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Is This a Joke?

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A rabbi, a pirate, and a horse walk into a bar and the bartender says, "What is this, some kind of joke?"

Many a strange thing is happening in Normaltown, USA and the Weirdness Censor isn't working at 100% efficiency today, so someone will suggest that the events are "Some kind of joke," despite how overly elaborate and complicated measures would have to be taken in order to produce such phenomenon for the sake of a laugh. They're hoping it's a Candid Camera Prank.

Compare to Some Nutty Publicity Stunt, which is somewhat similar, but involves effects too widespread, elaborate, or large to be considered just a joke aimed at one person or a small group. See also You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!.

Also a Stock Phrase used when someone does not want to believe that some bad news is true. It's almost never a joke.


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  • In one ad campaign for air fresheners, they spray the stuff all over incredibly dirty environments, blindfold people, bring them in, and have them describe what they smell. After saying how wonderful the place smells, their blindfolds are removed. In one ad, featuring two women, they both look around the absolutely filthy basement, and wonders aloud if it's a joke.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Ah! My Goddess: Sayoko has made a deal with a demon and turned the university into a fairy-tale castle. The reaction from those whose minds she didn't take over? [sigh] "Probably just the engineering students goofing around again. Last year they put a bus on the roof." And the narration notes, "It seemed years of student pranks had rendered the sleepy town of Nekomi shock-proof."
  • In Bleach, Äs Nödt was looking forward to a rematch with Byakuya, only for Byakuya to say he'll leave defeating him in his little sister Rukia's hands. Insulted, Äs Nödt angrily asks if this is some kind of joke, right before Rukia kills him.
  • In Death Note, when Light comes across the titular notebook at the beginning, he brushes it off as a hoax, but recent thoughts of getting rid of society's ne'er-do-wells and a random stroke of curiosity leads to him testing it out anyway. He fully expects nothing to happen, but of course it's the real deal, firing up his latent God Complex setting the story in motion.
  • The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya: Kyon walks into the classroom and sees Ryoko was the one who had arranged to meet him. He asks if Taniguchi set this up as a prank.

  • A staple of the one-sided phone conversations in Bob Newhart's early routines is for Newhart to ask whomever he's talking to if he's trying to pull his leg.

    Comic Books 
  • In Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), the Red Skull sends General Manor a Red Skull along with a death threat. The experienced military leader assumes it must just be a joke. Then he turns around to see the Red Skull right there.
  • In issue #0 of Crossed, one of the Crossed walks into a diner covered in blood and holding a severed spine. At first, everyone thinks it's a prank... until the guy grabs the cook and bites his nose off.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man: Even after watching him walk on the walls, Mary-Jane is still not completely sure if Peter is telling the truth about being Spidey or playing some complex prank.
  • Batman: The Joker's very first story in Batman #1 begins with him delivering a death threat over the radio. A listener dismisses it as a "gag" like "that story about Mars"note .

    Fan Works 
  • A Devil Amongst Worms: Director Tagg asks Dragon this after she confirms that Leviathan is currently stranded on the remains of planet Mercury permanently because of Makima.
  • An Unpleasant Surprise: An unimpressed Scratch asks Molly if he's pranking him when she declares she's going to plan a surprise birthday party for Libby... two months before her actual birthday.
    • A more Played for Drama version. A hurt Molly initially assumes Ashley's homophobic views are some kind of tasteless joke. Unfortunately, the latter genuinely believes what she's saying.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in the 1971 adaptation of The Andromeda Strain. Two scientists are dispatched to try and find out how an entire town in Arizona died overnight. One of them, while checking over a corpse, excitedly calls the other over to "look at this man's anus!" His partner tells him to stop being juvenile, but it does turn out to be an important clue to the virus' nature.
  • A great example in the form of a running gag to boot is when Marty stumbles into the soda shop in Back to the Future. First, the bartender smirks when referring to Marty's 1980s orange sleeveless ski jacket as a "life preserver", and later in the same scene Biff and his gang members laugh at Marty's expense after one of the gang makes the disparaging remark, "Dork thinks he's gonna drown."
  • Inverted in Ghostbusters (2016), where Erin tries to dismiss an old book she wrote despite all evidence in the contrary:
    Erin: It-it was just a gag!
    Ed Mulgrave: The first line is "This is not a joke."
  • Used by Ryan in the first High School Musical film, when it turns out that there are callback auditions for the lead parts in the school musical, which has never happened before:
    Ryan: Maybe we're being Punk'd. Maybe... we're being filmed right now. Maybe we'll get to meet Ashton!
  • Godmothered: When Eleanor asks where Mackenzie's daughter is, Mackenzie says "Is this someone's idea of a joke?"
  • Iron Man 2: Pepper's first line in the film is angrily asking this of a Secretly Dying Tony. The "this" in question is selling his entire art collection, which Pepper spent years curating, to the Boy Scouts of America. Tony did it as a tax write-off.
  • One of our heroes in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World suggest that Smiler's Final Speech may have just been part of "some big practical joke".
  • L.A. Story did this. The main character swore he was being filmed when the billboard was "talking" to him.
  • A particularly ridiculous example from Monster a-Go Go: while investigating the strange death of an Air Force helicopter pilot, burned to death by an unknown force, Col. Manning is shown a singed section of grass surrounding the body, apparently made by whatever killed the pilot. Pressed for an opinion, Manning testily waves the whole thing off as "probably some kids' prank".
  • The tribunal in the original Planet of the Apes (1968) dismiss Taylor's claim of being from another planet as "a joke".
  • Asked by name in Spy Kids by Juni, after being instructed on the blue and green buttons, and opening the door to the SpyGuppy to find... a closet.
  • Timeline, like in the book, has Chris conclude that his father's message in the catacombs is just part of "a joke." Professor Johnson steps in to explain just how stupid an explanation that is, that a seasoned archaeologist would deliberately damage a site that's thousands of years old for the sake of a cheap laugh.
  • Harris says this line early in Unknown (2011), as his wife doesn't recognize him as he's trying to prove his identity.

  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is littered with this. When Roger Button first sees that his newborn child is, in fact, an elderly man, he demands to know if the hospital is playing a joke. Years later, when Benjamin is 18 (and looking 50), he tries to gain admittance to Yale. The dean throws him out for trying to pull such a prank, despite Benjamin's protests. Late in his life when Benjamin appears 10, he attempts to rejoin the Army. The other soldiers play along until he presents official military documents, and is told that this isn't funny anymore.
  • In George Gipe's novelization of Gremlins, when Father Barlett's Christmas cards first shoot out of a mailbox after he dropped them in, he assumes it's a "hidden camera prank" and good-naturedly plays along. Turns out to be those darn gremlins. (This is partially seen in the movie, but a deleted scene spells it out for sure.)
  • Suggested in The Mist:
    "I sure hope this is a joke."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Battlestar Galactica (2003) miniseries, Colonel Tigh initially tries to dismiss the Cylon attack as a retirement prank played by the Fleet on Adama.
  • Charmed (1998) episode 6 season 2, "That Old Black Magic", Kyle Gwydion reacts like this.
    Kyle Gwydion: I bet one of my brothers put you up to this, right?
  • The more modern variant on Community when Britta is amazed at the guys jumping into a fight over something stupid.
    "Okay, seriously, I'm being Punked, right?"
  • Doctor Who: In "Rose", Rose Tyler's reaction to plastic dummies coming to life and apparently trying to kill her is that it must be college kids — they're the only ones mad enough for a prank that big. The Doctor says it's a smart idea. She — and every other companion — comes to discover that it is never a joke.
  • Friends, when Phoebe is on the phone with Ross's fiancée's stepmother, trying to warn Ross that Rachel is coming to disrupt the wedding:
    Phoebe: Oh, hi, Mrs. Waltham. I need to speak with either one of the best men, or Ross's sister Monica.
    Mrs. Waltham: Who is this?
    Phoebe: Oh, I'm Phoebe Buffay. I'm one of Ross' best friends.
    Mrs. Waltham: Well, if you're one of Ross' best friends, why aren't you here?
    Phoebe: Yeah, um, I can't fly. I'm having my brother's babiesnote .
    Mrs. Waltham: Am I on the radio?
  • Inverted in Jonathan Creek, where the titular Great Detective often claims that people would rather put a supernatural explanation on a remarkable occurrence than accept that someone would go to incredibly complicated lengths to fake it.
  • On an episode of The Later Show With David Letterman, where Letterman was interviewing Mike Myers, Letterman asked Myers if Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving. Myers explained that Canadian Thanksgiving is on a different day than Thanksgiving in the U.S., but Letterman kept asking if Canadians nevertheless still observed the U.S.'s Thanksgiving. Myers eventually got exasperated at that line of questioning and asked if he was being Punked.
  • Parks and Recreation: The no-nonsense Ron Swanson gets dragged to a deeply bizarre molecular mixology bar. When his whiskey order comes in the form of a lotion that the waiter begins to massage into his hands, he flatly says, "Can I ask if this entire establishment is a practical joke of some kind?"
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "New Order", Dr. Weir's reaction to the Stargate program was to think it was a joke. She was then handed a letter from the President reading simply "This is not a joke." It was also stated that this was the President's reaction to learning of the Stargate program, as well, hence his ability to predict her response.
  • Stranger Things: This is the normal reaction by people when first told about the goings-on in Hawkins.
  • Standard answer for any of strange events of every other episode of The Twilight Zone (1959).
  • Waiting for God: Diana(who, for those not familiar with this show, is about seventy) tries to get a job in a trendy clothing store. The young clerk doesn't quite understand it, until she "figures out" it must be some kind of prank show, and tries to find where the host is hiding.
  • Warehouse 13 does this in the Pilot.
    Lattimer: "This is a joke, right? Dickensen put you up to this."

    Video Games 
  • In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney:
    Kristoph Gavin: Wright. You aren't seriously accusing me... are you?
    Phoenix Wright: Oh, Kristoph? You know even I'd never take a joke this far.
  • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses:
    • Dimitri has this reaction if present for Edelgard being revealed as the Flame Emperor's identity.
      Dimitri: (Laughing Mad) Is this some kind of twisted joke?!
    • This is said word-for-word by Dedue if he wins the dance competition. The dance in question is based on elegant ballroom dancing while Dedue himself is a huge, broad-chested man with little experience in such matters.
  • In For Honor, Stone says this verbatim when his requested reinforcements end up being a single Warden.
  • In Undertale, Temmie is a bit odd in her speech and mannerisms ("hOI!!!!!! i'm tEMMIE!!") even if you donate enough money to send her to college. Though if you do that, and then refuse to sell Temmie an item she's very interested in, she'll drop the silly speech and be unnervingly direct.
    Temmie: Is this a joke? Are you having a chuckle? Ha ha, very funny. I'm the one with a degree.

  • In Questionable Content, when Marten is put in charge of the Smif Library interns, and begins by explaining what a bookshelf is to graduate students, Claire asks if this is "some kind of weird hazing ritual". When he explains that he's not actually a librarian, just someone who works there, she says "This is DEFINITELY some sort of hazing ritual and I do NOT appreciate it."

    Web Original 
  • In Paradise, this is a frequent reaction of people upon discovering they're in the process of changing into Funny Animals, or of unChanged when Changed try to reveal their new nature (which is otherwise Invisible to Normals).
  • In the Rifftrax for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, when Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are asked what business a man, an elf and a dwarf have in the Riddermark, the riffed reply is, "Shouldn't you be walking into a bar somewhere?"

    Western Animation 
  • In the American Dragon: Jake Long episode "Half Baked," Jake replies, "I'm glad that everyone bought that You've been punked story we fed them."
  • Danger Mouse: In "All Fall Down", Penfold is disguised as a traffic officer in an attempt to distract villainous snake Mac The Fork so DM can infiltrate his hideout.
    Penfold: Y-y-y-your car, sir, it's on a gibble gabble gine, er… wibble wobble wine...
    Mac The Fork: Is this some kind o' joke?
    Penfold: Well, I'm not laughing.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", Rainbow Dash asks "Is this some kind of cruel joke?" when she finally gets some cider, only to have it spilled on the ground.
  • In Regular Show (and The Man From Lolliland), this is the reply Pops normally gets after giving lollipops as payment. Benson also says it to Mordecai and Rigby when they come up with a half-baked unorthodox solution for something.
  • In The Simpsons, episode "Deep Space Homer", when the director of NASA introduces Homer and Barney as the future of space travel, two reporters ask "is this a joke?" Despite telling them no, and refusing to take any more similar questions, Homer breaking down after realizing the Planet of the Apes was earth, and Barney drunkenly passing out, did not help.
  • Stan Lee's reaction to the appearance of Mysterio in the second season of The Spectacular Spider-Man:
    "Are we being punked? I hate that."
    • Aunt May says the exact same thing when she is confronted about Peter's identity as Spider-Man.
  • Star Wars Resistance: Neeku Vozo, being extremely Literal-Minded, occasionally takes serious statements made by other characters as jokes. In "Descent", when protagonist Kaz finally tells Neeku that he's a spy for the Resistance, which is why First Order stormtroopers are chasing them, Neeku's reaction is to assume that it's a bad joke at a bad time for joking. He doesn't realize that Kaz is being serious until he sees General Organa's message near the end of the episode.
  • What If…? (2021): When the Watcher assembles the Guardians of the Multiverse in the first season finale "What If The Watcher Broke His Oath?", Thor dismisses the whole thing as one of Loki's pranks and tries to leave. After nearly getting sucked into a vortex, he takes the situation (somewhat) more seriously.