‘I wonder what else lives down here that we don't know about?’ said Carrot.
‘Well, there's always the invisible squid-like creature that sucks all the air out of—’ Rincewind began, but sarcasm did not carry very well out here. The universe diluted it. The huge, black, solemn eyes in the sky withered it.
Sarcasm Failure is, to put it simply, when a character
who you'd expect
would be able to deliver an irreverent, sarcastic or deadpan comment on just about anything
fails to do so because of the nature of the current situation. This trope can be Played for Drama
— if the writers want to show that a situation is particularly dire, having the funny guy go completely serious
is one way of showing that — or Played for Laughs
, by having the character encounter a situation so completely, utterly, and patently absurd
that he or she is rendered temporarily incapable of responding coherently. (Basically their Snark short-circuits.)
Comedy versions may be reduced to gawking, stuttering, or incoherent babbling rage
at the sheer idiocy of it all, a Beat
, or just greet the situation with stunned incredulity
, often lampshaded
with some variation of "words fail me".
Not to be confused with Sarcasm-Blind
, Cannot Convey Sarcasm
, nor with Insult Backfire
, though an Insult Backfire
may well take the form of a sarcastic insult that fails
to be appreciated as such. Compare OOC Is Serious Business
, Flat "What."
, I Have Nothing to Say to That
. Compare also Shoo Out the Clowns
, when this is an indicator the entire story is taking a turn for the serious.
Examples of the first kind (serious):
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Albireo Imma, the man with the perpetual Cheshire Cat Grin who never stopped acting with a strong whimsy, reached a point of utter horror as the (Magic) world was about to come to an end. Telepathically, Princess Arika made sure to tell him to stop being a defeatist fool. This was the only time he ever seemed without his usual joking demeanor (and with his eyes widened).
- Later on, Asakura was rendered completely speechless upon seeing several people get wiped from existence.
- In the first season finale of Code Geass, when Nina completes her super-bomb, Lloyd does this. The fact that the "Pudding Earl" got deadly serious is enough to convince Rakshata that he's not bluffing when he says how dangerous it is.
- November 11 of Darker Than Black is infamous for his twisted sense of humor. However, he has moments when his True Companions are in danger/has just escaped danger where he becomes serious and sincere.
- Deadpan Snarker Kyon is momentarily reduced to incoherent choking sounds in the Haruhi Suzumiya movie when Ryoko Asakura shows up in class acting like she'd never tried to kill him. Considering he can ordinarily keep up, verbally at least, with Nagato, Koizumi and Tsuruya, it's a memorable moment.
- In The DCU, it's often considered that the ultimate way to show just how bad things have gotten is to have The Joker stop laughing.
- Or that something is exceptionally satisfying (possibly disturbingly so) when Batman smiles.
- When the Justice League nearly got taken out by Batman's contingency plans in the Tower of Babel arc, someone shouted an order at Plastic Man and he replied with "On it." The response was "...What, no jokes?" "This is not funny."
- Marvel's Spider-Man is famous for his habit of quipping his way through fights. If he's not joking, it probably means the villain has really pissed him off, and is in for quite a bit of pain. There's also this line from the Ultimate Spider-Man video game, right before the boss fight with the Rhino:
Spider-Man: Is that a horn on your head, or are you happy to... (Rhino looms over Spidey) Oh my God, I am so scared I can't finish my lame joke.
- And from the Ultimate Clone Saga, Jessica Drew puts it well, after a villain asks if Peter's silence means he's too scared to talk:
- Deadpool is typically a Motor Mouthed, wise cracking mutant amongst X-Men, often prone to Talking the Monster to Death, but when things are serious, he shuts up.
- Lenny in Shade, the Changing Man was always good for a snark, no matter how dire the situation. Her Sarcasm Failure was a result of an author, an unwitting personality plunderer, who had written her into his book, and shocked her enough to drive her to a suicide attempt.
- In Watchmen, even the Comedian can't crack jokes about Ozymandias' plan, which also serves as his Despair Event Horizon. He's built his life laughing at the darkness in himself and in humankind, but even he never imagined doing that.
Comedian: (tearfully) What's funny? What's so goddamn funny? I don't get it. Somebody explain - somebody explain it to me!
- Speedball (a looong time before his Penance days) starts makes a sneeze joke about somebody called 'Ashu' (or similar), but when he starts explaining, he gives up with "even I can't make jokes right now".
- In Doom Patrol, Cliff Steele is often snarky about the situations he finds himself in. Upon seeing Orqith, a parallel dimension of bone and decay: "All of a sudden, I can't think of anything remotely funny to say".
- Calvin and Hobbes: The Series has the former character trying to snark at a rather heartfelt speech about parental relationships, and not doing a very good job at it.
- You know the situation is either particularly dire or somehow personal when Marco stops making sarcastic jokes in Animorphs.
- Jake actually has to take him aside at one point and order him to start cracking jokes, because his seriousness is frightening the others.
- Similarly, you know things are bad when Richie Tozier stops cracking jokes in IT. (Though sometimes averted - as a Motor Mouth with poor impulse control, he slips up from time to time, notably mouthing off to Henry Bowers twice in a row, straight to his face when the big lummox falls over.)
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Fred Weasley is reduced to this after he sees that George's ear has been blown off. George, however, is not.
- In American Gods, Mr. Nancy (Anansi) starts out as a Cool Old Guy who is perpetually joking. When things start going bad for the old gods, the protagonist notes that Nancy complete stops smiling and telling jokes. Only when things are settled does he return to his former carefree attitude.
- In the true-crime book Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets (upon which Homicide Life On The Street was based), one of the recurring observations is that homicide cops can be very, very snarky on crime scenes, as they have to deal with a great deal of unpleasantness in their day-to-day working lives and use wit as something of a defense mechanism. This, then, serves to make the discovery of the body of eight-year-old Latonya Kim Wallace and the investigation into the scene of the crime particularly powerful; it's simply noted that there's no jokes, no sarcastic comments, just a lot of grim and serious-faced cops doing their jobs.
- In Small Favor, Harry is unable to deliver any of his trademark snark when confronted by Queen Mab of the Winter Court, and for good reason: he's too damned scared to snark.
- This was later shown to be a good reaction: when he does start cracking jokes, it annoys her. And because it annoys her, she freezes the water in his eyes. He's reduced to whimpering in pain and crying Tears of Blood for a while.
- Harry generally goes light on the sarcasm around Nicodemus as well, for much the same reasons. Nicodemus is too much of a No-Nonsense Nemesis to get affected by it anyway.
- Wes Janson is something of a Man Child much of the time. He's always irreverent, always making some quip. When he's not, well...
- A strange example of mostly dramatic but with a hint of bitter comedic aftertaste in GONE. PLAGUE has Diana at a loss of words when her boyfriend declares himself king and tells her to get the fuck off his island, thus breaking up with her. In the next book, after having a torturous birth aged fifteen in a hot, pitch dark mine she has this reaction when, just minutes after giving birth, she's ordered by Drake to just "Get up and walk."
Live Action TV
- House: When the title character starts wearing a serious expression and talking respectfully to the patients and their relatives, it's an extremely ominous sign.
- Unless he's doing it consciously to mess with the other's heads, of course.
- CSI: Gil Grissom almost always makes some kind of quip at each murder scene that takes us into the credits. When he doesn't, it's an indication of how disturbing the murder is.
- Or just...weird. In the opening of the infamous "Fur & Loathing in Las Vegas", Grissom and Catherine come across a dead man in a furry costume; both of them perceived it to be a dead animal from afar. When seeing what it actually is, both are weirded out. Catherine looks to Grissom for the requisite one-liner, perceiving Grissom to not be weirded out by anything, but Grissom continues to look weirded out silently into the opening credits.
- Horatio in CSI: Miami does this also. One such example: when his old friend is blown up and instead of his usual quip he just stares at the smoldering house in horror.
- M*A*S*H: This show attempted this with Hawkeye, but overdid the seriousness.
- The West Wing: The entire cast, to varying degrees.
- Subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Anya's irreverence comes out of genuine cluelessness, not an attempt to be funny. So when Buffy's mother dies, Anya behaves as normal, and infuriates the other characters. However, her explanation of why she isn't acting like any normal human with normal sensitivities would act (she's not a normal human, and she doesn't "understand... how this all happens... how we go through this...") is one of the most heartfelt of her character arc, and does basically follow this trope.
- At least until it's revealed that Anya, when she was still a normal human and hadn't become a vengeance demon yet, acted just as cluelessly.
- Yet even Anya-as-a-human probably didn't have the attitude of "It's mortal and stupid!" towards death.
- Xander is a better fit to the original trope.
- From Dexter: The usually lecherous Masuka becomes stone serious when investigating the crime scene where a cop was attacked.
Deb: What, no jokes about providing gross sexual comfort in a time of crisis?
Masuka: My friend was stabbed, and he might die.
- A good deal of the characters from Scrubs (in fact, the entire show seems to follow this trope).
- Blackadder does this at the end of the fourth season. The main character, who is probably sarcasm made flesh, remains serious when Darling, Baldrick and George admit to being scared before they all charge into a battle in World War I. The episode itself became this trope in its surprisingly-reverent conclusion,
- An inversion of this can be seen with Simon Cowell. If he stops being mean or sarcastic even with his body language, you know the person he's watching is good. From Britain's Got Talent alone: Paul Potts, Connie Talbot, Susan Boyle, and Julian Smith.
- For example, take Hollie Steel. Simon's not thrilled with her because she looks like a typical wannabe-ballerina, and has his hand over the buzzer. The camera cuts to her beginning to sing, and the next shot is him absolutely shocked.
- Susan Boyle. From rolling his eyes, to shock, to fawning.
- In all fairness though, it's been indicated as fairly likely that these reaction shots aren't always the ones from those contestants, since, you know, it's a TV show and everything (Skip to about 05:20 for the relevant chunk)
- As Boy Meets World went on Eric got sillier, more erratic and just plain damn weird, but when he did get serious you knew things were bad. Like the time a prank war caused a serious fault in the friendship and he was the only one willing to work it out, the silliest thing he did was pick up Rachel and drag her back into the classroom Mr. Feeny had locked them in and sit on her so she could read what he had written.
"Lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself."
- The Middleman subverts this in "The Vampiric Puppet Lamentation":
- Psych played this straight, then subverted it, when Shawn is targeted by a Serial Killer. Shawn quickly loses his snark as he was overwhelmed by the pressure. As the situation grows more dire, Shawn convinces Gus that he should joke around for both of them. Which Gus does, resulting in hilariously awkward and terrible prop comedy.
- Technically, it was subverted, then played straight. Shawn never lost his ability to crack jokes while crime-solving (in fact, he outright states that if he isn't able to joke, the bad guy wins) and that is why Gus starts behaving ridiculously. The trope is then played deadly straight later in the episode when the bad guy kidnaps Shawn's mom.
- Shawn also plays this trope out during the episode Gus Walks into a Bank, when Gus was in serious danger and Shawn couldn't be there with him.
- Early on in Firefly when Malcolm discovers River stored in a crate, his initial response is a dull "Huh". He recovers more or less instantly and begins snarking at Simon, however.
- Certain news stories on The Daily Show can get this reaction out of Jon Stewart.
- Whenever Morgan and Garcia of Criminal Minds aren't bantering and flirting, you know things are bad.
Reid: (On the phone, sick with anthrax and getting worse.) What, no goofy Garcia nickname for me this time?
Garcia: No. I can't be my cheery self when you are where you are.
- RiffTrax: In the "This Is Hormel" short, the narrator describes hot-dog mass-production while hot dogs fly up from a huge bin into our faces. Kevin overloads from the potential.
Narrator: Thousands of pounds of wieners are produced daily.
Kevin: Oh, no... sounds too good... panicking... um... wieners!
Narrator: The Hormel batch-master...
Kevin: Another great one... think, Kevin, think... err... wieners!
- Eventually Bill starts underlining the material instead of snarking on it.
Narrator: The wieners are next discharged onto a much-wider conveyor belt for even distribution to four high-speed take-away belts.
Bill: "Wieners discharged" is all I heard.
Narrator: The wieners hurry to a slotted, stainless-steel belt, where free-swinging deflectors arrange them into a single layer.
Bill: "Free-swinging wieners discharged" is my take-away.
Mike: Would you stop that?!
- Throughout Disgaea, Etna has delivered descriptions of the next chapter that are nothing like what happens. The one time she did, nobody believed her. Then for the final chapter, when things have hit the fan, her description is perfectly accurate. Everyone panics. She is less than amused.
- Legacy of Kain has a particularly amazing example. Throughout the entire, multiple-game-long series, main character Kain has always spoken faux-Shakespeare dialogue, and he always mocks his opponents; he's the equivalent of the game universe's Dracula, and he's so powerful that in a normal series he'd be a Game Breaker. However, when he sees the Elder God, a horrific Lovecraftian monster responsible for everything he's suffered in the series, his only response is a genuinely bewildered, "What in the hell?" It's a sign of how utterly overwhelming the truth is that even Kain can't come up with a good taunt.
- And just before that, you get to see one of the few times Kain genuinely smiles, because Moebius is there, and has no idea that Kain is about to kill him. Again. As one Fauxtivational Poster put it, "Kain is smiling. Run for your lives."
- Beckett from Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is a vampire who spends most of his encounter with the player being sarcastic. But he suffers this in the endgame, after he (presumably) learns the truth about the Ankharan Sarcophagus. He flees town immediately afterwards.
- Garrett from Thief is usually a prime Deadpan Snarker and has wry, or at least interested, insights into a lot of things you see during your missions and cutscenes. He usually shuts up during the more frightening areas of the game. The Shalebridge Cradle from the third is especially notable: Garrett speaks exactly two lines during the entire mission, and both of them are more to the effect of Oh, Crap.
- One of the routes you can take in Dragon Age II is to turn Hawke into a snarker who turns every situation into a joke, no matter how appropriate that may be. One mission in the second act involves someone stealing qunari gunpowder, except it's not gunpowder, it's a poison gas that makes non-Qunari go insane and kill each other. The elf responsible tries to make bombs to blow up a street to frame the Qunari, but instead winds up poisoning lots of people, and doesn't entirely see it as a setback. Upon learning this, Silly!Hawke's response is:
"You were going to kill a lot of people anyway? That's... not funny at all, really."
- There's also the quest in which Leandra is taken by a serial killer and Hawke has to follow a trail of her blood to find her. Every version of Hawke, be they The Paragon or a Deadpan Snarker or a Blood Knight, will sound horrified and panicky.
- Snarky!Hawke embraces this trope during that quest:
- Iji has the Scrambler, a Silliness Switch that either turns the game into a "Blind Idiot" Translation or makes the lines even crazier ("You promised me a pony... with missiles... I want a missile pony!"). However, near the end of the game, Asha tries to kill your Voice with an Internet Connection, Iji's brother Dan. When Iji finally kills Asha, she screams, "That's what you get, you bastard! That's what you get for trying to kill him!" Even with the Scrambler on, this line is almost untouched.
- Final Fantasy X: there are a few moments when the normally stoic Deadpan Snarker Lulu gets this. Most notably when it is revealed that Sin will come back eternally, no matter what the Teachings say and how much people repent. Also, when Tidus pulls the final reveal on the party right before the final boss, if she's got the highest affection score with him, her reaction is an utterly bewildered "What are you talking about?!".
- Equal parts of both in Kingdom of Loathing, leaning towards the latter: whenever the horrific, nightmarish Guy Made Of Bees appears, the game's narration turns far straighter than it usually plays, aside from some Lampshade Hanging.
"Dang, man, couldn't you have summoned Beetlejuice? At least he's funny."
- In the later areas of the Sea, when discussing the hideous eldritch powers that have corrupted Mom and Dad Sea Monkey, the game is completely devoid of jokes.
- An example in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, when Bentley is explaining to Sly how they'll have to cheat in the ACES dogfighting competition since they have only one plane compared to the 15 each on the two opposing teams.
Sly: Normally I'd make some sarcastic remark about how "overcome I am by your confidence in me", but those are some pretty grim odds.
- Looking for Group: Richard can usually be trusted to have a snarky comment or off-beat action in most situations. But after seeing a vision of his past self and asked if it was really him, all he can come up with a simple "Pass".
- In Go Get a Roomie!, during "The Night in Furs" (Lillian's retelling of "The Knight in Rusty Armor"), the knight's irreverence isn't up to mocking The Shadow of Fear and Doubt.
- In the Schlock Mercenary book "Broken Wind", Tagon figures out that the situation is dire because Ennesby didn't make a fart joke about the eponymous Broken Wind.
- Danny Phantom: Happens twice in one episode. At first, it was Skulker, completely ignoring Danny and not saying a word. Later in the episode, it's Danny, who is searching for his sister. He attacks Skulker and demands answers, no quips involved.
Skulker: That's odd, no witty banter?
Danny: Not in the mood!
- In The Spectacular Spider Man, when the Green Goblin's glider slams into a building while flying backwards, just before impact the Goblin jumps off the glider, does a backflip in midair, and lands on the glider on the other side of the building.
Spider-Man: Okay, wow. Just... wow.
- When Slade returns in Teen Titans and demonstrates his new powers.
Slade: Whoa? That's it? No clever comment? I was looking forward to that.
- In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, The Joker spends most of the film quipping, laughing, and generally being his usual Monster Clown self (with a bit of anger on the side). The only scene that makes him drop it all is when Tim Drake shoots him dead.
The Joker: That's not funny... That's not...
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, near the end of the series, Sokka and Toph are dangling off an airship. Sokka's space sword and boomerang are gone, and things look really bad for them. This may be the only point in the whole series that Toph and Sokka, the two snarkiest characters in the series, are both acting serious.
Examples of the second kind (funny):
- Turnabout Storm: Phoenix, resident First-Person Smartass, nearly always has a snarky remark about the weirdness around him, especially now that he's stuck in Equestria; but one of Pinkie's comments short circuits him.
Hmm... What element could you be?... OH! OH! OH! I got it! "Phoenix Wright, with his nifty do, represents the spirit of... HAIR GEL!
... (No comment...)
- Dragon Ball Abridged's Freeza keeps a mental checklist on how many time he's heard certain heroic speeches. Eventually, he meets Goku;
Are you that freezer guy? Freeza:
I am Lord Freeza
, yes. Goku:
Awesome! Imma deck you in the schnozz! (Beat) Freeza:
I'm sorry, that's a new one.
- Ghostbusters: The normally deadpan Egon Spengler delivers this classic example just after Gozer incarnates as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man:
Peter Venkman: Egon, what have you got left?
Egon: Sorry, Venkman, I'm terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.
Live Action TV
- A Dilbert comic ended with Dogbert telling Dilbert that "I'd mock you, but the challenge is gone."
Stand Up Comedy
- Occurs during Jeff Dunham's routine with his puppets Peanut & Jose Jalapeño-on-a-Stick. Peanut and Jose begin conversing in Spanish, and Jeff asks them to stop because it leaves him left out. The usually smart-assed Peanut is reduced to a "Huh?!", and when Jeff's explanation is that he can't speak Spanish, Peanut stops his sarcastic comment before it can even begin to just stare at him.
- Lewis Black had a variation in a bit about the excesses of the rich:
"They bought houses, second and third homes, that they decorated and didn't live in — but that they got a tax write-off for. And I'd have a joke about that, but it makes me too FUCKING ANGRY!!!"
- At the beginning of 1776:
McNair: Better get yourself back down to Congress, Mister Adams
. Gettin' ready to vote, and they say they can't settle such an important question without Massachusetts bein' there.
Adams: <bored> I can just imagine. Alright, what burning issue are we voting on this time?
McNair: <earnest> On whether or not to grant General Washington's request... that all members of the Rhode Island Militia be required to wear matchin' uniforms.
- 8-Bit Theater
- This happens to Black Mage a lot when he spends too long around Fighter or Red Mage.
- And notably, Fighter's mention of becoming the "Drownball" Champion reduced the omniscient wizard Sarda to muttering under his breath at the sheer absurdity of it.
- Likewise, several members from The Last Days Of FOXHOUND, most notably Psycho Mantis.
- Abel, the Deadpan Snarker of Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures , is struck senseless by the idea that "clothes make the manlove."
- "...Ow. Just... ow" is still his only response upon recovery.
- Not uncommon responses in Real Life... at least, among the empathetic crowd.
- Erfworld: In this◊ strip, they are in a deadly serious situation...but what finally makes Jack stop joking is Parson's absurd suggestion that they might actually win.
- The Nostalgia Critic: This happens to the Critic a bit, at which point the Running Gag of him literally aborting the joke occurs. Thinking about this (perhaps a little too much) leads to wondering how often these are unintentional and put in during editing, vs. how many of these are pre-scripted. Fantastically done in the Bio-Dome review.
Joey Lauren Adams: (affectionately) There is something about a man who can lick his own back...
Nostalgia Critic: (beat, stunned) What am I supposed to say to that?
- What is this I don't even
- The entirety of Spoony's review of Bloodwings: Pumpkinhead's Revenge IS this trope. A marked difference from his usual review style which is heaped to the brim with snark.
- Highlander: The Source has the same, with him early on commenting that all he has to do is show the clip and his reaction shot, because the stupidity speaks for itself.
- Retsupurae and The Ultimate Challenge:
"I am sure that someone wants me to come up with something witty to say to this guy
, but he is just faaaaat.
- The Nostalgia Chick got her best moments of this in her Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas review. The Plot Holes are so great that she can only reply sometimes by breaking down crying.
- Nash's only response to the appearance of the TROUSERS COSMIC is "...alien pants."
- Mark, of Mark Reads Twilight and Mark Reads Harry Potter fame is often completely lost for words when he reads something particularly painful or an amazing plot twist is revealed. At said points, he will usually resort to either gifs or keyboard smashing.
- Film Brain's review of Mega Piranha eventually turned out a scene where the only response was "... I got nothing."
- During particularly horrifying, baffling or flat-out stupid moments of Fan Fiction Friday, Rob may only manage a horrified response or a Flat "What." rather than the usual face melting, head explosion, Picard Face Palm or angry Maximus.
- After Linkara reads in X-Men #424 that Nightcrawler is a priest with lustful desires, he states that he isn't going to touch that one.
- Most of Rowdy C's TV Trash review of Brickleberry includes this.
Rowdy: (catatonic) Yeah, get used to this, people. I get a feeling that a lot of these "jokes" are beyond commenting on and I'll just have to respond with facial expressions.
- During JonTron's review of The Zoo Race, Jontron is already having a bit of trouble finding the words to snark at the game's sheer weirdness, but it's one of the characters slowly looming over his desk while a drainage pipe sound effect plays that truly drives him to this.
Jontron: For the first time in my life I'm... I-I'm fucking speechless. I got nothing.
- In The Ant and the Aardvark cartoon "Technology Phooey," the Aardvark's quicksand trap backfires on him, prompting him to quip "I'd say something right now, but it would only be censored!"
- The Batman: The Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im" involves several members of Batman's Rogues Gallery telling each other stories of their most brilliant attempts to kill Batman that almost succeeded. The Joker, who is saving his story for last, spends most of the episode quipping at and mocking the other villains' attempts. However, Killer Croc's 'brilliant plan' is so dumb Joker can only stare dumbfounded at him, with this sort of "what-the-hell-is-this-guy-even-doing-here" expression frozen on his face. For those of you who are curious, Killer Croc's "brilliant attempt" at trying to kill Batman was throwing a rock at him.
Croc: It was a big rock...
- From The Fairly OddParents episode where Timmy uses a Time Machine to score progressively better on a test.
Good news, Turner. You've taken 'F' to a new level. I'm going to give you a Super 'F'! Mister Crocker:
You get a 'D'! As in D
on't get your hopes up for a high-paying career! Mister Crocker:
You get a 'B'! As in but you're not supposed to B
this smart. Mister Crocker:
You get an 'A-'! As in... uh... I give so few, I have no prepared sarcasm.
- Sarcasm Failure is a chronic condition with ISIS field agents in Archer, to parody the spy genre convention of timely quips.
Lana: Once again, words fail me. This is happening a lot. I think I might have aphasia.