"Just Joking" Justification
"He let the contents of the bottle do the thinkingWhen humour is used to excuse behavior that others find offensive and inappropriate, you have just encountered a "Just Joking" Justification. Never mind that this seldom soothes the sting; the original barb hurt, after all, and hurting others for one's own amusement won't earn much sympathy, either. See the Real Life section below on the overlap between this trope and emotional abuse. One source of humor which comedians have used as a reservoir of material, and a cause of this trope, are contemporary stereotypes, be they sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise. These can range a very wide gamut, from people getting upset at Michael Richards' (Seinfeld's Kramer) infamous n-word tirade at a heckler, to people getting upset when they don't realize Jon Stewart's jokes about Jewish conspiracies are actually deconstructive parodies (and he is Jewish). Frequently features as an excuse for invoking Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast. An Affably Evil character may actually get away with this on a regular basis, as may someone who's considered Too Funny to Be Evil. It definitely won't work if Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor. Compare and contrast Sarcastic Confession. You may also consider this as a form of justification for when an attempt to Cross The Line Twice results in Dude, Not Funny!. Contrast Poe's Law, when it really was just a joke but the satirical intention got lost. Also see Parody Retcon for when this is applied to entire works. Not to be confused with I Was Just Joking.
Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding"
Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding"
— They Might Be Giants, "Your Racist Friend"
open/close all folders
- Coffee shops offering a "skinny" option to help women "get that bikini bod" — whose defense against claims of fat-shaming was "our female employees came up with it/thought it was funny."
Anime & Manga
- Detective Conan: Whenever Kogoro makes one of his off-the-wall, no-basis-in-fact accusations and it gets shot down, he will frequently backpedal by saying he was just joking.
- Ai Haibara also always tag this to the end of anything that is actually real.
- Darker Than Black played with this. November 11 used to drop a comment somewhat disturbing for everyone present and add "Just joking" immediately. It's sufficiently annoying to other characters that it gets several Ironic Echoes throughout the series.
- Bergelmir (Loki's brother) tries to pull one to cover his ass after attempting to trick Lucifer into being honor-bound to kill himself.
Bergelmir: It was joke, Morningstar. A joke only. I've something of my brother's humor, after all.Lucifer: Take me to the ship. Or I'll show you what makes me laugh.
- In one version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, after the piper has gotten rid of the rats, the mayor claims he was only joking about the payment. If you've heard the story, you know how that turned out.
Films — Animated
- The Spongebob Square Pants Movie makes fun of this briefly. After mind-controlling just about all of Bikini Bottom, Plankton is arrested. C'mon, he was just kidding.
- At the finale of Shrek 4D, Lord Farquaad makes this justification in regards to his attempt to kill main characters when faced with Dragon.
- Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Genie has made what could be seen as an extremely insensitive joke (that Aladdin isn't really required for a wedding to happen). "It's a joke! (deadpan) I do that."
- Mother Gothel from Tangled uses this quite frequently when talking to Rapunzel.
Gothel: "Ah, Rapunzel, how you manage to [pull me up the tower with your hair] every single day without fail... it looks absolutely exhausting, darling."
Rapunzel: "Oh, it's nothing."
Gothel: "Then I don't know why it takes so long! Ohohoho, darling, I'm just teasing!"
Rapunzel: "Eh-heh... So, mother, as you know, tomorrow is a very big day-"
Gothel: "Darling, look at that mirror. You know what I see? Is see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady. Oh, look, you're here too. Ahahahaha! I'm just teasing, stop taking everything so seriously!"
Films — Live-Action
- In the Adam Sandler film Jack and Jill, Jack (played by Sandler) has a Mexican gardener whose only purpose in the movie is to make tons and tons of horrifically racist Mexican jokes ("We just got over the border!" "This is by son Juan, my other son Juan, and my daughter Juanita.") and follow them up with "I'm just KEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDING!".
- Done in Airplane when Johnny in the control tower pulls a plug that cuts the runway lights as a prank.
- Played for Drama in 42. After Ben Chapman gets backlash for his racist diatribe against Jackie Robinson, he defends himself by claiming that it's tradition to use derogatory slurs to distract opposing players.
- Also Played for Drama in Confessions. Shuya repeatedly jokes about killing his teacher's daughter, and shields any sincere emotion he might have with a "just kidding"
- Revenge of the Pink Panther. After being presumed dead in a Mafia assassination, Inspector Clouseau returns home to find Cato has turned his apartment into a brothel (and the password to enter is his own name). After the inevitable comical misunderstandings, Clouseau indignantly shouts that he is a police officer. The bouncer promptly puts a switchblade to his neck, whereupon Cato rushes into the room.
Cato: No, don't kill him! I used to work for this man — he was only kidding! Tell them you were just kidding, boss!Clouseau: Yes, I was just...kidding. Cross my heart and hope to (eyeing the knife) ...see you again some time.
- In Heathers, Ram Sweeney does this in a conversation he's having with God during a funeral: "Jesus god in Heaven, why did you have to kill such hot snatch? It's a joke, man. Jeez, people are so serious. Hail Mary, who aren't in heaven, pray for all us sinners so we don't get caught. Another joke, man."
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms abuses this trope horrendously. If a lord says something to upset a favoured retainer, they usually claim it was a joke. Even if the statement that upset the person wasn't funny at all.
- From The Bible, Proverbs 26:18-19, New International Version:
Like a maniac shootingflaming arrows of deathis one who deceives their neighborand says, “I was only joking!”
(18) As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, (19) So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport?
- Or, in the KJV:
- In the Captain Underpants book The Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds) George, Harold and Captain Underpants jump out of a UFO and land SPLAT on the ground... or not; the narrator was kidding.
- In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape discusses this as a method of tempting a person to be a jerkass. After all, they might not realize their jerkassery is hurtful if they—and better yet, all their friends—see it as just a joke.
- Helen from The Zombie Knight says this about commenting that Hector and Lynnette would make a cute couple. However, she probably was mostly joking.
- A dark, spoilery example from Warbreaker: Denth disguises Tonk Fah's genuinely sadistic and sociopathic behavior by playing it down and treating it like a joke, essentially passing him off as a Heroic Comedic Sociopath.
- A rare example without overtones of racism or outright cruelty: on The Dick Van Dyke Show there was an episode where Jerry Helper (the next door neighbor) was going around saying The Alan Brady Show — on which Robert Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) worked — wasn't funny. He told Rob he was "just kidding" but kept on doing it. Rob was quite upset.
- In Toshiie to Matsu, Oda Nobunaga attempts to pass off a particularly tasteless move (displaying the gold-plated skull of his sister's dead husband, and ordering her and her new fiancee to drink from the skullcap) on his part as a joke.
- Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm makes frequent use of this (usually as a last resort if he needs something from whoever he offended).
- In the Hannah Montana episode "Judge Me Tender", a Simon Cowell parody character issues one of these, then immediately retracts it, after saying both Hannah and the judge for whom she was filling in were boring.
- An episode of Malcolm in the Middle has a new neighbor boy spreading malicious lies about Malcolm, turning the entire neighborhood against him. When Malcolm confronts him, the kid says, "Hey, it's just a joke. Lighten up," and continues doing it.
- Michael Scott often finds himself caught in these after an egregious faux-pas or a joke in really bad taste.
- Scrubs: the Janitor brings a cage to a baby shower(for the baby). When he gets weird looks he then plays it off like he was just joking and really brought it just in case the child gets a puppy later on. We later see him on the phone "No, Ma, 'baby cage, playpen' is not like 'tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to'!"
- Rome. Julius Caesar sends Vorenus to bribe a former army colleague. Honest to a fault but loyal to his superior, Vorenus does so and reports back. Caesar comments that he didn't think the man would sell out so cheaply. "I must send you to handle all of my corruptions." Manipulative Bastard that he is, Caesar quickly sees how uncomfortable this makes Vorenus and says that he was only joking.
- Mr. Brown, the first hotel guest on Fawlty Towers, does this after joking about needing a double bed and suggestively saying "hello" to Polly. His boorishness is justified when we learn that Mr. Brown is an undercover police officer, posing as a guest to investigate the phony Lord Melbury.
- On Criminal Minds a psychopathic teenager who had already committed several murders held a knife to his sister's throat, about to kill her in front of their horrified mother because of his jealousy over her perceived favoritism. When the FBI agents arrived in the nick of time and ordered him to drop the knife, he tried to sound casual with, "Fine. I was only kidding anyway." It didn't fool anyone.
- Game of Thrones. In "Second Sons", Tyrion Lannister makes a Freudian Threat to King Joffrey after one too many Kick the Dog moments. After a Stunned Silence, his father Lord Tywin points out that Tyrion is drunk. Tyrion regains control of himself and tries to pass his threat off as a bad joke, engaging in some Self-Deprecation. It's unclear if anyone is fooled by this (Joffrey certainly isn't,) but was a necessary face-saving gesture anyway.
- As evidenced by the page quote, They Might Be Giants have expressed opinions on this trope.
- There's also The Smiths' "Bigmouth Strikes Again":
Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said
I'd like to smash every tooth in your head
Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said
by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed
- In the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "I Was Only Kidding", the singer tries to use the line to justify telling someone that he loved her. As abrasively as possible. He gets shot.
When I said you could always trust me,
When I said I'd never leave you flat,
Well guess what? I was only kidding, baby,
I can't believe you fell for that!
(you're so gullible!)
- In Bare Naked Ladies song "The Flag" it's used with pretty dark overtones.
The phone rings, it's early, it's seven o'clock.
He says I'm sorry that I woke you but I just had to talk.
You know, last night, remember when I tried to choke you?
I didn't mean it, I was drunk, it was only a joke.
- Nelly's "Hot in Here" has this bit:
Stop pacin', time wastin'
I got a friend with a pole in the basement
(Female voice: "What?")
I'm just kiddin' like Jason
(Female voice: "Oh.")
Unless you gon' do it
- Which Weird Al parodied thusly in "Trash Day":
Some Lysol, some Comet
I got a mop and it's got your name on it
(Female voice: "What?")
I'm just kiddin', doggone it
(Female voice: "Oh.")
Unless you're gonna do it
- Which Weird Al parodied thusly in "Trash Day":
- A particularly flippant example from Megan Trainor's "All About That Bass":
I'm bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
Nah, I'm just playing, I know you think you're fat
- Many Death Metal bands feature lyrical themes such as extreme violence, Gorn, historical atrocities, sociopathy, Satanism, Religion Rant Songs and extreme misanthropy that might leave one wondering how anyone could be a fan of it. However, it’s generally understood that most Death Metal musicians don’t take this lyrical content entirely seriously, and simply use it for shock and/or escapist value, which allows many fans to be more comfortable with it.
- In contrast, this trope doesn’t apply nearly as much to Black Metal, which employs similar lyrical themes (though the focus tends to be more on Satanism and anti-Christianity). While they’re still a great number of Black Metallers who are well-balanced people who don’t wholeheartedly endorse the extreme messages in their music, a series of notorious incidents in which Black Metal musicians have actually committed crimes such burning down churches and murder, or admitted to actually believing in the radical ideologies espoused in their music (which can include Nazism) has resulted in many people (including fans of other forms of extreme metal) not giving black metal this same benefit of the doubt and writing off the genre as the domain of serious crazies who should Stop Being Stereotypical.
- This is actually a classic troll tactic.
- The users at the Snopes message board have agreed on a rule of thumb: any joke that requires you to use this phrase isn't funny.
- The Onion: Come On, Lighten Up, I'm Just Being A Total Asshole.
- During one episode of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas, Peri and Erimem are currently posing as two princes who are supposed to be dead, and are as far as they know, stranded due to a temporal mishap. Erimem suggests suicide (to save the timeline) is the only answer, but then pretends she was just joking when hearing Peri's shocked response.
Stand Up Comedy
- Some comedians, such as Russell Peters, have received criticism for this.
- The author of the Stuff White People Like blog speaks on Sarah Silverman thusly: Get it? It's not offensive, because when she says racist or sexist things she knows they are offensive. So it's okay.
- Michael Richards stepped far afoul of this one when a heckler got him so flustered he went on a racist tirade that was so Dude, Not Funny! people started walking out. He later said he was trying to shock the hecklers into silence by Crossing The Line Twice, but most people think he forgot to cross it back.
- Subverted by Jeff Foxworthy in one of his stand up acts. After making a joke about having cats stuffed by a taxidermist...
Jeff: Did I offend someone in the audience? It's a joke. I have two cats. (beat) One on either side of the fireplace.
- However, he played it straight on a later album. After making a joke that he feared could be misconstrued as homophobic, he launched into a series of jokes on how gay people and married people are Not So Different.
- Mike Birbiglia had a heartbreaking stand-up in which he talked about a girl he dated in high school. She constantly would say belittling things to him and then add "only kidding!" at the end. After he realized that she had been cheating on him with several other guys, he tells how he just wished she'd have been there to say "only kidding!" to that.
- Larry The Cable Guy does this a lot, in and out of character. Most of the time, it's in the form of "Lord, I apologize."
- " and be with the starving Pygmies in New Guinea."
- Ricky Gervais has been accused of this, such as here.
- Andrew "Dice" Clay has been known to trot out this defense, claiming his on-stage act is "satire." Granted, his character of "The Diceman" is a Deconstructive Parody of the 1950s greaser character type (think The Fonz from Happy Days), but Clay would refuse to break character even during interviews on talk shows, so it's hard to tell how much of this justification is warranted.
- This defence was mercilessly parodied by Stewart Lee, who performed a nearly fifteen minute-long routine in which he mocked Richard Hammond and the other Top Gear presenters to the point that he states he wishes Richard Hammond had been decapitated and killed in his famous dragster crash in 2006. Lee then clumsily follows up the increasingly violent outbursts several times with "it's just a joke, like on Top Gear", demonstrating how lame an excuse this actually is.
- Comedian Andrew O'Neill references this trope in his video I'm not being racist but... . In summary, he demonstrates that the phrase renders anything suspicious and disturbing.
- In Batman: Arkham Asylum Joker pulls one as one of his looping taunts after beating challenge mode.
The Joker: While you were fighting I've had everyone you love BRUTALLY MURDERED! hehehe... Only joking.
- With the Joker, you never can tell....
- In Mass Effect 2, your shipboard AI, EDI, will attempt to crack a few jokes, but ends up append these comments with the phrase "That was a joke" when the people listening don't find it funny, or are afraid she's gone rogue.
EDI: I enjoy seeing humans on their knees.Joker: *beat*EDI: That was a joke.
- Dark Skye in Magick Chicks said "I was only playing"... after sending a pack of wolves to attack her schoolmate with the words "dinner time!". She was so erratic at this point that whether she meant it the first, second or both times is about equally likely.
- A Running Gag in El Goonish Shive during the uniforms arc, was Tedd attempting to lighten the mood by saying something totally outrageous, and being genuinely confused that his friends weren't taking it in that spirit.
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Krillin tries to use this to explain cutting off Freeza's tail, after Freeza undergoes the final stages of his Villainous Breakdown.
Krillin: What did I do?Freeza: Remember my tail!?Krillin: Can't you take a joke?Screaming, and an explosion.
- The yandere family to Donnie in Demo Reel. They held him captive, planned to keep him through feeding him muscle relaxants, think he's kidding around about his mother dying, and keep on gleefully reminding him about his tragic past. When he's free and pissed, they try to get out of it by mewling "we were just having a little fun!". As one might expect, he doesn't let them off the hook.
- Noob has the following situation. Sparadrap is a complete idiot, but has a brother among the elite players who sometimes "borrows" his avatar to have an impromptu chat with his guildmates. Sparadrap's guildmate Omega Zell frequently insults his intelligence out loud, but is also trying to get on the good side of the game's elite. And one day, the insulting and the surprise avatar "borrowing" happened at the same time...
- This story from Not Always Right skewers the trope via Ironic Echo. Sadly, the original offenders don't seem to get the hint.
- The Simpsons:
- Krusty the Clown in the episode "Like Father, Like Clown" deconstructs this after an offensive bit by outright saying, "When you look at me like that, it's a joke."
- Following Sideshow Bob's Heel-Face Turn in "Brother From Another Series", he remarks that he still just might have the urge to kill Bart Simpson, only to quickly add "Joking, joking!" when Bart gets frightened.
- Bart's chalkboard punishment for the episode "Homer the Great" reads "Adding 'just kidding' doesn't make it okay to insult the principal".
- Casinko, an episode of Sealab 2021 contains a heavily referenced song entitled "We're Only Joking". 
- When Deputy Dawg starts the wedding of Mighty Mouse and Pearl Pureheart (1988 episode "Mighty's Wedlock Whimsy") with "You have the right to remain silent," Sourpuss calls him on it:
Sourpuss: No, dog! That's da wrong speech! Dis is supposed ta be a weddin'!Deputy Dawg: (laughs goofily) Just checkin'!
- The 1940 Looney Tunes cartoon "You Ought To Be In Pictures" has Daffy cajoling Porky into quitting the cartoon business to be a legitimate actor in live films. When that proves disastrous, Porky returns, fishes his torn-up contract out of the trash and tells producer Leon Schlesinger he was only kidding. "April fool!"
- In the Code Lyoko episode "Ghost Channel", Odd's boneheaded antics du jour had nearly gotten him devirtualized but he pulls off a spectacular return, earning him praise from his teammates. He then proceeds to tell Jeremie to sit back and let the real heroes take care of things. He starts laughing but then realizes that not only is no one else laughing but the other 3 people on Lyoko are glaring at him. He protests that he was just joking but it quickly becomes apparent the claim is falling flat.
- Bullies get away with all kinds of verbal abuse, harassment and death threats as long as they say they were "just joking". It's primarily because it is quite common in society for friends to make such remarks to each other jokingly, but a bully will be serious in their intent, and react adversely if you say anything of that sort to them. It gets more unbelievable in cases where the target voices very clearly in front of the adults (who are supposed to be the responsible ones), and their oppressor too, their wish for the bully to stop subjecting them to those "pranks and jokes" which they intensely dislike, but the bully goes on as selfishly as usual, with no one bating an eye. Many kids (and indeed parents and teachers), thanks to the media, don't think it's bullying unless it's physical. However, this is changing because of the rise of cyber-bullying reminding us that bullying is any unwanted invasion of privacy. "Just joking" is almost as bad as "I was acting in self-defense" in terms of Blatant Lies used as excuses by sociopaths.
- Similarly, this is very common in situations of abuse. A common tactic is to blatantly insult the victim, then claim it's "just a joke" when they get upset and making them seem bad for over-reacting. This trains the victim to take the abuse and discourages them from speaking up for themselves, and disturbingly can cause the victim to believe the insults. Mother Gothel in the Tangled example above is a very realistic example of how this works.
- Humorist and U.S. Senator Al Franken (D–Minnesota) has used the term "kidding on the square" to refer to a type of "joking" that's subtly, or not-so-subtly, serious in its intent.
- "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke" is part of the SubGenius dogma, but trying to justify it as "just a joke" is one of the few sins. The inversion of this trope is Ha Ha Only Serious.
- This happened between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, and was the start of their infamous feud. Tesla told Edison he could greatly improve the efficiency of Edison's electrical generators and distribution. Edison remarked that if Tesla could do it, there was $50,000 in it for him. When Tesla succeeded and wanted his money, Edison told him, "You don't understand our American humor." Instead, Edison offered a pay raise that would have taken 96 years to equal the promised sum. Unsurprisingly, Tesla left the company instead.
- Since this type of humor has become more popularized and people think they can hide behind it, it's been fairly common for newspaper columnists, for instance, to write straight editorials that are blatantly bigoted and then when they're called out say, "It was obviously meant to be satire!"... only to completely fall down when the time came to explain exactly what they were satirizing and why it deserved it.
- Infamously used by Jack Thompson to back out of his challenge to video game developers, when they actually created a violent video game to satirize themselves like he challenged them to. When he wouldn't make the donation to a charity as promised, the folks behind Penny Arcade footed the amount in his name◊. For which he sued them for harassment, and tried to have them arrested.
- Sarah Palin said that Rahm Emanuel's usage of the word "retarded" was offensive. When a controversy erupted, Rush Limbaugh chipped in and said "In today's politically-correct society, there's a big deal if you call a retard 'retard'". Palin ranted against Emanuel and said that he had offended "all of God's children with mental disabilities", but then said that Limbaugh's comment was OK because it was "satire."
- Stephen Colbert then joined in, saying that his comments were just satire, and said on TV: "Sarah Palin, you're a fucking retard."
- One episode of Family Guy had a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo of an Alaskan governor's mentally handicapped child. Sarah Palin took offense to this, and replied with her usual reaction. The actress who played the character is herself mentally handicapped, and responded to Sarah Palin with "my parents taught me to have a sense of humor about my life, instead of parading me around the country for pity votes."
- Mary Bale, the woman who threw a cat into a very deep trashcan, leaving it trapped in the dark for FIFTEEN HOURS defended her actions by saying "'I did it as a joke because I thought it would be funny". Anonymous thinks it is good she has a sense of humor, it likes a laugh itself.
- South Park seems to get immunity from criticism (at least since it has become popular) for piling all kinds of political incorrectness and Black Comedy while older cartoons with material only about half as offensive (such as the infamous "Censored Eleven") are never shown on TV (sort of a reverse Grandfather Clause, if you think about it). The justification is apparently something along the lines of "Well, Trey Parker and Matt Stone don't really believe in that stuff and are actually mocking it, so it's okay."
- PETA attacked Super Mario 3D Land on the grounds that Mario's Tanooki Suit promoted wearing fur. They resorted to "just a joke" after facing the Internet Backlash.
- The creator of the American Hentai game Tentacle Bento tried to claim it was a "satire" of misogynistic anime after people accused him of exploiting rape. Not surprisingly, nobody bought this excuse, and the game was removed from Kickstarter.
- A communications director by the name of Justine Sacco tweeted "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just Kidding. I'm White!" before getting on a flight to Africa. The obviously racist implications sparked a brief storm of outrage on Twitter. Despite Sacco's claims that she was only joking and wasn't really racist, she ended up losing her job.
- Adam Orth, a mouthpiece for Microsoft, was at the center of an Internet Backdraft during the promotion of the Xbox One. He came under fire after several people tweeted their concerns about the Xbox One (at the time) having an online DRM requirement that needed to check in every 24 hours. Orth's response was telling people to "deal with it," and that he didn't understand their concerns, since he had a fast Internet connection. Over the next few days, Orth was blasted by a ton of gaming and news websites, with Orth claiming that he was only tweeting as a joke to his friends, and he didn't really mean what he said. No one bought it, and Orth was fired.
- There is literally an entire genre of so-called "public prank videos" and "social experiment videos" on YouTube that pretty much exemplify this trope. Many of the "pranks" shown in the videos are rather mean-spirited and seem as though they are meant to anger and enrage the victims, but whenever one of said victims gets aggressive, the pranksters immediately change tact and say "Wait, it's a prank! It's a prank!" (as though that makes said actions okay somehow).
- There is even a subgenre of this called "Pranks in the Hood", where the pranksters specifically seek out a neighborhood populated by minorities in order to perform their pranks. In addition to coming off as outright racist, these types of pranks are twice as dangerous, since many of the neighborhoods the pranksters venture into are notably low-income areas of their city. note