Follow TV Tropes


"Just Joking" Justification

Go To

"He let the contents of the bottle do the thinking
Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding"
They Might Be Giants, "Your Racist Friend"

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.

Compare Just Testing You. See also Humor Mode, which is doing this preemptively for a statement that really never was meant to be taken seriously.


    open/close all folders 

  • 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.

    Anime & Manga 
  • 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: Monster of the Week Rubber Soul tries 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.
  • 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."

    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Fairy Tales 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfic Gankona, Unnachgiebig, Unità: The bully tried to use this justification after declaring he was ashamed of Italy, desperately trying to avoid Germany's and Japan's wrath. 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 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: When Lila's caught in a lie, Adrien tries to defend her from his angry friends by claiming on her behalf that it was 'just a joke', and that she didn't really mean to hurt anyone by stealing his phone and sending Kagami a nasty message while pretending to be him. Suffice to say, this claim goes over like a lead balloon.
    • This situation is also used to pick apart Adrien's insistence on sticking to 'the high road' by highlighting how he's the only one who sees that decision as neutral. Everyone else involved interprets it as him choosing Lila's side over Kagami. Including Lila herself, who is just as shocked as the rest.
  • 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.

    Films — Animated 
  • 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.
  • 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 Sponge Bob Square Pants 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.
    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!
    • Unlike most samples, it's not really done as a joke, but 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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. 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. 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
    Zane: Yeah!
    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.
  • 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!)
  • In Bare Naked Ladies song "The Flag" it's used with pretty dark overtones.
    The phone rings, it's early, it's seven o'clock.
    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.
  • Nelly's "Hot in Here" 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
  • 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 (see above) 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.

    New Media 

    Newspaper Comics 
  • 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."
    Trump Hey, how about those Second Amendment people? Gotta love 'em! One of them oughta take care of my opponent, amirite? Ha ha ha! Kidding! I'm just kidding!


  • 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?

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Theme Parks 
  • At the finale of Shrek 4D at Universal Studios, Lord Farquaad makes this justification in regards to his attempt to kill the main characters when faced with Dragon.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Caesar in Fallout: New Vegas gives this gem after he asks why you came to The Fort after being vilified by the Legion:
    Courier: You guaranteed my safety.
    Caesar: And you fell for that? Really? Because I'm going to have you killed now.
    Caesar ...relax, I'm fucking with you.
  • 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.
  • Undertale:
    • 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 Kill 'Em All 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.

  • 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?!

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • One variant on social media is to discuss (seriously or not) committing some crime, then follow it up with "in Minecraft" to evade censorship.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 3 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'!
  • 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 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.

Alternative Title: Schrodinger's Douchebag

Video Example(s):


Tuca and Bertie

Kara looks towards her wrong shoulder for advice after inadvertently hurting Tuca's feelings.

How well does it match the trope?

4.4 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / JustJokingJustification

Media sources: