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Asymmetric Dilemma

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A standard wry joke form, often offered in the form of an Obstacle Exposition.

A pair of problems is presented as if the problems are of equal importance. The first problem is relatively minor, and is explained in unwarranted detail. The second problem is so much simpler and more serious that the first problem seems like a silly thing to worry about: "I Broke a Nail. Oh, also, I have terminal cancer."

This joke often overlaps with I Would Say If I Could Say, where a character can't use a common expression because it technically doesn't apply to them, like The Undead claiming to be "breathless with anticipation".

If the less serious problem is instead a list of problems, that's a case of Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick; if the serious one is a list, it's Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking. A Lopsided Dichotomy is another rhetorical device comparing mundane things to extreme things, but in more of an "or" way than this trope's "and".


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    Comic Books 
  • The Killing Joke features the Joker telling a joke that uses such a dilemma to Batman. Two men escape from an insane asylum by climbing onto the roof. One jumps to a nearby building, but the other is too scared to follow. The first offers to shine a flashlight across the way, letting the second walk across the beam of light. The second man replies "What do you think I am? Crazy? You'd turn it off when I was half way across!".
  • Done with Noodle Implements in an issue of Rat-Man. Working on a plan to fight a villain, Rat-man gathers some objects he can use (a pipe, some rags...) but has to abandon the plan when he cannot find the final item: an atom bomb.

    Fan Fic 
  • Beyond the Borders: After realizing that she's plural, Rachel laments that she could talk to her internet friends that have more experience with that subject, if only she could find her phone... and also the internet still existed... and also those friends were still alive.note 
  • In Ch.5 of the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles fanfic Judge the Sky, Cameron is worried that she may have to pass a Navy physical. Which involves swimming exercises. This is problematic, as: "a) she would be under the intensive examination of a doctor, and b) she did not swim."

  • From Meet the Robinsons:
    Bowler Hat Guy: Oh, I know! I'll turn him into a duck! Yes, it's so evil! Oh... I don't know how to do that... and I don't really need a duck... this may be harder than I thought.
  • A classic example from the Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers:
    Groucho: Have you ever had any experience as a kidnapper?
    Chico: You bet. You know what I do when I kidnap somebody? First I call 'em up on the telephone, then I send 'em my chauffeur.
    Groucho: Oh, have you got a chauffeur? What kind of a car have you got?
    Chico: Oh, I no got a car, I just got a chauffeur.
    Groucho: Well maybe I'm crazy, but when you have a chauffeur, aren't you supposed to have a car?
    Chico: Well I had one, but you see it cost too much money to keep a car and a chauffeur so I sold the car.
    Groucho: Well that shows you how little I know. I would've kept the car and sold the chauffeur.
    Chico: That's no good. I gotta have a chauffeur to take me to work in the morning.
    Groucho: Well if you've got no car, how can he take you to work?
  • A famous example comes from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: About to jump from a high precipice into a river below, Sundance points out that he can't swim. "You crazy?" says Butch, "The fall will probably kill you!"

  • The "bacon and eggs" variant shows up in Timothy Zahn's Star Wars novels. "If we had bruallki, we could have bruallki and menkoroo -- if we had some menkoroo."
  • Discworld:
    • In Wyrd Sisters, Nanny Ogg asks the strolling players (having invited herself to get a lift in their wagon) if they have a light. After the group proffer an array of matches, she asks if anyone happens to have any tobacco. In Maskerade, she does it again, asking the other people (reluctantly) sharing a stagecoach with her if they have "anything to open a bottle of beer", "anything to drink a bottle of beer out of" and finally, "Anybody have a bottle of beer?"
    • Men at Arms has a bit where Detritus the troll needs to find something to write on. Then he needs to find something to write with. Then, once he finds something to write with, he needs to find someone who can teach him how to write.
    • Unseen Academicals: Everyone is entitled to vote, unless disqualified by reason of age or not being Lord Vetinari.
  • Animorphs:
    • A couple of books in the series take place on the Hork-Bajir planet, where several deep chasms open down to the molten planetary core. The Arn, a winged species, have cliff dwellings extending partway down these chasms, with very thin walkways. In two separate instances, Andalites have concluded that there is no need to worry about the magma, because the body would probably be disintegrated in mid-fall.
    • This seems pretty typical of the Andalite sense of humor (assuming they have one; the jury's still out). Ax makes comments like this all the time. "You're worried that a passing Z-Space craft might collide with our extruded mass and splatter it all over Z-Space? Don't worry. That's impossible. The ship's shields would just disintegrate it."
  • Keep Beach City Weird, a spin-off novel from Steven Universe, uses this several times. For example, Guacola, the guacamole soda, is described as "So dense, it [is] like trying to drink a collapsed star! Or a can of fizzy guacamole."

    Live-Action Television 
  • On Red Dwarf, Kryten was fond of these:
    Kryten: What on Earth are we going to do?
    Cat: Hey, I got it! We laser our way through!
    Kryten: An excellent suggestion, Sir, with just two minor drawbacks. One, we don't have a power source for the lasers, and two, we don't have any lasers.
    • And:
    Cat: I say let's get into the jet-powered rocket pants and Junior Birdman the hell out of here.
    Kryten: An excellent and inventive suggestion, sir, with just two tiny drawbacks: A: we don't have any jet-powered rocket pants. And B: there's no such thing as jet-powered rocket pants outside the fictional serial 'Robbie Rocketpants'.
    Cat: Well, that's put a crimp on an otherwise damn fine plan.
  • On The West Wing, Toby points out that the problem with jokes about the Vice President's mediocrity is that "He doesn't think they're funny, and everyone else doesn't think they're jokes." An earlier episode, "The Fall's Gonna Kill You", referenced the Butch Cassidy exchange. The series uses this joke form in numerous other instances to point out how short their various successes fall of actually fixing massive social injustices.
  • An especially long version done in the "Bookshop" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus. A customer has put the bookstore clerk through an incredible ordeal in finding a book. Eventually he finds one the customer likes ("Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying") and the clerk slams it onto the counter:
    Clerk: There's your book. Now, buy it!
    Customer: I don't have enough money.
    Clerk: I'll take a deposit!
    Customer: I don't have any money.
    Clerk: I'll take a cheque!
    Customer: I don't have a chequebook.
    Clerk: I'll take a blank one!
    Customer: I don't have a bank account.
    Clerk: Right! I'll buy it for you! There's your receipt, there's your change, there's money for a taxi on the way home...
    Customer: Wait! I can't read!
    Clerk: You can't read? Fine, sit down! Sit! Are you sitting comfortably? Right! "Ethel the Aardvark was hopping down the river valley..."

  • The Welcome Wagon uses this in the first verse of "Rice and Beans."
    When it's rice and beans, but you've got no beans,
    and the rice is getting pretty thin...
  • In "Drive My Car" by The Beatles, the singer describes a woman asking him to take a job driving her car. In the last verse, he agrees, leading her to admit:
    I've got no car and it's breaking my heart,
    But I've found a driver and that's a start.
  • "Living in the Love of the Common People" by Paul Young sardonically suggests it's lucky a poor young man doesn't have any money, because that means he can't lose it through the holes in his trouser pockets.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Sesame Street newspaper comic strip of the early 1970s had a variation on the "bacon and eggs" archetype: A little girl says, "If I had more light ... I could read a book ... if I had a book ... if I could read."
  • Similarly, in Walt Kelley's comic strip Pogo, a slightly-recurring character was a beetle who, whenever she saw something she didn't like, always exclaimed "If I could write I'd write a nasty letter to the mayor, if he could only read."

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street: Ernie wants to buy an empty box from Lefty the Salesman, but he doesn't have any money.
    Ernie: Gee, if I had an empty box like that, I could keep my pet mouse in it... if I had a pet mouse.

  • Dead Ringers: Liz Truss, trying to do trade deals with tiny, otherwise unheard of nations, is unsure whether they even have phones she can call them on. She then hits on the idea of selling them phones... except Britain doesn't make phones either. So she decides they could buy phones from other countries and then sell them on.

  • In Terror Island the Unity refuses to be complicit in Stephen's scheme in theorem 147 because:
    Red/Blue Unity: We are one plumber, not three.
    Blue/Yellow Unity: And we are not a plumber.
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja:
    The Doctor: Okay, dinosaur in my office. How could that be... The door should have been locked... Oh! And they are extinct! Dinosaurs are extinct. Dinosaur can't be in the office because it should be extinct.
    • Later:
      Doctor: Oh my god! This warehouse isn't refrigerated! I don't want to know what these patties are made of to allow that. Oh, and an explosive. I can think of a good handful of nicer places to hang out than exploding buildings.
  • In this strip of Mac Hall:
    Ian: Get the monkey gun.
    Matt: Is that a gun for shooting monkeys or a gun that shoots monkeys out of it?
    Ian: Uh...
    Matt: Because we don't have either.
    Ian: Why don't we have any monkey guns?
    Matt: I'm pretty sure they don't exist.
  • 8-Bit Theater loves this trope.
    Red Mage: Wait! That is not how we do things around here, buddy. First we have to argue incessantly over semantics. Then one of us has to hurt one or all of us. Also, you're a villain.
  • One xkcd strip has, as its alt text, two problems with a recent issue of a homeopathy magazine:
    "One, it's spelled 'echinacea', and two, homeopathic medicines are no better than placebos and your entire magazine is a sham."
  • In Froot Butch, when asked how RJ apparently lives like a king without a job, RJ informs his girlfriend that he can either never see her again, or be forced to get a job.
  • Roy and Durkon spend one The Order of the Stick strip discussing how, even though they now believe the Villain Has a Point, they can't offer an alternative solution to Redcloak as long as he's working with Xykon. After a Beat, Roy adds that it would also help if they had an alternative solution.

     Web Original 
  • In this Not Always Working story a coffee chain isn't offering hot food because they're close to closing, but still offers their sandwich menu ... if they had any fillings ... or bread.
  • In one xkcd What If?, a reader asks what would happen if Niagara Falls was funneled through a straw. Randall points out that this would get you in trouble with several different regulatory committees, and adds that "Also, the Earth would be destroyed."

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama has a couple examples:
    Zoidberg: Oh joy, a coupon! Two oil changes for the price of one! Now if only I could afford the one. And a car...
    • Another example:
      Leela: (upon seeing Bender stomping a killer whale carcass down a manhole) Bender! Cut it out! First of all, the sewer mutants will be mad. Second, everything else that's horribly wrong with what you're doing!
  • Ben 10: Alien Force
    Ben: And since I don't have a car ...
    Kevin: Or a license.
    Ben: Or a license, I was wondering if you could give us a ride.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic does this from time to time. Rarity is especially prone due to her Large Ham tendencies:
    Rarity: Alright, I admit it! I have false eyelashes! Oh, and I took a bite of the cake.
  • From the Gravity Falls episode "The Time-Traveller's Pig", after Dipper tries out one of the rides at Grunkle Stan's Mystery Fair and it crashes.
    Dipper: I think the Sky-Tram is broken. Also, most of my bones.
  • From Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    Katara: What happened?
    Sokka: Zuko's gone crazy! He completely wrecked my sand sculpture of Suki! (Beat) Oh, and he's attacking Aang.
  • In Steven Universe, Greg tends to downplay Rose Quartz's actions by comparing them to his own relatively mundane actions: saying they both made mistakes in that he thought disco was coming back while she started a war, and later not being too concerned that he didn't know she was Pink Diamond, because she didn't know he was born Greg DeMayo.