Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding"
When humour is used to excuse behavior that others find offensive and inappropriate, you have just encountered a "Just Joking" Justification. Never mind that this seldom soothes the sting; the original barb hurt, after all, and hurting others for one's amusement won't earn much sympathy, either. There is overlap between this trope and emotional abuse.
This is one source of humour which comedians have used as a reservoir of material. Contemporary stereotypes are thus often causes of this trope, be they sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise. These can range a very wide gamut, from people getting upset at Michael Richards' (Seinfeld's Kramer) infamous n-word tirade at a heckler, to people getting upset when they don't realize that Jon Stewart's jokes about Jewish conspiracies are actually deconstructive parodies (and he is Jewish). Frequently features as an excuse for invoking Mars and Venus Gender Contrast.
An Affably Evil character may actually get away with this on a regular basis, as may someone who's considered Too Funny to Be Evil. It definitely won't work if Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor. Compare and contrast Sarcastic Confession. Conversely, it may result in Crying Wolf if people conclude they shouldn't take any of the speaker's "jokes" seriously. A related tactic is called Just Asking Questions, where the person will make outrageous accusations but phrase them as questions (e.g "Did Bob screw a goat? I wonder") to avoid getting in trouble for slander. In other words, it's very easy for this trope to become a form of Jerk Justifications.
You may also consider this as a form of justification for when an attempt to Cross The Line Twice results in Dude, Not Funny!. Contrast Poe's Law, when it really was just a joke, but the satirical intention got lost (or when something that seems too ridiculous to be sincere is not a joke at all). Also see Parody Retcon for when this is applied to entire works.
Not to be confused with I Was Just Joking, where the "Just Joking" wasn't made up after the fact; the offender intended to make a joke for real.
- The chalk board in front of a coffee shop in New York turned controversial when they advertised their Skim Lattes with "Get your beach bod back." Suffering complaints from people claiming the sentence to be "fat-shaming", they removed it and apologised, saying it had merely been a tongue-in-cheek joke. Discussed here.
- In Bloom Into You, during the "Lies and True" chapter of the second anthology, Sayaka, who's still coming to grips with the fact that Touko chose Yuu over her, makes a remark to Yuu that indicates that she's rather dissatisfied with how things turned, out, but then backpedals by saying, "Not really." In her Internal Monologue at the end of the chapter, she then remarks "I wasn't joking, but I wasn't serious, either," before adding that she wants to come to terms with Touko's choice so she can once again smile at Touko from the bottom of her heart.
- Case Closed:
- Whenever Kogoro makes one of his off-the-wall, no-basis-in-fact accusations and it gets shot down, he will frequently backpedal by saying he was just joking.
- Ai Haibara also always tag this to the end of anything that is actually real.
- Darker than Black played with this. November 11 used to drop a comment somewhat disturbing for everyone present and add "Just joking" immediately. It's sufficiently annoying to other characters that it gets several Ironic Echoes throughout the series.
- In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, two of Muzan Kibutsuji's subordinates track Tanjiro and Nezuko to the house where Yushiro and Tamayo are hiding. During the battle, Yushiro proposes that he and Tamayo sneak out while the other demons are distracted fighting Tanjiro and Nezuko. Tamayo is horrified by this suggestion, prompting Yushiro to insist that he was joking.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
- Stardust Crusaders: Rubber Soul try to weasel away from Jotaro using this as an excuse for trying to murder him. Jotaro lets his guard down for a moment because he's trying to squeeze Rubber Soul for information, but the second time he tries it Jotaro lets Star Platinum beat Rubber Soul to a pulp.
- Diamond is Unbreakable: When defeated by Koichi, Tamami tries to claim that he was just joking about stealing the deed to Koichi's house. Of course, when Koichi does the same to him, asking him to bring him 500,000 yen, he points out that it sure doesn't sound like a joke.
- Rebuild of Evangelion: Kaji flirts with Shinji and leans in to kiss him before pulling back and saying "Just joking."
- Ferid of Seraph of the End gets his kicks (he's an immortal vampire so he gets bored) out of manipulating and hurting others. When he makes comments that suggest he means to make Krul submit to him or that he wants to suck Yuu's blood he usually follows it up with "It was just a joke."
- In chapter 44 of Tales of Wedding Rings, Morion reminds Satou that he's focusing all his attention on Krystal and should consider showing his other brides some affection. She then suggests that he show her some love too. When Satou reacts to this suggestion with incredulity, since she isn't a ring princess and he isn't obligated to marry her, Morion prances away while claiming that she was just kidding to hide the fact that his rejection stung.
- Chowder: Mung Daal in when he realized the health inspector he describes as a moron is right behind him.
Mung Daal: I was just joking before. You aren't really a moron. In fact, I bet you are really quite smart and handsome. Did I say that? You bet I did. Say, I love your hat.
- Bergelmir (Loki's brother) tries to pull one to cover his ass after attempting to trick Lucifer into being honor-bound to kill himself.
Bergelmir: It was joke, Morningstar. A joke only. I've something of my brother's humor, after all.
Lucifer: Take me to the ship. Or I'll show you what makes me laugh.
- In one version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, after the piper has gotten rid of the rats, the mayor claims he was only joking about the payment. If you've heard the story, you know how that turned out.
- All Assorted Animorphs AUs: In "What if the series was set in modern times?", David claims that he doxxed the last girl who beat him in an online video game. Jake is outraged, so David says he wouldn't actually do that. Then he says he's okay with swatting, and Jake's reaction causes David to say that was a joke as well.
- In Blue Skies Through the Grey, Ron calls Hermione an "insufferable know-it-all" while Harry and the rest of the Weasleys are congratulating her on being invited to take her NEWTs early, then adds "Kidding!" when she turns to look at him.
- The Chronicles of Merlin: The Return:
Harry: The last time you gave me a present you took it away from me a week after I got it, just long enough for me to get attached. I don't want to be hurt anymore.
Lily: It was just a joke Harry. We didn't think you would get so upset over it.
Harry: What was funny about it? Was it the part where you took it away from me, or was it the part where you made me watch as Glory's cat murdered it?
- Dad Villain AU: As in canon, Chloé convinced Kim to exploit her crush on him to play a horribly traumatic prank on her. The duo unwittingly staged it on the same day that Sabina's mysterious illness caused her to fall into a coma, never to reawaken. When Marinette reminds him of this when he expects her to help out with his swim team's upcoming bake sale, he brushes it off:
Kim: Aww, it was just a joke!
Marinette: It wasn't to me.
- In Dragon Lily, Sirius begs Mrs. Weasley for a fudge brownie, then comments to Harry's mother that he'd ask her for one too if he hadn't tasted her cooking. She points her wand at him in response.
Sirius: Okay, okay! I give up! Just kidding... well... not really, but y'know...
- Feint-disengage-attack: While eating breakfast with Fareeha, Lena casually alludes to having had a fling with Angela in the past, and makes a point of rubbing it in. Afterwards, she mixes this with Blaming the Victim:
Lena: As it is, I was only 'aving a go, and it's not precisely my fault, love, that you're so very easy to 'ave a go at, right? You going to rise to the occasion every time I poke at you? I mean, that's great fun for me, but it might be a bit tiring for you. Ask Win, I'm just a bit of a prankster, love, and—you could 'ave properly asked me, Fareeha, in seriousness, what the nature of it was, and I'd 'ave told you the truth. I never meant to 'urt you, not really—
Fareeha: You didn't.
Lena: (pauses at that, eventually breaking the silence that follows) You don't 'ave to like me, Fareeha. But if this is to work, you do 'ave to trust me. I like you, in a way, but you don't 'ave to like me. (turns to go, pauses, turns back to insist) And it was funny.
Fareeha: (not looking at her) You don't have to like me, but you do have to grow up.
- Fighting Back:
Harry: I'm sorry Weasley, but how can you call me your best mate after what you said to me last night in your letter. Besides I don't associate with bullies. Now leave, I'm enjoying lunch with my new friends.
Ron: Ah, Harry! You know I was just joking, right? I was just angry that you didn't sit with me on the train, is all. And it's not considered bullying when people deserve it.
- Gankona, Unnachgiebig, Unità: After a bully claims he was ashamed of Italy, he desperately attempts to avoid Germany's and Japan's wrath by declaring he was just joking. It didn't work.
- In High Stress Express, Flying Scotsman claims that he was joking when he suggests that Gordon missing his schedule will cause the passengers to start travelling with Scotsman.
- In Hunter (UnwelcomeStorm), Sophia ends up in the Nightmare of Yharnam, stuck in a literal river of blood and mud. Desperate to get out, she calls out to anyone around. The only one to hear her is Taylor, who just looks on apathetically and nearly walks away when Sophia tries to excuse her bullying with this argument. In the end, Taylor's little remaining humanity leads to her tossing Sophia a summoning bell to get her out, particularly when she realizes that they both have the Impurity mark on them.
- In I Did Nothing, McGonagall overhears Draco issuing a challenge to a wizard's duel and gives him a week's detention.
Draco: I was just joking, Professor. Nothing was meant by it.
- In let's go out with a bang!, Kokichi dismisses his constant cruelties this way. At one point, he derails a 'Speak my truth' trust exercise by casually declaring that he thinks Miu should jump off the roof they're on, then blows off the others' protests by claiming he was just joking... but that his 'real' truth is that he just thinks she's a horrible person. Kaede attempts to smooth things over by having Miu continue the exercise, leading to Volleying Insults.
- The One to Make It Stay: At one point, Lila steals Adrien's phone and uses it to send Kagami several nasty messages while pretending to be him. When she's caught, Adrien makes this claim on her behalf, insisting she didn't really mean to hurt Kagami or anyone else with the deception.
- This situation is also used to pick apart Adrien's insistence on sticking to 'the high road' and not doing anything about Lila. While he thinks he's resolving the situation peacefully, he's the only one present who considers this to be 'neutral'; everybody else sees it as him taking Lila's side over Kagami and letting her hurt the other girl. Notably, Lila herself is shocked by this, though this swiftly turns to glee as she silently gloats about how this gives her more power over him.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act III: In chapter 6, Akua and Kahlua remark that, in order for Kokoa to truly regain her damaged pride, she will have to be a slave to Tsukune in every sense of the word, including sexually. Then they reveal that the sex slave part was just a joke; the gang is not amused.
- Throughout Statistic, Toshinori's fellow teachers at Aldera Middle School dismiss his input because he told them he was Quirkless. When the whole break room laughs at his concern when Izuku doesn't show up one day, Maita tells him to "Relax, we're just joking," acknowledging that their attitude is in bad taste, but not caring about how casually cruel they're being.
- One of the men responsible for sending Izuku death threats also tries to defend himself by claiming he was just 'playing pranks', and that he never intended to go any further than that.
- Tidal waves: When Nadja tries to badger a "love confession" out of Ladybug during their interview, Chat Noir gleefully joins in the harassment. Ladybug gets so overwhelmed by their refusal to listen to her that she winds up in tears; Chat Noir then hastily backtracks and apologizes, claiming he "took the joke too far" while shunting the blame off onto Nadja.
- Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Genie has made what could be seen as an extremely insensitive joke (that Aladdin isn't really required for a wedding to happen). "It's a joke! (deadpan) I do that."
- Bonk from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker tries this when the Joker pulls a gun on him for an insult. Fortunately, Joker is just joking too. Oops! No he wasn't.
- BoBoiBoy: The Movie: To prevent his friends from thinking he forgot about their camping trip again, BoBoiBoy claims that he was just messing with them when he wrongly answers on what day it is. Needless to say, they're skeptical, and that's even before BoBoiBoy shows up too late anyway (although it was because he was stopping criminals from escaping the police).
- In Ice Age: The Meltdown, Sid is insulted after Manny and Diego tell him (rather insensitive) that he's not qualified enough to run a camp for kids:
Sid: You guys never think I can do anything, but I'm an equal member of this herd! I made this herd, so you need to start treating me with some respect! (hops away offended)Manny: Come on, Sid.
Diego: Sid, we were just kidding.
- The Lion King's Greek dub has Scar try to justify saying the hyenas were the enemy with this.
- The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: Plankton attempts this, claiming that his mind-controlling everyone and turning Bikini Bottom into the dystopic Planktopolis was all a joke. Not one person buys it, and he's shipped off to prison, screaming that he'll destroy everyone.
Plankton: Come on, I was just kidding. Come on, you guys knew that, didn't you? With the helmets and the big monuments...Wasn't that hilarious, everybody?
- Mother Gothel from Tangled uses this quite frequently when talking to Rapunzel. Unlike most samples, it's not really done as a joke. Instead it's a continual chain of abuse Gothel slaps on as an attempt to crush Rapunzel's free will, using the "It's just a joke" to normalize it and make Rapunzel feel like she's overreacting.
Gothel: Ah, Rapunzel, how you manage to [pull me up the tower with your hair] every single day without fail... it looks absolutely exhausting, darling.
Rapunzel: Oh, it's nothing.
Gothel: Then I don't know why it takes so long! Ohohoho, darling, I'm just teasing!
Rapunzel: Eh-heh... So, mother, as you know, tomorrow is a very big day-
Gothel: Darling, look at that mirror. You know what I see? Is see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady. Oh, look, you're here too. Ahahahaha! I'm just teasing, stop taking everything so seriously!
- Played for Drama in 42. After Ben Chapman gets backlash for his racist diatribe against Jackie Robinson, he defends himself by claiming that it's tradition to use derogatory slurs to distract opposing players.
- Done in Airplane! when Johnny in the control tower pulls a plug that cuts the runway lights as a prank.
- At the end of the Disney adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia, class bully Scott Hoager tries using this excuse after making a tasteless comment about Leslie Burke's death in front of a very upset Jess Aarons.
"It... it's a joke, dude!" - Scott's last sentence before getting a well-deserved Megaton Punch in the face
- In Chappie, Hugh Jackman's character points a gun at the protagonist's head and threatens him. After realising it probably wasn't a smart move to openly threaten a coworker in the middle of a busy office, he laughs it off, claiming the gun wasn't loaded and that the whole thing was just a hilarious prank.
- Also Played for Drama in Confessions (2010). Shuya repeatedly jokes about killing his teacher's daughter, and shields any sincere emotion he might have with a "just kidding"
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe has Yondu constantly threatening to eat Peter in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reveals that he was joking the whole time, although Peter didn’t think so as a scared little kid.
- In Heathers, Ram Sweeney does this in a conversation he's having with God during a funeral: "Jesus god in Heaven, why did you have to kill such hot snatch? It's a joke, man. Jeez, people are so serious. Hail Mary, who aren't in heaven, pray for all us sinners so we don't get caught. Another joke, man."
- In the Adam Sandler film Jack and Jill, Jack (played by Sandler) has a Mexican gardener whose only purpose in the movie is to make tons and tons of horrifically racist Mexican jokes ("We just got over the border!" "This is my son Juan, my other son Juan, and my daughter Juanita.") and follow them up with "I'm just KEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDING!"
- In Petticoat Planet, Steve pulls a blaster and threatens to shoot the sheriff when she tries to prevent him from leaving town. However, he quickly discovers that Puckerbush is a town where Everyone Is Armed and drops the blaster with the weak excuse that he was just joking.
- Revenge of the Pink Panther. After being presumed dead in a Mafia assassination, Inspector Clouseau returns home to find Cato has turned his apartment into a brothel (and the password to enter is his own name). After the inevitable comical misunderstandings, Clouseau indignantly shouts that he is a police officer. The bouncer promptly puts a switchblade to his neck, whereupon Cato rushes into the room.
Cato: No, don't kill him! I used to work for this man — he was only kidding! Tell them you were just kidding, boss!
Clouseau: Yes, I was just...kidding. Cross my heart and hope to (eyeing the knife) ...see you again some time.
- Angela Nicely: In “The Ugly Sisters!”, the Payne twins try to pacify an angry Suzy by saying that their bullying of Angela was “just a joke”.
- Can You See Me?: In All the Pieces of Me, Tally's 'friend' Lucy films her humming, stimming, and covering her ears and uploads it to Instagram, where their classmates post increasingly nasty comments about her. Tally is so upset that she misses three days of school. When she gets back, Lucy tells her, 'It was just for laughs! Tell me that isn't why you've been off school for days? God - that's tragic!' Tally doesn't buy the excuse, and finally ditches Lucy and her friends for good.
- In the Captain Underpants book The Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds) George, Harold and Captain Underpants jump out of a UFO and land SPLAT on the ground... or not; the narrator was kidding.
- Earth's Children: In The Valley of Horses, Radonio and her friends hatch a plan to separate Jondalar and Cherunio so they can have him to themselves. She and her companions think it's a laugh, but Jondalar isn't impressed, especially when they start groping him, restrain and gag Cherunio, and won't tell him where she is. Although he later acknowledges that it was intended to be a joke and he may have overreacted a bit, it wasn't particularly funny (especially if you flip the genders). note
- In The Purple Cloud, Adam's Femme Fatale fiancée Clodagh is always 'joking' about her admiration of Lucrezia Borgia and her desire to poison someone. Adam realises she's not joking when she poisons her nephew, Peter Peters, so Adam can have a place on the expedition to the North Pole.
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms abuses this trope horrendously. If a lord says something to upset a favoured retainer, they usually claim it was a joke. Even if the statement that upset the person wasn't funny at all.
- In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape discusses this as a method of tempting a person to be a jerkass. After all, they might not realize their jerkassery is hurtful if they—and better yet, all their friends—see it as just a joke.
- From "The Scrolls" by Woody Allen:
And so he took Isaac to a certain place and prepared to sacrifice him but at the last minute the Lord stayed Abraham's hand and said, "How could thou doest such a thing?"
And Abraham said, "But thou said..."
"Never mind what I said," the Lord spake. "Doth thou listen to every crazy idea that comes thy way?"
And Abraham grew ashamed. "Er—not really... no..."
"I jokingly suggest thou sacrifice Isaac and thou immediately runs out to do it."
And Abraham fell to his knees, "See, I never know when you're kidding."
And the Lord thundered, "No sense of humor, I can’t believe it."
- Troubled Blood of the Cormoran Strike Novels introduces Saul Morris, a new subcontractor at the private detective agency of the two main characters, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. He sexually harasses Robin and uses this as his standard fallback whenever she calls him out on his behavior, or ignores his advances. He is eventually fired after a serious incident at the office.
- War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches. In "Foreign Devils" the Guangxu Emperor is a Puppet King while Prince Tuan has all the power. The Emperor orders Tuan to kill himself on several occasions, but Tuan always pretends that the Emperor is making a joke.
- A dark, spoilery example from Warbreaker: Denth disguises Tonk Fah's genuinely sadistic and sociopathic behavior by playing it down and treating it like a joke, essentially passing him off as a Heroic Comedic Sociopath.
- In Lorrie Moore's story "You're Ugly, Too," the main character, an unhappy college teacher, is at a party full of college teachers. She goes on a balcony with a male teacher, they talk for a while. Then (maybe offended by something he said?) she pushes him off the balcony, only he doesn't fall all the way off. She says, "I was only kidding. Really, I was only kidding!" Unlike most of these examples, she wasn't planning to do anything in advance —she was acting impulsively, and doesn't know why she did these things.
- Helen from The Zombie Knight says this about commenting that Hector and Lynnette would make a cute couple. However, she probably was mostly joking.
- The Joker (appropriately enough) tried to pull this once on Batman (1966). After winning parole and faking his own kidnapping by Catwoman, he protests that he and Catwoman are just playing pranks when Batman and Robin catch up with them as they're plotting a heist.
- On Criminal Minds a psychopathic teenager who had already committed several murders held a knife to his sister's throat, about to kill her in front of their horrified mother because of his jealousy over her perceived favoritism. When the FBI agents arrived in the nick of time and ordered him to drop the knife, he tried to sound casual with, "Fine. I was only kidding anyway." It didn't fool anyone.
- Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm makes frequent use of this (usually as a last resort if he needs something from whoever he offended).
- A rare example without overtones of racism or outright cruelty: in The Dick Van Dyke Show episode "Punch Thy Neighbor", Jerry Helper (the next door neighbor) keeps going around saying The Alan Brady Show — on which Robert Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) works — wasn't funny. Rob was quite upset. Jerry keeps saying that his insults don't matter because it's all in fun, despite the effect the negative word-of-mouth could have on Rob's livelihood. Rob justly points out that nobody can tell when Jerry is joking and one of these days, he'll meet someone who doesn't care.
- Doctor Who. In "Demons of the Punjab", the Doctor warns Yaz not to say anything that might disrupt the timeline, but this doesn't stop the Doctor from blurting out Too Much Information.
The Doctor: This is the best thing ever. Never did this when I was a man.
[Umbreen and her mother look disturbed]
Yaz: Doctor, you and your jokes...
The Doctor: Yeah, that's right. My references to body and gender regeneration are all in jest. I'm such a comedian.
- In Downton Abbey, when Larry Grey is called out for using a spiked drink to embarrass Tom at a dinner party, he responds with this excuse. Mary immediately rejects this as "A bully's defence!"
- Mr. Brown, the first hotel guest on Fawlty Towers, does this after joking about needing a double bed and suggestively saying "hello" to Polly. His boorishness is justified when we learn that Mr. Brown is an undercover police officer, posing as a guest to investigate the phony Lord Melbury.
- Game of Thrones:
- In "Second Sons", Tyrion Lannister makes a Freudian Threat to King Joffrey after one too many Kick the Dog moments. After a Stunned Silence, his father Lord Tywin points out that Tyrion is drunk. Tyrion regains control of himself and tries to pass his threat off as a bad joke, engaging in some Self-Deprecation and staggering off drunkenly. (He only has to exaggerate his inebriation a tiny bit because he is in fact quite drunk already.) It's unclear if anyone is fooled by this (Joffrey certainly isn't) but was a necessary face-saving gesture anyway.
- Comes up again in "Mhysa", when Joffrey says he wants to have Robb Stark's severed head served to Robb's sister Sansa at Joffrey's wedding feast. Everyone else in the room is appalled, but his mother Cersei tries to brush it off as just a joke. Joffrey, however, insists that he was being serious.
- When Littlefinger makes a snide comment about Queen Cersei's twincest, she puts him in his place by ordering her bodyguards to cut his throat on the spot, then cancelling the order at the last second with this trope.
- In the Hannah Montana episode "Judge Me Tender", a Simon Cowell parody character issues one of these, then immediately retracts it, after saying both Hannah and the judge for whom she was filling in were boring.
- On the first season of The Joe Schmo Show, Hutch "the asshole" used this as his go-to excuse for his regular harassment and bullying of Kip "the gay guy," particularly his threats to toss him in the pool over his fear of water and stealing his photo album and filling it with pictures of his buttocks.
- Malcolm in the Middle:
- A new neighbor boy spreading malicious lies about Malcolm, turning the entire neighborhood against him. When Malcolm confronts him, the kid says, "Hey, it's just a joke. Lighten up," and continues doing it.
- There's also an episode of Cynthia's early appearance, where she kept saying things that hinted at her having done horrible things or of horrible things having been done to her. She always adds "Just kidding!" after gaining a horrified look from the others. Malcolm eventually calls her out on many things about her, including how her 'jokes' are not funny and adding 'just kidding' does not alter the fact or make them okay. Cynthia changed her ways.
- The Office (US): Michael Scott often finds himself caught in these after an egregious faux-pas or a joke in really bad taste.
- At the end of the Psycho Rangers story arc of Power Rangers in Space, an exhausted Andros shuffles off to his bunk with the intention of getting some much needed sleep. When he rounds the corner, he finds Psycho Red, inexplicably still alive. He attacks the Psycho, only to learn that it's actually Zane in disguise.
Andros: Oh, it's just a joke.
Andros: Good one! (judo flips Zane over his shoulder)
- Punk'd: This was the whole premise of the show. During the series, Ashton Kutcher did some “pranks” against celebrities that were actually downright terrible and justify it with “I’m just kidding around.” It’s worth noting that in the years since the series, many celebrities have said they did NOT appreciate his humor, and Ashton himself has stated that even as early as during the series run, he would be shunned from parties because of it and some celebrities would actually try and fight him.
- Rome. Julius Caesar sends Vorenus to bribe a former army colleague. Honest to a fault but loyal to his superior, Vorenus does so and reports back. Caesar comments that he didn't think the man would sell out so cheaply. "I must send you to handle all of my corruptions." Manipulative Bastard that he is, Caesar quickly sees how uncomfortable this makes Vorenus and says that he was only joking.
- Scrubs: The Janitor brings a cage to a baby shower (for the baby). When he gets weird looks he then plays it off like he was just joking and really brought it just in case the child gets a puppy later on. We later see him on the phone "No, Ma, 'baby cage, playpen' is not like 'tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to'!"
- Seinfeld: In "The Revenge", George tells off his boss and coworkers before announcing he's quitting. But upon realizing he's made a big mistake since he has no other prospects or skills, he shows up to work on Monday and acts like nothing happened, insisting that the things he'd told them were all jokes. However, they're not fooled by it and he's told to leave.
- The Sopranos:
- Usually, when a character says something that pisses off another character, they justify it as them just "breaking balls", but even then it's not enough to save them from being assaulted by the target of their barbs.
- Probably the most extreme example on the show is when Vito Spatafore is spotted by two New York associates at a gay nightclub while he's flirting with another man and dressed in a motorbiker outfit, which he tries to pass off as a joke in order to prevent them from outing him. It doesn't work.
- In Toshiie to Matsu, Oda Nobunaga attempts to pass off a particularly tasteless move (displaying the gold-plated skull of his sister's dead husband, and ordering her and her new fiancee to drink from the skullcap) on his part as a joke.
- The Twilight Zone (1959): In "The Encounter", Fenton regularly makes bigoted remarks about Arthur Takamori's Japanese-American heritage and then claims that he was just joking when Arthur takes offense.
- The Windsors: Prince Andrew continually torments those around him in various serious ways but writes it all off as just being a joke.
- Yellowjackets: In "Two Truths and a Lie" Crystal and Misty are trading silly secrets, like Misty hating deodorant or Crystal taking shortcuts at chores. Misty eventually confesses that after their plane crashed, she destroyed the plane's black box, ensuring nobody would come to their rescue. When she sees Crystal's look of shock and horror, Misty realizes she's gone too far, so she tries to play it off as a joke and fails.
- The Young Pope: Lenny, the eponymous young pope, does this repeatedly. He frequently makes rude or upsetting statements and then claims to be just joking. It's never quite clear when he's being intentionally manipulative and when he's just socially awkward. He's never actually joking.
- As evidenced by the page quote, They Might Be Giants have expressed opinions on this trope.
- There's also The Smiths' "Bigmouth Strikes Again" from The Queen Is Dead:
Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said
I'd like to smash every tooth in your head
Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said
by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed
- In the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "I Was Only Kidding", the singer tries to use the line to justify telling someone that he loved her. As abrasively as possible. He gets shot.
When I said you could always trust me,
When I said I'd never leave you flat,
Well guess what? I was only kidding, baby,
I can't believe you fell for that!
(you're so gullible!)
- Bare Naked Ladies:
The phone rings, it's early, it's seven o'clock.
- It's used with pretty dark overtones in their song "The Flag".
He says I'm sorry that I woke you but I just had to talk.
You know, last night, remember when I tried to choke you?
I didn't mean it, I was drunk, it was only a joke.
Why did you fail to see?
- They did it again in 2006 with "Fun & Games", from the perspective of a government sending people to war.
It was a gag, it was all for a laugh,
And they were shocked and they were awed and they were blown in half.
Fun and games, we're just pulling legs,
We knew this barrel of fun would be a powder keg.
- Nelly's "Hot in Herre" has this bit:
Stop pacin', time wastin'
I got a friend with a pole in the basement
(Female voice: "What?")
I'm just kiddin' like Jason
(Female voice: "Oh.")
Unless you gon' do it
- Which Weird Al parodied thusly in "Trash Day":
Some Lysol, some Comet
I got a mop and it's got your name on it
(Female voice: "What?")
I'm just kiddin', doggone it
(Female voice: "Oh.")
Unless you're gonna do it
- Which Weird Al parodied thusly in "Trash Day":
- A particularly flippant example from Megan Trainor's "All About That Bass":
I'm bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
Nah, I'm just playing, I know you think you're fat
- Many Death Metal bands feature lyrical themes such as extreme violence, historical atrocities, sociopathy, Satanism, Religion Rant Songs and extreme misanthropy that might leave one wondering how anyone could be a fan of it. However, it’s generally understood that most Death Metal musicians don’t take this lyrical content entirely seriously, and simply use it for shock and/or escapist value, which allows many fans to be more comfortable with it.
- In contrast, this trope doesn’t apply nearly as much to Black Metal, which employs similar lyrical themes (though the focus tends to be more on Satanism and anti-Christianity). While they’re still a great number of Black Metallers who are well-balanced people who don’t wholeheartedly endorse the extreme messages in their music, a series of notorious incidents in which Black Metal musicians have actually committed crimes such burning down churches and murder, or admitted to actually believing in the radical ideologies espoused in their music (which can include Nazism) has resulted in many people (including fans of other forms of extreme metal) not giving black metal this same benefit of the doubt and writing off the genre as the domain of serious crazies who should Stop Being Stereotypical.
- One of Eminem's catchphrases is "ha ha!... I'm just playin', [x], you know I love you", as a spoken adlib after a song usually insulting, slandering or threatening to kill the target. This originated in "Kill You", about which he wrote:
The whole hook is basically bashing women. Like, “I’ll kill you ever if you’re a fuckin’ girl.” I kill bitches, I kill anybody, then at the end of the song I say, “I’m just kidding, ladies. You know I love you.” It’s kind of like you could say whatever you want as long as you say you’re joking at the end. Which is cool ‘cause that’s what I do.
- Kanye West feat. The Game (Rapper)'s "Eazy" - a song in which Ye threatens to beat up Pete Davidson, Kim Kardashian's new boyfriend after divorcing him - was given a claymation video in which Ye kidnaps Pete, buries him up to his neck, grows roses out of his head, then harvests the roses (and his head) to deliver to Kim and win her back. At the end of the video, text is shown saying everyone lived happily ever after except 'YOU KNOW WHO', followed by another frame reading 'JK[.] HE FINE'. While the video itself only shows cartoon violence, in the context of Ye's increasingly disturbing social media behaviour towards Pete, many interpreted the video as a genuine assault threat barely veiled as an artwork, despite the 'jk'. The similarity to Eminem's "I'm just playin'..." catchphrase was also observed, leading to some commentators to describe the video as Ye's "Slim Shady" phase. Since Eminem's own Slim Shady phase took place when he was in his mid-20s, with him growing out of the worst of it by 28 and spending his 30s and beyond apologising for it, this was not meant as a compliment about Ye's personal maturity.
- This is actually a classic troll tactic.
- The users at the Snopes message board have agreed on a rule of thumb: any joke that requires you to use this phrase isn't funny.
- The Onion: Come On, Lighten Up, I'm Just Being A Total Asshole.
- Get Fuzzy: Bucky occasionally says "I'm just sayin'..." after insulting humans and dogs, eventually prompting this exchange:
Satchel: "Bucky, you're a jerk!"
Bucky: [Stunned Silence]
Satchel: "Hey, I'm just sayin'!"
- In This Modern World, Donald Trump tries this several times in one strip about the "Donald Trump Comedy Hour."
- During one episode of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas, Peri and Erimem are currently posing as two princes who are supposed to be dead, and are as far as they know, stranded due to a temporal mishap. Erimem suggests suicide (to save the timeline) is the only answer, but then pretends she was just joking when hearing Peri's shocked response.
- Even The Bible addresses this subject in Proverbs 26:18-19:
- New Revised Standard Version:
Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows,
so is one who deceives a neighbor and says, “I am only joking!"
- Or, in the KJV:
As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death,
So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport?
- New Revised Standard Version:
- Some comedians, such as Russell Peters, have received criticism for this.
- The author of the Stuff White People Like blog speaks on Sarah Silverman thusly: Get it? It's not offensive, because when she says racist or sexist things she knows they are offensive. So it's okay.
- Michael Richards stepped far afoul of this one when a heckler got him so flustered he went on a racist tirade that was so Dude, Not Funny! people started walking out. He later said he was trying to shock the hecklers into silence by Crossing The Line Twice, but most people think he forgot to cross it back.
- Subverted by Jeff Foxworthy in one of his stand up acts. After making a joke about having cats stuffed by a taxidermist...
Jeff: Did I offend someone in the audience? It's a joke. I have two cats. (Beat) One on either side of the fireplace.
- However, he played it straight on a later album. After making a joke that he feared could be misconstrued as homophobic, he launched into a series of jokes on how gay people and married people aren't so different.
- Mike Birbiglia had a heartbreaking stand-up in which he talked about a girl he dated in high school. She constantly would say belittling things to him and then add "only kidding!" at the end. After he realized that she had been cheating on him with several other guys, he tells how he just wished she'd have been there to say "only kidding!" to that.
- Larry the Cable Guy does this a lot, in and out of character. Most of the time, it's in the form of "Lord, I apologize" or "...and be with the starving Pygmies in New Guinea."
- Ricky Gervais has been accused of this, such as here.
- Andrew "Dice" Clay has been known to trot out this defense, claiming his on-stage act is "satire." Granted, his character of "The Diceman" is a Deconstructive Parody of the 1950s greaser character type (think The Fonz from Happy Days), but Clay would refuse to break character even during interviews on talk shows, so it's hard to tell how much of this justification is warranted.
- This defence was mercilessly parodied by Stewart Lee, who performed a nearly fifteen minute-long routine in which he mocked Richard Hammond and the other Top Gear (UK) presenters to the point that he states he wishes Richard Hammond had been decapitated and killed in his famous dragster crash in 2006. Lee then clumsily follows up the increasingly violent outbursts several times with "it's just a joke, like on Top Gear", demonstrating how lame an excuse this actually is.
- Ellen DeGeneres references this in her 2003 Here and Now stand-up routine:
Ellen: "I'm just kiddin'." Well, evidently, you don't know how to kid properly. 'Cause we should both be laughing.
- In Ragtime, fireman Willie Conklin attempts to use this as an excuse for destroying Coalhouse's car, accusing Coalhouse of not being able to take a joke. The framing of it, which involves Conklin basically throwing every possible excuse and diversion out in quick succession to see what sticks (he goes from making fun of Coalhouse's misspelling his name, to this, to yelling about how the Irish don't have it so great either, and later even tries to claim it's a conspiracy against white people), makes it even weaker than it already was, and no one in-universe is buying it.
- In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, during Case 2, if Apollo refuses to present evidence, Klavier slams the wall to give him a glare, after which Apollo admits that he was just kidding.
- In Batman: Arkham Asylum Joker pulls one as one of his looping taunts after beating challenge mode.
The Joker: While you were fighting I've had everyone you love BRUTALLY MURDERED! hehehe... Only joking.
- With the Joker, you never can tell....
- Caesar in Fallout: New Vegas gives this gem after he asks why you came to The Fort after being vilified by the Legion:
- Fate/Grand Order: When Scáthatch starts interrogating Cú Chullain Caster on how he's using rune techniques she never taught him, in order to keep his cover, he tries to deflect her questions by asking her is she's gone senile. Which quickly turns into an Oh, Crap! once he realizes he pushed her Berserk Button.
Cú: It was a JOKE. I was JOKING. Don't go kicking that spear!
- In Growing Up, if the protagonist confronts Sam for his bullying, he'll say that his victims can't take a joke, but they'll still call him out for it because according to them, it's just what bullies say when they mean to bully others.
- In Mass Effect 2, your shipboard AI, EDI, will attempt to crack a few jokes, but ends up appending these comments with the phrase "That was a joke" when the people listening don't find it funny, or are afraid she's gone rogue.
EDI: I enjoy the sight of humans on their knees.Joker: *beat*EDI: That was a joke.
- Portal, as GLaDOS puts it: "Remember when the platform was sliding into the fire pit and I said 'Goodbye' and you were like [no way] and then I was all 'we pretended we were going to murder you'? That was great!"
- One of the lines in Postal 2 is The Postal Dude saying "Just kidding", right after smashing some asshole's head in with a sledgehammer. The amount of sarcasm present in his deadpan delivery is palpable.
- In Silent Hill 3, Vincent asks Heather, with surprise, if the things she's been killing throughout her ordeal look like monsters to her. When she reacts with horror, he claims he was only joking, though as is par for the course for the series, the entire situation is left ambiguous.
- During a Neutral/Pacifist run, Sans will reveal to the player that he would have killed them the moment they arrived in Snowdin had he not made a promise to Toriel. After an ominous pause, he breaks the tension by claiming he was just joking. It's not convincing. And, as the Genocide route reveals, he really wasn't joking.
- During the fight with Royal Guards 01 and 02, you can spare them by convincing 01 to confess his love to 02. When it briefly looks like 02 doesn't reciprocate his feelings, 01 awkwardly tries to brush it off as a joke.
- In the prologue of Until Dawn, Emily sets up a trap for Hannah that would have her caught on film in a very embarrassing situation, which she would use to slut shame Hannah in front of her entire school for having a crush on Mike (at the time, Emily's boyfriend). When Hannah runs out of the cabin in tears, Emily claims that she was just joking and Hannah shouldn't have taken her so seriously.
- This is invoked with The Reveal that Josh was the masked psychopath - he'd done it all as "a joke" to get his vengeance in an ultimately-harmless way.
- JP: What? I just called you stupid and a moron to your face. Why aren’t you laughing?
- Zero Percent Discount sees an up and coming prankster pepper-spray someone. His justification? "It was a joke, dude."
- Dark Skye in Magick Chicks said "I was only playing"... after sending a pack of wolves to attack her schoolmate with the words "dinner time!". She was so erratic at this point that whether she meant it the first, second or both times is about equally likely.
- A Running Gag in El Goonish Shive during the uniforms arc, was Tedd attempting to lighten the mood by saying something totally outrageous, and being genuinely confused that his friends weren't taking it in that spirit. Here, also with Defensive "What?":
Tedd: What? I'm joking. That was a joke. I'm not allowed to joke?!
- Rain: At first, Rob's "just a joke" justification for his bigoted remarks seems to be nothing more than a made-up, thinly-veiled excuse. Until he clarifies that he legitimately didn't know he was offending anyone.
- One variant on social media is to discuss (seriously or not) committing some crime, then follow it up with "in Minecraft" to evade censorship.
- Online, people who do this are memetically referred to as a Schrodinger's Douchebag:
Schrodinger's Douchebag: (noun) Someone who says offensive things and decides whether they are kidding or serious based on people's reactions
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Krillin tries to use this to explain cutting off Freeza's tail, after Freeza undergoes the final stages of his Villainous Breakdown.
Krillin: What did I do?
Freeza: Remember my tail!?
Krillin: Can't you take a joke?
(Screaming, and an explosion)
- Played seriously in the Dream SMP roleplay; Schlatt has a tendency to brush off any and all cruel and hurtful comments he makes as jokes, and tells the people he upset that they're taking it too seriously. It only underscores his status as a Hate Sink, and by the time Quackity, his ex and former VP, meets him again as a ghost in the first episode of the Las Nevadas series, he's explicitly fed up with Schlatt treating him like this, both in life and in death.
- The yandere family to Donnie in Demo Reel. They held him captive, planned to keep him through feeding him muscle relaxants, think he's kidding around about his mother dying, and keep on gleefully reminding him about his tragic past. When he's free and pissed, they try to get out of it by mewling, "We were just having a little fun!" As one might expect, he doesn't let them off the hook.
- In his YouTube video "IT'S JUST A PRANK BRO", Filthy Frank wonders how pranksters can do "these terrible things" and get away with it. After thinking it over he arrives at the simple conclusion that the video is named for, and goes out into the city with varying levels of offensive "pranks". His comments about art school to a random student exaggerate this trope.
- French Baguette Intelligence: Discussed in Dark Humor vs "Dark Humor." Fuck Cares argues that people hide behind the defence of 'it's only a joke' to deflect accusations of bigotry.
- In Heavy is Dead (a Team Fortress 2 machinima), Demoman invokes this twice. First, he claims to have been the one to kill the Heavy, demonstrating how he did it by shooting and killing the Sniper. Upon explaining that this was a joke, everyone else present just laughed it off. Following this, he casts blame on the Engineer, who was in fact the real killer. When asked how he knew, the Demoman reveals this accusation to have been another joke.
- A video called "Jacob, Get Off The Xbox 360" shows a boy's older brother rudely forcing his little brother to shut off his game. Jacob breaks down. The older brother claims it was a joke but this only makes matters worse. You can find it here.
- Noob has the following situation. Sparadrap is a complete idiot, but has a brother among the elite players who sometimes "borrows" his avatar to have an impromptu chat with his guildmates. Sparadrap's guildmate Omega Zell frequently insults his intelligence out loud, but is also trying to get on the good side of the game's elite. And one day, the insulting and the surprise avatar "borrowing" happened at the same time...
- This story from Not Always Right skewers the trope via Ironic Echo. Sadly, the original offenders don't seem to get the hint.
- Revenge Films: When Karin whipped out divorce papers after being picked on by her in-laws and husband for her unattractive appearance for so long, they all tried to dissuade her by saying it was just a joke, but she doesn't fall for it.
- Controversial YouTuber Carl Benjamin aka "Sargon of Akkad" managed to combine this trope with No Such Thing as Bad Publicity and Quality by Popular Vote. He was a candidate for the UK Independence Party in the 2019 European Parliament elections, and said on Twitter that he "wouldn't even rape" a woman representing a rival party. After saying that it was only a joke, he told a crowd of journalists "I'm not going to tell you what I believe, if you want to know what I believe check my YouTube channel, it has over a million subscribers."
- In the Code Lyoko episode "Ghost Channel", Odd's boneheaded antics du jour had nearly gotten him devirtualized but he pulls off a spectacular return, earning him praise from his teammates. He then proceeds to tell Jeremie to sit back and let the real heroes take care of things. He starts laughing but then realizes that not only is no one else laughing but the other three people on Lyoko are glaring at him. He protests that he was just joking but it quickly becomes apparent the claim is falling flat.
- The Flintstone Kids: When a bus accident leaves Freddy and his friends with no choice but to either watch that day's Captain Caveman episode at Rocky's or not watch it at all, Rocky won't let any of them (other than Wilma) to watch it until Captain Caveman says he won't show the episode unless Rocky lets all of them watch it, prompting Rocky to say he's only kidding.
- The 1940 Looney Tunes cartoon "You Ought to Be in Pictures" has Daffy cajoling Porky into quitting the cartoon business to be a legitimate actor in live films. When that proves disastrous, Porky returns, fishes his torn-up contract out of the trash and tells producer Leon Schlesinger he was only kidding. "April fool!"
- Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures: In "Mighty's Wedlock Whimsy", when Deputy Dawg starts the wedding of Mighty Mouse and Pearl Pureheart with "You have the right to remain silent," Sourpuss calls him on it:
Sourpuss: No, dog! That's da wrong speech! Dis is supposed ta be a weddin'!
Deputy Dawg: (laughs goofily) Just checkin'!
- The Owl House: In "Labyrinth Runners", after Gus overheard his classmate admitting he was only pretending to be his friend so Gus would do his homework, the classmate pretended like he was making a joke.
- In the PAW Patrol episode "Mission PAW: Royally Spooked", Sweetie claims it was all in good fun when she gets caught using a remote control to create the illusion that the castle was haunted.
- The trope is viciously deconstructed in the Pepper Ann episode "Impractical Jokes", where a harmless prank war between P.A. and her friends escalates to the point where Pepper Ann's pranks end up leaving her peers not only no longer finding them funny, but being genuinely humiliated and upset by them, but Pepper Ann continuously defends herself by telling her victim(s) to "lighten up, it's just a joke!". It takes Milo, Nicky, and the rest of P.A.'s friends and family arranging a cruel prank themselves at her expense, in order to get her to see how much she was hurting her friends' feelings instead of amusing them, that Pepper Ann finally gets the point and apologizes to everyone.
- Sealab 2021: "Casinko" contains a heavily referenced song entitled "We're Only Joking."
- The Simpsons:
- Krusty the Clown in the episode "Mr Spritz Goes to Washington" deconstructs this after an offensive bit by outright saying, "When you give me that look, it's a joke."
- Following Sideshow Bob's Heel–Face Turn in "Brother From Another Series", he remarks that he still just might have the urge to kill Bart Simpson, only to quickly add "Joking, joking!" when Bart gets frightened.
- Bart's chalkboard punishment for the episode "Homer the Great" reads "Adding 'just kidding' doesn't make it okay to insult the principal".
- SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Fools in April," Squidward gets annoyed with SpongeBob pulling harmless April Fool's pranks on people, and decides to show him what a "real prank" is all about by setting up a Rube Goldberg Device that injures him in sadistic and creative ways. Squidward is in stitches... until the results drive SpongeBob out of the Krusty Krab in tears, leading to the on-lookers storming out of the restaurant in disgust at Squidward's cruelty. Squidward insists he was just kidding and it was just a joke, but no one is convinced, and Squidward himself soon realizes the difference between his pranks and SpongeBob's: SpongeBob's pranks were harmless, funny, and meant to make other people laugh, while Squidward's was cruel and meant to hurt and humiliate SpongeBob so that he could laugh at him.
- In "Dying For Pie", the pirate captain pulls this on Squidward about his pies actually being bombs the moment he hears Squidward say he wanted to buy one of them.
- Star Trek: Lower Decks: "Crisis Point" looks at how much the holodeck can be a harmless fantasy with no lasting consequences when the fantasy is based on people that you know. Mariner justifies it as just being fake; she and Boimler consistently treat it as a fiction with no concern for the holo-carnage that they are inflicting or witnessing. However, Tendi is clearly distressed by inflicting violence on simulations of her shipmates and especially by how much enjoyment Mariner is getting out of it.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil: In "Party With a Pony", Flying Princess Pony Head brushes off her mockery of Marco with this.
Pony Head: I hate your face, plus you're ugly! (chuckles) Just kidding, that's a joke.
- Steven Universe: Peridot, in an attempt to befriend Amethyst after the latter gets entertained with her Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, ends up pushing her Berserk Button when she tries to explain Amethyst's defects in a joking manner. Unlike most examples of this trope, Peridot really did think she was being funny due to having No Social Skills-once Steven explains what actually went wrong, she apologizes (through a tape recorder).
- Total Drama:
- Trent instructs the guys to force-feed him disgusting pizza in "Brunch of Disgustingness" so they can win the round. Part of his instruction is to ignore whatever he says to go back on it. And so the guys ignore it when Trent tries to convince them he was just joking.
- When Gwen is voted off in "The Chefshank Redemption", Duncan offers himself as an elimination instead. Chef is fine taking him up on that, which makes Duncan back out because he didn't think the exchange would be accepted. He tries saying he was joking, but Gwen spares him from further humiliation by telling him she's the lucky one for leaving the show.
- After her cruel rant about her fellow contestants is played in full in "Million Dollar Babies", Leshawna argues that everything she said happened outside of the game and that she didn't know anyone would see it. Lindsay is surprised, because she thought Leshawna was just joking. Leshawna immediately changes her story to go along with Lindsay's, but it's too late for anyone to believe her.
- Tuca & Bertie: In "Sleepovers", Kara unintentionally insults Tuca when making fun of her table manners, and explains that she was only joking. Her conscience doubles down that she has no need to apologize when it was an "obvious" joke, but her lack of an apology only makes Tuca feel worse.