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aka: Humour Dissonance
So a fictional setting has, as a plot point, something that is supposed to be very funny. The other characters treat this joke or show within a show as the funniest thing they have ever heard. The problem is, according to Sturgeon's Law
, few writers can actually write a joke that funny, and even a competent writer will have difficulty living up to the hype the characters give it. As a result, the joke just isn't that funny, and can become cringeworthy much more easily because the show is presenting it as the pinnacle of humor. This is one of the cases where Take Our Word for It
would have been a better way to present the story element.
Of course, this can be done deliberately
, for example to make the audience think "My god, what kind of twisted world
is it where this guy
is considered funny?
" Or, could also be either played for laughs or to present everyone as sadistic if laughter would actually be considered a downright inappropriate response
Please keep in mind that this applies only to things the show explicitly labels as funny; this isn't a place to complain about normal jokes you didn't find funny or about the overuse of the Laugh Track
. If we don't see the actual joke that is supposedly funny, it's Take Our Word for It
. For the inverse, when genuinely funny jokes are ignored in-universe, see Tough Room
. Also contrast Narm
, where the audience find something funny that wasn't supposed to be.
See also Everybody Laughs Ending
. May be a result of Trailer Joke Decay
. Often an example of Stylistic Suck
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- Played with in 20th Century Boys with a manzai comedy duo who tell bad jokes, but when they perform for an audience, they have the entire crowd in hysterics except for Only Sane Man Kenji.
- The entire show the comedians perform on is like this, complete with a rock band that the entire audience loves and sings along to, but Kenji finds horrible. It's heavily implied that everyone in the audience except him has been brainwashed by Friend.
- This is a problem in the Biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers — the attempts by the film's writers and actors to distill Peter's work in The Goon Show, The Millionairess, the Pink Panther series and Dr. Strangelove aren't as funny as the real thing (no actual film clips of Sellers are used, unlike in Chaplin below), despite the in-film reactions to them. The Goon Show sequence especially suffers for this if you're unfamiliar with the show — and most non-U.K. viewers are. Most of the rest of the movie relies on Take Our Word for It, which is also problematic for viewers who don't know his early films up through 1959's The Mouse That Roared. This might actually be a reason the film wasn't released to theaters in the U.S., since if you can't fill in the blanks with regards to his talent, the downbeat portrayal of the Real Life Sellers (which takes up much of the film) makes it hard to understand why anybody liked him, much less loved him, at all.
- Lampshaded in Austin Powers where Dr. Evil and company's Evil Laugh goes on for so long, as if they are laughing at something genuinely hilarious, that it becomes a bit of an Overly Long Gag.
- Used intentionally in RoboCop (1987), where everyone seems to watch the same crappy The Benny Hill Show-like sitcom and burst into laughter at the Catch Phrase "I'd buy that for a dollar!" The show looks completely brainless and we only ever hear the catchphrase devoid of context, so it's never funny to the viewer. All of the television segments in the show are satirical social commentary. In the midst of economic collapse and political strife, the population is distracting itself with lowbrow escapism, even the crooks.
- In Showgirls, there is an overweight performer at the strip club who makes a string of self-deprecating jokes. While the patrons of the club are in stitches, the jokes themselves are painfully flat.
- Star Trek: Generations has an example of this during a holodeck program of an actual sailing ship during Worf's promotion ceremony. Riker causing Worf to fall into the ocean was supposedly hilarious, but Data throwing Dr. Crusher in the water was so awful and not funny that Data had to install his emotion chip before he could be forgiven. To the audience, however, Riker comes off as a bit of a Jerkass (if you assume that he meant to make Worf fall and it wasn't just an accident) while Data's actions, coming in response to Dr. Crusher's explanation of how throwing people in the water was all in good fun, were Actually Pretty Funny.
- Averted in the commentary for Monsters, Inc., where it's mentioned that they refused to have Boo laugh at anything that didn't make them laugh too.
- In Twilight on Bella's first day of school, Mike and Jessica talk to her about why she's so pale if she's from Arizona. Bella says "maybe that's why they kicked me out?" - which is worthy of maybe a chuckle or two. Mike reacts as if she told the best joke ever and Jessica vapidly says "you're so funny".
- Book 3 of the Inheritance Cycle, Brisingr, has an In-Universe example where Eragon and Arya witness a group of spirit orbs turning a lily into a gem. Eragon points out that they literally gilded a lily like the phrase "gilding a lily" and thinks it's the funniest thing ever. Arya is only vaguely amused.
- Sometimes done deliberately in Discworld; most of the narration is absolutely laugh-out-loud, split-your-sides, pee-your-pants hilarious, but what characters point out as a joke is often just an Incredibly Lame Pun, Or Play on Words.
- An in-universe example occurs in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. After Ron makes a lame quip about Goyle's ugliness, everyone laughs, but recently-introduced Cloudcuckoolander Luna keeps laughing on and on, prompting him to ask if she's taking the mickey. Apparently, nope, that's just Luna.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ginny Weasley invents the nickname "Phlegm" for her prissy sister-in-law to be, Fleur. Maybe mildly funny only once, if you're being generous, but everyone acts like it's the most hilarious, witty thing ever every time she uses it.
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys are all seated at the dinner table the night before all the kids are going back to Hogwarts. Percy, the oldest Weasley student, asks his dad the good question, why the Ministry is supplying them with cars to escort them all to the railway station. His brothers Fred and George interject that it's all in honor of Percy being Head Boy and that the cars will even have insignias with "HB" on them to stand for "Humongous Bighead". Everyone at the table except Percy and his mom snorts with amusement. The audience is supposed to find the twins behavior towards Percy to be hilarious, while Percy should be regarded as the humorless jerk who needs to lighten up. But not only is both the setup and punchline for this joke excruciatingly obvious and unfunny, it's a mean-spirited jibe at a brother who at that moment wasn't doing anything to deserve it.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry's on the train to Hogwarts when he sees that Cho Chang's friend Marietta still has Hermione's jinx on her face from six months ago, and he smirks at the sight of it. Rowling herself has commented that she loathed Marietta for her "betrayal" so we are evidently supposed to be just as amused as Harry is to see the jinx still on her. For many readers, it had the opposite effect of making Marietta Unintentionally Sympathetic.
Live Action TV
- Played with in Advance Wars - Days of Ruin. Dr. Morris is full of himself and his horrible jokes. Sometimes others groan at him, and other times they tell him to be serious when he's not joking.
Dr. Morris: "I used to be a resident, but now I'm the PRESIDENT! Ho ho! Did you hear me? I said - "
Dr. Morris: "...not so good. In fact, our supplies are lower than a snake in a wheel rut!"
Brenner: "This is no time for jokes."
Dr. Morris: "I was joking?"
- Also played with with Yukiko from Persona 4, who will laugh hysterically at anything that could subjectively be considered funny. The only time she doesn't is to drive the point home of just just how bad one of Teddie's puns was.
- Punny Bones from Quest for Glory IV is a gnome jester who tells really bad jokes and puns because his humor was stolen by Baba Yaga. After you restore his humor...his jokes don't really get any funnier, he just tells more of them (if anything, his humor gets even worse.) Mercifully averted with the Ultimate Joke he teaches you (guaranteed to make anyone break out in laughter when they hear it,) since the player never hears it in full, leaving more to the imagination.
- The Editing Room lampshades this whenever it happens by including "this is very funny" or a variation after describing a scene.
- There was an entire episode of Arthur dedicated to how funny King Tut saying "I want my mummy" supposedly was. The example might be a bit of playing with the trope; only a select few people thought the joke was funny, but Buster's imagination sure thought it was the reason Binky got a higher grade. It's revealed at the end that Buster studied the wrong topic for his report.
- An episode of Jimmy Neutron had Jimmy alter his father's brain to make him "500% funnier." An example of one of the jokes he told under said influence: "I can smell the learning, oh wait, that's Butch. Do you ever shower?" Well, 500% of 0.000001 still isn't much.
- An episode of Recess has a lot of this for a movie everyone except Vince has seen. Possibly justified in that Vince not knowing the context of the quotes is the driving force of the plot.
- The Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Fields of Honey" had this in spades. The cartoon shown at the episode's climax is, at best, very slightly amusing, but the audience present react as if it's the funniest thing they've ever seen. A fat guy laughs so much that he explodes. The whole sequence had a very forced, weird atmosphere about it.
- Particularly if one had seen the "real" Honey in the Bosko cartoons, who basically just prances around going "La,la,la!"
- This trope also happens in the episode "Stand Up and Deliver" with some of the jokes told by the Robin Williams Expy. The audience finds *hilarious* and Babs is terrified to go on after him (i.e. she can't follow that). Some of the other (terrible, in context) comedians fall under So Unfunny It's Funny though.
- Satirized in Animaniacs in a segment in which Boo the giant chicken is mistaken for a TV executive, and when asked for the punchline for various gags on TV, keeps saying "B'gawk!" All of the other execs are in hysterics except for one other who doesn't understand why it's supposed to be funny, yet when she suggests the same punchline, no one gets it.
- Well of course not. Her delivery was awful.
- In The Simpsons, there's The Itchy & Scratchy Show, where the Simpsons are always shown to be guffawing and laughing until their sides split watching Itchy violently kill Scratchy. Of course, the sheer violence of it isn't so funny to the viewers as the whole idea of it being a parody.
- Parodied in another episode. At the dentist, Lisa ends the episode by making a ridiculously cringeworthy "tooth/truth" pun. The rest of the family, and the dentist, burst out laughing as though it's the greatest joke ever told... at which point the dentist realises he's accidentally left the laughing gas on.
- In the second episode of the first season, Bart defrauds his way into a school for the gifted. The teacher writes the equation y = (r^3)/3 on the board and asks the students to calculate the derivative. Everyone except Bart does and finds it hilarious. The solution is given as "RDRR" or "har de har har". Even though that's not the proper way to write the solution (it should be dy/dr = r^2), apparently gifted children find it funny?
- Intentionally done in "The Last Temptation of Krust" where the Springfielders go to a comedy club. The first comic utters a pretty weak one ("I got around to reading the dictionary. The zebra did it") but the entire audience laughs like it's the funniest thing ever, with the exception of Homer. Lisa then has to explain things to him and when that fails just states it was supposed to be a joke, to which Homer then goes "Oh, it's a joke?" and starts laughing anyway.
- Invoked intentionally in one Family Guy. Peter tried to impress Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase with a flat joke. The two comedians and Lois recognized it as unfunny, but absolutely everybody else in the show's universe thought it was the most hilarious joke ever.
Here's John Wayne at the first Thanksgiving! "I'm John Wayne, pilgrims! Happy Thanksgiving, Pilgrims!"
- Later on, Quagmire tries to get Peter and Joe to do improv with him, but Peter keeps forcing this joke (and other slight variations). Glenn doesn't think it's funny either, but for him improv is Serious Business.
- South Park plays the dissonance for comedy.
- Jimmy is supposed to be a very funny stand-up comedian that all the other characters find hilarious. He has yet to tell a single joke that is funny. In the episode "Fishsticks," Jimmy coming up with (and Cartman taking all the credit for) what is supposed to be the funniest joke ever. It goes thus: "Do you like fishsticks (fish dicks) ?" "Yes." "Do you like putting them in your mouth?" "Yes." "What are you, a gay fish?" The joke makes the rounds in all the talk shows and becomes a nationwide phenomenon. The only person not to get it is rapper Kanye West, who is so self-centered that he takes it as a personal insult and starts looking for the originator of the "rumors".
- The "Funnybot" episode features a robot that is programmed to be the perfect comedian, but it tells lame cut-and-paste tabloid jokes, mostly ending with the punchline "Awkward!" It sells out amphitheaters across the world. The Funnybot is so successful that the world's most famous comedians are rendered unemployed and destitute, and an angry mob consisting of Conan O'Brien, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, and dozens of other famous but now-unemployed comedians storm South Park Elementary.
- Veronica Crabtree's standup career was justified as it was All Just a Dream.
- The Joker played with this in Batman: The Animated Series with an episode where he took a studio audience hostage and hooked Batman up to an electric chair. The chair was directly connected to a "laugh meter" and since he knew he would never get the audience to laugh legitimately, he got the audience so high on laughing gas that Harley reading the phone book had them rolling in the aisles.
- This is mostly averted in The Fairly Oddparents where Timmy wishes he was the funniest person on Earth: His dialogue doesn't change at all and everyone is simply magically forced to laugh at it. This trope shows up briefly with the jokes the supposedly funny kids tell at the start of the episode, though.
- Parodied and exaggerated to the max with Cosmo, who will laugh at absolutely ANYTHING.
Wanda: Just watch. (flies up to Cosmo) Pudding.
Cosmo: (burts into laughter) You said "Pud" and then "Ding"!
- Played straight with The April Fool: A famous stand up comedian in Fairy World and the spirit of April Fool's Day. A lot of people in the show find him funny despite his routine being mostly made up of lame and predictable jokes and puns and adding rim shots and his catchphrase: "What's up with that?"
- Every single episode of Widget The World Watcher (not to be confused with a Widget Series) ended with everyone laughing at some "cute" thing someone said that was distinctly not even remotely funny.
- The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack has an entire episode of this trope, beginning with Peppermint Larry telling some jokes consisting of truly awful puns and continuing into a joke-telling contest between Larry and another character. Eventually said other character speaks entire sentences in nothing but puns, soon after which it curves in on itself, implodes, then becomes genuinely funny.
- Phineas and Ferb has Ferb going up on stage and saying "So, how about that airline food?" This prompts everyone in the audience to burst out laughing, pound their fists, and even overturn a table because they find it so funny. Not only that, but then Stacy — who was laughing along with everyone else — says she doesn't even know what airline food is.
- The Tom Goes To The Mayor Christmas episode has Tom trying to sell t-shirts that have a sketchy drawing of a rat tipping a top hat with the caption "Rats Off To Ya!" - the Mayor finds it unbearably funny, and it becomes a massive cultural phenomenon. In the spirit of the show, it's all snatched away from Tom, who doesn't see a cent from it.
- During an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants in which SpongeBob unwittingly one-ups everything Squidward tries to do with a used gum wrapper, SpongeBob makes an incredibly lame joke, after which several dozen fish appear out of nowhere and start laughing hysterically, though this is more to Yank the Dog's Chain and reinforce Squidward's status as the Butt Monkey than anything.
- Used deliberately in an episode of Dave the Barbarian, where the extraordinary unfunny Ned Frischman, a man from the future, travels back in time to the middle ages in order to tell his jokes before they have turned old. He manages to become the funniest man in recorded history by using simple "Why did the chicken cross the road"-class jokes (recorded history having begun two weeks earlier).
- On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Jimmy is described as being able to cheer up anyone and make them laugh, even in Miseryville. Yet the things he does seem like stereotypical grade-school stuff. It's lampshaded at the end of "The Mysterious Mr. Ten", when Lucius can't believe Jimmy is funny.
- Rover Dangerfield. Oh so so much. Apparently he has the Informed Ability for making jokes and one liners funny enough that his dog friends constantly laugh and compliment him on his humor.
- The Powerpuff Girls: In "The City Of Frownsville," the ep's villain, Lou Gubrious, sets a crying ray on Townsville, making everyone cry tears heavy enough that it threatens to flood the city. The girls—crying their eyes out as well—attempt to make the people laugh. Approaching mic:
Blossom: (taps the mic) *sob* Is this thing on? We just flew in from Las Vegas...
Bubbles: *sob* Because we can!
- Played with in Duckman, where Duckman (and the audience) can recognize comedian Iggy Catalpa is painfully unfunny but no one in-universe can. Catalpa is cheating using Applied Phlebotinum supplied by King Chicken; Duckman had unknowingly taken an antidote.
- The Al Brodax Popeye cartoon "It Only Hurts When They Laugh" has Olive making Popeye and Brutus laugh while she's doing the dishes so she'll know they're not fighting. But while Olive is busy, Popeye and Brutus are beating the hell out of each other while they're laughing. Made even more dissonant with Winston Sharples' music which is the stock serious action leitmotif.