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A standard wry joke form, often offered in the form of an Obstacle Exposition.

You present a pair of problems with a plan as if the problems are of equal importance. The first problem is relatively minor, and is explained in unwarranted detail. The second problem is so much simpler and more serious that the first problem seems like a silly thing to worry about: "I Broke a Nail. Oh, also, I have terminal cancer."

The archetype for this sort of joke is "If I had bacon, I could have bacon and eggs. If I had eggs."

Another very famous example comes from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: About to jump from a high precipice into a river below, Sundance points out that he can't swim. "You crazy?" says Butch, "The fall will probably kill you!"

This joke often overlaps with I Would Say If I Could Say, where a character can't use a common expression because it technically doesn't apply to them, like The Undead claiming to be "breathless with anticipation".

Examples of Asymmetric Dilemma include:

Comic Books

  • The Killing Joke features the Joker telling a joke that uses such a dilemma to Batman. Two men escape from an insane asylum by climbing onto the roof. One jumps to a nearby building, but the other is too scared to follow. The first offers to shine a flashlight across the way, letting the second walk across the beam. The second man replies "What do you think I am? Crazy? You'd turn it off when I was half way across!".



 Bowler Hat Guy: Oh, I know! I'll turn him into a duck! Yes, it's so evil! Oh... I don't know how to do that... and I don't really need a duck... this may be harder than I thought.

 Groucho: Have you ever had any experience as a kidnapper?

Chico: You bet. You know what I do when I kidnap somebody? First I call 'em up on the telephone, then I send 'em my chauffeur.

Groucho: Oh, have you got a chauffeur? What kind of a car have you got?

Chico: Oh, I no got a car, I just got a chauffeur.

Groucho: Well maybe I'm crazy, but when you have a chauffeur, aren't you supposed to have a car?

Chico: Well I had one, but you see it cost too much money to keep a car and a chauffeur so I sold the car.

Groucho: Well that shows you how little I know. I would've kept the car and sold the chauffeur.

Chico: That's no good. I gotta have a chauffeur to take me to work in the morning.

Groucho: Well if you've got no car, how can he take you to work?

Chico: He don't have to take me to work, I no got a job.


  • The "bacon and eggs" variant shows up in Timothy Zahn's Star Wars novels. "If we had bruallki, we could have bruallki and menkoroo -- if we had some menkoroo."
  • In Maskerade, Nanny Ogg asks the other people (reluctantly) sharing a stagecoach with her if they have something to open a bottle of beer with. After someone lends her a bottle opener, she asks if anyone happens to have a bottle of beer.
  • A couple of books in the Animorphs series take place on the Hork-Bajir planet, where several deep chasms open down to the molten planetary core. The Arn, a winged species, have cliff dwellings extending partway down these chasms, with very thin walkways. In two separate instances, Andalites have concluded that there is no need to worry about the magma, because the body would probably be disintegrated in mid-fall.

Live Action TV

 Kryten: What on Earth are we going to do?

Cat: Hey, I got it! We laser our way through!

Kryten: An excellent suggestion, Sir, with just two minor drawbacks. One, we don't have a power source for the lasers, and two, we don't have any lasers.

 Cat: Let's just put on the jet-powered rocket pants and Junior Birdman the hell out of here.

Kryten: An excellent idea sir, with just two small problems: First, we don't have any jet-powered rocket pants. And second, there's no such thing as jet-powered rocket pants outside of the fictional serial 'Robbie Rocketpants'.

 Cat: Why don't we raise the defensive shields!

Kryten: An excellent idea, sir, with just two small problems: First, we don't have any defensive shields. Second, we don't have any defensive shields. I realise that technically speaking that's only one problem, but it's such a big one that I thought it was worth mentioning twice.

  • On The West Wing, Toby points out that the problem with jokes about the Vice President's mediocrity is that "He doesn't think they're funny, and everyone else doesn't think they're jokes." An earlier episode, "The Fall's Gonna Kill You", referenced the Butch Cassidy exchange. The series uses this joke form in numerous other instances to point out how short their various successes fall of actually fixing massive social injustices.
  • An especially long version done in the "Bookshop" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus. A customer has put the bookstore clerk through an incredible ordeal in finding a book. Eventually he finds one the customer likes ("Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying") and the clerk slams it onto the counter:

 Clerk: There's your book. Now, buy it!

Customer: I don't have enough money.

Clerk: I'll take a deposit!

Customer: I don't have any money.

Clerk: I'll take a cheque!

Customer: I don't have a chequebook.

Clerk: I'll take a blank one!

Customer: I don't have a bank account.

Clerk: Right! I'll buy it for you! There's your receipt, there's your change, there's money for a taxi on the way home...

Customer: Wait! I can't read!

Clerk: You can't read? Fine, sit down! Sit! Are you sitting comfortably? Right! "Ethel the Aardvark was hopping down the river valley..."

 Edmund: So lads! I am up a certain creek without a certain instrument. Either I raise £1000 or I get murdered - what should I do?

Baldrick: It's obvious!

Edmund: What?

Baldrick: You'll have to get murdered. You'll never raise that sort of money.

Newspaper Comics

  • The Sesame Street newspaper comic strip of the early 1970s had a variation on the "bacon and eggs" archetype: A little girl says, "If I had more light ... I could read a book ... if I had a book ... if I could read."
  • Similarly, in Walt Kelley's comic strip Pogo, a slightly-recurring character was a beetle who, whenever she saw something she didn't like, always exclaimed "If I could write I'd write a nasty letter to the mayor, if he could only read."

Web Comics

 Red/Blue Unity: We are one plumber, not three.

Blue/Yellow Unity: And we are not a plumber.

 The Doctor: Okay, dinosaur in my office. How could that be... The door should have been locked... Oh! And they are extinct! Dinosaurs are extinct. Dinosaur can't be in the office because it should be extinct.

    • Later:

 Doctor: Oh my god! This warehouse isn't refrigerated! I don't want to know what these patties are made of to allow that. Oh, and an explosive. I can think of a good handful of nicer places to hang out than exploding buildings.

 Ian: Get the monkey gun.

Matt: Is that a gun for shooting monkeys or a gun that shoots monkeys out of it?

Ian: Uh...

Matt: Because we don't have either.

 Red Mage: Wait! That is not how we do things around here, buddy. First we have to argue incessantly over semantics. Then one of us has to hurt one or all of us. Also, you're a villain.

  • One Xkcd strip has, as its alt text, two problems with a recent issue of a homeopathy magazine:

 "One, it's spelled 'echinacea', and two, homeopathic medicines are no better than placebos and your entire magazine is a sham."

Western Animation

 Zoidberg: Oh joy, a coupon! Two oil changes for the price of one! Now if only I could afford the one. And a car.

 Ben: And since I don't have a car ...

Kevin: Or a licence.

Ben: Or a licence, I was wondering if you could give us a ride.

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