The Aristocrats (also known as The Debonaires or The Sophisticates in some tellings) is an exceptionally transgressive (taboo-defying) dirty joke that has been told by numerous stand-up comedians since the vaudeville era. Throughout its long history, it has evolved from a clichéd staple of vaudevillian humor into apostmodern anti-joke.
I’m interested in how the aestheticization of extreme violence and sex has allowed things that aren’t funny to become funny. The Aristocrats is a filthy joke and the 2005 film of the same name could never have been released 20 years ago. It is still very shocking but has been broadcast on televison. Extreme violence has become commonplace in mainstream cinema to the point where directors have to go to further and further lengths to create the same shocking effect.
“One of the things is there is a sense of humour in all of my movies that I′m trying to bring out. One of the things that I am trying to do is I′m trying to get you to laugh at things that aren′t funny. When I write my movies I hear laughs. And I′m not saying that I write it as comedy, but there are laughs there. You know, when I′m making the movie I′m imagining laughs, when I′m editing it, I′m editing it knowing that there are going to be laughs there that are going to fill in things. So there is an aspect of when I see the movie with an audience for the first time that′s the completion of it. It′s like a recipe that needs the last ingredient to make the cake rise. And to me that doesn′t happen until I watch it with an audience, that′s the pay off, and to hear their laughs and know that I got that. And only then do I feel the movie is finished. But part of the method of that madness is the idea of getting you to laugh at things that you wouldn′t normally laugh at. You might even be asking the question ‘why am I laughing?’ But you are laughing anyway, so too bad! (laughs).“
A good example of this is the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travoltas character accidently shoots someone in the head when the car he is riding in goes over a bump. I can remember laughing at this, the whole situation that develops is full of humour.