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"Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent."
—Lord Summerisle The Wicker Man
Bad news is of course hard to tell to other people (unless someone is feeling malicious), which means it's preferable in those circumstances to try to break the news as gently as possible.
There are several methods. One of the most common in fiction is to tell the recipient to sit down before hearing the news, often in case the news is upsetting enough to cause Fainting. Often, to show how tough or Badass they are, the listener usually says, through clenched jaws, "I think I'll stand" or "I prefer to stand" or some variation thereof.
Regardless of the delivery, how the recipient reacts can vary, before and after hearing the news. Before, some might be so anxious, they can shout "Just Tell Me!", while others might ask for a minute to prep themselves. After, some can be happy (if the news was actually in their favor without the bearer knowing it), and some can react even worse than the bearer feared.
And it should be noted that methods have been around long enough for many to be discredited. Expect many instances of this trope to be Played for Laughs.
- Used in Facing the Giants, when Coach Grant Taylor gets a call informing him that his team will be allowed into the playoffs after all because the team they lost to in the last game cheated. You only hear Grant's end of the conversation, but he repeats the callers question of "Am I sitting down?" with obvious confusion.
- In The Big Bang Theory episode "The Spaghetti Catalyst", Sheldon tells Leonard to sit down. Leonard informs Sheldon that he's already lying in bed, which should be good enough.
- Played with in the Quantum Leap episode "Miss Deep South," in which Sam has leapt into a beauty pageant contestant. Al comes bearing bad news, and insists that Sam sit down before he hears it. Sam sits down and his skirt's crinoline cage hits him in the face. Al relents, "I think you better stand up, Sam."
- Dexter did this in the 2010 season opener when presenting news of his wife's death.
- Dateline NBC:
Chris Hansen: Why don't you take a seat over there?
- M*A*S*H has this exchange over the phone:
General-of-the-week: Are you sitting down, Henry?
- The police officers of Law and Order frequently asked relatives of victims to sit down.
- In Off Centre, Chau says that bad news can be softened by ending it with making your voice high and making it seem like a question. Later, Mike's girlfriend breaks up with him trying the same thing.
- Tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise (by Ray Ventura, lyrics from Paul Misraki). The lady calls her estate and her hireling reports there's a small problem… her horse died, but other than that, all is well. It turns out to be the last and least significant part of Disaster Dominoes, which she had to wring out of him step by step that her husband committed suicide upon receiving news they are broke, knocked over a candle, the entire estate got burned down, including the barn, in which that poor horse was at the time. But other than that, "all is well"!
- It descended from a earlier version in Botenart (Tidings) by Anastasius Grün; there the first bad news servant tells the master is that his favourite dog is dead… because his horse kicked him in panic… etc. The end is much the same —-
Fate me alone hath spared to tell,
- …and that comes from "The Lazy Servant Maimund" in Disciplina Clericalis by Petrus Alfonsi (born Moses Sephardi) — much the same, though the dog is killed by a mule rather than horse. That in turn may be a translation from Arabic.
- Well known in Russia thanks to Leonid Utesov singing a translation of Marquise by Alexander Besimensky.
- Black Comedy being ever popular, it eventually inspired a filk song. In which it's a call to Soviet nuclear submarine on power trial from the deputy minister. He's told that the screwdriver got broken, but other than that all is well (and we still got a whole crate of alcohol!). Why, it got broken because it fell into a switchboard and got incinerated… It turns out that their radar spontaneously shut down at the start of missile launch test, so they tried to aim manually, sank their own supply ship, the commander angrily hurled a still-burning cigarette butt into the open hatch, then ammunition went off, stern took water, the submarine began to sink, reactor didn't take excessive trim difference well, an engineer decided he's going to be a hero and save everyone, but got a screwdriver knocked out of his hand by a spark — so expecting the reactor to go boom very soon, they escaped in a liferaft, and are rather close to a NATO base by the way. But other than that, "all is well"!
- Tintin had a drunk character sing a fragment of Marquise.
- The title of this article includes this trope in its name.
- A Pearls Before Swine strip has Pig call Goat to ask if he's sitting down. Goat freaks out and asks what's happened, and Pig replies: "Oh, it's just comfy."
- Done in The Navy Lark between Mister Phillips and the ship's Chaplain in a very confused conversation about a pregnant racehorse (which the Chaplain thinks it is a girl Phillips has got knocked up due to how Phillips broached the subject), with the Chaplain being so shocked that after having had to sit down he declares "I think I better stand up again".
- A man goes on vacation and his friend is watching his cat. A few days in the man calls to check up, and the friend says "your cat fell off the roof and died." The man says, "Ouch! Couldn't you have said it more gently, like 'Your cat climbed up on the roof, there was a loose tile, she fell, I rushed her to the vet, but there was nothing they could do?' " The friend apologizes and a few months go by. The man goes away again, and calls to check in. His friend says "Your mother climbed up on the roof..."
- Red vs. Blue: Grif couldn't sit down because both of his kneecaps where shattered, so Sarge ordered Simmons to prepare catching him when they had to explain (again) that his Sister had died.
- During one page of Friendly Hostility, Fox and Colin are given some heavy news. Fox says he needs to sit down, to which Colin replies 'You already are'.
- In Order of the Stick, Haley had some difficulty trying to figure out how to tell Celia that her boyfriend was dead (Albeit only temporarily.) Sick of wasting time, Belkar decided it was best to just shout it in the bluntest manner possible.
Belkar: OK, that's IT! I can't take the euphemisms any more! Roy is dead!
- Spoofed in the Tale Spin episode "Bearly Alive", when Rebbecca got a call about a broken plane part. The guy on the other line said she should sit down, but she already was. The guy told her to stand up, and then sit down.
- Played with in The Proud Family, where the dad says they shouldn't bother sitting down 'cause they're just gonna stand up again before revealing something exciting.
- Barbara Gordon does this in The New Batman Adventures episode where she fear-toxin hallucinated that Gordon had turned against Batman and gotten both of them killed after she died in the tights. She intends to tell him the truth, and has him sit down before she starts. He cuts her off to maintain deniability, though, cuz he already knew.
Graham: I ... think I'd rather stand. Near the door.