Late to the Punchline
He who has the last laugh, thinks slowest.
"The thing about childhood is that nothing makes sense. You have no idea what half the jokes on sitcoms are about, Bugs Bunny keeps making references to WWII-era European dictators you don't recognize, and Hot Wheels always manage to go around the loop-the-loop just fine on the commercials. So you just relax and go along with it, and fifteen years later you look back on the things that confused you and say 'Ah! Yes! It makes perfect sense now!'"
—Lore Sjoberg, The Book of Ratings
Sometimes it takes a long time for a character to get a joke. Missed in-jokes and Parental Bonus can mean someone gets the joke much later. Or perhaps the character is just slow of mind. At the time the character may not even realize it was a joke.
This trope is what happens when, several scenes, in-universe years, or even seasons after the original joke was told, the clueless character finally understands the joke and gives off a great big laugh about it. Irony makes this especially funny if the actual joke had to be repeatedly explained in the process of all this.
Compare Fridge Logic, Fridge Brilliance, Fridge Horror (those three for this trope as applied beyond the Fourth Wall), Brick Joke (where the punchline itself is late in arriving) No Sense of Humor, Lampshaded the Obscure Reference.
- "In Blackest Night", a story by Alan Moore from Tales of the Green Lantern Corps, has a variation where it's not that she doesn't get the joke but that, because of who made it, she initially fails to realize there was a joke at all:
...and four cycles later, in the recreation complex, Katma Tui realized that for the first time in many years' service, she had heard a Guardian make a joke.
"What did he mean, "slow of mind?"
- Moose of Archie Comics lived this trope.
Film -- Animated
- In Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf, Dracula makes a pun on Scooby and Shaggy's car being miniaturized, "Shrunk from the battle." His ditsy assistant Vanna Pira doesn't get it. A few scenes later, she suddenly bursts out laughing.
Dracula: What's with you?
Film -- Live Action
- In Dogma, Azrael asks the barkeep for a "holy bartender" and then pumps him full of bullets when he asks how it's made. It takes Jay a while to get the joke that he really asked for a "hole-y bartender".
- In the Star Trek Generations movie, Data had recently gotten upgraded to feel more realistic human emotions and starts laughing almost hysterically out of nowhere.
Data: I get it!
- In Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Russ tells Nick he learned artificial respiration, which he just used to save Nick's big sister Amy, from French class. At the end of the movie, the closing scene irises out—only to iris right back in on Nick, the pre-teen genius, laughing his head off as he finally makes the connection between artificial respiration and French class.
- In Predator, Hawkins's telling of a post-battle old and dirty joke to Billy about his girlfriend's, ah, capacity leaves Billy looking bewildered for a good long pause. Hawkins desperately re-tells the punchline and then wanders off looking a bit crestfallen. A few more seconds pass...then Billy laughs heartily.
- A plot point in Short Circuit. To test Number 5's sentience, Newton Crosby tells a rather tasteless joke. The robot is stumped, and Netwon takes it as evidence that he is not as "alive" as he thinks. Just when he's about to remark on it, Number 5 blurts out "I GET IT!" and starts snickering. Crosby is astounded, and instantly sides with him and Stephanie against his bosses.
- Taken to the limit in Mystery Team. One character states that their sign reads "Lost kitten finding purrrrrfessionals", in which Charlie exclaims he finally gets the joke... Eleven years later.
- In Raising Arizona, this is Glen's excuse for H.I. not laughing at his terrible joke. Glen claims that it's a "way-homer" that you only get on the way home. H.I. counters that he's already at his home.
- The former trope namer is an old joke: Why do the Swiss laugh during church? That's when they get the jokes they heard at Friday night's party.
- Paraphrased from a joke that Isaac Asimov wrote in his Treasury of Humor. When you tell a joke to a German, he will laugh twice: Once when you tell the joke, to be polite, and once when you explain the joke, to be polite. He will never get it. When you tell that same joke to an Englishman, he will laugh three times: Once when you tell the joke, to be polite, once when you explain the joke, to be polite, and once again when, in the middle of the night, he gets it, waking himself from a sound sleep. When you tell that joke to an American, he will laugh once, for he will get it.
- In the Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum, Magrat mentions to Nanny that now that she's a mother, she gets most of Nanny's favorite jokes, "except for the one about the old woman, the priest, and the rhinoceros," to which Nanny replies, "I certainly hope not! I didn't understand that one until I was forty."
- Especially frightening given that this is Nanny Ogg we're talking about. How many children, by how many men, do you think she'd had at forty?
- In the Agatha Christie novel Five Little Pigs, Angela mentions having one of these moments, where she actually said aloud "Oh! Now I get the point of that story about the plum pudding." This led her to recount a similar incident where she realized the significance of something she observed the weekend of the murder.
Live Action TV
- During one Academy Awards show, Billy Crystal pretended to read the minds of some of those in attendance. On Sean Connery he said
"Pussy Galore! I just got it! How vulgar!!"
- In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Overdrawn At The Memory Bank", Mike made an incredibly lame joke about the '20s-style gangsters being kicked out of Men Without Hats. The actual joke was that Servo completely misses the point, and asks Mike to clarify the punchline ("Because the brims on their hats would keep them from reading the music?"). A few minutes after finally dropping it, Servo blurts out, "Oh, because they're wearing hats!"
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Lie To Me", Buffy recalls listening to "I Touch Myself" in fifth grade to help her get over Ford's rejection, and then mentions that she had no idea at the time what the song was about. Thirty seconds later Willow says, "Oh! That's what that song is about?!"
- Six seasons later:
Willow: This goes beyond anything I've ever done. It's a total loss of control. And not in a nice, wholesome, "My girlfriend has a pierced tongue" kind of way.
- And the incredibly adorable moment after seeing that someone had spray painted "KISS Rocks" on a locker...
Willow: Kiss rocks? Why would anyone want to kiss... Oh, wait I get it.
Willow: Cibo Matto? They're playing?
- Willow has the opposite kind of moment in "Consequences":
Buffy: Well then why do you- Oh.
- In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Penny memorized a "physicist joke" and recited it in front of the guys, then wondered why nobody laughed. Well beyond a commercial break later, she figured out the punchline, and realized it was really insulting to physicists.
- In One Tree Hill, Lucas was upset over his breakup with Brooke and went to his mom, Karen, for advice. Karen, who owns a cafe, tries to console him with advice from a former customer.
Karen: A customer once told me, the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else!... oh my God, I just realized what that meant! I thought it was more philosophical than that!
- Also a common trope in Friends, often played out by Joey, frequently accompanied by Chandler making a witty one-liner at Joey's expense.
- Another time in Friends Phoebe talks about walking from Central Park to the Central Perk coffee shop, then stops and adds, "Hey, that's the first time I got that joke."
- The biggest is probably Joey taking a few more seconds than everyone else to get the significance of Ross discovering the sweater he lost a month ago (Rachel had said that her baby's father left it behind).
- Father Ted: usually Dougal being very, very slow to get a joke, naturally enough.
- The best example doesn't use an actual joke at all, but a highly noticable recurring event...
Dougal: Those women were in the nip!
- The cast of The Muppet Show did a TV special called "The Muppets Go To The Movies" where they spoofed several movie genres. Fozzie tells a joke during the Monster Movie sketch that goes "What do you get when you pour boiling water down a rabbit hole?" the answer is "Hot cross bunnies". The Frankenstein Monster from that sketch pops up later and says "Hot cross bunnies! I just got that!"
- In a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch a police inspector introduces himself as "Lookout of the Yard" (as in Scotland Yard), to which another character replies by asking what they would see. Lookout is completely baffled by the comment and the sketch continues. A few lines later, he begins laughing inexplicably and it soon becomes apparent that he has got the joke.
- A similar gag with a man with the last name "Smoketoomuch" who had apparently made it to his thirties without anyone making a joke about it.
- In "The Funniest Joke in the World," the Nazi interogator, upon hearing the joke says "That's not funny" before cracking up and dying.
- Then there's actually no punch line at the end of the Novelty Items sketch with Eric and Graham because the punch line, while written, was never furnished as the sketch progressed.
- One of the many Running Gags in F Troop involved Cpl. Agarn making a snide comment about their current situation, like "It's a shame we can't get someone to sing in his place." The other person, realizing that this is actually a good idea, says "Agarn, I don't know why everyone says you're so dumb!" Later, usually after the next scene change, Agarn suddenly shouts "Who says I'm dumb?"
- A running gag in The Vicar of Dibley, where Alice never gets the jokes Geraldine tells her at the end. Usually Geraldine or someone else has to explain it to her first (and even then, she still doesn't always get it).
- Referenced in the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore show Not Only... But Also when the pair are discussing art and Dudley complains that he can't see the joke in Leonardo's 'cartoon'. Later on, after some unscripted Corpsing from Dudley, Cook adlibs the line "ere, you've just got the joke in that Leonardo cartoon haven't you?"
- On Fox's show Raising Hope, Jimmy (who has just taught Hope how to crawl): "You’re gonna have to move these pool chemicals outta here. She can get to this stuff now." Burt: "Well, I’ve got the weed killer in the back of the truck, so I can move that in here if you want. “Pick your poison.” I just got that.”
- On the anti-gravity episode of MythBusters, the Build Team test a number of devices that claim to create anti-gravity fields, the last of which was called a "Hamel Generator", which was supposedly created by a man who was abducted by aliens and was introduced to their technology. However, every one of these devices failed to deliver, including the Hamel Generator, prompting Grant to quip that "You're better off using something designed by Mark Hamill!" A few seconds after he and Kari have finished laughing, Tori finally busts out laughing himself, having apparently just then gotten the reference.
- Calvin and Hobbes featured a couple of these:
Calvin: [looking through some playing cards] What the...?? I'm not playing with a full deck!
- Calvin fell for these tricks repeatedly. Another example:
Calvin: Susie, what's the answer to this question?
- Calvin and Hobbes seems to be a font of Late to the Punchline for those who read it as children.
- Matt Groening's Life in Hell has a very cute one. Milhouse Mouse is telling all his friends (including Bongo the Rabbit) a dirty joke about a lady who owned a little dog named "Freeshow." The punchline is that one day the lady was in the bathtub and realized that Freeshow had gotten out, so she jumped out of the tub and ran out the front door, tearing down the neighborhood street completely naked while screaming: "Freeshow! Freeshow!" All the kids laugh except for Bongo, whose face remains expressionless. Then he goes home, does his homework, eats dinner, etc.....before finally climbing into bed for the night, and then he gets the joke and starts laughing.
- A comedian by the name of Tim Sample occasionally started his routine by explaining that you might not get it right away, and that you could, for example, burst out laughing on the highway and drive right off the road.
- Denis Leary made a joke about finding the youngest Hanson brother in a motel all the way up a hooker's vagina with an 8-ball of cocaine next to them, and how the audience will remember the bit when it comes to pass. "You're gonna laugh about that later. People will say, 'What's so funny?' and you'll say, 'Can't tell you! You had to be there!'"
- Dane Cook has a standup routine where he's talking about the really annoying sort of car alarms, and coming up with lyrics to go with the alarm noises. He says that it might seem stupid now, but the next time you hear a car alarm, you'll stop and think to yourself, "Ha ha, that Dane Cook is a silly bitch."
- From a Tom Lehrer song intro, "I particularly remember one heartwarming story of his about a young necrophiliac who achieved his boyhood ambition by becoming coroner." (Tepid laughter) "The rest of you can look it up when you get home." (A lot more laughter)
- British comedian Stewart Lee runs into these responses fairly often, as his act is rather unconventional. During the course of one show, he informed his audience that "the jokes are there, but some of you might have to raise your game". On other occasions, he has divided the room by response - those getting the joke becoming Team A, while the less receptive audience members become Team F.
- Referred to as a "icebox laugh" in Picasso at the Lapin Agile (i.e., something that you laugh at when Fridge Logic kicks in) and brought up in relation to an intentionally nonsensical joke about e-shaped pies. Gaston gets the joke while in the bathroom, most likely by, as Einstein puts it, "process of elimination."
- In Shrek: The Musical, Shrek gets the usual blank stare from Donkey after joking that Lord Faarquad is Compensating for Something with his castle. Later, during the "Travel Song", Donkey bursts out laughing when he suddenly gets Shrek's joke.
- In Sabrina Online, we see the dramatic variation, when Sabrina and RC are almost mugged.
- At one point in Schlock Mercenary, the audience see's Doyt's thoughts right after the Doctor insults him, along with a footnote that explains he's only just getting the insult from yesterday's comic.
- Questionable Content: It took Faye a decade or so.
- Arthur, King of Time and Space: Arthur doesn't get this gag until the next strip.
- One Cyanide & Happiness strip has a man buying a tool belt.
First guy: I got a tool belt!
- PVP. Brent, to Francis:
"Did you hear about the cannibal that dumped his girlfriend?"
- In Tales of MU, a Harpy characters says that in the badlands, "thunder means someone told a giant a joke three days ago." The giantess who's appeared in the story bears this out, not realizing she was at the center of a hurricane of Double Entendres until much later.
- In the closing credits sequence of the Zero Punctuation review of Bionic Commando: Rearmed.
- In Red vs. Blue, it is mentioned at one point that this is how Caboose reacts to everything because he's just so dumb that he lags a few moments behind everybody else. He mistakes this for telepathy.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series:
Melvin: I always knew you wanted me to be inside you, Bakura.
- From the next episode:
Melvin: Then face me Florence, and suffer the wrath of the Egyptian Gods! * Evil Laugh*
- 5-Second Films gives us "Brian Finally Gets Mike's Joke". From the description, though, it appears it wasn't such an obvious gag:
"I don't typically understand jokes related to the Reconstruction (particularly the election of 1872), and I especially don't when I've had a fifth of bourbon and fireworks are going off all around my face. Mike should be thankful I even remembered it in the morning."
- In the Eddsworld flash movie WTFuture, the following exchange occurs:
Tom: As ever Edd, your sense of humor never ceases to amaze me.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: While confronting the Kyoshi warriors, who all fight with gold-plated warfans, Azula mockingly calls them the Avatar's "fangirls". Several beats pass before Ty Lee exclaims, "I get it now, that was funny, Azula." But then Ty Lee is the group's designated Cloudcuckoolander.
- An episode of the animated Fraggle Rock revolved around "The Funniest Joke In The Universe". Grumpy Bear Boober didn't get it, and asked everyone else, who immediately convulsed in unstoppable hilarity. It turns out he has to get water from the Well of Forgetfulness to make them stop laughing and since he's the only one not in stitches, he's the only one who can. At the end, all's well... until Boober gets the joke, and the other Fraggles have to take him to the well.
- I am not slow!
- Sideshow Bob gives Wiggum the nickname "Chief Piggum". The police chief understands this joke during Bob's parole hearing.
- After Snake's hair is shot in "Hell Toupee"
Wiggum: Now that's what I call a bad hair day.
Announcer: And now, the woman who "Mom"-opolizes the robot industry...
- In "Rebirth", a few seconds after a series of increasingly obvious references to leaving Fox and joining Comedy Central (culminating with "It's a sort of 'Comedy' central shipping channel, and now we're on it"), Amy exclaims "I get it!"
- The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show had a cartoon called "Aesop And Son". In one episode, Aesop laughs at a joke he heard days ago and tells his son a fable with the moral "He who laughs last laughs best". Come to think of it, a lot of things in that show were jokes young viewers wouldn't get until later.
Bullwinkle: Twenty dollars?!? That's antihistamine money!
- In an episode of King of the Hill Bill and Dale tell Hank and Peggy a joke about them ordering nachos with cheese and the punchline is they tell the waitress "if it's nacho cheese then who's is it" and everyone enjoys a good laugh except Peggy, later much time has passed and Peggy says "oh I just got that nacho cheese joke it's funny!".
- In the "Dr. Chicago" episode of George of the Jungle, George announces to the Commissioner that ants on a railroad, "Steal track!" The Commissioner, misunderstanding, answers: "Yes, George -- steel track. That's what makes the train run so smoothly." Shortly before the end of the episode, George bursts out laughing, and the Commissioner asks, irritably: "What's so funny?" George answers: "Steal track! Steel track!"
- And in another episode he's been caught in a snare by poachers who mean to leave him there. He comments "It pretty chicken thing to do to King of Jungle!" A poacher replies "If there be one thing I like, it be 'Chicken a la King'!" A few scenes later, back home, George starts laughing "Ho ho! Chicken a la King!"
- In Family Guy, Peter (in an attempt to become more sophisticated) spends days standing by a newspaper stand staring at a New Yorker cartoon (with the punchline "I'd be more apathetic if I weren't so lethargic") before he finally gets it, saying in a charitable tone that it's "kind of funny," before returning the magazine and getting a copy of Juggs.
- In the Garfield and Friends (U.S. Acres segment) "Secrets of the Animated Cartoon", Orson explains how a "delayed reaction take" works, using an example where it takes Bo seven months to get the punchline. Orson then claims the record for this is 11 months, 6 days, 14 hours, and 21 minutes.
Oooh I get it, the World War II era dictator being referred to was Adolf Hitler! Heh heh heh.