No soap radio

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For the 1982 American sitcom, see No Soap, Radio (TV series).

"No soap, radio" is a traditional punch line for a prank joke. The prank is that the punch line has no relation to the body of the joke – that is, it isn't actually funny – but participants in the prank pretend otherwise. The intent is to either trick someone unfamiliar with the prank into laughing along as if they "get it", or ridicule them for not understanding.

The first known reference to this form of joke was in the late 1940s.[1][not in citation given] 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.


This joke requires the joke teller to have at least one 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]

At this point the confederate (who is pretending that this is the first time they have heard the joke), starts laughing hysterically, as if the joke were very, very funny. The other person who was told the joke is then left wondering why it is funny, and why everyone else "gets it", but they do not. Typically, the recipient of the joke will pretend to get it, and laugh along with the others, just so they won't look stupid. The joke teller and the confederate then laugh at the recipient for pretending to get it, because the joke is, in fact "ungettable". "No soap, radio" is not a punch line, but a nonsensical statement. [2]

Our attempts to interpret the utterance "No soap, radio" as a possible response to the request "Please pass the soap" derives from its placement after that request.[2]

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". 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.[citation needed]


The origin of the punchline remains mysterious,[1][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 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".[3] 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..." [4]


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.


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, 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.[5]

"No Soap Radio" was also the name of a successful radio commercial production company in New York City formed in 1970.[6] 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.[citation needed]

A line of bath and body products exists under the name "Not Soap, Radio".[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b No-Soap theories.[unreliable source?]
  2. ^ a b c d 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". World Wide Words. 1999-12-11. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  4. ^ The Great Panjandrum
  5. ^ "Has Your Favorite TV Show Reached Its Peak? Jump The Shark |". Jump the Shark. Retrieved 2010-07-01. [dead link]
  6. ^ Billboard 83 (44), Nielsen Business Media, Inc., Oct 30, 1971, p. 6, ISSN 0006-2510 – via Google Books 
  7. ^ "Not Soap, Radio". 

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