NBC’s New Family Hour: The Aristocrats!

“Guy walks into a talent agency….”

If you’re a working comic, an old-vaudevillian or you’ve seen the recent film about it, you know those are the opening words to “The Aristocrats,” the dirtiest, sickest, most infinitely variable joke ever told.

“Have I got a great act for you,” the guy tells the talent agent before launching into a description—or, in some tellings, an actual performance—of what is perversely, if accurately, billed as a “family act.”

The joke—and the challenge to those who tell it—is to describe an exhibitionist orgy of incest, bestiality and copriphilia (look it up) that is anything but family-friendly. (I won’t bother trying to explain joke's title, which is also the punchline.) But that hasn’t stopped two of the joke’s most famous practitioners from landing high-profile gigs during what NBC is now calling its new “family hour.”

In an effort to cut costs at NBC Universal, the broadcast network has chosen to scrap its primetime scripted series in the 8 p.m. hour in favor of cheaper unscripted fare like game shows Deal or No Deal and the new 1 vs. 100. That makes those shows’ respective hosts, Howie Mandel and Bob Saget, the new faces of NBC primetime.

Both Mandel and Saget have wholesome TV careers behind them—Mandel on NBC’s 1980’s medical drama St.Elsewhere; Saget as the paterfamilias on Full House and host of America’s Funniest Home Videos. As stand-up comics, however, the two are notoriously blue, a fact that was on full display in the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats.

Mandel and Saget were two of the 100 or so comics who appeared in the film to give their own renditions of the well-traveled joke. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both are enjoying a second act on TV. Saget’s particularly wince-inducing telling was clearly a prelude to his appearance later as a sex-crazed version of himself on HBO’s Entourage. And the last time anyone saw Howie Mandel before he showed up in the movie, he had a full head of hair (and probably an inflated latex glove pulled down over it).

Don’t be surprised if The Aristocrats’ Gilbert Gottfried gets a game show on NBC.

By Joel Topcik