- Was made into something of an art by Coupling, in which attempted conversation-starters, usually by the hapless Jeff, devolved into such subjects as amputation, and collecting human ears in a bucket. In fact, this page used to be called "Bucket Of Ears".
You have the eyes of ten women. ...I don't mean, like, in a jar
. I wasn't accusing you.
- A non-Jeff example is when Steve talks to Jane's psychiatrist Jill. She thinks that he's nervous because sometimes what she does makes people nervous in a social context. Believing her to be Jane's girlfriend, he tells her that "you girls" have got "the best of both worlds." When pushed to explain what he's talking about, he uses a metaphor Jeff brought up earlier in the episode:
Steve: Well erm, you've got four breasts...
Jill: I'm sorry?
Steve: No, no hang on.
Jill: This blouse isn't particularly flattering actually...
Steve: No, no.
Jill: If nothing else.
Steve: I'm not saying you've got four at the moment, just when you're...
Jill: You think I develop extra breasts when I'm excited?
Steve: Not so much develop as, you know... acquire.
Jill: What in the name of God are you talking about?
Steve: Sorry, sorry I've been totally sidetracked by the irrelevance of your breasts. Not that you have irrelevant breasts! You've only got two, that's for sure. Unless you were some sort of cow. No! No, an attractive cow! Or a prize winning cow! But you're not a cow. You're a person. But I'm sure that you'd be a prize winning person if they had a sort of cattle market for women! A women market! Which, thinking about it would be a bad thing in many ways.
- Steve gets a lot of these, usually digging a lot faster than Jeff. During his run-in with his celebrity crush Mariella Frostrup, she apologises for spilling her drink on his pants. He replies "Don't worry about it, I was about to go to the toilet anyway. Not that I was intending to wet my trousers, obviously. Although I am pleased to meet you." At this point he has a hilarious "What the hell I am I saying?" look on his face.
- Oliver carries on the tradition well on several occasions, such as his conversation with Jane about the large number of toilet rolls he's buying.
- Seen in the Friends episode "The One Where Ross Can't Flirt," in which Ross's attempts to flirt with a pizza delivery girl degenerate into a lecture on the smell of gas and an intended compliment which makes Ross sound like a pedophile.
- There was another one where he ended up talking about sewage.
- And Chandler brought up another occassion, when Ross talked about the Irish Potato Famine.
- Ross' failures at flirting cannot be emphasised enough. Another attempt led to the conversation derailing into asking two women if they had to choice, which method of dying would they preferred: being burned or drowning.
- Chandler also did this once, while attempting to suck up to Monica's parents.
- In the first season, Chandler one says to Monica that if they turn 40 and neither of them are married then they should marry each other. When Monica asks why she wouldn't be married by then, everything he then says just makes her angrier.
- In the final season, Chandler accidentally reveals to a step-kid that he's adopted. Then he traumatizes the kid even worse by revealing Santa Claus isn't real. And this was already after he attempted to make a joke to the kid's foster parents about them being infertile. In all seriousness, he and Ross were made for this trope.
- Chandler comforting Phoebe after her heart attack in the hypothetical episode.
Monica: Phoebe, a heart attack is nature's way of telling you to slow down.
Chandler: I always thought a heart attack was nature's way of telling you to die. I mean you're not going to die. I mean you are going to die, but you're not going to die today. (Beat) I wish I was dead.
- In a semi-Played for Drama case, there's Ross and Rachel's breakup. He's already in hot water for sleeping with a copy girl, but makes things even worse when he tries to salvage it by stating he was trying to keep Rachel from finding out about it the whole time.
- In an episode of Scrubs, Elliot meets a guy named Sean, but her attempts to strike a conversation up with him end with them talking about poo. "At one point I tried changing the subject to art. But we went from art to artists, to alcohol, to coffee...and that just led right back to poo!"
- When she first tried talking to Jake, her boyfriend for twenty minutes in season 4, the only thing she could think of was to compliment him on what a perfectly square head he has.
- There was that one very early episode with Elliot and Carla feuding over Elliot tattling on Carla for not doing something. When Elliot apologizes and then doubles back to elaborate on her reasoning, the scene shifts to a visual gag of her standing in a grave literally "digging herself deeper"; as Carla and the other nurses look on in like the Mafia.
- Subverted in the end, when Turk gives a lecture to Carla to the effect that what Elliot was saying was perfectly reasonable and it was Carla who was in the wrong.
- On the season 15 premiere of Dancing with the Stars Tom told two different people "When you're in the hole stop digging."
- Digging Yourself Deeper is pretty much the basis of every episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David makes an innocuous statement which is taken badly, or misheard, and the ensuing consequences lead to hilarious further exchanges and climax.
- Any sitcom involving Ricky Gervais.
- One House episode had Cameron trying to explain to a TV crew that when she said it was exciting being around him, she didn't mean it that way. It failed in a spectacular way. Because, you know, she kinda actually felt that way in the first place.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Xander was very prone to this. The kicker is that he's not even talking to Buffy, just practicing with Willow. Which rather neatly demonstrates the wisdom of doing so, yes?
Y'know, Buffy, Spring Fling just isn't any dance. It's a time for students to choose, um... a mate and then we can... observe their... mating rituals and tag them before they migrate just kill me.
- Buffy and Xander also get another good one in "Doppelgangland":
Buffy: See? I told you, Old Reliable.
Willow: Oh, thanks.
Willow: Old Reliable? Yeah, great, there's a sexy nickname.
Buffy: Well, I-I didn't mean it as...
Willow: No, it's fine. I'm Old Reliable.
Xander: She just means, you know, the geyser. You're like a geyser of fun that goes off at intervals.
Willow: That's Old Faithful.
Xander: Isn't that the dog that that guy had to shoot...?
Willow: That's Old Yeller!
Buffy: Xander, I beg you not to help me.
- In Doctor Who, the Doctor does this quite a lot, especially in his fourth and tenth versions. However, this is quite often a highly calculated move on his part, as a way of distracting the person he is talking to.
- Though not always:
The Doctor: What are you doing that for?
Mickey(holding down a button): Because you told me to.
The Doctor: When was that?
Mickey: About half an hour ago.
The Doctor: Um... you can let go now.
Mickey: Well, how long has it been since I could've stopped?
The Doctor: Lovely to meet you, Mrs Jones. Heard a lot about you.
Francine: Have you? What have you heard then?
The Doctor: Oh, you know; that you're Martha's mother, and...um...no, actually, that's - that's about it. We haven't had much time to chat, you know, we've been...busy.
Francine: "Busy"? Doing what, exactly?
The Doctor: Oh, you know...stuff...
- Also well done in the episode The Unicorn & The Wasp:
The Doctor: Agatha Christie! I was just talking about you the other day. I said, "I bet she's brilliant." I'm the Doctor; this is Donna. Oh, I love your stuff. What a mind! You fool me every time. Well, almost every time. Well, once or twice. Well, once, but it was a good once!
- And when the Doctor was inviting Donna to travel with him, but wanted to clear up the fact that he wasn't looking for a relationship:
The Doctor: But the last time, with Martha, like I said, it got complicated. and it was all my fault. I mean... (sighs) I just want a mate.
Donna: You just want TO MATE??!
The Doctor: I just want A mate!
Donna: You're not mating with me, sunshine!
The Doctor: A mate, I want, a! Mate!
- Used yet again when the Doctor goes to talk to Amy's fiancé...and opts to show up by jumping out of a stripper's cake (at his bachelor party):
Doctor: Rory! What a relief! I'd thought I'd burst out of the wrong cake. Again. That reminds me, there's a girl sitting outside in a bikini, could someone let her inside and give her a jumper? Lucy? Lovely girl. Diabetic. Now then, Rory. We need to talk about your fiancé. She tried to kiss me. Tell you what though, you're a lucky man, she's a great kisser.
(pause as everyone stares at him in amazement)
- Thank God Youre Here tries to actively induce this in contestants. The master of it is Frank Woodley, who can go somewhere horribly, horribly wrong with whatever they throw at him.
- Jayne Cobb from Firefly manages to turn an observation that dead people make him restless into defensively insisting that he isn't a necrophiliac. He was just giving examples of things he does when he's restless. Nothing corpse-specific in there.
- Jayne's good at this, but Simon is the undisputed master. Especially if Kaylee's in the room. Heck, the fact that Simon does this is pretty much the reason he and Kaylee don't get together until the movie. They'll be flirting and getting close and just as it looks like they'll kiss, he says something that she thinks is offensive and she storms off.
River: You are such a boob.
- Done in Frasier by Niles when talking to Daphne about her possible dismissal.
Niles:Yes, and even if by some small chance that were to happen, Daphne, I could always use you.
...I, I would know of a position you could take.
...Services that you could perform.
...I would know of an opening.
...This is on me.
- Speaking of Frasier, this is the formula for a lot of episodes; a conflict arises, and each attempt at a resolution digs the characters deeper. Some (if most) episodes even end without any resolution at all and show the characters wallowing in self pity in their inability to come to a resolution.
- Stargate Atlantis has McKay pulling one off in the episode Trio. When Samantha Carter finally stops him, Keller has a nice little comment:
"Aw, I bet if you hadn't stopped him he would have gone on like that forever!"
- This exchange from 5.15 'Remnants', as Richard Woolsey sees that a woman he's been flirting with found his balcony hang-out spot:
: I mean you’ve entered my little personal area. (beat)
...This is where I come... to be alone with my thoughts.
- Robert did this at least once on Everybody Loves Raymond. Amy invites Stefania over to a singles party because she thought Peter might like her, but Robert is not happy with her arrival.
But she's my Stefania!
...I mean, she's my ex-Stefania.
...I mean, you're my Stefania now... baby.
- Probably the most blatant example is the entire premise of "Faux Pas", where Ray makes a joke about his son's new best friend's dad, tells it to the man himself, and keeps trying to apologize, only making it worse. His family coming in doesn't help, either.
- In an episode of The IT Crowd, Moss dates a woman that looks exactly like Roy's mother. She's also a psychiatrist, which leads to an... interesting conversation:
Roy: I'm sorry, it's just that you look exactly like my mother. Not - not that my mother's ugly or anything, she's a very sexy woman. Not that I want to have sex with her, because I know how you psychiatrists think, and my mother would never stand for anything like that. I can see her now... "what you are you doing, Roy? What are you doing?!"
- In Cheers, Diane begins by yelling at a prospective employer, "I will not sleep with you!". It actually manages to go downhill from there.
- When Norm finds his dream job as a beer taste tester and is only an interview with the president away from getting it, Rebecca advises him not to do something stupid like mention his pants. Of course, the first thing he does is say "Nice pants!", not so bad in itself, but he retracts himself immediately, then retracts the retraction and digs his way down to a song and dance number about him not being such a grumpy puss. Camera cut back to the bar and Norm mourning his lost opportunity.
- Half the fun in The Thick of It and by extension, In the Loop.
- On Get Smart, a married Max is on a mission dating a KAOS femme fatale; a very pregnant and emotional 99 isn't taking it well. She sniffs "You've stopped loving me just because I've grown fat and unattractive!" He soothingly replies "That's ridiculous - just because you've grown fat and unattractive doesn't mean I don't love you any more!"
- Brilliantly done in an episode The Office (US) wherein a) Michael manages to accidentally imply to a superior that the office runs better when he is absent, b) tries to cover that up by saying that it runs much better when he is around after earlier stating that he is frequently away during work hours and c) trying to cover that up by then implying that he his presence or absence has absolutely no meaningful effect on business at all.
- A minor one from the episode "UnSEALed":
Tony: Do you sleep with a gun under your pillow every night?
Kate: That depends.
Tony: On what?
: On who I'm sleeping with... (she turns around and runs into Gibbs)
Oh uhh, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. Tony just asked me what I would do if a man came into my bedroom and I said it depends. I mean it doesn't depend on the man... Tony could you help me out here please?
Tony: She sleeps with a gun boss.
Gibbs: That true?
Kate: Sorta... sometimes... yes.
Gibbs: Good girl!
- After the Director has suggested that Gibbs has "really pissed somebody off":
: That's not a short list! (Death Glare from Gibbs)
...of people that - that you've angered just because you have rock-solid principles, and so it's easy for people to misunderstand that, and misconstrue, because, you know, people don't —
Director: Why don't you quit while you're behind, DiNozzo?
Tony: I'm trying!
- Jimmy Palmer, who puts his foot in his mouth every other time he speaks, often falls victim to this trope.
- Most of the cast seems to be both aware and afraid of this trope, with one of the shows running gags providing many subverted examples of this: Many episodes have a short off-topic conversation between the teammembers after the opening, before they head out to the crimescene. Usually, it ends with one of the characters (mostly Tony) making an either ambiguous, sexist, or simply dumb statement, followed by a snarky comment from suddenly appearing Gibbs. Now, the character who made the statement will usually pick up the shovel and look for the right spot to start digging while stuttering, but eventually either put it down himself by simply shutting up, or have it taken from him by Gibbs ordering him to work.
- Josh of Drake & Josh, on a date with a model:
I got you a diet soda, 'cause I figured you're probably watching your figure. ...Not that you need to watch your figure, you have a great body! ...Not that I was looking at your body!
- Gwen did this often, sometimes once an episode during season one of Merlin.
- In the HawthoRNe episode "Final Curtain", the titular nurse keeps doing this with a doctor (or nurse, it wasn't really specified). She tries to get him to talk Arabic to a patient's husband, but (1) the husband is speaking Dari (as we find out from the Army vet nurse Sullivan) and is thus Afghani, & (2) the guy in the turban is Sikh, not any kind of Muslim (and from Chicago).
Guy: You're a racist! (stalks off)
Hawthorne: (ashamed) Yeah...
- She manages to keep digging later, by thanking him with a namaste gesture, which is not generally used that way when you're not Hindu.
- In an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series McCoy is trying to convince a woman (Eleen) to want the child she is going to give birth to:
McCoy: Say to yourself: "the child is mine. The child is mine. It is mine".
Eleen: Yes. It's yours.
McCoy: No... no, you've got it all wrong.
Eleen: Yes... McCoy... it's yours.
: No. Say to yourself "the child is mine. It is mine. It is—" (Beat)
- He eventually settles on the 'the child is ours.' It is clear that his shipmates aren't going to let him forget this one any time soon.
- Fawlty Towers - a psychiatrist guest is talking about vacations, and asks Basil, who hadn't heard most of what he'd said, "How often do you and your wife manage it?" Basil thinks he's talking about sex ("that's what it's all about to them!") and gets all indignant and defensive. When he hears from his wife what the psychiatrist was in fact asking about, he rushes out with a plastered-on grin and starts babbling about how he thought he was talking about walks, not sex! NO, vacations! and coming off much worse than he started.
- Basil digs himself even deeper that night, while bidding the psychiatrist and his wife good night
- Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Greatest Hits, "Songs of the Motorcycle."
Ryan: Hi. How are you? We don't know what you're watching, so we're not gonna tell you when we're gonna return you to it.
Colin: Mary Had A Little Lamb will be right back in just a second. But you...
(Drew frantically buzzes)
Ryan: (laughing out loud)
- Glee: Santana tells Karofsky that she has figured out that he is gay.
Karofsky: Who told you that?
Santana: No one had to tell me. First of all, I saw you checking out Sam's ass the other day. You really need to be more careful with your leering.
Karofsky: I didn't. I was just... seeing what jeans he was wearing.
Santana: ...Like that is any less gay.
- True Blood gave us this priceless exchange between best friends Jason and Hoyt:
Jason: Hoyt, I had sex with Jessica.
(obviously hurt) How?
Well, first we did it missionary, then doggystyle, then...
Hoyt: (clocks him square in the face) I MEANT HOW COULD YOU?!
- On The Muppet Show, Miss Piggy tells Danny Kaye how thrilled she is to meet him. Danny says that they've actually met before, which she might not remember because it was a long, long time ago. Then he realizes women don't like to be reminded of their ages, and says it was back when she was thin. The punchline comes during their subsequent musical number: "I'm sorry I said I knew you when you were thin. I never knew you when you were thin."
- Frequently, this is what people do on Survivor when the jury really doesn't like them and is just picking between the lesser of two-three evils.
- Josh does this a lot on The West Wing, perhaps most famously in the infamous "Secret Plan to fight inflation" from Celestial Navigation.
- Mark Warey from The Wedge, whose public apologies would invariably end up making the situation worse.
- In The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret , Todd could hardly have a conversation without doing this, usually in the form of creating layers of lies to cover up other lies. In one episode he got into the old "not that you're not attractive" trap and Alice admitted she was just messing with him, and then he fell for it again just moments later.
- This is pretty much Allan's character in Two and a Half Men. Contrast to his brother who can talk his way out of anything.
- House of Anubis- Fabian does this when pressured to ask Nina to the prom. It's the expressions from all his friends, especially Patricia's, that sells it. Here's the entire conversation:
Mick: "So, Haven't you got a certain something to ask a certain someone?"
Mick: "About the dance?"
Nina: "What dance?"
Amber: "Mara and I are organizing an end of term prom!"
Nina: "How fun! See, I've Americanized you all! Next thing you know, you'll be saying the pledge of allegiance."
Amber: "...ANYWAY, Fabian was wondering..."
Fabian: "Who you'll be going with, Patricia!"
Fabian: "No reason, just...curious!"
Patricia: "Uh...I don't know, no-one, probably."
Fabian: "Right. Okay. Good."
Fabian: "No! No! Not good! Absolutely, definitely not good! I mean, it could be good, because someone will...ask you out eventually." (Beat
) "I've got to go...brush my teeth, before dinner..."