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Not Actually the Ultimate Question

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Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are out camping. Suddenly, Holmes wakes up Watson in the middle of the night.
Holmes: Look up, Watson, and tell me what you see.
Watson: I see billions of stars.
Holmes: And what do you deduce from that?
Watson: Well, Astrologically, I deduce that Saturn is in Capricorn. Astronomically, that it is 3:00 am. Meteorologically, that tomorrow will be a beautiful day. Theologically, that God is all-powerful, and we are small and insignificant. What do you deduce?
Holmes: Watson, you idiot. I deduce that someone has stolen our tent.

Where the Ultimate Answer is not actually 42.

A scene opens. Two characters stand by each other in silence. Then, one character breaks the silence by asking a vague, multi-meaning question such as "Why are we here?"

The other character then answers by going into a long monologue about the meaning of life, the existence of God, everyone's place in the world, how it is all one big mystery, and no one may ever know for sure.

Only that's not what the first character was asking. He meant something simpler, like "What did we come into this bookstore for?"

In a variation, it's obvious from the first that the question is about something specific, and the very act of treating it like a big question in the first place makes for a joke.

Mostly seen as the first lines of the first scene or a new scene. This can also be used as an exposition shortcut.

Compare, contrast What's a Henway? Frequently a form of Comically Missing the Point. A variation of Mathematician's Answer.


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  • Inverted in commercials for Tombstone brand frozen pizzas. A modern individual is about to be killed in any of a number of far-off settings. The executioner asks the modern individual "What do you want on your tombstone?", as in choosing their last words. The would-be victim responds by naming off pizza toppings.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Episode 5 of YuruYuri starts with Ayano being invited out in the middle of the night by Kyoko and dragged all over town by her, Yui and Chitose to line up in front of a huge building (each cut has her give a bemused "eh?" in hilarious contrast to the calm, collected others). She finally asks, "Just when are you going to explain this to me? What on Earth am I doing here?"
    Kyoko: You're here to find that out!
    Yui: I don't think she was hoping for a philosophical answer.

  • Mitch Benn begins his stand-up routine The Point (an Edinburgh Fringe show about whether there's a point to doing an Edinburgh Fringe show) with "Why are we here? I don't mean that in a philosophical way, I mean why are we all in this room, right now?"

    Comic Books 
  • Lampshaded in The DCU Elseworlds JLA - Secret Society of Super Heroes:
    Bruce Wayne: So, why am I here?
    The Riddler: You need to be more specific, Agent Wayne. By "here", do you mean in an existential to-be-or-not-to-be way, or "here" in an visiting-me way?''
    Bruce Wayne: In a visiting-you way.
  • Used in Green Lantern: Agent Orange. Hal Jordan has been stuck with a blue ring, which is messing with his green ring, and keeps asking, "What do you hope for?"
    Hal: World peace?
    Hal: A hamburger?
    Hal: Right now, I really hope you'll shut up!

    Comic Strips 
  • Inverted in a Calvin and Hobbes strip.
    Calvin: Why do you suppose we're here?
    Hobbes: Because we walked here.
    Calvin: No, I mean, here on Earth?
    Hobbes: Because Earth can support life.
    Calvin: No, I mean why are we anywhere? Why do we exist?
    Hobbes: Because we were born.
    Calvin: Forget it.
    Hobbes: I will, thank you.
  • Used in a FoxTrot strip, with Paige asking her father why they have fireworks for the Fourth of July. Roger muses on the celebratory symbolism behind the tradition before Paige corrects him; why do they have fireworks, as they duck an out-of-control rocket Jason had lit that zooms over their heads.
  • In Beetle Bailey when Zero asks Sarge why he is wearing a particular uniform, and Sarge goes off the scale in patriotic fervour. But Zero wondered why he was wearing a parade uniform on a regular day.
  • Played with in a Meehan Streak strip where Danny enters a pub and sits down next to a seemingly depressed Brad.
    Danny: Hey, what's up?
    Brad: The temperature's rising, the icecaps are melting, the oceans are rising.
    Danny: No, I mean, what's up with you?
    Brad: The temperature's rising, the icecaps are melting, the oceans are rising.

    Fan Works 
  • A variation in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World: The four have just been left alone in their VIP quarters in the Guardians' city, and the following exchange takes place:
    “Well, this isn't too bad, is it?” Paul said quietly. “I mean, besides the leather couch....”
    “... and the whole military-industrial complex air of the place,” muttered George. “And the armed guards. And the pleasant little notion that more people are fighting each other over us.”
    “I meant just the VIP quarters,” Paul clarified, “but yeah.”
  • Three Second Chances, a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic, has this at the end of the first chapter.
    Student (pointing to a statue of Tirek, Cozy Glow and Chrysalis): "Teacher, why's that statue here?"
    Teacher: "That's the statue of the Three Villains," (and explains each of them)
    Student: "No, I mean why is it here in the animal sanctuary?"
    Teacher: "Oh. That's because the Caretaker is very, very weird."
  • In Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail, Chloe asks her partners Atticus and Lexi why they are hereExplanation :
    Atticus: Oh, that is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Why are we here? Why were we created as we were, with our goal being to help passengers work through their emotional turmoils when each and every car is its own little world of its own? Does One-One have a plan for all of us? Creating us as we are on an perpetually moving train, infinitely creating more and more cars like they were nothing but dreams of a child who has slept for a hundred years? I don’t know, but sometimes I ponder that whenever I think of Tulip.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Field of Dreams: Ray Kinsella convinces Terrence Mann to go to a baseball game with him. As they walk into the stadium, they discuss Terrence's writing, his activism, and his current reclusiveness. Finally, Ray asks him:
    Ray: So what do you want?
    Terrence: I want people to stop looking to me for answers; begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want people to start thinking for themselves. And I want my privacy!
    Ray: No, I mean... (points at the concession stand) What do you want?
    Terrence: Oh... a dog and a beer.
  • In the film Dunston Checks In, an orangutan gets loose in the Majestic Hotel.
    Mrs. Dubrow (Hotel Owner): Where did he come from?!
    Animal Control Guy: Well, when two orangutans fall in love...
    Robert (Manager): I think she means, "How did it get into the hotel?"
  • In Airplane II: The Sequel:
    Steve McCroskey: Jacobs, I want to know absolutely everything that's happened up till now.
    Jacobs: Well, let's see. First the earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil. And then the Arabs came and they bought Mercedes Benzes. And Prince Charles started wearing all of Lady Di's clothes. I couldn't believe it.
  • From Mike Leigh's Naked (1993):
    Louise: How did you get here?
    Johnny: Well, basically, there was this little dot, right? And the dot went bang and the bang expanded. Energy formed into matter, matter cooled, matter lived, the amoeba to fish, to fish to fowl, to fowl to frog, to frog to mammal, the mammal to monkey, to monkey to man, amo amas amat, quid pro quo, memento mori, ad infinitum, sprinkle on a little bit of grated cheese and leave under the grill till Doomsday.
  • Chinatown. In this case Gittes understands perfectly well what Sessions means but is simply exasperated by his lot in life.
    Sessions: Are you alone?
    Gittes: Isn't everybody?
  • In the 1968 version of The Love Bug, when Jim and Carole find out that the VW Bug has a mind of its own, and it won't let either of them exit the car, Carole tries to call for help from some hippies in the van parked next to them:
    Carole: Help, I'm a prisoner! I can't get out!
    Hippy: We all prisoners, chickee-baby. We all locked in.
  • From A Hard Day's Night:
    Reporter: [to John] How did you find America?
    John: Turned left at Greenland.
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home:
    Happy: Your friends are in trouble. You’re all alone. The tech is missing. What are you going to do about it?
    Peter: I’m going to kick his ass.
    Happy: No, I mean, right now. Like, specifically, what are we going to do? Because we’ve been hovering over a tulip field for the last fifteen minutes.
  • Spies Like Us: Fitzhume uses this to deflect interrogation questions
    Russian: Why are you here?
    Fitzhume: Why am I here? Why are you here? Why is anybody here? You know, I think it was Jean-Paul Sartre who first said— How do you spell Sartre? (gets slapped)

  • This is very common in the Discworld books.
    • In The Light Fantastic, it's mentioned that the greatest philosopher of the Disc was asked at a party "Why are you here?" He needed three years for the answer.
    • In Equal Rites, when a young girl is asked (after arriving unexpectedly) where she came from, she answers that Granny won't tell her that yet.
    • In Eric, when at the end of time Astfgl the demon lord speaks with Death, resulting in the following exchange:
      Astfgl: Have you seen anybody?
      Death: Yes.
      Astfgl: Who?
      Death: Everyone.
      Astfgl: I mean anyone recently.
      Death: It's been very quiet.
    • In Reaper Man, when Death is asked: "Why are we here?", he says: "I do not speculate on cosmic matters."
    • In I Shall Wear Midnight, when Esk is asked "Do you know what the time is?" she replies "It is a way of describing one of the notional dimensions of four-dimensional space. But for your purposes, it's about ten forty-five."
    • In Going Postal, there's an inversion, as unlikely as that sounds. Vetinari asks a serious philosophical question and gets the answer, "Well, my lord, I've always thought that what the world really needs are filing boxes which are not so flimsy."
  • This happens in a serious and plot-relevant way in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series. The protagonist asks for "directions to the garden," which is misinterpreted as a request for ultimate enlightenment by an entity capable of obliging.
  • A short story in American Girls Magazine some years back had a woman come to a New Ager tween who people had been mistaking for a Kid Detective (It Makes Sense in Context) saying "I need help finding patience and harmony." The New Ager is delighted that someone actually wants her help in finding enlightenment... until she learns that Patience and Harmony are just the names of the woman's lost cats.
  • Near the end of Monster Hunter Legion, Owen receives an info dump from the ghost of a dead Hunter, telling him the nature of the monster that has attacked their hotel and exactly what the monster is up to now. The ghost says that Owen needs to defeat the monster, and when Owen asks how to do that, the ghost just points upwards. Owen asks if that means that God is going to smite the monster. The ghost says, no, it means that Owen needs to get to the roof.
  • In the third novel of The Dagger and the Coin series, Cithrin is sent to train with a banker and wants to make a good impression. Cithrin was raised by a shrewd banker who trained her to discern complex economic and political issues into seemingly simple and unrelated situations, but offered no love and left her emotionally stunted. So, when her new mentor asks Cithrin why she gave her a vase full of flowers, Cithrin gives a long and detailed answer about how gifts create a relationship of obligation in a different/superior way to money. At this point, the mentor sadly comments that she gave the gift so Cithrin would like her, and Cithrin is horrified at having revealed how bad she is at normal human interactions.
  • Early in American Gods, Shadow is released from prison and about to fly home, which makes him remember an anecdote his old cell-mate once told him. During a previous parole, the cellmate had planned to fly home to see his sister, but after losing his temper when being informed that his driver's license had expired, ended up going on a drunken bender, robbing a gas station to get booze money, being arrested for public urination, and ultimately winding up back in prison with extra time for armed robbery (in that order). Shadow, who is very intelligent despite pretending to be dumb muscle questioned whether the moral of the story was that "The kind of behavior that works in a specialized environment, such as prison, can fail to work and in fact become harmful when used outside such an environment", but his cellmate insisted the moral was to not piss off people who work in airports.
  • In Terra Ignota, when Martin Guildbreaker is interviewing Cato Weeksbooth, he asks why Cato has been volunteering at the science museum since he was fifteen. Cato goes on a long rant about how science is being taught wrong, and it's all geared towards end goals like "learn geometry so you can design a building." Martin politely explains that he just wanted to know why Cato started at that age specifically.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Goodness Gracious Me has two teenagers in a Hindu temple, one of whom asks the other "why are we here?" After the second gives a long philosophical speech, the first asks "No, why are we here? We're Sikhs."
  • In a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, Dennis Moore, who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, is asked by his latest victims "What do you want? Why are you here?" He takes this as a philosophical question despite the fact that he just swung into their window to steal their possessions for the third time.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Deconstructed in "Signs and Portents", in which the point is to ask these questions until the questionee starts revealing things that are actually relevant:
      Morden: What do you want?
      G'Kar: Well, what do you mean, what do I want?
      Morden: What do you want?
      G'Kar: What do I want for supper, what do I want to do this evening, what do I...
      Morden: What do you want?
      G'Kar: This is pointless. What I want is for you to go away and leave me in peace.
      Morden: As you say.
      G'Kar: Wait! What do I want? The Centauri stripped my world. I want justice.
    • And also inverted by the episode "Comes the Inquisitor", in which the titular inquisitor interrogates Delenn with questions of this type, responding to mundane answers with Electric Torture:
      Sebastian: Do you know why you're here?
      Delenn: Here?
      Sebastian: Here, now, yes!
      Delenn: I was sent.
      Sebastian: Here?
      Delenn: Yes, by Kosh.
      Sebastian: You've answered the wrong question! Why are you here now, in this place, in this life?
    • The above are 2 of 5 questions pivotal to the series which invert this trope, they are presented as the ultimate questions, each asked by a different race. Which one is answered and how it is answered is very important... and never ask the question from one race to another.
      Vorlon Question: Who are you?
      Shadow Question: What do you want?
      Techno Mage Question: Where are you going?
      Emperor Turhan's Question: Why are you here?
      Lorien's Question: [the most important, as it's asked by the 1st sentient being in the galaxy] Do you have anything worth living for?
    • The Vorlon in general like to play with this trope, by giving broad, and not immediately helpful, responses to simple questions.
      Sheridan: You know, I just had a thought. You've been back and forth to your homeworld so many times since you got here; how do I know you're the same Vorlon? Inside that encounter suit, you could be anyone.
      Kosh: I have always been here.
      Sheridan: Oh yeah? You said that about me, too.
      Kosh: Yes.
      Sheridan: I really hate it when you do that.
      Kosh: Good.
  • Shows up a few times in Angel:
    • In the episode "Sanctuary", Faith has agreed to stay with Angel and start atoning for her (many) sins:
      Faith: [in kitchen] So, how does this work?
      Angel: There's no real simple answer to that. I won't lie to you and tell you it'll be easy, because it won't be. Just because you've decided to change doesn't mean the world's ready for you to. The truth is... no matter how much you suffer, no matter how many good deeds you do to try to make up for the past, you may never balance out the cosmic scale. The only thing I can promise you is that you'll probably be haunted... and maybe for the rest of your life.
      Faith: [indicates the microwave] So how does this work?
      Angel: Uh... power level, time, start. Sure that popcorn is gonna be enough for you?
    • In "War Zone", Angel does this deliberately while Perp Sweating.
      Lenny: What do you want?
      Angel: Big question. What do I want? Love, family, a place on this planet I can call my own... but you know what?
      Lenny: What?
      Angel: I'm never going to have any of those things. And unless these next few minutes go exactly the way I want them to, neither are you.
  • The Friends episode "The One With The Two Parts":
    Rachel: So Pheebs, what do you want for your birthday?
    Phoebe: Well, what I really want is for my mom to be alive and enjoy it with me.
    Rachel: Okay. Let me put it this way. Anything from Crabtree & Evelyn?
    Phoebe: Ooh! Bath salts would be nice.
  • Leverage has a classic example:
    Nate: Soph. Where are we at?
    Sophie: Huh? I don't know, Nate. I think you need to ask yourself that question. You called me, remember? And now we're working together every day... I don't know what you want! And you ask me that, dressed as a vicar! You're a very strange man.
    Nate: No no no, I meant, where are we at, finding the money?
  • An interesting aversion/variation occurs in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy:
    George Smiley: Why did Lacon send you for me?
    Peter Guillam: Do you mean why did he send me for you? Or why did he send me for you?
    George Smiley: Quite right, Peter. I should have known better than to have asked.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The serial "City of Death" (written by Douglas Adams) features the following exchange:
      Romana: Where are we going?
      Doctor: Are you talking philosophically or geographically?
      Romana: Philosophically.
      Doctor: Then we're going to lunch.
    • Also, in the Seventh Doctor story "Dragonfire", the Doctor distracts a guard by engaging him in a philosophical discussion and then later bursts in on a hold up by Belazs, gun in hand:
      Belazs: Where did you come from?
      Doctor: Why is everyone so interested in philosophy here?
      Glitz: I think she means to do away with you!
      Doctor: Ah, an existentialist.
    • A variant in New Who when Donna tells Ten she has to leave and he launches into a heartwarming goodbye monologue...only to realize she meant she's going to visit her family for a bit and then come back. Donna doesn't let him off the hook easily, predictably.
  • Inverted in a comic scene from Xena: Warrior Princess, in which Plucky Comic Relief Joxer is helping the heroines and "king of thieves" Autolycus track down Joxer's long-lost brother Jett.
    Autolycus: [watching Joxer's antics from a distance] Why is he here?
    Gabrielle: Because he knows how to find Jett.
    Autolycus: No, in a larger sense... why is he here?
  • In the Firefly episode "Out of Gas", Mal tries to convince Zoe that Serenity is a decent ship:
    Mal: Try to look beyond what she is now, and see what she could be.
    Zoe: What's that, sir?
    Mal: Freedom is what.
    Zoe: [points to something on the floor] No, what's that, sir?
    Mal: Oh, yeah, I guess something must've been living in here, just step around that.
  • In the Mad Men episode "The Gypsy and the Hobo", Don and Betty take the kids trick-or-treating following Don's confession of his past identity.
    Neighbor: Let's see what we've got here; a hobo and gypsy (looks up at Don) and who're you supposed to be?
  • Inverted in Everybody Loves Raymond. Ray's daughter Ally asks 'Where do babies come from?'. He responds with a typical, awkward birds and the bees talk, but it turns out she was wondering about the meaning of human existence.
  • In Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: Trance has just inexplicably broken into Dylan's prison cell and offers him water. Dylan asks, "How?" Trance replies: "Well, when two hydrogen atoms love each other very much, they find an oxygen atom and..."
  • Pops up in Mystery Science Theater 3000 in "The Incredible Melting Man".
    Actor: What did go on here, Doc?
    Mike: During the Ice Age, glaciers moved through... oh, you mean recently.
  • Space Cases has an example where Thelma gets asked the wrong question, and sure enough, ends up starting with the Big Bang... surprisingly enough, she gets to the end after a scene switch!
  • In an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, Jennifer reluctantly became the host of a radio advice show. One exchange from her show:
    Caller: What is the meaning of life?
    Jennifer: The cereal or the magazine?
  • Lost:
    Charlie: [giving Locke the drugs] You really think you can find my guitar?
    Locke: Look up, Charlie.
    Charlie: You're not going to ask me to pray or something.
    Locke: I want you to look up.
    [Charlie looks up... and his guitar is wrapped in vines on a cliff]
  • Blake's 7:
    Tarrant: Where are we going, Avon?
    Avon: Profound philosophical questions never really interested me.
    Tarrant: Ooh, not up to your usual standard.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody:
    Zack: Arwin? Why are you here?
    Arwin: Well, there are two theories, one is evolution, and the other is—
    Zack: No, why are you here, in the basement?
  • Austin & Ally:
    Austin: What are we selling here?
    Ally: Love, hope, a triumph of the human spirit...
    Austin: No. [beat] We're selling soup.
  • Veronica Mars had this exchange:
    Logan: So, what do you think?
    Veronica: general, or is there a specific arena in which you'd like my opinion?
    Logan: Do you think Duncan, uh, is just cooling off or is he, like, holed up in some hotel room pouring peroxide on his hair and trying to file his fingerprints off?
  • In Blackadder II, when Blackadder is obviously drunk in front of his Puritan relatives:
    Lady Whiteadder: Explain yourself, Edmund!
    Blackadder: I can't. Not just like that. I'm a very complicated person.
  • In The IT Crowd, Jen tries to dodge an interview question about what IT stands for this way, since she doesn't actually know what the initials mean.
    Jen: What does it stand for? (Beat) What doesn't it stand for?
  • On Slings & Arrows, Kate has just found out that Oliver, who's about to direct a production of Hamlet, has died in an accident. She asks "What will happen to Hamlet?" (meaning, to the production).
    Nahum: Hamlet will be Hamlet: an ineffable tragedy of the human spirit that still resonates, even today.
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show: Richie asks "where did I come from?" Rob & Laura think that he means the act of procreation and try to give him The Talk, after which he clarifies: his friend says that he (the friend) comes from New York, so where does Richie come from? His parents tell him that he comes from New Rochelle.
  • Supernatural. Donatello is prone to this, as a spacey academic.
    Dean: Why are you here?
    Donatello: That's the question we must all ask ourselves.
    Dean: I mean why are you in Wyoming?
  • Good Omens (2019): When Anathema asks Aziraphale to explain everything, Aziraphale goes back a bit farther than necessary.
    Aziraphale: Uh okay, so, uh in the beginning, in the Garden, there was well, [glances at Crowley] he was a wily old serpent, and I was technically on apple tree duty—

  • An old musical joke:
    Question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
    Answer: Practice.
    • Alternately, if you live in NYC the answer is "Take the 'F' train to..."

    Puppet Shows 

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978):
    • A variant occurs when the ship has just landed in a weird, icy cave. Zaphod, waxing philosophical: "We could really... we could really be in this cave!" Arthur, unimpressed: "We are in this cave."
    • And a few minutes later...
      Arthur: Why are we here?
      Ford: Now don't you start.
      Arthur: I mean in this cave.
    • We already know that the Answer to the Ultimate Question is "42". So, in a more plot-relevant sense, "What do you get when you multiply six by nine?" is Not Actually the Ultimate Question. Especially since six times nine is 54. Except in base 13. Douglas Adams does not write jokes in base 13.
    • The joke was also used in this context; when Arthur learns that the mice have spent millions of years trying to find the Question, he immediately asks "Why?" They reply "No, we thought of that, but it doesn't fit the answer."
  • Hamish and Dougal subverted the page quote utterly.
    Dougal: Look up in the sky, Hamish...tell me what you see.
    Hamish: I see the full moon and a lot of stars, each one in its proper place...which tells me God is in his heaven, and all's right with the world.
    Dougal: ...Hamish, you're an idiot. We are in a tent. It is impossible to see the moon or any of the stars from here.
    Hamish: Well...not if somebody had stolen the tent.
    Dougal: (laughing) Stolen the tent! That would be the funniest joke in the world, wouldn't it!

    Video Games 
  • In Normality, when you are about to be captured later in the game, the Dialogue Tree allows you to respond to the question "Why are you here?" with "That is a question that has puzzled philosophers for thousands of years.".
  • Two of the White Ninjas in Destroy All Humans! 2 have a conversation that is a direct Shout-Out to the Red vs. Blue example.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: There's some party banter poking fun at one of the gripes with Dragon Age II:
    Bull: Hey Varric, I was reading your stuff. Where do your bad guys come from?
    Varric: Well, some of them come from Tevinter, and some are Ben-Hassrath spies, but I like the stories where the villain was the man beside you all the time. The best villains don't see themselves as evil — they're fighting for a good cause, willing to get their hands dirty.
    Bull: All right... that's really deep and all, but I meant "where do the bad guys come from, literally?" The way you write it, it's like they just fall from the sky and land on top of the hero.
    Varric: I like to leave some things to the reader's imagination.
    • It also doubles as Foreshadowing, as the secret villain of the game is one of your companions... whose perspective of himself and his motivations are exactly as Varric says.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • The first episode shows two characters on top of one of the Blood Gulch bases. One asks the other, "Do you ever wonder why we're here?". The other expectantly responds with a brief speech about whether or not we were created, or just popped into existence. What the asking character actually meant was "Why are we here in a box-canyon in the middle of nowhere?" It even gives a Shout-Out to Halo and how they'd be fighting aliens if Master Chief hadn't blown up the Covenant armada single-handed.
    • And then it's played with and returned to in a later episode.
      "Do you ever wonder why we're here?"
      "No. I never, ever wonder why we're here. Semper Fi, bitch."
    • Similarly, the Blood Gulch Chronicles series ends with Caboose asking the same question, and Church gives a rant about how hate should be a personal thing, not a product of prejudice. Caboose just wanted to know why they were standing in the open sun when they could stand in the shade.
    • And given a Double Subversion, combined with a Call-Back in Revelation, Chapter 18. Sarge asks each and every one of the remaining Reds and Blues why they are here. Grif begins reading his lines from Season One, when Sarge cuts him off and explains that he meant to ask an even more meaningful question - why are each of the Reds and Blues still in this group, when they could be off somewhere else? He then delivers a Rousing Speech that brings the both teams together and makes them ready to kick ass.
  • In Elements of Justice, episode 3 of the Bonds of Justice side stories is a conversation between Sterling Spade and Cinnamon Swirl that starts with this:
    Cinnamon Swirl: *clears throat* Hey.
    Sterling Spade: Yeah?
    Cinnamon Swirl: Any clue why we're here?
    Sterling Spade: Ah, one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. "Why ARE we here?"
    Cinnamon Swirl: Um, that's not-
    Sterling Spade: I mean, are we a product of some cosmic coincidence, or is there a being far greater than we could ever imagine? Or maybe we're puppets controlled by the universe to fulfill a purpose we never knew existed? A little show for a bored intergalactic being to entertain themselves and whoever is out there every single day. Cause, I don't know, Cinnamon. But that keeps me up at night.
    Cinnamon Swirl: What?! No! I mean why are we out HERE? Guarding the Everfree Forest?!

  • Adventurers!, after Khrima's rival Garshask captures his general Argent:
    Argent: What do you want!?
    Garshask: I dunno. Nice house, riches, power, the world crushed beneath my feet...same as everyone really. ...Oh, you meant with you?
  • Arthur, King of Time and Space, here.
  • Played with in Penny Arcade, when Gabe's password hint on a website is "what is delicious"
  • In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, most questions of this type are met with The Talk.
  • A couple times in A Girl and Her Fed:
  • Homestuck inverts this here:
    "It is important because it will help us begin to understand why we are all here."
    "What do you mean, why we are all here? You mean in the afterlife? That's easy. (...)"
    "No, no. Not why we are in this bubble now. But why we all exist in the first place and why we all went on this adventure together."
  • In Captain SNES: The Game Masta, The Eater of Dreams learns that "What are you doing here?" may not be the best question to ask an angel of resurrection.
  • In PHD, the nameless guy's roommate asks him 'Why are we doing this?' Nameless goes into an extended rant about how terrible grad school is and confesses he has no idea why he's there. The roommate says, 'No, I mean, why are we doing the problems from the wrong chapter?'
  • In The Order of the Stick, when Elan receives a flying carpet from General Tarquin:
    Tarquin: At any rate, I'm happy to put at your disposal any or all resources of this kingdom.
    Elan: How do you control it?
    Tarquin: Fear and intimidation, mostly, though a little torture here and there helps.
    Elan: ...
    Tarquin: Or did you mean the carpet? Just pull on one of the tassels.
  • In a Questionable Content, Marten knows why they're there. In the bar.
  • Girl Genius, when Gil confronts the abbot of the Corbetites about the Spark-related chaos in their rail network:
    Gil: And now that the pleasantries are out of the way, I would like you to please explain.
    Abbot: Explain —
    Gil: All this. Everything.
    Abbot: Oh, well, I'm more of an administrator ... You'll want a theologian...
  • Paranatural: The school bully has some questions about the events of the previous night, but unfortunately he asks the resident Cloud Cuckoolander.
    Ed: What do you want to know?
    Johnny: Everything.
    Ed: [dead serious] Omnipotence, then. You would surpass even the gods?
  • Gamecheetz gives us a rare inversion:
    Ganon: Hand, what is the meaning of life?
    Master Hand: A Monty Python movie.
  • In a 2021 Dork Tower strip, Ken asks Igor if he ever wonders why he's here. Igor replies that he tries to live in the moment, untroubled by existential questions. Ken clarifies that he was asking if Igor ever wonders why he's here, still living in the game room six months after lockdown ended.

    Web Original 
  • Played with in the Britanick sketch "Everything", in which Brian really does want to hear everything.
  • In But Really Really Fast's April Fools' Day 2022 special, "JoJo's Bizarre Adventure But Really Really REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY FAST", DIO confronts Jotaro and asks what the point of the super-fast recap is. Jotaro instead assumes that DIO asked about what the point of life is.
    Jotaro: Yeah yeah, alright, what do you want? You're supposed to be long dead.
    Jotaro: ...What, like, in general? You gone all nihilist while I wasn't looking?
  • On Not Always Related, this little girl asks her mother where she came from. She was expecting an answer like "St. Louis".
  • From the Scamalot episode "Toaster:"
    Kamanda Koroma: send me your phone number?
    James Veitch: +44 207 774 1000note 
    Kamanda Koroma: James Veitch, I am not sure you are real at all. You gave me phone numbers of a Bank which I called and they say that you are not real, that they don't know you. They even advised me to be very careful about you. WHO ARE YOU???????????????
    James Veitch: How can I prove to you that I am real? How can you prove that you are real? In truth, how can any of us prove that we are real?

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of The Tick, Tick is knocked into orbit by a rampaging Proto-Clown. When he asks "What am I doing here?", a manifestation of his subconscious thinks he means this in the existential sense and sends him to a Journey to the Center of the Mind. After much weirdness, Tick finally has the answer: "I'm here because... a big clown hit me!"
  • The Real Ghostbusters episode "Drool the Dog-Faced Goblin" has this conversation:
    Winston: Egon, why are we here?
    Peter: [groaning] That was a mistake!
    Egon: Well, we're here because billions of years ago there was a cataclysmic explosion which...
    Winston: [making the timeout sign with his hands] No, Egon! Time! I meant, why are we in the Poconos?
    Egon: Oh. We're here because of... [indicates "Drool, the Dog-faced Goblin" poster] ...that.
  • House of Mouse:
    • A minor running gag is that Horace Horsecollar would respond to any question in such a manner, at least the first time. (He'd always use three statements, too.)
    • The first episode had this:
      Mickey: What's wrong?
      Horace: All the rainforests are being chopped down, nobody votes anymore, and the Internet's too dang slow!
      Mickey: No, I mean what's wrong in here?
      Horace: Oh. Somebody tied me up and took all our cartoons.
  • On Arthur, Carl, who has Asperger's Syndrome, takes George literally when asked his opinion of George's drawing of a lion. Carl says that lions used to live all over the world, but now live only in Africa and Asia. George is interested, but he has to clarify that he was asking Carl what he thought of his drawing.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy:
    • In "Wish You Were Ed", after Ed somehow gets out of having his head stuck in a mailbox offscreen.
      Eddy: Where'd you come from?
      Ed: Blame my parents, Eddy.
    • Inverted in "One Plus One Equals Ed"
      Edd: We may be getting closer to answering that all-important question!
      Eddy: "Is Eddy rich yet?"
      Ed: "Can Ed go to the bathroom?"
  • One episode of The Penguins of Madagascar opens thusly.
    Skipper: So why are we here?
    Kowalski: Ah, the question that has vexed common man and philosopher alike!
    Skipper: ...
    Kowalski: That's not what you're going for, is it?
  • In the Bugs Bunny cartoon "This Is a Life?", host Elmer Fudd surprises Bugs to be the guest of honor on the show. He entreats Bugs to tell his life story, and says "Start from the beginning." Bugs goes back to the origins of life itself.
  • From the Animaniacs episode "Taming of the Screwy"
    Scratchanshiff: Do you know why you're here?
    Yakko: Nobody really knows why we're here, although Schopenhauer put forth an interesting theory.
    Scratchansniff: That's not what I meant!
    Dot: Then why'd you say it?
  • The Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Waterbending Scroll" has one such exchange between the antivillainous Prince Zuko, his wise uncle Iroh, and some hired pirates:
    Iroh: Are you so busy fighting, you cannot see your own ship has set sail?
    Zuko: We have no time for your proverbs, Uncle!
    Iroh: It's no proverb!
    • Iroh then points out that the kid heroes have hijacked the pirates' literal ship, and the pirates proceed to chase the heroes in Zuko's ship. Zuko runs after them, leaving Iroh to observe: "Maybe it should be a proverb."
  • On The Legend of Korra, the smooth-talking Varrick invokes this when Asami asks him why he's there. He starts to wax poetics about the nature of the universe, she wants to know why an escaped criminal is eating dinner with the ruler of Zaofu. (It's hard to tell if his tangent is sincere or not.)
    Asami: Varrick? What are you doing here?
    Varrick: Good question, Asami! I mean, What are we all doing here? Food for thought.
  • In an episode of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers where the team is in France, whenever a character asks a question about their specific circumstances, they're in the presence of a French existentialist philosopher mouse who takes the question and runs with it.
    Evil French Cat: [after Dale has sabotaged his scheme] WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!
    Philosopher Mouse: What has any of us done? To exist is to do. To do is to be done. [continues in this fashion until knocked into the sewer]
  • Subverted in The Fairly Oddparents. When Chester and AJ needed a story for the school newspaper. At one point they woke up their teacher to show them the news, he asked if they were aware of the time. Chester replied that journalism has no schedule, and he doesn't have a watch.
  • Ninjago: When Zane meets P.I.X.A.L., another nindroid without his emotional capacity, she introduces herself as "Primary Interactive X-ternal Assistant Life-form" and asks what Zane stands for. Zane starts giving a speech about standing for honor and justice, before Jay points out that P.I.X.A.L. just assumed his name is also an acronym.

    Real Life 
  • The story about how Che Guevara became Fidel Castro's right hand man goes like this: Che, Castro and a bunch of other people are having a dinner party, and one of them innocently asks Castro what he was doing in Argentina. Cut to five hours later where everybody but Che has left the table and Castro is still talking.
  • Nardwuar the Human Serviette once interviewed Jay-Z, starting things off with a usual "Who are you?" to allow his subject to introduce themselves. Jay's response... went a bit past just saying his own name.
    Nardwuar: Who are you?
    Jay-Z: Who am I? I'm a young man from the Marcy Projects who really made that thing that they say — the American Dream — come true, because I'm not supposed to be here speaking to you. There's a lot of people who come from where I come from — there's a lot of skilled people from where I come who are not here right now...
    Nardwuar:'re Jay-Z!
    Jay-Z: Oh! I thought you meant "Who am I?", I thought it was a deeper question...
  • There's a story told about a German philosopher (which one varies). He was wandering round a park, deep in thought, and he walked right into a flowerbed without noticing. The park-keeper shouted "What are you doing there?" and he replied "What are any of us doing here?"
  • Robber Willie Sutton, when asked why he robs banks, answers "because that's where the money is".
  • There is a joke about a depressed young man sitting on a park bench in the middle of the night, asking himself "Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going?" His reverie is interrupted by a cop, who says to him "All right, kid, who are you, what are you doing and where are you going?"


Video Example(s):


Keeping Up With the Van Burens

Cameron misinterprets the Doctor's words.

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