"Our top story today: Convicted hit man Jimmy 'Two-Shoes' McClarty confessed today that he was once hired to beat a cow to death in a rice field using only two small porcelain figures. Police admit this may be the first known case of a knickknack paddy-whack."
These are jokes that require so much setup and work behind the scenes that you would wonder why the effort was made, but you don't because it's just that funny.
Compare Massive Multiplayer Scam. Also compare Shaggy Dog Story, which is a long story or joke that seems like it will lead somewhere but doesn't; Brick Joke, which is a gag or plot element that simply comes back much later; and Henway, which is a joke specifically set up to "trap" the listener. The end result may get a Lame Pun Reaction. If the joke is specifically a short story with a pun at the end, it's a feghoot.
See also Disaster Dominoes, which when Played for Laughs is a slapstick gag which needs a lot of events occurring in succession.
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Anime & Manga
In Bleach, Orihime Inoue does one of these on her friend Tatsuki. When Tatsuki asks about the condition of her apartment, Orihime replies that she's been evicted as of a few days before. Tatsuki is, understandably, flabbergasted and asks where Orihime's been sleeping, upon which she pulls out a squashy sleeping bag and says that it's soooo comfortable. Then she reveals that she was just kidding. Tatsuki asks her how long she'd been carrying around the sleeping bag in order to do so, and Orihime answers, "about three days, I was actually wondering if anybody was going to give me the opportunity." Of course, Orihime is a bit of a Cloudcuckoolander anyway.
One episode has Katsura suddenly switch from Counting Sheep to reciting a lengthy high school sports drama. The punchline is that the number on the jersey of the character featured at the end of the story was the same number as the sheep he was about to count.
Episode 153 of the anime has Gintoki listen to a radio story "guaranteed to make you cry in four minutes or less", hoping it'll help him sleep. The story, titled "I'm Sorry, Jerry", is about a girl and her loyal dog whom she's forced to leave behind she moves to another town. The story lasts well over four minutes, and does genuinely tug at the heartstrings, but right when it seems like it's going to end on a touching note, it decides to go for a Cruel Twist Ending with some Surprise Creepy. Cue hilariously girly scream from Gintoki.
Demetri Martin parodies this trope perhaps better than anyone else has ever managed to:
Demetri: Last time I saw Dean was like five years earlier when Dean and I were doing a roofing job on top of a 40-story building. He started talking crazy that day and he goes, "I can't take it, man," and he got up on the ledge, and he jumped. Just after he jumped, I looked down and I noticed that Trampoline Emporium was having a sidewalk sale that day. Dean landed right on one of the trampolines, bounced back up 40 stories to where I was standing, and just as he floated up he said to me, "Y'know, I think a lot of your joke premises are contrived and hard to believe."
In one of his shows, Dara O'Briain has a part about the midwife that he and his wife were seeing during his wife's pregnancy. When it comes to a joke about childbirth, he runs over two to boys in the front row he was talking to earlier and spends the next minute alternatively explaining the importance of the thing he's going to say and apologizing to all the women in the audience in advance.
Dara: And then she gets to a major issue — Oh, lads, lads, lads, lads, lads... you'll know nothing about this, but I'm gonna say something here that you will never have heard of before in your life. But when I say it, watch out for this: When I say something in about a minutes time, every woman in this room is gonna make a noise. Every one of you will make this noise, and I am not proud of the noise I am about to make you make. It's not a good noise I'm gonna make you do. There's good stuff just beyond that noise. That's gold! But there's a noise barrier, and you've got to make that noise to get through that barrier, right? During the process, there's a point where a decision may have to be made... — Icannotappologizeenough — ...between a tear and a cut. Audience: Eewww.... Dara: There's the noise!
Garth Ennis once created a demon named Baytor in his Hitman series so he could eventually have him become Lord of Hell and be referred to as "Master" Baytor.
A Bluntman and Chronic comic featured marijuana-themed hero Bluntman getting distracted only to notice that Chronic has been tied up under a boulder held up by a crane. Derris, the villain, then delivers what amounts to "Give up or your sidekick gets stoned," and a couple police officers watching lampshade this by saying "So that's why he went through the trouble of dragging that huge crane over there!" "Yeah! For that incredibly lame pun!"
In an issue of X-Men, Mystique goes out to scatter the ashes of her companion Destiny, a precognitive. Destiny, before her death, left detailed instructions on exactly when and where to scatter the ashes — the fantail of a specific cruise liner at a particular point at an exact time. Mystique, at the right time and place, releases the ashes, and a gust of wind blows them back into her face. She doubles over laughing realizing that the instructions were intended to set up an Overly Prepared Gag.
FoxTrot had a Shout-Out to Pearls Before Swine — Peter immediately surmised that Jason had been reading too much Pearls.
Jason: I'm making a miniature RV out of these plastic building blocks. It's transporting a frozen waffle along with several expectant mothers obsessed with Rocky IV from the tip of South America to a country in southern Europe. Peter: Okay... Jason: Here, grab it from me. Peter: What for? Jason: Just grab it. (Peter grabs it) Leggo my Eggo-carrying Lego Winnebago full of preggo fans of Drago en route to Montenegro from Tierra del Fuego which is south of San Diego.
Kung Pow! Enter the Fist: The villain tells people to start calling him Betty at one point in the movie. It's funny on its own... then at the end of the movie when he's wearing black and preparing to fight, Ram Jam's "Black Betty" starts playing.
Rat Race has a gag where half the humor of it is how contrived the setup was: A series of increasingly implausible incidents result in a Jewish family crashing into a WWII veteran assembly in a car decorated with swastikas, and the father gets out sporting a black lipstick Hitler moustache and a tongue injury that makes him speak in German-sounding gibberish, and in trying to explain what happened starts sticking out his burnt middle finger and waving his hand in the air in a Zieg Heil-esque gesture.
In Soul Music, Nobby and Colon are watching Imp y Celyn busking in Ankh-Morpork and Colon comments that he's "playing the harp". Nobby says "Lyre" and Colon says, "No it's true... Oh I bet you've been waiting all your life for someone to say 'that's a harp', just so you could make that joke. I bet you were born hoping that someone would say that."
Most of Soul Music is a build up to one of the final lines said in the book, "There's a new boy working at the fried fish stall, and I could swear he was Elvish!"
There's also Imp's name, which translated means bud of the holly, the y signifying "of the".
Throughout Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear, the characters share office gossip about others in the police station. In the end, this comes together as a long "Peter Piper picked a peck of peppers" kind of tongue-twister, and they even break the fourth wall to complain about the gag: "I don't know how he gets away with it."
Fforde names a minor villain Yorick in his first Thursday Next book for no real reason other than that he can bring him back four books later to make a Hamlet pun.
"Death of a Foy" (can be found on this page, ctrl-F the word "foy"), by Isaac Asimov of all people. The careful and elaborate setup of an intricate setting and alien religious culture were all for the purpose of an Incredibly Lame Pun based on the first several lines of Give My Regards To Broadway. For added effect, he even carefully tailored its length for the sci-fi publication he originally sent it to, so the reader had to turn the page right before the punchline hit out of nowhere. Lots of Asimov's short stories are like this. He could fill a book with them — and did!
Also used in Everworld, with a character making an awful pun on "gymnosperm", then announcing he'd been stockpiling it since junior high.
The book Dogs Don't Tell Jokes is about Gary Boone, a kid who wants to be a stand-up comedian, but is considered unpopular and weird by his classmates. Gary finally gets his chance to prove himself during the school talent show, comes on stage wearing a hat, and launches into a long rambling story about how he bought some shampoo that was too strong. He punctuates this story with many other unrelated jokes, and actually manages to get laughs from his peers. Finally he reaches the end of the story, where he reveals that he left the shampoo in his hair for too long and removes his hat, revealing that he's shaved his head bald from the ears up. This gets a huge laugh from the crowd.
J.D. and Turk do a lot of shift-switching to put two doctors named Turner and Hooch together on a medical case, just so they could shout, "Turner and Hooch!"
This can fizzle very easily: J.D. once told Doug that a patient had "updoc" in a class, hoping that he would would ask, "What'supdoc?"
J.D. set it up so a patient thought his name was Daman, so that, when the patient asked who was doing his procedure, J.D. could answer "Doctor Daman", prompting the patient to ask "Who's Daman". Needless to say, it failed, miserably. The patient was rather too polite, and added the honorific.
The Todd has been known to wait in hiding for hours until someone unwittingly sets up a double entendre.
J.D. also spent over a week setting up a joke about Oprah-themed cereal in My Happy Place, recording a member of staff's Oprah impression and rigging a cereal box (the design and manufacture of which he was presumably also responsible for) so that the recording played when it was opened.
Phoebe did this on Friends. Chandler was forced to leave a restaurant wearing only women's panties (longstory...), so she says she'd like to write a song, but can't because her guitar is missing a string.
Phoebe: Hey, Chandler, can I borrow your G-string? Chandler: How long have you been waiting to say that? Phoebe: About 20 minutes.
Moving into their flat in Spaced, Tim is wearing a oversized green T-shirt and brown trousers, and Daisy a chunky orange sweater and red skirt, with thick-rimmed glasses on top of her head. No apparent reason, until they talk about which Scooby-Doo character they are. Tim picks Fred and Daisy says Daphne. He slouches, and the glasses fall down on her face... making them look like Shaggy and Velma.
Whose Line Is It Anyway?: Colin Mochrie is a master of this. While the show is largely improvised, Colin plays the anchorman role in Weird Newscasters often enough that he's got many a overly-prepared gag as his opening number. In addition to the one listed as the page quote:
One even halted the show for several seconds because everybody was laughing so hard (watch it here):
Colin: Our top story today: Famous playboy Hugh Hefner managed to successfully stop an order of monks from operating a business on his property. The police forced the friars to close down their stall, which was outside the Playboy Mansion, where they had been selling flowers. Said one friar, "Well, if it was anyone else, we may have gotten away from it, but, unfortunately only Hugh can prevent florist friars."
Colin: Our top story today: Sixties musical group The Byrds today announced a twenty-four city reunion tour with their new band member George W. Bush. To save money Mr. Bush will play both guitars and drums. According to a spokesman, "A Bush in the band is worth two in The Byrds."
You get the pattern by now...
Colin: Our top story today: noted archaeologist Fred Flintstein made an amazing discovery today in Sweden. On a wind-swept fjord he came across some primitive musical instruments plus some minuscule deposits of fossilized stool. When asked what the stool could be, Flintstein replied "A dab'a Abba doo."
In a game of "Greatest Hits", Ryan makes a joke about having a bug and being jittery as a lead into introducing a Jitterbug song. Colin pokes fun at him by doing the next two segues completely over the top:
Colin: I remember one time I went to the circus and I saw a strong man bend a car...bend a car? Pat Benatar!
Colin: When I was a jockey, and in my bed-well it was more of a cot- we had this sanitary paper for the fillies and... wait... bed cot filly paper? Red Hot Chili Peppers!
Subverted in the infamous"Arctic Tern" moment, when Colin ruins Ryan's setup. For which we are all grateful — not because Ryan's setup was ruined, but because the scene of Ryan absolutely losing it (along with Wayne having to bend over from laughter) was funnier than anything else they could have done.
In the episode The Girl in Gold Boots there's a shot of a pool table set up just right so that Mike can pull out a cue from under his seat and pretend to shoot some pool.
Servo: Say, how long have you been saving that sight gag, Mike? Mike: Oh, not long, about... eight years.
In The Screaming Skull, Pearl, Brain Guy, and Bobo trick Mike and the bots into believing they've all previously agreed to meet dressed as penguins. They had to reserve the penguin costumes eight months in advance for $900 each.
In Track of the Moon Beast, some characters play a weird, confusing prank on an anthropologist, then spend the next several minutes explaining it. For a host segment, Crow tried to do the same to Mike, and it's even more awkward.
One episode of Lab Rats is spent getting the entire cast contrived juuuust right so that they look like a circus at the end of the episode (as the administrator insisted that their attempts would end up as one throughout the episode).
Ian Hislop: That's a fantasically elaborate prop for that joke!
The Two Ronnies did these kinds of jokes leading up to news headlines, much like the Colin Mochrie example above (but predating it by decades).
How I Met Your Mother has Barney go through weeks of planning, months of experimenting, waiting 10 years, and spending $30,000 on fake medical bills, all to get Marshall to try to eat an exploding sub-sandwich.
QI. Most particularly, during a round wherein Stephen was discussing declining surnames and mentioned "Glascock" as one of them, Alan chimed in with the anecdote: "We had a Jimmy Glascock at school. You could always see when he was coming." After the laughter died down, he remarked, "I never thought I'd have a chance to do that joke."
Rich Hall's "centi-claws" joke, also lampshaded.
Community featured the German foosball jocks who bought a soccer ball and walked in a row of three constantly carrying the ball with them, just waiting for the opportunity to kick a ball at Jeff foosball-style. Immediately lampshaded by Jeff.
An entire episode of Frasier builds up to one of these. The A-plot involves Frasier and Niles, stuck for ten minutes at a parking garage because Frasier doesn't want to pay the parking fee. The B-plot involves Roz, who has to fill in for Frasier at the radio station. Roz lets slip that she and Frasier had a night of intimacy. Naturally, everyone wants details. Frasier is blissfully unaware of this, and upon bursting in late, turns on the mike and announces:
Frasier: I'm sure Roz has informed you of my exploits. It wasn't my finest hour. Let's just say, I got in there, realised I'd made a mistake and then tried like hell to get out! There was a lot of shouting and then a line started to form behind me... Luckily, my brother was with me for moral support, and, let's face it, someone to talk to. You know, you'd be amazed how long ten minutes can be when you're watching the clock. But, in the end, I got out of there without paying the four dollars!
The episode "Queeg" has Lister tell Rimmer a long rambling story about why it's cruel to give machines personalities. He tells about how his friend Peterson had a pair of "Smart Shoes" that could always get you home no matter how drunk you were. But Peterson woke up hundreds of miles away because the shoes wanted to see the world. He tried to get rid of them but they'd show back up. In the end the shoes stole a car and wound up driving it into a canal because they couldn't steer properly. Peterson was upset, but a priest consoled him that the shoes were happy and in heaven now. You see, it turns out Shoes have soles.
Another episode has Lister spend days crossing the ship in order to fetch some tomatoes. His reason for doing so is that tomatoes make him sneeze, so now he can squick Rimmer out by using the sneezes to iron his clothes. All that walking just to get a reaction.
Paul and Storm combine this with Overly-Long Gag in their song The Captain's Wife's Lament, in order to set up the song's Hurricane OfPun (singular) ending. In the album version, this is merely a charming interlude, but the live version (which intersperses the song/setup with Audience Participation "Arrr"s and pirate jokes) takes it Up to Eleven, often stretching the four-stanza introduction out to lengths of ten minutes or more.
Taint of the Lex and Terry Radio Network once alleged that he had become a vegetarian some years before in hopes that a woman would one day offer to "eat [his] meat." Eventually, one did.
The elaborate puns on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. The host's scripted ones are the best examples, but some of the ones the panellists come out with are really more notable for this, since they're being thought up on the spot (usually) and are more likely to be incredibly lame. In "Sound Charades," the audience often groans very early on as soon as it becomes clear what pun the players are relying on to convey their assigned title, and the rest of the round becomes an exercise in drawing out the setup for as long as possible.
(only after much scene-setting, Graeme and Barry get started on The Poseidon Adventure) Hamish: But look here, look here, ye're late today! Ye've missed the Teletubbies! Dougal: Oh no! Hamish: Aye! Dougal: What hijinks were they up to today? Hamish: Ohoho, I tell you, I was gripped. Dougal:And me not here! Hamish: Something terrible happened... to Po. Dougal: Speak on, old friend! Hamish: Aye, well, Tinky-winky, Dipsy, and La-la... couldn't see Po from the front! Dougal: No. Divulge! Hamish: Ye've no heard the worst of it. Dougal: No? Hamish: They couldnae see him from the back either! Dougal: Mercy me!... (and so forth)
In an episode of Just a Minute (the panel game where players have to talk about a subject without hesitation, repetition or deviation), Paul Merton took the given subject Off the Rails — not unusual for him — and started talking about the Welsh and Scottish parliaments. Clement Freud brought the house down by challenging him for "devolution." In a program remembering Freud after his death, Merton revealed that Freud had asked him before the show to work in the necessary reference, without telling him the joke.
ABC cricket commentator Kerry O'Keefe spouted this gem, possibly even rivalling the page quote.
'A frog goes into a bank and approaches the teller. He can see from her nameplate that her name is Patricia Whack. "Miss Whack, I'd like to get a $30,000 loan to take a holiday." Patty looks at the frog in disbelief and asks his name. The frog says his name is Kermit Jagger, his dad is Mick Jagger, and that it's okay, he knows the bank manager. Patty explains that he will need to secure the loan with some collateral. The frog says, "Sure. I have this," and produces a tiny porcelain elephant, about an inch tall, bright pink and perfectly formed. Very confused, Patty explains that she'll have to consult with the bank manager and disappears into a back office. She finds the manager and says, "There's a frog called Kermit Jagger out there who claims to know you and wants to borrow $30,000, and he wants to use this as collateral." She holds up the tiny pink elephant. "I mean, what in the world is this?" The bank manager looks back at her and says... "It's a knickknack, Patty Whack. Give the frog a loan. His old man's a Rolling Stone."'
Anything Goes almost entirely ends with one. Ms. Evangeline Harcourt loses her dog during the first half of the first act, and spends the next act-and-a-half looking for it all across the boat. At the end of the show, the Purser brings the dog to her, saying it was found in the swimming pool.
Ms. Harcourt: What was she doing in the swimming pool?
Entire Cast: THE DOG PADDLE!
The vampiric comedy duo Jack and the Cabbie from Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines go to incredible lengths (namely, orchestrating the entire plot and playing you and everyone else like a fiddle) to set up what turns out to be a glorified "knock-knock" joke. Mind you, "Me, half a ton of C4" and "Half a ton of wha-BOOOM!" is one heck of a punchline. At least the recipient thought it was funny.
In Chrono Cross, Solt and Peppor serve as tutorial fights several times. Each time results in Peppor giving instructions on how to best hurt your party, and Solt failing at this in every way possible. This happens five times or so throughout the game. Upon finding the two in Home World, they perform a stage act..Both stand still, and Peppor hits Solt every couple seconds. They do this until you leave the room, and will keep doing it at random as part of the show. Much later in the game, a person in the audience delivers the punchline: "I thought they were a joke at first, but you start liking them after a while!"
To elaborate, the BLU team Spy had been setting up the RED team Spy as an unstoppable badass the entire video. Eventually, it lead to his team's Scout to say "What are you, president of his fan club?" The BLU Spy followed up with "No... that would be your mother," pulled out a manila envelope and dropped it onto the table, revealing it is full of pictures of the RED Spy in flagrante delicto with the BLU Scout's mom.
To be fair, we later find out in the video that the BLU Scout was actually the RED Spy, so maybe he predicted exactly what would happen if he said that.
The creators of Red vs. Blue once joked that the series would eventually end with one final punchline that the entire show had been leading up to all these years and every Plot Hole would suddenly make sense.
Granted, if they manage, it will probably be the most glorious Overly Pre-Prepared Gag ever. Of all time. Even if it really is lame, managing to pull off such a feat after 11+ years (especially considering the show was only supposed to be about five episodes long at first) would be nothing short of godhood.
Ultra Fast Pony: the episode "Shameless Self Reference" is filled with, well, shameless references to previous videos in the series and to the creator's other work. The episode ends with Rainbow Dash declaring, "I guess I'm just an Ultra. Fast. Pony!" The end credits have a subtitle claiming that the entire video series was created for the sole purpose of that title drop.
Occasionally David Morgan-Marr uses these in his annotations, for example:
''Swearing of oaths used to actually count for something. It used to be that people really respected sworn oaths, and would take you at your word, pretty much without question. Nowadays we're much too cynical a society to really put anywhere near as much credence on to an oath. I mean, if the director of a huge company swore on his mother's grave to stop polluting the rivers near his chemical factories, would anyone really believe him? It would be nice if we could revive faith in oaths, so that you really could believe someone if they swore to stop dumping toxic chemicals into the waterways. Lend such things more credence. It would be a credence clear-water revival."
Tarquin: Totally worth wearing a mask under my helmet for two days.
Two pages later, Malack comments that Tarquin has always been willing to go the extra mile for a punchline.
8-Bit Theater has this in conjunction with a Brick Joke: One of the first comics had Black Mage make an off-hand comment that a party of four White Mages would "never work" (He was reading a Nintendo Power magazine, which actually suggested a WMx4 party set-up in a sidebar article). Fast forward almost ten years in real time, and guess who defeats the Big Bad? Black Mage's reaction was extraordinarily subdued, but by that point, it's safe to assume he was far too used to being the Universe's Butt Monkey. Brian Clevinger has admitted this as being the entire reason for making the comic in the first place!
Gavin at one point dug a giant shaft to bedrock, covered it up, and then placed a landmine so Geoff would plummet to the bottom of the map after walking across it.
The Fire Extinguisher was constructed to put out fires when Jack's house caught fire, only for its water supply to be replaced with lava.
Dark Achievement City, a mirror image of the main Achievement City in the Nether, was constructed for what, even in advance, the builders knew would amount to a ten second reaction from the others.
One skit in a LoadingReadyRunRapidfire video took place over several cuts spread out over five minutes, featuring a morose clown waking up to face the day. All completely irrelevant, until the payoff in the final cut.
Upon discovering that Miles Black, the famous phrenologist from Yorkshire was going to take up yodeling to lonely goats in Bali, James White decided to balance four planks of wood on a beer keg and call it an abstract work of art in the style of a famous fourteenth-century architect, just going to prove that people will read any old garbage if they think there will be a good pun at the end of it. — The Grand Panjandrum's Special Award for Vile Puns, The 2008 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
Game Grumps: While talking about experiences playing video games at cons, Egoraptor mentioned that he likes to parody new-age gamers by playing retro games, running through them terribly, and rage-quitting the second he dies. However, once while playing the original Super Mario Bros., he just ran through the game, unintentionally doing a perfect speedrun... And he didn't get hit until he reached the final level. Whenever he did die fighting Bowser, he had already garnered a huge audience expecting this to be his original intention, but he just went with the original joke, throwing down the controlling and yelling "THIS GAMESUCKS!" and left.
American Dad! has an in-universe example. CIA Director bullock sends himself and Stan on a 16 hour flight to Japan and meets him in full Kabuki dress in a Japanese tea house.
Bullock: Thank you for flying out here Smith. Stan: Of course Sir, but why are we dressed up like this? Bullock: Because I thought we could be Secret Asians. Stan: A 16 hour flight for a bad pun? (Stan smiles, points at Bullock) Yes. Yes.
In the Young JusticeInsecurity there's a scene where Cheshire pins Red Arrow down, holds a Japanese forked dagger to his neck, and steals a kiss, saying "A kiss is just a kiss". This appears to be entirely a setup for Wally to take the weapon and fire back with "And a sai is just a sai".
And, in Count Duckula, they spend 1/10th of the episode just getting ready for a single pun.
The Tick episode "The Tick Loves Santa" involves a department-store Santa who turns evil and gets superpowers... one of which is that electricity causes him to produce clones. This is such a ridiculously specific series of events that it could only have been done deliberately to set up a joke during the final fight... which takes place in a power plant.
Tick:(about to be crushed under an oncoming wave of thousands of Santa clones) It's a Yule tide!!!
A Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends short has Coco - who, as usual, is only capable of saying her name. Throughout the episode, she is slowly joined by a group of imaginary friends who themselves only say one thing: a disgruntled "Nuts", a pirate who yells "Arr!", a pink thing who sings "Faa~", and another who mutters "Lingfrom". At the end, they are joined by a two-headed friend who points to his companion and states, "This guy". Bloo is almost immediately hit by a falling cocos nucifera drupe seemingly materializing from the ether.
Truth in Television: In If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, Bruce Campbell relates a true complicated prank he played on a friend involving his broken down car and the US Park Service.
Invoked Trope: At the beginning of the vice-presidential debate in the 2008 U.S. election, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden shook hands and she could clearly be heard saying, "Nice to meet you, can I call you Joe?" Many commentators later guessed that (given that candidates aren't really allowed to talk to each other during these "debates") she'd only asked so that she could begin one of her rebuttals with, "Say it ain't so, Joe!" In fact, it was because she had accidentally referred to him as "Senator O'Biden" repeatedly during debate prep.
The Rock Band Network is a system for small bands to get their own songs into the official Rock Band DLC store. The program that compiles the song for testing is called Magma "'cuz that's where rock comes from." The developers have stated that yes, that joke is the sole reason for the name.