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I'm looking for an expression or a verb describing the feeling you get or the situation when you tell a joke and nobody laughs.

Oh man, last night I cracked a joke and noone even smiled at it. I [the expression/verb]

I think it will be OK if I say, "I got embarrased" (although I'd like to make sure it's OK to be used here) but I'm interested in a kind of informal and casual way to say that.

I thought I goofed up might work but it seems it's more about a mistake but when you tell an old joke or simply your joke is not that funny as you thought can't be really a mistake.

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    There is a specialised intransitive verb for approximately this situation, but it's only really used of/by stand-up comics and other stage performers, for whom to die (standing up) means to get silence from the audience, rather than laughter or applause. – FumbleFingers Jan 26 '17 at 18:35
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    @FumbleFingers, in North American English, the idiom is to bomb. It could be used in a colloquial context, too. – S. G. Jan 26 '17 at 23:31
  • I just came across have egg on one's face. Can it also be used in this context? "Oh man, last night I really had egg on my face" – Yuri Jan 27 '17 at 5:17
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    This wasn't your question, but I wanted to let you know that to most American English speakers, "noone" looks like a spelling error. It may not be strictly incorrect, but it's very uncommon and may raise eyebrows. The more common usage is to separate the two words "no one". English can be such a confusing language! For example, we do write "nobody" and "nowhere" instead of "no body" and "no where", but we don't write "noone" instead of "no one". Go figure. :-) – Michael Geary Jan 29 '17 at 8:52

10 Answers 10

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The idiomatic expression is "fell flat", to mean that nobody laughed at it.

Oh man I told this joke last night and it totally fell flat.

If a professional comedian repeatedly "falls flat" during his "set", we say he "bombed", or he "died on stage".

There are various ways to describe your reaction to telling a joke that falls flat, but you might say something like, "I felt like an ass." Other options:

I told this joke but totally blew the punchline and no one laughed.

I told this joke and no one laughed. I just wanted to go crawl under a table (I was really embarrassed).

I told this joke and when I got to the end no one laughed. I guess they all have sticks up their butts (lack a sense of humor).

[Disclaimer] The expression "I felt like an ass" may not be appropriate in "polite" company. A more socially acceptable expression might be "I felt like a fool", or "I felt like an idiot".

The expression "they must have sticks up their butts" is a graphic metaphor that is definitely not appropriate everywhere. Instead you could say something like,

Their sense of humor must be broken.

or use an even more playful and evocative expression like,

They wouldn't know a good joke if it mugged them in an alley and stole their wallets.

  • Brilliant, thanks a lot. Now that you're here, can I use fell flat or any of those expressions that you mentioned here, too? Context: B overhears A and jumps in the conversation A: I really liked the way he jumped over that thing B: Thanks A: No, I didn't mean you. I meant Chris. – Yuri Jan 26 '17 at 18:10
  • @Yuri I'm not sure of the joke? – Andrew Jan 26 '17 at 18:33
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    @Andrew: If there was one, it fell flat on me too! :) – FumbleFingers Jan 26 '17 at 18:36
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    @Yuri Oh yeah, sure. "I felt like crawling under a table" just means you were really embarrassed, so any context is fine. – Andrew Jan 26 '17 at 18:51
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    While the rest of the answer is really good, I'm not really a fan of (suggesting) the use of unnecessary expletives. Suggesting things like feeling like an ass and stick up their butts adds complexity in deciding whether the context is right for such a phrase, while wanted to crawl under a table or something like don't know fun when it stares them in the face can be used in practically any situation – Jasper Jan 27 '17 at 12:40
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A common idiom is crickets, meaning that instead of laughter, there was a silence deep enough for crickets to be heard chirping. All the tropes wiki explains:

A character says or does something intended to elicit an enthusiastic response from a group watching him, such as the audience in a theatre or a band of comrades. But instead of the reaction he expects, he hears nothing but the sound of crickets chirping, suggesting that not only is nobody responding, there's nobody there to respond.

The site also gives several examples of the trope in visual media. Slang Vocabulary also lists the term, and there's a Reddit thread about it. And here's an example of MSN using the term.

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Aside from the other expressions, you can also say that the joke went down like a lead balloon.

It can be used in other contexts suggesting some form of communication has taken place and was not well received.

I couldn't find a single word for it, but here's the page from Wiktionary where I found the full expression and the alternative version (go over instead of go down): Go down like a lead balloon (Wikitionary).

In addition some less specific words can be used with your original sentence.

You could, for instance, say that "[you] missed with that joke".

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    I thought the preposition used was over rather than down. I checked Google Ngrams and while down is attested, over is both older and more frequent. – verbose Jan 27 '17 at 5:54
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    @verbose overall over... is more prevalent, but restrict it to British and down... wins -- so a transatlantic difference. I'm in the UK and the version with over -- if I ever heard it -- would seem either foreign or dated, depending on context. – Chris H Jan 27 '17 at 9:15
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    Lead balloons definitely go down, it's the ones full of air that go over. – Michael Kay Jan 28 '17 at 0:25
  • @MichaelKay it might be the humorous implication that it, indeed, did go over like a lead balloon would - it didn't – htmlcoderexe Jan 28 '17 at 18:59
  • "go over" is the general expression for something's being received. It can go over well or go over badly. Going over like a lead balloon is just a figurative way to say it went over badly. You could probably substitute any catastrophic or unpleasant image and be understood, like, "go over like an atomic bomb," or even "go over like a hot tub in July." – broccoli2000 Jan 29 '17 at 19:02
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It seems like you're looking for something like "[...] I bombed". Usually you can probably address the joke rather than yourself - and say "[...] I bombed it", or "[...] It bombed".

A possible variation - if the joke was ruined by a... lack of grace... in telling it, you can address yourself like: "[...] I totally floundered while telling it". That implies that you were speaking clumsily

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You could say the joke (or the performance/rendition of it) flopped.

(of a performer or show) be completely unsuccessful; fail totally.

For example:

Oh man, last night I cracked a joke and no one even smiled at it. The joke totally flopped.

Or

Oh man, last night I cracked a joke and noone even smiled at it. My timing totally flopped.

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I might just say "tumbleweed" while sweeping my hand along an imaginary barren vista. It's pleasingly evocative of deserts and dusty western ghost towns.

e.g. Oh man, last night I cracked a joke and noone even smiled at it - tumbleweed.

Of course you then run the risk of nobody laughing at that and I don't think there's even a word for that kind of meta awkwardness.

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To describe the situation, you could say the listeners are a tough crowd.

Urban Dictionary has a nice example:

what someone would say after telling a joke or other humorous anecdote, and then getting deadpan looks and no verbal acknowledgement from the people listening.

"Yeah, so I heard Dave got a pet cat, oh well, probably the closest thing to pussy he'll ever have in his place, huh guys? hahaha!"

(silence and blank stares from everyone)

"Geez...! Tough crowd, man....tough crowd!!"

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The request is about the feeling of telling a joke that bombed. So it's not a case of understanding what happened to the joke, it's what happened to the joke-teller.

Oh man, last night I cracked a joke and noone even smiled at it. I died of embarrassment.

You could also used died on it's own, but for clarity, if you're not necessarily speaking to an English native you may need to clear up it's metaphorical use. It also largely depends who you're talking to.

  • "I died inside" is a metaphorical use of "die." – David K Jan 29 '17 at 15:28
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A term you might also use to describe your feelings and this situation is awkward:

embarrassing or inconvenient; caused by lack of social grace

in your example:

Oh man, last night I cracked a joke and noone even smiled at it. It was awkward.

The word itself is also something usually said by younger people in response to such events, usually with stress on both syllables with a bit less stress in between and lingering somewhat on the r.

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I think a reasonable way of explaining is that "they didn't get it". That is, move the blame from yourself (for telling a bad joke) to the audience (for not understanding it). eg.

Last night I told my favourite joke but the people I was with didn't get it.

Try searching for "they didn't get the joke" and you'll find quite a few references, memes, etc.

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