See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before …

Rehashing the world’s oldest joke, over and over

Posted By on Wed, Aug 10, 2005 at 12:00 AM

If your gross-out factor causes you to gag during episodes of South Park, then The Aristocrats is definitely not for you. For the rest of us perverts, however, this documentary is a rare treat — funny, as in, at times, side-splitting, eyes-tearing, breath-defying, laugh-out-loud funny. The Aristocrats is a documentary about a joke you’ve never heard before. It’s a joke that comedians have been telling each other for generations, possibly since vaudeville. The only thing that stays constant in the telling of the joke over time is the punch line: “We’re the Aristocrats.” The rest is freeform, allowing the teller to go as far as he or she likes with a blue-chip value on nastiness.

Filmmakers Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette show footage of dozens upon dozens of famous comedians in their element — in offices, living rooms, backstage and in cafés — discussing the joke and telling their own renditions of incestuous scatological orgy tales. Some tell it with hilarious effect; the South Park version is genius. But some aren’t so funny, and Provenza and Jillette could’ve edited it down to shorten the film and eliminate some redundancy.

The filmmakers include a great moment at a 9/11 fundraiser in New York — a roast of Hugh Hefner — at which Gilbert Gottfried starts telling 9/11 jokes like, “I was worried about coming in late from Los Angeles. I had a layover at the World Trade Center.” The crowd starts booing, so Gottfried pulls out the Aristocrats joke and leaves the room in stitches.

More than just an exploration of a joke, the documentary is an exploration of comedians, a very strange group that does seem distracted by tendencies toward the scatological and perverse. The fact that comedians only tell this joke to each other, that they all seem to know it and love it, provides a window into their bizarre culture. Perhaps the punch line is this: If a comedian can make you laugh at nasty anal incest, they’re doing their job.


Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Lisa M. Collins writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Lisa M. Collins

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit