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What is the definition of a "one-note joke"?

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A joke of Microsoft OneNote? – user3812 Feb 21 '11 at 9:06
Possibly comes from One Note Samba, by Jobim :) – mplungjan Feb 21 '11 at 9:19
Only one note, yet it somehow sounded so very interesting when Astrud Gilberto sang it... – bye Feb 21 '11 at 9:30
So many people talk and talk and talk and still say nothing. – MT_Head May 17 '11 at 8:07
up vote 5 down vote accepted

A "one-note joke" is a character with so few dimensions it's difficult to see him (or her -- or, occasionally, them) from most angles. The one-note joke may have served a valid purpose when the author introduces the character(s), but if the ONJ shows up twice, you get a feeling of déjà vu, and by the third time you find yourself asking "is that all they do?"

Entire movies, novels, and even series of works have been written around a one-note joke. Call it "high concept" if you wish, but there is nothing to it but a single premise and a lot of giving the audience exactly what they expect over and over again. One note, played again and again.

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The Aristocrats is a good example of one such movie. – Tester101 Feb 21 '11 at 17:36
Is it totally analogous to the concept of a stock character? – Uticensis Feb 22 '11 at 3:44
Similar, but not identical. A stock character can merely be one whose appearance in the narrative is predictable. There's nothing to prevent the stock character from becoming a fully-fleshed-out, interesting character (well, nothing but the author, that is), but once the character becomes something more that a predictable collection of catch phrases (or similar), he or she would cease to be a one-note joke. Try to imagine Bill and Ted's Excellent Ethical Quandary. – bye Feb 22 '11 at 11:38

One-note is an expression that describes something repetitive, in the same manner as the same note played over and over again.

A one-note joke is a joke that is repeated with little or no variation. It's also an expression for a character or story built around a single cliché or stereotype, often used to describe it's two-dimensional appearance.

A repeated joke can be used to great effect, and the repetition then becomes a joke in itself. However, it can also easily fail and become annoying instead.

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I don't find any authoritative reference (i.e. dictionary) on that, but the way I understand it is “a short joke”, also known as “a one-line joke”, aka “a one-liner”. Uses reported by a Google search seem to agree.

It may also be used figuratively. For example, when used to refer to a film or video game, it means that the production has few funny elements, but otherwise isn't very funny.

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