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File:Selfservmem3 4567.jpg

Above: the invention of the wildly popular "Fishsticks" joke. Below: Cartman's memory of the event.

Yes, I believe that you believe you helped write that joke. That's how people like you work! Your ego is so out of whack that it will do whatever it can to protect itself. And people with a messed up ego can do these mental gymnastics to convince themselves they're awesome, when really, they're just douchebags!
—Kyle telling Cartman off about his memory, "Fishsticks". Cartman tries to remember what really happened, has the flashback seen at the bottom image, and takes it as proof he is right.

I remember every minute of that conversation. I have a phonographic memory!
Homer, The Simpsons

Self-Serving Memory is a Flash Back that is blatantly altered to serve the needs of whoever is remembering it. More often than not played for comedic effect, but is used a decent amount for dramatic purposes by arrogant jerks.

At the lowest level, used mainly for dramatic purposes by a Consummate Liar to suit their needs or manipulate other characters. But, when cranked up, can result in wildly fantastic scenarios, more often than not impossibly unrealistic. Depending on the believability of the character dreaming this up, it can be quite funny, both as a standalone gag or even a plot point.

See also Rashomon Style. Compare Unreliable Voiceover, The Munchausen, and Crazy Memory. May be related to I Reject Your Reality.

Examples of Self-Serving Memory include:

Anime and Manga

  • Played for laughs numerous times in Ranma ½.
    • Happosai's memories of any given set of events (and of his own appearance in his youth) are usually rather different from what really happens. Same with Genma, too.
    • When Kuno suffered from amnesia, and saw female-Ranma for the "first" time again, his brain spontaneously generated a romantic love story of their past as a couple. Nobody (but him) was amused.
    • Akane "chooses" to remember Ranma giving a fairly cogent explanation of one of his harebrained schemes as "blah-blah-blah you have small breasts blah-blah-blah" in order to justify her thumping him. The explanation involved pressure points on an adult teacher's breasts.
  • Used in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya when Kyon has to lie to his friend to explain how he ended up in a compromising (though technically innocent) position with Yuki. He explains that she, being an anemic, fainted, and he was forced to catch her. This was probably more believable than the truth, as the Class Representative, Ryoko, attempts to kill him, and he catches Yuki after she jumps in front of large spikes to save Kyon..
  • In Martian Successor Nadesico, Yurika is convinced that as kids Akito would chase her around while calling her name, while Akito reminds her it was the other way around.


  • Happens in an issue of Green Arrow/Black Canary. Green Arrow reminisces on a past event, and all the female characters are wearing less clothes and have larger breasts.
  • Scott Pilgrim
    • How Gideon remembers his time with Ramona.
    • Scott recalls his past relationships only in idealized cartoon-o-vision. It isn't until he is confronted by the Negascott that he stops denying and running from the less laudable things he has done.
    • Gideon thought Scott's thoughts were boring so he "spiced them up." One example was turning Kim's geek ex-boyfriend who Scott beat up for no good reason into a supervillain. The Cerebus Retcon was how the memories actually were.
  • In a Spider-Man story written by Peter David in the 1980s, Peter Parker, Mary Jane, and JJJ sit at a table in a bar, telling Joe Robertson about a robbery they had just witnessed in the "Rashomon Bank". Mary Jane tells it in a way that she thinks will help Peter's standing at his job at the Daily Bugle, trying to make Spider-Man look good, while portraying Peter Parker as a loyal employee and trying to make JJJ look well. In J. Jonah Jameson's account, he is the hero and Spider-Man was probably in cahoots with the robber. Peter's version is the closest to the truth (the would-be robber was a pathetic loser, JJJ embarrassed himself etc.) but he still conceals the fact that he's Spider-Man and tries to make Jameson look better. He ends up having to pay the tab for all.


  • Syndrome did it in The Incredibles as he guilts Mr. Incredible into thinking he was wrong to have rejected him as a sidekick.
  • In Secondhand Lions, Garth's recollection of saving Hub is tinted in a manner to impress Walter and make him sound badass. The retelling shows otherwise.
  • Zombieland: Tallahassee tells Columbus about how he hated to lose his puppy, Buck, with a cute flashback of him doting on this sweet, smart dog. Later on, while stoned, he admits that Buck was really his son. The same flashback plays, replacing the puppy with a little boy, not more than three years old.
  • This is the entire premise of Rashomon, where the witnesses all have irreconciliable versions of who killed the victim and why.


  • In Harry Potter, Horace Slughorn revises his memory of telling Tom Marvolo Riddle, aka Voldemort, about the Soul Jars known as Horcruxes. Harry manages to get the real memory later. However, the memory has been artificially and obviously altered. Any that haven't been are treated as 100% accurate.
  • Possibly too subtle to count, but the second part of C S Lewis's Till We Have Faces shows the first part to be a Self Serving Memoir.

Live Action TV

  • Red Dwarf: Taken to ridiculous extremes. Lister is missing the recently departed Rimmer, and rose-tinting his memories of their history together to such a degree that Rimmer comes of almost like a saint. When Kochanksi tries to comfort him, Kryten (who's afraid that she will replace him in Lister's life)takes a massively different tack; He creates a holographic carnival ride based on Rimmer's own "war diary". Needless to say, Rimmer's recollections are massively divergent from reality, depicting himself as the only competent person on the ship, rather than the cowardly, stupid, tasteless nitwit that he really is. It promotes Rimmer's views, tastes, and interpretations on events which clearly are biased. Lister ends the episode decrying his past with Rimmer.

 Lister: I never want to see or hear from that scum-sucking, lying, weasel-headed smeghead in my entire life!

Kryten: Sigmund Freud, eat your heart out.

  • Community: In "Investigative Journalism", Jack Black's character has a vivid flashback of Britta and Annie fighting in a soapy pool without bras on in cheerleader's outfits... in the middle of a class.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Averted (except for the occasional Rule of Funny) by Future!Ted (although we only know this because of Word of God — there's no way to actually prove that Ted is telling the truth except the argument that it would be out of character given his cautionary tale approach to his narration), but often occurs in stories and flashbacks told inside of the Whole-Episode Flashback of the show, mostly from Barney — e.g., seducing a female cop who pulled him over when she actually arrested him, his friends heaping lavish praise on him for no reason, women telling him his penis is enormous out of the blue, etc.
  • Yes Minister: Sir Humphrey sees this as a natural occurrence in government committees, which is why minutes are so important:

 "It is characteristic of all committee discussions and decisions that every member has a vivid recollection of them, and that every member's recollection of them differs violently from every other member's recollection; consequently we accept the convention that the official decisions are those and only those which have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials; from which it emerges with elegant inevitability, that any decision which has been officially reached would have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials, and any decisions which is not recorded in the minutes by the officials has not been officially reached, even if one or more members believe they can recollect it; so in this particular case, if the decision would have been officially reached, it would have been recorded in the minutes by the officials and it isn't so it wasn't."

To translate from Sir Humphrey's classic Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness; minutes exist because without them, the parties involved would be so blinded by their own Self-Serving Memory that once out of the meeting they'd insist that the decision reached was the one most favorable to them or that they agreed with, causing confusion. They also exist in order to enable the person writing them — usually a Civil Servant — to ensure that the actual recorded decision is the one most favorable to them, but that's beside the point.
  • Gossip Girl's Dan Humphrey remembered having a threesome with girlfriend Olivia and friend Vanessa as essentially a bad porno. The girls remember it being more awkward, with him giving The Look to Vanessa.
  • Space Cases: During Harlan's trial, prosecutor Catalina recalls being in the process of heroically saving the ship when Harlan pushed his way to the pilot station while Harlan remembers single-handedly saving the ship as the others look on in awe. The kicker is that BOTH remember fellow students Radu, Rosie, and Bova cheering them on when none were in the Command Post at the time.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("Storyteller"), when Andrew tries to justify killing Jonathan, we see various flashbacks which differ wildly as he changes his version of events. This prompts Buffy to point out indignantly that he has just completely changed his story.
  • In the episode "A Matter of Perspective" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Riker is accused of murdering a scientist. Riker, the scientist's wife, and the scientist's assistant each use the holodeck to reconstruct their own versions of the events leading up to the scientist's death, in a dramatic example of the trope.
  • In the Kenan and Kel episode "I'm Gonna Get You Kenan", Kenan, Kel and Chris tell their versions of how Rigby's was robbed. Kenan and Chris's stories are self boasting as possible while Kel's focuses on how he couldn't open a bottle of orange soda.

 Policeman: What does that story have to do with the robbery?

Kel: Nothin. It's about orange soda. You have to pay attention.

  • This trope is the basis of a hilarious episode of Coupling where we see Sally and Patrick's questionably accurate memories of the day they met.
  • Ugly Betty:

 Amanda: We met at the Jill Sander party last night. He was totally worshiping me.

[flashback to him ignoring her and then return to present]

Amanda: I mean I get it because I was the hottest girl there, but then there was this skank who was totally trying to horn in and I was as nice as I can be.

[return to flashback]

Amanda: [shoving the girl to the floor] Out of the way, skank!

  • Outsourced (TV series): Todd had to find out whether Rajiv hit Gupta and gets both their accounts. In Gupta's version, Rajiv beats him savagely to the point of coughing up blood while employing an Evil Laugh. In Rajiv's version, he asks Gupta to get back to work in an extremely polite (and highly out of character) manner while Gupta snarls back disrespectfully and then starts yelling that Rajiv is hitting him.
  • Mash episode "The Novocaine Mutiny": Frank has accused Hawkeye and BJ of mutiny, and the court-martial requests their recollection of the event. Frank recalls being a self-sacrificing, awe-inspiring surgeon (he wants two patients at once, "I have two hands"), while Hawk and BJ are whimpering and burning out. Hawkeye retorts, "That was at the least entertaining; at the most perjury," and proceeds to recount the more likely scenario: Frank is bumbling and obnoxious, while Hawk and BJ are trying to ignore him and do their job. They are acquitted and the JAG takes Frank down a peg by telling him his record wouldn't make him stand out as a pastry chef.
    • A serious example occurs with Hawkeye in the series finale, "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen". Hawkeye tells Sidney Freeman of telling a woman on a bus he and other South Korean refugees are on to keep a chicken quiet so it won't give their position away to the enemy. But it's not true. "It was a baby!" (hysterical sobbing) The woman had smothered her child.
  • In The Flying Nun episode "The Boyfriend", Sister Bertrille tells how she and her ex broke up, with her flashback showing him being cruel and her being meek and fearful of him. Her ex's flashback has the roles reversed. The real way it happened was that they simply agreed to break up.


  • Red vs. Blue has Sarge do this at the start of season seven when he recalled how they deleted the record of the Blues from Command's computer, with his modifications including killing Grif and Simmons turning into a motorcycle. When Grif calls him out on this, citing his not being dead, Sarge tells Simmons to transform and run over him.

Video Games

  • Spider and Web: Part of the gimmick of this Text Adventure. The main game is composed of the PC's retelling of a mission gone awry, but the character is purposefully misrepresenting parts of the story. (You take an "important package" item that doesn't really exist, for example: it is made up as an excuse to hide important tools in a nook.)
  • Sonic Adventure: A bit of a meta-example: in the game, you play as six different characters whose stories are happening simultaneously. At a few points in the game, the characters fight each other and as you'd expect, the one who wins is whoever the player is playing as. The official strategy guide claims that this is because the characters all remember the fights ending differently.
    • This also explains:
      • Why Sonic runs away from Amy in one version, leaving her to catch up with him at the entrance to Twinkle Park, while in another, he walks her there like a gentleman.
      • The line "This plane's cool!" in Tails's version (when he flies by the end of Red Mountain to pick up Sonic) when no such line exists in Sonic's version.
      • Tails as a tagalong who always tries to be where Sonic is in Sonic's version of the stages, while Tails always beats him to the goal in his own version.
  • Varric in Dragon Age II, embellishes obviously enough for his interrogator to see through it and demand the real account.
    • There is a Storming the Castle mission that has to be done twice. Once with Varric alone, where he single-handedly kills dozens of mercenaries, and his brother Bartrand comes crawling on his knees to beg forgiveness, and one (the real one) with the entire party battling tooth and nail through mercenaries and demons. Cassandra demands to hear the real story after Varric tells her the first one.
  • In Fire Emblem 7, should you choose to have Rebecca and Lowen support one another, it becomes clear that he had left quite an impression on her when he whisked her from her village as it was being attacked by bandits...

 Rebecca: Oh, but that's absurd! Sir Lowen, you are a fine knight! Why, I remember it so well... Countless hundreds of bandits had descended on our village...

Lowen: Please... There were ten at most...

Rebecca: In the heat of the moment, it felt like many more!

Lowen: Hmm...

Rebecca: Anyway, just as their fiendish grip on our village began to tighten, you appeared, Sir Lowen, on your white steed...

Lowen: But... my horse is sorrel.

Rebecca: This is the way I prefer to remember it, milord. Please don't ruin it by correcting me!




 Agatha: I'm going to have to think twice about everything I say to you, aren't I?

Castle Heterodyne: It'll be fun!


Western Animation

  • The Simpsons
    • In "The War of the Simpsons" Homer and Marge throw a party at which Homer gets totally drunk an embarrasses himself, leering at Maude Flanders, stumbling over furniture etc. When confronted about this by Marge the next day, he remembers (in a pastel-coloured flashback) a witty, sophisticated conversation not a million miles from the Algonquin Round Table of the 1930s.
    • In "$pringfield" Homer accuses Marge of being against the casino (when she wasn't) and proceeds to assertively claim: "I have a phonographic memory!" A cut shows that the scene is drastically different, notably showing Homer with ripped muscles accepting a call from the President from something with octopus tentacles. To add insult to injury, he doesn't even correctly remember his wife's hair color.
    • In "Bart Gets Hit by a Car", Bart gets hit by Mr. Burns' car. At the trial, they both tell self-serving versions of the story, but Bart's (where Burns is a lunatic who went out of his way to hit him) was more believable; Burns' account (where he was on his way to help orphans and Bart threw himself at the car while laughing maniacally) is instantly disbelieved by the entire courtroom for obvious reasons.
  • Family Guy:
    • Peter Griffin does it to get the doctor into trouble after giving him an exam, making the check-up a sinister molestation. He also convinces the judge that his prostate exam was a sinister molestation.
    • Peter fails to secure the foodstuff Cheesy Charlie's for Stewie's birthday, and tells Lois a story about Satanic Nazis.

 Cheesy Charlie's Manager: We have many flavors of ice cream - vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and people.

Peter Griffin: What was that last one?

Cheesy Charlie's Manager: Chocolate.

      • Lampshaded when Brian interrupts Peter's story to pull up a chair, saying "These things are always gold", and afterwards clapping and calling Peter "the Spalding Gray of crap".
  • South Park
    • "Fishsticks": Cartman tries to take credit for the fishsticks joke, and flashes back to the actual creation of the joke multiple times. Each time it gets more and more elaborate, finally ending with him defeating a dragon and an army of robot Jews.
      • Kyle calls Cartman out on it, admitting that Cartman likely has this problem, his ego-influenced memory creating false accounts of real events. Cartman brushes him off but later assumes Jimmy is the one with this problem.
    • In the Season 2 Clip Show episode, things always ended more pleasantly for the character telling them. And every flashback ended with everyone getting ice cream.
  • Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law: Done to a ridiculous level. At the end of one episode, Harvey has a flashback of a scene at the beginning of the episode, except the scene looks incredibly different, with characters present that weren't there the first time and elements that don't even seem possible such as a scuba diver floating in the middle of the room.
  • In the Drawn Together episode "Toot Goes Bollywood" Foxxy's psychiatrist Wooldoor implants a false memory in her mind of her being raped as a young girl in order to make her feel better about herself with the belief that she's a slut because of past sexual abuse, not because she's just a slut.
  • Kim Possible: In a Continuity Nod, Ron remembers how he invented a fast-food hit, the naco. His memory is sepia-toned with himself and Kim in period dress.

 Kim: That's how you remember it, huh?

  • The Sushi Pack episode "So Says Who?" combines this with The Rashomon, as Tako and Maguro try to figure out why they're in a box on an asteroid hurtling toward Earth. Not only do they remember the day's events differently, their versions paint themselves in a positive light while making the other look ridiculous.
  • Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy: "One Upon An Ed" has the each of the Eds telling Johnny the story of how they got stuck in his bedroom wall.
    • Edd's version is much more sanitized (Johnny has no braces), Eddy is an even bigger Jerkass than usual, and both Ed and Eddy are easily cowed by Edd's wrath.
    • Eddy's version portrays everyone else as grotesque parodies of themselves (Johnny's braces become Braces of Orthodontic Overkill) who all bow down and worship him, because he's awesome and dapper.
    • Ed's isn't self-serving, so much as...bizarre. Edd only speaks in Blah Blah Blah and the Kankers become a giant three-headed monster by eating radioactive mashed potatoes, and Ed fights them with super powers. As Eddy puts it, "Your story's weird, Ed!"
  • Johnny Bravo has a story in the park involving bees, Carl's robot, Johnny being trampled by a horse (or horse-like creature) etc., as told by Johnny, Carl and Susie.
  • Time Squad has three different versions of an encounter with Attila the Hun with only the last one being correct.
  • Batman: The Animated Series combines this trope with The Rashomon. Harvey Bullock's account of events paints him as a brave hero and Batman as a menace, while the animation shows him bumbling around and Batman doing all the work. In a slight twist to this, the rookie cop unintentionally does the same, depicting Batman as a supernatural Badass; for example, he claims Bats took down a fleeing crook just by pointing at him, apparently having missed the Grappling Hook Pistol in his hand.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy: Grim asks Billy what he's said about playing with his scythe. Cut to Billy's flashback featuring Billy and a camel with Grim's head on a Dali-esq background, with "Grim" saying "Sure thing, Billy! And after that, you can ride on my humps!"
  • Twice Told Tale from Garfield and Friends. Basically, the episode is about how the Arbuckle residence becomes filled with yogurt. Not only do Jon and Garfield blame each other, but they each exaggerate the other's negative qualities (Garfield becomes extra demanding; Jon wants to save money so he can spend it selfishly) and play up their own positive qualities (Garfield is more accomodating; Jon wants to save money for charitable reasons). Each asks Odie if his own version isn't correct, but he doesn't agree with either.
  • Lite Sprites: Meadow starts telling the story of how they all got their light wands, and flashes back to all her friends laughing at the hilarious joke she had just made. Bleak stops her short and flashes back to what actually happened: the joke crashed and burned.