I've attempted a few searches, but the terminology escapes me. Is there a simple term or phrase that defines this type of humor? I don't think it's redirected comedy but suspect the word "literal" may appear in the phrase.

Airplane - the movie:

"You better tell the captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital."

"A hospital? What is it?"

"It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now. Tell the captain I must speak to him."

"Excuse me sir. There's been a little problem in the cockpit."

"The cockpit? What is it?"

"It's a little room at the front of the plane, where the pilot sits but that's not important right now."

Last Man Standing Season 2 Episode 16:

Mandy (and the other women in the household are observing the new soccer coach):

"I was just an innocent native girl collecting shells in a white cotton dress that billows in every warm breeze. And then things get nasty."

Kyle enters the room unobserved by Mandy.

Vanessa: "...Kyle"

Mandy: "No, he's not there."

Shortly after that, Kyle presents Mandy with a personalized mini-license tag with her name on it, showing her one with Karl on it.

Mandy: "That says Karl." Kyle: "Yeah, but I'll know." Mandy: "Are you mad?" (Referring to her fantasy with another man) Kyle: "Sort of. I mean, Kyle's a pretty common name."

Today's Meaning of Lila comic strip

Meaning of Lila comic strip

  • 1
    The term "misdirection" seems to be used to describe this kind of humor whereby the expected path of the joke is not the one taken. However, the examples I've been finding always seem to be a kind of inverse to the humor in the OP, but maybe the term still applies.
    – mike65535
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 15:30
  • Out of the blue, I searched the definition of non sequitur and found that the literal interpretation is "it does not follow." Instead of misinterpretation as a comedic device, could it be that this methodology is non sequitur? It's confusing, a bit, because the chain of logic allows that it does follow, but the concept is strong that it is non sequitur.
    – fred_dot_u
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 19:05

2 Answers 2


I believe this is misinterpretation as a comedic device.

It is based on finding humor when one person misinterprets something the other person said. One of the most famous examples of misinterpretation is Who's On First by Abbott and Costello, where Costello consistently misinterprets the names of baseball players that Abbott tells him about. Since each player's name is an English word or phrase, its easy to see why Costello misinterprets them immediately.

In the movie Airplane, Dr. Rumack speaks to Striker in this exchange:

                    DR. RUMACK
     Can you fly this airplane and land it?

     Surely you can't be serious.

                    DR. RUMACK
     I am serious, and don't call me Shirley!

Dr. Rumack has taken "Surely" to mean "Shirley". It is funny as long as Dr. Rumack does so in complete seriousness.

Another example is when Capt. Rex Kramer is speaking to someone on the phone about the endangered flight:


Kramer and a mutilated Carey are en route to airport. Kramer
is at the wheel. Through rear window is obvious REAR
PROJECTION of passing road.

          (into phone)
     No, we can't do that; the risk of a
     flameout is too great. Keep him at 24,000.
     No, feet!

The person on the other end of the phone has misinterpreted "24,000" in some fashion, and we don't know how. When Kramer says "No, feet!" we can tell what happened.


This article describes that sort of humour as either hyper-understanding or misunderstanding:

"Hyper-understanding revolves around a speaker's ability to exploit potential weak spots in a previous speaker's utterance by playfully echoing that utterance while simultaneously reversing the initially intended interpretation. Misunderstanding, on the other hand, involves a genuine misinterpretation of a previous utterance by a character in the fictional world. Both cases, however, hinge on the differentiation of viewpoints, yielding a layered discourse representation."

So the examples within the movie Airplane would be misunderstanding because the characters do not seem to be aware of the joke. In real life when people make jokes in that form they are (usually) doing it deliberately so that would be hyper-understanding.

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