Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Read This: A surprisingly safe-for-work oral history of iThe Aristocrats/i

Oral histories have become so culturally ubiquitous that NPR member station Nevada Public Radio has what may be an M.C. Escher-like first: An oral history of an oral history. The 2005 comedy documentary The Aristocrats told the story of the titular joke through interviews with comedians from Sarah Silverman to George Carlin to Carrot Top, who shed light on the joke’s origins and development over time and, most importantly, gave their own, often wildly varying renditions of it. “The Aristocrats” (the joke) describes a family of performers doing the darkest, sickest shit any given comedian can imagine a family doing together, all leading up to an anticlimactic, if inevitable, punchline.

In honor of The Aristocrats’ 10th anniversary, Nevada Public Radio caught up with key figures behind the movie, including Silverman, Bob Saget, co-directors Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette, and Gilbert Gottfried, whose unplanned telling of the joke at Hugh Hefner’s Friars Club Roast just weeks after 9/11 (true to Gottfried form, he launched into the joke in an attempt to further alienate the audience after telling a poorly received 9/11 joke) serves as the cathartic centerpiece of the whole documentary. The various players revisit the history of the joke and its significance for comedians, but also focus on the documentary itself, going into the details of its inception and mulling its legacy 10 years on. There are some high-minded bits from Jillette about how the joke and movie are the equivalent of bebop jazz and only for “intellectuals,” but, like many things Jillette says, those can be safely ignored.


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