A usually Played for Laughs trope, this occurs when a character, usually a student, gives a report (or other written assignment) that has absolutely nothing to do with the assignment given. Sometimes this occurs for other reasons, however. Perhaps a character is so attached to a particular subject that they just want to write about this topic and somehow tie it to the original prompt, regardless of how convoluted the relation is. This is a good way for a creator to show off a character's quirk. Or maybe a character discovers a special gift or talent by steering away from the topic. Another commonly used reason is to show that a character has some sort of agenda, so they write something unrelated (or tangentially related) to the assignment as a thinly-veiled attack or call to action.
A downplayed version might involve the report or speech going on a tangent (i.e. vaguely related to the assigned prompt). Even then they might drift into a completely different subject, making you wonder how they managed to get there. See also One Tract Mind, where a character always inserts a specific belief into their speeches and/or writings, no matter how irrelevant.
- In Kare Kano Aya Sawada's writing skill was discovered when she wrote a story that had nothing to do with the assigned report.
- In a flashback scene in Sengoku Youko, the normally stoic Jinun went for a monster-hunting assignment. His report is instead about how cute the girl he met in the village is, and the part with the monster is simply "I defeated it". His colleagues are dumbfounded since he's usually a serious, no-nonsense person.
- There's an old joke (or rather was, as its relevance has obviously diminished) about some Jews' tendencies towards Single-Issue Wonk about the question of the political status of Jews, a.k.a. "the Jewish Question": A professor of zoology at Harvard asked his students to write a paper about elephants. A German student wrote a paper titled "Foreword to the Bibliography to the Elephantine Sciences", a French student wrote one titled "The Elephant's Love Life", an English student wrote one titled "Elephant Hunting", an American student wrote a one titled "How to Raise Bigger and Better Elephants", and a Jewish student wrote a paper titled "The Elephant and the Jewish Question". A common variant has only the Jewish one, writing a paper that begins with, "The elephant is a large animal that has a tail that resembles a worm. One people known as bookworms are the Jews", and goes to to discuss the Jewish Question at length. Since then, the expression "the elephant and the Jewish Question" has been used in Hebrew to mean "two unrelated subjects linked together with a tenuous connection", made Hilarious in Hindsight by the involvement of William Peel, 1st Earl Peel in the issue of dividing Mandatory Palestine, as pil is the Hebrew word for "elephant".
- Big Nate: Nate's had a lot of these. Once he was supposed to write a report on Paul Revere, and instead writes it on Paul Revere from the band "Paul Revere and the Raiders".
- Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin usually manages to produce incredibly half-assed on-topic reports, but the time he was supposed to write about overpopulation and wrote a story about Susie getting eaten by dinosaurs ending with "...at least, that's how it ought to be" was rather a stretch. He also had a show and tell where he refused to show the thing or tell anything about it.
- One Cow And Boy strip had Billy present his science fair project as the dangers of molecular teleportation to his class, explaining that they would end up as people that got their genes mixed up animals or get their limbs in the wrong places. After Billy finishes his report, the teacher tells him that she thought that his project was on photosynthesis and Billy responds "My plant died".
- Foxtrot: Jason once had to do an oral presentation on Old Yeller. He ended up spending a huge amount of time on Visual Effects of Awesome filled multimedia presentation. When he finished his teacher had only one question: "Did you actually read the book?"
- In Parents of Ponyville, young Dinky Doo is obsessed with romance and finds ways to shoehorn it into all of her schoolwork. The one example mentioned in the story was her assigned history report, which she used as an excuse to write a ship-fic about historical figures.
- Downplayed, but serious, variant in Harry Potter and the Underground's Saviour. Frisk takes exception to writing a report about killing werewolves, and writes about their humanity instead. Snape is not pleased.
- It happens in The Official Fanfiction University of Middle-earth when Lina's roommate mistakes Lina's list of random elven-sounding names for her "How To Conquer Middle-Earth" essay and gets it delivered to Sauron. Fortunately, the Dark Lord believed that it was a kill list.
- In Clueless, Cher summarizes Haiti/American relations for her class debate this way:
Cher: So like, right now for example. The Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, "What about the strain on our resources?" Well it's like when I had this garden party for my father's birthday, right? I put R.S.V.P. 'cause it was a sit-down dinner. But some people came that like did not R.S.V.P. I was like totally buggin'. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, and squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day it was, like, the more the merrier. And so if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion may I please remind you it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty. Thank you very much.
- The girls in Heavenly Creatures are assigned to write an essay on the British Royal Family. Juliet instead writes one on the royal family of Borovnia, the fantasy realm she and Pauline created. Pauline comes to her defense by pointing out the assignment never specified which royals.
- In Mean Girls, Gretchen reads a report in class about Julius Caesar, specifically about the murder scene, which is a very thinly veiled attack against Regina's tyrannous behavior and has fairly little to do with the actual plot.
Gretchen: Why should Caesar just get to stomp around like a giant while the rest of us try not to get smushed under his big feet? Brutus is just as cute as Caesar, right? Brutus is just as smart as Caesar, people totally like Brutus just as much as they like Caesar, and when did it become okay for one person to be the boss of everybody because that's not what Rome is about! We should totally just STAB CAESAR!
- Philip Roth's The Counterlife. Nathan Zuckerman is asked by his brother Henry's widow (named Carol) to write a 3000 word eulogy on him, but being an author, he can't help but see his brother's life as novel-material and is completely unable to write a proper eulogy. He ends up writing some kind of biography based on what said brother told him before his passing; it describes in a romanticized way Henry's long psychological agony about his sexual impotence, and his adulterous relationship with his assistant Wendy, which Carol wasn't supposed to know about.
- Done seriously in The Wind Singer. Aramanth has a series of mandatory tests by which families gain or lose status. Most of the Gray applicants (the lowest class) have failed the rigidly standardized tests many times and and expect to fail again, so Mr. Hath convinces them to ignore the questions and just write about what they do know (and in many cases are unsung experts on).
- In one of the Animorphs novels, Marco is required to do a book report on The Lord of the Rings, and does so horribly that it was is obvious he didn't read the book.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: When the regular Quidditch commentator is unable to report on a match, Luna Lovegood volunteers to replace him. During the match she talks about things like interesting clouds and whether one of the players suffers from something called "Loser's Lurgy", but never about the action or the score of the game.
- Doctor Who: In "Oxygen", the Doctor delivers a lecture on all the ways that space can kill you to a packed lecture theatre. It was supposed to be on crop rotation. In ''The Pilot'' his companion Bill mentions that he does this almost every lecture and the college doesn't care.
- Gilda Radner had two characters on Saturday Night Live for whom this was their entire schtick, both commentators on "Weekend News Update". One was Emily Litella, who, being hard of hearing as well as a bit naïve, always misunderstood the topic she was supposed to be speaking about (too much violence on television, for instance) and ends up discussing a different topic (too much violins on television). When told of her mistake, she would the drop the topic entirely, ending with her Catch-Phrase "Never mind." The other character, Roseanne Roseannadana, would always veer from the original subject and into some embarrassing, graphically disgusting personal anecdote. When told what that had to do with the original topic, she responded with her own Catch-Phrase, "It's always something."
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Prodigy", Samantha Carter gives a guest lecture at the Air Force Academy and meets Cadet Jennifer Hailey, a brilliant but bored student who once ignored the assignment in favor of a paper titled "Towards a New Cosmology of Multiple Realities". Sam ends up recruiting her into Stargate Command.
- In a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, Picard tells about a speaker at a conference who went on at length about some engineering topic "not realizing that the topic was supposed to be psychology."
Picard: Dr. Vassbinder gave an hour long dissertation on the ionization of warp nacelles before he realized that the topic was supposed to be psychology.
La Forge: Why didn't anybody tell him?
Picard: There was no opportunity. There was no pause. He just kept talking in one long incredibly unbroken sentence, moving from topic to topic so that no one had a chance to interrupt. It was really quite hypnotic.
- On one episode of Full House, D.J. gives Kimmy a job writing for their school's newspaper and assigns her to write a story about a school basketball game. Kimmy comes back with an interview with the team's equipment manager. Written on a napkin.
D.J. (reading): "Ever wonder about that mega-cute guy on the basketball team who's always wiping up the sweat puddles?...And girls, he spots those puddles with eyes of blue. Not sky-blue, but more like turquoisey-grey-blue with little specks of green"?!
Kimmy: How's THAT for investigative reporting?
D.J.: Kimmy, you forgot to investigate who won the game!
- In the Champions supplement "Bad News for Doctor Drugs" one of the suggested player characters has an obsession with Genghis Khan and makes all of his reports about that subject, no matter what the homework assignment subject was.
- In Welcome to Night Vale, Cecil tends to get off-topic rather easily during his reports, especially when talking about his beloved Carlos.
- How to Kill a Mockingbird centers entirely on one of these, becoming an increasingly absurd and actionized telling of To Kill a Mockingbird, as presented by someone who only read the first chapter
- In Arthur, episode "Buster's Growing Grudge", Buster is frustrated that Binky told one of Buster's jokes and seemingly got a good grade for it while Buster receives a D. Near the end of the episode, we get this exchange between Buster and Arthur.
Arthur: Buster, you hardly did any work at all. Your whole report was about eggnog.
Buster: That's not my fault. They put it right next to "Egypt" in the encyclopedia.
- In Codename: Kids Next Door, "Operation A.R.C.H.I.V.E.", the episode as a whole is presented as a widescreened history of kids and adults, narrated by Numbuh 1. Towards the end of the story, Numbuh 1's teacher interrupts and scolds him, revealing this story to be just an oral report, saying that the report had nothing to do with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
- In the The Simpsons episode "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?", the first restaurant review Homer submits mostly consists of non sequitur and random rambling:
Homer: Well, what do you think?
Editor: This is a joke, right? I mean this is the stupidest thing I've ever read!
Homer: What's wrong with it?
Editor: You keep using words like "Pasghetti" and "Momatoes" You make numerous threatening references to the UN and at the end you repeat the words "Screw Flanders" over and over again.
Homer: Oh, it's so hard to get to 500 words.
- In "Das Bus," Bart gives a report on Libya:
Bart: The exports of Libya are numerous in amount. One thing they export is corn. (Skinner raises eyebrow) Or, as the Indians call it, "maize". Another famous Indian was Crazy Horse. In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrasts. Thank you.
- In "Das Bus," Bart gives a report on Libya:
- South Park: In "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride", the audience hears the conclusion of a report Cartman is making to the class:
Cartman: And so you see, Simon & Simon were not brothers in real life, only on television.
Mr Garrison: Thank you for that presentation, Eric, but the assignment was on Asian cultures. You get a D-.