When characters tell jokes, the whole joke is rarely told. We hear either the punchline or setup.
Most commonly a limerick ("There once was a man from Nantucket"), a knock-knock joke, uses Noodle Implements
, or crosses two elements.
The inverse of Orphaned Punchline
. Often a form of Getting Crap Past the Radar
Compare and contrast Brick Joke
. Often overlaps with Riddle for the Ages
- In The Breakfast Club, Bender tells a long complicated joke to himself while crawling through an air duct, but then falls through the ceiling before he can finish. - No real-life punchline, Judd Nelson ad-libbed the setup.
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: The famous "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" is never given an answer.
- In Reaper Man, Ridcully, making a speech at Windle Poons's "going away party", starts out "You know, seeing old Windle sitting here tonight puts me in mind, as luck would have it, of the story of the cow with three wooden legs. It appears there was this cow, and --" at which point the Bursar stops listening because he's heard it before and the Archchancellor always gets the punchline wrong anyway.
- In NewsRadio, Bill runs a knock-knock joke by Dave.
Dave: Who's there?
Dave: Bill who?
Bill: That's all I've got so far.
- On Alice1976, Mel's mother comes to visit and on multiple occasions tries to tell Alice's young son the Nantucket limerick but gets cut off by Alice after the first line.
- In "The Naked Now" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data is cut off before he can finish a limerick about a woman from Venus.
- On QI mention was made of an ancient Greek joke that was orphaned in this fashion, involving a eunuch and an Abderite, the Acceptable Target of the day:
Abderite: How many children do you have?
Eunuch: None, I'm a eunuch!
- For a punchline, Clive Anderson suggested: "How many grandchildren, then?"
- Annie on Community took a class on joke-telling at Greendale but never learned anything past set-ups. The professor was so old...
- A sketch in A Bit of Fry and Laurie has Stephen Fry try to tell a joke to his girlfriend, but keeps getting interrupted before he can tell the punchline.
- In Mash:
Col. Blake: There was a young lady from Kent, who took off her...
Hawkeye: Steady, Henry.
- In How I Met Your Mother, to explain away Alyson Hannigan's maternity leave, the show has Barney tell Lily a "hilarious boy joke", i.e. a dirty joke, that causes her to shun Barney for several weeks. The setup is "What's the difference between peanut butter and jam." While it's a real joke, and dirty, it's not as funny as they make it out to be.
- One of the videos on TBS' Department of Humour Analysis is about a man who wrote some of the funniest jokes ever. To safeguard them, he wrote the setups in one book, the punchlines in another. Tragically, when he disappeared in Mexico, the book containing punchlines was never found. The setups were discovered in a motel, and contains setups such as
What do you get when you cross a giraffe and a dead Socialist?
What has three legs, a tail and drinks martinis from a mug?
- Sadly, we may never know.
- Spongebob Squarepants uses this to get crap past the radar to begin his famous opera opener, "There once was a man from Nantucket..." Cue the crowd gasping before he can say a bad word.
- The Simpsons, while filming Selma and Sideshow Bob's wedding, Marge asks Krusty to tell a joke, and he begins, "A man walks into a bar with a small piano, and a twelve inch pianist— whooaaa hooaaa— I can't tell that one!" (This is a well-known joke involving a genie with poor hearing and a pun on the word pianist.)
- In another Simpsons example, after a newly-sober and very competent Barney proves his newfound fitness by doing several athletic feats while reciting a few lines from the Major General Song, Homer tries to prove his worth as well by doing a cartwheel and beginning "There once was a man from Nantucket" but he falls over and hits his head before he can finish.
- In another episode, Bart starts telling Lisa about something he told Maybelle when he's interrupted by Homer.
- Rugrats has an episode where Grandpa tries to explain an event that had happened to him 15 years prior, during a bowling competition. He gets interrupted so many times that, at the end of the episode, when they're finally willing to hear his story, he no longer has the motivation to do so.
- On the Looney Tunes short "A Pest In The House", Daffy Duck bursts in on a sleeping hotel guest to tell him a joke he just heard, which takes too long because he's laughing so hard. During the set-up, the guest goes down to the lobby to punch manager Elmer Fudd on the face (a Running Gag throughout the cartoon) and comes back just as Daffy is getting to the punch line... which he had forgotten.
- In Finding Nemo, Marlin, because he's a clownfish, is often being asked to tell a joke. He tries, but he keeps getting the set-up wrong and has to backtrack, never getting to the punchline. In the end he finally gets the joke right, but that time we only hear the punchline ("With friends like these, who needs anemones?")