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Scientist: So what do you do?
The brain surgeon and rocket scientist are often held as the benchmark for careers that require highly intelligent, skilled and successful people. They get this accolade not only for their obviously complicated and specialized jobs but also for the importance of their roles. The brain surgeon spends hours with a scalpel to the body's most vital organ, where one slip can fry your nines. The rocket scientist deals with sending multibillion-dollar projects into the loftiest frontier—and, as amply demonstrated by the U.S.'s earliest space rockets, one mistake can result in disaster.
A high standard of success is applied to anyone who becomes one of these two roles. Their intellect is not associated with absent-mindedness nor cold villainy using science with malicious intent. They are obviously able to accomplish great feats. So the level of rocket surgeon or brain scientist can leave a big empty gap when one fails to live up to it.
As a benchmark, then, they become a synecdoche for all smart, difficult jobs. If something is to be implied to be easy, it will be unfavourably compared to them. "It's not like it's rocket science" may be muttered. "You're hardly a brain surgeon" may be used to break the bad news to The Ditz that they didn't get into Harvard medical.
This doesn't mean the job is easy. For instance, being President of the United States is generally agreed to be quite difficult, only forty-four men have managed to get the job at all, but it ain't rocket surgery. Now Mr. President may be able to console himself, but in general, if there is a surgeon or aeronautical engineer in the family, the shadow can loom over a younger member's head - especially if they have a Jewish Mother.
A common punchline is for the user to realize or be reminded immediately after saying the phrase that what they're describing actually is Rocket Surgery.
- Abbey National used this in an ad campaign once. A guy asked a brain surgeon to explain ISAs, and got the response, "What do you think I am, a rocket scientist?". After thinking to himself "Rocket scientist...eh, close enough", he goes to Real Life astronomer Sir Patrick Moore who was also stumped. Then it turned out the ISAs being offered by Abbey National were so simple anyone could understand them.
- Inverted in one commercial for a fast food restaurant chain in which two co-workers are eating lunch during their break, one with, apparently, a more expensive but less appetizing meal. The one with the fast food goes into a spiel on the cheapness and more filling-ness of her meal and how obvious it should be which is better before breaking into hysterical laughter. When prompted, she explains with, "And you're a rocket scientist!"
- One commercial for Eggo syrup featured a suit at the Eggo company asking why nobody's ever thought of making branded syrup to go along with their own waffles. "It's not rocket surgery!" he says.
- A commercial for, as I recall, IBM featured two surgeons discussing the advertised product while operating on a still-conscious patient. When the user-friendly nature of the product is brought up, one says "It's not brain surgery." Cue agitated look from the patient.
- Completely averted in Monster, despite the protagonist being a brain surgeon. Apart from referencing his skill as a doctor, there is no mention of his intelligence.
- Lampshaded during Peter David's run on The Incredible Hulk, when "Professor" Hulk comments, "It's not rocket science. Of course, I am a rocket scientist..."
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Baxter Stockman gets annoyed at being demanded to deliver results quickly.
This is not rocket science — it's far more complicated than that, and it takes time.
- Discworld: Archchancellor Ridcully once commented that something should be quite simple. "It's not rocket magic."
- Buckaroo Banzai, when he's not playing at a concert or fighting off the Red Lectroids, has to test the rocket car he helped engineer - just after completing brain surgery on an Eskimo.
- Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Sheen asks Jimmy a question while they're all working on spaceships to pursue the Yolkians.
Sheen: Hey, Jimmy! *waves a small green stick in the air* Do these fusion reactors need fuel rods?
- Played for laughs in the second The Nutty Professor movie, where Sherman, whose mind is decaying rapidly and is just about to meet Denise's parents, assures himself that he won't make a fool of himself because Denise's parents are probably not rocket scientists. Turns out that's exactly what they are.
- Sarcastically employed in RoboCop 3. A young hood tries to rob a donut shop but forgets about the stereotypical customer of late night donuts shops and gets several dozen laser sights pointed at him. The store clerk then says "So what's it like being a rocket scientist?"
- Trope was actually spoken by name in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints' Day by malapropping character of Romeo, referring to a difficult heist.
- Ten years earlier this exact quote appeared in Mystery, Alaska:
Donnie Shulzhoffer: This is hockey, OK? It's not rocket surgery.
- In Roxanne, Chris remarks about the titular love interest, regarding her approachability, that "It's not like she's a rocket scientist!" C.D. responds that actually, that's exactly what she is.
- In the 1996 Pauly Shore comedy Bio-Dome, when Dr. Faulkner corrects Bud and Doyle, who are mangling the Spider-Man theme into a song about Iron Man, they angrily demand, "What are you, some kind of rocket scientist?" He stares at them for a moment and replies, "Yes!"
- Kel's unseen parents in Kenan and Kel are a Rocket Scientist and a Brain Surgeon despite him being an apparent moron.
- According to a later episode's IQ test, Kel is also apparently categorized as a genius.
- The Sarah Connor Chronicles had a funny example where John compliments Cameron on getting better at using eyeliner before pointing out that it isn't exactly brain surgery. Cameron being Cameron states that it would have to be a lot sharper for brain surgery.
- A sketch on That Mitchell and Webb Look provides the page quote - an obnoxious brain surgeon at a party shoots down everyone's job descriptions with "well... it's not exactly brain surgery, is it? And I would know!" Until he meets "a scientist" who "works mainly in rocketry"...
- "I've got a joke, actually: What's the difference between a doctor and a brain surgeon. One's... not exactly brain surgery, and the other IS! BRAIN SURGERY!"
- In The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon gets insulted when his sister says she tells everyone he's a rocket scientist. He's a theoretical physicist, and looks on rocket science as no different than mindless manual labor.
- Married... with Children has Kelly masquerading as a scientist from "the National Aeronautics and Space Administration". Upon being told that it's impressive that someone as young as her is working there, she replies, "Well, you know, it isn't exactly rocket science."
- Stargate Atlantis used the "actually it kind of is" variant at least once, when Dr. Keller is trying to remove a parasite from McKay's brain.
- From one infamous session on Judge Judy:
Judge Judy: "...if you break someone's property, you're supposed to pay for it. It's not rocket science. What is rocket science?"
- Ricky from the Trailer Park Boys in reference to an easy task: "It's not rocket appliances."
- On a comedy edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Jack Black was unsure of an answer, so he called his rocket scientist parents. He wound up walking, not wanting to risk the $125K he had won for charity. However, since this wasn't exactly rocket science, it was revealed that his mom had given him the correct answer.
- The West Wing: A Jewish Mother joke from Bradley Whitford. She points at a picture of the president, "See that guy? The guy standing next to him is a doctor."
- In a Get Fuzzy Bucky the cat tries to make a trap for their neighbor's ferret. This trap required blueprints on several sheets of paper. Bucky claims this is not rocket science. Rob claims that figure six cares to say it is.
- In FoxTrot, Roger explains in one of his Must Have Caffeine scenes that anything one does before 8:00 AM qualifies as brain surgery.
- In a story arc where Roger gets the flu, he asks a busy Andy to make him some chicken soup:
Andy: Good grief — we're not talking brain surgery. All you have to do is open a stupid can and dump it into a pot.
- One Far Side cartoon showed a group of people in labcoats looking at a cracked, misshapen rocket, with the caption, "Gentlemen, I think we should face the fact that we're not exactly rocket scientists."
- This caption contest.
- In Zits, Jeremy's dad Walt names this trope exactly while being congratulated. The congrats die down quickly.
Stand Up Comedy
- The punchline to a Rich Hall joke about the secret of comedy: "You gotta be able to say stupid things intelligently, or intelligent things stupidly. Whatever, it ain't rocket surgery!"
- Played with in a bit by Jim Gaffigan, musing what brain surgeons would say instead: "I love how we measure the difficulty of everything versus brain surgery. 'Hey, it ain't brain surgery.' What do brain surgeons say? 'It ain't like...er, trying to talk to women.'"
- A Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?? level set in The Space Race has the player trying to help the first cosmonaut get into orbit on schedule. The cosmonaut claims fixing the ship is rather simple and "not rocket science", leaving the helper character to point out that yeah, it is rocket science.
- Interesting example, the final boss of No More Heroes (a really hard fight and a freaking ton of crazy plot twists) has a kickass battle theme called, appropriately :"Rocket Surgeon".
- Portal "We're not banging rocks together over here!"
- In Yahtzee Takes On The World, an old webcomic by Yahtzee Croshaw, resident Mad Scientist Paul once said "I'm a rocket scientist, not a brain surgeon."
- An exchange from Freefall:
Sam: You make something hot, the ship goes up. It's not rocket science.
Ebby: We can do this. It's not... ummm...
- And later in the same arc, when two non-pilots contemplate performing a complex spacecraft rendezvous:
Schlock: You make it sound like rocke- errr... brain surgery.
- The Onion had a headline that was, "Suborbital Ballistic-Propulsion Engineer not exactly a rocket scientist."
- This 27b/6 article has the author responding to an idiotic e-mail saying that he appreciates "you taking time out from calculating launch trajectories or removing temporal lobe tumors to contact me with such."
- In Kim Possible, the titular character has one parent in the rocket science profession and the other a brain surgeon. In one episode, where her parents come up with the idea of a summer job at a fast food place to ease her money issues she remarks:
Kim: A rocket scientist and a brain surgeon and this is all you could come up with?
- Also, on the subject of her annoying younger twin brothers, at that moment firing a rocket of their own invention through the house:
Kim: This is what happens when a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon reproduce.
- And in another episode, Kim's father is struggling with his tax forms and trying to call an accountant to help him.
Mr Possible: Yes, I know it's tax season, that's why I'm calling an accountant. (pause) Look, ma'am, I'm no rocket scientist - well, actually I am - (whoever is on the other end hangs up) Hello? Hello?
- In a Simpsons Halloween special, Smithers is initially startled when Mr. Burns plans to remove Homer's brain using an ice cream scoop. Mr. Burns retorts, "This isn't rocket science; it's brain surgery."
- Then, in "Viva Ned Flanders" Homer agrees to take part in a Lance Murdoch stunt. Lance tells Homer that it's dangerous...
Homer: I'll figure it out! Geez, it's not rocket science!
- Teen Titans: A dismembered Cyborg loses his temper over Beast Boy's inability to follow his instructions to rebuild their rocket: "Come on, this isn't rocket science... okay, it is rocket science, but it's not that hard!"
- One episode of Bounty Hamster revolved around Marion the hamster being split into varying personalities aligned with the Seven Dwarves. The "Dopey" specimen said both "it isn't rocket science" and "it's not brain surgery" at varying times. And yes, he said "it's not brain surgery" two seconds before finding out it was. Ditto with rocket science.
"Actually sir, it is!"
- When Dr. Venture is showing off his Walking Eye:
Dr. Venture: It's not rocket science! ... Well, it could be considered a branch of rocket science.
- Anyone who's ever been an aerospace engineer has invoked this straight and has played around with it (subverted, averted, double subverted- the whole lot).