I’m watching the documentary by Paul Provenza and Penn Gillette about the joke “The Aristocrats”.

Two thoughts: one, all the comics look really old and bad, except Drew Carey. It’s stunning how old some of these guys (and gals) have gotten, and time has not been kind.

Second, these are professional comedians who do this nightly, and have (from the look of them) for a long, long time, decades. And yet, George Carlin, Harry Shearer, many other intelligent and talented guys, blow the punchline, either because they don’t understand it, or it was how it was told to them and they never had the intellectual curiosity and true “sense” of humor to question why the fucking punchline doesn’t work the way they tell it.

No wait, some of them are questioning why the punchline is illogical and doesn’t quite work, but they don’t ever stumble on the fact they are telling it wrong. This might seem incredibly arrogant to try to tell all these legends they don’t how to tell the fucking joke, but they don’t. One very old guy, who wrote a book on humor and jokes, does correctly deliver the joke, and it works, and it’s perfect.

Here is what I’m talking about:

The joke is, shortly, a guy comes into a talent agent’s office and tells him he has a great new act for him.

“So what’s your act?” the agent asks.

Now comes the point of why this joke is so classic and retold: here you add all the depraved, perverted and grotesque acts you can think of, keeping in mind the act should include a father, a mother, a son, a daughter and the family dog. Grampa and Gramma sometimes make an appearance. Scatological references, sexual perversion, incest, bestiality, coprophilia, necrophilia, pedophilia and any other perversions may be added to taste. Then comes the punchline.

The incorrect set up is: “So then the agent says, ‘What do you call your act?'”

Man: “The Aristocrats!!!” (insert laughter here)

Well, that’s wrong. The old humor book writer gets it right: it’s subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world, and these comedians should damn well know this.

The correct set up should be:

“So the agent says ‘What the hell do you call an act like that??'” (incredulously, rhetorically, as a stunned rejoinder, not as an actual question, which gives the joke more logic and verisimilitude).

Man: (obliviously, taking the question literally, which makes it funny) “The Aristocrats!”

Maybe they get to this in an entire documentary about the joke, I don’t know, because I stopped watching it about 20 minutes in [edit: I went ahead and watched it all, on bad advice. It all sucks.]. For a documentary by some funny guys which features dozens of very funny people, it’s just not funny. None of it, not a second of it is funny. I can’t imagine one of these people telling this hackneyed, rote, over-told joke and having it be funny, and it’s not here, not in any of the tellings nor the various cute alternative tellings some of the guys try.

So, avoid it. Watch any of these comics stand-up videos, listen to their albums or watch their movies instead. This is just a waste of time and not even a decent “inside baseball” type of docu. It’s just lame.


2 Responses to “Aristocrats”

  1. garycooper Says:

    I lost interest in this film about as far into it as you did. Recently, however, I saw a little show by Gilbert Gottfried called “Dirty Jokes,” in which he finishes the show by telling “The Aristocrats” joke in the longest, grossest, unfunniest way imaginable. I’m a big fan of his, but after he finally wrapped up this thing, I was left wondering why I had wasted the time. I suspect most of that club-crowd was wondering the same thing, that night.

  2. 1389AD Says:

    I agree with you about the way the joke should be told.

    BTW, The AristoCATS is a much better movie! 😆

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