Surprisingly True YKTTW Discussion

Surprisingly True
When something the audience has assumed was a lie/joke/sarcasm turns out to be true.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-11-02 22:28:46 sponsor: BlueIceTea (last reply: 2013-08-26 18:28:17)

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In fiction, not everything that everyone says should always be taken at face value. Genre Savvy audience members learn that sometimes the characters who say things are joking/being ironic/lying/crazy/clueless.

But what if they're not? What if such a comment actually turns out to be true?

This is what happens when the audience is tricked into believing that something is false, only to discover later that it is actually true. There are similar tropes where a character is tricked, but the audience is in on the joke; this trope is about cases where the joke is on us.

Of course, whether the audience is "tricked" or not depends on the individual viewer. But in general, it's easy to tell what direction we're meant to lean in. For example, take the following scenarios:
  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, Dill spins lots of tall tales about his father and how fabulously rich and successful he is. Scout quickly concludes that he is lying his face off.
  • In A Few Good Men, Kaffee says that his problem with flying stems from his fear of crashing, and Weinberg replies by offering him some oregano. We know from a previous conversation that one of Kaffee's clients got caught smuggling oregano - which he believed was marijuana! Presumably Weinberg's comment is a reference to this, and does not reflect the healing properties of kitchen herbs.
  • In Casablanca, when Louis asks Rick why he came to Casablanca, Rick says, "My health, I came for the waters." When Louis presses him, "What waters? We're in the desert." Rick simply replies that he was "misinformed". It seems probable that Rick was never told anything about the "waters" of Casablanca, that he is simply avoiding Louis's question because he doesn't want to talk about his past.

In all of these situations, the screenwriters rely on the audience to figure out the lie/joke/irony in the characters' comments. But wait!!! What if, at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Dill's dad really did swoop down in an aeroplane and carry him off?! What if Kaffee took the oregano and discovered that his flying problems had disappeared?! What if a flashback showed some Frenchman telling Rick all about the theraputic power of Casablanca's waters?!

That's right; you'd have this trope.

If there's a big enough gap between the line and The Reveal, it may be a form of Brick Joke. Often overlaps with Chekhov's Gag, The Cuckoolander Was Right, or Accidental Truth. Supertrope of Arkham's Razor. Compare Aluminum Christmas Trees, which is an example of how this can happen in real life, and Infallible Babble, which is this trope minus the "surprisingly" part.


  • In one scene in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the heroes have been imprisoned by the King of the Moon. The Queen of the Moon -- who, like her husband, has a detachable head -- comes to their rescue in head-form. She giggles and moans constantly as she tries to unlock the cage, and Sally asks the Baron what she's laughing about. The Baron tells the little girl, "Um, her body is with the King, and he is, uh... tickling her feet." Cut to the royal chamber where the King is in bed with the Queen's body, and he is in fact... tickling her feet!
  • The first time we meet Tootles in the movie Hook, he's searching frantically for something. When Peter asks him what he's doing, he says, "I've lot my marbles!" Much later in the movie, Peter learns that Tootles used to be a Lost Boy, and that he left his marbles behind in Neverland.
  • Early in the movie Girl Interrupted, the main character is told that she may have to have therapy with "Dr. Wick". "Wick's a girl." the other girls joke. "Wick's a chick." It's far from clear whether they are being literal, or simply demeaning a physician they don't like, so it comes as something as a surprise when we meet the man himself, and he turns out to be -- Vanessa Redgrave.
  • In the movie True Grit (1969), Mattie makes repeated reference to her laywer "J. Noble Daggett". She pulls out his name every time she wants something done, threatening leagal action against those who get in her way. After about the fifth time, Rooster and Le Boeuf express scepticism as to whether this "Lawyer Daggett" even exists, and the audience might be inclined to agree with him. But at the end of the film a little man in glasses walks into Rooster's room, and introduces himself as laywer Daggett himself!

  • In Harry Potter, it's frequently suggested, half-jokingly, that the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher must be cursed. The reader isn't invited to take this very seriously -- until Book 6 when Dumbledore reveals that it actually was cursed by Voldemort.
  • The backstory to the novel Easy Avenue is that Mrs. O'Driscoll's husband went "missing" in the war. All the characters understand that "missing" means "dead", but Mrs. O'Driscoll sometimes indulges in fantasies about him surviving and living it up on some tropical island. This sounds wildly improbable until the very end of the book when the characters are having a picnic and Mr. O'Driscoll suddenly turns up!
  • In Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Arthur muses that the universe must be run by madmen. In a later book we find out that one isolated madman make all the important decisions in the universe.
  • In one of the Discworld books, a bottle is found that claims to have been manufactured by saffron-wearing monks in high mountains and imported by brother Lobsang Dibbler, and think it's just standard false advertising. At the end of the book, we find the monks loading up a yak with the bottles for Ankh-Morpork, wondering what the hell Lobsang does with them.

Live-Action TV
  • In a fourth-season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anya talks hypothetically (and comically) about the possibility of a world made entirely of shrimp. Four years later, on Angel, Illyria reveals that she has visited just such a world.
  • The end of Monty Python's "Kilimanjaro Expedition" sketch.

Western Animation
  • Peanuts: After rehearsing for a Christmas pageant, Sally talks about waiting for Harold Angel to sing. Charlie Brown thinks this is just the standard Mondegreen for "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" until a kid named Harold Angel shows up looking for Sally.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Bubble Buddy", SpongeBob makes a bubble mannequin and acts as if he were alive. The other get tired of SpongeBob's antics and try to pop the bubble. But just as they are about to, Bubble Buddy suddenly comes to life and stops them, confirming that he was alive all along.

  • In The Order of the Stick, The Paladin named O-Chul is interrogated by Team Evil to learn about what sort of defenses protect one of the remaining MacGuffins. O-Chul tells them that it's hidden behind several cunning illusions within a deep maze. Unfortunately, Team Evil sees through his Blatant Lies (O-Chul says that Charisma was his Dump Stat), and reveal that the interrogation was just a ruse to play for time anyway. Later on, though, when The Order reaches the area where the MacGuffin is hidden, most of what O-Chul said is true
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