This entry is trivia, which is cool and all, but not a trope. On a work, it goes on the Trivia tab.
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;
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.
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.
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.
Miranda Cosgrove (Carly on I Carly) needed lessons in how to sing badly to play Summer Hathaway in School of Rock.
Basil Rathbone was one of the best fencers in Hollywood, performing almost all of his own onscreen fights. As he was always cast as the villain in swashbuckling films, he usually lost against less skillful actors.
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.
Mia Kirschner plays Elizabeth Short in The Black Dahlia, a struggling actress who can't get a part. Kirschner's performance was praised by critics as the best part of the film.
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.
Also inverted in Little Big League: While the movie also featured numerous real life big leaguers playing themselves, the character of Pat Corning was played by Kevin Elster, who was on a hiatus from baseball at the time of filming, then made a big league comeback two years after the film's release (winning 1996 Comeback Player of the Year with the Texas Rangers).
In a deleted scene in Little Fockers, Barbara friggin' Streisand's character sings "Happy Birthday" horrendously off-key.
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 Its 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.
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 as if Huck, who is uneducated and all-but-illiterate, were 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
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.
Later on, Matt Bomer is cast as Blaine's older brother, who can't act. (Also, interestingly, Matt Bomer plays the heterosexual brother and Darren Criss the gay one.)
Broadway veteran Jason Alexander had to tone down his voice to convincingly sing badly as George Costanza in Seinfeld.
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 WW 2.
Many of the actors who played Nazis were actually Jews.
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 Thirty 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.
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.
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 Carrell) 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 Brians 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.
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.
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 USMC, 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.
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. Actor Sam Kelly is Jewish, and plays German Wehrmacht Captain Hans Geering.
Everyone remembers the infamous skit where Santino Marella tries (and fails) to do the splits on the ring apronnote He was attempting to imitate Melina's entrance. For Beth Phoenix's reaction, go here. 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.)
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 trulyspectacular.
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-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.
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 - andBarneyStinson, as the Music Meister - will surprise you, actually.) Apparently Catwoman was just having fun with her.
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 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 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. 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!"