Irony as She Is Cast
Sometimes a talented person is hired to act talentless. Hey, you know that actor that plays that character? The one that can not sing? Turns out they are a classically trained opera singer. Ironic, isn't it? Not really. Irony As She Is Cast happens when known skills of an actor and the displayed skills of a role do not mesh - and the fan knows this. If the fan didn't know the actor, then there would be no dissonance. Their ability might even have been the reason for casting;
- The actor wants to break out of their defined role
- The type of ineptitude is enhanced by, or impossible without, the actor's knowledge
- The Powers That Be do not want to use a Stunt Double
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- Windows started to use John Hodgman's PC character from the Mac ads even though Hodgman is actually a Mac user.
Anime & Manga
- Rie Tanaka, a voice actor well-respected for her singing abilities, has been frequently cast as tone-deaf characters:
- Hekiru Shiina has a singing career. Guess which is the worst subject for her character in Magic Knight Rayearth, Hikaru Shidou... singing.
- Minami Takayama, the Japanese voice actress for Conan of Detective Conan, is actually a singer in the J-Pop band "Two-Mix"; before Conan, her voice was what she was best known for. Naturally, in the series itself, Conan cannot hold a tune to save his life. Two-Mix itself actually appeared on the show once and invited Conan to sing with them, as a wink to all her fans. They played with it, too: the episode in question makes it a plot point that Conan sounded like her.
- Takehito Koyasu, while not really a big name in singing career, also sings. Cue Macross 7 where his character Gamlin Kizaki tried to 'outsing' Basara Nekki in singing despite his protests... only for Gamlin to have a horrendous singing tune.
- Maaya Sakamoto is much better known for her singing career than her acting career, especially considering she's done quite a few anime songs, and worked with the famous Yoko Kanno for some of them. In Ouran High School Host Club she played Fujioka Haruhi who is an atrocious actor, and apparently a horrible singer... so horrible we never actually hear her sing, but LIPSYNC a song by Chieko Kawabe (who sang the opening). Oddly enough, Haruhi's English voice actress, Caitlin Glass, also has a very nice singing voice.
- Kaere of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is sometimes joked to be a dreadful guitar player and awful singer. Her voice actress, Yu Kobayashi, plays guitar as a hobby and is clearly a quite good singer as evidenced by her singing in various music for the show. Kaere's character songs play around with this trope- at some points they are very discordant and Karere is Hollywood Tone-Deaf, but this is a reflection of the character's multiple personality disorder. When that's not in effect, the singing is very good.
- Aya Hirano playing Konata Izumi. Anyone who's watched Hirano as Haruhi Suzumiya (also singing that series' themes) knows that she has a fantastic singing voice. Konata, on the other hand... doesn't (her butchering of "Cha-la Head Cha-la" is but an example).
- The same applies to Yuko Goto, voice actor of Mikuru: she sings very well in the theme songs, but her in-character rendition of Koi no Mikuru Densetsu is hilariously off-key
- The OP theme of Maple Town is sung by Satoko Yamano, who also does the voice of minor character Puriprin. As with many of the above examples, Puriprin is notable for being a horrible singer: her practice session before the school play is cacophonous enough to wake the entire town.
- This, combined with Playing Against Type, was the stated reason Jun Fukuyama was cast as the Magnificent Bastard Anti-Hero lead in Code Geass, while Suzaku, the White Knight, is played by Takahiro Sakurai, known for playing Anti Heroes. The director wanted the dissonance since both characters are trying desperately to be something they're not. For the English dub Johnny Yong Bosch, best known for being a former Power Ranger, and Yuri Lowenthal, best known for Sasuke Uchiha, were given the same respective roles, with the original director having a hand in their casting as well.
- In Kotoura-san, Haruka Kotoura (played by Hisako Kanemoto) is severely Hollywood Tone-Deaf as shown here. The irony is that Hisako Kanemoto also played Yayoi Kise/Cure Peace just months before and had sung her Image Song (Lyrics here) very competently! Need more proof of Hisako-san's singing talent? Look no further than Shinryaku! Ika Musume's infamously addicting opening theme (Lyrics here) since she sang that one too!
- The Prestige.
- Madeline Kahn - a classically-trained opera singer, among her other talents - playing the German Lili Von Schtupp in Blazing Saddles. Lili is extremely popular for her sex appeal, but her singing voice is deep, heavily accented, and mostly off-key. Namely becasue she's an old-west parody of Marlene Dietrich.
- Miranda Cosgrove (Carly on iCarly) needed lessons in how to sing badly to play Summer Hathaway in School of Rock.
- David Bowie has played characters that sang off-key in The Man Who Fell to Earth and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
- Meryl Streep playing hammy bad actress Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her.
- Ralph Garman, a radio host, voice actor, impressionist and a pretty damn good singer, was cast by his friend Kevin Smith as the mute Caleb in Red State.
- Played with by Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain. Hagen, actually a talented singer, plays Lina with a hilariously shrill and screechy Brooklyn-accented voice and no sense of pitch. However, when Cathy Selden (played by Debbie Reynolds) dubs Lina's voicework for her in order to salvage the studio's current film, it's actually Hagen singing, not Reynolds.
- At the end of the Steve Martin film All of Me, mystic and Cloud Cuckoolander Prahka Lasa is "playing" the piano as accompaniment to a saxophonist performing the eponymous song. This consists of him hitting a single note at the end of each musical phrase for the first verse of the song (and it's the same note each time, except once). Richard Libertini, the actor playing Prahka Lasa, was a professional musician before becoming an actor. Subverted in that a) it's always the right note to blend in with the song and b) at the end of the first verse, he looks at the rest of the keyboard as if in surprise and begins a quite talented accompaniment.
- The Hairspray movie with John Travolta and Christopher Walken romantically singing together and dancing very, very badly. It's even funnier as both are well known as excellent dancers and are doing it badly on purpose.
- Inverted in Major League, where the big slugger for the Yankees is played by Peter Vuckovich, who did play in the Major Leagues, but was a pitcher who never hit a home run.
- In a deleted scene in Little Fockers, Barbara friggin' Streisand's character sings "Happy Birthday" horrendously off-key.
- In Ted, Mark Wahlberg does a very, very, very horrendous job of singing "All Time High".
- Mark Wahlberg sings "The Touch" poorly in Boogie Nights
- In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Michael Robbins is dubbed with a truly appalling singing voice courtesy of an uncredited... Julie Andrews!
- In Goldeneye, Minnie Driver is cast as terrible lounge singer Irina, whose rendition of "Stand By Your Man" is compared to "strangling a cat" by James Bond.
- In It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is denied from military service during World War II because of his deaf left ear. His little brother is accepted and becomes a medal winning pilot. The real Stewart was a bomber pilot and Lt. Colonel in WWII, later being promoted to Brigadier General after the war.
- Looper has a mild one where Joe is shown earlier studying French and isn't very good with it. His actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is quite fluent in French.
- Idina Menzel of Frozen and Wicked fame, had her only song "Enchanted" cut from the film Enchanted.
- Conrad Veidt, an outspoken anti-fascist and quasi-openly gay actor who fled Germany when the Nazis came to power, spent the war playing Nazi villains in America, most famously as Major Strasser in Casablanca.
- This happened frequently, many Euopean expats in Hollywood had fled the Nazis to begin with and ended up playing them in movies and television.
- Peter Dinklage, an actor with dwarfism, as Captain Gutt, a Gigantopithicus (ten-foot-tall extinct ape) in Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.
- The characters of P.Howard (Jenő Rejtő) are supposedly illiterate pirates or otherwise simple folk, but when narrating in first person, they sound like schooled and literate middle class citizens trying too hard to pretend they are complete morons, because they reflect the style of the author.
- Isaac Asimov once stated that Mark Twain's real genius was in writing Huckleberry Finn so that Huck, who is uneducated and all-but-illiterate, is telling it in such a way that not once does the reader ask himself "How is this illiterate moron telling the story so well?"
Live Action TV
- In The Mole, the person playing the Mole purposely does badly at things at which they are highly skilled.
- Alfonso Ribeiro is actually a professional dancer (with an instruction video to boot), but Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has a humorously goofy and unhip dance routine that serves as a Running Gag. But as unhip as his dancing may be, he is clearly performing the moves the way he intended—i.e., he is an uncool dancer, but not a bad one.
- In the original cast of Glee, before the character pool starting growing and flooding over, the cast's best dancer by a million miles was Kevin McHale. His character, Artie, is in a wheelchair.
- Broadway veteran Jason Alexander had to tone down his voice to convincingly sing badly as George Costanza in Seinfeld.
- Hogan's Heroes
- Colonel Klink is a horrendous violin player. His actor Werner Klemperer was apparently very talented at it. His father Otto was a famous symphony conductor who left Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power and served in the US Army during WW2.
- Many of the actors who played Nazis were actually Jews.
- Neil Patrick Harris, an openly gay man, plays Barney, a ladykiller, in How I Met Your Mother.
- Also, Peter Wyngarde playing skirt-chaser Jason King (although Wyngarde's homosexuality was not known to the general public at the time, it was common knowledge within acting circles).
- Same thing with Dan Butler on Frasier.
- In "Take Me Out to the Holosuite", an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where Sisko recruits a baseball team to challenge a Vulcan rival, the actors portraying the inexperienced players were actually better at baseball than those playing the experienced players.
- Much of the episode's plot is driven by Rom's utter hopelessness at baseball. His actor, Max Grodénchik, was a semiprofessional player before pursuing his acting career, and could only appear as bad as he was supposed to by playing left-handed.
- S Club 7 did this a couple of times on the TV show. Hannah is said to be a horrible actress and bungles her lines as an extra on a TV show. In real life Hannah Spearitt studied acting for several years and had acted in numerous productions before joining the band. Another episode has Rachel failing at being a model. Rachel Stevens was part of a modelling agency prior to joining the band.
- Played with in 30 Rock. In the Show Within a Show, Danny, a skilled singer, pretends to be a terrible one to avoid upstaging his costar Jenna. In an early episode, Jack was written into a sketch, causing Hilarity To Ensue when he turned out to be a really terrible actor. Of course, he's played by Oscar-nominated Alec Baldwin.
- Liz Lemon is pretty incompetent as a showrunner. Tina Fey is not, as seen when she was head writer on Saturday Night Live from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.
- On Hannah Montana, Miley's best friend Lilly is shown to have a terrible singing voice. In real life, Emily Osment is a capable singer. In the episode where her poor singing is demonstrated, the "edited" version of the song is actually Osment's real singing voice.
- In Power Rangers, Billy was a triple-example: his characterisation started as that of a bumbling dork, who was also incredibly clumsy. His actor, David Yost, used to be a champion gymnast. He was also initially portrayed as quite hopeless at fighting while unmorphed and generally weak. Whether or not Yost was as skilled as his cast mates is debatable, but he sure was muscular for a supposedly wimpy teen. Finally, in a darker form of the trope, Billy was the ranger most consistently shown as getting the girl and winding up in romantic entanglements. In real life, David Yost was a closeted homosexual and claims that the people who wrote the show knew this and were trying to make fun of him. (The only people who didn't were his fellow ranger actors.)
- Hi-de-Hi!: Gladys is known for her bizarre semi-off key opera singing. Ruth Madoc is a professional singer.
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Shirley Manson's daughter notes that she can't sing.
- While Debra from Everybody Loves Raymond shows mediocre singing skills at the end of "Sweet Charity," Patricia Heaton is an accomplished singer.
- iCarly: Carly Shay cannot draw. Miranda Cosgrove can, very well.
- Natalie Bassingthwaite did an impressive job playing a bad singer on Neighbours considering her success with the Rogue Traders.
- Both the David Brent (played by Ricky Gervais) and Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) versions of The Office have extremely talented comedians playing a character that is not only not funny, but doesn't understand enough about comedy to understand that they are not funny. See, especially, Michael Scott's improv comedy classes.
- Kath and Kim: Kim is shown singing off-key in two episodes. Gina Riley, her actress, is a very talented singer who has appeared in several theater productions, and the theme song is also proof.
- On Law & Order, Lennie Briscoe describes himself as having no knowledge of music whatsoever. His actor (the late Jerry Orbach) was a veteran Broadway song-and-dance man.
- In an episode of Parks and Recreation, the entire cast apart from April and Andy go on a hunting trip. As noted on the DVD Commentary, Chris Pratt, who plays Andy, is the only hunter in the cast.
- In Married... with Children, Peg is an awful singer. Katey Sagal is a talented singer who has recorded albums and was a backup singer for Bette Midler, amongst others.
- Moesha, who was played by the singer Brandy, could not carry a tune to save her life.
- In the TV-Movie Brian's Song, real-life Michigan State football player James Caan portrayed scrappy underdog Brian Piccolo, while Billy Dee Williams, who did not have a sports background, played the supremely talented Gale Sayers. Caan had to consciously hold back in the training scenes to make Williams seem more believable as the superior athlete.
- One of the world's all time greatest violinists, Jascha Heifetz, whose name is synonymous with perfection, had a talent for imitating bad students playing the violin and once did this on national television. In reality, his playing was so awesome that it is close to perfection in matters violin.
- Musician-turned-comedian Victor Borge made a routine out of this: he would play a piece from memory, but throw in a single off-key note, which gradually multiplied into three bad notes, then five, then an altogether unrecognizable mess. At this point he usually stopped, got hold of the sheet music, and played the song again while reading very carefully — until he started hitting the same bad notes again... the implication being that he wasn't a bad player, he'd just learned the piece from a hopelessly erroneous transcription.
- Other jokes along those lines involved playing something that sounded oddly familiar but yet not, staring at the sheet music for a moment, then flipping it over.
- In Jeeves and Wooster, Wooster (played by Hugh Laurie) was, at best, a competent piano player, while Jeeves (played by Stephen Fry) was better. In real life, it's the other way around.
- Wizards of Waverly Place: Alex Russo is a terrible singer. Selena Gomez, on the other hand, can sing pretty well.
- In a Friends episode, Joey tried to learn French, but he was only capable of speaking gibberish. His actor, Matt LeBlanc is a fluent French speaker.
- Similarly, on Law & Order: UK, DS Matt Devlin completely butchers the French language when trying to interview a witness. In real life, Devlin's actor, Jamie Bamber, speaks excellent French (aside from an early childhood spent in Paris, it's one of two languages that he studied, along with Italian, for his Modern Language degree).
- On Leverage, Timothy Hutton is this. While he is an Academy Award winning actor, the character Nate Ford is almost entirely a Large Ham when he plays roles in universe.
- In Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Frank Sutton's Sgt. Carter is portrayed as completely hopeless at hand-to-hand combat. In real life, Sutton was an Army Veteran and a black-belt in Judo.
- Double Dare, likely the Trope Codifier for the "Covered in Gunge Game Show", was hosted by Marc Summers. Who has obsessive compulsive disorder. While it is hard to watch the reruns these days knowing this, it does explain why he had towels with him whenever the families got into the physical challenges.note
- Supernatural: Mark Pellegrino, an outspoken born-again Christian, plays Lucifer.
- In an episode of Frasier, Derek Jacobi, a classically trained actor with a long and tremendously successful career on stage and screen who has played in Hamlet, Much to Do About Nothing, and Richard III, plays a one-time Shakespearean actor forced to slum it. Frasier and Niles try to bring him back to respectability, only it turns out that he's much more terrible at performing Shakespeare than they remember.
- While filming Roots, Levar Burton's character, Kunta Kinte, was supposed to be chased down in a sprint by his future wife's father. The father was played by football Hall-of-Famer O. J. Simpson, and it was expected that Simpson would have absolutely no problem catching Burton. Problem was, Burton had been a medal-winning track star in high school and could leave Simpson in the dirt when running flat out. After six ruined takes, the director finally took Burton aside and instructed him to not run flat out.
- 'Allo 'Allo! Edith Artois is such a horrible cabaret singer that the patrons of Café René stuff cheese in their ears to avoid hearing her, but the actress who plays her, Carmen Silvera, was a talented singer. René Artois is forever uncomfortable with Lieutenant Gruber's infatuation with him, but the actor who plays René, Gorden Kaye, is an out gay man (while Guy Siner, who plays Gruber, is heterosexual). Actor Sam Kelly is Jewish, and plays German Wehrmacht Captain Hans Geering.
- An early episode of The Incredible Hulk featured Martin Kove AKA Master Kreese and a three-time Black Belt as a completely untalented boxer.
- On Under the Dome, Lyle sings horribly off-key during his short time in prison. He's played by Dwight Yoakam, who is better known as a country singer than as an actor.
- In the Nashville episode "I Can't Get Over You To Save My Life," movie star Noah West asks country music star Juliette Barnes if she's acted much (she hasn't). Noah is played by Derek Hough, who's much better known for his dancing than his acting; Juliette is played by Hayden Panettiere, who's been in the business since she was a tot.
- In Monty Python's Flying Circus, Biggles, played by Graham Chapman, finds out that his friend Algy is a Straight Gay "poof," and shoots him. Chapman was Straight Gay in Real Life.
- A variant, related not to talent but to class: in the first series of Downton Abbey, Rose Leslie plays the working-class housemaid Gwen Dawson in the giant titular great house. Leslie herself comes from an old Scottish noble family; she was literally raised in a castle, and her parents own another castle. This wouldn't be terribly remarkable if it weren't for the fact that the British class system is practically a character on its own on Downton—and because she is the only true Blue Blood aristocrat ever to have been part of the main cast (in a show filled with fictional and not-so-fictional nobs, up to and including the Royal Family).
- Everyone remembers the infamous skit where Santino Marella tries (and fails) to do the splits on the ring apronnote Santino actually can do the splits, as he has demonstrated in other matches. Although there is a difference between a side-split (legs out on either side, which he was doing on the apron) and a front-split (legs forward and back, which he does in matches.)
- TNA's Joseph Park, a wrestling lawyer, was shown to be shockingly inept at wrestling, even not knowing how to get into the ring and winning by sheer luck despite being 6'8 and 300 pounds. Of course, he's played by Chris Parks, a 15 year veteran of wrestling who also portrays Abyss
- Part of comedian Jack Benny's persona was his inability to play the violin, much less realize it. In real life, Benny was an accomplished violinist, often performing with Isaac Stern.
- As an amusing anecdote, Jack was at one point asked to dine at The White House, and while he was there he would play his violin. When he arrived, a Secret Service agent asked him what he was carrying in his violin case. Benny answered that he had a Thompson submachine gun in there, "the old Chicago typewriter". The agent sighed and said "Thank God, I was afraid you had your violin in there."
- Apparently, only a very good violinist can pull off playing badly for comic effect. A bad violinist doing it is just horrible.
- This holds true for just about any musical or theatrical endeavor, resulting in this trope in the first place; someone who is very good can be far, far worse than someone who is actually bad or merely mediocre.
- Speaking of Benny, he often compared his skills to the legendary Jascha Heifetz (see the live action TV folder), who himself occasionally recorded hilarious imitations of bad violin students for fun. Once one such imitation of Heifetz was actually rejected in a blind audition test. Heifetz's actual playing was truly spectacular.
- In The Goon Show, Neddie Seagoon is portrayed as utterly unable to carry a tune in several buckets. His actor Harry Secombe had a successful singing career.
- Les Dawson and Eric Morecambe both used "playing the piano really badly" in their acts. Of course, both actually played very well, as is necessary to make playing badly comical rather than tedious, and in fact it can be harder to play the wrong notes while keeping the tune recognisable than to just play the tune right.
- A classic character type in musical theater is The Rival to the aspiring actor/dancer/singer protagonist. Of course, the rival is never as good as the protagonist at acting/singing/dancing. However, this is frequently Irony as She Is Cast. For example in Hairspray, the actress playing Amber Von Tussle has to be a good dancer, because it takes a lot of skill to trip consistently and safely.
- The girl playing Penny has an even harder job—she has to be awkward and a beat behind everybody else.
- In The Phantom of the Opera, Carlotta is a shrill, shrieky Opera singer who is beginning to get on in years. She's been played by many talented and wonderful singers, who switch from her shrieking voice during the parts where she's supposed to sound badly into a perfect operetta during the ensemble musical numbers.
- In-universe example: In The Moon Is Blue, the virginal Patty tends to play a tart on TV.
- During the saving skits in Super Robot Wars UX, Fei-Yen HD (aka Miku) starts to speaks in a very robotic way, contrasting with her cheerful personality during the game. This is mostly her voice actress trying to sound like Miku just like in the original Vocaloid software, rather than Banpresto trying to use the software for that job. Ironically, she does a bad job doing that, even if that scene is supposed to be a Tear Jerker for the player.
- In Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, Robin Atkin Downes has to do a bunch of horrible impersonations of Metal Gear characters in-character as Kaz. The voice actor himself is actually an extremely gifted vocal impressionist and nailed every line in the original recording session, with most sounding virtually indistinguishable from the original actor. The director had to call him in again to rerecord them all properly badly. Fortunately, the game gives Robin Atkin Downes the opportunity to show off his actual range when he plays Psycho Mantis and Revolver Ocelot in the quiz game at the end.
- Dr. Robotnik from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is a horrible singer. However, his voice actor, the late Long John Baldry, was a blues and folk-rock singer.
- In an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Catwoman jokingly mentions that Black Canary being gagged is for the best since she has a horrendous singing voice. Black Canary's voice actress, Grey DeLisle, is a Grammy-winning professional singer.
- Though in context the joke is a Bait and Switch, since Black Canary's "singing voice" superpower is not fun to hear up close.
- In the Musical Episode "Mayhem of the Music Meister," we get to hear her sing, and it's beautiful. (The whole cast - and Barney Stinson, as the Music Meister - will surprise you, actually.) Apparently Catwoman was just having fun with her.
- In the Code Lyoko School Play episode, Laughing Fit, Ulrich gives a spectacularly bad performance as Romeo prior to the Return to the Past...his voice actress was on Broadway at one point.
- The Kim Possible episode "Hidden Talent" reveals Kim as a singer who cannot hit high notes. Kim's voice actress is Christy Romano, an accomplished singer.
- Madeleine Peters, who voices Scootaloo in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is notorious for her rather bad singing in "The Show Stoppers." However, according to Daniel Ingram, Madeleine is actually a very good singer (as evidenced by her vocals during "One Bad Apple" and "Flight to the Finish") and was told to butcher the song. He would also very much like an opportunity to record a version of the Crusaders' theme sung properly.
- Claire Corlett grew into this trope. She only provided the speaking voice for Sweetie Belle in Seasons 1-3, with Michelle Creber doing the singing. On the one occasion during this time that Claire sang in her own right, she turned in a screeching, off-key campfire song, going sharply against Sweetie's previous beautiful vocals. As of Season 4, she is doing both the speaking and singing; based on fans' reaction to the latter, she is doing an excellent job.
- Leela in Futurama is played by Katey Sagal, who has worked as a professional singer before she became known for playing Peg Bundy on Married... with Children. While during musical numbers, she gets to show off her chops, in-character Leela has a terrible voice, as seen when she attempts to serenade invading aliens with a horrific version of "I Will Always Love You," prompting them to scream, "The humans are attacking!"
- Jess Harnell as Cacofonix in Asterix and the Vikings. In reality, Jess can sing quite well (he possesses a quadruple-octave vocal range and is a member of a band called Rock Sugar).
- The voice cast of The Lorax includes Zac Efron, who's the star of the High School Musical series, and Taylor Swift, who's Taylor Swift. Even though the movie is basically a musical, neither of their characters ever sings a note (Swift has yet to take an acting role that involves singing, whether in-character or as part of its soundtrack).
- In Monsters vs. Aliens, the 49-foot 11-inch Ginormica is voiced by the 5-foot 1-inch Reese Witherspoon. The "behind the scenes" footage even lampshades this.
- As episode of Batman: The Animated Series shows that Penguin can't sing. His vocie actor? Signer Paul Williams.