Oh The Places White People Can Go!


It really is amazing the things we white people can get away with. I just saw the movie The Astristocrats, a documentary about an insanely dirty joke that white comedians have been telling each other for years. (Not to be confused with the 1970 Disney cartoon, The Atristocats.)

The Joke: A man walks into a talent agent’s office and says to the agent, “I’ve got a great act, a family act!” He then goes on to explain the act which contains outrageous scenes of incest, beastiality, misogyny and violence with lots of body fluids and feces thrown in. After hearing the details of the act, the agent says, “That’s a helluva act! What do they call themselves?”
The punch line, “The Aristocrats.”

Now from a comic perspective, I find the joke, (and the movie with scores of white actors, mostly men, telling the joke in scores of ways) to be funny. Disturbing, but funny. Comedy is a strange art.

But nearly everyone in the film talking about this joke, telling the joke, laughing about the joke, is white. (Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock make brief appearances. Rock states that black comics never had to tell dirty jokes backstage because they were able to tell them from the stage. In the early days, they knew they would never be on TV, so they had nothing to lose.)
At one point in the film two different white comedians tell the joke to their toddlers.

The amazing thing about this film is that it is being celebrated on National Public Radio and shown in neighborhood theaters all over the US. The film is unrated. Not NC-17 or R, just unrated.

Question: If a group of black comics, mostly men, told jokes about having sex with their seven year old daughters, dogs and grandmothers then covering everyone up in vomit and human feces, how would the white media and white society respond?

I never heard a rapper say the things I heard in this movie. But somehow, I guess it is not so bad coming out of a white man’s mouth.

This post has 6 Comments

  1. Tom D on September 3, 2005 at 1:35 pm Reply

    Hey, Peterson!

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m not shocked at all by what you describe. This is the country where the frickin’ director of FEMA stated in an interview a couple days ago (heard it myself on CNN) that some of the fault lies with those who “chose” not to evacuate New Orleans. Though, when pressed, he stated that “now is not the time to assign blame.” No, I’m not shocked at all (but am increasingly disgusted).

    Anyone up for moving to Canada with me? ๐Ÿ™‚

    –Tom

  2. Peterson Toscano on September 3, 2005 at 2:30 pm Reply

    Tom, Canada, with you?
    When? I pack light, meet you at the border.

  3. Clint from GCN on September 3, 2005 at 5:20 pm Reply

    I didn’t know much about the movie until I read this. Thanks for enlightening us.

    Blacks wouldn’t even be able to get this movie made, much less lauded.

    Oh, such a far road ahead of us.

    *Peace*
    Clint

  4. Tom D on September 6, 2005 at 7:42 pm Reply

    Now, Peterson, you couldn’t even make it across CAMPUS to the Broadway Singing event that YOU invited ME to at FGC, and now I’m supposed to go up to the Canadian border and actually expect you to arrive? ๐Ÿ™‚

    My mother always warned me about sweet-talking boys like yourself…. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    –Tom

  5. Quev on September 8, 2005 at 1:42 pm Reply

    Like you, I found the film a bit disturbing but highly enjoyable. I also noticed the overwhelming whiteness and het-ness represented in the doc, with the notable exceptions of Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, and Taylor Negron, who I only knew as a baddie in terrible action flicks.

    It would have been nice to see Bernie Mac’s take on the joke, or Margaret Cho’s, or Wanda Sykes’, or even Eddie Murphy’s (that guy could stand to take a break from the kiddie flicks and get back to the vulgarity that used to be so good for his career).

    I’m not sure what the answer to your question is, though. Would what you describe cause much of an uproar? And if so, would such criticism come from the establishment media, or would it come from Bill Cosby?

  6. Peterson Toscano on September 8, 2005 at 4:25 pm Reply

    The Uproar: I think it would come from several quarters. I wouldn’t be surprised if some conservative white group would file a suit against some of the comments on the grounds of obsencity. If a black comic told the joke to his toddler (like two of the white comics in the film) I would not be surprised if a group like Focus on the Family sought to remove the children from the home.

    Opinion articles would be written all over the country denouncing the film and protesters would line up. White preachers would rail against it and use it as an example in their sermons.

    I think a little of this is happening with the film as it is now, but with a majority black cast, I think heads would roll and there would be a public outcry.

    We don’t know for sure of course, but speaking to John, a Black minister friend of mine who was over for tea yesterday, when I told him about the film, he agreed that Black comics would not be able to make this film or else put up with a huge backlash if they did.

    John educates me all the time about issues of white power and privilege, and I credit him in large part for opening my eyes more and more to see how racism and white power and privilege pervade US society. Currently he and I are collaborating on a new theater piece (details to be revealed in upcoming blog entries)

    I blogged about John back in May 2004. you can read a little about him here.

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