The Penguin Joke: Two Penguins in a Bathtub
Two penguins are sitting in a bathtub.
One penguin says to the other, “Please pass the soap.”
The other penguin replies, “No soap. Radio!”
Described as “anti-humor” or “anti-comedy” by Wikipedia, “No Soap. Radio!” is an ubiquitous non-sequitur punchline. The set-up to this unjoke takes many forms and has been retold countless times with a wide array of characters including people, penguins, lions, tigers and bears (oh, my!).
Many theories exist on where the expression “No soap. Radio!” originated and what it actually means. Michael Quinion of World Wide Words notes that phrase “No Soap” was first recorded circa 1860 and carried with a meaning somewhat along the lines of “No, I haven’t any money.”
While the exact origins of the “No Soap” utterance have been lost to history, according to Chris Hays of Stanford University the earliest iteration of the “No Soap. Radio!” punchline appeared sometime in the 1940’s and involves a guy in a boarding house taking a shower, his request for soap shouted to the landlady downstairs, who responds in kind with “No Soap. Radio!”
Hays cataloged various origins of the “No Soap. Radio!” punchline, a handful of which resonate with some degree of plausibility. The most reasonable explanation being that during the 1930s through to the ’50s, soap operas were a common fixture on radio broadcasts. The theory goes that “prime time” radio listeners held a certain disdain for these sappy serials. In an attempt to appeal to these “prime time” listeners, a more attractive marketing demographic, some radio stations adopted “No Soap Radio” as slogan to advertise their soap opera-free programming.