July 18, 2005
Curiosity Killed This Cat
Posted by Christine Hurt

Alternative Title:  I have partaken from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and now I don't feel so good.

For a week, I have seen references to the unrated documentary The Aristocrats, and how AMC wasn't going to show it, blah, blah, blah.  The movie is always described as a documentary about one dirty joke, which originated in vaudeville and is still famous today, but the articles never tell the joke.  So, I'm curious and want to know the joke.  I thought it would be dirty, but harmless, like the Nantucket limerick.  Nope.  I googled "the aristocrats joke" and got a website with numerous variations of the joke.  I clicked on the most popular.  Yikes.  Imagine a cross between American Psycho and Rodney Dangerfield.

If you are now curious, I would suggest going to Wikipedia, where you will learn that the basic format of this joke is that a nuclear family wants to break into show business and perform their act for an agent.  The variations on the joke are experiments in how disgusting and outrageous to make the "act."  I think the joke that I read must have won that experiment.  The punchline comes when the agent asks what the name of this base, vulgar family act is, and the name is "The Aristocrats."

The documentary apparently focuses on the fact that the joke is like a "game within a game."  On one level, the joke is about how far this family will go to break into show business, but on another level it is how far a comedian will go to shock his audience, usually other comedians.  So, like a guitar solo that is composed mainly to impress other guitarists, but leaves the audience going, "huh?", the punchline to the joke makes most audiences go, "huh?"  But some variations make audiences like me go, "eewww."

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