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Xylophone Gag

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This is not going to end well. note 

"When he strikes this note, instead of a xylophone, he'll be playing a harp! Muhahahaha!"
Daffy Duck, Show Biz Bugs

Wile E. Coyote, Yosemite Sam, or some other villainous cartoon character has decided to dispose of the Road Runner, or Bugs Bunny, or whoever. Normal methods have failed... it's time for the Xylophone Gag.

The villain screws a stick of dynamite to the C on a xylophone, puts the sheet music (usually "Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms") on the stand, and hides, cackling maniacally. Sure enough, the mark arrives, sees the music, and begins to play... but instead of hitting the high note which would set off the bomb, he hits a flat note (or a sharp note, repeats the preceding note, or hits a pair of clashing notes). The villain winces (as does the audience; it's a very dissonant note), and yells "No, that's all wrong! Try it again!" The Mark does, with the same results. Ultimately, the villain rushes out in frustration, grabs the mallet from The Mark, and says "This is how you do it!", then begins to play the piece correctly but at great speed. Kaboom!

Sometimes executed with a piano instead of a xylophone, but though the exact outcome varies, the end results are the same — the smoke clears, the piano keys bounce off the unfortunate villain's skull (or land in his teeth), or the xylophone bars land in a cluster and repeat, or occasionally complete, the music line. It is most often left unstated if the target was aware of the trap and did that on purpose, though the Contrived Coincidence seems to support it.

A subtrope of Musical Trigger. Not usually related to Orchestral Bombing.


    open/close all folders 

  • During the 1994 baseball players strike, Comedy Central ran a series of bumpers counting the days, showing empty stadium seats and organ playing. When the season was canceled, the last bumper had the organ playing "Those Endearing Young Charms", followed by a big explosion.

    Comic Books 
  • In a rare case of this trope actually working, one issue of Spy vs. Spy has White Spy rigging a piano so that when Black Spy plays two certain notes, nitroglycerin gets squirted into his mouth.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Played seriously in The English Patient. The Indian sapper Kip rushes to stop Katherine playing the piano in a bombed-out house, saying that the retreating German forces have left mines and booby traps everywhere, "and pianos are their favourite hiding places." (presumably because few can resist playing a few keys even if they don't know how to play the piano.) Katherine can barely restrain her amusement as he gingerly examines the piano, but Kip does in fact find a Booby Trap underneath it.
  • Also played seriously in Get Smart. The protagonists are unable to remotely disarm the nuclear device that KAOS set up to blow up at an orchestra because the computer that controls the bomb was wrecked during the final battle, but then they figure out that the trigger for the bomb is actually the final notes of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The bomb was equipped with a sound sensor for detecting those notes. They just barely managed to interrupt the song before it finishes. When asked where the bomb is located, Max says "in the piano." He turns out to be right but he admits he was only guessing.

  • A typewriter variation is played straight in a short story in a Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons spinoff publication. One of the Angel pilots has to type up a letter from Colonel White, not realising that the Mysterons have placed a bomb in the typewriter powerful enough to destroy Cloudbase. The bomb is set to detonate as soon as the letter E is typed, since E is the commonest letter in the English language. As luck would have it, the letter only has one word containing an E, right at the end, and our unsuspecting Angel manages to hit the W by mistake.
  • Another typewriter variant is referenced in "The Death Game" in The Saint on TV. Several characters are involved in an elaborate game of 'Assassin' which places value on inventive methods of 'killing' your target. One character describes how he wired a small torch to the spacebar on his target's typewriter. When the target depressed the spacebar, a bright light flashed in his face. When he investigated, he found a note taped with the torch explaining he had just been shot with a high-power laser.

    Live-Action TV 

  • The Goon Show had the piano version, when Moriarty and Gritpype-Thynne tried to blow up the Chinese nationalist leader General Kashmychek. Following the failure of the "fiendish Chinese pianist" to get the music right, our enterprising villains are spared the necessity of playing the keys themselves by a musical individual from earlier, who offers to sing and asks for an A. Detonation ensues.

    Web Videos 
  • Referenced in Todd in the Shadows' review of Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come on Eileen", which starts with a violin playing "Those Endearing Young Charms".
    Todd: [stifles a chuckle] Sorry, I just can't hear to the intro to this song without expecting Daffy Duck to blow up.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted, and given a massive Lampshade Hanging, in Animaniacs. Doug The Dog tries to pull this on Slappy Squirrel. Slappy, seeing the xylophone, notes that it's ostensibly a hatchet-burying gesture, and decides to play "Those Endearing Young Charms." Skippy, her nephew, insists she can't play the song, because it's surely a trap, but Slappy ignores him. She reaches the critical note, plays it right...and watches as Doug is the victim of a random explosion. "Old gag," says Slappy. "New twist." (See for yourself.) The episode goes on to Double Subvert it again when Doug, after a later gag, is sent flying into the xylophone, which rolls into a tree. Nuts fall from the tree, the pattern of their falling just happens to play "Those Endearing Young Charms" as well, stopping just before the final two (explosive) notes, just in time for Slappy and Skippy to walk past. Slappy tosses two rotten nuts behind her, and...
  • A cutaway on Family Guy has Stewie teaching piano (a missed note = electric shock). He also has a bassoon student hanging over a shark pit.
  • Looney Tunes uses this frequently:
    • As shown in the trope picture, "Show Biz Bugs" has Daffy rigging a xylophone.
    • The version in "Ballot Box Bunny" involves Yosemite Sam rigging a piano rather than a xylophone.
      "Can ya play a pi-yanna?"
      "Have ya got a pi-yanny?"
    • Wile E. Coyote also tries it on the Road Runner with a rigged piano ("Rushing Roulette").
    • A minigame in the DS title (based on the short of the same name) Duck Amuck uses the piano variation. note 
    • In his One-Hit Wonderland episode about "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners, Todd in the Shadows jokes that the opening snippet of "Those Endearing Young Charms" immediately makes him think of Daffy getting blown up, followed a clip from "Show Biz Bugs" of that exact gag.
    • Amusingly, the note that triggers the explosion is a middle C... or in other words, C4.
    • In one episode, "Corn Plastered", a farmer rigs the inside of his piano with dynamite lodged in the piano strings along with a matchbook and a match tied to one of its keys, which can light up at the strike of the key, in an effort to stop a beany-wearing crow from invading his farm. The farmer then goes to the fridge for food, but the crow tricks him into getting inside the fridge (to see whether the light was on if one closes the door) and getting himself shut inside. Panicked, the trapped farmer busts out of the fridge in time to hear the crow playing the rigged piano, then gets to the piano and waits until the crow strikes its key that lights up the match (with the sound discord in the piano). But then the crow tricks him once more into getting into the rigged piano to fix it. As soon as the farmer does and strikes the piano key, the dynamite and the piano blow up in his face. (On Nickelodeon and The WB, the censors removed the refrigerator scene (most likely because they feared that this would be imitated by impressionable viewers) along with the first half of the rigged piano gag, but not the second half, leaving viewers to wonder why the piano suddenly exploded on the strike of one of its keys for apparently no reason.)
  • Apparently originated as part of a Private Snafu Wartime Cartoon where the eponymous bumbling US Army soldier was humorously used to warn real-life GIs against enemy booby-traps. Unlike other instances of the gag in Looney Tunes, other than Snafu having trouble hitting the correct key at the beginning, the trap actually succeeds in taking the life of the intended victim.
  • South Park:
    • Played totally straight in "Crippled Summer", where the B-plot is a blatant homage to classic cartoons set in a summer camp for special needs children. Jimmy Vulmer's rival, Nathan, rigs Jimmy's ukulele with explosives. Jimmy, naturally, can't get the "Those Endearing Young Charms" passage right during his solo. (Note that Jimmy is playing "That Honolulu (or 'Tardicaca') Hula Gal" - but the solo section is still "Those Endearing Young Charms".) Nathan sends his mook Mimsy to try to correct the situation by demanding the solo. Jimmy gives him the ukulele and asks him to do it. Just before Mimsy gets to the explosive part, Nathan runs in and grabs the ukulele from him. Frustrated with Mimsy's incompetence, he yells "If I want something done, I'm going to do it myself!", and without thinking, plays it himself with predictable results.
    • In the season 1 episode "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride", Jimbo and Ned plan to sabotage a school football game by planting a bomb on the rival team's mascot. The bomb is set to detonate during the half-time show when Richard Stamos, John Stamos' brother, hits the high F note in the song Lovin' You. Unfortunately, Richard fails to hit the note, foiling their plan. At the end of the episode, Richard shows up announcing that he finally got the note right and blows up the mascot before Jimbo can stop him.
  • Used on the Top Cat episode "The Missing Heir", only the tune used is "While Strolling Through The Park One Day".


Video Example(s):


Ballot Box Bunny

The second cartoon to use this gag--Yosemite Sam rigs a piano with explosives for Bugs to play. When Bugs deliberately plays the wrong note twice, Sam then tries to correct his errors by playing the song correctly himself, only to have his plan literally blow up in his face.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / XylophoneGag

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