The Late Show host, Stephen Colbert (an American talk show host, don't mind that, just think of him as some random guy you don't have to care about) quite often uses a type of joke whereby he describes one thing to mislead you, then name the other thing that you've thought the preceding description described but in fact didn't. For example:

Is there a term for this kind of joke?

  • This is not close enough for a single-vote closure (though note that the second example at the candidate duplicate is 'One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas; how he got in my pajamas, I don't know.'). I'd say that 'paraprosdokian' is an overlapping term, and 'misdirection' far too broad to be a good answer. I'd like to register a close-vote without it being final. Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 0:05
  • The 'title' & the original wording of the Q. gave me the impression that I needed to know about the person being mentioned and his "type of joke" in order to understand the Q.. That actually put me off even reading the rest of the Q.. Yes, I could have looked up the names & links, but I wouldn't expect to have to do that to understand the gist of a Q.. @Vun-HughVaw - If, as you now say, "the fact that he's Stephen Colbert isn't even inherently relevant to the question", why refer to him both in the 'title' and in the first 6 words?
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 0:09
  • @TrevorD I didn't. Someone edited my question and added that part in. english.stackexchange.com/posts/426215/revisions . I thought referring to him as Stephen Colbert specifically would be beneficial because someone somewhere might know well about him and about the exact type of humor he uses (he is pretty popular after all). It just makes the example even more specific. Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 8:50

4 Answers 4


On Chris Head's site, a page called "Stand-up Comedy Fundamentals: Part 2, Misdirection" (July 28, 2016) uses the term misdirection for this type of set-up-based joke:

Having explored set-up/ payoff in the first blog we now turn out attention to a particular kind of set-up/ payoff: misdirection. I would unconsciously have laughed at misdirection for years, but I first became consciously aware of it watching Have I Got News For You in the 90s. (A formative decade for me.) I didn't yet have a word for it, but I began to notice that host Angus Deayton would often make the audience assume he was talking about one news story and then, at the last moment, would reveal he was talking about another.


Once I had picked up on the technique I began to notice it everywhere. But I didn’t have a word for it until I read veteran US stand-up coach Greg Dean’s book [Step by Step to Stand-up Comedy (2001)] and found that comedians (like magicians) used the word misdirection. Now, twenty years later, when teaching misdirection I often use a list of example gags that I compiled from a range of sources online. Three examples from the list will suffice here:

A lady with a clipboard stopped me in the street the other day. She said, "Can you spare a few minutes for Cancer Research?" I said, "All right, but we're not going to get much done." (Jimmy Carr)

I hate people who think it's clever to take drugs...like customs officers. (Jack Dee)

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the hell she is. (Ellen Degeneres)

Part of the funniness in all of these is the attitude, namely a flippant attitude to a cancer charity, a rebellious attitude to drugs and a couldn't-care attitude to the elderly. A student on the joke class once described the payoffs as transgressing social norms, and there is some truth in this.

Again though, thinking solely about the mechanism, in all three jokes the set-up creates assumptions. Greg Dean talks about the "target assumption". Then the payoff, the rug-pull as comedians sometimes say, subverts those assumptions.

As Head notes, misdirection is an established term in magicians' terminology. Don Wilmeth, The Language of American Popular Entertainment: A Glossary of Slang and Terminology (1981) has this entry for the term:

Misdirection: The magician's art of diverting the audience's attention from some secret maneuver or device involved in making an illusion or trick work.

The absence here of any discussion of misdirection in the context of stand-up comedy suggests that the term was not well-establish in that sense on 1981. Google books searches for "misdirection joke[s]" turn up eight verifiable matches (not including Greg Dean's book, which is not previewable). Seven of those are from 2010 or later, but one rather skimpy reference (previewable in snippet view only) is from 1981.

  • The reason I put this in a comment is because (other than as a general term) it is a niche usage (unlike when referring to magic tricks). Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 23:49
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    On the idea that there is an element of “transgression of social norms” in comedy, it is worth saying that disrespect is at the core of all comedy, not just of the type under discussion. So Aristotle in his ‘poetics’ defines comedy as the imitation of the ridiculous (‘geloion’), which, in turn, belongs to the category of the ugly/unseemly.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 16:53
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    in the business, this is inevitably called a "bait and switch" or "switcheroo" (indeed, exactly as in the answer below). I have only ever heard "misdirection" using regarding stage magic or sleight of hand.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 17:28
  • HIGNFY shares personnel with Private Eye, who make good use of this and go further with an image-based mis-captioning. Tommy Cooper, a magician as well as a comedian, also made good use of misdirection in a non-satirical way.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 9:47
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    I'm not sure your examples actually use the same technique as the examples in the question. There is an element of surprise at the end, as there usually is with a punchline, but there's no real switch. The question is clearly about the construct "1: introduction of A and B. 2: comment which is ostensibly about A. 3: the revelation that the comment was actually about B." I don't see that in your examples.
    – user221615
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 2:19

I know it is not a single word, but this form of joke is often called a "Bait and Switch" or "Bait and Switch Comparison".

I suppose one word that might cover this is;


A sudden unexpected variation or reversal, often for a humorous purpose.


Another, perhaps better, is;


A figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part.


  • 8
    Ahh, the old Reddit switch-er-oo. Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 3:40
  • 3
    In my mind "switcheroo" is nice because it lacks the negative connotation that "misdirection" has...
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 15:21
  • @Michael, I was going to say "but it's not what feels right to you or me, the QA is about the industry term of art". However, perhaps I'm wrong - I guess the OP is just asking the best way to describe that type of joke, not necessarily how working stand-up comics (in English speaking regions) refer to it amongst themselves.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 17:31
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    To expand on the Reddit switcheroo comment: on Reddit this type of joke is so overused that people reply to it with "Ah, the old Reddit switcheroo!" with a link to a recent previous example, that also links to a previous example... leading to chains of thousands of examples of this type of joke. If you decide to go and follow the chain, you comment ("Hold my <x>, I'm going in!") So many people must have seen this on Reddit that that alone makes Switcheroo a common name for the type of joke. Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 8:32
  • Paraprosdokian seems to be the most precise word for this technique, though I will say I have literally never heard or read it before and couldn't confidently say how it's pronounced. Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 17:12

Paraprosdokian (see this Wiki page) :

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect [...]

  • This answer was already suggested here by @Fraser. Please check answers to avoid suggesting a duplicate one. You can edit and support your answer, and explain why you think this is the solution. This answer only consists of a link and a summary (copied?)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 12:15
  • Building on what @Mari-LouA wrote, a good hint to avoid rehashing what others have already written is to expand all comments then do a browser text search to find the word (or keyword in a phrase) that you want to base your answer on. If it's already been mentioned in an answer, then either move on or suggest an improvement to that answer with a comment or edit. If it's been mentioned only in a comment, you are entitled to expand it in an answer (but only if you give more relevant detail). It's also good etiquette to acknowledge the user that first mentioned that word/phrase in their comment.
    – Deepak
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 5:31
  • @Mari-LouA although, to be fair, Fraser's answer suggests two possible words. Going by the Wikipedia article, "paraprosdokian" is the correct term for this. An answer stating only that is therefore useful.
    – SQB
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 10:32
  • @SQB 'tis a slippery road you are suggesting, how many answers on Stack Exchange contain more than one suggestion? Does that mean anyone can pass by, select the suggestion they feel is best and turn it into an answer? Instead of having five answers, we'll end up with fifteen or more? Zubin Mukerjee answer has exactly the same source and cites exactly the same definition. This answer is basically little more than a link. Furthermore, it's not formatted correctly, the explanation appears to be in the OP's words, it's not.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 11:05
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA on my "home stack" Science Fiction & Fantasy, I'm used to users taking care to have only one answer per answer-type post (and being encouraged to do so), especially on story identification requests, which are somewhat similar to a word or phrase request like this. I think it would've been better if Fraser had added two answers: one for switcheroo and one for paraprosdokian, to be voted on separately.
    – SQB
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 11:18

Having watched the second clip in your examples, this is an example of antithesis, juxtapositioning and comic irony.


Makes a connection between two things - “That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Neil Armstrong) - Your dictionary.com

The connection in your second example is between the brand of Disney and the brand of Beyonce.

The jokes are also ironic (you would expect that when he talks of the best loved brand having just mentioned Beyonce and Disney, he would actually mean Disney but he continues to say he meant Beyonce), so the jokes demonstrate comic irony.

Comic Irony

Irony is often used in literature to produce a comic effect. This may also be combined with satire. For instance, an author may facetiously state something as a well-known fact and then demonstrate through the narrative that the fact is untrue.- Wikipedia

The jokes also demonstrate the use of juxtaposition:


The fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect. - OLD

So you could describe the jokes as examples of antithesis, juxtaposition, comic irony, or indeed any combination of these three devices.

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    That isn't what antithesis means at all - the antithesis of something is the opposite of it. The negation of a thesis is its antithesis.
    – Fraser
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 1:57
  • 3
    wrong - 1) person or thing that is the direct opposite of someone or something else. 1.1) A contrast or opposition between two things. 1.2) A rhetorical or literary device in which an opposition or contrast of ideas is expressed. - from your link. It literally means the "opposite-idea" in all contexts. It is not just a connection - it is an opposition. Hence the prefix anti
    – Fraser
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 15:45
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    "I'm not here to educate people" - clearly.
    – Fraser
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 15:47
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    @Fraser, "hence the prefix anti" is misleading. Etymologically antithesis is not so strong. anti in neologisms invariably means opposite, but that is not universally the case in older words; the first meaning that you list is relatively new (less than 200 years old) according to etymonline. Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 15:07
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    @Peter - The etymology of the word is quite clear, it comes from Aristotle's Rhetoric. From "ἀντί" and "θέσις " - "against" "placing" - literally "to set against". He gives numerous examples of structural and functional oppositions - perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/…
    – Fraser
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 19:35

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