yes, and he was miming using a pair of castanets, as if he was saying “Ole!”
The joke is terrible and pointless. Several of the comics say so in the documentary. It’s not about the joke, it’s about the delivery. Like how fans of Spinal Tap think “This one goes to 11”. The line isn’t funny, Christopher Guests’ look of cow-like incomprehension just before he says it is.
The punchline isn’t lame and the joke isn’t pointless, if you’re hearing it for the first time and it’s done properly. It’s about how some people in show business, and possibly other creatives, can be hopelessly and absurdly self-delusional about their work. Self-delusional people are funny. The reason it’s this sort of insider joke, only really told by creative types, is that most of the general public don’t really have any experience of artists touting their work to agents - the situation is too specific for people who haven’t themselves been on stage to really find funny. Because of this, the joke has turned into a game - when most of an audience know what the punchline is, it’s a different set of rules that apply.
In the film, the joke is only told as a joke once, very quickly at the beginning, and the punchline is deliberately buried so that it isn’t as funny as it could be. It’s only told in order to explain the basis for the game. The rest of the film is about the game. My favourite bit was the guy who describes spending an hour building up to the punchline and then messing it up by saying “The Aristocats!”, so that he then has to explain that that was not what he meant.
In the film, George Carlin told the grossest version of the joke (for me). I almost had to ff through his segment I was getting so grossed out. That’s saying something too since there were a lot of gross versions in that movie. I don’t know how the filmmaker and the crew managed to last through his telling.