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Tough Room

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"Wow, what a terrific audience."
Jimmy, South Park

Characters who are constantly making witty jokes and wry observations, no matter how clever and funny they are, will not elicit more than a smile from the rest of the cast (except for maybe one person, who's often easily amused). Real people might consider them charmers, but in-universe they are seen as annoying losers.

There is good reason for this. Constantly chuckling characters would drive viewers insane (oddly, having a constantly chuckling audience has a similar effect but is far more common), especially if they're laughing at a joke the viewer doesn't find funny. Even if the joke is funny, a good way to remove the humor from the situation is to script in a scene where everyone laughs at it.

Another reason this happens is that a lot of humor comes from it being unexpected. If you've read the script and rehearsed the scene a dozen times... it's jut not going to be funny any more. Rather than force an unnatural laugh, it's better to give a wry smile and let the scene continue. Writers and directors have found a way to avoid this, though it makes things more difficult; don't give anyone the full script, so they'll end up reacting naturally.

Contrast Corpsing, especially if it's left in the final cut, and Actually Pretty Funny.

Not to be interpreted as an actual tough room. note 


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  • In an American Express commercial, Jerry Seinfeld performs in Britain and his stand up with American cultural idioms is met with stony silence. Fortunately, with his Amex card, he goes on a whirlwind cultural immersion and he creates a British savvy act that brings the house down.

    Comic Books 
  • Yorick from Y: The Last Man peppers his speech with pop culture references, to which 355 reacts with indifference and Dr. Mann with snarkiness. This can be read as either an example or a subversion of the trope, depending on how funny you think he is.
  • Depending on the Writer, the dialogue of Deadpool and Spider-Man can range from mildly amusing to absolutely hilarious, yet their peers tend to consider them The Friend Nobody Likes.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Hercules: In his Establishing Character Moment, Hades's sarcastic "hunk of moussaka stuck in [his] throat" joke isn't appreciated by his fellow gods, who are not very happy to see him, causing him to wonder if it's an "audience or a mosaic." On the flip side, the entire pantheon bursts in laughter when Zeus made a similar pun about his workaholism, causing Hades to storm out in anger.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the classic film, A Night at the Opera, Groucho Marx's character improvises an opening speech at an opera theatre that in real life would have brought the house down with laughter and inspire thunderous applause for making a normally boring formality so entertaining, but in the film, evoked only stony silence.
  • In the Marx's earlier film Monkey Business the director told the extras in the party scene to laugh when Harpo did something funny because he was afraid the movie's audience wouldn't laugh otherwise, thinking that there was something wrong with him.
  • Austin Powers in Goldmember: In response to the silence when Dr. Evil makes a surprisingly good joke;
    Dr. Evil: "Gentlemen, welcome to my Submarine Lair. *beat* It's long, hard and full of seamen!"
    *Stony silence*
    Dr. Evil: No? No? Not even a titter? Huh. Tough sub.
  • Arthur Bach, a Fun Personified millionaire playboy, deals with this constantly and often finds himself the only one laughing — and comments upon that. ("Tell me, has there been a death in your family? This is funny stuff here.") He drops the trope name when he visits his fiance's humorless father and can't make the butler or him crack a smile with his quips about such things as the stuffed-and-mounted moose head on the wall. "This is a tough room — I don't need to tell you [the moose] that." One reason he and working-class Linda fall in love is because she does appreciate his sense of humor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode "Tale of the Dead Man's Float", Tucker's friend Stig tries to join the Midnight Society and tells the story of a sinister, pool-haunting Corpse, which ends up being the scariest story in the entire series. Unfortunately, despite the story being good, the Society vote has to be unanimous, and Stig didn't get it.
  • Exception: Supporting characters on Raines frequently smile or chuckle at the title character's one-liners.
  • Sports Night subverts this quite nicely with most characters, especially Danny. Whenever anyone makes a joke or just an amusing comment, the other characters actually laugh!
    • This was actually first introduced as a way to hide the canned laughter showrunner Aaron Sorkin had been stuck within the early days of the series. He hated it, so for most of his funny lines, he tried to have a couple of characters just off camera so viewers could at least pretend that the canned laughter came from somewhere. Later, when they were able to get rid of it, they kept the characters laughing at each others' jokes.
  • Justified with John Crichton from Farscape. He makes a lot of references to American pop culture... to aliens. And they definitely don't steal cable; none of them have any idea where Earth is. Even with Translator Microbes Crichton comes across as a lunatic constantly spouting nonsense.
    D'argo: Are you mocking me?
    John: D'argo, I mock all of us.
  • Like Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic, this is more likely to be averted in Mockumentary/Faux Documentary shows. Ricky Gervais interviewed Larry David, and this trope was one of the things they talked about.
    • And as you might expect, the trope is generally avoided in Curb Your Enthusiasm, and often in Seinfeld.
  • An example with something other than humour: in Criminal Minds, Reid is a walking encyclopedia who is always willing to share some kind of interesting fact with his teammates, but they never seem to want to hear it.
  • In Friends, Chandler is sometimes acknowledged as funny by the others in early episodes, but they laugh less and less as the series goes on, suggesting they are getting tired of him. It doesn't help that most of his jokes are about them and their crises.
    • His toast at Ross and Emily's wedding rehearsal dinner completely bombs, with the audience either not getting his jokes or just thinking they're too inappropriate to laugh at. Afterwards Monica claims she though it was funny, but didn't want to laugh out loud because then she'd look stupid.
  • Although House is almost always making sarcastic quips, none of the characters in-universe find them funny. Justified in that he's either mocking them or Crossing the Line Twice at a patient's expense.
    • They do occasionally avert this trope, but only when it's a plot point (as in the episode where Foreman contracted an infection which made him giddy).
  • M*A*S*H has a lot of witty one-liners, mostly done by Hawkeye, but there weren't many times when people were laughing. Most probably because the situation they were in and Hawkeye was like an early Chandler.
  • This is noticeably averted in How I Met Your Mother, where this trope is a pet peeve of the writers. Anytime a character on the show is intentionally telling a joke, only the actor playing the character telling the joke is told the joke beforehand. Thus, the other characters listening to the joke will laugh, or at least smirk, at the joke since this is the first time the other actors have heard it.
    • They sometimes even include "games" to keep the actors on their toes, such as Colbie Smoulders being free to use as many "No's" as she wants in response to someone thinking Robin and Barney are a couple, Neil Patrick Harris had to keep track of the number and include it in his response. The scene as aired only had 16, but a Hilarious Outtake had him say "Really? 35 'No's!'" and everyone broke down laughing.
  • Castle's quips are largely ignored, especially in the earlier seasons. As the show went on and the cops became more acclimated to Castle's presence, they started to crack a smile now and then, and now Ryan and Esposito sometimes join in when Castle launches into his lame puns.
  • Strictly invoked for laughs in a Whose Line Is It Anyway? parody (this time titled "Whose Idea Was This Anyway") on mid-to-early MADtv (1995): When the cameras cut to Drew Carey (played by Will Sasso), who is trying to elicit a laugh from the audience (who are actually the real audience for MADtv (1995)), no one does so. (...except for a few close to the back who are Corpsing.)
  • MythBusters: Any room that has only Adam and Jamie will generally be this when Adam goes into his usual antics. Occasionally, though, Jamie will have trouble keeping his composure.
  • While The Thick of It does use Actually Pretty Funny quite a lot, too—it's set in a very aggressive environment where being funnier than everyone around you is both a survival strategy and proof of dominance—it's worth pointing out that even characters treated by everyone else as stupid (like Manchild Phil) or annoying (Beleaguered Bureaucrat Terri) are all far, far funnier, wittier and quicker than anyone could possibly be in real life. This comes under Acceptable Breaks from Reality in that these characterizations are expressed instead by the quality of their observations, rather than not having them make them (for instance, the other Coalition politicians disgustedly remark that all of Phil's clever references and comparisons are to fiction, usually fantasy fiction (The Lord of the Rings), fiction aimed at children (Doctor Who), or both (Harry Potter). It's also played within that even though Malcolm is acknowledged in-universe as an incredibly funny person, most other characters are far too terrified of him to dare laugh at anything he does most of the time.
    • There's one scene where the name of Ollie's favourite film temporarily slips Malcolm's mind and so he describes it as "the one about the fucking hairdresser, the space hairdresser and the cowboy. He's got a tinfoil pal and a pedal bin. His father's a robot and he's fuckin' fucked his sister. LEGO, they're all made of fucking LEGO." Even after Ollie figures out what the film is (Star Wars), he reacts with bewilderment and mild annoyance instead of the hysterical laughter this would more likely cause.
  • In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will attends the funeral of Uncle Phil's former mentor turned political rival, a cantankerous and perverted creep who died when Will shouted at him to drop dead. When it turns out that all the "mourners" there hated the man and are just there to make sure he's really dead, a guilty Will chews them out. One demands to know who he is; Will says "I'm the dude that killed him", causing the room to erupt with applause. Will drops this trope's name in response, and Uncle Phil readily agrees.
  • Nick Di Paolo encounters this in Louie when he attempts to lay one on the then-recently elected Barack Obama. He takes out his resentment at what he perceives as White Guilt on Louie himself.
  • Doctor Who: In the episode "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship," the Doctor shows Rory and Rory's father how to pilot a spaceship designed for Silurians; essentially, Lizard Folk.
    The Doctor: The controls are straightforward; even a monkey could use them! Oh look, they're going to!
    The Doctor: Guys, come on, comedy gold! Where's a Silurian audience when you need one!
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Take My Life...Please!", the stand-up comedian Billy Diamond performs his usual act for a crowd as soon as he arrives in the afterlife but none of them even crack a smile. It soon becomes clear to him that he is in Hell and that the only way to make the audience laugh is to tell them all of the horrible things that he has done in his life. His new agent Max tells him that he has been booked to perform this act for the next two eons, possibly more.
  • Averted on Ted Lasso, where characters frequently laugh at each other's jokes. It's a subtle but effective way to demonstrate the show's emphasis on positivity and relationships. One of the earliest signs that Ted is winning over the other characters is that they are consistently amused by his jokes and wordplay.
  • Averted for a special reason on Boy Meets World, where the characters often express amusement at Eric's physical comedy. This is because the actors are corpsing at Will Friedle's antics and ad-libs, which is then left in. Friedle and Rider Strong cracked each other up so much that they couldn't even have scenes together because they ruined too many takes with their corpsing!

    Newspaper Comics 
  • This is common in Calvin and Hobbes. There are times when you wonder if the title characters are the only people with imagination or a sense of humour in the entire town. One of the more obvious examples is Calvin's mom's comment on how people are moving out of the neighborhood because they find Calvin's snowmen disgusting. In real life, the sheer amount of creativity and work Calvin puts in them would net the area frequent visitors every winter and probably attract some attention in the media about a kid with such artistic talent.

    Stand-Up Comedy 

    Video Games 
  • Beacon (2018): Parodied in Hard difficulty's description mentioning enemies having a reduced chance to laugh at your jokes:
    Hard: Looking for a challenge? Enemies are more numerous, deal more damage, and are less likely to laugh politely at your jokes, even if you look like you need a win.
  • Leisure Suit Larry 1: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards: The comedian tries to tell jokes to people in the cabaret room, but nobody laughs at them (probably because nobody is sitting there except for Larry sometimes). He will complain about it with remarks like "Tough crowd. Tough crowd."


    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang tells Bumi that he comes from "Kangaroo Island". Bumi replies "Kangaroo Island? I hear that place is really hopping!" After a long Beat Sokka bursts out laughing.
  • Bluey: In "The Pool", Bluey and Bingo start to get bored while waiting for the shade to grow bigger so they can play in the pool without sunscreen. Cue Bandit trying to cheer them up with a twist to the classic dad joke:
    Bluey: I'm bored!
    Bandit: Hi "Bored", nice to meet you!
    Bluey: [groans]
    Bingo: I'm hungry!
    Bandit: Oh hello, "Hungry", this is "Bored"!
    Bingo: [groans]
    Bandit: Ooh, tough crowd...
  • Numbuh Two in Codename: Kids Next Door often finds his attempts at One Liners met with groans, complains, or outright assault from his fellow agents (especially Numbuh Five).
  • The Flash in Justice League is sometimes deliberately subject to this trope. He's surrounded by a number of Comically Serious characters, and he tends to have a Silver Age sense of humor. When he gets his Day in the Limelight, the audience finds out he's actually quite capable of being serious and practical.
  • Looney Tunes examples:
    • Bugs Bunny finds himself dealing with this in Hot Cross Bunny. Thinking that the operation theatre was a stage, he performs an impressive impression, dance, and magic act only to be met with the same stern silence from the audience of doctors. ("What a tough audience! It ain't like Saint Joe!")
    • In "Night of the Living Duck", Daffy dreams he's about to perform in at a nightclub where the audience, is made up of famous monsters, mostly the Universal Monsters "Gee, tough audience!" he quips. Fortunately, he finds a bottle of "Eu de Torme", that lets him sing like Mel Torme (who does his singing voice in the cartoon) and he's a hit.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "Baby Cakes" Pinkie Pie attempts to cheer up the crying Cake Twins with a standup act. This elicits Chirping Crickets, and Pinkie dropping the trope name.
    • In "Make New Friends and Keep Discord", Discord attempts to hijack the Grand Galloping Gala with standup comedy. Similar to Pinkie, he references the trope when it doesn't get the response he wants. Even worse, it's Maud Pie's deadpan heckling of him that gets the laughs.
      Discord: Tough crowd.
  • Krusty the Clown of The Simpsons might be an example of this. He tends to alternate between this trope and So Unfunny, It's Funny.
    Krusty: How d'you make the King Lear? Put the Queen in a bikini! (gets booed) Whoa, tough crowd! They're booing Shakespeare!