Crazy Sane

Delirium: His madness... His madness keeps him sane.
Dream: And do you think he is the only one, my sister?
The Sandman #31

Sometimes the world you find yourself in is so grim or stressful, if not horrific, that the only way to keep from going crazy is to... well, go crazy. You thus end up acting in silly, if not bizarre, ways, just to keep from truly losing it for good due to all the horror and depression and genuine lunacy surrounding you.

Basically, it's when the standard of "sane" is lower in this world.

A common trait of Byronic Heroes. Often a staple of wartime environments and the resultant Black Comedy which often transpires, where the psychological demands of having to deal with death and suffering on a daily basis requires pretty extreme measures to retain one's grip on reality. Compare Bored with Insanity, and Safety in Indifference, which is another popular coping mechanism for the same predicament. Contrast with the so-called "Catch-22" situation, where going crazy is conclusive evidence that you're sane enough to stay on the job.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The quote comes from The Sandman, describing Emperor Norton of San Francisco.
  • Batman:
    • Some interpretations of The Joker depict him as "super-sane" rather than crazy: he sees how ridiculous and mixed-up the world is, and the only way for him to deal with it is by treating it as one big joke.
    • Batman himself may also be a prime example. Grant Morrison has said in interviews that this is how he views Batman: "I never really subscribed to the idea that Bruce was insane or unhealthy. Bruce Wayne would have gone mad if he HADN'T dressed as a bat and found a startling way to channel the grief, guilt and helplessness he felt after the death of his parents. Without Batman, Bruce would be truly screwed-up."
    • The idea that Bruce would be even more screwed up without Batman is shown in the JLA story "Divided We Fall" that split the two identities into different people. Bruce is reduced to a mass of rage and grief without his outlet as Batman. Batman meanwhile does nothing since he has no motivation without Bruce's anger.
  • The Comedian from Watchmen dealt with the terrible things he saw and did by seeing the world as a huge joke. He has a total breakdown when he discovers a horrible scheme that even he can't laugh off.
    "Once you realize what a joke everything is, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense."
  • Len Kaminski's interpretation of The Creeper, as seen in the 1997-98 series: Jack Ryder has to periodically let the Creeper out, otherwise he'll go permanently insane.
  • Deadpool may be a case of this. An optional dialogue in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, though of questionable canon, goes as follows:
    Deadpool: You know how people talk crazy because they're insane? I talk crazy to keep from going insane.

    Fan Works 
  • In Concerning Us the only reason Janine is able to bear living on after losing her brother is because she went insane.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • M*A*S*H is an obvious example, with Hawkeye and Trapper being the most prominent in the film version.
  • Private Handjob gets discharged from the Marines in Full Metal Jacket for compulsive masturbation.
  • In Zombieland, Tallahassee suggests the gang smash everything in a store in order to keep from going crazy.
  • Applied to the corporate world in Head Office:
    Jack Issel: What about you? You're not like the rest of them. How do you survive it?
    Max Landsberger: I just go with the flow. I flipped out years ago. I only look sane, but I'm not. The secret is you have to be crazy to maintain your sanity up here. But you're sane, Jack. That's why you're going crazy.
  • In The Voices, what happened when, at the insistence of his therapist and his crush Fiona's disembodied head hallucination, the hero Jerry eventually took his pills? He dreamed about dark memories of his childhood during his sleep, then brutally awoke in a disgustingly filthy home (in his altered state of mind, the home looks very bright and clean), and the pets stopped talking. Fiona's head stopped talking too, and now looked like a rotting corpse. Needless to say, Jerry is very freaked by this experience and immediately gets rid of his pills. When he awakes the following morning, things are back in their usual state, to his relief.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
  • The Duck Man in the Discworld series has suffered many setbacks in his life, some of which we've seen and some of which remain mysterious, and through it all he's remained intelligent, cultured and a wellspring of good sense — except that he is never seen without a duck on his head, the existence of which he denies if anybody ever asks about it.
    • We do see once that from his perspective he is constantly and inexplicably surrounded by people who see ducks where there are none.
  • In The Name of the Wind, this is actually a problem. Early in the book, insanity is mentioned as one of the ways people deal with pain, along with sleep, forgetfulness and death: when the world really is awful, sometimes the only way to end suffering is to escape reality. Later, we discover that the immortal Haliax has spent millenia dealing with horrible grief and loss while unable to sleep, forget, die or go insane. And so he has decided, rationally, that the only way to end his suffering is to end the world.
  • In Brain Twister by Randall Garrett and Laurence Janifer, most people with a particular mental condition are catatonic or gibbering wrecks. The one known exception is Miss Thompson, who is not only compos mentis, she's arguably the sanest and most sensible character in the book — except that she's unshakeably convinced that she's a 400-year-old immortal who used to be Queen Elizabeth I.
  • Moby-Dick: Captain Ahab is a pretty competent The Captain, and seems perfectly normal until he talks about his Animal Nemesis. Pip goes mad from the revelation when he drowned twice and becomes a Talkative Loon with very interesting conversation. After a chapter tells us Perth The Blacksmiths tragic life, Ahab himself asks why Perth averts this trope:
    Well, well; no more. Thy shrunk voice sounds too calmly, sanely woeful to me. In no Paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou should'st go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost thou not go mad? How can'st thou endure without being mad? Do the heavens yet hate thee, that thou can'st not go mad?
  • In Elantris this is said to be the case with Aandan who decided he couldn't face his Fate Worse than Death in Elantris sane and chose to go mad instead. He becomes sane again after Raoden defeats him and shows him a better way.
  • Gabriel Syme from G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday.

    Live-Action TV 
  • M*A*S*H follows directly in the movie's footsteps, practiced by several characters throughout the series' run, most notoriously by Klinger (who wasn't in the film).
    • Dr. Sidney Freedman specifically said this about Hawkeye:
      Dr. Freedman:' Anger turned inwards is depression. Anger turned sideways... is Hawkeye.
    • In one episode, a fellow soldier eats Klinger's heart out by being sent home for making sock puppets and talking to them. Well, until he starts firing REAL bullets at imaginary gliders and equally-imaginary enemy soldiers. Then even Klinger called him nuts.
  • John from Farscape goes gradually crazy over the seasons. The alternative would have been trying to keep it together, then snapping and destroying the universe with a geometrically growing wormhole.
  • Psych protagonist Shawn Spencer has this to an extent. It's implied some of his quirky behavior and mannerisms are his way of dealing with the truly serious situations of detective work. Most notably in the Yin-Yang trilogy of season finales, as he has to ask his Straight Man and partner Gus to do it because of how the murderer singled Shawn out for the sick game.
  • One interpretation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, at least according to Matt Smith:
    Matt Smith: That's what interests me about the Doctor because, actually, look at the blood on the man's hands. 900 years, countless very selfish choices, and he's literally blown planets up. His own race, you know, that's all on his hands. Which is why I think he has to make silly jokes and wear a fez. Because if he didn't, he'd hang himself.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • When Mickie James first started feuding with Victoria, it was because Mickie was crazy, crazy enough to keep coming back after defeats, to blindly charge her larger opponent even when Victoria was armed with bat. While Mickie did realize she was crazy and try to reign herself in Victoria was so tired of losing she tried to make herself crazy in hopes it would allow her to beat Mickie again.

  • In Jane Wagner's The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe (a one-woman show performed by Lily Tomlin).
    Trudy: But I don't ever want to sound negative about going crazy. I don't want to overromanticize it either, but frankly, goin' crazy was the best thing that ever happened to me. I don't say it's for everybody; some people couldn't cope.

    Video Games 
  • Johnny Powell from The Darkness II. Ostensibly a babbling lunatic, there happens to be no one else on the planet who knows more about the titular Darkness or a lot of the other supernatural goings-on than Johnny.
  • Assassin's Creed I: Subject 16 only managed to accomplish the very, very important task set to him by doing things that no sane person would ever do.
  • Isaac Clarke spends most of the Dead Space series teetering on the edge of sanity, but managing to persevere and fight through Necromorph infestations. The second game in particular has him constantly being tormented by Marker visions and severe post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when he's forced to once again board the Ishimura.
  • Tomb Raider (2013): After learning his motives, Lara speculates to herself that Mathias has gone so far out of his mind that he's "come right back around to some kind of sane."
  • In Dragon Age II, Hawke with a sarcastic personality often comes across as this, having become a Stepford Smiler and Sad Clown in response to all the cra ziness in Kirkwall and personal tragedies they've suffered over the course of the game.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, this is a valid interpretation for a Sith Inquisitor, who is "differently rational" even under the best of circumstances. Doubly so for a Light Side Inquisitor, who is trying not to replicate the Ax-Crazy mentality that counts as "normal" for a Sith.
  • In most Fate works, the Madness Enhancement trait and the Berserker class represent insanity too severe to speak and be understood. In Fate/Grand Order, many of the new Berserker or Madness Enhanced characters can speak, and seem perfectly rational except on specific topics, either a Berserk Button or a fixation.

    Web Comics 
  • In Skin Horse, Tigerlily Jones turns out to be this. "Let me tell you a secret. You think I'm crazy because I don't know I'm not an Egyptian princess reincarnated on Planet Lovetron. But I do know. I'm crazy because I don't CARE."

    Web Original 

    Real Life 
  • Popular poster: "You don't have to be crazy to work here — but it helps."
  • As Ursula K. Le Guin says, "What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?"
  • Many people in the Nazi concentration camps would still go through everyday routines (e.g., pretending to shave with their fingers each morning) just to try to maintain some sense of normalcy in their lives.
  • The aforementioned Emperor Norton of San Francisco.
  • There's a euphemism for PTSD among veteran soldiers known as "still sleeping with your boots on", as one of the more common but fairly benign ways the disorder can manifest is in a compulsion to wear shoes to bed, just in case of an unexpected enemy attack in the middle of the night, even months or years after returning from serving in an active warzone.