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He let the contents of the bottle do the thinking

Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding
They Might Be Giants, "Your Racist Friend"

One source of humor which comedians have used as a reservoir of material are contemporary stereotypes, be they sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise. When humour is used to excuse behaviour that others find offensive and inappropriate, you have just encountered a "Just Joking" Justification. Never mind that this seldom soothes the sting; the original barb hurt, after all. See the Real Life section below on the overlap between this trope and emotional abuse.

These can range a very wide gamut, from people getting upset at Michael Richards' (Seinfeld's Kramer) infamous n-word tirade at a heckler, to people getting upset when they don't realize Jon Stewart's jokes about Jewish conspiracies are actually deconstructive parodies (and he is Jewish). Your Mileage Will Vary on whether any given "Just Joking" Justification is hysteria on one side, a weak excuse on the other side, or a combination of both. Frequently features as an excuse for invoking Mars and Venus Gender Contrast.

You may also consider this as a form of justification for when an attempt to Cross The Line Twice results in Dude, Not Funny. Not to be confused with I Was Just Joking. Also see Parody Retcon for when this is applied to entire works.

Compare Ha Ha Only Serious.

Examples of "Just Joking" Justification include:


Anime & Manga

  • Detective Conan: Whenever Kogoro makes one of his off-the-wall, no-basis-in-fact accusations and it gets shot down, he will frequently backpedal by saying he was just joking.
    • Ai Haibara also always tag this to the end of anything that is actually real.
  • Darker Than Black played with this. November 11 used to drop a comment somewhat disturbing for everyone present and add "Just joking" immediately. It's sufficiently annoying to other characters that it gets several Ironic Echoes throughout the series.

Comic Books

  • Bergelmir (Loki's brother) tries to pull one to cover his ass after attempting to trick Lucifer into being honor-bound to kill himself.

 Bergelmir: It was joke, morningstar. A joke only. I've something of my brother's humor, after all.

Lucifer: Take me to the ship. Or I'll show you what makes me laugh.


Fairy Tales

  • In one version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, after the piper has gotten rid of the rats, the mayor claims he was only joking about the payment. If you've heard the story, you know how that turned out.


  • In the Adam Sandler film Jack and Jill, Jack (played by Sandler) has a mexican gardener whose only purpose in the movie is to make tons and tons of horrifically racist Mexican jokes ("We just got over the border!" "This is by son Juan, my other son Juan, and my daughter Juanita.") and follow them up with "I'm just KEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDING!".
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie makes fun of this briefly. After mind-controlling just about all of Bikini Bottom, Plankton is arrested. C'mon, he was just kidding.
  • Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Genie has made what could be seen as an extremely insensitive joke (that Aladdin isn't really required for a wedding to happen). "It's a joke! (deadpan) I do that."
  • Mother Gothel from Tangled uses this quite frequently when talking to Rapunzel.

 Gothel: "Ah, Rapunzel, how you manage to [pull me up the tower with your hair] every single day without fail... it looks absolutely exhausting, darling."

Rapunzel: "Oh, it's nothing."

Gothel: "Then I don't know why it takes so long! Ohohoho, darling, I'm just teasing!"

Rapunzel: "Eh-heh... So, mother, as you know, tomorrow is a very big day-"

Gothel: "Darling, look at that mirror. You know what I see? Is see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady. Oh, look, you're here too. Ahahahaha! I'm just teasing, stop taking everything so seriously!"




 Like a maniac shooting

flaming arrows of death

is one who deceives their neighbor

and says, “I was only joking!”


Live-Action TV

  • A rare example without overtones of racism or outright cruelty: on The Dick Van Dyke Show there was an episode where Jerry Helper (the next door neighbor) was going around saying The Alan Brady Show—on which Robert Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) worked—wasn't funny. He told Rob he was "just kidding" but kept on doing it. Rob was quite upset.
  • In Toshiie to Matsu, Oda Nobunaga attempts to pass off a particularly tasteless move (displaying the gold-plated skull of his sister's dead husband, and ordering her and her new fiancee to drink from the skullcap) on his part as a joke.
  • Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm makes frequent use of this (usually as a last resort if he needs something from whoever he offended).
  • In the Hannah Montana episode "Judge Me Tender", a Simon Cowell parody character issues one of these, then immediately retracts it, after saying both Hannah and the judge for whom she was filling in were boring.
  • An episode of Malcolm in the Middle has a new neighbor boy spreading malicious lies about Malcolm, turning the entire neighborhood against him. When Malcolm confronts him, the kid says, "Hey, it's just a joke. Lighten up," and continues doing it.
  • Michael Scott often finds himself caught in these after an egregious faux-pas or a joke in really bad taste.



 Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said

I'd like to smash every tooth in your head

Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said

by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed

  • In the Weird Al Yankovic song "I Was Only Kidding", the singer tries to use the line to justify telling someone that he loved her. As abrasively as possible. He gets shot.

 When I said you could always trust me,

When I said I'd never leave you flat,

Well guess what? I was only kidding, baby,

I can't believe you fell for that!

(you're so gullible!)


 The phone rings, it's early, it's seven o'clock.

He says I'm sorry that I woke you but I just had to talk.

You know, last night, remember when I tried to choke you?

I didn't mean it, I was drunk, it was only a joke.


New Media

Newspaper Comics

  • Get Fuzzy: Bucky occasionally says "I'm just sayin'..." after insulting humans and dogs, eventually prompting this exchange:

 Satchel: "Bucky, you're a jerk!"

Bucky: *Stunned Silence*

Satchel: "Hey, I'm just sayin'!"



  • During one episode of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas, Peri and Erimem are currently posing as two princes who are supposed to be dead, and are as far as they know, stranded due to a temporal mishap. Erimem suggests suicide (to save the timeline) is the only answer, but then pretends she was just joking when hearing Peri's shocked response.

Stand Up Comedy


 Jeff: Did I offend someone in the audience? It's a joke. I have two cats. (Beat) One on either side of the fireplace.


Video Games

  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum Joker (of course) pulls one as one of his looping taunts after beating challenge mode.

 The Joker: While you fighting I've had everyone you love BRUTALLY MURDERED! hehehe... Only joking.

    • Of course, with the Joker, you never can tell....
  • In Mass Effect 2, your shipboard AI, EDI, will attempt to crack a few jokes, but ends up append these comments with the phrase "That was a joke" when the people listening don't find it funny, or are afraid she's gone rogue.

Web Original


 Krillin: What did I do?

Freeza: Remember my tail!?

Krillin: Can't you take a joke?


Screaming, and an explosion.


Western Animation

  • The Simpsons:
    • Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons deconstructs this after an offensive bit by outright saying, "When you look at me like that, it's a joke."
    • Following Sideshow Bob's Heel Face Turn in "Brother From Another Series", he remarks that he still just might have the urge to kill Bart Simpson, only to quickly add "Joking, joking!" when Bart gets frightened.
  • Casinko, an episode of Sealab 2021 contains a heavily referenced song entitled "We're only joking". [1]

Real Life

  • This is one of the typical excuses offered for the emotional and psychological torment inflicted by bullies.
    • More generally, it seems to have become acceptable shorthand (at least among the sort who assume that anyone else would do the same) for "I Lied."
  • Comedian Andrew O'Neill references this trope in his video I'm not being racist but... . In summary, he demonstrates that the phrase renders anything suspicious and disturbing.
  • Humorist and U.S. Senator (DFL-Minn.) Al Franken has used the term "kidding on the square" to refer to a type of "joking" that's subtly, or not-so-subtly, serious in its intent.
    • Strictly speaking, that's more what Discordians call "Ha Ha Only Serious", and is an entirely other thing. Ha Ha Only Serious uses jokes to get across a serious message, whereas this trope is about using humour as an excuse to be gratuitously offensive.
    • "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke" is part of the SubGenius dogma, but trying to justify it as "just a joke" is one of the few sins. The inversion of this trope is Ha Ha Only Serious.
      • "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke" only applies when you were joking right from the start, though.
        • No, "fuck 'em if they can't take a joke" applies when we're kidding but we're serious anyway. The "fuck 'em" part still stands, and that's the whole joke.
        • There was an Irish comedian who would end his act with "We never mean to offend anybody, but fuck you if you can't take a joke."
  • Thomas Edison is said to have commissioned his archenemy Nikola Tesla for a considerable sum and, when Tesla finished the work and asked about this mythical payment Edison had mentioned, just told him, "You don't understand our American humor."
    • This happened before they were arch-enemies, and when Tesla was still working for Edison's company. Edison supposedly had promised a large sum for a person who could solve a specific problem in the design of a component, but after Tesla had done just that, Edison noted that without a written contract such promise is worthless.
    • Tesla then asked for a relatively small raise on account of being Edison's most useful employee. Edison refused. Tesla resigned.
  • Since this type of humor has become more popularized and people think they can hide behind it, it's been fairly common for newspaper columnists, for instance, to write straight editorials that are blatantly bigoted and then when they're called out say, "It was obviously meant to be satire!"... only to completely fall down when the time came to explain exactly what they were satirizing and why it deserved it.
    • It is quite easy to fool people by beginning insults with "No offense, but..." Smart people would get Fridge Logic immediately. The key word here is "but."
  • T-Shirt Hell was premised on this.
  • Infamously used by Jack Thompson to back out of his challenge to video game developers, when they actually created a violent video game to satirize themselves like he challenged them to. When he wouldn't make the donation to a charity as promised, the folks behind Penny Arcade footed the amount in his name. For which he sued them for harassment, and tried to have them arrested.
  • The Internet. "lol jk". 'Nuff said.
  • Sarah Palin said that Rahm Emanuel's usage of the word "retarded" was offensive. When a controversy erupted, Rush Limbaugh chipped in and said "In today's politically-correct society, there's a big deal if you call a retard, retard". Sarah Palin ranted against Rahm and said that he had offended "all of God's children with mental disabilities", but then said that Rush's comment was okay because it was "satire."
    • Stephen Colbert then joined in, saying that his comments were just satire, and said on TV: "Sarah Palin, you're a fucking retard."
    • One episode of Family Guy had a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo of an Alaskan governor's mentally handicapped child. Sarah Palin took offense to this, and replied with her usual reaction. The actress who played the character is herself mentally handicapped, and responded to Sarah Palin with "my parents taught me to have a sense of humor about my life, instead of parading me around the country for pity votes."
  • Mary Bale, the woman who threw a cat into a very deep trashcan, leaving it trapped in the dark for FIFTEEN HOURS defended her actions by saying "'I did it as a joke because I thought it would be funny". Anonymous thinks it is good she has a sense of humour, it likes a laugh itself.
  • South Park seems to get immunity from criticism (at least since it has become popular) for piling all kinds of political incorrectness and Dead Baby Comedy into what is ostensibly a kiddie cartoon show while older cartoons with material only about half as offensive (such as the infamous "Censored Eleven") are never shown on TV (sort of a reverse Grandfather Clause, if you think about it). The justification is apparently something along the lines of "Well, Trey Parker and Matt Stone don't really believe in that stuff and are actually mocking it, so it's okay." Well, how do you know that older animators didn't do likewise?
  • Very common excuse for misogynistic or otherwise discriminatory remarks, like "jokingly" saying that you'd like to rape a woman, and then blaming her for overreacting/being hysterical/having no sense of humour when she calls you out on it.
  • PETA attacked Super Mario 3D Land on the grounds that Mario's Tanooki Suit promoted wearing fur. They resorted to "just a joke" after facing the Internet Backlash.
  • Blizzard Entertainment used one of these after blizzcon 2011. When people were attacked or otherwise belittled for their alliance pride following a (archived and old) video of Greg "Corpsegrinder" getting ganked in PVP and saying a slur of homophobic insults and wishing suicide on them, a community manager tried to say "It was just a joke." when the company was under fire and threatened with being reported to the homosexual rights commitee for encouraging homophobia. The flames took a good while (and an official apology from corpsegrinder and Blizzard's CEO) to die down.
  • Stewart Lee, in this article, deconstructs this attitude and the recent reputation it has for symbolising a comedian as being 'brave' and 'non-PC'. He does it humourously, but underneath the humour is the point that sometimes this defence is sometimes just used by the comedian to handwave being a bullying jerk.