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Humorless Aliens

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"Humor. It is a difficult concept."

For better or for worse, humor is one of the most common communicative tools of the human race, and more than anything else it unites us. It is understandable, then, that alien visitors to Earth might find it difficult to understand our attempts at jokes. In popular media this often translates into extraterrestrials appearing to be Sarcasm-Blind or to have No Sense of Humor. Sometimes these aliens know what humor means, but don't know or understand why a human joke is considered funny due to cultural differences and the like. An extreme variation makes the alien sense of humor impenetrable to the human mind.

Compare Creative Sterility.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The Guardians of the Universe from the Green Lantern comics don't have much of a sense of humor. It's not usually made a point of, but there is the end of "In Blackest Night", a story by Alan Moore from Tales of the Green Lantern Corps:
    ...and four cycles later, in the recreation complex, Katma Tui realized that for the first time in many years' service, she had heard a Guardian make a joke. She felt vaguely uneasy for the rest of that day.
  • Justice League of America
    • The story "The Tornado's Path" is about Red Tornado, an android body animated by an air elemental. His wife says that the way she always knew he wasn't Just a Machine is that he has a sense of humor. It's presented well... but then spoiled when the counter-example given of humorless robots is the Metal Men. Seriously? They're the goofiest bunch of robots in the DCU!
    • Occasionally an Invoked Trope with Martian Manhunter, especially in the Justice League International days. He's just got a really deadpan delivery, and will claim Martians don't make jokes as part of the joke.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Ytirflirks have no sense of humor whatsoever, which makes their interactions with the "gremlin" alien race which they enslaved even more awkward since the gremlins" are very fond of it. This also allows the gremlins to discuss bits of their plan to overthrow the Ytirflirks right in front of their overlords without the Ytirflirks understanding what is being discussed.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Thermians in Galaxy Quest don't seem to have a sense of humor, until the very end. That's not to say they're all sourpusses — quite the opposite — but they have difficulty with the concepts of both "deception" and "fiction". Their arch nemesis Sarris, however, has all of the above down pat. The only time he's seen to laugh is when he's taking a nasty pleasure in being a Hope Crusher.

  • Andalites in the Animorphs series are said not to understand humor or its purpose, but this is rarely demonstrated.
  • In Mass Effect: Retribution, David Anderson, while having lunch with the Elcor ambassador, Calyn, jokes about attacking Din Korlak (Calyn's office mate, about whom he had been complaining) and "watching the butterball roll out the door". Calyn finds this joke disturbing, and notes that he's unsettled by humanity's sense of humour. Fridge Brilliance: The Elcor are heavyworlders, evolving on a planet where the high gravity means a simple tumble can cause serious injury or death. Naturally, jokes based on the subject of knocking people over or throwing them around hit their Dude, Not Funny! button — it's not so much the case that Calyn is a humorless alien so much as Anderson sounds like he thinks hurting people is funny.
  • Most of the ETs in David Brin's Uplift novels have no sense of humor. The Thenannin in particular are famous for this (so much so that the shocking climax to one of the books is a Thennanin laughing). On the other hand, the Tymbrimi have if anything too much of a sense of humor - that's why they like us so much!
  • Averted in a classic short story about unintentional First Contact between a human interstellar mapping ship and their alien counterparts. The plot revolves around the tension about whether the two species will ever be able to trust each other, but as they depart the comm. officer mentions he's not worried anymore. He explains that he's pretty sure we'll be able to overcome our differences, because he and his alien counterpart spent the last hour before both ships left swapping dirty jokes that they both found hilarious despite knowing almost nothing about the other species' culture or anatomy.
  • In a similar tone, averted to the surprise of the humans in one of the Star Trek Expanded Universe What If? stories, which tells of a timeline where a terrorist attack by Earth separatists resulted in the meetings that would create The Federation breaking down. As a result, a highly xenophobic Earth is locked in a Space Cold War with the "Interstellar Coalition" and the Original Series Enterprise is assigned to escort diplomats to one of the first, tentative peace talks. The captain is exchanging pleasantries with one of his Tellarite counterparts when the latter begins relating a story involving a giant amoeba and wraps up by mentioning that his superiors had the whole incident hushed up. The captain is glad that his would-be rival isn't so different and they begin bonding over jokes about their respective politicians and bureaucrats.
  • Most tau in Warhammer 40,000 supplemental literature are pretty much humorless, even humans raised around the tau. In the Ciaphas Cain novels, however, a few exceptions stand out — though they're noted as having a particularly dry sense of humor. In particular, the kroot, being Closer to Earth than their tau allies/employers, are more apt to appreciate jokes.
  • In Alien in a Small Town, Paul has a hard time understanding humor, although he gets better at it with time. Indira describes it to him as being similar to Irony, which prompts him to reference Alanis Morissette.
    Indira thought back to her school days. "Morissette... Oh! Those things aren't ironic, they're just sad." Which is ironic, which is genius, a lit professor's voice droned in her memory.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Averted in Babylon 5, where alien characters occasionally tell each other lightbulb and knock-knock jokes they've probably heard from humans. Also, it's stated that Minbari humor differs from Earth humor in that it is based on failure to attain spiritual enlightenment. Of course, there is the episode where Londo Mollari fails to appreciate Rebo and Zooty's humor, but it is unclear if this is a matter of cultural difference or is simply just Mollari. Likewise, Sheridan completely fails to understand a Minbari joke that cracks Delenn up.
  • This trope is referenced many times in-universe in The Big Bang Theory when people call Sheldon an alien, ask what planet he's from, etc.
  • On Mork & Mindy, Mork has a hard time with the concept of humor.
    Oh, humor! HA! HA!
  • In Stargate SG-1, O'Neill is (rightfully) distrustful of the Aschen for precisely this reason. Also, Teal'c tends to miss the point of O'Neill's jokes. Funnily enough, the trope is also inverted in one episode; Teal'c, with prompting, tells a Jaffa joke that obviously amuses him, but falls flat on its face with the rest of SG-1.
  • In Star Trek:

  • Journey into Space: In Journey to the Moon / Operation Luna, Jet doubts that the Time Travellers have a sense of humour.

    Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect:
    • The turians are seen as "uptight" by most other species in the galaxy. They're basically by-the-book Space Romans that take duty and protocol extremely seriously. This was one of the reasons why the turians were one of the worst possible ways for humanity to become introduced to Citadel Space. Since then, however, humans and turians get along better, and because Mass Effect likes to subvert Planet of Hats so much, it's been shown time and again that individual turians are more than capable of being funny. Garrus, your token turian teammate, is even a Deadpan Snarker!
      Wrex: I have to make friends with the one turian in the galaxy who thinks he's funny.
    • In Mass Effect 3, Garrus and Joker pass the time by exchanging politically incorrect human/turian jokes. Like, "How many humans does it take to activate a mass relay?"
    • The elcor can also count as an example. Because of their severe monotone, it's hard for non-elcor to tell when they're being funny.
    • The geth. They're a Mind Hive machine race, so it makes sense.
    • The kett of Mass Effect: Andromeda make the turians look like laugh riots. They never come anywhere close to a joke, not even making a single sarcastic comment (which given the Mass Effect verse is a World of Snark says a lot).
  • In Dragon Age, the Qunari are an entire race of Stoic Scary Dogmatic Aliens from another continent in Thedas. Some of Sten and the Arishok's interactions with The Warden and Hawke suggest that they may have a very understated sense of humour underneath it all.
    • Telling Sten that you find his deadpan comments funny will result in a big boost to approval from him, and a curt 'thank you'.
  • Galaxy Angel II: Tapio Ca, the Luxiole's new second in command from Mugen Kairou no Kagi, is this at first. He isn't one for jokes or sarcasm and his sincerity oftentimes mistakes the intentions of others, but he more or less thinks pretty highly of everyone else. This shifts as he makes an effort to understand humor and starts to incorporate more light-hearted joking to his repertoire, turning him into The Comically Serious.

    Western Animation 
  • Averted several times in Futurama; "My Three Suns" shows the characters watching a comedy act on the planet Trisol, while "That's Lobstertainment!" implies that Decapodians have a cultural propensity for Borscht Belt-type humor, with Zoidberg's uncle Harold Zoid having been a celebrated comic actor in Earth's "Silent Hologram" era.
  • In one US Acres segment on Garfield and Friends, aliens have come to steal Earths' sense of humor, since humor is a lethal weapon to them.
  • In Justice League, Martian Manhunter seems to respond to Flash's attempts at humor with either confusion or disdain.
  • Starfire in the Teen Titans cartoon has some trouble understanding why, exactly, Beast Boy's jokes are supposed to be funny. When exposed to "Why are ducks so funny? Because they're always quacking jokes!", she said something like, "Oh, I get it! It is humorous because ducks lack the large brains necessary for the telling of jokes!"
    • Subverted in that Starfire is pretty far from humorless, she just doesn't get Earth humor. She occasionally does tell Tamaranian jokes (which the other Titans are polite enough to laugh at).
  • Downplayed in Steven Universe. The Gems are capable of humor, but cultural barriers mean that they often lack understanding of how Earth humor works. Steven doing a slapstick clown routine involving a Pie in the Face gets reactions ranging from confused (Amethyst) to apathetic (Garnet) to disturbed (Pearl). The problem also cuts both ways; Pearl's reaction to getting brutally stabbed in the gut by Holo-Pearl is to laugh and cheerfully say "whoopsie-daisy!". Gem "bodies" are just Hard Light constructs that form around the stones that make up their real body, so she knew that she wasn't hurt at all. Steven, lacking that context, is absolutely horrified and briefly thinks that he just saw a family member get stabbed to death.

    Truth In Television 
  • While many animals socialise through some form of play, especially when they're young, only humans have a concept of word-play - that is, humor. Even our closest primate cousins have difficulty with the concept, in no small part due to lacking laughter as a natural physical response.
  • This can be Truth in Television even amongst humans. Lots of jokes are hard to translate across cultural barriers due to reliance on context, and even within a culture humor tends to be subjective.