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Cannot Convey Sarcasm

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"The problem with having a sarcastic voice is that no one can tell when you're actually being sarcastic."

The inversion of Sarcasm-Blind. Due to some characters' demeanor, it is hard for others to distinguish if they are being sarcastic. In this case, it isn't that someone doesn't understand the concept of sarcasm — it's that someone doesn't understand how to properly use it, despite knowing exactly what sarcasm is. Often, they have to alert others that they are in Sarcasm Mode. May overlap with Insult Backfire.

Likely perpetrators are The Comically Serious and those with No Social Skills or No Sense of Humor. Compare Cannot Tell a Joke.

Compare Sarcasm Failure, a situational trope where someone who usually can convey sarcasm fails to do so for one reason or another.


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  • Inversion: There was an old commercial for Starburst where a man asked a woman if she wanted a Starburst, and she sarcastically replied something like "Yeah, sure I would." He asked her why she had to be so flippant, and she sarcastically told him that she has a speech disorder which makes everything she says sound sarcastic. He got annoyed and walked away, after which she maintained the sarcastic tone and lamented to herself how this speech disorder sucks. [1]

    Anime & Manga 

  • Comedian Arj Barker had a joke suggesting we all use the made-up font Sarcastica when typing sarcastic comments.
  • Comedian Rob Newman created a character called Ray who was almost a 100% inversion of the trope: Ray was incapable of saying almost anything without sounding sarcastic. Even when he suffered life-threatening injuries, nobody tried to help him because they thought his cries for help were meant ironically. He did play the trope straight occasionally, though: Ray sounded completely sincere on the rare occasions when he meant to be sarcastic.

  • Dead Famous: Inspector Colebridge can spend a whole paragraph being "deeply sarcastic" during The Summation without the hundreds of millions of people watching the televised event getting it. A good example of this is when he describes a hypothetical scenario where one of the eliminated reality show contestants tunnels back inside to commit a murder out of revenge.
    The studio erupted. All around the world the press lines jammed. So Woggle had done it after all, the evil kicker of teenage girls had surpassed even his previous levels of brutality. "Of course it wasn't Woggle!" said Colebridge impatiently. "Good heavens, if that highly distinctive fellow had popped up through the carpet I think we would have noticed, don't you?"
  • In Dragon Bones, this is played for drama, when Ward says something like "Yeah, right, I would totally kill my uncle, he is the last one standing between me and inheriting castle Hurog", and Oreg thinks he's serious. Ward is deeply hurt that everyone seems to believe he's like his father.
  • Inverted with Feygor, one of Gaunt's Ghosts, who (thanks to reconstructive surgery involving an augmetic voicebox) can't not sound sarcastic. It doesn't help that, according to his squadmates, he's sarcastic pretty much all the time anyway. One of them half-jokingly suggests raising a hand when he was being serious.
    Feygor: Yeah, that's a good idea.
    Feygor reluctantly raises his hand.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Every so often, Sheldon from the The Big Bang Theory says something sarcastic, but does it without much inflection. In one episode, Penny wants Sheldon to apologize to Leonard. When Sheldon refuses, Penny invokes this trope by telling Sheldon to apologize sarcastically. Sheldon agrees, and Leonard never realizes that Sheldon is trying to be sarcastic.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • Anya Jenkins, maybe. She is very inept at handling human relationships and behaviour, so it is hard to tell for the Scoobies whether she is being sarcastic, just unknowing — or plain insulting.
    • Oz, the extremely-Deadpan Snarker.
      Oz: I can see why you'd be upset. Oh, that was my sarcastic voice.
      Xander: You know, it sounds a lot like your regular voice.
      Oz: I've been told that.
  • Abed from Community (possibly) subverts this twice: Once where he goes out of his way to use sarcastic inflection when being sincere about the importance of inflection, and again where he lets the group know he's about to begin a sarcastic diatribe before doing so, and closes with "Sarcasm over".
  • Every so often Brennan and (at one point anyway) Zack from Bones (on the off chance that they'd actually use sarcasm).
  • Robin and her date have a misunderstanding in How I Met Your Mother in which he turns up in a Halloween costume while she doesn't, as her sarcasm didn't come across in their online conversations.
  • The Saturday Night Live sketch "Sarcasm 101 with Matthew Perry." They know what sarcasm is, but they don't all quite get how to do it.
  • One sketch on So Random! features "Possibly Sarcastic Skip", who was born with a disease that makes him sound sarcastic all the time. The sketch is spent trying to determine when he is and isn't being sincere.
  • Inverted in a The Kids in the Hall sketch in which Dave Foley’s character inadvertently insults people due to his speech impediment which causes it to sound as though he’s perpetually being sarcastic. Check it out.
  • Inverted in the Corner Gas episode "Dog River Dave". People keep thinking Wanda is being sarcastic when she actually isn't, a big pet peeve of hers. As Wanda is the biggest Deadpan Snarker on the show, it's highly likely that the rest of the town just assumes that anything coming out of her mouth must be sarcasm.

  • In Weird Al's "Albuquerque", the narrator sees a guy named Marty trying to carry a couch up the stairs and takes his sarcastic response literally:
    I see this guy Marty tryin' to carry a big ol' sofa up the stairs all by himself. So I say to him, I say, "Hey, you want me to help you with that?" And Marty, he just rolls his eyes and goes, "No, I want you to cut off my arms and legs with a chainsaw!"... So I did. And then he gets all indignant on me, he's like "Hey man, I was just being sarcastic!" Well, that's just great! How was I supposed to know that? I'm not a mind reader, for cryin' out loud!

    New Media 
  • The Internet comes standard with sarcasm filters built into the Internet Protocol, rendering it highly possible that offhand flippant comment you thought was the height of clever Lampshade Hanging insulted everyone who read it. Detecting sarcasm in text requires the reader to rely on wording and context alone, and a conversation between strangers provides a lot less context than one between friends. It might be related to the rampant overuse of italics to make something seem more outstanding or ALL CAPS SPEAK TO SUGGEST YELLING.
  • Sarcasm is nearly impossible to convey in text in general. The Internet is more noticeable in that sarcasm is more abundant, but when it appears in text, it can be hard to tell how genuine they're being.
    • It should be noted that the above is pretty much Poe's Law restated.
    • Absolutely. On This Very Wiki, one can never, ever, ever tell when a troper is being sarcastic or snarky. Such is the monumentally difficult task of communicating sarcasm through text alone. Because of this, some have a tendency of potholing to Sarcasm Mode whenever they say anything sarcastic, even when the sarcasm would be very obvious given the rest of what they added (spending an entire addition expressing what a jerk somebody is only to end it with "What a great guy").
      • That being said, there are tricks to make the sarcasm (somewhat) more apparent. Using deliberately archaic or unusual language ("Oh yeah, Bob, what a stupendous chap, what would us peons do without his radiance?"), extreme (but still readable) misspellings within an otherwise regular body of text ("People hear me say 'Bob is teh beztezt!!shift+1' quite often, I assure you."), the usage of italics (Bob is so cool. I wouldn't call him a sack of crap at all."), and other abnormal ways of communicating textually are often good indicators of sarcasm. However, because these methods are by no means universal, it is still very difficult to convey sarcasm, doubly so with a stranger who may not use the above methods at all or use methods the readers are unfamiliar with.

    Video Games 
  • In Double Homework, since Morgan’s Uncle, Tommy, is a scary-looking, middle-aged ex-rocker, the protagonist is nonplussed when Uncle Tommy asks him what his intentions are with Morgan. He then clarifies that he was just kidding.
  • Maybe GLaDOS from Portal. Her being a robot doesn't help. She might not have the intonation, but given that most of her sarcasm is the variety you would expect from a bratty six-year-old, it isn't exactly difficult to make out. At least in the sequel, she is promoted to teenager-level bitchiness.
  • Bowser's reaction to Mario and friends forgetting to invite him in Mario Party 7.
  • Sten from Dragon Age: Origins. He's extremely stoic and does not seem to make jokes. However, if you at one point reply to one of his rather deadpan observations with "funny" (whether your character is being sarcastic or not is really up to you), he'll thank you as it was, apparently, meant as a joke.
  • Mass Effect 2 has EDI:
    • She slowly becomes increasingly capable at humor, although her capability to convey sarcasm through tone of voice takes a bit more work. In between the six months that seperate the second and third games, she seems to have refined her technique, although she tends to avoid sarcasm in favor of messing with her Organic crew members’ minds.
    • Joker has just finished crawling through one access tunnel and is about to crawl through another, complains to EDI about it.
      EDI: I enjoy the sight of humans on their knees.
      Joker: Stunned silence
      EDI: That was a joke.
    • Even better in Mass Effect 3, as she gets the same reaction from resident badass, Commander Shepard.
      EDI: Do not worry, Shepard. I only forget to recycle the Normandy's oxygen when I find something truly interesting.
      Shepard: *Stunned Silence*
      EDI: That was a joke.
  • Shizune in Katawa Shoujo occasionally has this problem. Being deaf and mute, her sign language is interpreted by Misha, who tends to speak in a cheerful, bubbly tone regardless of Shizune's intent.
  • In Borderlands 2, Zer0 has this as a taunt when he manages to kill someone with a critical hit. Being Zer0, he does it in Haiku.
    "Sorry, did that hurt? / That "sorry" was sarcasm / I am not sorry."
  • Inverted by Beckett in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. His line reading sounds like he's being constantly sarcastic, making even innocuous statements like "pleasure to make your acquaintance" sound like he's mocking you. Or maybe he really is mocking you. You can't really tell.

  • Discussed in this strip of Dinosaur Comics, in which T-Rex worries that people can't tell when he's being sarcastic. (And then repeats that worry in a sarcastic tone.)
  • El Goonish Shive: Grace is very naïve and misses a lot of social cues because she was Raised in a Lab. It makes it hard for other characters to tell whether she's making a joke or just being a Cloud Cuckoolander.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Digman! has Zane, Rip Digman's friend-turned-rival who speaks with a thick British accent that makes it difficult for Rip to tell when Zane is being genuinely snide. It's used as a plot point at the end of the Pilot episode, when Zane's sarcastic statement to the press that he wouldn't have succeeded without Digman's help is interpreted as genuine by a bunch of people and leads to Digman getting a bunch of new job offers.
  • In one episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Mr. Herriman tries to receive funding from an Eccentric Millionaire, and tells Bloo with obvious sarcasm that he and Mac will get race cars from the money. Bloo's glee at this comment reveals to Mac that he has absolutely no idea what sarcasm is, and his attempts to teach him run throughout the episode. As it turns out, the "millionaire" had no money, and thought his baldfaced lying was sarcasm. Additionally, Mr. Herriman was telling the truth, and gives Mac and Bloo race cars in the end.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Inverted in the episode "Bart of Darkness":
      Homer: There's still the little matter of the whereabouts of your wife.
      Maude Flanders: Uh, I'm right here.
      Homer: Oh, I see! Then I guess everything's wrapped up in a neat little package!
      (after a pause)
      Homer: Really, I mean that. Sorry if it SOUNDED sarcastic.
    • Played with in "Bart Has Two Mommies", after telling Marge that Bart was kidnapped by a monkey:
      Homer: And maybe I'm talking like this because I can't stop! Help me, Lisa! I have serious mental problems!
    • In the episode "Homerpalooza" two unnamed teens/young adults engage in a form of this:
      Teen 1: Here comes that cannon ball guy. He's cool.
      Teen 2: Are you being sarcastic, dude?
      Teen 1: I don't even know anymore.
    • And then there's the time in "Flaming Moe's", when Homer's sarcasm was perfectly clear, but he suddenly worried that he hadn't made himself clear:
      Marge Simpson: Well, Homer, maybe you can take some consolation in the fact that something you created is making so many people happy.
      Homer Simpson: [sarcastic voice] Ooh, look at me! I'm making people happy! I'm the Magical Man from Happy-Land, in a gumdrop house on Lollipop Lane!
    [walks out, slams the door, then sticks his head back in]:
    Homer Simpson: Oh, by the way: I was being sarcastic.
    Marge Simpson: (to herself) Well, duh.
  • South Park had an inversion in "Sarcastiball": After Randy Marsh accidentally invents a sport by sarcastically suggesting it, he adopts a habit of speaking sarcastically all the time. At one point Sharon asks him if he's stuck speaking sarcastically. He angrily replies with things like "Yes! I'm stuck speaking like this! I need help!" She still can't tell if he's sincere or not.
  • Wordgirl has an instance in "The Pretty Princess and Mr. Big Power Hour" in which Leslie and Mr Big have an exchange after the latter has explained his evil plan. It turns out that not even she knows when she's being sarcastic or not.

    Real Life 
  • In some cases, people on the Autistic spectrum can accidentally come off as this due to a flat affect.