Fact Check

Decoy Drunk

A 'designated decoy' pretends to be drunk to lure cops away from drinking buddies who really are.

Published Dec 31, 1998

Claim:   A sober patron staggers out of the bar at closing time to lure police away from his drunken friends.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1997]

A police officer was staking out a well-known bar to bust some potential DWI-ers. As it neared closing time, an extremely intoxicated man stumbled out of the bar and spent 30 minutes looking for his car. When all the other drivers had left, the drunk finally located his vehicle. He spent another 20 minutes fumbling for his keys and trying to unlock his car. Finally, he got in and eventually managed to start his car. As soon as he pulled away, the police officer went after him and pulled him over, giving him the breathalizer test. It came up negative. "How could this be?" the officer sputtered. "I saw you! You were falling all over the place!" The driver grinned and said, "Tonight I'm the Designated Decoy."


Origins:   Told as a true story, this joke first appeared on the Internet in June 1996. It has since been reported as a bit of online lore in various newspapers — never exactly as a news story, but rather as a cute tale currently making the rounds.

Consider the following example, told as a joke, not as a "this really happened" story:

Pincus and Bernstein were walking down a street in Berlin when they saw an SS cop approaching. Only Pincus had an identity card. Bernstein said, "Quick, run! He'll chase you, and I'll get away."

So Pincus broke into a run, and he ran and he ran until he thought his heart would plotz.

"Stop! Stop!" cried the policeman, who finally caught up. "Jew!" he roared. "Show me your papers."

The gasping Pincus produced his papers.

The Nazi examined them and saw they were in order. "But why did you run away?"

"Eh — my doctor told me to run half a mile after each meal!"

"But you saw me chasing after you and yelling! Why didn't you stop?"

"I thought maybe you go to the same doctor."1

The "decoy" theme shows up in another joke, one about a fisherman hightailing it when the game warden spots him:

A couple of young fellers were fishing at their special pond off the beaten track when out of the bushes jumped the Game Warden.

Immediately, one of the boys threw his rod down and started running through the woods, and hot on his heels came the Game Warden.

After about a half mile the young man stopped and stooped over with his hands on his thighs to catch his breath and the Game Warden finally caught up to him.

"Let's see yer fishin' license, boy!" the Warden gasped.

With that, the fella pulled out his wallet and gave the Game Warden a valid fishing license.

"Well, son," said the Game Warden, "you must be about as dumb as a box of rocks! You don't have to run from me if you have a valid license!"

"Yes, sir," replied the young feller, "But my friend back there, well, he don't have one . . ."

Another popular joke also uses this theme:

Two men were walking through the woods one day when a large Grizzly bear started chasing them. One of the fellows reached into his back pack to retrieve his tennis shoes to change into from his heavy hiking boots. His buddy said, "are you crazy? You cannot outrun that bear." The first guy says, "I only have to outrun you."

The "decoy" theme is an old one, making it likely the current drunk driver story is but an updating of an older joke. Yet a Colorado State Trooper of our acquaintance says he has on occasion seen this con play out in real life — folks exiting bars he was watching

dropped their keys, staggered around, and then drove away yet proved to be sober when chased down, while a number of other 'probable drunks' hightailed it in the other direction. He even reports, "One night a driver even volunteered he was indeed 'the designated drunk' so his buddies could make good their escape."

True or not, the story is popular because there is something about the wily drunks outwitting the constabulary that strikes a chord with people. We enjoy a love/hate relationship with the police; we want them to bring criminals to justice and work to keep us safe from harm, but we equally resent their interference in our lives. They should be out arresting Bad Guys, we think, not hassling us about going a paltry 15 miles over the speed limit or driving home after we've had a couple.

An interesting point was made in a letter to the editor after The New York Times presented this joke:

In a compilation of office jokes, the story about the "designated decoy" sitting outside a bar, while other patrons drive away, appears to condone those who get away with drinking and driving.

This speaks right to the crux of the matter: nobody thinks of himself as a drunk driver. It's always others who get behind the wheel while intoxicated; the worst we ever do is drive home after we've had a couple, maybe stopping off for a pizza on the way, maybe even driving over a curb as we misjudge a turn. It's that inability to see ourselves as the very dangers the police should be rounding up that makes this joke funny. Our hearts are with the hapless drunks intent upon pulling a fast one because they're the ones we identify with ourselves.

Barbara "paradise sot" Mikkelson

Last updated:   31 March 2011


    Macey, John.   "Drunken Driving Is No Joke."

    The New York Times.   21 July 1996   (p. C34).

    1.   Rosten, Leo.   The Joys of Yiddish.

    New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.   ISBN 0-743-40651-6   (pp. 292-293).

    Van Gelder, Lawrence.   "On the Job: The Office As Comedy Club."

    The New York Times.   7 July 1996   (p. C8).

    Vittachi, Nury.   "Hands Up for Handover Joint Ventures."

    South China Morning Post.   12 May 1997   (p. 12).

Also told in:

    Schroeder, Andreas.   Scams, Scandals, and Skulduggery.

    Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996.   ISBN 0-7710-7952-4   (pp. 173-177).

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