"It's just like the story of the grasshopper and the octopus. All year long the grasshopper kept burying acorns for winter while the octopus mooched off his girlfriend and watched TV. Then the winter came, and the grasshopper died, and the octopus ate all his acorns and also he got a racecar. Is any of this getting through to you?"Basically, it's when a character tries to give an anecdote or tell a story (usually a well-known real one, or else people might not know that it diverged from the original without help from Mr. Exposition). They then go off in absurd and comedic tangents, and the intended moral/ending/what-have-you is lost. The Cloud Cuckoolander is often prone to this. May overlap with No Sense of Humor. Compare Metaphorgotten, Ice-Cream Koan and Disorganized Outline Speech. Also compare Fractured Fairy Tale, in which it's due to the author's deliberation, and Sidetracked by the Analogy, when it's the listener who takes the meaning of the story off its course. Contrast Shaggy Dog Story, where the story does go somewhere; it's just not impressive once it does.
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Anime And Manga
- In Pandora Hearts Retrace LXXVII, Echo tries to tell one of these to an emotionally fragile Oz in order to cheer him up while he's locked up in Pandora's dungeon, awaiting execution at the hands of the Baskervilles. It works because Echo forgets the ending of the story, as it reminds Oz of something Gil would have done. From what we get of the story, it was definitely already this trope with or without an ending:
Once upon a time, there was a peasant who had a friend who had just been married. The married couple lived happily in a vacant house in the village. One day while he was going to work, the peasant saw the couple coming towards him, walking on their hands and holding vegetables in their mouths. Surprised, the peasant asked them what they were doing. The couple replied, "Of course..."
- Fairy Tail: Natsu tries explaining to Gajeel why he shouldn't be surprised that Lucy can put up a fight:
Natsu: You've never heard the story of "The Tortoise and the Cheerleader"?
Gajeel: It was a hare, you moron! And the dumb bunny lost, remember?
Natsu: Duh, the first time! Then it won the next hundred races, hands down!
Gajeel: Oh... uh... really. I guess that speedy varmint learned his lesson.
- The climax of Billy Madison has the eponymous character trying to compare the changes in literature brought on by the Industrial Revolution with a children's story called "The Puppy Who Lost His Way". We never get to hear most of it but what is heard appears to be pretty impressively mangled.
"Mr. Madison, what you've just said... is one of the most insanely idiotic things I've ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."
- Leslie Nielsen's characters are prone to doing this in films such as The Naked Gun and Spy Hard. At one point in the former he has a narration that wanders along for a bit as he walks along the street, and by the end of it, he's walked completely out of town and doesn't know where he is.
- Discworld's Granny Weatherwax tries to tell the joke about the man who orders an alligator sandwich and says "and make it snappy!" but she can't remember the punchline, so she keeps coming up with things like "And I want it quickly!"
- It's explained at some point that, while she's not entirely missing a sense of humour, she tends not to understand why a certain joke is funny. In this case, she's simply repeating one she's heard, and doesn't understand why no-one laughs when she tells it.
- Also, Pyramids has the Greatest Storyteller in the World, who is unfortunately hampered by a bad memory and short attention span, so all his stories turn into this.
- Woody Allen uses this a couple of times in his humorous "The Early Essays".
- On Seeing a Tree in Summer: "Once a lumberjack was about to chop down a tree, when he noticed a heart carved in it, with two names inside. Putting away his axe, he sawed down the tree instead. The point of that story escapes me, although six months later the lumberjack was fined for teaching a dwarf Roman numerals."
- On Frugality: "Take the case of the ant and the grasshopper: The grasshopper played all summer, while the ant worked and saved. When winter came, the grasshopper had nothing, but the ant complained of chest pains. Life is hard for insects. And don't think mice are having any fun, either. The point is, we all need a nest egg to fall back on, but not while wearing a good suit."
Live Action TV
- Stargate SG-1 example:
Col. O'Neill: Haven't you guys heard the story about the dog and the dancing monkeys? It's about getting along and... dancing.
- This a throwback to an earlier exchange between O'Neill and an old man who likes using proverbs and fables. The exchange is peppered with this.
Old Man: No one can be a friend if you know not whether to trust them.Jack: Don't judge a book by its cover.Old Man: Enemies' promises were made to be broken.Jack: And yet, honesty is the best policy.Old Man: He who has too many friends has none.Jack: Ahh, but, birds of a feather.Old Man: I'm unfamiliar with that story, what lesson does it teach?Jack: It has to do with flocking, and togetherness, and to be honest I'm not so familiar with the particulars myself.
- This a throwback to an earlier exchange between O'Neill and an old man who likes using proverbs and fables. The exchange is peppered with this.
- Upright Citizens Brigade' episode "The Story of the Toad."
- From almost every episode of Home Improvement: Tim has a problem. Tim receives wise advice from Wilson. Tim tries to share Wilson's wise advice with others, mangling it into incomprehensibility in the process.
Wilson: You know Tim, there's an old folk saying. Obsessions are like fire and water. Good servants, but bad masters.Tim (later): It's like Bad Masterson said. You can't get obsessed the way old people drive through water, if their servants are on fire.
- In How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson will tell a story allegedly to illustrate a point that ends up merely highlighting his sexual prowess.
- As with the above example, Will's boss Ben Doucette on Will & Grace tells him a story about a passionate sexual encounter on the beach. When Will asks him what his point is, he answers, "No point, I just like telling that story. Now get back to work and stop listening to pointless stories."
- "You know, something just like this happened back in St. Olaf..."
- "Picture it, Sicily, 19xx..."
- In an episode of Just Shoot Me!, Finch goes into great detail when explaining how he pranked Maya. This is relevant to the episode, but then Finch throws in the part about how he played Twister with supermodels while the others were out.
Elliot: Why are you telling us that part?Finch: Dude, I'm telling everybody that part.
- The Muppet Show once did a reading on the Aesop of the Ant and the Grasshopper. Only in this version, when winter fell, the grasshopper drove his sports car to Florida and the ant got stepped on. The reader, Sam the Eagle, responds accordingly once he realizes what he's read.
- Mr. James from NewsRadio is fond of these. For example: "There's a saying, 'I cried because I had no desk, until I met a man who had no feet, and the no feet guy explained there was no such thing as a budget and WNYX was way, way over it, uh, the end.' Did you ever hear that story?"
- El Chapulín Colorado: Trying to discourage a boy from his habit of telling lies, Chapulin says the kid might end up like the boy from "Peter and the Wolf". After the boy says he doesn't know the story, Chapulin, who doesn't know it either, makes up one on the spot about a wolf that liked to tell lies to the point that, when he met the three little pigs, he claimed to be Little Red Riding Hood. In the end, he forgets to include Peter in his version and, when called out for this, he says Peter wrote the tale.
- This was the shtick of Saturday Night Live character Roseanne Roseannadanna. She would answer a letter about a current topic, which would inevitably lead to an anecdote about meeting a celebrity doing something gross. When asked what does that have to do with the topic at hand, Roseannnadanna would respond with the Catch Phrase "It just goes to show, it's always something."
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Albuquerque" and "Everything you Know is Wrong".
- "Albuquerque" is definitely an example, but "Everything You Know Is Wrong" probably wasn't going anywhere in the first place.
- Our Miss Brooks: In the episode "Friday The Thirteenth", Mrs. Davis tries to assure Miss Brooks her troubles with Mr. Conklin are merely psychological. Mrs. Davis relates how her brother Victor was afraid to enter a yard because of a dog that was always barking. Victor went to a psychiatrist who told him that the only reason the dog was barking was because the dog was afraid Victor would kick him . . . .
Mrs. Davis: After a couple months with the psychiatrist, my brother went right into that dog's yard and they stayed there together for over an hour.Miss Brooks: Really, what did they do?Mrs. Davis: They just stood around, biting and kicking each other. Luckily, a policeman came by and stopped it.
- From Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore:
Mad Margaret: You pity me? Then be my mother! The squirrel had a mother, but she drank and the squirrel fled! Hush! They sing a brave song in these parts — it runs somewhat thus: (sings)'The cat and the dog and the little puppee
Sat down in a — down in a — in a —'I forget what they sat down in, but so the song goes!
- Team Fortress 2: The Soldier has a memorable one in "Meet The Soldier"
"If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight! Sun Tzu said that, and I'd say he knows a little bit more about fighting than you do, pal, because he invented it, and then he perfected it so that no living man could best him in the ring of honor. Then, he used his fight money to buy two of every animal on earth, and then he herded them onto a boat, and then he beat the crap out of every single one. And from that day forward any time a bunch of animals are together in one place it's called a zoo! (Beat) Unless it's a farm!"
- In Betrayal at Krondor, the book Thiful's Bird Migrations starts with a discussion on birds, but since the author simply cannot keep on topic, it becomes the only book to provide bonuses to every skill in the game.
- In Kingdom of Loathing, most of what Grandpa Sea Monkee has to say is some variation of this.
- The wizard Fernswarthy's letter to his future grave-robber starts out with threats of a terrible curse for desecrating his grave, segues into a discussion about the merits of a career in chartered accountancy, segues again into a letter to an unnamed friend in the Distant Lands, and ends up as a shopping list. The curse also fails to work properly. Fernswarthy wasn't all there in his old age.
- In Metal Gear Solid 2, Otacon takes over as Snake's Voice with an Internet Connection, and takes all the roles of Snake's former team. However, he does not that great of a job imitating Mei-Ling's quoting of classic literature.
Otacon: Remember the Deep family's fish, Snake!
- Call him enough and Mei-Ling hijacks his feed to tell him to shut up.
- Poker Night at the Inventory sees Tycho asking Max where he learned to play cards. Max starts recounting an adventure in Atlantic City, but by the time he finishes the anecdote he's forgotten there was a question he was supposed to answer.
- A Dummied Out line from Cave Johnson in Portal 2 has Cave bring up the story of "The Frog and the Scorpion" - but he's gotten it mixed up with the saying "I say jump, you say how high", and he's inverted it to "When I say ‘jump’ I don’t want to hear ‘how high?’ That means you’re not jumping!"
- Dangan Ronpa's Hagakure starts a story intending to show how his fortune-telling is different from 'occult' matters, and ends up explaining how aliens proved his 'all-beef' hamburger was 70% pork. Nobody else could follow it, either.
- Deponia. The entire game. Both the opening and closing songs establish that the whole thing's being told by the singing narrator to explain why he shouldn't have to do chores... but in the closing song, he admits he doesn't really understand how it establishes this and claims the moral is that "The chorus guys rule."
- xkcd shows us what happens if a math professor starts rambling while reading fairy tales:
"But while the ant gathered food ... zzz ... the grasshopper contracted to a point on a manifold that was not a 3-sphere."
- Johnny in Paranatural gives Max this sage advice:
"Listen, we're not so different, you n' me. Like, our faces are very similar. ... Point is Max, we live in a world of similar things. Lots of stuff is the same as other stuff. ...I forgot where I was going with this but the takeaway is your parent's don't love each other."
- Crystal from The Order of the Stick gives one of these to Haley in Don't Split the Party:
Crystal: It's like the old joke goes: I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun the early bird that catches the tiger by the tail.
- In The Simpsons episode "Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie", Homer tries explaining to Bart why his punishment is for his own good.
Homer: You know, when I was a boy, I really wanted a catcher's mitt, but my dad wouldn't get it for me. So I held my breath until I passed out and banged my head on the coffee table. (Cheerily) The doctor thought I might have brain damage.Bart: Dad, what's the point of this story?Homer: I like stories.
Homer: When I was your age, I wanted an electric football game more than anything in the world. And my parents bought it for me, and it was the happiest day of my life.
- In a similar vein is Homer attempting to explain to Bart why he can't have the video game he covets;
"We can't bust heads like we used to. But we have our ways. One trick is to tell stories that don't go anywhere. Like the time I caught the ferry to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for m'shoe. So I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt. Which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. Gimme five bees for a quarter, you'd say. Now where was I... oh yeah. The important thing was that I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time. You couldn't get white onions, because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones..."
- Homer had a few actually, including this one from "Homer the Heretic"
"Kids, let me tell you about another so-called wicked guy. He had long hair and some wild ideas. He didn't always do what other people thought was right. And that man's name was... I forget. But the point is... I forget that, too. Marge, you know what I'm talking about. He used to drive that blue car?"
- Pretty much everything Grandpa Simpson says:
"I remember another gentle visitor from the heavens. He came in peace, and then died, only to come back to life. And his name was... E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. [sniffs] I love that little guy..."
- And then there's Reverend Lovejoy's sermon following Homer's supposed alien encounter:
Homer: Don't you know the story of Hercules and the lion?Bart:Is it a Bible story?Homer: Yeah, probably. Anyway, once upon a time, there was a big mean lion, who got a thorn in his paw. All the village people tried to pull it out, but nobody was strong enough! So, they got Hercules, and Hercules used his mighty strength, and bingo! Anyway, the moral is the lion was so happy, he gave Hercules this big...thing...of riches.Bart: How did a lion get rich?Homer: It was the olden days!
- When convincing Bart to donate blood to Mr Burns in hope of a reward;
- Done hilariously in Freakazoid!.
"I saw this once on an after-school special. Mary and Sally, best friends! They did absolutely everything together. Then one day, Mary fell in with the wrong crowd. And Mary didn't have time for Sally anymore. Sally would say, 'Wanna go play a game or pretend we're kitties?' and Mary would say 'Uh-uh, I'm in with the wrong crowd.' Sally was so sad she ran home, climbed up a tree and started eating cookies. A ton of cookies. She got huge, HUGE, HUGE, HUGE!...got any cookies, Mike?"
- Spongebob Squarepants:
Mermaid Man: Listen kid, this reminds me of Episode 902. We were surrounded. The Kelp Thing was to our right, and there was broccoli on the side. But if there's one thing I remember, it's how to forget! The rain in Spain stays mainly on the... SPACE! The final countdown. Skip to the... skip to the... loo, my darling! Loo! *dramatically collapses in SpongeBob's arms* Now get out there, and let's finish this movie, kid.
- This absolute gem in "Mermaid Man & Barnacle Boy VI: The Movie". When SpongeBob despairs about his lack of movie-making skills, Mermaid Man tries to cheer him up thusly:
Patrick: Maybe a story will cheer you up. It's called "The Ugly Barnacle". Once there was an ugly barnacle. He was so ugly that everyone died. The end.Spongebob: That didn't help at all!
- "Something Smells": In this episode, Spongebob becomes convinced he's extremely ugly due to everyone avoiding him, not being aware that the reason for their aversion is the fact he actually had really bad breath that day. Patrick (who, not having a nose, is completely unaware of Spongebob's bad breath), attempts to make Spongebob feel better:
- Happened more than once on Futurama, mostly through the... wisdom of Fry, as the page quote brilliantly demonstrates.
- From American Dad!, "White Rice":
Francine: Are you sure about all this?Roger: Remember when Rudy from The Cosby Show got old and stopped being cute? I brought them Raven-Symone! Saw her on a Philadephia playground and knew she was a star, snatched her right up! Six months later, her parents saw her on TV and realized she was still alive... did some time for that. So, you ask, am I sure about this? I dunno.
Roger: How dare you quote Ghostbusters to me! I wrote a movie called "Rump Busters" and threw it at a guy on the bus who looked like Harold Ramis. Two weeks later, Ghostbusters came out. Coincidence? Absolutely!
- When Stan makes an offhanded reference to Ghostbusters (1984), Roger angrily responds with a story:
Roger: Trust me, I know the restaurant business. I managed a Hardees down in Myrtle Beach for three years. Everybody called it "Party Hardees" because of the butt-load of drugs I was moving through there. I was "sick" the day of the raid—got tipped off by this detective whose daughter I saved from drowning. But I can't go back there, he won't look the other way again.
- Roger attempts to reassure Stan that he's the perfect person to manage Stan's new restaurant:
- Mater's Tall Tales is, as it suggests, Mater telling stories about how he supposedly met aliens, was a firetruck and a matador, amongst other things. Hilariously, around half-way through each retelling;
Lightning McQueen: I'm pretty sure that didn't happen!Mater: Sure it did! You was there too!*Scene instantly depicts Lightning in the story, regardless of how bizarre the appearance. Lightning is usually screaming and requires Mater to save him.*
- On Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Meatwad attempts to explain why they need a new TV.
Meatwad: How else am I gonna face the day? I ain't got no job, my wife left me, bills pilin' up, I got child support payments, and I don't know if any of what I just said is true, but I believe it.Master Shake: He is right.