Fish out of Water

Pop a squat class, ‘cause Professor Xander is about to drop some knowledge!

What’s that smell?…it smells like…EDUMACATIONABLENESS! Today we are going to discuss one of my personal favorite tropes in storytelling. When used correctly it has been known to be a great way to produce comedic moments aplenty. What’s that? You already know what “fish out of water” means? Well aren’t you a cool as a cucumber? Why don’t you go leave a comment below describing your temperature and get yourself a mini-fridge! Mention my blog’s name to that mini-fridge salesman who keeps coming to your front door and I assure you, he will FINALLY leave you alone. Anybody left? Alright! Let’s get started.

Fish out of Water

 Similar to an actual fish out of water, the phrase refers to when a character is thrust into an unfamiliar setting or situation. Due to being unaccustomed to their new position, humor arises from their awkwardness. Let’s use an example that actually uses a fish out of water: The Little Mermaid.

After Ariel transforms from a mermaid to a human, she experiences the world on land for the first time. As seen during moments such as using a fork as a comb, Ariel is clearly out of place in the human world. While everyone around her is confused by her oddness, the audience is laughing from the humor of this situation. Thus we have a “fish out of water” situation.

Due to a plethora of comedic opportunities, “fish out of water” can be used as the sole basis of a film or television show. Take the sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun.

The whole show revolves around the premise of a group of aliens posing as humans in a suburban town. Because they are aliens with no idea how humans act, they all act awkwardly in these unfamiliar situations, which leads to a many comedic opportunities.

Now “fish out of water” doesn’t necessarily mean an unfamiliar character is thrown into our familiar world. On other occasions, it can be reversed; a familiar character is thrown into an unfamiliar world to the viewer. Take Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for example.

In this scenario, Harry is the “fish out of water” as he is enchanted by the wizarding world, a world we are all unfamiliar with. Notice how because the world is unfamiliar with us, there isn’t much “fish out of water” humor. This could be associated with the idea that because our world is so mundane and familiar, it’s very humorous when someone is confused with our world. In the reversed scenario, we relate and empathize with the “fish out of water” character because we, like the character, cannot comprehend the unfamiliar world so easily.


But hey, what do I know? I’m just some guy on the Internet.


So what do you all think? Any great stories come to mind that feature fish out of water? Do you feel that it’s overused? Leave a comment and get this conversation rolling. Until next time, this is Professor Xander signing off.