No soap radio
No soap, radio is a traditional punch line for a prank joke. The body of the joke is not related to the punch line itself, but is made out to be humorous by participants in the prank. The first known reference to this form was in the late 1940s. The punch line is known for its use as a basic sociological and psychological experiment, specifically relating to mob mentality and the pressure to conform. The basic setup is similar to the Asch conformity experiments, in which people showed a proclivity to agree with a group despite their own judgments.
The setup involves at least two conspirators and a target, or "victim". One of the two conspirators, the "joke teller", will catch the attention of the target and announce his intention of telling a joke, perhaps stating that it would be particularly to the victim's taste (e.g., "You're gonna love this one...").
The punchline of the joke is known to the conspirators beforehand, traditionally the phrase, "No soap, radio." After the joke teller delivers the punchline, the co-conspirators immediately laugh uproariously, treating the story and the nonsensical punchline as though it were, in fact, a proper joke. In reality however, there is intentionally no humor in the content and punchline.
The purpose of the prank is to make the victim of the punchline have one of two responses:
- False understanding - when the victim acts as if the joke is humorous, when in fact the victim does not understand the joke at all.
- Negative understanding - when the victim expresses confusion about what the joke means and feels left out (e.g., "I don't get it"). The conspirators are now prepared to mock the victim for the victim's "inability to get it". Because of pressure to conform, the victim may switch to false understanding (pretending comprehension of the incomprehensible) after receiving facetious derision from the conspirators. Normally after some time of negative understanding, the prank is revealed in full to the victim.
The phrase "no soap" possibly originated around 1860, the time it was first recorded, meaning "I haven't any money" or "I will not lend you money." Its contemporary connotation is "not a chance" or "nothing doing." However, the phrase itself was being employed in an absurdist and humorous context as early as the 1750s, when it appeared in a well-known piece of nonsense prose improvised by the English dramatist and actor Samuel Foote in order to test the memory of a rival: "So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an apple-pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming up the street, pops its head into the shop. 'What! No soap?' So he died, and she very imprudently married the barber..." 
The trick is an example of anti-humor. Of the outcomes listed, false understanding is the most desirable to the conspirators. The scenario resulting from false understanding is a demonstration of groupthink and peer pressure - the need to conform to one's peers. Despite the fact that the entire joke has no hidden meaning, nothing to "get" and no real punchline at all, the key is the conspirators laughing at it anyway.
Since the short variety of joke is usually thought of beforehand, there are a few commonly used ones. They often involve animals in bathtubs.
- Two polar bears are sitting in a bathtub. The first one says, "Pass the soap." The second one says, "No soap, radio!"
- A foreign man is flying in an airplane. He points out of the window at the unfamiliar countryside below and exclaims, "No soap... radio?"
The long variety of the joke is normally made up on the spot, but may be reused after that. There are a few classic versions. One version is as follows:
- Two ducks walk into a bar but find that they have no money to buy drinks. They decide to go beg on the street. The first person they see is a white man. They ask him for money and he says, "Sorry, I left my wallet at home". The second person they see is a black man. (If the listener laughs here, anticipating a racist joke, it is customary to reprimand them, saying things like, "Why did you laugh? Do you think black people are funny? Are you a racist?" until the train of thought is lost, then abruptly resume the joke.) The third person they see is a Czechoslovakian pianist. They ask him for money, and he turns to them, and says, "No soap... Radio?"
Over the years the joke has become widely known and entered popular culture in other forms, including a shower radio labeled "No Soap-Radio!" on a The Simpsons episode ("Homer the Heretic"), a popular podcast named after the joke, and a band with the name appearing at the Crazy Horse on a The Sopranos episode ("Pie-O-My"). One of the earliest references on television, 1961, is in the The Twilight Zone episode, The Odyssey of Flight 33 where the radio operator actually says, "No soap" when he can't reach anyone on the radio. It has been used as the name for rock bands, as well as a short-lived TV sketch comedy show (à la Monty Python's Flying Circus) starring Steve Guttenberg that aired on ABC in the spring of 1982.
"No Soap Radio" was also the name of a successful radio commercial production company in New York City formed in 1970. Because of its activity as a music company creating tracks for TV as well as radio, it changed its name in the early 1980s to No Soap Productions and is still active as of 2012. During the late 1960s and early 1970s "No Soap Radio" was used among college students as a nickname for public radio, including college stations. Such radio had no commercials and was thus not like "Soap Operas" which did carry commercial advertisement.
A line of bath and body products exists under the name "Not Soap, Radio".
- "No soap. Radio.". Chris Hays at Stanford. Retrieved December 19, 2005.
- "No soap radio: Theories of Origin". Chris Hays at Stanford. Retrieved November 22, 2007.