40 Funny Examples of Irony in Literature, Movies and Real Life
These irony examples will raise anyone's eyebrows—and bring a laugh or two
How often have you asked someone, “Isn’t that ironic?” While ironic is used to describe certain situations, many times, it’s actually misused and misunderstood. To start off, it’s important to know what irony actually means.
Using irony shows the contrast between how things appear and how they are in reality. When something is ironic, it’s unexpected, while in an ironic phrase, something is said, but the meaning is completely different (for example, when someone describes a rainy and cold day as a “beautiful day”). Often times, irony can be confused with sarcasm and satire, but those nouns have meanings of their own.
Now that you know what irony is, check out the irony examples below. We go through the three types of irony, while sharing examples of irony in literature, movies and real life.
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more fun facts, humor, cleaning, travel and tech all week long.
Types of irony
There are three different types of irony: dramatic, situational and verbal. Here’s what they mean.
- Dramatic irony: Dramatic irony is also known as tragic irony. This is when the audience knows something that the main character does not.
- Situational irony: This irony type occurs when something happens that is the opposite of what is expected.
- Verbal irony: Verbal irony is when the speaker says one thing, but really means another. One form of verbal irony is socratic irony. This is where a person acts ignorant to influence someone to make statements that can be challenged or that will help their case.
Irony examples in literature
1. In a case of situational irony, in the Harry Potter books, Professor Snape is known to dislike Harry due to his popularity. However, it was Snape’s actions before the plot of the books began that made Harry famous.
2. In The Wizard of Oz, all the characters had everything they needed to accomplish their goals and wants from the beginning. This is a case of situational irony.
3. In Great Expectations, Pip and even the readers are unaware of the benefactor’s identity. The story makes us think that Miss Havisham is the benefactor, but in reality, it turns out to be Magwich.
4. In the play Julius Caesar, Mark Antony says, “But Brutus says he was ambitious, And Brutus is an honorable man.” This is verbal irony, as Antony is really implying that Brutus is neither ambitious nor honorable.
5. In Macbeth there is dramatic irony, where King Duncan says he trusts Macbeth despite us knowing that Macbeth secretly plans to murder King Duncan.
Irony examples in movies
6. In Forrest Gump, many believe the protagonist, Forrest, to be someone who won’t accomplish anything. Despite being seen as a simple man, he achieves many things and becomes successful in various ways.
7. Throughout the Harry Potter series, protagonist Harry Potter is expected to kill Voldemort. In reality (spoiler alert), Harry has to let Voldemort kill him.
8. In The Fault in Our Stars, Augustus Waters survives cancer. He puts a cigarette in his mouth but never lights it.
9. One irony example that reflects dramatic irony: In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the audience is aware that Snow White’s evil stepmother is the old lady who presents Snow White the apple. Snow White does not know.
10. In a case of situational irony, in Finding Nemo, Mr. Ray and Marlin argue about who is better at watching Nemo to keep him out of trouble. It’s during their argument that Nemo wanders off and eventually gets into trouble.
11. The character Olaf in Frozen loves summer and even sings a song about it! This is situational irony because, since he’s a snowman, he’ll only melt during the warm season.
12. In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible gets sued for hurting someone while also saving his life.
Funny irony examples
13. Here’s an interesting fact: The founder of AA asked for whiskey on his deathbed. (The nurse refused.)
14. In one of the most interesting irony examples, the most shoplifted book in America is the bible.
15. When crossword puzzles debuted in the early 20th century, the New York Times was very critical of them, calling them “a primitive sort of mental exercise.” In 1942, the Times published its first crossword puzzle, and today, the New York Times crossword is the most famous one in America.
16. In the 1950s, 12-year-old David Ingham was kicked out of grammar school by the headmaster, who said that he’d “never amount to much.” Fifty-five years later, the same school commissioned Ingham, now an art teacher, to paint a portrait of that very headmaster. So Ingham definitely got the last laugh.
17. Before he became a star, Pharrell Williams was fired from McDonald’s three different times. Years later, he would help write and produce the company’s iconic “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle.
18. In 2014, the Business Software Alliance posted an anti-piracy ad that read “Your pot of gold is right here.” But eagle-eyed users noticed that the image of a “pot of gold” they used was actually a photo of a baker’s Saint Patrick’s Day cake that the BSA had used without authorization.
19. According to researchers, duct tape should never be used for sealing ducts. Talk about funny irony examples!
20. One of the funniest examples of irony: Sweden’s famous Ice Hotel has a smoke detector.
21. In 2011, the winners of an elementary school spelling bee in Utah received a trophy reading “Viewmont Spellling Bee, 1st Place.” Quite the example of irony—not only that the trophy contained a misspelling, but that it was the word “spelling.”
22. Gary Kremen, the founder of Match.com, encouraged everyone he knew to join it, including his girlfriend. She eventually left him for a man she met on Match.com.
23. The Cult Awareness Network, once a leading anti-cult hotline, is now owned by the Church of Scientology.
24. Every year ABC cuts down A Charlie Brown Christmas—a movie about the over-commercialization of the holidays—to make room for more commercials.
25. Before 2012, the largest purchaser of kale in America was Pizza Hut. They used it as garnish around their salad bars.
26. Q-tips, which are usually bought primarily to clean inside your ears, are sold in boxes that expressly warn: “Do not insert inside the ear canal.”
27. In one of the more hilarious examples of irony, McDonalds’ employee health page, which is now shut down, once warned against eating McDonald’s burgers and fries.
28. In 2009, the Guinness Book of World records named Jonathan Lee Riches the record-holder for suing the largest number of people. Angrily declaring that the Guinness Book “has no right to publish my work, my legal masterpieces,” he sued them.
Irony examples about people
29. Legend has it that Charlie Chaplin once entered a “Charlie Chaplin walk” contest—and came in 20th.
30. In 2002, a tree was planted in a park in Los Angeles in memory of Beatles guitarist George Harrison. The tree later died after being infested by beetles.
31. “Father of Traffic Safety” William Eno invented the stop sign, crosswalk, traffic circle, one-way street and taxi stand—but never learned how to drive. A prime irony example, as he never got the chance to benefit from his own invention.
32. Al Capone’s older brother was a federal Prohibition agent.
33. None of the song lyrics in Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” are examples of irony. As Morissette herself allegedly said, “The irony of ‘Ironic’ is that it’s not an ironic song at all.”
34. The only losing basketball coach in University of Kansas history is James Naismith—the man who invented basketball in 1891. This is one of the hilarious examples of irony that proves that just because you thought of the idea doesn’t always mean you’ll be the best at executing it.
35. The site where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC is now a no-kill animal shelter for homeless cats.
36. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone but refused to keep one in his study. He feared it would distract him from his work.
37. The first man to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel died after slipping on an orange peel.
38. A man named Bill Hillman wrote a book called How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona. Despite his book being all about how to not be killed by bulls, he died three weeks after the book was released, killed by a bull.
39. The inventor of Liquid Paper was fired from her secretarial job for failing to white-out a mistake.
40. In 1990, after 35 years working at Crayola, their retiring CEO, Emerson Moser, revealed that he was colorblind.
Irony vs. satire vs. sarcasm
Knowing the difference between irony, satire and sarcasm can help you determine if you’re using irony correctly. Also note that satire and sarcasm are forms of expression, while irony relates to situations.
- Irony vs. satire: Satire is a genre that uses humor, exaggeration (and at times, irony) to make fun of another person. This is through imitation, where they expose flaws or stupidity. For example, shows like South Park and The Simpsons use satire to make fun and critique the American lifestyle and viewpoints.
- Irony vs. sarcasm: Verbal irony may seem like sarcasm, but it’s not. Sarcasm is usually mockery that’s witty. It has a negative connotation, while irony does not.
- MasterClass: “3 Types of Irony: Types of Irony Explained”
- Vocabulary.com: “Commonly Confused Words: Irony, Satire, Sarcasm”
- Paul Garrigan: “If I ask for whiskey on my deathbed please just give it to me”
- The Telegraph: “Artist asked to paint headmaster who expelled him”
- Eater: “Pharrell Was Fired from McDonald’s Three Different Times”
- Peta Pixel: “Anti-Piracy Group Accused of Stealing the Photo They Used in an Anti-Piracy Ad”
- KSL News: “Ironic error finds its way onto spelling bee trophies”
- NPR: “The Best Piece of Trivia You Learned This Week: Pizza Hut Edition”
- NY Daily News: “Man sues Guinness Book of World Records for naming him record-holder for most lawsuits”
- Skeptics Stack Exchange: “Did Charlie Chaplin lose a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest?”
- LA Times: “George Harrison memorial tree, killed by beetles, to be replaced today”
- Rome.us: “Rome Cat Sanctuary Ruins – Largo di Torre Argentina”
- Snopes: “Did Bobby Leach Survive Niagara Falls, Only to Die After Slipping on Orange Peel?”