No soap radio

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"No soap radio" is a form of practical joke and an example of surreal comedy. The joke is in reality a prank whereby the punch line has no relation to the body of the joke – that is, it is actually not funny – but participants in the prank pretend otherwise. The effect is to either trick someone unfamiliar with the prank into laughing along as if he or she "gets it" and/or ridicule him or her for not understanding.

The joke became popular in New York in the 1950s.[1] 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.[citation needed] 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.

Execution of the prank[edit]

This prank usually requires a teller and two listeners, one of whom is a confederate who already knows the joke and secretly plays along with the teller. The joke teller says something like, "The elephant and the hippopotamus were taking a bath. And the elephant said to the hippo, 'Please pass the soap.' The hippo replied, 'No soap, radio.'" [2] The confederate laughs at the punchline, while the second listener is left puzzled. In some cases, the second listener will pretend to understand the joke and laugh along with the others to avoid appearing foolish.

The purpose of the prank is to elicit one of two responses from the victim:[citation needed]

  • 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".

Sometimes, if the second listener does not respond right away, there is an "explanation" of the joke to the second listener, which involves the teller and the first listener emphasizing words or elongating pauses, but providing no further information, e.g. "Don't you get it? No soooap... radio!"


The origin of the punch line remains mysterious,[3][unreliable source?] but it was circulating in an Illinois primary school by the early 1960s and in a Quincy, Illinois middle school as early as 1962.[citation needed] The punch was also used in East London and Essex schools in England in the early 1960s, notably Ilford County High for Boys.[citation needed]

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".[4] 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..."[5]


As a practical joke the trick is an example of anti-humor or surreal comedy. Of possible outcomes, false understanding is the most common. 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 punchline.


The joke teller says something like "The elephant and the hippopotamus were taking a bath. And the elephant said to the hippo, 'Please pass the soap.' The hippo replied, 'No soap, radio.'"[2]

Since the short variety of joke is usually thought of beforehand, there are a few commonly used ones. They often involve animals in bathtubs.

  • A woman goes into her bathroom and is shocked to find an elephant in her bathtub. She asks the elephant, "What are you doing in my bathtub?" The elephant responds, "No soap, radio!"
  • 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?"

Popular culture[edit]

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"). It has been used as the name for rock bands, as well as a short-lived TV sketch comedy show (No Soap, Radio) starring Steve Guttenberg that aired on ABC in the spring of 1982.[6]

No Soap Radio was also the name of a successful radio commercial production company in New York City formed in 1970.[7] 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 2016. 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 advertising.[citation needed]

Bruce Cohen published a book of poetry entitled No Soap, Radio.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Joanne R.; Haslam, S. Alexander. Social Psychology: Revisiting the Classic Studies. SAGE. p. 81. ISBN 9781446268001. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Angela Cora Garcia, An Introduction to Interaction: Understanding Talk in Formal and Informal Settings, A&C Black, 2013, pp. 63–64, ISBN 9781623569341 – via Google Books 
  3. ^ No-Soap theories.[unreliable source?]
  4. ^ "No soap". World Wide Words. 1999-12-11. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  5. ^ The Great Panjandrum
  6. ^ "Has Your Favorite TV Show Reached Its Peak? Jump The Shark |". Jump the Shark. Archived from the original on February 11, 2007. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  7. ^ Billboard, 83 (44), Nielsen Business Media, Inc., Oct 30, 1971, p. 6, ISSN 0006-2510 – via Google Books