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So a fictional setting has, as a plot point, something that is supposed to be very funny. The other characters treat this joke or show within a show as the funniest thing they have ever heard. The problem is, due to Sturgeon's Law, few writers can actually write a joke that funny, and even a competent writer will have difficulty living up to the hype the characters give it. As a result, the joke just isn't that funny, and can become cringeworthy much more easily because the show is presenting it as the pinnacle of humor. This is one of the cases where Take Our Word for It would have been a better way to present the story element.

Of course, this can be done deliberately, for example to make the audience think "My god, what kind of twisted world is it where this guy is considered funny?" Or, could also be either played for laughs or to present everyone as sadistic if laughter would actually be considered a downright inappropriate response to something.

Please keep in mind that this applies only to things the show explicitly labels as funny; this isn't a place to complain about normal jokes you didn't find funny or about the overuse of the Laugh Track. If we don't see the actual joke that is supposedly funny, it's Take Our Word for It. For the inverse, when genuinely funny jokes are ignored in-universe, see Tough Room.

See also "Everybody Laughs" Ending. May be a result of Trailer Joke Decay. Often an example of Stylistic Suck.

Examples of Humor Dissonance include:


Anime

  • Lucky Star: Konata decides to have a staring contest with Tsukasa and Kagami while at a fast food joint. The two of them burst into laughter at Konata's ability to stare unflinchingly, and tell Miyuki about it when she returns from the restroom. At their request, Konata (unwillingly) shows it to Miyuki, and Miyuki and Kagami make fun of her by suggesting she mention it while applying to college.

Comic Books

  • In an issue of DC's Countdown Donna Troy calls Jason Todd "Re-Todd", a pun on "retard". Kyle tells her "good one", with a goofy expression as if it was an expert burn. Not only is a lame joke, it's entirely out of character for Donna and Kyle.
  • Apparently a common deal with the Harvey Comics' character Jackie Jokers. Some examples are further down this page.

 One thing Jackie does provide is an example of how to live for aspiring young comedians. For example, Jackie teaches us the number one way to stay focused and confident is: surround yourself with people who are REALLY EASILY AMUSED.

Fanfic

  • Sometimes seen in bad Fan Fiction as well; In Stephen Ratliff's 'Marissa Picard' stories, Marrissa Picard's pranks are seen in-universe as hilarious (except by the bad guys) but come across to many readers as banal or heartless.
  • The writer of Eiga Sentai Scanranger really seems to want his audience to like the comic relief teammember and other characters constantly praise his sense of humor. Even though he tells jokes like this:

 Imperiled Friend of the Week: "Your friends are all that, and a bag of chips.."

B.C.:"No..Nacho Cheese tortillas, actually.."

  • Cori Falls's fics have a bad case of this, with the heroes' brand of humor being either horrible, lazy puns (the Fu King Chinese restaurant scene) or mean-spirited japes at characters Cori doesn't like (the comments made by Team Rocket towards Ash and Misty in Never Too Late during Brad's show). But the narrative treats it as if it's side-splittingly hilarious.

Film

  • This is a problem in the Biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers -- the attempts by the film's writers and actors to distill Peter's work in The Goon Show, The Millionairess, the Pink Panther series and Dr. Strangelove aren't as funny as the real thing (no actual film clips of Sellers are used, unlike in Chaplin below), despite the in-film reactions to them. The Goon Show sequence especially suffers for this if you're unfamiliar with the show -- and most non-U.K. viewers are. Most of the rest of the movie relies on Take Our Word for It, which is also problematic for viewers who don't know his early films up through 1959's The Mouse That Roared. This might actually be a reason the film wasn't released to theaters in the U.S., since if you can't fill in the blanks with regards to his talent, the downbeat portrayal of the Real Life Sellers (which takes up much of the film) makes it hard to understand why anybody liked him, much less loved him, at all.
  • Subverted the Monty Python's Flying Circus skit "The Funniest Joke in the World" (later part of the film And Now For Something Completely Different). There is a joke which, when read, kills people (they die of laughter). Subverted in that this joke is never read in English, but after being translated one word at a time into German, (one translator accidentally looked at two words, and fell into a coma for a month) it is broadcasted in German on a WWII battlefield, causing the German troops to, you guessed it, die laughing. When translated back to English by interested fans, the joke turned out to be gibberish with a few genuine German words mixed in.
  • Absolutely and intentionally defied in Monsters, Inc. at all costs. Pixar had a very strict rule that they couldn't have any character laugh unless the audience is also laughing. As a result, a lot of the slapstick that causes Boo to laugh (and of course, her laughter is a major plot point) got considerably more violent and complex than it was in the storyboards.
  • Lampshaded in Austin Powers where Dr. Evil and company's Evil Laugh goes on for so long, as if they are laughing at something genuinely hilarious, that it becomes a bit of an Overly Long Gag.
  • Used intentionally in RoboCop, where everyone seems to watch the same crappy Benny Hill-like sitcom and burst into laughter at the Catch Phrase "I'd buy that for a dollar!" The show looks completely brainless and we only ever hear the catchphrase devoid of context, so it's never funny to the viewer. All of the television segments in the show are satirical social commentary. In the midst of economic collapse and political strife, the population is distracting itself with lowbrow escapism, even the crooks.
  • Averted in the Biopic Chaplin. The filmmakers use many actual clips of Chaplin's films, and Robert Downey Jr superbly matches Chaplin's physical capabilities.
  • In Showgirls, there is an overweight performer at the strip club who makes a string of self-depreciating jokes. While the patrons of the club are in stitches, the jokes themselves are painfully flat.

Literature

  • In Book 3 of the Inheritance Cycle, Brisingr, Eragon and Arya witness a group of spirit orbs turning a lily into a gem. Eragon points out that they literally gilded a lily like the phrase "gilding a lily" and thinks it's the funniest thing ever. Arya is only vaguely amused.
  • Sometimes done deliberately in Discworld; most of the narration is absolutely laugh-out-loud, split-your-sides, pee-your-pants hilarious, but what characters point out as a joke is often just an Incredibly Lame Pun, Or Play on Words.
  • An in-universe example occurs in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix. After Ron makes a lame quip about Goyle's ugliness, everyone laughs, but recently-introduced Cloudcuckoolander Luna keeps laughing on and on, prompting him to ask if she's taking the mickey. Apparently, nope, that's just Luna.
    • In Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, Ginny Weasley invents the nickname "Phlegm" for her prissy sister-in-law to be, Fleur. Maybe mildly funny only once, if you're being generous, but everyone acts like it's the most hilarious, witty thing ever every time she uses it. Over and over again.
      • Considering at this point they don't her like this has some....implications

Live Action TV

  • ICarly uses this in regards to most of what goes on the web show, although the incident that inspired the show had some fairly funny insults towards the Sadist Teacher. One episode two characters saying "Mom..." "No!" 10 times in a row on their Web show was presented as an example of their humor surpassing everything on TV.
  • One of the causes of the downfall of Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip: the fact that characters constantly refer to the sketches in the Show Within a Show as hilarious, when more often than not, they fall flatter than Kansas to the people at home.
    • This may be one reason Thirty Rock is more successful. The in-show sketches are portrayed as mindless dreck that appeals only to the lowest common denominator. They do not disappoint.
  • A helluva lot of Joey's routines on Full House.
  • Early episodes of Seinfeld would open and close with samples of Jerry's stand-up that typically weren't even close to the caliber of humor in the actual show, yet still had the audience in stitches.
  • The entire premise of the Mad TV sketch "Coffee Twins" revolves around this. A woman at an office setting cracks an incredibly lame joke, and then she and her another female co-worker break out in laughter, as if it was the funniest thing they've ever heard. Everyone else at the office doesn't see the humor, so when the original worker futilely tries to explain the joke, she gets angry and throws a fit.
  • In the final episode of Police Squad!!, Frank Drebin goes undercover as a stand-up comedian for a nightclub. His jokes are pretty basic (and nowhere near as good as the material Zucker, Abrams and Zucker wrote for the rest of the show) yet the audience is falling out of their seats with laughter, and the management of the nightclub tells him that it was the best performance he'd ever seen.
    • Most (all?) of what you see is Frank delivering punchlines, and most of those punchlines come from infamously filthy jokes -- the implication being that Frank works dirty, and he's really good at it. One can assume that it's really just a case of ZAZ Getting Crap Past the Radar; The Goon Show used the same trick.
  • In a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode, the aliens struggle to understand the concept of humor after seeing a stand-up comedian. The episode is funny throughout... except for the comedian's routine. It's apparently supposed to be funny since it garners laughs within the episode (but not on the Laugh Track) and Dick has a Late to The Punchline moment at the end.
  • Played with in M*A*S*H: Hawkeye tells BJ his favourite joke, "the funniest joke I've ever heard," but BJ is unimpressed by it. Later, Hawkeye learns BJ has been telling the joke to the rest of the unit, who all think it's the funniest joke they've ever heard.
  • The West Wing is normally one of those shows where everyone is super witty and spends all day firing hilarious remarks back and forth, and hardly anyone ever cracks a smile. The teaser of the episode "He Shall, from Time to Time..." calls for the senior staff to be standing around laughing so that the mood can be shattered by the sound of the president collapsing with a crash in the other room. The joke that causes them to lose their poker faces for one of the only times in the series? Sam lamenting, "I'll never live it down!" in reference to a typo the president caught while rehearsing his State of the Union address. Ho, ho, ho.
  • Played with in How I Met Your Mother:
    • Barney sets up an anecdote as the funniest thing you will ever ever encounter ever. The real joke is that causing Marshall to have to attend an important meeting sans trousers is not nearly as funny as he thinks it is.
    • Then there's the joke that's "the funniest joke ever", but only if you're a guy. "What's the difference between peanut-butter and jam?" Barney tells it to Lily, who is so disgusted that she refuses to see or speak to Barney for a month. The guys, while upset that the group has been divided, still think it's the best joke ever. The punchline of the joke is never uttered out loud on the show, but if you look it up on the web, it definitely fails to live up to hype: "I can't peanut-butter my dick up your ass."
  • Used rather well in News Radio: Everyone keeps telling Dave that Lisa's ex-boyfriend Stewart is one of the funniest people they've ever met. When Dave and Lisa go out to lunch with Stewart, he gets her rolling with a number of inside jokes and references to things Dave (and the audience) has never heard of.
  • There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Data was trying to learn what humour was. Some of the jokes in that episode were meant to be funny, some of them were not. Any correlation between whether or not a joke was supposed to be funny and whether or not it actually was funny is entirely coincidental. (No wonder Data has so much trouble understanding what humour is.) Of particular note, this joke which Guinan absolutely insisted was absolutely hilarious, and the only reason Data wasn't in stitches was because he's a robot;

 Guinan: You're a droid and I'm a 'noid (pronounced to sound like "Annoyed")

    • It's even worse, As SF Debris pointed out in his review of the episode (The Outrageous Okona) the joke that appears is actually a rewrite, the original joke (which he actually reads out) is even worse: My job here places me under some obligations, like a vow of secrecy. I can't repeat anything I hear or see. Now the obligation of the patron is to tell the truth otherwise I'm being placed under a commitment to keep a secret about nothing. That's not fair, it's called wasted honour. Do you understand? Yeah really, that's the joke, check it [1]. Its around the 10:40 minutes mark.
      • What makes this really bad is that Guinan is played by Whoopi Goldberg. Couldn't they have just asked her to adlib? Chances are it'd at least elicit a chuckle or two!
    • On the other hand, Data's failed jokes, which are supposed to be unfunny to demonstrate his failure to understand humour, are, if not actually good, at least capable of eliciting a smile, and at any rate are better than the jokes that the audience is supposed to laugh at.
  • Babylon 5 had the comedy team of Rebo and Zooty, supposedly the most popular performers of their kind on Earth. Not that the audience could tell from the short samples we got. Lampshaded by the alien ambassadors not getting the joke either.
    • Like the Robocop example above, this was deliberate. Word of God is that Rebo and Zooty were meant to reflect how standards of humor change over time, not to mention that a lot of humor is based on cultural references and mores that you have to be familiar with to get the joke, so that what's funny to a society in the future would be incomprehensible to present-day audiences (or to alien audiences).
      • Also lampshaded in the show by Rebo/Penn saying lines to this effect after he makes an incomprehensible joke that the Minbari find funny but nobody else even understands.
  • In vintage adventure or dramatic series, a common way to end an episode was to have entire cast laughing at someone's joke, which was never really funny. This is often parodied these days, notably in Harvey Birdman.
  • Ususally averted in Irish show Custer's Last Stand Up, where a teenager is trying to succeed as a comedian. In one episode where he was diisguised as a grown-up to perform at an adults only gig he attempted to write what he thought grown-ups would laugh at. When it fell flat he started tearing off his disguise and telling silly humour about being a spy instead, and was far funnier. There was actually quite a bit of deconstruction of the effect of humour. Another episode had a veteran comedian trying to coach him into being a better comedian, telling him all the time that his material isn't funny enough. It turns out at the end of the episode that he wasn just trying to steal his jokes so he could tell them himself. The "funny" stand-up segment segments were absolutely the funniest part of the show.
  • Played for laughs in a scene in Titus. Chris and other mechanics laugh at completely random sentences. Erin wonders why and Chris mentions They've been up for two days working on a car and will laugh at anything.

Western Animation

  • There was an entire episode of Arthur dedicated to how funny King Tut saying, "I want my mummy" supposedly was.
    • The Arthur example might be a bit of playing with the trope; only a select few people thought the joke was funny, but Buster's imagination sure thought it was the reason Binky got a higher grade. It's revealed at the end that Buster studied the wrong topic for his report.
  • An episode of Jimmy Neutron had Jimmy alter his father's brain to make him "500% funnier." An example of one of the jokes he told under said influence: "I can smell the learning, oh wait, that's Butch. Do you ever shower?"
    • Well, 500% of 0.000001 still isn't much.
  • An episode of Recess has a lot of this for a movie everyone except Vince has seen. Possibly justified in that Vince not knowing the context of the quotes is the driving force of the plot.
  • The Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Fields of Honey" had this in spades. The cartoon shown at the episode's climax is, at best, very slightly amusing, but the audience present react as if it's the funniest thing they've ever seen. A fat guy laughs so much that he explodes. The whole sequence had a very forced, weird atmosphere about it.
    • Particularly if one had seen the "real" Honey in the Bosko cartoons, who basically just prances around going "La,la,la!"
  • Satirized in Animaniacs in a segment in which Boo the giant chicken is mistaken for a TV executive, and when asked for the punchline for various gags on TV, keeps saying "B'gawk!" All of the other execs are in hysterics except for one other who doesn't understand why it's supposed to be funny, yet when she suggests the same punchline, no one gets it.
    • Well of course not. Her delivery was awful.
  • In The Simpsons, there's The Itchy and Scratchy Show, where the Simpsons are always shown to be guffawing and laughing until their sides split watching Itchy violently kill Scratchy. Of course, the sheer violence of it isn't so funny to the viewers as the whole idea of it being a parody.
    • Parodied in another episode. At the dentist, Lisa ends the episode by making a ridiculously cringeworthy "tooth/truth" pun. The rest of the family, and the dentist, burst out laughing as though it's the greatest joke ever told...at which point the dentist realises he's accidentally left the laughing gas on.
  • Invoked intentionally in one Family Guy. Peter tried to impress Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase with a flat joke. The two comedians and Lois recognized it as unfunny, but absolutely everybody else in the show's universe thought it was the most hilarious joke ever.

  Here's John Wayne at the first Thanksgiving! "I'm john Wayne, pilgrims! Happy Thanksgiving, Pilgrims!"

  • South Park plays the dissonance for comedy.
    • Jimmy is supposed to be a very funny stand-up comedian that all the other characters find hilarious. He has yet to tell a single joke that is funny. In the episode "Fishsticks," Jimmy coming up with (and Cartman taking all the credit for) what is supposed to be the funniest joke ever. It goes thus: "Do you like fishsticks (fish dicks) ?" "Yes." "Do you like putting them in your mouth?" "Yes." "What are you, a gay fish?" The joke makes the rounds in all the talk shows and becomes a nationwide phenomenon. The only person not to get it is rapper Kanye West, who is so self-centered that he takes it as being called gay and starts looking for the originator of the "rumors".
    • The "Funnybot" episode features a robot that is programmed to be the perfect comedian, but it tells lame cut-and-paste tabloid jokes, mostly ending with the punchline "Awkward!" It sells out amphitheaters across the world. The Funnybot is so successful that the world's most famous comedians are rendered unemployed and destitute, and an angry mob consisting of Conan O'Brien, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey,and dozens of other famous but now-unemployed comedians storm South Park Elementary.
  • The Joker played with this in Batman the Animated Series with an episode where he took a studio audience hostage and hooked Batman up to an electric chair. The chair was directly connected to a "laugh meter" and since he knew he would never get the audience to laugh legitimately, he pumped in laughing gas and had Harley read from the phone book.
  • This is mostly averted in The Fairly Odd Parents where Timmy wishes he was the funniest person on Earth: His dialogue doesn't change at all and everyone is simply magically forced to laugh at it. This trope shows up briefly with the jokes the supposedly funny kids tell at the start of the episode, though.
  • Every single episode of Widget the World Watcher (not to be confused with a Widget Series) ended with everyone laughing at some "cute" thing someone said that was distinctly not even remotely funny.
  • The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack has an entire episode of this trope, beginning with Peppermint Larry telling some jokes consisting of truly awful puns and continuing into a joke-telling contest between Larry and another character. Eventually said other character speaks entire sentences in nothing but puns, soon after which it curves in on itself, implodes, then becomes genuinely funny.
  • Phineas and Ferb has Ferb going up on stage and saying "So, how about that airline food?" This prompts everyone in the audience to burst out laughing, pound their fists, and even overturn a table because they find it so funny.
    • Not only that, but then Stacy -- who was laughing along with everyone else -- says she doesn't even know what airline food is.
  • The Tom Goes to the Mayor Christmas episode has Tom trying to sell t-shirts that have a sketchy drawing of a rat tipping a top hat with the caption "Rats Off To Ya!" - the Mayor finds it unbearably funny, and it becomes a massive cultural phenomenon. In the spirit of the show, it's all snatched away from Tom, who doesn't see a cent from it.
  • During an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants in which SpongeBob unwittingly one-ups everything Squidward tries to do with a used gum wrapper, SpongeBob makes an incredibly lame joke, after which several dozen fish appear out of nowhere and start laughing hysterically.
  • Used deliberately in an episode of Dave the Barbarian, where the extraordinary unfunny Ned Frischman, a man from the future, travels back in time to the middle ages in order to tell his jokes before they have turned old. He manages to become the funniest man in recorded history by using simple "Why did the chicken cross the road"-class jokes (recorded history having begun two weeks earlier).
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Jimmy is described as being able to cheer up anyone and make them laugh, even in Miseryville. Yet the things he does seem like stereotypical grade-school stuff. It's lampshaded at the end of "The Mysterious Mr. Ten", when Lucius can't believe Jimmy is funny.
  • Rover Dangerfield Oh so so much. Apparently he has the Informed Ability for making jokes and one liners funny enough that his dog friends constantly laugh and compliment him on his humor.
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