“The Aristocrats” is a meme. It is the ultimate shaggy dog story. It is tradition. It is welcomed anywhere vulgarity is. It is open source. It is a secret to everybody. It is an independent film. It is a piece of history.

That is to say, “The Aristocrats” is a really really dirty joke.

Ever since the days of vaudeville, comedians have shared a comedy tradition known as “The Aristocrats.” It’s not so much a joke as it is a format for telling one. The setup is always the same: A family enters the office of a talent agent and he asks to see their act. The punchline is always the same too, the agent asks what they’re called, and the reply is always “The Aristocrats!”

Sandwiched in between these is where the fun comes in. The family’s act must be doing the dirtiest, most vulgar, and (hopefully) funny things the comedian can think of. Each performer tells this joke in their own way, lending to it whatever horrible and unbelievable acts they can personally devise, leading to a joke that can be shared in hundreds of ways, but hopefully never the same way twice. The Aristocrats is both a competition to see who can think of the dirtiest things in their personal version, and also a way for comedians to share something that is only their own.

The Aristocrats initially gained some mainstream attention at the televised New York Friars Club roast of Hugh Hefner in 2001, when a bombing Gilbert Gottfried told his version of the joke and completely brought the house down. In 2004, comedians Penn Gillette and Paul Provenza made an independent film featuring 100 comedians telling their own version of The Aristocrats, including ones from Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett taken shortly before their deaths. The film was shown at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, where many people walked out, but hundreds stayed behind and gave the film raucous applause. The Sundance screenings went so well that the film will be released nationwide in August.

In late 2004, a short video began circulating the internet featuring Cartman from South Park telling his version of The Aristocrats. It is usually tagged as “the world’s filthiest joke!” or some such, not realizing that it is yet another entry in a game that’s been played for decades.

As an example, here’s a transcript of that version, but you really need to hear someone tell the joke to get the full effect.

OK, so this family walks into a talent agency, it’s a mother, father, their son and daughter, and a little baby. The father says to the talent agent, “Sir, our family has an amazing act, we know if you would let us perform it for you, you would want to sign us.” And the talent agent says, “Sorry, we don’t sign family acts, they’re too cutesy.” But then the mother goes, “Please sir, if you just give us two minutes I know you’ll like our act.” So the talent agent says “Alright, ya got two minutes.”

So the family jumps right into it. The mother smiles and points at the son who hits “play” on a boombox. Thrilling circus music starts to play as the father spins his daughter around, bends her over, lifts up her skirt, and starts licking her asshole. Then the son lays down on the floor and opens his mouth and the mother tears off tear-away pants, squats down over his face and starts shitting all over him. The father grabs the baby, takes off his diaper and starts sucking his cock. While the son, still with his mother’s shit in his mouth, goes over and licks the baby’s tiny little balls.

Now the mother lays down on the floor while the daughter gets up high on a chair and starts pissing all over her. Then the father and son take the baby and start stuffing it head-first back into the mother’s vagina, while the daughter’s piss rains down on all of them.

They get the baby halfway in, so that just its legs are sticking out all flailing around. The son takes the mother’s shit out of his mouth and starts rubbing it all over everyone, while the father sticks his cock in the baby’s asshole and fucks it while it’s still inside the mother, until he comes all over the baby, the wife, the son and the daughter.

Then the father gets up and says “And now for our impersonation of the victims of 9/11.” The whole family starts running around the room screaming and laughing with their dicks and titties all flapping around covered with shit and piss and cum going “Aaaaugh! Aaaugh! The building’s coming down! Help!”

And finally the family runs back to the center of the room and goes “TA-DAAAA!!”

And the talent agent he just sits there for the longest time, and finally he says, “Jesus, that’s a hell of an act. What do you call it?”

And the father says, “The Aristocrats!”

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