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Idiot Houdini
Frank: God, I've had to work hard every day of my life, and what do I have to show for it? This briefcase, and this haircut! And what do you have to show for your lifetime of sloth and ignorance?
Homer: What?
Frank: Everything! A dream house! Two cars! A beautiful wife! A son who owns a factory! Fancy clothes and (sniffs air) lobsters for dinner! And do you deserve any of it? No!
Homer: (gasps) What are you saying?
Bart: He's got you there, dad.
Frank: You're a fraud. A— a total fraud. (walks out, pokes his head back round the doorway, and speaks to Marge and the kids) It was nice meeting you.
The Simpsons, "Homer's Enemy"

This is what happens when a character who is known for making consistently poor judgments never has to answer for them. In fact, nearly the exact opposite happens: Whatever mind-numbingly stupid idea they've come up with this episode, it will work. If he sells the party's material possessions for some magic beans to give to a Nigerian prince he met over the Internet, we can be rest assured that at the end of the episode, a Nigerian prince will come solve the conflict with a Deus ex Machina. The Idiot Houdini will be healthy, wealthy, and have an ample supply of True Companions even though in Real Life, anyone acting the way he does would almost certainly have died ten episodes before the series began.

Characters will sometimes notice this bizarre disparity inside a story. When they do they almost always find it a serious cause for concern, although since the Idiot Houdini lives a relatively charmed life, there's little anyone can do about it. In other cases, they may be blind to it conversely because of the character's excess of prosperity.

There's a certain amount of Truth in Television to the latter portrayal, as any rudimentary analysis of pop culture fixtures indicates that no matter how badly they screw up, some people are so famous that they'll always get a second chance.

A "loveable" example of this trope generally relies on Hanlon's Razor to gain sympathy (especially if the victims to their stupid antics are even more sympathetic).

Overlaps significantly with Born Lucky and The Fool. The character who provokes Minor Insult Meltdown is usually also this as other characters scold the meltdowner rather than the provocateur. Frequently a side effect of playing Too Dumb to Live for laughs in a series where Status Quo Is God. Compare and contrast Karma Houdini.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Cameron, one of Ash's rivals in Pokémon is incredibly scatterbrained, often forgetting to bring his Pokemon to matches and almost not making it to the League. He even brings 5 Pokemon to a 6-on-6 match by accident, and still manages to defeat Ash.
  • Most definitely, Kaname Ohgi of Code Geass. In a world where innocent mistakes or simple Diabolus ex Machina can get you killed, Ohgi gets away with a truly astonishing number of bone-headed decisions, including a couple of the most crucial ones, yet walks out with one of the happiest endings.
  • Vash the Stampede in Trigun appears to be this from time to time:
    Villager 1: (as Vash is dancing along the street with headphones in) He's dodging the bullets!
    Villager 2: Dodging? That dumbass doesn't know he's being shot at!
  • Easily Kamina of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, at least before his death, anyway. Almost everything he does is outrageously stupid (such as attempting to hijack an enemy mech with zero idea of how it works or any of its security codes), yet he gets away with it thanks to sheer Refuge in Audacity, Rule of Cool, and the efforts of his little bro Simon. He operates entirely off of Indy Ploys, all of which succeed, and, in fact, the one time he actually tries to be smart and plan things beforehand, he dies, although it was more Simon's fault than his.
  • The titular protagonist of Irresponsible Captain Tylor would be this if you buy into the interpretation that he really is an incredibly lucky idiot and not merely Obfuscating Stupidity.

    Film 
  • The two main characters from Bio-Dome live in relative luxury despite having no useful skills, and exhibit intelligence you'd expect from idiots who went on to get brain damage. Which considering the scene where one of their mothers was seen drowning them, they may very well have brain damage.
    • On the other hand, they were smart enough to repair the damage they did to the dome experiment.
  • Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther movies shows crime-solving skills that make the Scooby gang look good.
    Outraged Matron: That's a priceless Steinway!
    Clouseau: Not anymore.
  • In Go, a sleazy strip-club owner berates his useless son for this.
    "You know what wakes me up in the middle of the night covered in a cold sweat? Knowing that you aren't any worse than anyone else in your whole screwed up generation. In the old days, you know how you got to the top? Huh? By being better than the guy ahead of you. How do you people get to the top? By being so fucking incompetent, that the guy ahead of you can't do his job, so he falls on his ass and congratulations, you are now on top. And now the top is down here, it used to be up here... and you don't even know the fucking difference."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Nearly everyone in the Bluth family on Arrested Development falls into this trope. Gob, Lindsey, Buster and their mother all live high-class lifestyles despite the fact that none of them have any useful skills or even common sense. We find out in the first episode that the family patriarch is similarly idiotic: The only thing he ever actually seemed to do effectively was break the law in order to steal company money, to the point that the viewer is genuinely surprised he wasn't arrested much sooner.
    • Later we meet prosecutor Maggie Lizer, who's a successful lawyer in spite of the fact that she's spent several years doing a very, very poor imitation of a blind person. The only rational explanation for how she wasn't found out sooner is that she's never met anyone who had seen a real blind person before. And even when Michael tries to expose her she wriggles out of it because she had temporarily lost her sight, when she should have been disbarred.
  • Greg the Bunny. With no marketable skills and a large amount of anti-puppetism in universe he lucks into a regular cast position on the in-universe children's show. It gets worse, in the spinoff Warren the Ape, Greg is revealed to have a massive mansion and live a high class lifestyle. He acquired his riches by helping a Nigerian prince move some money out of the country. It actually worked.
  • Ashley Abbott on The Young and the Restless falls into this pattern chronically. Her characters arcs tends to follow a simple pattern. Make an extremely poor decision. Then, get mad at other characters when they point out why what she's doing is a bad idea. When she finally realizes how stupid she's been, she then gets mad at other characters for offering advice and decides to deal with her problems by going it alone. Rinse and repeat.
    • This doesn't even get into her ability to screw up other people's plans simply by being involved in them. On one occasion, while speaking with Abbott arch-nemesis Victor Newman, she gets a phone call from her brother Jack about an important business deal. So, naturally, she excuses herself so she can talk about it without Victor over-hearing. Which room does she go to? The nursery. She left Victor in the living room with the baby monitor. It's hard to miss the fact that, in a show where many of the main characters are business executives, Ashley stands alone as the one whose business sense is clearly an Informed Ability.
  • Michael Scott on The Office has a habit of falling into this from time to time. Even though he has aspirations to being a highly successful businessman, for example, he doesn't seem to have a rudimentary grasp of economics. An episode where he meets his accountant shows that he spends a great deal of his money, not just on luxuries, but on objects that are almost completely useless to him: He has a fishing rod worth several hundred dollars even though he doesn't know how to fish. His best escape act, though, is when he bankrupts the Michael Scott Paper Company by not understanding that his prices are so low he can't recoup his costs. Dunder-Mifflin, not realizing this (in part because Jim sabotages Dwight's attempt to warn them), offers him a buy-out because on paper Michael's taken a lot of their customers.
    • Another good straight example is when Michael was vying for a raise in "The Negotiation". The exec who was conducting the review to determine if he deserved one was Jan, who Michael was in a relationship with at the time. Despite Jan telling Michael not to try bringing up their relationship and Michael already having numerous legitimate reasons as to why he deserved a raise, Michael's relationship with Jan is the only card he ever tries to play, at one point even threatening to withhold sex from Jan if she didn't give him the raise. Not only is he somehow neither sued nor fired over this, he actually gets the raise.
  • In Family Matters, while Steve Urkel is not an idiot per say, he does several stupid and destructive things to the Winslows, mostly involving destroying their property and getting the family injured. This is largely laughed off as him being clumsy, but it got so bad that their insurance company decided to charge them more just for having him as a neighbor. Every time the family (usually Carl) gets mad at him for being destructive, and tries to keep him away from the house, they're presented as being judgmental and "bad friends", even though Steve at best presents a very real and serious financial liability.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert is this, but unlike most examples it's not a quirk of his personality. Rather, it's because the company's promotion protocols seem to be designed in such a way to ensure that a person of his intelligence level becomes a manager, and that said manager is impossible to fire.
    • Scott Adams' book The Way of the Weasel offers a possible explanation to this phenomenon: that a company will naturally shift incompetent people to management because that is where they cause the least harm. Dilbert and the rest of the employees prove this by regularly finding way to circumvent the pointy-haired boss' idiotic requests and policies, getting their work done in spite of him.
  • Michael Patterson of For Better or for Worse's adult career is defined by this, thanks to his development into a Wish Fulfillment Jerk Sue. Guy married his childhood crush after witnessing her car accident and snapping photos instead of helping, shunts all the work of raising their kids onto her and gets lauded as a 'wonderful father', slanders his Ceiling Banger neighbors... then came the apartment fire, where he ditched his wife and terrified children to run back into the blaze to grab his laptop. Not only is he never called on this, but one of the fireman who saves him instead decides to gush about how great his newspaper column is!

    Web Animation 
  • This trope is the entire reason Neebs (from Doraleous And Associates) is such a Base Breaker. He embodies Too Dumb to Live, and most of Doraleous' bad luck stems from his arrogance and disobedience (which eventually gets him fired), but said idiocy earns him half the throne of Ashbury, a fortune in broom sales, and (arguably) most of the credit for the Geighs' victory over the Giopis.

    Web Comics 
  • Ethan's devolution to this in Ctrl+Alt+Del is in large part why the comic has such a hatedom. In early strips, other characters put up with his stupidity only to the extent necessary to keep him as a character in the webcomic. By the time Winter-een-mas rolls around, the universe is bending over backward to turn all of his stupid ideas into outrageous successes.
    • At the comic's end, he did end up getting some comeuppance by getting killed off trying to fix the consequences of his actions. The author admitted the decision behind this was that he was overdue to get some backlash after having things go his way for so long.

    Western Animation 
  • Homer Simpson at first showed reasonably poor judgment, but repeated encounters have gradually turned him into this trope. A good example is the episode "Homer Defined" that features Homer saving the nuclear power plant from a meltdown, and becoming a hero because of it; but in reality he simply hit the override button by going "eeny-meeny-miney-mo." When this is discovered, the term "Homer" thus becomes a trope of its own in the episode, for whenever someone does something good on just plain dumb luck. Magic Johnson even said, "Looks like I pulled a Homer!" when he won the game by accident.
    • This aspect of his character was deconstructed in the eighth-season episode "Homer's Enemy" featuring Frank Grimes, an orphan who had to struggle and work hard all his life just to reach the lower middle class. He is perplexed and disturbed by how successful Homer is despite the fact that he's incompetent at nearly everything. Grimes finally snaps when, after tricking Homer into entering a future nuclear plant model contest for children, the crowd cheers and applauds Homer when he wins the competition by building a scale model with minor efficiency tweaks and stripes going down the towers.
      • Of course, it is worth noting that Homer is also one of the show's prime Butt Monkeys. He can get away with his stupidity, but only when the plot calls for it, other times fate punishes him dearly such as in The Simpsons Movie, where his actions got the town domed in and everyone goes up to his house with Torches and Pitchforks and his family leave him. Only for him to idiot houdini his way outta that one as well.
    • Bart Simpson, to a lesser extent, occasionally pulls this as well. Particularly, few times when Bart is in a rivalry with Lisa.
  • Scooby-Doo. He has NO detective skills and in fact is a dumb coward but he always manages to catch the Monster of the Week by accident and gets congratulated by everyone at the end of each episode- in some of the spinoffs he's even famous for it!
    • If you're a dog and you solve mysteries and talk, you can be sure that's going to get some attention at least. And it doesn't matter if you solve them through hard work or by complete accident, if you solve the mystery, you've solved the mystery.
      • Shaggy is probably even worse being the second most well known character. He's basically Scooby only with all the cowardice and none of the unique talents of the dog (being able to track or occasionally talk to other animals).
      • It should be pointed out that Shaggy and Scooby do (or did) have useful skills regarding sluthing. Scooby, being a dog, has a keen sense of smell which was used many times to track down clues and/or suspects. Plus, being a dog, he would sometimes growl and bark at the Monster of the Week to scare him/her out of hiding. Shaggy, on the other hand, is rather nimble and fast (The series even once commented that he was in his school's gymnastics team) which is useful in avoiding dangerous criminals. He was also skilled at ventriloquism (Which, again, could be useful in providing a distraction). The problem is that these useful traits were made almost non-existent by both characters being reduced to the snack-happy simple-minded cowards they are today.
  • Inspector Gadget is even worse at detective work than Scooby Doo, yet no one ever seems to catch on to this fact; it helps that Penny and Brain (who do pretty much all the work) are either unwilling or (in the latter's case) unable to reveal the truth.
  • Peter. Griffin. Should not be able to survive, much less thrive.
    • The show occasionally lampshades this. At the end of "Tale of a Third-Grade Nothing", Peter actually goes to jail for blowing up a hospital earlier on. Naturally, he gets released just in time for next week's episode. Often combined with Karma Houdini due to Peter's frequent high scale Jerk Ass tendencies, though it is sometimes hard to define which trope he plays on occasion (being a Psychopathic Manchild has that way).
  • SpongeBob SquarePants leans more and more increasingly into this trope as seasons pass, frequently bothering or inflicting misery on the other residents of Bikini Bottom (usually his neighbour Squidward) due to his well-intentioned stupidity, and someone else facing the repercussions for it. Combined with his friend Patrick's near equal Idiot Houdini tendencies the show becomes disturbingly sociopathic for a kid's show at times.
  • The latter half of fellow NickToon CatDog is even worse; his brainless dog antics frequently making his conjoined twin Cat's life unbearable. The show nearly always plants things in Dog's favor in the end. Granted Cat isn't the soundest of people, but not really to deserve what he suffers from his twin, especially since there are times this converts into a Karma Houdini and Dog gets away with being a genuine Jerk Ass himself.
    • Particularly bad in an early episode where all Cat wants to do is watch a TV event at home that he paid for (the most jerky thing he did was not let a housemate watch too). Dog physically forces him to stay by a fire hydrant because another dog marked it. The end result is not only Cat missing his TV event, but his house and everything he owns in the world being burned to the ground leaving him only to laugh insanely that his life couldn't possibly get any worse. Oh and to hammer Dog's side in even more, when their house is burning down and Cat calls the fire department, Dog refuses to let them use it to save their house, even when Cat begs him in tears that if he values Cat in any way he'll let them use the hydrant. He doesn't. The episode ends with Cat laughing in insanity and Dog laughing not knowing what's going on.
  • In another episode where it's found that they are responsible for each others teeth (Cats good dental habits give Dog good teeth, while Dog's horrible habits give Cat a dentists nightmare) Dog doesn't make any efforts to stop any of his bad habits for the sake of his brother, and even getting angry when he finds Cat tricked him into cleaning his mouth, yet takes offense when Cat starts giving as good as he gets. It ends with both of them escalating in tooth damage and getting false teeth, yet Dog doesn't really get punished for his clear lack of caring for his brothers wellbeing.
  • To an extent, the entire Planet Express team of Futurama tend to cause endless problems in their botched deliveries. Of course many of them (especially Bender) fluctuate between this and an outright Karma Houdini at times. Nibber, the Team Pet, seems to undergo this trope due to being a mindless animal (until falling for the above stated Unfortunate Implications when he is revealed to be The Mole for a super intelligent race playing dumb).
  • Deedee from Dexter's Laboratory. She normally means to be playful, but always destroys everything Dexter works hard for with nearly no comeuppance at all.
    • Of course, this can be explained by Dexter not wanting to tell his parents she broke some stuff in his secret laboratory, and that said laboratory, despite containing an arsenal of supposedly powerful weapons and tools, remains more or less defenceless against one (pre)pubescent child.
  • The flock from Shaun the Sheep qualify. No matter how stupid of an act they do, they're saved by the end, it inconveniences the Farmer in some way.
    • Well, being a farmer, that flock is his livelihood, so he kinda has to keep them around.
  • American Dad! has Stan always make poor choices or having a lapse in judgement that usually results in someone getting hurt in some way while he doesn't get it until the last minute. Since Stan never retains anything he learned and karma's laser rarely strikes him, he goes back to making idiotic choices at the expense of others.
    • One great example of this is when the town gets flooded from a hurricane and the whole house gets washed away. Stan makes several bad decisions in a row that results in Hayley being attacked by a shark, getting the house flipped upside down, and simply not evacuating the town just to prove that the hurricane isn't as bad as people made it to be. Stan eventually breaks down and grows too afraid to help his family after realizing what his bad choices resulted in, but Klaus encourages Stan to do better and help out. Stan attempts to do so, but the following happens:
      • Stan takes exposed wires and tries to dip them in the water to fry the shark, but he fries Roger instead.
      • Stan sees a bear floating down the street and he moves it into the house to fight the shark, only for the bear and the shark to attack the family as a team.
      • Despite Francine begging Stan to just stop helping, Stan keeps trying to help out as he takes a harpoon and throws it at the bear, but winds up missing and hits Francine instead. Even the bear looks to Stan and shakes his head as if to say "Dude, really?"
      • Hell it got so bad that when Buckle (their neighbor) busted into the house to save them he wound up having to shoot Stan (with a tranquilizer dart mind you), stating ''he was being a bigger threat then the shark and bear combined."
      • After the hurricane is over, Stan is held up at gunpoint by Cleveland and Peter and winds up shooting Francine out of reflex.
  • Name an adult in South Park. Any of them. Chances are they'll have been this at one point or another.
  • Zim was The Millstone on his own planet, but became this after being Reassigned to Earth. If anyone suffers from Zim's plans, it's usually Dib.
  • Wander of Wander Over Yonder. For example, in "The Pet," he attempts to train an alien monster that is heavily implied to have killed someone in the past, and it just barely fails to kill Wander too. Furthermore, Sylvia tries to get rid of the monster by activating self-destruct on the ship they're all on, and Wander doesn't try to evacuate (or even seem to notice) until Sylvia rescues him.
  • Peggy Hill is very much this. Smuggling cocaine into prison, check. Kidnapping a Mexican child, check. She even once kidnapped a bus full of people and either held them against their will for a day or dropped them off far enough away that the poll booths were closed by the time they got back.

    Real Life 
  • Timothy Dexter, who became wealthy after marrying a wealthy widow, was persuaded by his friends to invest his wealth into all sorts of ridiculously dumb things. When Dexter sent mittens and warming plates to the West Indies, the mittens were bought and shipped to Siberia, and the warming plates were sold as ladles to the molasses industry. When Dexter shipped coal to Newcastle (the British capital for coal mining at the time), it arrived during a strike and was bought quickly for a great price. When he played the stock market by buying stocks at random, all of them went up. When he wrote a book called "A Pickle For The Nowing Ones"—a travesty of literature—it sold very well. To give an idea as to just how blindly lucky he was, he's the only example for The Fool under Real Life.
    • He actually made it into The Book Of Lists for shipping coal to Newcastle (along with such others as selling oil products, specifically lighter fluid, which was too small a market to bother building a refinery locally to produce to Saudi Arabia). Every one of the entries on the list was something that's generally used as an example of a stupid thing to ship to a particular place.
  • Many people who got to high places via good old-fashioned hard work and street smarts tend to be in this position when their edge (and occasionally their marbles) starts to slip away, since those around them will be inclined to prop them up through multiple fiascoes in case the magic does come back.
  • Even after causing the cancellation of the Lupin III "Red Jacket" series by stupidly distributing the first anime film outside of Japan, where the estate of Maurice LeBlanc (which at the time owned the copyright on the Arsene Lupin name) was more likely to notice an infringement on its copyright, Toho is still distributing new adaptations of Monkey Punch's manga in Japan. To their credit, though, they were much more careful afterwards as far as international distribution was concerned while the Lupin name was still in copyright elsewhere (i.e. they often forced international distributors to change Lupin's name), which is likely the only reason why TMS Entertainment (who produced the anime) didn't turn to a new distributor immediately after the lawsuit.
  • In a similar example, Studio DEEN took over adapting Rurouni Kenshin after the very popular Kyoto Arc and quickly ran the shows quality to the ground with poorly done filler, eventually leading to the show getting canceled before they could adapt the final story arc. Despite this, years later Studio DEEN got to work on a new two-part Kenshin OVA which, to everyone's disappointment, turned out not be an adaptation of the story arc that concluded the manga but was instead a remake of the Kyoto Arc.


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