So a fictional setting has, as a plot point, something that is supposed to be very funny. The other characters treat this joke or Show Within a Show as the funniest thing they have ever heard. The problem is, according to Sturgeon's Law, few writers can actually write a joke that funny, and even a competent writer will have difficulty living up to the hype the characters give it. As a result, the joke just isn't that funny and can become cringeworthy much more easily because the show is presenting it as the pinnacle of humor. This is one of the cases where Take Our Word for It would have been a better way to present the story element.
Of course, this can be done deliberately, for example to make the audience think "My God, what kind of twisted world is it where this guy is considered funny?" Or, could also be either played for laughs or to present everyone as sadistic if laughter would actually be considered a downright inappropriate response to something.
Please keep in mind that this applies only to things the show explicitly labels as funny; this isn't a place to complain about normal jokes you didn't find funny or about the overuse of the Laugh Track. If we don't see the actual joke that is supposedly funny, it's Take Our Word for It. For the inverse, when genuinely funny jokes are ignored in-universe, see Tough Room. Also contrast Narm, where the audience finds something funny that wasn't supposed to be.
See also "Everybody Laughs" Ending and Cannot Tell a Joke. May be a result of Trailer Joke Decay. Often an example of Stylistic Suck. Contrast So Unfunny, It's Funny, where a joke is meant to be bad in-universe, with the humor being derived from the fact that it is.
- Justified in No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!: For the in-universe audience, A Youth Like This comes off as an awkward amateur movie, with most of the jokes failing to land. This would probably be the impression readers would have, but given they would be aware of the movie's Troubled Production, the reasoning behind the weirder choices in it, the in-universe Reality Subtext, and the awkwardness of the whole thing feeding into the manga's trademark Cringe Comedy, they're more likely to find it funnier than the characters do, albeit for different reasons than Tomoko intended.
- In an issue of Countdown to Final Crisis, Donna Troy calls Jason Todd "Re-Todd", a pun on "retard". Kyle Rayner tells her "good one", with a goofy expression as if it was an expert burn. Not only is it a bad joke, but it's also entirely out of character for Donna and Kyle, neither of whom would be the sort of people to use "retard" as a casual insult.
- X-Factor (2006): In one issue late in the run, Polaris and Siryn crack jokes about the time Rahne followed Havok around in the government X-Factor days. The reason she did so was because she'd been subject to Mind Rape by the Genoshan government, and genetically conditioned to be loyal to Havok, who was working for them at the time (amnesia was involved), and unable to turn back to human without losing her sense of self. So rather than a light-hearted crack, it makes them look like insensitive assholes making fun of one of the worst periods of Rahne's life (of which there are many).
- Chester Gould could offer truly funny stuff in Dick Tracy. However, too often, he fell into having a character pushed as "hilarious" when in fact he wasn't.
- A clear case is a would-be bumbling detective who makes bad jokes and goofy gags. Characters are seen in the background howling at his antics which just come off annoying.
- Gould took a shot at "experimental" comic strips in the 1960s with a lame strip that everyone was hailing as genius.
- The writer of Eiga Sentai Scanranger really seems to want his audience to like the comic relief team member and other characters constantly praise his sense of humor. Even though he tells jokes like this:
Imperiled Friend of the Week: "Your friends are all that, and a bag of chips.."B.C.: "No..Nacho Cheese tortillas, actually.."
- In the My Hero Academia Accusation Fic Coyote, Riley Coyote's antics can fall under this. They tend to boil down to Riley doing bad impressions, getting into other people's personal space, or just flat out showing that he doesn't take the current situation seriously (not helping is that these moments tend to come out of nowhere). Riley ends up looking completely immature and trying way too hard to make people laugh. It just seems that he is more likely to embarrass himself (and the rest of his class or the entire school) when he acts out in public.
- One specific example is how he handles the reporters at UA: he scares them off by acting like "a living bundle of ADHD" much to the amusement of his classmates and even Principal Nezu finds it funny. Except Riley's behavior is not how people with ADHD act and nothing the press does is grounds for Riley physically assaulting them so his behavior comes across more as unsettling than amusing. Riley also chases squirrels at one point which just feels incredibly tacked on.
- While the characters are not aware of this, Riley insulting the hands on Shigaraki's costume and even beating him with them all while childishly taunting him "Stop Hitting Yourself" to the amusement of his classmates is really undermined by the fact that the canon material revealed that those hands are all that's left of Shigaraki's family after he accidentally killed them all when his Quirk manifested. What's more, is that considering Riley's extreme aversion to someone being seriously hurt to the point that he subconsciously weakens his "Oobleck", one can't help but wonder how badly this would have ended for him if Shigaraki had informed Riley about that detail from his past.
- Another moment is when he hijacks the starting ceremony at the Sports Festival. Riley brings the entire festival to a grinding halt for what basically amounts to shilling Hatsume and Izuku's equipment and a joke at Endeavor's expense. While Riley tries to justify it that the UA students are kids trying to have fun, that's not what the students are here for, they're here to concentrate on moving forward in their careers as heroes by trying to obtain an internship at Hero Agencies through how well they perform in the Sports Festival.
- Riley and the male students cross-dressing as female cheerleaders is this due to how they come across as offensive stereotypes of Transgender people.
- Riley laughing at and making jokes out of Endeavor's motives for why he treats Todoroki and the rest of his family badly comes across as pretty insensitive considering Riley is doing this right in front of Todoroki.
- Back to the Frollo: Danisha tells a joke about "a Hoosier and a Kentuckian" that all the characters treat as absolutely hilarious. The actual jokenote utterly fails to live up to the hype, being maybe worth a few chuckles.
- The commentary for Monsters, Inc. notes that the creators took pains to avoid this (which is important, given that the whole film revolves around making a child laugh), and so refused to have Boo laugh at anything that didn't make them laugh too. In general, the film gets away with this because most of the things Mike does to make Boo laugh are slapstick, which has a pretty universal appeal, while his actual attempts to tell jokes usually don't land with her and are played more for So Unfunny, It's Funny (and she's a small child, who don't tend to have a very refined palate when it comes to humor).
- In-universe example: In The LEGO Movie, the most popular (and as far as we can see, only) television program in Bricksburg is a sitcom called Where Are My Pants?, which appears to consist only of a pantsless man asking the titular question to his wife in a broad, affected tone. Main character Emmett finds this hilarious, but the rest of the characters see this as just one more example of how incredibly bland he is.
- Rover Dangerfield. Oh, so, so much. Apparently, he has the Informed Ability for making jokes and one-liners funny enough that his dog friends constantly laugh and compliment him on his humor.
- Black Christmas (2019):
- Kris responds to a taunt from Riley's rapist by throwing a drink in his face. Marty gives an extremely overblown 'o-face' reaction, as if Kris did something scandalously hilarious.
- Landon tries to flirt with Riley by telling "dad jokes" with bad puns. She finds them adorkably hilarious, while the audience just finds them awkward.
- A bonding moment in Clash of the Titans (2010) is when Perseus says of the Giant Enemy Crab they've tamed and are riding around on "it's better to be on one than in one" (as he'd previously nearly been eaten by another). Even The Stoic characters burst into uproarious laughter at it.
- Curse Of Bigfoot has a scene where a folklore teacher is teaching kids about monsters, including Bigfoot. At one point, he points to a picture of a griffin, and asks a kid to explain what it is. The kid proceeds to give a (mostly incorrect) description of what it is, and ends with saying that it would drag people off and "eat everything except their shoes. When the griffin got you, all they'd ever find, was your shoes!" This inexplicably makes all the other students laugh their asses off.
- Going Overboard features two comedians: Schecky Moskowitz (played by a pre-fame Adam Sandler) and Dickie Diamond, the former of whom we're repeatedly told is able to tell good jokes but just needs to work on his delivery and how to play to an audience, while the latter of whom is made out to be an extremely vulgar and unfunny Motor Mouth comedian. In practice, however, Dickie's jokes, while certainly not funny by any stretch of the imagination, are often so ridiculously over-the-top vulgar that they cross the line twice and can't help but get the occasional laugh from the audience. By contrast, Schecky's jokes are simply atrociously unfunny from start to end, even when we're told that he's improved.
- I Could Never Be Your Woman tries to sell Adam as some kind of innovative comedy genius who becomes the Breakout Character of Rosie's sitcom. Most of what we see is pretty basic and flat. But then again, Rosie might be biased since she has a thing for him.
- In The Kissing Booth 3, Elle slapping Tuppen on the behind is treated by both of them and the movie as a funny Call-Back to the first film. The reaction from a lot of audience members was more along the lines of "Lol, remember that time Tuppen sexually assaulted Elle in front of the whole school and nearly beat up Lee for defending her? Wasn't that hilarious?"
- This is a problem in the Biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers — the attempts by the film's writers and actors to distill Peter's work in The Goon Show, The Millionairess, The Pink Panther series and Dr. Strangelove aren't as funny as the real thing (no actual film clips of Sellers are used), despite the in-film reactions to them. The Goon Show sequence especially suffers for this if you're unfamiliar with the show — and most non-U.K. viewers are. Most of the rest of the movie relies on Take Our Word for It, which is also problematic for viewers who don't know his early films up through 1959's The Mouse That Roared. This might actually be a reason the film wasn't released to theaters in the U.S., since if you can't fill in the blanks with regards to his talent, the downbeat portrayal of the Real Life Sellers (which takes up much of the film) makes it hard to understand why anybody liked him, much less loved him, at all.
- Monkeybone: Stu's Monkeybone cartoon is in-universe praised as a stroke of comedic genius that is sure to become a merchandising giant, but to most viewers it just comes across as like a really low-effort Gross-Out Show and the shtick of the Monkeybone character himself appears to be that he constantly displays annoyingly hyperactive and sleazy behavior and engages in not particularly funny impersonations.
- The Nutty Professor (1996) has Reggie coming onto the stage simply saying "Women be shoppin'!" and everyone laughs their heads off.
- The Room (2003): The supposedly All-Loving Hero Johnny bursts out laughing at a story his friend Mark tells him about a two-timing woman who got hospitalized after being beat up by one of her boyfriends once he found out about her cheating. Even odder, this was apparently corpsing. The rest of the cast and crew tried to explain to Tommy Wiseau that he probably shouldn't laugh at a story about Domestic Abuse, but his attempts to read the line in a serious tone were so much worse than the takes where he laughed that they finally gave up and used a "laugh" take.
What a story, Mark!
- In Showgirls, there is an overweight performer at the strip club who makes a string of self-deprecating jokes. While the patrons of the club are in stitches, the jokes themselves are painfully flat.
- Star Trek: Generations has an example of this during a holodeck program of an actual sailing ship during Worf's promotion ceremony. Riker causing Worf to fall into the ocean was supposedly hilarious, but Data throwing Dr. Crusher in the water was so awful and not funny that Data had to install his emotion chip before he could be forgiven. To the audience, however, Riker comes off as a bit of a Jerkass (if you assume that he meant to make Worf fall and it wasn't just an accident) while Data's actions, coming in response to Dr. Crusher's explanation of how throwing people in the water was all in good fun, were actually funny. Episodes of the original show often delved into Data's comedy misunderstandings.
- In Twilight on Bella's first day of school, Mike and Jessica talk to her about why she's so pale if she's from Arizona. Bella says "maybe that's why they kicked me out?" - which is worthy of maybe a chuckle or two. Mike reacts as if she told the best joke ever and Jessica vapidly says "you're so funny", although the line is delivered in a way that makes it clear she's just echoing what Mike said (she has a huge crush on him).
- This is sometimes used to create humor at someone else's expense. What you do is let people know what the "punchline" of the fake joke is so they know to laugh then. Everyone laughs - the people not in the know will chuckle like it's funny, their expressions are usually pretty funny. Usually after a person ends up as the victim they are then filled so they can be in on it next time. Example:
Two frogs were sitting in a bathtub. One frog says "pass the soap". The other frog says "What do you think I am, a typewriter? The first frog replies, "No, you just need a GREEN RADIO." cue laughter
- Harry Potter
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ginny Weasley invents the nickname "Phlegm" for her prissy sister-in-law to be, Fleur. Maybe mildly funny only once, if you're being generous, but everyone acts like it's the most hilarious, witty thing ever every time she uses it.
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys are all seated at the dinner table the night before all the kids are going back to Hogwarts. Percy, the oldest Weasley student, asks his dad the good question, why the Ministry is supplying them with cars to escort them all to the railway station. His brothers Fred and George interject that it's all in honor of Percy being Head Boy and that the cars will even have insignias with "HB" on them to stand for "Humongous Bighead". Everyone at the table except Percy and his mom snorts with amusement. The audience is supposed to find the twins' behavior towards Percy to be hilarious, while Percy should be regarded as the humorless jerk who needs to lighten up. But not only is both the setup and punchline for this joke excruciatingly obvious and unfunny, but it's also a mean-spirited jibe at a brother who, at that particular moment, wasn't doing anything to deserve it.
- It's said that Harry and Hermione "roared with laughter" when Ginny (noticing a pattern here?) makes a crack about Ron having a tattoo of "a pigmy puff but I didn't say where" - which is worth a giggle or two.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry's on the train to Hogwarts when he sees that Cho Chang's friend Marietta still has Hermione's jinx on her face from six months ago, and he smirks at the sight of it. Rowling herself has commented that she loathed Marietta for her "betrayal" so we are evidently supposed to be just as amused as Harry is to see the jinx still on her. For some readers, it even has the opposite effect of making Marietta Unintentionally Sympathetic, since it implies she was permanently disfigured.
- In The Twilight Saga, the Cullens, in particular Emmett, occasionally joke about Bella having trouble controlling herself when she becomes a vampire. They all find it quite amusing... except they're joking about the very real possibility of Bella inadvertently killing innocent people. It gets even worse when one recalls that Emmett actually has done exactly this.
- Played for Drama and enforced in Nineteen Eighty-Four, where one scene has everyone laughing uproariously at gory war footage of another country as if it was some Black Comedy masterpiece. The one lady who doesn't is escorted out to make her find it funny.
- Played with in How I Met Your Mother:
- Barney sets up an anecdote as the funniest thing you will ever ever encounter ever. The real joke is that causing Marshall to have to attend an important meeting sans trousers is not nearly as funny as he thinks it is.
- Then there's the joke that's "the funniest joke ever", but only if you're a guy. "What's the difference between peanut butter and jam?" Barney tells it to Lily, who is so disgusted that she refuses to see or speak to Barney for a month. The guys, while upset that the group has been divided, still think it's the best joke ever. The punchline of the joke is never uttered out loud on the show, but if you look it up on the web, it definitely fails to live up to the hype: "I can't peanut-butter my dick up your ass." Lily's reaction is enforced, however, as the writers needed some excuse for Lily to be gone for several episodes while Alyson Hannigan had her baby.
- In one episode, two characters saying "Mom..." "No!" 10 times in a row on their web show is presented as an example of their humor surpassing everything on TV.
- In "iMeet Fred", Fred is portrayed as a near-universally beloved internet personality, and Freddie giving his opinion on the web show that he doesn't Fred very funny, which causes Fred to pretend to cancel his show in retaliation, turns the entire town against him. Actual viewers are more inclined to agree with Freddie, especially now that Fred has been Condemned by History.
- In an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dee's stand-up career ends up taking off after she decides to channel her depression into some fairly decent material that goes over pretty well. As she gets more successful, her act degrades into a trite, annoying shtick consisting of little more than a bunch of stupid voices and sound effects, but the audience still goes nuts for it and it leads to a network rep offering her a guest shot on Conan O'Brien's show. Dennis starts going absolutely insane, refusing to see what anyone found funny about it. The twist comes when Charlie, Mac, and Frank reveal that it's all a prank they were playing on Dee so she would stop bumming them out with her depression. The agent she slept with, the network talent scout, and every single fan of her comedy was just an actor hired by Frank.
- Early episodes of Seinfeld would open and close with samples of Jerry's stand-up that typically weren't even close to the caliber of humor in the actual show, yet still had the audience in stitches. It's a well-known refrain that the standup in Seinfeld was the least funny part of the show.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In the episode "The Outrageous Okona", Data tries to learn about humor. Guinan tell him a joke, "You're a droid and I'm a 'noid." The fact that Data has to immediately explain the pun back to Guinan (riffing on "annoyed" and "a humanoid") for the sake of the audience should tell you how much faith even the show has of the joke's comedy. However, Data's failure to laugh at the definitely funny joke is used as proof that he doesn't understand comedy. He enlists a hologram of "the funniest comedian in history," played by Joe Piscopo, who is also dreadfully unfunny while teaching Data how to be funny. In fact, Data's deadpan reactions to the dubious jokes are probably the funniest moments in the episode.
- One of the causes of the downfall of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: the fact that characters constantly refer to the sketches in the Show Within a Show as hilarious, when more often than not, they fall flatter than Kansas to the people at home. This may be one reason 30 Rock is more successful. The in-show sketches are portrayed as mindless dreck that appeals only to the lowest common denominator. They do not disappoint.
- In a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode, the aliens struggle to understand the concept of humor after seeing a stand-up comedian. The episode is funny throughout... except for the comedian's routine. It's apparently supposed to be funny since it garners laughs within the episode (but not on the Laugh Track) and Dick has a Late to the Punchline moment in the end.
- The West Wing is normally one of those shows where everyone is super witty and spends all day firing hilarious remarks back and forth, and hardly anyone ever cracks a smile. The teaser of the episode "He Shall, from Time to Time..." calls for the senior staff to be standing around laughing so that the mood can be shattered by the sound of the president collapsing with a crash in the other room. The joke that causes them to lose their poker faces for one of the only times in the series? Sam lamenting, "I'll never live it down!" in reference to a typo the president caught while rehearsing his State of the Union address. Ho, ho, ho.
- Played straight and later subverted in Raising Dad. Sarah develops a dislike of her nose. Her father and sister rattle off a series of jokes about her nose being huge - which they have a good giggle over. Emily's in particular just come across as really mean-spirited. Sarah, of course, ends up considering a nose job. Emily is then horrified that Sarah wants to do that to herself and realizes her mistake.
- A plot point in The Muppets (2015) has Fozzie finding unexpected success with a new stand-up routine poking fun at his girlfriend Becky's foibles. It is funnier than his normal stand-up routine, which is portrayed as even more terrible than usual, but that's only relative; the audience reacts as though it's hilarious when it is, at best, passable.
- In the Power Rangers Megaforce episode "Last Laugh", Noah is criticized for over-analyzing jokes rather than simply relaxing and laughing at them. The problem is, the jokes in question are legitimately awful (unless you're, say, a seven-year-old), and he comes off more like the Only Sane Man in some sort of world gone mad, where people will break into laughter at the slightest provocation. Especially the monster's last resort: a good old-fashioned fart. It gets Troy, but not Noah.
- In the Doctor Who serial "Enlightenment", one of the sailors on Captain Striker's space yacht tells his mates a joke. The joke is "Here, know why a pig can never become a sailor? 'Cos he can't look aloft!" The crew all find this hilarious. Admittedly, they're all Edwardian seamen who've been drugged into accepting they're on a space yacht, so they aren't exactly thinking straight, but still.
- Sonny in Sonny with a Chance is stated to be hilarious, but the times we see her comedy sketch ideas they range from mediocre to plain bad.
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Zig-zagged. The show is about comedians, so the plot lives and dies on the characters' routines being as funny or unfunny as the show says they are. In general, the comedy is much better than most in-universe comedy routines you find in media. However, the show is set in the 1960s, when stand-up comedy was very different from today. Even though Midge and friends have edgier material for their day, it's nowhere near today's standards, so viewers accustomed to Dave Chappelle or Bill Burr may be left scratching their heads as to why audiences are rolling in the aisles. The show is also very funny in and of itself, so it's a bit of a victim of its own success. The stand-up comedy scenes tend to be the least funny scenes in any given episode.
- In-universe in Stacked, where Katrina is trying to impress a crush. Howard and Skylar spontaneously start laughing, the former claiming Katrina just told the funniest joke he'd ever heard. When the crush asks to hear it, Katrina is stumped and just says "actually, it's super racist."
- The first episode of H₂O: Just Add Water has a Running Gag of Emma getting annoyed at Rikki's wisecracks. The one she finds Actually Pretty Funny at the end is a mild quip when Rikki says of their secret pact - "this doesn't mean we're married, does it?"
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Nuwisha (werecoyotes) are depicted as hilarious tricksters, but your mileage may vary as to whether they're funny or just annoying.
- Played with in Advance Wars - Days of Ruin. Dr. Morris is full of himself and his horrible jokes. Sometimes others groan at him, and other times they tell him to be serious when he's not joking.
Dr. Morris: "I used to be a resident, but now I'm the PRESIDENT! Ho ho! Did you hear me? I said - "
Brenner: "I heard you."
Dr. Morris: "...not so good. In fact, our supplies are lower than a snake in a wheel rut!"
Brenner: "This is no time for jokes."
Dr. Morris: "I was joking?"
- Also played with with Yukiko from Persona 4, who will laugh hysterically at anything that could subjectively be considered funny. The only time she doesn't is to drive the point home of just just how bad one of Teddie's puns was.
- Her completely undiscriminating sense of humor is even a plot point - Chie realizes Yukiko's gotten stronger from her experience inside the television world when she starts laughing her head off around other people; before her kidnapping, that was something she'd never do around anyone but Chie.
- Punny Bones from Quest for Glory IV is a gnome jester who tells really bad jokes and puns because his humor was stolen by Baba Yaga. After you restore his humor...his jokes don't really get any funnier, he just tells more of them (if anything, his humor gets even worse. The trio of hecklers in the audience with ad-libbed dialogue consistently manage to be funnier than him.) Mercifully averted with the Ultimate Joke he teaches you (guaranteed to make anyone break out in laughter when they hear it,) since the player never hears it in full, leaving more to the imagination. Considering the person who does hear it in full doesn't think it's funny but laughs anyway, there's likely some magic behind it.
- When Destroyman from No More Heroes tricks Travis into shaking hands so he can electrocute him with his Destroy Spark, he breaks out into an extended fit of laughter over his own trick, even declaring that he feels like he's going to die of laughter. The scene certainly wasn't that funny, but it serves to paint Destroyman as obnoxious and egotistical.
- Invoked in Parappa The Rapper 2 where Parappa, afraid of being seen as a baby, has an imagine spot where he fails to laugh at a "mature comedy" called Danger Tick while the rest of his social circle bursts into uproarious laughter. It consists entirely of a cartoon tick randomly falling over and dying.
- The Editing Room lampshades this whenever it happens by including "this is very funny" or a variation after describing a scene.
- LoadingReadyRun has a sub-series where the actors play exaggerated versions of themselves. While the episodes are the same kind of humor as the rest of the series, the Show Within a Show they're making is just a bunch of bodily function humor which is treated as hilarious.
- Inverted with the Ctrl+Alt+Del strip "Loss". It was meant to be crushingly sad and dramatic, but was formatted exactly like every strip (intro, setup, expectation, gag) and appeared in an already lighthearted and funny comic, leaving readers expecting it to end in a joke. Fans were so amused by this they memed the hell out of it with the "Loss Edits".
- According to Seanbaby, the reason so many episodes of Superfriends had an uproarious Everyone Laughs Ending at some lame gag involving Gleek was that the laughing was Stock Footage (the Stock Footage being from an unseen episode where Wonder Woman got her lasso around Aquaman and he started taking out pictures of all the fish he'd humped).
- Discussed in the 200th episode Scott The Woz special Borderline Forever. The episode opens on Scott doing an instructional video on how to be a Video Game Talker, lampshading and deconstructing YouTube Video Game reviewer tropes. One of which is when you are worried that a joke won't land, just throw up yellow text on the screen declaring it to be a "Funny Moment!" and another is to constantly use a humorous tone even without actual comedy, to make escaping criticism easier.
Scott: You gotta be funny, especially if you're not funny!
- An episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius had Jimmy alter his father's brain to make him "500% funnier." An example of one of the jokes he told under said influence: "I can smell the learning, oh wait, that's Butch. Do you ever shower?" Well, 500% of 0.000001 still isn't much.
- Animaniacs: Satirized in a segment in which Boo the giant chicken is mistaken for a TV executive, and when asked for the punchline for various gags on TV, keeps saying "B'gawk!" All of the other execs are in hysterics except for one other who doesn't understand why it's supposed to be funny, yet when she suggests the same punchline, no one gets it. Well of course not. Her delivery was awful.
- Played with in an episode of Arthur. Buster invents a lame joke for his report (King Tut saying "I want my mummy") which he tells to Binky, who later tells it to the class before Buster can use it for his report. Though only a select few students chuckled at the joke, Buster's imagination concluded it was the only reason Binky got a higher grade from their teacher, while he got a bad one. It's revealed at the end that Buster studied the wrong topic for his report.
- The Joker plays with this in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im" when he takes a studio audience hostage and hooks Batman up to an electric chair. The chair is directly connected to a "laugh meter", and since he knows that he would never get the audience to laugh legitimately, he gets the audience so high on laughing gas that Harley reading the phone book has them rolling in the aisles.
- An episode of Black Dynamite features the lead being forced to take care of Richard Pryor, who is noted to be "the funniest man in the world" and has nearly every character laughing at everything he says. At first, he at least talks about funny things, but before long, he starts effectively just saying normal conversational topics (albeit in the same cadence as Pryor's standup) and just keeps getting yuks. Even when he starts breaking down in a fit of sobbing, people still laugh uproariously. He ends up befriending Black Dynamite largely because Black Dynamite doesn't think he's funny.
- Used deliberately in an episode of Dave the Barbarian, where the extraordinary unfunny Ned Frischman, a man from the future, travels back in time to The Middle Ages in order to tell his jokes before they have turned old. He manages to become the funniest man in recorded history by using simple "Why did the chicken cross the road"-class jokes (recorded history having begun two weeks earlier).
- Family Guy. Invoked intentionally in "Spies Reminiscent of Us" when Peter tried to impress Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase with a flat joke. The two comedians and Lois recognized it as unfunny, but absolutely everybody else in the show's universe thought it was the most hilarious joke ever.
Here's John Wayne at the first Thanksgiving! "I'm John Wayne, pilgrims! Happy Thanksgiving, Pilgrims!"
- This is mostly averted in The Fairly OddParents! where Timmy wishes he was the funniest person on Earth: His dialogue doesn't change at all and everyone is simply magically forced to laugh at it. This trope shows up briefly with the jokes the supposedly funny kids tell at the start of the episode, though.
Wanda: Just watch. (flies up to Cosmo) Pudding.Cosmo: (bursts into laughter) You said "Pud" and then "Ding"!
- Parodied and exaggerated to the max with Cosmo, who will laugh at absolutely anything.
- Played straight with The April Fool: A famous stand-up comedian in Fairy World and the spirit of April Fool's Day. A lot of people in the show find him funny despite his routine being mostly made up of lame and predictable jokes and puns and adding rim shots and his catchphrase: "What's up with that?"
- Kamp Koral: "Wise Kraken" sees a kraken making jokes at a camp talent show, which everyone laughs uproariously at and even Mrs. Puff can't stop cracking up as she awards him a comedy badge. His jokes are lame puns like "Why did the whale cross the ocean? To get to the other tide."
- The episode "Me No Know" has a lot of this for a movie everyone except Vince has seen. Possibly justified in that Vince not knowing the context of the quotes is the driving force of the plot. And once he has seen the film and tries to quote it, he finds that the other kids have moved onto the next fad and no longer find them as funny.
- "Stand Up Randall" has Randall getting famous around the playground when he starts telling jokes he read in a book. He himself howls with laughter and stays up all night reading them, and they're so funny they compel the other kids to forget their hate of him. The jokes themselves are pretty basic, although the episode does subvert this when he starts telling mean-spirited jokes at Mikey's expense.
- The Simpsons:
- There's The Itchy & Scratchy Show, where the Simpsons are always shown to be guffawing and laughing until their sides split watching Itchy violently kill Scratchy. Of course, the unfunny nature of the over-the-top gore was initially the point — I&S was supposed to be a parody of traditional cartoon violence. In "Treehouse of Horror IX", Bart and Lisa end up in the cartoon, and Itchy and Scratchy themselves are scandalized that the children were laughing at Scratchy's pain.
- The Krusty the Clown Show in general has a lot of this - deliberately, of course. It's a mega-franchise in-universe and Bart basically worships Krusty, but the only things we see are painfully awkward skits, stolen, hackneyed gags, clunky, painful-looking slapstick, and routines straight out of a 40s sideshow. One article described him as "somebody who grew up watching classic comedians, but could never figure out why they were supposed to be funny." It's been implied quite frequently that Krusty only gets by on the Lowest Common Denominator and the Fleeting Demographic; one episode has him bomb out of a comedy club after trying The Flapping Dickey routine.
- Krusty's empire-toppling competitor "Gabbo" is just a hackneyed ventriloquist's dummy act.
Bart: Uh-oh. That cute little character could take America by storm! All he needs is a hook!Gabbo: I'm a bad widdle boy!Bart: Ay carumba!
- Krusty's empire-toppling competitor "Gabbo" is just a hackneyed ventriloquist's dummy act.
- Parodied in "Last Exit to Springfield". At the dentist, Lisa ends the episode by making a ridiculously cringeworthy "tooth/truth" pun. The rest of the family and the dentist burst out laughing as though it's the greatest joke ever told... at which point the dentist realises he's accidentally left the laughing gas on.
- In "Bart the Genius", Bart defrauds his way into a school for the gifted. The teacher writes the equation y = (r^3)/3 on the board and asks the students to calculate the derivative. Everyone except Bart does and finds it hilarious. The solution is given as "RDRR" or "har de har har". Even though that's not the proper way to write the solution (it should be dy/dr = r^2), apparently gifted children find it funny? (Then again, anyone familiar with engineering jokes can tell you that for "smart people", humor value is often secondary to getting the joke.)
- A common critique of "The Last Temptation of Krust", an episode where Krusty reinvents his comedy to be more modern, is that while his "bad" material was So Unfunny, It's Funny, his "good" material, which allows him to immediately rebuild and rebrand his empire as a powerful force in the entertainment industry, was more or less just a George Carlin impression.
- "Homer Goes to College" features a deliberate case, where a nuclear physics professor introduces himself with the joke "Out with the old, in with the nucleus!", which manages to get a laugh from everyone in the class (except Homer, who doesn't get it). Then when the professor drops his papers, Homer laughs uproariously for a good fifteen seconds, being the only one in the room to do so.
- South Park plays the dissonance for comedy.
- Jimmy is supposed to be a very funny stand-up comedian that all the other characters find hilarious. He has yet to tell a single joke that is funny, though he has had several funny lines (none of which were in his comedy routine). In "Fishsticks", Jimmy coming up with (and Cartman taking all the credit for) what is supposed to be the funniest joke ever. It goes thus: "Do you like fishsticks (fish dicks) ?" "Yes." "Do you like putting them in your mouth?" "Yes." "What are you, a gay fish?" The joke makes the rounds in all the talk shows and becomes a nationwide phenomenon. The only person not to get it is rapper Kanye West, who is so self-centered that he takes it as a personal insult and starts looking for the originator of the "rumors", only to eventually come to the conclusion that the joke means he must actually be a gay fish and everyone was just trying to help him realize it.
- "Funnybot" features a robot that is programmed to be the perfect comedian, but it tells lame cut-and-paste tabloid jokes, mostly ending with the punchline "Awkward!" It sells out amphitheaters across the world. The Funnybot is so successful that the world's most famous comedians are rendered unemployed and destitute, and an angry mob consisting of Conan O'Brien, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, and dozens of other famous but now-unemployed comedians storm South Park Elementary.
- Veronica Crabtree's standup career in "City on the Edge of Forever" was justified as it was All Just a Dream.
- Native American stand-up acts consist of the performer more or less flatly stating that white people are stupid, and then the audience laughing. In unison.
- Tiny Toon Adventures
- The episode "Fields of Honey" had this in spades. The cartoon shown at the episode's climax is, at best, very slightly amusing, but the audience present react as if it's the funniest thing they've ever seen. A fat guy laughs so much that he explodes. The whole sequence had a very forced, weird atmosphere about it. Particularly if one had seen the "real" Honey in the Bosko cartoons, who basically just prances around going "La, la, la!"
- Every single episode of Widget the World Watcher ended with everyone laughing at some "cute" thing someone said that was distinctly not even remotely funny.
- The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack has an entire episode of this trope, beginning with Peppermint Larry telling some jokes consisting of truly awful puns and continuing into a joke-telling contest between Larry and another character. Eventually said other character speaks entire sentences in nothing but puns, soon after which it curves in on itself, implodes, then becomes genuinely funny.
- Phineas and Ferb has Ferb going up on stage and saying "So, how about that airline food?" This prompts everyone in the audience to burst out laughing, pound their fists, and even overturn a table because they find it so funny. Not only that but then Stacy — who was laughing along with everyone else — says she doesn't even know what airline food is.
- The Tom Goes to the Mayor Christmas episode has Tom trying to sell t-shirts that have a sketchy drawing of a rat tipping a top hat with the caption "Rats Off To Ya!" - the Mayor finds it unbearably funny, and it becomes a massive cultural phenomenon. In the spirit of the show, it's all snatched away from Tom, who doesn't see a cent from it.
- During an episode of Spongebob Squarepants in which SpongeBob unwittingly one-ups everything Squidward tries to do with a used gum wrapper, SpongeBob makes an incredibly lame joke, after which several dozen fish appear out of nowhere and start laughing hysterically, though this is more to Yank the Dog's Chain and reinforce Squidward's status as the Butt-Monkey than anything.
- On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Jimmy is described as being able to cheer up anyone and make them laugh, even in Miseryville. Yet the things he does seem like stereotypical grade-school stuff. It's lampshaded at the end of "The Mysterious Mr. Ten" when Lucius can't believe Jimmy is funny.
- The Powerpuff Girls (1998): In "The City Of Frownsville," the ep's villain, Lou Gubrious, sets a crying ray on Townsville, making everyone cry tears heavy enough that it threatens to flood the city. The girls—crying their eyes out as well—attempt to make the people laugh. Approaching mic:
Blossom: (taps the mic) (sob) Is this thing on? We just flew in from Las Vegas...Bubbles: (sob) Because we can!
- Played with in Duckman, where Duckman (and the audience) can recognize comedian Iggy Catalpa is painfully unfunny but no one in-universe can. Catalpa is cheating using Applied Phlebotinum supplied by King Chicken; Duckman had unknowingly taken an antidote.
- The Al Brodax Popeye cartoon "It Hurts Only When They Laughs" has Olive making Popeye and Brutus laugh while she's doing the dishes so she'll know they're not fighting. But while Olive is busy, Popeye and Brutus are beating the hell out of each other while they're laughing. Made even more dissonant with Winston Sharples' music which is the stock serious action leitmotif.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- The character Pinkie Pie is representative of the Element of Laughter, though her ostensibly funny gags can fall flat with the audience. This is especially apparent in Pinkie-centric episodes where her ability to make others laugh is relevant to the story making any plot points that rely on it feel forced.
- Pinkie is on the end of this in-universe in the episode "Baby Cakes", where she tries and fails to babysit the newborn Cake twins, and finds that the only way she can make them laugh is by pouring flour on herself, which she's slightly baffled by. Somewhat heartwarmingly, when the twins see her stressed and crying from all they've put her through, they pour flour on themselves to cheer her up. Now on the other end, she admits that it works.
- In the episode "What About Discord?" Twilight's friends apparently started up an inside joke with Discord while she was away. Twilight (along with the viewer) never sees the event that started the joke and fails to see what's so amusing about it. Most of the conflict of the episode revolves around Twilight's frustration at being left out.
- In "Make New Friends But Keep Discord", when the eponymous Discord attempts a terrible stand-up routine. Maude Pie one-ups him with a quip, and Pinkie Pie Squees "good one, Maude" and the ponies collapse laughing.
- Despite all its very legitimate ability to generate laughs, there were a couple of times in Beetlejuice when BJ would do standup as "Shecky Juice" and come out with a series of truly painful jokes that are nonetheless received as brilliant comedy. In "Ship of Ghouls" this is so bad that the audience bursts out laughing just from him greeting them, even though the only thing indicating he told a joke at all was Lydia doing a rimshot.
- It was once invoked In-Universe on an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987). The Mad Scientist villain of the week had an invention that made unfunny jokes funny; so funny that people who hear the joke will lose all self-control as they burst out laughing. Raphael was forced to provide the jokes, and even the worst jokes he could think of would still produce a very extreme laughing reaction.
- Played for Laughs in OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes, where Rad and KO inexplicably find Joe Cuppa and his terrible, repetitive coffee puns uproariously funny. They're pretty much the only people who like his jokes and Enid spends a great deal of time trying to figure out why they think he's so funny, to no avail.
- Chowder: In "Gazpacho Stands Up", Chowder helps Gazpacho with material for his upcoming stand-up comedy gig. After failing twice to improve his handwriting, Chowder tries finding a book with jokes at the last minute, but only finds cookery books and picks one of them. During his performance, Gazpacho simply recites some recipes, yet the audience, particularly Mung-Daal, finds him funny. Lampshaded by Truffles, who says she didn't get it.