Created By: Aspie on July 9, 2011 Last Edited By: Aspie on July 11, 2011

Genius Humor

A joke that's only funny if you're familiar with a certain subject

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"Um... that, that was funny... if you um, if you studied Taglarin mythic rites... and are a complete dork."
-- Tara McClay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Family"

The trick to telling a good joke is to ensure that the basic subject of the joke is something that the average person would be familiar with. Therefore, in fiction-land, a good source of humor (for the audience anyway) is to have someone tell a joke that would only be understood by people with a specific area of expertise, then watch as the joke goes unappreciated by their friends, who lack the knowledge necessary to grasp the humour.

This trope generally manifests itself as a forced effort to be funny by a character not normally known for their jokes. As such it may be typical of the Hollywood Nerd.

May overlap with Genius Bonus and Viewers Are Geniuses, although it can be distinguished by one or more characters in the story also failing to get the joke.


Live-Action TV

  • The page quote is the result of Tara McClay's failed attempt at a joke about demons in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, due to the fact that only someone versed in a specific form of magic would have understood it.
  • Dr. Reid's Light Bulb Joke on Criminal Minds:
    Reid: "How many existentialists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? (beat) Two; one to change the lightbulb, and one to observe how it symbolizes an incandescent beacon of subjectivity in a netherworld of cosmic nothingness." (Cue blank stares from his audience).

Western Animation
Community Feedback Replies: 14
  • July 9, 2011
  • July 9, 2011
  • July 9, 2011
    No, this trope is in-universe, while Viewers Are Geniuses and Genius Bonus are Audience Reactions. This definitely need a new name though.
  • July 9, 2011
    On the wiki "In-universe" (or In Universe) is a "magic word" you can you use to mark cases of in-story use of Audience Reactions
  • July 9, 2011
  • July 9, 2011
    It's different from Genius Bonus and Viewers Are Geniuses. Take the Buffy The Vampire Slayer example: Tara is talking about a race of demons and demons don't exist in Real Life, at least to the best of humanity's knowledge. Therefore it's not Genius Bonus or Viewers Are Geniuses because no amount of intelligence would allow someone in Real Life to understand that joke, but it would allow someone in-story to understand it. There may be overlap with the other two tropes, but they aren't necessarily the same.
  • July 10, 2011
    • Arguably, this is Dennis Miller's entire schtick.
      • Referenced on The Simpsons, when Lisa joins Mensa:
        Comic Book Guy: We are hardly nerds. Would a nerd wear such an irreverent sweatshirt?
        [open his jacket to show off his shirt]
        Lisa: [reading the shirt] "C:/DOS C:/DOS/RUN RUN/DOS/RUN". laughs Oh, only one person in a million would find that funny.
        Frink: Yes, we call that the "Dennis Miller Ratio."
  • July 10, 2011
    Aspie, despite the names, Genius Bonus and Viewers Are Geniuses are not about intelligence, but knowledge. If you actually read the trope descriptions for them, you'll see what I mean.

    They're both about cases where only a subset of viewers that have deep knowledge of a subject will get the joke that was made.
  • July 10, 2011
    I agree with the guy above, intelligence and knowledge are totally completly different things. they just happen to be similar.
  • July 10, 2011
    Frequent in The Big Bang Theory, with the geeks laughing at each others' jokes while Penny states blankly.
  • July 10, 2011
    On Cheers, Diane told a joke that went "How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb? Fish." When this got no reaction, she followed it with "Surrealist humour. Obviously not your cup of fur".
  • July 10, 2011
    Inverted in the Nig Bang Theory when Penny memorizes a joke about a the particle physicist in a bar but doesnt get that it is offensive.
  • July 11, 2011
    Now I want to know how that joke goes.

    @Bisected: That's not Technobabble. "Sum of two cubes" simply means something like x³ + y³, frex 100³ + 11³ = 1000000 + 1331 = 1001331.

    @gametransformers: Not similar. Related!
  • July 11, 2011
    @Frank75: While it does mean something semantically, it's still meaningless, since there's nothing inherently special about being the result of adding two cubes together (indeed they didn't even specify that the cube root had to be an integer).