Anti-Humor is the practice of removing the expected punchline or joke from a familiar humorous situation and replacing it with something non humorous and serious. The laugh is supposed to come from subverting
the audience's expectation of a punchline or humorous twist. Often this is simply done by playing the normally humorous situation straight, being literal
and truthful. For example, take the following, which sets up and then subverts a Bait-and-Switch Comparison
Q: What is the difference between Senator Smith and a hippo?
A: One is a large aggressive mammal dwelling in or near bodies of water. The other is a United States Senator.
Sometimes an Anti Joke goes a step further and creates humor out of a Mood Whiplash
. An example here from Jimmy Carr:
Q: What is worse than finding a worm in your apple?
A third broader category of anti-humor is essentially a form of Surreal Humor
where the punchline is completely unrelated to the set up. Not all Surreal Humor
and not all Anti-Humor
is Surreal Humor
. Humor can be surreal while still following a formula or having a humorous internal consistency.
Q: How many ducks does it take to change a light bulb?
A: The defense rests.
A Super Trope
is meta-humor, like the joke found in this Irregular Webcomic.
Obviously these work best when the audience is thoroughly familiar with the standard version of the joke/humorous situation or the formula the joke/humorous situation normally follows, though this is not always necessary. Any situation where the audience is expecting humor or something light-hearted and gets something straight, dry, and/or darker in tone instead can potentially work. Formats where a humorous twist is always expected, such as in stand-up, cartoons, sitcoms, and sketch comedy, have more latitude for this sort of humor.
is about intentionally
avoiding a punchline. Certainly not all Anti-Humor
ends up being funny, but it should be clear that the writer is trying to create humor from avoiding a punchline or humorous twist. For example, when Biff Tannen
says "that's as funny as a screen door on a battleship" he's not trying for antihumor, he is simply screwing up the traditional punchline.
Compare/Contrast Shaggy Dog Story
where the humor comes from a tediously long story being used to set up a weak punchline. Both tropes stand traditional wisdom about humor on its head. Could be the source of humor in a Shoot the Shaggy Dog
scenario. Compare Bait and Switch
. Contrast So Unfunny It's Funny
where the humor is unintentionally bad but so bad it's funny. Compare The Comically Serious
when a serious character
makes a situation funny. Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion
is based on the same principle, but with rhymes
. And of course, sometimes people just plain Cannot Tell a Joke
open/close all folders
- Perhaps the best-known joke in the English language is an example: "Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side!" Few people realize it now, but it was a subversion of older iterations of the joke. Most people hear it before they are old enough to have come to expect the typical conventions of a joke (like a punch line), so the joke is simply unfunny.
- Bill Bailey is fond of these.
"Three blokes go into a pub. One of them is a little bit stupid, and the whole scene unfolds with a tedious inevitability."
- Andy Kaufman loved to dance on the edge between comedian and avant-garde performance artist. Some of his more infamous "routines," such as reading at length from The Great Gatsby, are anti-humor. He often got audiences laughing because they couldn't tell whether it was supposed to be funny. Andy mined Humor Dissonance for all it was worth.
- Comedian Brian Regan reports his son had one of these.
Q: How come dinosaurs don't talk?
A: Because they're dead.
- Gilbert Gottfried: "David Hasselhoff walks into a bar, every morning and then he stays there till it closes."
- John Thomson used to do a character called Bernard Righton who as a Politically Correct stand up comedian whose anxiousness to avoid offense resulted in this trope.
A Jew, A Pakistani and a Black Fella went into a nightclub. What a fine example of an integrated society.
- When Monty Python performed its famous Parrot Sketch at the The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball, a benefit for Amnesty International, they took it in this direction.
Mr. Praline: [placing the parrot's cage on the counter] It's dead, that's what's wrong with it.
Shopkeeper: [looks at the parrot] So it is. 'Ere's your money back and a couple of holiday vouchers.
[audience goes wild]
Mr. Praline: [looking completely flabbergasted] Well, you can't say Thatcher hasn't changed some things.
- French Canadian stand-up comedian Jean-Thomas Jobin combines this with Self-Deprecation as his bread and butter. He has a whole routine in the middle of his show where he reads off (fake) hate mail he got, most of them referencing earlier failed jokes, one of them making fun of the ridiculous shirt he's been wearing since the beginning, which has gone unmentioned since then. Then there are gems such as this one:
Q: How can you tell if there's a blonde in a group of synchronized swimmers in a swimming pool and they're all wearing bathing caps?
A: You demand they get out of the pool and remove their caps.
- One performance by Frank Conniff before a Cinematic Titanic show contained about half a dozen fat jokes about Chris Christie ("I don't want to say Chris Christie eats large portions of food, but all of his silverware was designed by Claes Oldenburg"), followed by this gem:
No, but seriously folks, when Chris Christie sits around the house, he really passes laws that hurt working Americans.
- And then there's:
A priest, a rabbi, a duck, a blonde, a man with a 12" pianist, and a piece of string all walk into a bar together. The bartender looks up and says, "What is this? Some kind of joke?"
- Eddie Izzard subverts a cliched expression, with this effect.
- There's also this old joke:
A: Knock, knock.
B: Who's there?
- The whole premise of Broken Jokes, as popularized by Richard Ford:
"My dog has no nose."
"Your dog has no nose?"
"Nope, no nose."
"How does he smell?"
"He can't; he has no nose!"
"Waiter! What's this fly doing in my soup?"
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry sir!"
So this policeman comes upon this guy on his hands and knees under a streetlight, fumbling around on the ground. "What's the matter?" says the policeman. "I'm looking for my keys," says the guy. "Is this where you dropped them?" asks the policeman, and the guy replies, "Yes".
- Norm MacDonald's moth joke on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
- Why did the car crash?
- Because Jimmy was driving.
- Why couldn't Jimmy drive?
- Because he had no arms or legs.
- Why didn't he have any arms or legs?
- Because he was a potato.
- Along the same lines as the "Roses are red" subversion quoted above:
Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don't make sense
Anime and Manga
- The entire meta-joke behind episode 24 of Excel♥Saga is that, after 23 episodes of balls-out wackiness and parodies, this one is played almost completely serious with only one or two attempts at humor.
- Watchmen: Rorschach's hyperminimal recitation of an old groaner veers into this:
I heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor... I am Pagliacci
." Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.
- Played with in the following joke, which takes some time to sink in:
- A nerd drummed up all the courage he had to ask the head cheerleader to the prom, and much to his astonishment she said yes! Then he realized "Good heavens! I'll need a tuxedo!" so he went to the tux shop and due to prom season he had to wait in line for four hours. Then he realized he needed a corsage but of course with prom season the flower shop was swamped, he stood in line for five hours. "A limo!" exclaimed to himself upon getting the corsage, and at the limo place he waited for six hours. Finally the big night came, he showed up at the girl's home with the limo and a corsage, looking great in his tux. They went to prom, danced a lot and sat down, exhausted. His date asked him to get her a drink so he walked across the gym to the refresment area, where there was no punch line.
- In his book The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman lists a couple cursed jokes. These are jokes with a setup, but a mundane punch line.
A priest, a rabbi, and a nonreligious person are flying across the Atlantic Ocean, all for different reasons. There is engine trouble, and one of the wings catches on fire. The plane starts to go down. Luckily, there are enough parachutes for everyone. Evacuation is orderly. End of joke.
- Stephen Fry demonstrates one on QI:
- Occurs early on in the Father Ted Christmas special when Ted finds a baby left on the parish doorstep. Before Ted can bring the baby in the mother appears, takes the baby from his hands, and heads off to leave the infant with someone else. Ted muses on the hilarious hi-jinks the priests and the baby would have gotten up to, but stops when Dougal reminds him it wouldn't be funny.
- Toward the end of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "The Hellcats", as the biker gang confronts the even-badder-guys on a pier, Joel subverts an old joke into a Stealth Pun in this way.
Joel: You know guys, this kinda reminds me — I've been on a seafood diet lately.
Servo: Eh, really?
Joel: Yeah, I'm eating a lot of fish and shrimp and stuff like that.
(The averted punchline is "I see food, I eat it.")
- This is the point of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. It's awkward, uncomfortable, and often downright scary, but you laugh anyway. If you're into that.
- Norm delivers one on Cheers:
"Women. Can't live with 'em, pass the beer nuts."
- Happens on Mock the Week a lot.
- One particular example comes from Miles in episode 12-8, when he answered "Picture of the Week, where the panellists are given a topical picture and provide comical headlines for what's happening or being said, with "Maybe they're not talking". Later in the episode during the "If this is the answer, what is the question?" round, he answers with "What is a random length of time?" to the answer of "56 Years".
- In another episode, Russell Howard responds with "What comes between 25 days and 27 days?" in response to the answer "26 Days".
- MythBusters once used an anti-humor joke to illustrate that the hosts were properly buzzed for an alcohol myth; when Jamie laughs at a joke like that, you know he's not himself. The joke:
Kari: What's red and smells like blue paint? Red paint.
- Trailer Park Boys: Ricky has used this pattern a few times, sometimes replacing the punchline with a full-on rant:
Ricky: Knock, Knock
(Person antagonizing Ricky): Who's there?
Ricky: Fuck off.
- The Daily Show does this once in a while. In one example, Jon repeated the common joke "what's the deal with airline peanuts?", then explains the real-world reasons in detail.
- In a Modern Family episode where the family goes to Australia, Claire repeatedly refers to a project she's working on as her "baby", obsessing over it to the exclusion of her actual family. When the computer gets stolen out of her tent by a dingo, she panics:
- A conversation about anti-humor from the panel show Was It Something I Said?:
Richard Ayoade: The way I like to tell a joke is for there to be no surprises within it. Or humor. I think that's quite trad, you know, actually trying to say something amusing in the joke. It's actually kind of pathetic and needy.
Jason Manford: I'm regretting those tickets for your arena tour.
Richard Ayoade: You know, you say that, and yet its very emptiness its its success. In order to fully succeed in this endeavor — and believe me, I am succeeding — no one must come.
- One song of Italian band Elio e le Storie Tese was entirely based on this kind of humour. First of all, the jokes were more than deadpan, since they were told by a vocal synthesizer. Then, among the "normal" jokes, it featured gems such as: "An Englishman, a Frenchman and a German are on a plane. The plane crashes and they die".
- In the "Talk Like a Pirate Day" song, there's an interlude
Q: Did you hear about the new pirate movie?
A: No, what's it rated?
Q: PG-13. They want to appeal to younger audiences, and pirates are really popular with that age group.
- A Prairie Home Companion did one of these in a series of light bulb jokes.
Q: How many dull people does it take to screw in a light bulb?
- I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue
- One episode featured a round of Closed Quotes (the panellists get the start of a quote and have to finish it) where the quotes came from Christmas crackers.
Humph: Why didn't the skeleton go to the disco?
Graeme: Because he was dead.
- Similarly, the same round in another episode:
Humph: What's the difference between a night watchman and a butcher?
Graeme: One guards the premises, and the other sells meat.
- And in the same episode, Jeremy's answer to "Why do elephants have big ears?" was a long dissertation on volume to surface area and losing heat in a warm climate.
- Sometimes if the topic for the final round is paticularly obscure, Graeme or Barry will do a series of deliberately lame non-puns, where they just replace a random word.
- Frequent in Hamish And Dougal. One episode in which they're camping has Hamish talk about how he's looking at the stars, and what this means, until Dougal points out he can't see the stars, they're in a tent. Immediately lampshaded:
Hamish: Unless someone had stolen the tent?
Dougal: Stolen the tent! That would be the funniest joke in the world, wouldn't it, if someone had stolen the tent!note
- From The Goon Show:
Gryptype: I though I saw a greek urn burried in the sand.
Moriarty: What's a greek urn?
Gryptype: Its an vase made by greeks for carring liquids though I saw a greek urn burried in the sand.
Moriarty: I wasn't expecting that answer.
Gryptype: Neither were quite a few smart-alec listeners!
- The Order of the Stick, strip #600.
- While Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal loves this trope to death, this strip strips away all but the essentials, and demonstrates exactly how it's done.
- Unwinders Tall Comics. On this page, Unwinder's box of rejected ideas includes "Normal Al", who parodies "Weird Al" Yankovic by sucking all the humor out. Normal Al plays straight covers of the songs that Weird Al parodies, and rewrites Weird Al's original songs with completely serious lyrics.
- Brawl in the Family was all about this when Waluigi hijacked the comic.
Waluigi (1st panel): This is Waluigi's first comic of the new series!
Waluigi (2nd panel): The third panel is the funny one.
Waluigi (3rd panel): *stands around and scratches the back of his neck*
- XKCD has done this many times. One example is a "World Map according to a group of Americans who turned out to be unexpectedly good at geography".
- Cyanide and Happiness' Depressing Comic Weeks are either very depressing, or very depressing, yet (because of this trope) strangely funny.
- Overcompensating had a series of "Yo Mama" jokes, culminating in "Yo mama so fat, she's going to have irreversible health problems."
- ThisDork Tower:
: How does Batman
's mother call him to the dinner table?
Igor: She doesn't! She was murdered in an alleyway like a dog, you unfeeling, insensitive GHOUL!
- This Something Awful article.
- Average Cats is a gallery of Anti-Humor LOLCats.
- Uncyclopedia has an article that, for Uncyclopedia, counts as a Self-Demonstrating Article as it delivers a straightforward (if very dismissive) description of what Anti-Humor is.
- The Anti-Joke Chicken.
- The BuzzKilling meme.
- The Monkeys You Ordered presents cartoons from The New Yorker with their captions replaced by straightforward literal descriptions.
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged uses this by avoiding the "it's over 9000" Meme - when Vegeta finds out what Goku's power level is, all he does is crush the scouter while calmly saying "It's over 9000. Rah." This is *after* he assumes it's 1006 due to having the scouter upside down. note
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series - "Season 0 Abridged 2" does this with the series' memetic Screw the Rules, I Have Money! line.
Yami: Wait a minute, did you just summon a bunch of monsters in one turn? That's against the rules, isn't it?
Kaiba: Actually, there are several situations in which summoning multiple monsters at once can be considered totally legal in this game.
Yami:...That...that wasn't very funny.
Kaiba: Why would it be funny? I'm just trying to explain how to play.
Yami: This is all kinds of wrong!
- The Lazer Collection: The first skit of Part 2 is simply a guy eating a red pepper.
- And then one of the skits of Part 5 is a guy popping a kid's balloon. In both cases, no lazers are fired.
- ASDF Movie: The "Pointless Button" skit.
- Rage Quit is a weekly segment by Rooster Teeth where Michael, a gamer with a very short temper and vocal personality, expresses his... well, you can guess. When he played the game Rage he was serene and polite for the entire video.
- Anti-Joke. This is the whole point of this site.
- Brunching Shuttlecocks once did an article called The Lightbulb Exemption List, which was in essence about doing this to lightbulb jokes.
- When the Game Grumps play Castlevania, Arin delivers this memorable quote:
"Why did the axe fly at your face? Because the knight threw it. Why did the axe come back? Because the axe has boomerang-type properties."
- The New Yorker Anti-Caption Contest, which begun on this blog and transitioned to this one, is won by the "worst" caption that could go with that week's official New Yorker Cartoon Contest. It naturally veers into this territory, but not always. The winner of the first first one is a good example: A monster truck crashes onto the stage of a classical music concert, a sure recipe for hilarious culture clash, and the winning caption (spoken by the conductor) is: "There is a man pinned under this truck who requires immediate medical assistance. Someone please call for an ambulance. Please, before it's too late."
- In Cracked's 7 Animals That Are Evolving Right Before Our Eyes:
Q: What did the elephant say to the poacher?
A: Dear God in heaven, please don't kill me for my ivory.
Sorry about that. Sometimes we get "joke" mixed up with "tragic imagined dialogue that could be happening at this very second if elephants had the power of speech."
- There's a lot of this in The Simpsons;
- Cartoon Planet thrived on this kind of humor.
- Especially the Brak's Comedy Gold skits, in which Brak, attempting to do stand-up, would often play every joke he told straight.
- Kevin Spencer once told a joke like this:
Q: What's the difference between a hooker and a mop?
A: A mop never points at you and laughs and make you feel so dirty inside that you're sure your soul is crying. And then you lie awake at night in a sea of tears, praying for the blackness of your heart to wash over you and obliterate the cruel world around you, as you long for the welcome embrace of death to release you from the unending torment of your meaningless and cruel existence.
- In one episode of King of the Hill Bill began singing "Puff the Magic Dragon". Hank, embarrassed and annoyed says "Bill, do you know what that song is about? It's about a dragon. We're grown men." The anti-humor is a subversion of the expected punchline, where you expect Hank to repeat the urban legend that the song is about marijuana. Instead, Hank correctly identifies the subject of the song (it is about a little boy and a dragon).
- In The Ren & Stimpy Show episode "A Visit To Anthony", when Anthony's dad furiously interrogates Ren and Stimpy, he tells a joke like this:
Q Why did they bury the fireman behind the hill?
A Because he was dead!
- One early episode of Robot Chicken, amid its numerous parodies of pop culture... had a clip from Big Trouble in Little China ("China isn't here, Mr. Burton") reenacted in the show's style without any embellishment.
- One episode of Sealab 2021 is just an episode of the original Sealab 2020 with the 2021 cast giving the voices (and some footage removed to fit 2021's shorter episode length.) The only joke in the entire episode is at the very end, when the nuclear submarine they spend the whole episode fixing crashes into Sealab, causing it to explode.
- The South Park Wham Episode "Kenny Dies" takes an event that is usually Played for Laughs and plays it for drama. The creators have gone on record to say that they "wanted to see how long they could go without telling a single joke."
Two polar bears are sitting in a bathtub. The first one says, "Hey, pass the soap." The other didn't reply because he's just a polar bear and can't speak English, hold a bar of soap, and wouldn't fit in a bathtub. AHA HA HA HA HA!