Mr. Garrison: Thank you for that presentation, Eric, but the assignment was on Asian cultures. You get a D-.
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.
Reasons for this may vary. Perhaps the 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 the character discovers a special gift or talent by steering away from the topic. Another commonly used reason is to show that the 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. Compare Script Swap and Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List, where someone didn't mean to make an off-topic report, and may have even made a good report...that's at home, while they're reading their grocery list or other wrong script. Also compare Padding the Paper, with which this sometimes overlaps.
- In His and Her Circumstances 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 on 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".
- Nate of Big Nate has 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". Another time, he was supposed to do a report on the Ming Dynasty and he ends up making it about the basketball player Yao Ming.
- Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes 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 (though he did tie it to the topic by citing it as an example of natural selection culling "the weak and stupid"). 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 on 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 a visually impressive multimedia presentation. When he finished his teacher had only one question: "Did you actually read the book?" He still doesn't understand why she flunked him.
- Peanuts: Sally Brown has a Running Gag of presenting poorly researched show-and-tell projects or oral reports. In one notable instance, her report on "the oceans of the world" consists of listing different U.S. states and informing the class that they don't have any oceans in them ("There are no oceans in Kansas. There are no oceans in Nebraska...").
- 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 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.
- Clueless when a report about the Haitians (which is mis-pronounced Hait-i-ans) goes a little off-topic:
“So, OK, like right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, ‘What about the strain on our resources?’ But it’s like when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday, right? I said R.S.V.P. because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that, like, did not R.S.V.P. So I was, like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings; but by the end of the day it was, like, the more the merrier!
And in conclusion, may I please remind you that it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty. Thank you very much.”
- In Evolution, Professor Kane is pleased to report most people in his biology class got As on their research papers, only for the Deke and Danny to complain that they got C-:
Prof. Kane: Allow me to share something with the entire class. Last night as I was grading papers, I came across two gems both entitled "Cells are Bad" and both with just one paragraph which I unfortunately committed to memory: "Cells are bad. My uncle lives in a cell. It's ten foot by twelve and he has to read the same boring, old magazine every day. The end." Although my standards are nowhere near where they used to be I could not bring myself to put As atop those beauties.
- 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 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. Ironically, Gretchen's rant still manages to capture the motivations for Julius Caesar's murder quite accurately.
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!
- 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 obvious he didn't actually read the book.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jeremy James: This tends to be daddy's method of replying to Jeremy James's childish awkward questions. While mummy tends to reply with "Sssssh!" or "Humph!" or questions about why he is asking questions, daddy usually replies with something totally irrelevant.
- In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Mother Night, the American Nazi Lionel Jones was thrown out of dental school, because his examination papers all devolved into detailing how the teeth of Jews and black people "proved beyond question that both groups were degenerate."
- 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 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).
- Community: In "Spanish 101", Jeff and Pierce are assigned a simple presentation in Spanish class, needing to only exchange five phrases in conversational Spanish. Pierce goes way overboard, delivering a presentation that has multiple costumes, props, pyrotechnics (sparklers), and even has an audience participant (Annie) at one point. However, they did fail to include the actual five phrases needed to get a passing grade.
Senor Chang (pointing at Jeff and Pierce in turn): "F, F minus."
- 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 university doesn't care.
- 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!
- The InBESTigators: In "The Case of the Concert Catastrophe", Maudie becomes obsessed with the girl group The January Valentines:
Maudie: (reading report)...and that's why they are my favourite members of The January Valentines.
Miss Tan: That was an interesting report on The January Valentines, Maudie.
Maudie: Thank you.
Miss Tan: But your assignment was on the invention of the light bulb.
- 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 then drop the topic entirely, ending with her catchphrase "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 catchphrase, "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". The paper was brilliant, but she got a "D" because that wasn't the topic. 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. (monotone) 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.
- Kenan & Kel has the police line up everyone, Kenan and Kel included, to give their accounts of how a robber wound up knocked out in the convenience store they work at. Kel's recounting solely revolves aorund his inability to open a giant bottle of orange soda that begs him to open it.
- 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.
- One urban legend describes a biology professor who always assigns the prompt "describe the earthworm" for the essay question on the midterm. But one year, he decides to change it to "describe the elephant". One of his students writes an essay that starts with a very basic description of an elephant which ends by saying its trunk resembles an earthworm... then goes on to describe an earthworm for the rest of its content.
- A very similar urban legend is set in a theology course, and the elderly professor there has always made the final exam question related to a particular apostle, say Paul. One year he decides to switch it to "List the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament". One of the students writes, "Who am I to say which of these venerable holy men were major and which were minor? In the words of St. Paul..."
- Original Life: One story arc parodying The Metamorphosis turns out to actually be a book report written by Tom. The strip revealing this ends with his teacher telling him he was supposed to do a report on Beholding Bee.
- Sandra and Woo: In this strip.
Larisa: Your date will usually treat you like a princess at first. So to judge his character, pay particular attention to how he treats strangers.Larisa: Arguing with other internet users is just marginally more productive than counting the ants in your garden.Larisa: Before you leave the house: keys, wallet, phone!History teacher: Those certainly weren’t three important teachings of Aristotle, but I’ll give you a plus for those words of wisdom anyway.
- In Smithson, evidence that Gemma is a Genius Ditz comes when, after weeks of avoiding her astronomy classes, she casually solves Newell's conjecture, when she was asked to write an essay about lunar eclipses.
- 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 Welcome to Night Vale, Cecil tends to get off-topic rather easily during his reports, especially when talking about his beloved Carlos.
- In the Arthur episode "Buster's Growing Grudge", Buster is frustrated that Binky told one of Buster's jokes while presenting his report on Christopher Columbus and seemingly got a good grade for it while Buster receives a D for his report about King Tut. 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.
- Back to the Future: One episode had the protagonists go back to the American Civil War because Marty had to do a report on it. At the end of the episode, Doc Brown tells the audience that Marty failed because the report was supposed to be on the Spanish Civil War, and says that that's what you get for wearing headphones in class.
- 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.
- Clarence turns a report on "why Rough Riders Chicken is my favorite food" into a wild romp about evil alien chickens taking over the school.
- Hailey's On It!: “Splatter of the Bands” is presented as a rockumentary filmed by Kristine about Hailey’s performance in the local music festival. At the end, it’s revealed that she was supposed to be doing a report on the solar system — which she justifies by explaining that all of this took place in the solar system.
- In the The Simpsons episode "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?", the first restaurant review Homer submits mostly consists of non-sequiturs 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-.
- X-Men: Evolution: Spike was supposed to write a report on the Strategic Defense Initiative "Star Wars program", but he wasn't paying attention and turned in a report about Star Wars instead.