Created By: BlueIceTea on November 2, 2012 Last Edited By: BlueIceTea on August 26, 2013

Surprisingly True

When something the audience has assumed was a lie/joke/sarcasm turns out to be true.

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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.


Examples:

Film
  • 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!

Literature
  • 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.

Other
  • 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
Community Feedback Replies: 30
  • November 2, 2012
    StarSword
    We've got this one. Chekhovs Gag.
  • November 3, 2012
    BlueIceTea
    I don't think so. Not based on the current description, anyway. Chekhovs Gag is for a plot development that starts life as a gag. This is for a joke that turns out to be not such a joke after all. Note that not all Chekhovs Gags start life as things the audience assumes are lies, and not all examples here turn into significant plot points. They might overlap, but they're not the same trope.
  • November 3, 2012
    KingZeal
    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 Mac Guffin is hidden, most of what O-Chul said is true
  • November 3, 2012
    DracMonster
  • November 5, 2012
    TBeholder
    So, it's the Missing Supertrope to those two?
  • November 9, 2012
    BlueIceTea
    Aluminum Christmas Trees isn't really a trope, it's more like trivia. But I suppose it could be considered a Real Life example of this.

    I don't think this is really a supertrope to Chekhovs Gag. I thought at first that one might be a supertrope of the other, but I think they're merely overlapping tropes: many examples of Chekhovs Gag wouldn't fit here, and many examples here wouldn't fit Chekhovs Gag.
  • November 10, 2012
    Vios
    The existing Accidental Truth trope seems to be related - it covers lies that turn out to be true, but not jokes, sarcasm, or cluelessness.
  • November 14, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    The name Accidental Truth kind of suggests that it should cover jokes, sarcasm, and cluelessness...
  • November 14, 2012
    Irrisia
    Infallible Babble also seems to have some degree of relatedness.
  • November 17, 2012
    BlueIceTea
    The difference is that in Accidental Truth the joke is on the character, whereas I'm talking about situations where the joke is on the audience. Not that a joke can't be both, which is why the tropes over-lap.

    Yes, Infallible Babble seems to be a sister trope, the key difference being that the audience usually assumes that Infallible Babble is true, whereas I'm looking as situations where the audience is genuinely duped.
  • November 18, 2012
    Arivne
    Western Animation
    • Bugs Bunny short "Rabbit Hood". Little John repeatedly appeared and said "Don't you worry, never fear, Robin Hood will soon be here", but Robin Hood never showed up. At the end, Bugs got after him for saying this and Robin Hood did show up - a shot of Douglas Fairbanks in a live action Robin Hood film saying "Welcome to Sherwood!"
  • December 11, 2012
    StarSword
    TV:
    • The Vegas episode "Masquerade" has one of the clerks at the sheriff's office looking for something at its start. The halfway point has her tell Dixon she's looking for an enormous spider and make every effort to make it seem like she's yanking his chain. But then at the end of the episode, Dixon is backed up against the wall as a black and yellow tarantula about four inches across slowly creeps along the floor.
  • December 12, 2012
    Chernoskill
    • In Bruce Almighty, Bruce threatens two gangsters to have monkeys flying out of their butts... which promptly happens afterwards due to his god-powers.
  • December 12, 2012
    reub2000
    • On Scrubs The Janitor claims to be a world class track and field athlete. JD dismisses this claim due to the number of other lies that The Janitor has told. Later in the episode The Janitor is seen sprinting towards JD at a world record speed.
  • February 1, 2013
    Tuomas
    This may overlap with The Cuckoolander Was Right.
  • February 1, 2013
    Kellor
    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.

  • February 1, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Arkhams Razor is pretty similar.
  • February 4, 2013
    BlueIceTea
    Ooo, that is similar! Looks a bit too specific to cover all my examples, though. I'll put it down as a sub-trope.
  • February 4, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    Arkhams Razor, The Cuckoolander Was Right, Chekhovs Gag... this is covered. Plus, "clearly not meant to be taken seriously" is not clear. Sometimes, maybe, but that is a subjective decision and it would degenerate into one of the preceding.
  • February 5, 2013
    BlueIceTea
    Can you name one trope that covers all the examples listed here? No? Then it's not covered. It may overlap, but that's not the same thing.

    Care to suggest a better wording?
  • February 6, 2013
    Chabal2
    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.

  • February 6, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    "Can you name one trope that covers all the examples listed here?"

    That is never a distinguishing question. If bits of something are covered by more than one article, the combination of those bits is not another trope... it is just an example of more than one trope.
  • August 16, 2013
    BlueIceTea
    That's like saying that if everyone in a room is covered by the label "white", "male", "gay", "Chinese-speaking", or "left-handed", then the word "human" is redundant. It ignores a fundamental characteristic that separates them all from left-handed monkeys, gay ducks, and polar bears. It also leaves you in a bind when a straight, French-speaking, right-handed, black female enters the room.
  • August 16, 2013
    arromdee
    Released To Elsewhere contains a few examples that may fall under this--by its nature, when someone makes that claim, the audience expects it to be false, but in a few cases the animals were actually sent to the farm or whatever and not killed.
  • August 16, 2013
    JoeG
    • 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.
  • August 16, 2013
    DAN004
    Sarcastic Confession might be related I guess?
  • August 17, 2013
    TonyG
    • In the Sponge Bob Square Pants 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.
  • August 17, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ That's Real After All I guess
  • August 26, 2013
    BlueIceTea
    No, the description of Real After All states that the real supernatural thing shows up only after the supposed supernatural thing has been debunked. So if Bubble Buddy had been popped and a different bubble creature had shown up, it would have been that trope. As it is, it's this one.

    I'm still not sure about the relationship between this trop and Arkhams Razor. It seems like it could be the same thing I'm going for. But the description of Arkhams Razor is confusing, and none of the examples we've come up with are currently listed there. So, should this be published as a separate trope? Or should I abandon this trope, and move the examples to Arkhams Razor? If I do, I think the description of Arkhams Razor should be re-written.

    Besides sorting that out, is there anything else this trope needs? I've re-written the description, so I hope its clearer now. And there are lots of examples. Hats, anyone?
  • August 26, 2013
    BlueIceTea
    Oh, I can't believe I'd forgotten about Harold Angel! That is perfect!

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