Dumb and Drummer

"If you're not smart enough to play a real instrument, they give you two sticks, put you in the back, and call you a drummer."

In the eyes of many people, a percussionist isn't a real musician. After all, how many brain cells can it really take to bang on stuff with sticks? For a single item, probably not many. As a result, it's common for a drummer to be portrayed as, well, stupid. And yet...

Playing percussion adequately often involves managing many more actions and ideas at once than most other instruments. Real drummers often refer to themselves as "percussionists" in an attempt to distance themselves from this trope as well as because many drummers also play general percussion. Even for those who only play drums, to do so at any professional level usually requires either the ability to read musical notation or the talent to create beats/play by ear, and they are the backbone of the band's sound in many genres - so if they are so stupid their musicianship is awful and/or they can't keep rhythm, the entire band will usually sound awful. So it's not Truth in Television for the most part. On the other hand, drum kits are expensive relative to guitars and amps, and require much more practice space; if your drummer is an idiot (probably not), it's not all that easy to replace him.

Compare All Drummers Are Animals, as there can be some overlap, and Alcohol-Induced Idiocy because of the (not-unfounded) stereotype of drummers often being the heaviest drinkers in a band. Contrast Nobody Loves the Bassist.


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     Anime and Manga  


  • Vertigo Pop: London is about an aging rock star named Rocky looking to regain his lost youth. In a flashback set in India, a guru offers him some hash to smoke and Rocky's drummer gets envious:
    Daz: Hey, I want some of this present. It sounds crazy.
    Rocky: Sorry, Daz. Not for you.
    Daz: And why not?
    Rocky: Because... Because you're a drummer. And drummers... they're not meant to have life-changing transcendental experiences.
  • Pierce, from Zits. Unworldly, soft-hearted when it comes to living creatures, and lacking impulse control-yes. He's definitely not stupid, though, and the trope rarely if ever is mentioned in the strip.

     Films — Animated  

  • Yellow Submarine: Ringo's clearly not as bright as his bandmates, but he seems more of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander than anything. In the end, his quick thinking is what frees Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band from their imprisonment, which surprises everyone.
    George: Ringo, I take back all I said. You're a genius.
    Paul: Sheer genius!
    Ringo: I know, I know, I know.

     Films — Live-Action  

  • Implied by a fellow student in School of Rock:
    Freddy: I play percussion.
    Classmate: 'Cause he couldn't play anything else!
    Freddy: Shut up!
  • Played for Laughs in This Is Spın̈al Tap. All of their drummers get killed off.
    • Three spontaneously combust
    • One dies in a "bizarre gardening accident"
    • One dies in a Noodle Incident
      "A case better left unsolved"
      • They didn't really die from stupidity though. They were more a parody of high rates of mortality among musicians. There are several real life examples of "cursed" spots in certain bands, though as with everything else in Spinal Tap, it's turned up to 11 for the film.
      • Admittedly, that doesn't excuse drummer Mick Shrimpton from taking a bath with a plugged-in toaster resting on the side.
  • Animal from The Muppet Movie was portrayed this way.
  • Inverted with That Thing You Do!. The drummer is the hero of the story and even inspires a brief fashion trend with his trademark sunglasses.
  • The drummer in Still Crazy clearly isn't the brightest in the band and the narrator expresses the opinion that "If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then drummers are from Pluto."
  • Joe of Joe's Apartment is made the drummer of a band called Shit shortly after moving in and is humiliated when he plays his first gig with them with zero skill.
  • Averted in Whiplash, where the potential for drummers to be great musicians in their own right is treated completely seriously, and much of the focus of the film is on the endless practice, discipline and physical pain required to become genuinely good at drums as opposed to simply keeping the beat.
  • Jean Reno's character in Luc Besson's Subway. Even when he's not drumming, he's constantly playing with his sticks and tapping along to a rhythm only he can hear.

  • Averted in Zero History by William Gibson: Heidi Hyde is a former drummer, but it doesn't seem to have caused any lasting mental handicap.
  • Soul Music:
    • Lias "Cliff" Bluestone is a rather simple-minded troll who's frequently described as "one of nature's drummers".
    • Scum of Ande Supporting Bandes is apparently too stupid to be a drummer. "What if I miss?"
  • Chapter 15 in the autobiography of famously intelligent/subdued/Deadpan Snarker Progressive Rock drummer Bill Bruford is titled, "What Do You Call A Guy Who Hangs Out With Musicians?".
  • The Divine Comedy associates drums with idiocy, as identified by Amilcare Iannucci. The dull counterfeiter Master Adam may have a disproportioned body that looks like a lute, but when hit, his dropsies make the sound of a drum that exposes his lower class, brutish nature, and idiocy to all fooled by his self-excusing lies.

     Live Action TV  

  • Brad Paisley's "Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday," running down the list of holiday songs identifying who they'd offend:
    "How 'bout 'Little Drummer Boy?'"
    "Nope, that offends short people."
    "And you can't say 'drummer,' 'cause that'll offend real musicians."
  • P!nk sings in "So What" that after the waiter gives her table to Jessica Simpson, "I guess I'll go sit with drum boy" - drummers get the kids' table? On the other hand, she compliments that "At least he'll know how to hit" (the music video even has the drummer with a Fun T-Shirt reading "I Like to Bang").
  • Averted by Rush's drummer Neil Peart, who is incredibly technical in his playing, writes the band's lyrics, has authored several books and is outright stated by both of his bandmates to "have a bigger brain than [they] do." He has even augmented his kit with instruments such as tubular bells, gongs, bell trees, and crotales. Did we mention he's incredibly technical in his playing? And definitely the most serious-minded of the group. His bandmates' antics on stage were an effort to get him to crack a smile (and they did once succeed with a roadie dressed in a chicken suit cooking a rotisserie chicken).
    • Though check the comments section of any video featuring Neil playing a drum solo and you're bound to find at least one comment insisting that he's a percussionist, not a drummer.
  • Zigzagged but mostly averted by Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan. He's a virtuoso drummer - and virtuoso classical pianist, who isn't as good with but can capably play guitar, bass, and trumpet. He's also a composer, producer, wrote 90% of the lyrics and music for X Japan and all of it for Violet UK's works, an omniglot, and a fairly sharp businessperson. Alcohol and/or his occasionally bad responses to troublesome situations can, however, make it seem true for him if he's caught at the wrong time.
  • While Dave Grohl averts this, he stated that when Nirvana was in Australia getting a visa to travel to New Zealand, the consultate wrote "musician" on both Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic's documents, but "drummer" on his.
  • Strongly averted by Lille Gruber of Defeated Sanity, who, in addition to writing most of the band's material, is an experienced jazz drummer and theory nerd with a degree in classical composition as well.
  • Averted by Yanic Bercier, former drummer for Canadian death metal band Quo Vadis. He holds a PhD in Physics from McGill University.
  • When Phil Collins joined the early incarnation of Genesis, although certainly intelligentnote , he found himself falling into this role, playing comic relief to diffuse tensions between the often sarcastic and pissy boarding school graduates that made up the rest of the band.
  • Lampooned in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Don't Download This Song" when it's pointed out that of all people, a drummer went after the file sharers for violation of international copyright law.
    Even Lars Ulrich knows it's wrong (you can just ask him!)
  • Glenn Fricker, owner of Spectre Media Group and longtime heavy metal record producer, hands drummer jokes out like they're candy - both in the studio and on his YouTube channel. As with his hatred of bass players, he often plays this straight but will sometimes take the time to explain why he feels this way about drummers, noting that as with bass players there are good drummers out there to whom this trope doesn't apply and with whom he has enjoyed working. Unlike with bass players, who usually can't play at all, drummers often can play. The problems with drummers tend to be that they can't keep a good beat, they're unable to keep their affairs outside the studio straight (e.g. Phil Rudd of AC/DC), and they tend to whine & complain when the producer insists on arranging drums, cymbals, & microphones in such a way as to get the optimal sound, seeing it as too much work and too different from how they normally play to the point that they can't play their kit this way at all.
  • Meg White of The White Stripes has had to put up with so much criticism of her drumming style, it's no wonder she retired from music altogether when the band broke up in 2011. Criticisms range from her keeping a simple, unimaginative beat to not being able to play in time at all. Bandmate & ex-husband Jack White ardently defended her style, believing that most of the backlash was due to mere sexism and crediting her with being the most important element of the band's garage punk sound, while world-class drummer Brandon Khoo beautifully demonstrated the true value of her playing, even using Ringo Starr as an example. Even Dave Grohl had her back, going as far as to liken her to drumming legends like Bonham and Moon. But Meg wasn't always able to ignore her detractors, saying that it really did get to her sometimes whereas she could usually just blow it off since she realized her own worth to the band and how vital she was to their sound.
    • Meg probably wasn't terribly keen on being in a band, to begin with. Jack noted that part of why the group broke up was because she had no passion for it; for example, Jack would be over the moon about something they just did in the studio and Meg would more or less shrug in indifference & move on to the next objective. Obviously, she was never one for the rockstar lifestyle, but it's hard to tell how much of her disenchantment with the White Stripes was due to the criticism she received or just not really feeling the band lifestyle in general at some point.
  • Implied in the Johnny Cash song The One On The Right Is On The Left. While the other three members of the band are having political arguments the guy in the rear (who is presumably the drummer) is portrayed as doing something stupid such as burning his driver's license instead of his draft card.

     New Media  

  • In Follies, Phyllis tells Buddy that about a lover she once had who "played the drums and had long hair and no command of language."

     Video Games  

  • The Loading Screen for Guitar Hero 3 has random quotes, one of which is, "I'm the drummer, I don't get paid to understand any of this!"
    • Another reads, "Don't let your drummer handle the money."
    • "A drum machine would come to practice on time."
  • In the Sega Saturn game Mr. Bones, the penultimate stage has the title character, a Skeletal Blues Musician, take on a skeletal undead army of darkness by telling jokes. Some of them naturally fall into this trope.
    Mr. Bones: How do you get two drummers to play in unison? Shoot one.
    Mr. Bones: Now why do bands have bass players? To explain things to the drummer.
    Mr. Bones: How do you know when a drummer is knocking at your door? The knock is out of time.
    Mr. Bones: What do you call a guy who hangs out with musicians? A drummer.

     Web Animation  

     Web Comics  

  • Kevin from Rhapsodies is essentially an amalgamation of every drummer joke you ever heard. Though he's more oblivious than stupid.

     Web Original  

  • Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation invokes this in his Guitar Hero World Tour review in response to some of the songs having non-English lyrics.
    Yahtzee: If you don't speak Spanish, singing them is like if the guitarist was required to play wearing mittens. Or if the drummer were required to think.

     Western Animation  

     Jokes and Anecdotes  

  • "What does it mean when the drummer's drooling out of both sides of his mouth?" "The stage is level."
  • "What's got three legs and a twat at the top?" "A drum stool."
  • "How do you turn a guitarist into a bassist?" "Knock his head on something, but not too hard, so he doesn't turn into a drummer."
  • "How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb?"
    • Answer 1: "Just one, but he has to figure out not to hit it with a stick first."
    • Answer 2: "Three. One to hold the lightbulb, and two to spin the stool."
  • "How can you tell if there's a drummer at your door?" "The knocking speeds up and he comes in at the wrong time."
  • "A percussionist is a musician. A drummer is some guy who hits things with sticks."
  • "Did you hear about the guitarist who locked his keys in his car?" "It took him an hour to get the drummer out."
  • "How do you confuse a drummer?" "Put sheet music in front of him."
  • "What do you call a drummer who's broken up with his girlfriend?" "Homeless."
  • "What do you call a guy who likes to hang out with musicians?" "A drummer."
  • "Why can't drummers tell jokes timing".
  • Q: What's the difference between a drummer and a drum machine?
    A: With a drum machine you only have to punch the information in once.
    Alternate Answer: About 40 seconds by the end of the song.
  • And in revenge: "How late does [band] play?" "About half a beat behind the drummer..."
  • "What's the difference between a drummer and a large pizza?" "A large pizza can feed a family of four."
  • "Mommy, when I grow up I want to be a drummer!" "Now dear, you can't do both."
  • Two musicians and a drummer walk into a bar...
  • An oft-seen story involves an interview with The Beatles:
    "Is Ringo the best drummer in the world?"
    "Ringo isn't even the best drummer in The Beatles."
  • A similar one from an interview with Metallica
    Lars: How many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb?
    James: One... As soon as he gets here.

"And if you're not smart enough to play drums, they take away one of your sticks, put you in the front, and call you the conductor."