The Harlem Shake & The Aristocrats – A Viral Video Rooted in the Style of the Classic Joke

The Harlem Shake Viral Video
There is a new internet phenomenon making it’s way through it’s 15 minutes. “The Harlem Shake” started as a silly, kooky video, but it’s subsequent video memes actually have root in another (and older) form of entertainment…joke telling. In particular, a very old joke which all comics love putting their person touch on. That joke is called, “The Aristocrats.”

First, let’s quickly go over the modern phenomenon, first. It’s viral video at it’s finest. It’s actually better than the typical viral video, because this one is 100% created by fans, it’s only 36 seconds long, and is as good and creative as the person doing their personal take on the video. The “Harlem Shake” videos feature a “normal” setting which explodes into utter chaos in which hilarity hopefully ensues. Before we describe further, let’s take a step back to this viral video’s very close cousin, the spoken joke, “The Aristocrats.”

“The Aristocrats” is an old joke which starts off with a family walking into a talent agent’s office. The agent asks, “so, what’s your act?” One of the family members (traditionally, the father) goes on about the most crazy, and usually vile and outrageously disgusting, acts that one could ever imagine a family performing together onstage. The crazier and more outlandish, the better the joke. After the joke teller is done with the act’s description, the agent asks what their act is called, and the father replies, “The Aristocrats!”

In the video meme version of “Harlem Shake,” the video starts off with a person dancing (usually with a mask or covered head) to the dubstep song, “Harlem Shake” by Baauer. The person is usually dancing in a room with other people around them. The people are completely oblivious (or uncaring) to the lone dancer. About 15 seconds in, when the “bass drops” in the song, there is a jump-cut and everyone in the room is suddenly dancing and going crazy. The wilder and the more outrageous…the better.

Similar to The Aristocrats joke, the beauty of the Harlem Shake meme is in it’s simplicity and completely unexpected sharp U-Turn into silliness. The video’s success, much like The Aristocrats joke success, is purely up to the creator and their creativity.

Here is the trailer for the 2005 documentary for “The Aristocrats” (some language NSFW):


Here are a couple video compilations of “The Harlem Shake” to get you familiar with the fun (some images NSFW):



And, as a little aside, the original version of The Harlem Shake video which inspired the memes actually doesn’t even follow the rules of the meme and is completely silly and has no point…like all things funny. Enjoy!

Comment below what YOUR favorite version was, or link in the comments below to your own version!


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