Sustained Misunderstanding

A classic gag. Alice tells Bob some news, which he interprets in a wrong (and hilarious) way. She tries to explain and correct his mistake, but he applies his misinterpretation to the explanation as well. Bob is usually portrayed to be somewhat dim-witted, but a variant of this trope has him do it on purpose, just to screw with Alice or as a form of Obfuscating Stupidity.

Related to Boke and Tsukkomi Routine, Chain of Corrections, Comically Missing the Point and Who's on First?.


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  • There was an ad for Best Foods salad dressing where a woman is trying to explain to her relatives that the salad dressing she's serving isn't homemade. At the end, she says "Best Foods made the dressing!" at which point the relatives say "You sold your recipe to Best Foods? We're gonna be rich!"
  • There was an ad for Kraft shredded cheese where the husband was being a Jerkass about the word "finely," purposely misinterpreting it as "finally."
    Her: Wow, Kraft finely shredded cheese!
    Him: You mean they didn't before?

     Fan Works 
  • In the Harry Potter AU Empire since no one bothers to explain to Harry what his classes are Harry assumes that Transfiguration is about transgenders and Defense Against the Dark Arts is an art class.
  • A Running Gag in How Do You Shoot A Gun With Hooves?: Pinkie keeps calling Kate Beckett "Bucket", and misinterprets Kate every time she tries to correct her.
    Pinkie: I don’t know who any of those people are. Are they friends of yours, Bucket?
    Kate: Beckett.
    Pinkie: Oh... are they friends of Beckett’s, Bucket?

    Film - Animated 
  • Atlantis: Milo's Return has Kida unable to comprehend why a spear is displayed inside a glass case:
    Milo: It's for protection.
    Kida: I know what the spear is for. But why is it in a glass case?
    Milo: No, the glass case is for protection.
    Kida: Wouldn't the spear be better protection than a glass case?
    Milo: Yes... No! It's there to protect from someone who might want to steal it.
    Kida: Why would someone want to steal a glass case?
  • From The Lion King:
    Rafiki: You won't find him here! The king has returned.
    Nala: I can't believe it... He's gone back!
    Timon: Gone back? Whaddaya mean? Hey... what's goin' on here? Who's the monkey!?
    Nala: Simba's gone back to challenge Scar!
    Timon: Who?
    Nala: Scar.
    Pumbaa: Who's got a scar?
    Nala: Nonono, it's his uncle—
    Nala: No! Simba's gone back to challenge his uncle, to take his place as king...?
    Timon & Pumbaa: Ohhhh...
  • In Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas, when Santa tells his reindeer that the dog "Murray" that they adopted is really Pluto.
    Donner: Who's Pluto?
    Blitzen: I think he's Murray.
    Donner: Murray's Pluto?
    Blitzen: Bingo.
    Donner: Bingo's Pluto?
    Blitzen: [beat] Yes.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • From The Wizard of Oz:
    Uncle Henry: Dorothy? Well what has Dorothy done?
    Miss Gulch: What she's done? I'm all but lame from the bite on my leg!
    Uncle Henry: You mean she bit you?
    Miss Gulch: No, her dog!
    Uncle Henry: Oh, she bit her dog, eh?
  • From The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle:
    Rocky: She's not here about the trees! She's with the FBI!
    Bullwinkle: The FBI? Didn't they take our show off the air?
    Rocky: You mean the FCC!
    Bullwinkle: Didn't they like it either?
  • From Facing the Giants:
    Brady Owens: Stan Schultz - isn't that a cartoonist?
    Grant Taylor: That's *Charles* Schultz.
    J.T. Hawkins Jr.: No, I thought Charles Schultz was that man that flew across the ocean in "The Spirit of St. Andrews."
    Grant Taylor: That's Charles Lindbergh, and it's "The Spirit of St. Louis."
    Brady Owens: Naw, Lindbergh is a cheese!
    Grant Taylor: Limburger's the cheese. Lindbergh's the man.
    J.T. Hawkins Jr.: No, Lindbergh was that blimp that blew up and killed all them people.
    Grant Taylor: That's the Hindenburg.
    Brady Owens: Nah, Hindenburg's where you go skiing in Tennessee.
    Grant Taylor: That's Gatlinburg!
    J.T. Hawkins Jr.: Gatlinburg? You mean like the country music group, the Gatlinburg Brothers?
    Grant Taylor: [throws ball] Crazy.
  • Airplane! takes this ball and runs around the stadium twice with it.
    • There's this exchange between Ted and Elaine:
    Elaine: You have a telegram from headquarters.
    Ted: Headquarters? What is it?
    • And then there's this gem:
    Capt. Oveur: I can't tell.
    Dr. Rumack: You can tell me, I'm a doctor.
    Capt. Oveur: No, I mean I'm just not sure!
    Dr. Rumack: Can't you take a guess?
    Capt. Oveur: Well, not for another two hours.
    Dr. Rumack: You can't take a guess for another two hours?
    • And of course the famous running gag:
    Various Characters: Surely you can't be serious!
    Dr. Rumack: I am serious. And don't call me Shirley!

  • Chrestomanci from the eponymous series loves this trope.
    Chrestomanci: Has Mr. Nostrum given his eyes for my letters?
    Cat: No, he just gave Gwendolen lessons for them.
    Chrestomanci: What? For his eyes? How uncomfortable!

    Live Action TV 
  • On A.N.T. Farm, Lexi is unaware of a fellow cheerleader's birthday since she never received her invitation. When she stopped trying to find out why. Her Dumb Blonde friend Paisley says she has to deliver an invitation to someone named " iX37" and assume its a robot. When Lexi sees the name, she realizes that Paisley had the envelope which says LEXI turned upside-down. When she tells Paisley its addressed to herself, Paisley replies, "I didn't know my best friend was a robot!"
  • Red Dwarf:
    • From episode "Pete 1":
      Lister: Nah, Kill Crazy's probably right. That's why houses under the flightpath are always so cheap.
      Rimmer: Cos of all the flushing planes?
      Lister: Yeah, well, think about it: you can't sunbathe, you can't have a barbecue, and every time you go out you've got to wear a washable hat and leg it to your car.
      Rimmer: It's the noise. That's why houses under the flightpath are so cheap; because of the noise.
      Lister: The noise?
      Rimmer: Yeah.
      Lister: They're half a mile up. You'd never be able to hear people on the loo from that distance. Not unless they were like my Uncle Dan.
    • From the episode "Trojan":
      Lister: Did you know, in the 1970s, in Sweden, twenty percent of all traffic accidents involved a moose?
      Cat: A moose? Well, if they're stupid enough to let 'em drive, what the hell do they expect?
      Lister: No ... the moose aren't driving...
      Cat: You just said they were.
      Lister: No, they're not driving, they're just causing the accidents.
      Cat: You mean they're in the back, fooling around, distracting the driver? That's insane! Why're they giving them a lift in the first place? Let 'em walk, they've got legs!
      Lister: No! The moose aren't in the car, with their antlers out the sun roof! They're on the roads, moosing around, crossing roads, and causing accidents.
      Cat: You mean they're not looking left and right?
      Lister: Exactly.
      Cat: Not using the pedestrian crossing? Not paying attention to whether it's the little red man or the little green man? Of course they're not, they're mooses! Sheesh! These Swedes, they expect too much.
  • Blackadder:
    • In the Blackadder The Third episode "Duel and Duality", Blackadder and Prince George switch places after the latter is challenged to a duel.
      Prince George: Oh, fantastic, yes, dressing up, I love it. It's just like that story, "The Prince and the Porpoise".
      Blackadder: "...and the Pauper", sir.
      Prince George: Oh, yes, yes, "The Prince and the Porpoise and the Pauper".
      Prince George: I must say I'm getting a bit confused myself. Which one of us is Wellington?
      Blackadder: No sir, Wellington is the man at the door.
      Prince George: And the porpoise?
    • Blackadder himself gets one in the second series:
      Blackadder: Perhaps you'd like to slip into something more comfortable?
      Lady Farrow: No, for there is a great pain in my heart.
      Blackadder: It's probably indigestion, I'll soon take your mind off that.
      Lady Farrow: No, it is my husband.
      Blackadder: Your husband's got indigestion? Well he won't be bothering us then!
      Lady Farrow: No, he dies tomorrow.
      Blackadder: Come now, you can't die of indigestion, you're overdramatising.
      Lady Farrow: He is to be executed at your order. I am Lady Farrow.
      Blackadder: [Silent Oh Crap!]
  • In an episode of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, Vic spends an entire contestant's run on the Dash to Death obstacle course trying to explain to Kenny that said contestant was on the Home Improvement team instead of the Adult Entertainment team.
  • Scrubs had one moment where The Janitor accuses J.D. of taking 'it' after J.D. asked if he had lost something. As J.D. continues to deny taking anything, The Janitor tells him he'll leave his cart unattended and if 'it' should reappear on the cart, no further questions will be asked. J.D. tells him he doesn't even know what 'it' is, to which The Janitor replies, "Then why take it?"
  • A deliberate one from Gilmore Girls:
    Emily: You were on the phone?
    Richard: Long distance.
    Lorelai: God?
    Richard: London.
    Lorelai: God lives in London?
    Richard: My mother lives in London.
    Lorelai: Your mother is God?
    Richard: Lorelai...
    Lorelai: So God is a woman.
    Richard: Lorelai.
    Lorelai: And a relative. That's so cool. I'm gonna totally ask for favors.
    Richard: Make her stop.
    Rory: Oh, that I could.
  • The opening skit of the 2006 Emmys found host Conan O'Brien wandering into several TV shows. Towards the end, he walked into an empty house, only to find himself in the middle of an episode of "To Catch A Predator", with every (truthful) explanation that he gave sounding exactly like the lame excuses given by real predators and therefore only serving to make him look more guilty:
    Chris Hansen: I'm Chris Hansen with Dateline NBC.
    Conan O'Brien: Oh, God. Okay, it's not what you think. I'm looking for the Emmys. I'm hosting.
    Chris Hansen: Hosting? That's what you call this?
    Conan O'Brien: Yes, it's my second time. (Conan had previously hosted the Emmys in 2002)
    Chris Hansen: So you've done this before?
    Conan O'Brien: Yeah, I did it one time and I liked it and I thought maybe I should do it again.
    Chris Hansen: (voiceover) Of all the predators I've met, this guy, screen name conebone69, was by far the creepiest.
    Conan O'Brien: Look ... (chuckles nervously) ... you think ... this is very easy to explain.
    Chris Hansen: Explain it then.
    Conan dashes out of the house.
  • On MST3K, Mike tells the 'bots, who are performing a kabuki play, how he prefers Noh theater. Who's on First? and hilarity ensues.
  • The entire plot of the Japanese drama Anna-san no Omame (a.k.a. The Best Friend of Beautiful Anna) is based on this trope.
  • In El Chavo del ocho When Don Ramón tries to Explain to el Chavo what Bowling is, and we see Chavo's Imagine Spot
    First, there is a huge table. (Chavo imagines a real table with tablecloth included.)
    At the end of this table there are 10 pins. (Chavo imagine 10 trees at the end of the table.)note 
    The goal of the game is to take down the most pins posible. (Imagine Don Ramón bludgeoning the pines into summision.)
  • The M*A*S*H episode "Bug Out" has a scene where Col. Potter and B.J. attempt to commandeer a hut for a new M*A*S*H site, only to discover that it's already being used as a brothel. Then Frank Burns shows up:
    Frank: (seeing the women) Who are they? Are there people living here?
    B.J. The Assistance League.
    Frank: Assistance League?
    B.J. The oldest profession.
    Frank: A bakery?
    Potter: (irritatedly) Tarts!
    Frank: (excitedly) Tarts?!! Peach? Raspberry?
  • A staple of the comedy on Green Acres is Oliver's constant inability to get his point across to virtually everyone he speaks to, including his own wife. Especially his own wife.
  • On The Mentalist, rookie FBI agent Wiley has this as his schtick.
    Wiley: You can call me The Coyote.
    Cho: No.
    Wiley: That's what they called me downstairs. I'm not sure why.
    Cho: Your name's Wiley.
    Wiley: Yeah.
    Cho: Wile E. Coyote? Roadrunner? The cartoon?
    Wiley: No, I think it's German. (to passing agent) Hey, do you know Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner?
    Agent: Sure. Two sex traffickers in the Southwest.
    Wiley: They made a cartoon about sex traffickers?

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one Pearls Before Swine anthology, Stephan Pastis wrote that Pig "is rather easy to write for. He just needs to misunderstand everything said to him, and then when it's explained to him, he needs to misunderstand that too." And indeed, it's one of Pig's most common gags. The strip he referenced had this exchange:
    Pig: If this player can win a World Series, he'll finally get the donkey off his back.
    Rat: Monkey.
    Pig: Get the donkey off his monkey... that's one strong monkey.
  • In Sherman's Lagoon, Sherman asks Ernest to explain ocean acidification:
    Ernest: It affects shell-forming animals the worst.
    Sherman: Like...?
    Ernest: Like pteropods, for example.
    Sherman: The flying dinosaurs?
    Ernest: Snails.
    Sherman: It's causing snails to fly?
    Ernest: We're done here.

  • In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, when Ros and Guil are trying to figure out what's wrong with Hamlet, and the Player tries to explain Polonius's theory with some Ambiguous Syntax:
    Player: The old man thinks he's in love with his daughter.
    Player: No, he hasn't got a daughter; the old man thinks he's in love with his daughter!
    Ros: The old man is?
    Player: Hamlet ... in love ... with the old man's daughter ... the old man thinks.

    Web Comics 
  • Basic Instructions, second panel here.
    • Done again with a new situation here.
  • Dinosaur Comics here:
    T-Rex: Oh, I do them too! I've done aspirin, dude. I follow the instructions on the label!
    T-Rex: The instructions CAN be quite complicated!
  • The Order of the Stick: Elan tends to do this a lot.
    Elan: Man, I can't believe the illusionist guy lied to the nice ghost-paladin!
    Haley: He was just a regular human back then, honey.
    Elan: Oh. Well then I can't believe he lied to the nice ghost-human.
  • Questionable Content: Hannelore and Marigold discuss their lack of sex lives; Hannelore because she's rather squicked out by those fluids, while Marigold is a shut-in:
    Hannelore: Uhm...six?
    Marigold: You're off by six.
    Hannelore: Twelve? Wow!
  • In Girl Genius, Lars tries to explain to the custodians of the Absurdly Spacious Sewer that normal sewers do not contain giant spiders, sewer serpents, ghouls, albino squid, or giant glowing rats, Their reaction: "So in these other sewers, what do the big monsters eat?"
    • Justified in that Lars is contradicting a lifetime of very justified instincts in an equally justified environment - Sturmhalten Sewer Rats that don't worry about monsters of every shape and size get et. And Lars is in that "abnormal" sewer with them. He realizes this with the very next sentence;
      Lars: WHAT AM I DOING HERE?!
  • Done in xkcd, when the fatalistic girl has somehow got a job as a Hollywood reporter. First she mistakes "How do things look?" for "What is the eventual fate of planet Earth?", and then:
    Anchor: Oh, um ... sounds pretty grim. How are the stars reacting?
    Reporter: Hydrogen fusion, but it won't last forever.
    Anchor: I meant the movie stars.
    Reporter: They won't last forever either. None of us will.

    Web Original 
  • Even the Bastard Operator from Hell has his moment:
    Boss: These network computers are great! Sonya's just been proselytising us.
    BOFH: Really? I can't say I approve, but hey, what's good for Amsterdam is good for London!
    Boss: No. I mean she's converted us.
    BOFH: So you're all prostitutes? Wouldn't quit the day job if I were you!
    Boss: I'm talking about network computers!
    BOFH: Of course! And the prostitution?
    Boss: There's no bloody prostitution!!
    PFY: Of course there isn't! Walls have ears and all that.
  • Melee's End uses this when a Cloudcuckoo Lander tries to have a conversation with a Ditz, and two (relatively) normal guys get caught in the wake:
    Marth: Hey look, it's Metroid.
    Samus: My name is Samus.
    Mario: Hi, Samus. What do you want?
    Samus: I am the Crazy Finger!
    Marth: I though you said you were Metroid.
    Samus: I said I was Samus!
    Mario: ...I thought you just said you were Crazy Finger.
    Samus: I am the Crazy Finger!
    Star Fox: Wait, Samus is who, exactly?
    Marth: Samus is Metroid.
    Mario: No, Metroid is Samus... I mean, Samus is Samus!
    Samus: Samus is Crazy Finger!
    Star Fox: I'm Star Fox.
    Marth: But... but I thought you said you were Falco.
    Mario: No, he's Metroid! No, wait. Let's start over.
    Marth: Okay, Metroid.
    Mario: I'm Mario.
    Marth: I'm Star Fox.
    Star Fox: I'm Star Fox.
    Samus: I'm Star Fox!
    Marth: Then who's Metroid?
    Star Fox: Nobody is.
    Marth: Well then who the hell is Nobody?
    Samus: I'm Nobody!
  • Used on Naruto The Abridged Series.
  • In the RWBY episode "Search and Destroy", though luckily the misunderstanding is relatively brief:
    Oobleck: I can assure you, as a Huntsman, I've had my fair share of tussles.
    Ruby: [scratching her head] Like the mushroom?
    Blake: Those are truffles.
    Ruby: Like the sprout?
    Yang: Those are brussels.

    Western Animation 
  • Archer, "Skytanic", during a bomb defusal:
    Archer: OK, I'm about to...
    Gilette: "OK"?!? Wait! Stop! You said those last two letters were Oscar Kilo!
    Archer: What? Oscar...
    Gilette: O.K! Oscar Kilo!
    Archer: No, OK, like, "OK I'm gonna tell you what the letters are."
    Gilette: And then you didn't!
    Archer: I thought you were skipping that part!
    Gilette: (incredulous) Skipping a step in disarming a bomb!
    Archer: Yes, which I thought was pretty irresponsible of you!
  • From an early episode of King of the Hill:
    Willie Nelson: Hey I know you, you're the kid who rakes my yard.
    Bobby: No, I'm the boy who hit you in the head.
    Willie Nelson: You hit me in the head with a rake?
    Bobby: No sir, with a golf club.
    Willie Nelson: You've been raking my yard with a golf club?! I want my quarter back.
  • Often done with Fred the squirrel on The Penguins of Madagascar:
    Kowalksi: [shows picture of Marlene and King Juilen] You there. Have you seen this otter and lemur?
    Fred: Which one's the otter?
    Kowalski: This one, obviously. Note the whiskers?
    Fred: Oh, I thought that was a cat.
    Kowalski: Did I say "have you seen this lemur and cat?"
    Fred: No. That's why I thought it was odd that you drew a cat.
    Kowalski: It's not a cat.
    Fred: Then why does it have whiskers?
    Kowalski: You know what, forget the otter.
    Fred: Cat.
    Kowalski: Whatever! Have you seen the lemur?
    Fred: What's a lemur?
    Kowalski: I think we're done here.
  • A staple of Rocky and Bullwinkle:
  • The Simpsons, when Homer is required to take a science class:
    Teacher: We're going to take a test, true or false.
    Homer: True.
    Teacher: Homer, I was just explaining the test.
    Homer: True.
    Teacher: Homer, just take the test. You'll do fine.
    Homer: False.
    • In "Funeral for a Fiend", Sideshow Bob lures the Simpsons into his latest deathtrap by operating a fake steakhouse restaurant and dressing as the "owner" Wes Doobner. Even after he reveals himself, Homer is still none the wiser, leading to this.
    Homer: I'd like to know if Wes Doobner is aware of what you're doing in his restaurant!
    Sideshow Bob: I'm Wes Doobner!
    Homer: Mr. Doobner, I have a complaint. I work hard, and when I go out with my family, I expect a certain level of basic—
    Sideshow Bob: Shut up!
  • Happened one time in House of Mouse with Mickey asking bystanders about Donald.
    Mickey: I'll give you a hint: "sailor shirt".
    Goofy: Uh, Do-Do-Do...Mickey Mouse?
    Mickey: I'm Mickey Mouse.
    Goofy: Hey! You're not wearing a sailor shirt!
  • South Park: At the beginning of "T.M.I.", Butters is describing a situation about The Terminator that turns into a nod to Arnold Schwarzenegger's affair that had just made the news.
    Butters: And to then...And so then, it turns out the Terminator secretly had a kid ten years ago, meaning Terminator could be his own father, and then Skeletor gets angry and wants to fight him.
    Kyle: No, dude, that's not the trailer for Terminator 5. That really happened.
    Butters: Skeltor's real?!
    Stan: No, dude, that's not Skeletor. That's Terimator's wife.
    Butters: Skeletor's a lady?!
  • In the second episode of Over the Garden Wall. When Greg saves Beatrice.
    Beatrice: I'm stuck. Help me out of here and I owe you a favor.
    Greg: WOOW. I get a wish?
    Beatrice: No no no. Not a wish, I'm not magical. I'll just do you a good turn.
    Greg: Can you turn me into a tiger?
    Beatrice: I just said I'm not magical.
    Greg: It doesn't have to be a magical tiger.

  • The comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin were masters of this trope. Take this example from the opening of just one of their many Laugh-In shows:
    Rowan: Are you looking forward to the show tonight?
    Martin: Yea, what's the movie?
    Rowan: What movie? You doo doo, it's Laugh-In.
    Martin: Oh that's right, Laugh-In's on tonight! I almost forgot it was Tuesday!
    Rowan: It's not Tuesday, it's Monday!
    Martin: Glad you reminded me! <to audience> Don't forget to watch Laugh-In tomorrow night.
    Rowan: Laugh-In's not on tomorrow night.
    Martin: Finally canceled it, huh? I knew they couldn't keep it up every week.
    Rowan: You knew who couldn't keep it up every week?
    Martin: Funk and Wagnalls.
    Rowan: Funk and Wagnalls aren't on Laugh-In.
    Martin: See, I told you they couldn't keep it up!
    Rowan: Now, now, you're getting me confused. Let's go back to the beginning.
    Martin: Well, in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, there was this boy and this girl, and...
    Rowan: We might need not go back that far, let's just go back to the beginning of the show.
    Martin: Ok...
    <NBC logo appears> "The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC."
    Martin: Hey, was that Funk and Wagnalls?
    Rowan: That was the NBC peacock.
    Martin: That's how our show starts.
    Rowan: That's what I've been trying to tell you. This is our show.
    Martin: Oh you mean it's Tuesday already.
    Rowan: No, it's Monday. Laugh-In is on on Monday nights.
    Martin: Well somebody better tell Funk and Wagnalls, they're gonna be late for the show!
  • And Laugh-In probably took a lot of its cues from the old Vaudeville acts, primarily Abbott and Costello. Aside from the famous Who's on First? routine, there was also 13 times 7 = 28, milking a cow ("You gotta go to the sauce [source]!" "Who wants sauce, I'm after milk! If I wanted sauce, I'd go pick apples!"), and a variety of others.
  • This Not Always Working story:
    Boss: It's chemistry. If that rail's going that way, and this is that way, they're touching right there.
    Coworker: No, that would be physics.
    Boss: [looking confused] The hell's physics got to do with this? That's like out there with Pluto.
    Me: No, that would be astronomy.
    Boss: The other Pluto.
    Me: [realizing he meant Plato] That's philosophy.

Alternative Title(s):

Maintain The Misunderstanding, Prolonged Misunderstanding, Prolong The Confusion