"He was so giftedly bad that he backed unwittingly into genius."
—Stephen Pile on William McGonagall
Someone who is Giftedly Bad is someone, typically an artist, who plies his trade with intense passion, infinite drive, supreme self-confidence, and absolutely no talent whatsoever. If they are actors, they might be melodramatic hams; if they are singers, they might warble and screech; if they are poets, they might be masters of the Painful Rhyme. They are convinced that they're the best at whatever it is they do, but nobody else agrees. Sometimes they'll think this because their friends compliment them to avoid hurting their feelings, but just as often, they'll be constantly decried by the critics. Their response is inevitably to bury their head in the sand, tell themselves they'll be Vindicated by History, maybe fire off a Take That, Critics! or two, and keep on making trash. One possible variation is for them to be people who were once actually good, but became Fallen Creators and haven't quite figured it out yet.
But there's an upside! The Giftedly Bad are so inept that very often, their works will end up being So Bad, It's Good. If, in real life, an artist retains a cult following that considers their work So Bad, It's Good — not just one slip up, but their entire oeuvre — they're almost certainly Giftedly Bad. But this is never an intended effect, since anyone Giftedly Bad always considers himself a true artist. Accordingly, the Giftedly Bad artist's work may often be a case of Muse Abuse, which rarely helps him/her/them/it reconcile with the abused muse in question.
To be Giftedly Bad, one must be universally criticized. The key element separating the bad from the Giftedly Bad is Selective Obliviousness. While being So Bad, It's Good is a bonus, and usually what makes someone famous enough to get on this page, someone who is just plain terrible can still be Giftedly Bad, and this is more common in fiction, since fictional characters don't have to rely on their own talents (or untalents) to become famous.
This trope, while appearing fairly often in fiction, seems to be even more common in Real Life (there's even a name for it, the Dunning-Kruger effect).
So Unfunny It's Funny is a Sub-Trope. Compare Small Name, Big Ego, whose overestimation of himself extends to everything he does. For the same concept applied to inventors, see Bungling Inventor. Also compare Bile Fascination.
DO NOT POST EXAMPLES JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE BAD. They must be not only bad, but deluded, as demonstrated by either comments they've made or their sheer persistence.
open/close all folders
A recent Subaru commercial involves a 30-ish man being given an easel as a birthday present by his asian wife. Cue trips in the Subaru to various beautiful vistas, the ocean, and more. The man punishes himself to get the best views, but all the artwork he enthusiastically produces looks more like a 5-year-old's drawings. Even his wife can't tell top from bottom on her 'favorite' painting.
Anime & Manga
CLANNAD: Kotomi is completely oblivious to the fact that her violin playing is so atrocious that it shatters glass and leaves everyone who hears it lying on the ground in a fetal position clutching their ears in pain, although she played the violin pretty well when she was younger.
In Onidere Saya is completely oblivious that the food she cooks is probably the most lethal thing to have ever existed.
In Takama-ga-Hara, Yamato loves drawing manga more than anything else in the world and hopes to win a Tezuka Award one day. His latest attempted entry is so bad that it inflicts physical pain on anyone who tries to read it, injuring his brothers, who are accomplished fighters, and nearly killing his classmates, who aren't.
In Ranma ½ Akane Tendo is bad at cooking. While she does realize her food isn't good, she is offended by criticism. Furthermore, in spite of her inability to cook she always tries to "improve" the recipes. Her relatives treat her cooking as some sort of disease or a curse.
And when she does manage to get it right (which the men at the Tendo household - namely Soun plus Genma and Ranma - don't find out until after she's left), she gets called to the woods to get rid of a beast, and everyone thinks she ran away from home because she grew tired of the treatment.
Gaston uses this trope a lot with music, inventions and cooking. Notably, Gaston (and his Love Interest Miss Jeanne) thinks the music he plays on his gaffophone is great even though it causes plants to commit suicide.
His scientific skill fits the bill as well. His perennial chemical science project of a wax-that-shines-without-slipping is edging ever closer to an absolute zero-friction material with every new iteration, while his hair growth formula has been known to eat through skin in seconds.
In the G.I. Joe comic, Major Bludd has a rather (deservedly) dismal reputation as a poet. People tend to not bring it up to his face because he's a cold blooded killer, so he believes himself to be a peerless poetic genius.
The Poetic Fiend in the GrailQuest series, encountered once a book. He's a horrifically bad poet, yet convinced of being the best of the best. However, it is in the interest of the player to always praise his work, since the Fiend is also a nigh-unstoppable vampire who can kill an adult Tyrannosaurus rex with one bite. As such he may also have useful items for you; in the last book he teaches you a cringingly bad poem that will neutralise instant-death powers used on you.
Not to mention Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind, whose play was already terrible before de Bris got his hands on it, and in the original film, LSD, a "performance artist" of the worst kind.
And Max Bialystock, one of the title producers. He used to have the magic touch, but now blames unappreciative audiences for his downfall, rather than the fact that he started producing crap.
Withnail of Withnail and I. The character is an out-of-work Large Ham who genuinely has no idea why he never seems to win any parts:
"Bastards! You'll all suffer! I'll show the lot of you! I'm gonna be a STAAAAAAAAAAARRRRR!"
By contrast, his infinitely more modest flatmate Marwood is the one who auditions for a minor role in a play... and gets offered the lead. Withnail's passionate delivery of the Hamlet monologue indicates that he has talent; the reason he never gets any parts is probably his constant drinking, drug abuse, unreliability and overbearing attitude. He doesn't have the time for anyone who doesn't recognise his genius already: "No, I don't want to understudy Constantine. Why can't I play the part?"
The Imperial Intelligence HQ in the Vorkosigan Saga was designed by an insane architect (Relative of Mad Emperor Yuri) that created a building so uncomfortable to be in as either prisoner or actual member of Imperial Intelligence it verges on Alien Geometries - to a point Simon Illyan once offhandedly remarked that he was never so close to immigrating as when he saw the beautiful glass tower that housed Escobar's intelligence agency.
In fact the whole thing's gone very metaphysical; they've realized how Giftedly Bad they are, but rather than try to become genuinely good at it, they've honed the terribleness of their poetry so that it can be used as an actual torture device, and devised complicated machinery to enhance perception of metaphor and similar poetic devices, just so their victims can really appreciate how bad their poems are.
The second worst (the Vogons are third) belongs to the Azgoths of Kria, a less meta example. Their poet master caused four deaths by internal haemorrhaging and one case of "survived only by gnawing one of his own legs off" with a single poem recitation. It was directly followed by his own major intestine acquiring sentience and throttling his brain to save the rest of the universe from any encores.
"The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England in the destruction of the planet Earth. Vogon Poetry is mild by comparison."
"Paul Neil Milne Johnstone" in the original radio series. This was changed in all subsequent versions because Johnstone was a real poet who went to school with Douglas Adams and he complained. (Not because of the reputation it gave him, by the way — he admitted that he was an awful poet as a teenager — but because the original broadcast used his real address. The "dead swan" poem visible in the TV series, by the way, is in fact one of his actual works from that period.)
The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation — "It is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of [their products] by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all. In other words — and this is the rock solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation's Galaxy-wide success is founded — their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws."
Discworld's Bloody Stupid Johnson embodies this trope. He was such a poor architect/inventor that people commissioned him just to see what he'd come up with. Indeed it became something of a status symbol to own something designed by BS Johnson. His genius was that the final product was brilliant, often in some way completely unrelated to the original intent. Some of his creations warped time and space, such as his terrace rows and a omnitemporal mail sorting machine containing circles where pi=3.
"If you wanted a small surface-to-air missile, you asked Johnson to design an ornamental fountain. It came to pretty much the same thing in the end."
The weird thing about BS Johnson is that he's named after the late experimental darkly comic novelist of the same name, who isn't known for being a poor writer or even a popular one while he was alive or when Terry Pratchett introduced the character. The theory is that Pratchett might just had wanted to make a reference to a writer he admired. (Also his character appears to be a mirror of the great gardener Capability Brown.)
It's quite a status symbol to own a Johnson Organ. While they amazingly did actually play music as intended, they had strange voices like "Farm Animals" and "Young Ladies Screaming" and, in the case of the Great Organ at Unseen University, the 128' long Earthquake pipe. Also, on account of having three keyboards and over 100 knobs, the Librarian is pretty much the only person with enough flexibility to play the Great Organ.
With the exception of the Great Organ (which, as noted, can't really be played by humans, and is connected to another of Johnson's creations), organs appears to have been Johnson's one exception to this trope. They have some additional voices not usually used except by the Librarian, but are otherwise to all appearances high-quality musical instruments used to play music intended to be played on organs.
In Maskerade, Christine is an immensely bad singer, but she is genuinely convinced that she is a gifted singer. In truth, she is only the prima donna because she is pretty and she has Connections.
In Reaper Man, Death fakes this to gain friends all the while contemplating why people think it's harder to hit a bullseye 40 feet away as opposed to hitting the hat of a man 100 feet BEHIND him.
In The Graveyard Book, one of the ghosts is a poet whose response to a bad review was to vow never to publish his poetry again, his logic being that people would one day discover his poetry and revere him as a genius, making the reviewer look foolish. On Neil Gaiman's blog, he says that the poet's epitaph was "Swans Sing Before They Die", in reference to a verse from Coleridge:
Swans sing before they die - 'twere no bad thing Should certain persons die before they sing.
Jorge Luis Borges' short story "El Aleph" features a poet who is obsessed with his own mediocre poetry, and believes that as soon as anyone of importance will read his epic poem, he will be immediately regarded as the greatest poet of his time. During the story, he is attempting to write a poem describing in minute detail the entirety of the Earth.
Carlos Argentino Daneri recites to a resigned Borges a stanza with a lot of words he invented himself, switching between languages in the same line; his concepts are general nonsense, and immediately upon finishing he explains the poem. Borges comments:
"[He] read me many another stanza, all of which earned the same profuse praise and comment from himself. There was nothing memorable about them. I could not even judge them to be much worse than the first one. Application, resignation, and chance had conspired in their composition; the virtues Daneri attributed to them were afterthoughts. I realized that the poet's work had lain not in the poetry but in the invention of reasons for accounting the poetry admirable; naturally, that later effort modified the poem for Daneri, but not for anybody else. His oral expression was extravagant; his metrical clumsiness prevented him, except on very rare occasions, from transmitting any of that extravagance to the poem."
In David Eddings' The Tamuli, the minor antagonist Elron spends most of his free time composing his ridiculously lengthy poem "Ode to Blue" (yes, the primary color) which, according to the protagonist unlucky enough to be forced to hear a part, is the most awful dreck ever allowed to sully a paper. When another character presents him with a starkly poetic (and entirely spontaneous) description of the steel-grey light of a harsh Rendorian dawn, Elron actually flees.
This is also true of his villainous persona, "Sabre". While Elron/Sabre clearly wants to be a Magnificent Bastard, and may even think he is one, he doesn't actually have the first clue what one is like. The result, rather than being Badass and intimidating, is such a Cliché Storm that the heroes, upon seeing him for the first time, are utterly amazed he's actually for real.
In Good Omens, we have Newton Pulsifer. He's passionate about electronics, but manages to destroy everything he touches. His ham radios manage to black out entire districts and when he buys a computer, he always buys the one that doesn't work.
The book also brings us Newton's car. It doesn't work well. Among many other things, its airbags tend to go off in dangerous situations such as driving at low speed down a straight, dry stretch of road but being about to crash because an airbag has just deployed in your face.
Then there's the time an electronics magazine he reads printed a design just for people like him, who are terrible at electronics — a circuit that doesn't work at all, in any fashion, whatsoever. When he put it together, he got a fully functional transistor radio that appeared to be picking up communications from Russia.
It is one of Harris’s fixed ideas that he can sing a comic song; the fixed idea, on the contrary, among those of Harris’s friends who have heard him try, is that he can’t and never will be able to, and that he ought not to be allowed to try.
Lapis-Trubetskoy from the Russian novel The Twelve Chairs, whose poems are filled with inane tautologies. Ostap Bender, one of the two protagonists, calls him Lapsus-Trubetskoy when they first meet. Later he is seen trying to sell poetry to several different magazine editors, changing the subject matter every time—for example, he calls his submission to a medical journal "The Ballad of Gangrene."
P. G. Wodehouse wrote one Jeeves and Wooster story about a friend of Bertie's who wanted to be a portrait painter. He couldn't get any commissions until he had painted some portraits, and he couldn't paint any portraits until he fulfilled some commissions, so he spent his time doing commercial art work. His uncle, who financially supported him, commissioned him to paint a portrait of his new baby. The portrait was so monumentally bad that his uncle cut him off completely, in a huff (or a minute and a huff). Jeeves, however, saw an opportunity to use the ugly portrait as the basis for a comic character, Baby Blobb, and the friend went on to become rich, drawing comics of The Adventures of Baby Blobb.
Friends has Ross and his "wordless sound poems" (which everyone except Pheobe, who skirts this trope with her original songs, hates. She is actually Ross's biggest fan after himself), and Joey's show Mac and CHEESE, where the other characters had to argue over what little good there was so they could complement it for Joey's sake.
Joey believes the term "abysmal" signifies something very positive, since his critics use it so much when describing his work.
Sophie Devereaux from Leverage. Among her more interesting performances are a hamtastic rendition of Lady Macbeth, a soap commercial where she viewed the dirt "as a metaphor for sin," and an unseen performance of Death of a Salesman where she played Willy Loman. In a twist, she actually can be a great performer... as long as she's conning someone.
Britta Perry of Community believes herself to be a talented photographer, but the only good picture she takes is by accident.
Tobias Funke of Arrested Development believes himself capable of getting a career as an actor, responding to a statement that he should stop wasting time with it by agreeing that he should land a major movie role. On the rare occasions he did get a job, he neglected to read the script.
Gob as well. He just isn't a very good magician (his props constantly fail, he kills his animals, he often fails at simple sleight of hand, and his method for getting a yacht to disappear is to sink it while nobody is looking) but not only does he continue to vigorously pursue it, he insists upon his tricksillusions being taken seriously.
He gets applause when he reads one of his old poems in a modern setting, with the implication being he was ahead of his time (mixed with a bit of Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas as he read a poem about his mom to a group of badass bikers).
Either that or people enjoyed him on a So Bad, It's Good level. Some people shown from William's party (when he was still human) discuss how bad he is:
woman: They call him William the Bloody because he writes bloody bad poetry!
The Muppets thrive on this trope, especially in The Muppet Show. Fozzie Bear is probably the most pure example, but he's only one among many.
A debatable instance, though, because once in a while he came up with something good.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
How I Met Your Mother has Marshall Eriksen, who has a lot of impressive talents, like winning every boardgame invented (and then triumphantly saying that game's name). However, stand-up comedy is not one of those talents.
Kamen Rider Double has one-shot character Jimmy Nakata, whose singing causes physical pain to its listeners and knocks birds out of the sky. And he's winning an American Idol style show in spite of this (because the Monster of the Week is rigging the contest). In a slight subversion, when the MotW is dealt with and Jimmy sings again, the judges say it was bad, but they can't disparage anyone who sings from the heart.
The Scouse woman in the second episode of Black Mirror is convinced she can sing. She's so sure of herself she paid 15 million merits to even enter the contest and then waited for over 2 months to be seen. She's on stage for all of a minute after which she's told she's rubbish. She isn't convinced.
Seinfeld had Elaine and her dancing skills, which George likens to "a full-body dry heave set to music."
The WB's Superstar USA, a parody of American Idol, was built around this trope. The show used the same "series of auditions, then on to Hollywood" format, but purposely picked the worst performers to advance, while showering them with praise. The singers weren't told until the very end that they were actually picked for being terrible.
Jack from Will and Grace practically lives and breathes this trope. Mostly due to the fact that he's so wrapped up in himself and has to be the center of attention.
A common trait in People Like Us, but particularly "The Photographer" (played by Bill Nighy) who thinks himself much more talented than he actually is.
Trina Vega in Victorious. How she got to be a student at the Hollywood School of Arts is anybody's guess - she can't sing, she can't dance, she can't act. In fact, there is a second season episode wherein almost all the other main characters discuss how she could've possibly been accepted in the first place. Even one of the teachers who was on the select committee isn't sure...
A later episode answers the question. All the select committee had to leave for something else and let Sikowitz judge her alone, then he drank spoiled coconut milk and just saw a beautiful perfomance full of colors.
Echo from Mr Young is a terrible singer. The titular Mr Young spends the episode about her singing trying to either improve her voice or hide it. By the end he saves her public embarrassment by performing a duet with his own amazing voice. Echo then believes that the horrible voice is the duet was his and the amazing one was hers.
Murdoc Niccalshas never canonically been heard to sing onscreen except for the growling-whispering rap in "White Light", but his singing has been described as sounding "like someone treading on a duck". He insists the world is merely too small-minded to appreciate his genius and he needs 2D's more "conventional" voice for the albums.
Florence Foster Jenkins, a rich American heiress so convinced of her singing ability that she rented the Carnegie Hall to prove it. Described by the other Wiki as an American amateur operatic soprano who was known, and ridiculed, for her lack of rhythm, pitch, tone, aberrant pronunciation of libretti, and overall poor singing ability, her concerts were so notoroius that the Mc Gonnagal effect applied - people packed the gigs out just to listen to her. She took this as proof of her great talent. Recordings exist.
Maria Cross, the worst singer in all of Visual Kei either as zis persona or as zis style. Adopted an Oshare style look, never mind zis music being an affront to the subgenre, and is known best for street performances in Tokyo where No Indoor Voice meets with Screams Like a Little Girl, Metal Scream, and other such tropes to create a hellish sound that somehow could be workable grindcore or noise, at least until the police end the performance because zhe has no permits for the amplified sound. The entire persona is possibly a Stealth Parody aimed at trashing Oshare Kei as a subgenre or parodying the very concept of Visual Kei itself, which makes it enough of a not real life example to be put here (though if it turns out to be serious, the example can be removed)
In fact, it's pretty likely Maria Cross is some sort of a parody, because zhe is actually capable of singing in ways that aren't absolute crap, and the way zhe flips between relatively ordinary for Visual Kei cleans/screams to Hell Is That Noise hints at Stylistic Suck - someone who does know what they are doing and is messing it up on purpose.
Montfleury thinks he is a dramatic actor capable of romancing the ladies. Everyone else (except maybe his protector the Duke of Candale) disagrees: the bore calls him “a shame for theater”, Theatre representant, Jodelet, thinks the public came to see him to laugh at him, nobody really tries to help when Cyrano bullies him out of the scene and everyone calls him a coward.
In Act II Scene IV, Baker Ragueneau, who wants to be a poet, declaims his poem (A recipe in verse) to his friends, the poets. He is totally serious about his poem, but it's Stylistic Suck.
One of the most memorable scenes from Molière's Le Misanthrope comes when Alceste, the titular misanthrope, thrashes the poetry of Oronte, an obsequious nobleman who desperately wants to be his friend. Alceste finds Oronte's poetry cloying, pretentious and devoid of meaning, and even says it is "meant to be taken to the cabinet"—"cabinet" having a secondary meaning of "outhouse" in 17th century French. He then responds with a poem he finds of high quality, a simple medieval country ballad.
May in Dragon Nest is a fairly typical example. She genuinely believes that she is amazing at painting, cooking, managing her small business, fashion, and everything else, and she believes herself to be smart, sophisticated, and attractive, but in reality, she is so stupid and terrible at everything that other townsfolk begin to wonder if she's cursed after a while. This is compounded by her endless quests that tend to create problems rather than solve them. It's almost a wonder she isn't chased out of town with torches and pitchforks.
Portal gives us Cave Johnson, CEO of Aperture Science, a man with great enthusiasm, vision, and commitment to Science!, but next to no common sense, much less business acumen. Inventions include Repulsion Gel, which allows objects to bounce off of it without losing any momentum, thereby enabling a perpetual motion machine. It was originally marketed as a dietary aid replacing pudding so that the food would bounce right out of people's stomachs. Aperture's most famous invention is the Handheld Portal Device that can create wormholes and is powered in part by a miniature black hole. Johnson's original intent for it was to be used for shower curtains. It goes without saying that either of these inventions could have changed the world, but Aperture instead became obsessed with trying to get them to function in their original roles, and became trapped in an endless cycle of cube and button-based testing.
"Excursion funnels are part of an investigation into how well test subjects can solve problems while traveling through a churning funnel of liquid asbestos. Results so far have been highly informative: They cannot."
Aperture Science as a whole fits the profile as well: for instance they invented Wheatley, a Sphere designed to be the dumbest moron who ever lived, but whose chaotic actions make him utterly impossible to predict or outwit.
Saber in Fate/EXTRA believes herself to be the pinnacle of the arts, a creative savant on par with the gods. In reality, her skills are below-average at best. In her past life as Nero Caesar she even built a personal theatre devoted specifically to her performances, and when people started to leave in the middle of her first recital, she ordered all the exits sealed.
Brian Griffin of Family Guy is a dedicated, passionate, confident writer...whose book was such a flop that the unsold copies were sent back to him packed in shredded copies of his book.
Rocky and Bullwinkle has Captain "Wrong-Way" Peachfuzz, the worst sailor in the world. Despite having wanted to be a sailor since childhood, he's totally incompetent at it. He only captains a ship because he inherited a huge sum of money, bought a cruise liner, and hired himself as its captain. The rest of his crew has a conspiracy to keep him from actually controlling the ship: they disconnected all the controls on the bridge, and the ship is actually steered from a secret control room he doesn't know about. This plan fails when he blunders his way into the real control room by accident while trying to get to the fake one.
Like the Seinfeld example above, Twilight Sparkle dances with enthusiasm and absolutely no ability.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders tend to come across as this sometimes; whenever they attempt a new scheme, it usually goes wrong in a particularly spectacular fashion. Their attempt at performing a rock ballad in "Show Stoppers" is probably the best example.