"Well, it is so often the way, sir, too late one thinks of what one
should have said. Sir Thomas More, for instance — burned alive for refusing to recant his Catholicism — must have been kicking himself, as the flames licked higher, that it never occurred to him to say, 'I recant my Catholicism.'"
A character is insulted. Later, they get a flash of inspiration and think of the perfect comeback (which may or may not
be actually witty, but they're very proud of it). So, of course, they try to arrange matters so that they get to use it—either setting up the original scenario in which they were insulted, or just using it later out of context. If the latter type appears late enough, it may qualify as a Brick Joke
Very much Truth in Television
. The Germans call it Treppenwitz
, meaning "staircase wit"; in French it is l'esprit d'escalier
, "the spirit of the staircase." In a classic French architecture design, formal gatherings were held on the second floor; this would happen when the joke would occur to someone at the bottom of the stairs, having just left the party.
- Sexton experiences this in Death: The High Cost of Living after Didi tells him she's Death:
Sexton: You know, I thought maybe you were kinda nice and kinda of smart. But I was dead wrong. You're just as crazy as everyone else...
Didi: Well, I thought you were someone dumb enough to get stuck under a fridge in a garbage dump. And I was dead right.
[Sexton walks out the door]
Live Action Television
- Under The Cherry Moon features the leading lady agonizing over a Comeback Tomorrow to Prince.
- A non-insulting comeback: in Rat Race, while Nick is flirting with Tracy. They're both reading the same biography of Charles Lindbergh, and she tells him that she's up to the part where "he's just had a sex change". A moment later he learns that she's a pilot.
Nick: Are there many female pilots?
Tracy: There's at least one.
Nick: When I walk away, I'm gonna think of something great to say to that.
Tracy: Good. Mail it to me.
- A few scenes later he comes back having realized the obvious comeback: "Two if you count Lindbergh."
- Brought up in Shallow Hal when one of the characters brags about the size of his anatomy. Hal takes about ten seconds to come up with the weak retort "yeah, bigger than a mouse's".
- Discussed in Horton Hears a Who! after Horton actually does make a pretty good comeback, but admits he usually "Doesn't think of that stuff till' later."
- Subverted in The King of Queens, frequently, where Arthur does not bother with the setting up and instead screams out his comeback hours later, often by walking into his daughter's bedroom in the middle of the night
- George, in the "The Comeback" episode of Seinfeld does the thing of setting up the original scenario (which entails George flying from NYC to Akron, Ohio) so that Riley will repeat his insult. Unfortunately, Riley doesn't suffer from this:
George: Oh yeah, Riley? Well, the jerk store called. They're running out of you!
Riley: What's the difference? You're their all-time best seller!
- It gets better. He then resorts to "...I had sex with your wife!" only to be informed that Riley's wife is in a coma. Then, at the very end of the episode, we see him driving back home, only to murmur "Well... the life support machine called..." and triumphantly turn the car back around again.
- Lisa obsessed over delivering a comeback to Dave in an episode of NewsRadio. Naturally, when she finally got a chance to deliver it, the response was underwhelming, to say the least.
- In the UK hospital comedy Green Wing, loser Statham makes an ill-fated attempt to provide a witty comeback to Mac just after Mac has walked out of shot
Statham: Stop right there. Come back here.
Mac: Stop right there, come back here, which?
Statham: Can I say one thing? I don't know what you're talking about, and always check your facts. Good day.
Mac: That's two things. Three, if you count the valedictory flourish.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Xander: I'm not gonna waste the perfect comeback on you now. But don't think I don't have it. Oh, yes! Its time will come!
- Used by Sheldon a couple times on The Big Bang Theory.
- An episode of Saturday Night Live guest-hosted by Rob Morrow had Morrow's character in a commercial for a time-travel machine, so you could go back in time to say the thing you later thought to say.
- Malcolm in the Middle - "I stayed up all night thinking of comebacks, and comebacks to her potential comebacks. I'm gonna show her I'm not obsessed with this."
- House has this gem, ending with a blank stare that truly makes the moment:
House: So you’re saying Chase did screw up.
Chase: Or Foreman screwed up.
Foreman: Big hand points to minutes. Maybe you got them mixed up?
House: Oh, snap! Foreman’s playing the dozens; you’re at a cultural disadvantage here. Take a few minutes to think up a witty retort.
Cameron: So we have contradicting bleeding time tests. If we run labs to check his clotting factors we can confirm which one’s right.
House: Yeah, testing, nice idea. Way better than trying to guess which doctor’s incompetent. Much better than the paperwork, too.
Chase: Hey, Foreman. Your momma’s so fat, when her beeper goes off, people think she’s backing up.
- Prince George in Blackadder the Third, leading to the page quote. Then again, the witty comeback that took him all night to think of was "Oh, bugger off, you old fart!"
- Subverted on Justified. Constable Bob is on official police business but this does not matter to two two drunk Clover Hillers who insult him, his job and then threaten him with a shotgun if he does not leave. As he is leaving he comes up with a comeback to their insults and he turns around and walks back up to their front door. However, when they open the door he simply points his gun at them and tries to arrest them.
- In a strip by Dave Berg of MAD, a woman tells her husband that he has "20/20 hindsight." Moments later he thinks, "When she said I had 20/20 hindsight, I should have said..."
- Calvin from Calvin And Hobbes: "Oh yeah? Oh yeah?? Well, remember what you said, because in a day or two, I'll have a witty and blistering retort! You'll be devastated then, I promise!"
- One Zits comic had the mom telling the boys that watching too much TV would dull their minds. Two beats later, the son goes "Oh yeah?" to which his friend mutters "Man, don't make her more right than she already is."
- In a Garfield strip, Jon asks a woman out, who says, that she would rather go out with camel spittle. Hours later, when he's already gone to bed...
Jon: "But what if your brother already has plans?" That's what I should have said!"
: Ol' Lightning Wit strikes again.
- Invoked in Dilbert. Dilbert tells Dogbert about a relative of his who was a marine biologist, famous for his work with sea anemones. Sadly, he was unpopular with his peers. Dogbert intentionally leaves the room before shouting his comeback, to avoid getting smacked.
Dogbert: With anemones like that, who needs friends?
Stand Up Comedy
- A variation from the legendary Fred Allen/Jack Benny feud: Allen once told Benny, "You couldn't ad-lib a belch at a Hungarian dinner." Benny's reply: "You wouldn't dare talk to me that way if my writers were here!"
- Not an insult, but in one episode of Im Sorry I Havent A Clue, Humph mentioned that an interviewer said he was an "orthinologist". He was on the way home before it occurred to him that the correct reply was "Not so much an orthinologist as a word-botcher".
- Emo Philips inverts this.
I was driving down the highway, and I'm swerving all over, 'cause I'm trying to change the radio, and just as I get the old one taken out I hear this traffic cop behind me, "Whee-oo, whee-oo, whee-oo" .... well, I shouldn't make fun of his speech impediment... He asks me to walk in a straight line, so I do, then he asks me "You call that a straight line?". Well, I should have said, I should have said.... "yes". But I was nervous and the only thing I could think of was "Well Officer Pythagoras, the closest you'll ever come to a straight line is if they do an electroencephalogram of your own brain-waves!"
- Inverted by Mike Birbiglia in the informatively-titled "What I Should Have Said Was Nothing: Tales From My Secret Public Journal".
- Web Original example: Formats of Internet communication make it possible to pull this off successfully. You can stew about a slight for hours to days, then deliver your rebuttal in what seems a timely enough manner to imply a quick wit.
- Whenever this happens to Homer Simpson, when he tells the story later, he has himself actually saying the thing he should have said.
- "I AM NOT SLOW!"
- "Shut up Becky!"
- Sideshow Bob provided another example.
Marge: You awful man! Stay away from my son!
Bob: I'll stay away from your son alright. Stay away... forever!
Homer: Oh no!
Bob: Wait a minute, that's no good. (Leaves, groaning in frustration, only to return a moment later) Wait! I've got one now! Marge, say 'Stay away from my son' again!
- 'The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 has this when Mario confronts Bowser in the Ninja Koopa episode.
Mario: Let my friends go or else!
Koopa: Or else what?
Mario: Err... Just let them go, and I'll come back Tuesday and tell ya.
- Also done in Phineas and Ferb. Candace was called "slow as molasses" by another girl competing for a job at Mr. Slushy Burger, but Candace could only manage to retort with "I think I'll call you... something slower than molasses, that's for sure!" At the end of the episode:
Candace: Snail! I'll call you 'snail'!
- In the Family Guy episode "The Big Bang Theory", Stewie uses his time machine so he could go back in time and use the good comeback.
- In "Excellence in Broadcasting" Brian meets with Rush Limbaugh at a book signing. While walking home, he says, "Yeah, you can sign my ass book. Is what would've been awesome to say."
- In My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, "Bridle Gossip", the six main characters are cursed with odd aliments. Spike comes up with pun-based joke names for each, before stumbling over Twilight Sparkle.
Spike: This is hilarious! Look at all of you! We got "Hair"-ity, Rainbow "Crash", "Spittie" Pie, Apple-"teeny", "Flutterguy", and... uh... I got nothin'. [aside to the audience] "Twilight Sparkle"... I mean, seriously. I can't even work with that.
[later, after the girls leave] Ah! Twilight "Flopple"!
- The Steven Universe pilot has Steven thinking of comebacks against Lars after he leaves the doughnut shop. He was carrying around a trinket that allowed him to travel back to the insult, allowing Steven to make the comeback right away three times.
- There's a Douglas Adams quote related to this trope, which goes something like this: "I am not a wit — I am a comedy writer. A wit thinks of something funny immediately; a comedy writer thinks of something very funny two hours later."
- Admit it, we've all done this at some point in our lives.