Humble Pie

This is a single, significant humiliating event that deeply affects a character. The subject is typically a particularly obnoxious and/or self-important character who makes a serious mistake or suffers a defeat that forces them to reflect on their failure and their ego. This happens most often to antagonist characters, and is usually portrayed as being well-deserved.

Sometimes, just to rub it in some more, it can be followed by a Humiliation Conga, and might result in Breaking The Haughty. In more obvious cases, the character will actually be called out for his arrogant attitude, but usually the situation is more subtle and the realization is more personal.

There are many ways for a character to respond. Oftentimes the character will simply accept their failure, realize the error of their ways, and change themselves to become a genuinely more tolerable person. Other characters simply cannot handle eating Humble Pie, and may react with anything from a Villainous Breakdown to something much more drastic.

The trope name comes from the phrase "to eat humble pie," meaning for someone to be humiliated. The phrase is derived from umble pie, which was a food made of offal (that is, the internal organs and other "throw-away" parts unwanted by the wealthy) during the Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern Periods (basically until the 1960s-70s in Anglophone culture) that was the only only form of non-seafood meat eaten by the lower-middle classes. Similar dishes included Oysters, Lobsters, and Salmon which were likewise regarded as dishes for the poor because of the animals' common-ness (and thus cheap-ness) and their meats' strong taste.

A similar phrase is "eating crow", a bird known for being particularly unpalatable.

Compare with Humiliation Conga, which is what happens when a character is forced to eat several Humble Pies all at once, and Break the Haughty, which may occur as a result of pie-eating.

No relation to Humble Pie, the band led by Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton.

Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Prince of Tennis: Ryo Shishido's loss at the hands of Tachibana and being kicked out of the regular team. Both trigger his Important Haircut and Character Development into a still harsh, but more kindhearted person.
  • Yoki from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood embodies this trope wholesale. The Elric brothers ruining his comfy gig as the corrupt ruler of a mining town directly results in him becoming the resident Chew Toy of the series. Even his final fate at the end of the series is a joke: he joins the circus.
  • Sting spends most of his intro arc in Fairy Tail boasting about how he's so powerful and could easily handle a monster that bested the main character. After said main character beat Sting at full power without even breaking out some of the more powerful spells that Sting had seen him using, he shut up.
    • Earlier, during the epilogue of the Edolas arc, Edolas' former King Faust suffers defeat from the dragon slayers Natsu, Gajeel, and Wendy. He is then tied up and "taken hostage" by Natsu in a Zero-Approval Gambit in order to make Mystogan a hero in the public's eyes and ensure that he becomes king. Finally, Mystogan banishes Faust from the Royal Capital. He accepts the punishment without complaint and tells his aide Coco to never stop running. He than walks away into the desert and only looks back to see Mystogan (his son) giving him the sign that he will always watch over him, even if he's not within sight. Also, before Natsu returns to Earth!Land, Faust admits that he was a fool for being so intoxicated with power and asks the boy if being in a guild is fun. Natsu makes a connection and concludes that Faust may in fact be the Edolas counterpart of Earth!Land Fairy Tail's master; Makarov Dreyar.
  • Nuriko from Fushigi Yuugi starts out as a crosdressing Rich Bitch, treating Miaka like shit due to jealousy over Hotohori's crush on her. Miaka turns the tables via slapping him and calling him out on his selfishness after a rather bad prank... and this happens in front of Hotohori. She finishes this via offering him a sort-of peace delivery in the form of a cute pebble, which makes Nuriko cry in humiliation — from then on, he becomes the charming Boisterous Bruiser and Big Brother Mentor we know and love.
  • Paul from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl after a long streak of getting rid of any of his Pokémon that dares lose a battle culminating in abandoning his Chimchar receives one of these from Pyramid King Brandon. Brandon actually calls him out on his cruel treatment of his Pokémon while Curb Stomping him with Legendaries which causes Paul to panic and suffer a Anti-heroic BSOD. After this event, while still rather cocky, Paul slowly starts to develop into a better person, and starts to treat his Pokémon with respect even if they lose a battle (first shown at the end of the Pokeringer episode where he congratulates his Honchkrow on doing it's best even though it lost to Ash.)
  • The protagonist Ange in Cross Ange was a Norma-hating Fallen Princess who thinks she should not be at the no-man's prison island because she's a princess and that she claims that she's not one of them. Then she inadvertently caused the death of three of her squad mates including the captain and wishes that she would die because she feels powerless. After finally activating a rusty and old machine and bringing it back to its pristine condition and killing her first DRAGONnote  she finally gets her Important Haircut and hardens her character thanks to circumstances who is willing to do anything to survive.

    Film 
  • At the end of Chicago, Roxie is acquitted, but literally moments later, a new heinous crime is committed and all the reporters rush out of the courtroom, leaving her all alone and without the fame and adoration she had been seeking.
  • In The Devil Wears Prada, after being chewed out by her boss, Andy storms out of the office and goes down to Nigel to complain. Nigel answers with a thorough "The Reason You Suck" Speech, forcing Andrea to admit that she doesn't appreciate her position enough.
  • In The Philadelphia Story (and remake High Society), Tracy is intolerant of others' moral failings, particularly her ex-husband's alcoholism and her father's perceived infidelity. Then, on the eve of her wedding, she gets drunk on champagne and makes out with another man. The next morning, her attitude is penitent.

    Literature 
  • In the latter two books of Inheritance Cycle, the great elder dragon Glaedr swears up and down to Eragon and Saphira that there is no way, not in a million years, that the Vault of Souls could possibly contain Eldunari, Soul Jars that contain the consciousnesses of dragons. When it turns out to contain not only those, but dragon eggs as well, he is at once overjoyed, triumphant and shocked, but also has to eat a heavy amount of crow. It's unclear exactly why the possibility of how they were hidden the way that they were (deep underground) never occurred to him.
  • At the conclusion of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Yellow Face", Holmes discovers that his deductions about the case in question were almost entirely erroneous. Consequently humbled, he asks Watson to use the word "Norbury" — the place where the events of the case transpired — to bring him down a peg or two should he ever start getting too boastful about his deductive powers.
  • The above is parodied and subverted in the Hercule Poirot story "The Chocolate Box", in which Poirot — who has made a similar blunder to Holmes above — asks his companion Captain Hastings to similarly use the words "chocolate box" in order to deflate him if he should start boasting again. Hastings finds himself using the words mere seconds later, much to his amusement and Poirot's irritation.

    Live Action TV 
  • Happens fairly often in Frasier, mainly because the main character is a psychiatrist with a huge ego and a love of self-analysis.
  • A very literal version appeared in Sabrina the Teenage Witch in which Sabrina, desiring a little more attention for her efforts, unintentionally chomps too much of a magic cake that increases the attention she gets and is overloaded with meaningless admiration. Humble pie is the counter-spell and it tastes terrible.
  • Played with and then averted in Glee 2x14: Rachel promises to take Kurt to 'a bakery of his own choosing for a piping-hot slice of humble pie' after proving that Blaine (the boy Kurt's in love with) is actually straight with a non-drunken kiss. When the kiss in question actually confirms to Blaine that he's really most sincerely gay, Kurt starts warming up to deliver that slice of pie to Rachel, but she completely fails to notice, due to being struck by the realisation that dating a boy who 'turned out to be gay' is perfect material for her new songwriting career...
  • Mentioned by name in The Thick of It: after Nicola has "laid [her] first great, big egg of solid fuck", Malcolm explains that there actually is a way to limit the fallout from her incredibly stupid mistake, but it would involve her "eating an entire concrete mixer full of humble pie". While Nicola clearly didn't enjoy having to give an interview to the smug journalist who was causing the trouble, this particular humiliation was pretty mild compared to the things the characters normally end up doing on this show.
  • In the pilot of Justified Boyd Crowder is an arrogant criminal who runs his own neo-Nazi gang of rednecks. He firmly grabs the Villain Ball and decides to shoot it out with a group of US Marshalls including his old friend Raylan Givens. His gang is easily captured by the marshals and Boyd himself barely survives getting shot by Raylan. This experience causes him to have a Heel-Faith Turn, give up his criminal ways and start his own church. However, his arrogance causes him to go against his crime kingpin father Bo who teaches Boyd a lesson by murdering all members of Boyd's church.
  • This happened to Major Winchester in an episode of M*A*S*H. After spending the whole episode insulting three South Korean doctors who used archaic methods, he threw his back out, and the very forgiving Korean doctors offered to help help him, which Colonel Potter consented to. (After ordering Winchester to comply.) When their method - acupuncture - worked like a charm, he actually apologized.
  • In the TV adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, Anne, who had been forbidden to see her best friend, Diana, after she accidentally got her drunk on currant wine, goes and saves Diana's young sister who was dying from croup. The next day, Marilla says that Anne is invited to eat at Diana's house and wryly notes that humble pie is likely on the menu.
  • In American Horror Story: Asylum, Sister Jude has a helping when she is locked up in her own asylum as a patient.

    Theater 
  • At the end of Inherit the Wind, after Matthew Harrison Brady wins the case he wants to talk some more about God, the evils of evolution, and how good Christian folk have to be on their guard in today's permissive society, but the people in the courtroom were kind of sick of the whole business so they ignore him. Ironically, the only ones listening to him beyond his wife are his enemies, growing concerned at Brady becoming hysterical at his desperate orating.
    • For clarification, he had prepared this brilliant monologue about all the stuff mentioned above, intending to use it as his closing statement. Unfortunately for him, his Genre Savvy opponent realized that he would never be able to produce a better statement, since Brady was a more experienced lawyer and a better public speaker, so his opponent pulled a fast one by declining to give a closing statement himself. Under the laws of the time, this meant that Brady wasn't allowed to give a closing statement. He tries to give the monologue after the trial, but by then the spotlight isn't on the case anymore, so no one really cares.

    Video Games 
  • Both "eating humble pie" and the variant phrase "eat crow" come up occasionally in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series. This deserves special mention, synonym or no:
    Godot: Looks like, this time, I've been forced to eat crow.
    Maya: I wonder what recipe crow-flavored coffee is...
  • In the novel "Dragon Age: The Calling", Fiona was an unlikable, selfish Jerkass Warden that got on nearly everyone's nerves. However, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, the entire Redcliffe questline in Inquisition if the player supports the mages is a big dose of Humiliation Conga and Break the Haughty for her. The death of Justinia convinces her to go to the Tevinter Imperium for help... only the magisters she contacted were Venatori, so she's soon enthralled to Alexius's will, Arl Teagan is thrown out of his own castle, and the Inquisitor winds up being punched through time. When Alexius is finally defeated, she's apprehended and thrown out of Ferelden, possibly by King Alistair, her own son. By the end of it, she mellows out and becomes a sympathetic Jerk with a Heart of Gold.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Emperor's New Groove, Kuzco is quite the Karma Houdini until he dismisses and insults Pacha (okay, that happens quite a few times, but this time he means it), only to find out that Pacha was in fact looking out for him, and now he's all alone.
  • This exchange between Megamind and Roxanne Ritchi:
    Megamind: I need your help...
    Roxanne: (irritated) Why do you need MY help?
    Megamind: (Sighs.) Because you're the smartest person I know.
    • You gotta admit it... that guy had a diet of this trope, given his position as a Card-Carrying Villain.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, there have been two examples.
    • In "Boast Busters", The Great And Powerful Trixie doles out these to those who challenge her claims, by taking whatever task they challenged her with and twisting it to her own ends. And at the end of the episode, she stoutly refuses to accept the slice that's served up to her, running away instead.
      • Twilight serves her another slice at the end of "Magic Duel". This time, she accepts it and becomes Twilight's friend.
    • In "Sweet And Elite", Jet Set and Uppercrust get this thanks to Fancypants on two occasions. First by him taking Rarity into his reserved balcony seat at the races, right in front of them, and second, when he endorses Rarity and her friends, who'd they'd just spoke down to, forcing them to suck it up and praise her.
  • Brainy, Vanity, and Snappy literally serve humble pie to the other Smurfs who have been affected by Chlorhydris' self-love spell in The Smurfs episode "Love Those Smurfs".
  • This happens to Raimundo in an early episode of Xiaolin Showdown when he loses a battle to Tubbimura, who uses the Sword of Storm to defeat him. (It had been Raimundo's fault, because he had ignored the lecture on the Sword's powers. Even worse, the Sword of Storm was a Wind Shen Gong Wu, Wind being Raimundo's element, which made it really humiliating.) Raimundo spends much of the rest of the episode studying, and was able to pull a CMOA in a rematch with Tubbimura at the end.
  • This exchange between Bart and Lisa in The Simpsons episode "Krusty Gets Busted":
    Bart: I know Krusty's innocent, and I think I can prove it, but... I need your help.
    Lisa: You do? Why?
    Bart: Oh, come on, you know why.
    Lisa: No, why?
    Bart: I'll never forgive you for making me say this, but... you're smarter than me.
    Lisa: [smug chuckle]
    • This was only the first time. Lisa lives for occasions like this.

    Real Life 
  • Actress Kristen Stewart was described by several celebrity gossip mags as "eating humble pie" after she was forced to apologize for remarks in which she equated being famous with being a rape victim.
  • Aging tennis star Bobby Riggs acted the male-chauvinist lout during the run-up to the "Battle of the Sexes" between him and Billy-Jean King. After King beat him soundly, he had to eat a lot of humble pie...
    • The lead-up to the match was engineered to maximise hype and generate public interest, with Riggs adopting a misogynistic jerkass persona to get the crowds worked up and eager to see him lose. Kayfabe isn't just for pro-wrestling, y'know.
  • Older Than Steam: The expression derives from 'umble pie', which was a pie filled with liver, heart, and other offal. It was popular among British commoners in the 15th and 16th century. Something of a subversion, as umble pie can actually be quite delicious (assuming you like offal); however, it was considered humiliating for someone who could previously afford "real" meat (e.g. a nobleman) to have to eat the stuff.