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  "Take my wife... for example."

A type of joke where a character leads the audience or other characters into thinking he or she is going to say or do something, but says or does something unexpected.

A form of Subverted Trope, or a Double Subverted Trope. If discrimination is involved, see Discriminate and Switch. Sometimes turns into a Brick Joke if there's a later payoff. Related to Anti-Humor.

Examples of Bait and Switch include:


Comic Books

  • Issue 154 of Conan the Barbarian had a treatsie of Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic Wars by Jim Owsley (the assistant editor of the comic)... who soon denounces the book and instead reviews Jaws III. Read it here.


Film

  • In Blazing Saddles, one of this jokes is done when Bart says, "Excuse me while I whip this out," then proceeds to reach for a speech letter in his pocket, while the townsfolk gasp and cower in fear, thinking he's going to whip something else out instead.
  • One of the few notable things about the Eddie Murphy movie Metro is the bait and switch the writers pull on the usual "character opens mirror cabinet, and someone pops up in the reflection when s/he closes it" trope (and they do it twice). Details.
  • In the British gangster film Layer Cake, there's a variation on the Mirror Scare where the main character, in the middle of an angst-riddled drug- and whisky-fuelled freak out, opens the mirrored bathroom cabinet, music builds and then as he closes it the action suddenly cuts to the next morning, with the character neatly dressed and his problems resolved. It's a very powerful cut, subverting expectations at a moment of high drama.
  • Kung Fu Panda has a double Bait and Switch: after suffering through one mishap after another that prevents him from getting into the tournament theater to see his favorite kung fu fighters in action, Po throws all caution to the winds, ties himself to a chair with hundreds of fireworks bound onto it, and prepares to light the fuse. His (adoptive) father shows up, incredulously demanding what he's doing. Admitting that he does not dream of making noodles, he lights the fuse and lets out a proud, reveling crow that he loves kung fu...only to have the fireworks do nothing, apparently duds. His dreams crushed, he sadly takes his apron to go back to work--only to have the fireworks go off after all. Comedy gold.
    • Later, when Po is talking to his goose father about how he doesn't want to work in the family noodle shop and comments about how sometimes he doesn't even think they're related. His father says there's something he needs to know, and everyone watching expects him to explain about how he's really adopted. He tells him how to make his secret ingredient soup. Cue laughter.
  • The Shawshank Redemption does one of these. Andy finds a grub of some sort in his first prison meal. As he's examining it, he has the following conversation with a crusty old con who's been in prison 50 years and may or may not have a few screws loose:

 Brooks: Are you going to eat that?

Andy: Wasn't planning on it.

Brooks: [holds his hand out] Do you mind?

[Andy hands it over skeptically]

Brooks: [with a satisfied smile] Ahh, that's nice and ripe.

[He opens his jacket and feeds it to a baby raven in his pocket]

Brooks: Jake says "Thank you."

  • One, Two, Three opens with one of these. James Cagney starts talking how the world was looking to Washington DC on August the 13th of 1961... for a sports game. Oh, BTW, on the same day the Commies built The Berlin Wall.
  • Quite cruelly used in The Artist. Near the end of the film, George's depression has reached its peak and he prepares to shoot himself. Realizing his intentions, Peppy races after him in her car, despite not knowing how to drive. The scene cuts back and forth between George and Peppy, ultimately ending on George with the gun in his mouth as he tenses up to pull the trigger, and the film cuts to a title card reading "BANG!" Immediately after that, we see Peppy's car crashed into a lamppost and George looking up to see what made that racket.
  • In Disney's Pocahontas, shortly after the landing, Governor Ratcliffe talks about their predecessors coming to the "New World" and how they treated it for the precious resources it holds with a tone that ever-so-briefly suggests he's critical of the practice; then, "But now-" -- he plants a knife in the table and gives his men a smile -- "-it's our turn."

Literature

  • In one of Louis Sachar's Wayside School book series, a hypnotist brainwashes a character so that, upon hearing the word "pencil", he will see another kid's ear as candy. The rest of the chapter deals entirely with the subject of a lost pencil, yet not one character says the word "pencil." That having been said, the chapter is titled "A Story With a Disappointing Ending." Several chapters later, when you're not looking for it, the Brick Joke hits.
  • Maskerade, one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, is an homage to Phantom of the Opera. There's a giant, poorly attached chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the theater, which several characters proclaim is an accident waiting to happen. Unlike in the Broadway musical version of Phantom of the Opera, however, this chandelier never does fall down, despite the villain's best efforts.
  • Common in Ephraim Kishon's stories. For example, if he describes the Sabras. (An Israeli cactus fruit, or an Israeli born in the country.) "On the outer side, very prickly, but on the inside, completely inedible."
  • In Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, a letter with the seal and signature of the Duchess R is accompanied by an unlabeled photograph of said Duchess with Mr. Snicket's sister. Along with another unlabeled picture, which they told everyone was of them, but really wasn't.
  • Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle. Early on, there are flashes of a dream sequence that show an elven ship, two figures taller than six more that are holding hands, and two dragons flying into the sky. Early speculation figured it'd be Eragon and Arya sailing away, as Eragon was foretold to leave Alagaesia by Angela. However, at the end of Inheritance, Eragon leaves, but Arya doesn't. The romance everyone thought was going to happen ends up not happening and more than a few readers were completely flabbergasted by this twist.


Live Action TV

  • One of the more brilliant examples is from the sketch comedy The Kids in The Hall, in which two characters start the "who's on first" skit, but before long one of them realises what's going on and explains at length what the names of the players are and what bases they're playing.
    • Also done in The Simpsons when Superintendent Chalmers and Principal Skinner are doing the sketch for a talent show.

 Chalmers: Well, Seymour, it seems we've put together a baseball team, and I was wondering; who's on first?

Skinner: Yes, not the pronoun, but rather a player with the unlikely name of 'Who', is on first!

Chalmers: Well, that's just great, Seymour. We've been out here six seconds and you've already managed to blow the routine!

  • There's a great example in the Father Ted Christmas Special: A Christmassy Ted. Father Ted states he wants a nice normal Christmas with no excitement or unexpected interruptions whatsoever. There's an awkward lengthy pause, and then the doorbell rings. An abandoned baby has been left on the doorstep, causing Ted to start. Then a woman appears out of the darkness, picks up the baby and asks, "Is this Mrs. O'Reilly's house?" and Ted directs her next door. On returning indoors he says to Dougal, "Can you imagine how funny it would have been if it had been an abandoned baby? We'd have had real laughs getting into all sorts of scrapes." Dougal replies: "Well, no Ted, it wouldn't have been that funny."
  • In the Firefly episode "Objects in Space" a fight in the corridor wakes Jayne up and he whips a bed sheet off his wall revealing an arsenal of weapons. Then he wraps himself up in the bed sheet and goes back to sleep.
  • One of the many Catch Phrases on Get Smart was the "Would you believe [improbable statement]?" routine, which almost invariably ended with Max being beaten down to something far more plausible than his opening line. At one point, he claims that "One of our agents was lost in the Pentagon for five days, would you believe it? Five days!" After the obligatory I-find-that-very-hard-to-believe... he begins attempting to remember on which day he entered the Pentagon. Of course, Max is a Genius Ditz of the first order, so...
    • And then the movie Get Smart Again pulled a Bait and Switch on that very gag: At the end, Max tells 99 "I love you more than the whole world. Would you believe it?" To which wife 99 replies "I believe it!"
  • In Numb3rs, the following dialogue occurs between Charlie and a rival mathematician:

 Charlie: You're wrong. Its structure lacks originality or integrity.

Archrival: It's a classic organization based on tested and proven elements.

C: It's a chain! It's a chain with irregularities that come with maintaining complex matrices.

A: Oh, so you propose that a single point mechanism provides superior output?

(Fleinhardt walks in.)

 Fleinhardt: Enough! Surely, two eminent mathematicians can find ways to calmly discuss theory.

C: ... We're not discussing theory.

A: No. We're talking hamburgers.

C: Pie n' Burger's the best, man. There's no question about it.

A: In and Out is far superior.

  • Top Gear. All the time.
  • In one of the episodes of the second series of Blackadder, Edmund is shown doing what appears to be yelling at the Queen and Lord Melchett. After he is finished the Queen replies "And what did you say to him?"
  • Most of the deaths in Dead Like Me.

  Doomed fry cook picks up a very large knife and brings it down - on a potato. The stove won't light so he pulls out a match - and lights it without a hitch. He then proceeds to choke on a sandwich.

  • A notable one at the start of the second season of Noah's Arc. Noah is talking about this guy who he may be in love with, and based on the first season its implied to be Wade (the One True Pairing). When we actually see the guy its Malik, who Noah cheated on Wade with earlier as part of a random hookup.
  • Sons of Guns: Steph uses a shotgun to win an accuracy contest while the guys use Handguns.

 Kris: I've been bamboozled!

  • In How I Met Your Mother the gang find a tape of Robin which initially plays out as though it were porn. It's far worse -- she was a teen pop star.
    • Though the line gets blurred a bit when they locate her later work, which has the visuals of a kids' educational show but a script that doesn't quite match.
  • On Have I Got News for You the chairman's scripted jokes often include things along the lines of:

  "This is the news that Anne Robinson has had her face injected with Botox. Deadly poisonous and liable to induce vomiting, Anne Robinson presents The Weakest Link."

Music

  • The Assumption Song is based around this.
  • The Dire Straits song Industrial disease contains a fairly subtle one: After listing two maladies caused by the protagonist's vices (smoker's cough from smoking, brewer's droop from drinking beer) the doctor in the song notes, "I don't know how you came to get the Bette Davis ...knees".


Misc

  • Many trolls or people who are bored on a forum will usually post a topic title that grabs everyone's attention, but the actual opening post has nothing to do with the topic title. This is usually done by people who just want the attention and this is also how Rick Rolling got started.


Radio

 Grytpype-Thynne: I thought I saw a Greek urn buried in the sand.

Moriarty: What's a Greek urn?

Grytpype-Thynne: It's a vase made by Greeks for carrying liquids.

Moriarty: I didn't expect that answer.

Grytpype-Thynne: Neither did quite a few smart-alec listeners.

  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue had a recurring segment in which the panellists announced arrivals with Punny Names at a themed Charity Ball. (e.g. at the Christmas Ball: "Mr. and Mrs. Amanger, and their son Wayne.") One episode had a Cheesemakers' Ball, and one of the announcements was "Mr. and Mrs. Zola and their son... Emile."
    • Or at the Menswear Ball, "From Scotland, Mr. and Mrs. Strap and their son...Dougal."
  • You'll Have Had Your Tea: The Doings of Hamish And Dougal does this a lot, sometimes combining it with the Overly Long Gag. They take longer not to do the "Watson, someone has stolen our tent" gag than it takes to tell it.
  • The News Quiz likes to use a similar form to the Have I Got News for You example (see above under "Live-action TV"), e.g.:

  "King Juan Carlos of Spain has caused outrage among animal rights campaigners and recession-hit Spaniards by paying £27,000 to hunt elephants in Botswana. Facing rapid extinction and plagued by inbreeding, the Spanish royal family have ruled for centuries."


Tabletop Games

  • One Paranoia mission starts out with a NPC being dragged off for termination, strongly suggesting to the players that it's going to be important somehow. It isn't - it's just there to mess with their heads when they fail to find anything else out about it.


Theater

  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged has an example similar to the very first one on this page. Austin's book is called "I Love My Willie" which he decides he wants to whip out. As the audience laughs, he takes his book out from his pants.


Video Games

  • In Bioshock, Sander Cohen hires you to finish his "masterpiece" (which consists of four photographs of corpses held, of course, by suspiciously bloodstained plaster statues). After you add the third photo, Cohen, like everyone you've met so far, sends a group of Splicers to kill you. He then apologizes and asks you for the last photo. When you add it, he comes down the stairs, thanks you, and gives you a powerup before letting you leave. It's really unexpected.
  • One puzzle in Sam and Max Freelance Police: The Devil's Playhouse requires the player to set up what appears in the Flash Forwards to be a Banana Peel gag on one of Skun Ka'pe's henchmen. Instead, you lure him over to the banana so that Max can knock him out with a pair of trash can lids.
  • In Strong Bads Cool Game for Attractive People: 8-Bit is Enough, Strong Bad finds out that the Trogsword is located in "a magical world where platforms mysteriously hang in the air, and extra men are extremely hard to come by". He replies "Platforms, eh? {in his Dangeresque voice} Looks like I'm gonna have to... {speaks quickly} ...find a way into the Stinkoman game and get the Trog Sword before he does!"
  • Batman: Arkham City opens with one. Mooks are talking about how Batman won't be in the titular city, just as a pointy eared shadow appears behind them. One would would expect a Mass "Oh Crap" moment, but it's only Catwoman.
  • A room in 7th Guest has cutscene in which one of the guests draws attention to a maze design on the rug. Zooming in allows you to look at the maze design, but when you actually start the puzzle, the rug is suddenly swept aside and a chess puzzle ensues on the checkerboard floor. For bonus points, the maze design is a map to the maze in the cellar!


Web Animation

  • In one episode of Red vs. Blue, Tex has been continually hitting Grif in the nuts throughout the episode. Then Simmons finally manages to shoot a heat-seeking rocket launcher at the tormentor. After a really cool set of acrobatics with a set of portals, Tex (with the rocket still in hot pursuit) punches her way through Sarge, Tucker, and Simmons, and slides under Grif. Grif cringes, seeing the rocket coming right for him... and it flies harmlessly under his legs. Which instead blows up the pile of rockets right behind him.
  • Asdfmovie:
    • A guy is asked to hold a live bomb. The guy who gave him the bomb comes back a few seconds later and takes it back. No explosion, next skit. Look closely and you'll notice the fuse gets longer at the end.
    • "This is a robbery." *dramatic sting and close-up* *hangs up and walks away*. Next skit.
    • "WARNING POINTLESS BUTTON" is pointless.
    • "Damnit Jenkins, the giraffe will NEVER be president!" "Yeah, you're... probably right."
    • "Die, potato!" "I like trains."

Webcomics


Western Animation

  • In one episode of The Simpsons, Homer pours an entire bottle of lighter fluid onto his barbecue. Then another bottle. Then he goes to light it... and it lights as normal, and he proceeds to cook.
    • In another episode, Homer invites most of Springfield's men to get front seats for the Superbowl. But the cards turn out to be faked, and they have to look for another way in. Then they see a waiting wardrobe-on-wheels bearing dozens of marching band uniforms waiting at the rear entrance. They use... the wardrobe-on-wheels to topple two policemen standing next to entrance, and rush past them into the arena's interior. It gets them arrested almost immediately.
    • Of course, in a different episode with a similar scene, the lit barbecue ignites into a mushroom cloud that can be seen from across the city.
    • In The Movie, Homer is nailing shingles, his thumb clearly over the head of the nail. He gets the claw end of the hammer on his eye instead. The gag is revisited at the end, where Homer has clearly learned his lesson, keeping his thumb out of the way and wearing safety goggles. He hammers the nail perfectly... into his thigh.
    • Also from the movie, Bart skateboards across town completely naked, with various objects like fences and blown bubbles censoring his privates along the way. Just when it seems like the scene is going to end, he goes past a hedge that hides everything but!
    • "The PTA Disbands" has the Springfield Elementary students, on their way to Fort Springfield, trying to slow the dilapidated old bus by holding their coats out the window. Cut to a Fort Springfield tour guide showing people a cannon, explaining it's "fully restored and is in ready-to-fire condition" but won't be fired since it's aimed directly at a manned lookout tower, and adding that these old cannons can easily go off if they get a slight shock. The bus crashes straight into it ... and nothing happens. "Of course, for safety reasons, we don't keep the cannon loaded. That's just common sense."
    • In "And Maggie Makes Three", Patty and Selma learn that Marge is pregnant; she makes them promise not to tell Homer. They go home, and Patty gets out a phone book, opens it to the first page, and calls someone named A. Aaronson, telling him that Marge is pregnant. After that, the scene cuts to Patty, on the last page of the phone book, telling the same to a man named Zykowski. Then she heaves a sigh of relief... and says: "Aaronson and Zykowski are the two biggest gossips in town. In an hour, everyone will know."
    • Another episode has Homer lose track of Lisa. He seems to have an idea to find her and then goes to a vendor selling balloons, seemingly leading up to a joke that Homer is dumb enough to think he could float using a handful of balloons.... Then, he offers the balloons to a cherry pick driver in exchange for using his machine. It works.

  "Well, I've already got some balloons...but they're not this nice. Deal!"

      • In that same episode, Homer goes around asking people if they seen Lisa... he runs out to the dangerous street asking people in cars instead of that long line of people at the museum.
    • In "Marge on the Lam", Marge and Ruth Powers drive up to a bar with a large neon sign saying "SH T KICKERS" (the letter between H and T is burned out). Marge comments that she's heard a lot about "Shot Kickers".
      • In the same episode, only a moment later, we see the two women inside, and Marge is approached by a burly man who asks if she feels like "gettin' lucky." Marge replies that she is lucky, having a husband and three wonderful children, and thanks him for the compliment. He adopts a more threatening tone, saying he ALWAYS gets what he wants. Marge clarifies that she said "No." He is suddenly apologetic, says he misunderstood her, and backs off politely.
    • In "Realty Bites" Homer bought Snake's confiscated car, and one of Snake's plans to kill Homer involved laying out some piano wire to decapitate him as he drives by. Homer ducks to pick up a gumball right as the wire goes over him and is then followed by Kirk Van Houten in his car indignantly holding up a sandwich:

 Kirk: I told that idiot to slice my sandwich!

(wire cuts half of his arm off)

Kirk: Ow.

  • In an early South Park episode "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo", Kenny (who dies horribly in almost every episode) is continually subjected to a series of extremely hazardous situations. But nothing ever happens and he survives to the end of the episode for the first time.
  • Futurama:

 Zap Brannigan: You'll be negotiating with the aliens' mysterious leaders, the Brain Balls. They've got a lot of brains and a lot of...chutzpah.

    • In the same episode, Bender has been rigged to a bomb which is set to go off on his most frequently used word. As it goes through the list, it starts to get to his catchphrase, "Number 5:Bite... Number 4: My... Number 3: Shiny... Number 2: Daffodil..."
    • In "Bender's Game", when the characters enter a cave called the Cave of Hopelessness:

 Frydo: Mr. Wizard, why is this place called the Cave of Hopelessness?

Greyfarn: Oh, fear not, lad. 'Tis named for its discoverer, Reginald Hopelessness...

Frydo: Whew!

Greyfarn: ...the first man to be eaten alive by the Tunneling Horror.

    • In "The Problem with Popplers", the crew wants to find a name for a new food:

 Bender: They're tasty, right? Let's call 'em "Tasty-cles".

(Collective Groan)

Leela: We can't call them that.

Bender: Why not?

Leela: It sounds too much like those frozen rocky mountain oysters on a stick. You know, Test-cicles?

    • The Mars University Professor Fisherprice Shpeekenshpell (a robot with a Mattell See 'n Say for a head) continually talks with programmed lines like "The cow says 'Moo'" (apparently he proved that 50 years ago and had been coasting on it ever since). When it comes time to vote on Amy's doctorate:

 Professor Katz: We shall now vote, "Yay" or "Nay". Nay.

Wernstrom: Nay!

Bubblegum: Hell, nay!

Shpeekenshpell: The horse says, "Doctorate denied".

  • Family Guy: In the "Saving Private Brian" episode, Stewie warns Brian, "You can't run away from the Army. They'll come after you, like Peter went after that hockey coach." After a pause: "What, no clip? Thought we had a clip."
    • Also in the movie, when Peter launches himself with a catapult. We get a scene of a man in a room, going over a list of all the precious, easily breakable things that are in that room (including a hemophiliac baby). Of course, Peter lands...right outside the window to the room, and proclaims "Those are all nice things!"
    • A more classic example happens when Peter tries to deviate a parade to his house for Stewie's birthday party. He waits ahead at a fork for the parade to come holding a Detour sign... then he slams it on the parade leader's head, knocks him out, steals his uniform and leads the parade to his house.
  • Happens sometimes on Phineas and Ferb, a show full of Running Gags. For example: In "Voyage to the Bottom of Buford", Candace uses a disposable camera to document the boys' adventures; meanwhile, Doofenshmirtz has invented the Media-Erase-Inator. That seems to fit perfectly, but the ray actually ends up erasing a stop sign, causing a traffic accident which knocks over a water tower, and the resulting wave of water destroys the camera.
    • In "Gaming the System", Candace gets sucked into Phineas and Ferb's video game when she was in the middle of getting ready for a date with Jeremy. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz has created a laser that puts fancy dresses on anyone who is shot with it. Right before Jeremy shows up, Perry and Dr. Doofenshmirtz fight and cause the laser to accidentally go off and shoot... everyone in the yard except Candace. Soon after that, Perry gets out of the dress he was wearing and it falls on Candace (and somehow does her hair).
    • "S'Winter": Doofenshmirtz creates the Meltinator ray, leading one to think that it will melt the boys' mountain of snow. Instead, it shorts out the city's power when he plugs it in, shutting off the fans that kept the snow cooled, and the snow melts on its own.
    • One unrelated to the show's running gags occurs in "A Real Boy". Candace gets Stacy to hypnotize her into not wanting to bust the boys anymore, with the result that the phrase "Holy guacamole!" will make Candace give up her urges to bust her brothers, and "Leaping lizards!" will make her go back to normal. When Candace heads off on her date with Jeremy, the two of them spot a literal leaping lizard, and Jeremy rattles off several treacherously-close synonyms for the code phrase, which actually ends up being said by a passing kid.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, just before Jimmy is about to perform a particularly irresponsible stunt, Beezy tells them to be careful not to break his dad's Priceless Ming Vase. Jimmy performs the stunt...and misses the vase entirely. Beezy dances around a celebrates... and spikes the vase.
  • In the first episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle has been told by her mentor to make some friends, but she has absolutely no interest in doing so. However, every pony she interacts with makes some kind of "we're gonna be friends" comment, causing her to have a reaction of some sort (spit take, eye twitch, etc). When the last pony, Pinkie Pie, throws her a party so "now you have lots and lots of friends," Twilight nearly hurks her drink... not because of Pinkie's comment, but because she accidentally took a big sip of hot sauce.
  • In Justice League Unlimited, there's an episode where Wonder Woman gets turned into a pig by Circe. Toward the end, Batman offers to bargain with Circe to get her back.

 Circe: I want something from you that's very precious. Something you've worked very hard to conceal. Something when gone, you can never reclaim. Something... soul-shattering.

  • In The Looney Tunes Show, Daffy tries his hand at inventing. His speech indicates he's invented a time machine... but he's invented a suitcase.
  • In the well-publicized The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy/Codename: Kids Next Door crossover, Billy spills Mustard on his father's pants. He reasons, out loud, that there's only one group of kids who can help solve his problems, and grabs the phone... where he calls the cast of Ed Edd and Eddy... who then tell him to call the Kids Next Door.
  • Family Guy has this in a Cutaway Gag where a Japanese man in Japan gets a parking ticket and then gets splashed by a car with mud, wondering how his day could get any worse. The man looks up and sees something falling on him from the sky and he utters "Oh...my...God!" The gag is dated on the same year that the United States bombed Japan but instead of a bomb falling on the man, it's just a rabid baboon.
  • Lampshaded in The Emperors New School. Kuzco claims to have the perfect way to get into a store he's been kicked out of. Cut to a llama with a head and feet that look suspiciously like Kuzco's walking into the store. Kuzco then jumps out from offscreen and attacks the guard. Kuzco then stops the show and says, "You're probably wondering what that llama that looked just like me had to do with my plan. Absolutely nothing."

All The Tropes Wiki

  • There's a crapload of tropes based on this topic.
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