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.

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.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comics 
  • 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 Comedian from Watchmen dealt with the terrible things he saw and did by seeing the world as a huge joke.
    "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:
    "You know how people talk crazy because they're insane? I talk crazy to keep from going insane."

    Film 
  • Mash 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 insistance 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 looks 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.

    Literature 
  • The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy:
    • In Life The Universe And Everything, after being stranded for far too long on a primitive planet, Arthur Dent finally announces to the world "I shall go mad!"... just before a flying sofa carrying Ford Prefect tootles past his view. Ford has gone insane to keep from going insane with boredom. He convinces himself that he's a lemon and spends some time jumping in and out of a lake that thinks it's a gin and tonic (at least, he thinks it thought it was).
    • In So Long And Thanks For All The Fish, Wonko the Sane makes his house an inside-out "Outside the Asylum" (the rest of the world is "Inside the Asylum").
  • 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 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 Blacksmithís 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 
  • Mash 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:
      "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.
  • Aspects of this are present in Psych with Shawn in the YinYang episodes. He specifically tells Gus at one point that the only way he's keeping himself from melting down is to behave as if he doesn't understand the deadly seriousness of the situation.
  • One interpretation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, at least according to Matt Smith:
    Matt Smith: "Thatís what interests me about the Doctor because, actually, look at the blood on the manís hands. 900 years, countless very selfish choices, and heís literally blown planets up. His own race, you know, thatís all on his hands. Which is why I think he has to make silly jokes and wear a fez. Because if he didnít, heíd hang himself."

    Theater 
  • 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 craziness in Kirkwall and personal tragedies they've suffered over the course of the game.

    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.