Can't Get In Trouble For Nuthin'
"What does a guy have to do to get nicked in this town? What does a man have to do to get some attention 'round here?"
— Tez "technically you could call me a serial killer" On Toast
, KateModern: The Last Work
A character wants to get in trouble, either for their own reasons (such as enjoying the punishment
or to get access to a prison
) or to frame someone else
. This trope is a combo inversion of Can't Get Away with Nuthin'
and Selective Enforcement
The first form of this trope is often found in doppelganger
, shapeshifting, and body-switcher stories. A character looks exactly like their archenemy or rival. Instead of moping or trying to revert, they immediately plan to ruin their enemy's life by getting into all sorts of trouble for which the original will be punished.
May also occur in a non-fantastic situation, where the character is never seen, but (unsuccessfully) tries to frame the other.
In the second form of the trope, reminiscent of a Springtime for Hitler
plot, a character wants to be punished in order to escape a worse fate. Perhaps they want to be sent to bed without a disgusting dinner, or maybe a homeless person would rather go to jail than starve or freeze to death outside.
Unfortunately for the focus of the story, every single thing they do is appreciated by the intended victims
, from telling them their hat looks stupid ("What? Oh! I hadn't realized I'd put on the wrong hat this morning!") to burning down their house ("Thank you! That house was full of hideous artwork insured for well more than it was worth! I can finally buy medicine for my sick children, and a house that doesn't have asbestos leaking from the ceiling!") This even happens when the character would normally get in trouble with the victims for purely imagined slights.
The gratefulness is usually in direct proportion to the heinousness of the misdeed.
A twist on this that's usually done in comedy situations is when the character keeps trying to get in trouble by doing big
misdeeds and failing, but eventually commits a small
one by accident (jaywalking and littering are common examples) and then
gets what he wants.
Occasionally the character will find that the person they are impersonating is the Token Evil Teammate
, so anything nasty that they do comes off as nicer
than usual. May overlap with Poke the Poodle
. See also Get Into Jail Free
and Karma Houdini
This plot can be tweaked by having the characters' opponents realize what he is attempting and seek to frustrate him being preventing from being arrested, or making sure to remove the very point of why he wants to be in prison.
Contrast Unintentionally Notorious Crime
Examples of the first type:
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- El Goonish Shive: the first arc involving Ellen (Elliot's misguided Opposite-Sex Clone). She wanted to get Elliot in trouble at school, but threatening bullies didn't result in any punishment, insulting the principal caused him to realize the insults were accurate, and trying to pick an inappropriate topic of discussion when the topic wasn't inappropriate enough just led to a situation that was overwhelmingly embarrassing for Ellen instead.
- Danny Phantom: The only reason Danny ever overshadows people, aside from information gathering.
- Not a mystical or lookalike version, but often in Baby Looney Tunes and similar spinoffs, one character (usually Sylvester or Daffy) would try to frame another character (Bugs or Tweety Bird, respectively) without being seen. Usually, this would be seen as a misguided yet heartfelt attempt at kindness, such as planting a tree in the middle of the living room rug on what just happened to be Arbor Day.
- Happened on the Freaky Friday episode of Jimmy Neutron. Jimmy and Cindy failed each other's tests and then tried to damage each other's reputations.
- One episode of American Dragon Jake Long featured Jake and his sister Haley swapping bodies. While waiting for a chance to undo it, Jake tried to destroy her good reputation while she tried to build him a good reputation he'd not like.
Examples of the second type:
- Both types are a fairly common plot in The Beano, such as Dennis the Menace disguising himself as Walter and pulling pranks to try and get him into trouble, or Roger the Dodger trying to get himself grounded in order to escape revenge from the last set of people he's pranked.
- One Oor Wullie strip has him reading The Beano (also published by DC Thompson) and deciding to emulate Dennis the Menace, but every time he tries to pull off a prank, it turns out to be beneficial (such as a water pistol attack missing and watering his mum's flowers). By the end, his parents are asking him why he can't be this helpful all the time.
- One Lucky Luke comic has the Daltons try to break into a maximum security prison where they think a huge treasure is buried. When they see how heavily defended it is (Gatling guns and all) they instead try to get arrested, not knowing that it's actually used as a base of operations by the corrupt mayor, arranging for dangerous criminals to be sent there to work for him, so he always lets them off with a scolding and a pat on the cheek (Averell liked it). And when the Daltons finally break in, it turns out the idea of treasure was never there to begin with: their cellmate told them about it so as to get rid of their snoring.
- The Final Fantasy VII fanfiction The Zor's Pizza Chronicles has a sequence in which the main characters decide to die and go to Hell because there's a creature there that can be used to revive Aeris/th. In order to get there, they need to do something bad first before dying, but Cloud finds that everything he tries backfires - for example, snuffing out Cosmo Candle at Cosmo Canynon, only to be congratulated by a parent whose kids were always getting burnt by the flames.
- The protagonist of Cemetery Man has a job that involves shooting zombies in the head when they rise from the graveyard where he works. By accident, one day he kills someone who wasn't already dead. Nobody believes him when he tries to come clean to the cops. The entire last act of the movie is him performing more and more depraved acts in a desperate existential attempt to write his own destiny. The denials from the authorities as to his guilt get more and more bizarre.
- American Psycho, both the book and the movie. Patrick Bateman commits a series of heinous crimes including chasing a hooker with a chainsaw, going on a shooting spree, blowing up several police cruisers, and hiding in his office as a helicopter searches for the perp. While hiding, he phones his lawyer and confesses to everything, but later on, nothing has come of this. He meets his lawyer, who laughs the whole thing off and mistakes him for someone else. Bateman becomes angry, (who had just called "Bateman" spineless, after all, Patrick Bateman couldn't pull off a murder, let alone about 20), informs the lawyer that he IS Bateman, and insists the crimes actually happened. He is apparently saved again when the lawyer informs him he had dinner with someone he supposedly killed just a few weeks ago , tells Bateman he no longer finds this funny, and leaves. Bateman slinks down in his chair and delivers a speech about how there are no more barriers to cross, etc.
- In both the book and the movie, Bateman is shown to suffer from hallucinations and other psychotic (duh) episodes. It is left unclear whether he really does embody this trope, with the reason being that everyone is so interchangeable to each other that they can't notice when someone dies, or whether he imagined the whole thing.
- In An American Werewolf in London, the titular werewolf realizes what he is and tries to get thrown in jail for the night, to no avail.
- Played for Laughs in Chopper as mass murderer Mark Reade confesses to shooting a man in self defense to the police, and brings in the murder weapon. When the police don't believe him, he claims that he has "Never been as insulted in his whole life". He later laments that he used to be a dangerous criminal and now can't even get arrested.
- That Man From Rio - Adrian rescues his girlfriend Agnes when she's abducted in Paris and spirited away to Rio, where she drags him into an adventure with one hair's-breadth situation after another. As they're driving to Brasilia in their underwear (getting caught in a fierce storm shortly before) he has enough and pulls into a police station. He turns himself in, running off a list of offenses - entering their country without a passport, using a plane ticket he stole from an old pensioner, getting into fights with several people, including policemen, indecently dressed, and driving a stolen car - but as he speaks French the policeman doesn't understand a word. Adrian throws his hands up and exclaims "Nothing - just Rio and Brasilia!" and the policeman cheerfully points the way. Back on the road he mutters "I should take up crime!"
- In the 1970 film Some Will, Some Won't, Captain Russell has to spend 28 days in jail in order to inherit 150,000 pounds. He makes numerous attempts to get arrested for minor offences and fails in all of them. For example, he very obviously shoplifts only for a pickpocket to steal the loot off him seconds before he's nabbed by the store detectives. He eventually abandons the whole idea and throws away the brick he was holding, only for it to smash a store window; resulting in his arrest.
- Played with, briefly, in Last Action Hero. The newly self-promoted Big Bad gets his hands on a magical ticket that lets him escape his movie into the "real" world. Soon after, he sees two kids mugging, possibly killing, a third to steal his shoes. Befuddled by this (and the fact that they weren't instantly arrested like in the Troperiffic movie he came from) he goes to a nearby garage and shoots the mechanic. Then twice more. Then loudly shouts through the streets of New York, "I have murdered a man and would like to confess!" Someone yells back "SHUT UP, we're trying to sleep!" Cue Aside Glance and an instantaneously hatched diabolical scheme.
- The main plot of Bamboozled is an example of this trope. The main character is a Black producer who wants out of his job at a television studio. So he creates the most racist show possible called the Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show, hoping he'll get fired. Instead of the show offending people, it becomes a huge hit making the producer rich, much to his shock and disappointment.
- In Three O'Clock High, Jerry tries to avert a fight with a bully by getting himself suspended. His efforts to offend his English Lit teacher backfire when she falls for him
- An odd Jewish story/joke has a dead man turned away from Heaven on the grounds that he's never sinned, which the system wasn't designed to cope with. He's returned to Earth and given one day to commit a sin so that he can get past the Pearly Gates. Unwilling to do anything really evil, he wanders around in increasing desperation until finally a woman propositions him. They sleep together, but in the morning he freezes in terror when she tells him he did "such a good deed last night."
- In the O. Henry short story The Cop and the Anthem, Soapy the bum wants to spend the winter in jail rather than on the street, but can't get arrested for anything. That is, until the end of the story, where he decides to get a job just before his arrest for loitering. This story was adapted into a Freddy The Freeloader sketch on The Red Skelton Show.
- In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, there is a character named "Done It" Duncan, for his habit of telling the city watch, "Whatever it was, I done it!" in order to be given a bowl of soup and a night in jail out of the cold. They never believe him, but sometimes let him stay anyway. He is a valuable source of information, as he often reveals who the real perpetrators were. "It was me, not Coalface's boys like everyone says".
- In Joy In The Morning, Bertie Wooster tries everything to get Florence Craye to call off their engagement. Finally he kicks her beloved little brother in the pants, and she thanks him: he had destroyed some of her scrapbooks, and she was going to kick him herself.
- In one the sequels to Doctor in the House, a character tries to deliberately fail his final medical exam. (If he passes, he will be obligated to marry a woman he no longer loves.) He attempts to deliberately fail the written exam but, never having failed a test in his life, finds he is unable to deliberately write down wrong answers. He gets drunk before his final oral exam and refuses to answer one of the questions. The examiner then realises that he has been using that diagnostic example too much and thanks the student for drawing it to his attention. At this point, he might still have passed if he had not then thrown up on the examiner.
- The Good Soldier Švejk features a character called Friedrich Welfer, who receives a yearly allowance until he gets his doctoral degree. Since this allowance is bigger than his payment as a doctor would be, he purposely prolongs his studies as long as possible. However, when World War I breaks out, he has to take a "military exam", and receives his doctorate despite writing "Lecken Sie mich am Arsch!" (meaning "Kiss my ass") to every question.
- Wringer has Palmer deliberately getting detention so his "friends" (who take great pleasure in killing pigeons) won't see his pet pigeon follow him home. Played straight when he confesses to spitting on the floor (the first time) and she forgives him (to his dismay). Subverted when he spits again and promptly lands himself in detention.
- In Doctor Dolittle's Return, Dr. Dolittle tries in vain to get himself thrown into jail, so that he can write his book in peace and quiet. When he finally succeeds, the animals break him out and he has to start over again.
- This is essentially the plot of the short story "The Misguided Halo", in which someone gets a, well, halo due to a celestial bureaucratic mixup. This being not exactly a desirable fashion accessory for a mid-20th century businessman, he attempts first to cover it up (the only hat he can find that's large enough is a piece of a marching band costume that the dog has been using for a bed, so it's both unsightly and stinky) and then to get rid of it by "sinning". Except that everything he does is taken by the angel who gave him the halo in the first place to be either a good deed or an attempt at one.
Live Action TV
- Sometimes given as an explanation for Wally's behaviour in Dilbert. He knows that his severance package would be greater than his future wages, so he's trying to get fired. The company know this as well, so they just put up with him. This is based on an actual colleague of Scott Adams at Pacific Bell.
- At the beginning of a weeklong arc in Foxtrot, Roger declared that he was going to take Jason golfing after school the following day, never mind that Jason was clearly utterly uninterested in the game. The final panel of the Monday comic that week showed Ms. O'Malley, Jason's teacher, on the receiving end of a hailstorm of paper darts, yelling "Jason Fox, are you trying to get detention!?" (His scheme failed.)
- Comes up sometimes when a heel with a title is desperately trying to retain it by getting himself disqualified. No matter what he does - hitting his opponent in the crotch, using a foreign object, slapping the referee, or just getting himself counted out - an authority figure (assuming it's a face) will just keep restarting the match with no disqualifications. (Of course, this often ends up playing right into the heel's hands, since he can now do whatever he wants short of murdering his opponent with no consequences, so maybe it's a subversion.)
- A notable occurrence was in a late 2006 edition of Smackdown when Undertaker and Kane, known as the Brothers of Destruction, wrestled as a tag team for the first time in five years against newcomers Montel Vontavious Porter and Mr. Kennedy. Mvp and Kennedy tried to walk out and get counted out, only for Theodore Long to restart the match with no countouts. Shortly after, they got themselves disqualified, leading Long to restart the match again with no disqualifications or countouts. From then on, it was a one sided match with Undertaker and Kane utterly destroying the heels, to the massive approval of the audience.
- The plot of the 1938 musical Leave It To Me! involved a bathtub manufacturer being made an ambassador to the USSR as an unwanted reward for campaign contributions and trying various schemes to get himself recalled.
- Although Florence in Freefall had previously been jailed just for her association with a wanted criminal, when she tried turning herself in for tampering with a global robot update (because she's strongly conditioned for Lawful Good acts), the robotic police were too generous.
- In Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Bloo wanted to be sent to bed without the awful, casserole-like dinner Frankie was trying to make. Unfortunately for him, everyone else got the blame because Harriman had hidden a stash of carrots in his room and didn't want them discovered. Bloo ended up eating all of the dish.
- An episode of The Pink Panther concerned the titular character trying to get sent to prison so he can get a Christmas dinner.
- On The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, Flapjack tried to make enemies, but everything he did ended up making him new friends.
- In Dudley Do-Right, the titular character tries to get kicked out of the Mounted Police so that he can infiltrate Snideley Whiplash's gang, but everything goes wrong, from "You blew up the dam! The irrigation problem has been solved!" to "You burned down that building! We had been trying to tear it down for years and never got around to it!". He finally does manage to get in trouble, though... by eating his peas with a knife, something no Mountie should ever do!
- South Park
- In the episode "Breast Cancer Show Ever," Cartman deliberately gets detention so that he can avoid having to fight Wendy Testaburger after school.
- In the episode "Death Camp of Tolerance," the Dangerously Genre Savvy Mr. Garrison knows he will win a huge cash settlement if he sues for discrimination, so he begins acting stereotypically gay in class in the most inappropriate ways possible (even bringing in a sex slave and spanking him), hoping that he'll get fired for his behavior and then be able to file a lawsuit for discrimination against homosexuals. Instead, the faculty and the parents of the students praise him for his "courage" in refusing to be closeted. When Mr. Garrison insists to them that his behavior is offensive and should be punished, they finally do punish him...by sending him to the Death Camp of Tolerance for being a Boomerang Bigot.
- In one episode of Pepper Ann, Pepper-Ann wanted to get into detention (which she normally does) to keep her friend who got detention company, by doing nothing but wearing a bucket on her head and dancing like a moron in all her classes. She fails to get detention, but is referred to the school counselor.
- There was a King of the Hill where Hank was trying to get arrested so he could be in jail with Bill so he could apologize to him. Being a very by-the-book character, he walks into a convenience store without a shirt or shoes on, and points this out to a cop there who replies that "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" is store policy and not the law. Even the cashier says that he doesn't really enforce it. Before that, Hank tried to jaywalk with a cop in sight, but he was busy writing a ticket.
- In another episode, Bobby and Joseph are trying out a book full of pranks but they keep accidentally achieving positive results. For example, trying the classic salt shaker spill on Connie causes a nearby girl to invite her to lunch.
- A vintage Popeye cartoon has Popeye and Bluto trying to injure themselves so they'll be ministered to by nurse Olive - to their frustration all their attempts are thwarted by dumb luck. Popeye finally pulls out a can of spinach and force-feeds it to Bluto, who becomes a dynamo of flying fists. Popeye ends up happy in a body cast as Bluto looks on jealously.
- In the series where Bluto was renamed Brutus, Olive was a sculptress wanting a beaten down person to model for her.
- In another remake of the original plot, Popeye ended up being ejected from the hospital because it was for dogs and cats. Bluto started barking while Popeye made cat sounds. The two of them were taken to "Happy Valley Screwball Institute".
- This happened in a episode of Angela Anaconda, where Angela forgets to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. She tries to get detention so that she can avoid getting pinched during recess, and fails each time. She manages to escape this fate when she turns her jacket inside out to green.
- One episode of Detention centered around the kids who normally got detention trying not to, and Shelley Kelley, a Teacher's Pet who never got it, was trying to get it. Everything the poor girl did only resulted in praise...deflate all the basketballs? Great, now they'll fit through the baskets easier. Flood the gym? "We've been meaning to clean that. Thanks!"
- In The Simpsons, Homer tries to get himself disabled so he can work at home, but he doesn't get hurt. At one point, he walks around a hardhat area with no helmet and falling stuff keeps missing him. A wheelbarrow full of bricks falls on someone else, prompting Homer to quip "Probably better that didn't hit me".
- In another episode, Bart, who is known to cause trouble 24/7, tries to cause mischief but every single attempt backfires with him winding up doing good deeds.
- In one Underdog cartoon, Simon bar Sinister was trying to lure the hero into his Death Trap, but first he had to gain his attention. So he and Cad decided to simply rob a bank. Unfortunately, Underdog was busy stopping a far bigger disaster, which took priority, so while Simon and Cad got away with a fortune, they failed to make him show up. Then Simon decided to try robbing a toy store, hoping that such a heartless act would make him come running. Again, the hero had to be elsewhere, saving actual lives, so the villain failed to make him show up (and wound up with a lot of toys he didn't need). Finally, Simon decided to kidnap Underdog's girlfriend Sweet Polly Purebread and that worked. (Of course, Underdog wasn't busy this time, and he has been known to put her on hold in other episodes if there's a bigger crisis to deal with.)
- An episode of Darkwing Duck has Darkwing trying to get arrested so that he can infiltrate a prison for supervillains. After repeatedly failing in his attempt to commit crimes, he is finally arrested for jaywalking. (The police officers only agree to send him to the super-prison when he demonstrates that he can also do scary shadow puppets.) When Darkwing put on the supervillain costume he was wearing when he was arrested, he joked he should be arrested just for wearing such a ridiculous outfit, and that was, in fact, the reason he was arrested for jaywalking. Made even more hilarious when you realize the police, and thus the super-prison, are on HIS side, so infiltration should have been trivial for him.
- Lucky Lydia, in What A Cartoon! Show, was dared into kicking an old man's back. When she tried to apologize for this, he told her it put it back into place and he not only thanked but also paid her for this.
- One episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show have the titular characters attempting to go to jail, thinking that they'd get treated a whole lot better. They do this by trying to break in. The warden, though, just laughs off their attempts... until they destroy the warden's stuffed dog.
- In the Rated "A" for Awesome episode "Club Detention" the guys started a club to make detention more fun, but since Thera never gets in trouble she couldn't join and no matter what she tried she couldn't get detention. It later turned out that the vice principal was making up her own crazy rules to keep the guys in detention and eventually expel them, and she was giving Thera special treatment because she's an honors student.
- In a joke from Communist Eastern Europe, a man is so desperate he tries to get into prison. At first, he tries by stealing bread from a (state-run) bakery - but the employees just pity him, knowing well enough how much it sucks to be hungry. Then he goes to a bookshop and steals the collected works by Marx and Engels - but the employees are glad to finally get rid of those doorstops. Now he is so desperate he walks into a party meeting and shouts: "Down with Communism!" After which he gets reprimanded: "Are you crazy? Can you imagine what would have happened to you if there was a single real Communist in here?"
- Operation Greylord was a Federal Investigation into corruption amongst cops, lawyers, and judges in Chicago. The FBI wanted to send fake cases through the system as a sting to see if the targets would offer to let them buy their way out of trouble. So, they had federal agents impersonate drunk drivers all over town, trying to bait the CPD into arresting them. This proved maddeningly difficult, as the cops kept telling them to go home and sleep it off.
- Pedro Lopez, a South American man who killed over 300 people across three countries, confessed his crimes and was told to push off and stop shitting them. This denial continued until a flash flood unearthed a mass grave containing Pedro's victims.
- Robert Beltran reportedly wanted out of his commitment to Star Trek: Voyager so desperately that he was willing to try almost anything to get fired, including deliberately giving his worst performance, and publicly accusing Brannon Braga of being gay.
- Donny Osmond tells the story of being encouraged by his agent to rack up a minor arrest or two to get rid of his squeaky-clean image as a young adult. On one occasion, he saw his chance while walking ahead of a random cop, so he turned back nervously and started running. The cop stopped him but let him go as soon as he saw the name on his ID. Osmond later recounted that while it's long been said that a would-be actor "couldn't even get arrested in Hollywood", he had never heard of it being literally true until it happened to him.