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Obfuscating Insanity
"Works every time."

Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.
— "Stratagem 27", The Thirty-Six Stratagems

It's pretty much a given that no-one takes crazy people seriously. It's also a given that a lot of people give crazy people a wide berth lest they flip out on them. A lot of people are aware of this and choose to take advantage of it, although their reasons for doing so vary from one character to the next. Sometimes the apparent nutcase is actually perfectly sane, other times they actually are a little on the Cloudcuckoolander side (or maybe more than a little) but deliberately play it up to the Nth degree so that they appear to be far crazier than they actually are. If they are not the point-of-view character, the question may be left open.

Not to be confused with Insanity Defense. Compare Obfuscating Stupidity, where people pretend to be dimwitted instead of crazy.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Bleach Urahara loves playing crazy and often goes to great lengths to ham it up. Of course, he still has The Wonka tendencies even when he drops the mask, but that doesn't change the fact he's wearing a mask in the first place.
  • Reign The Conqueror: Diogenes. Whether this also happened is debatable. Diogenes was more Crazy Awesome. He prescribed masturbation to prevent sexual immorality, then demonstrated.
    Diogenes: If only I could satisfy my hunger by rubbing my belly.
  • Crest of the Stars. Several of the admirals are... eccentric. Sometimes they have crazy ideas that their saner subordinates shoot down; sometimes they have crazy brilliant ideas that pan out. (Or that were good, but don't pan out anyway.) This resonates with a culture of snark, where one suspects they're trying to see how much insanity they can get away with before someone cracks. Bebaus brothers, especially.
  • Many powerful shinobi in Naruto. The longer they've been around, the crazier they get; see Maito Gai, Kakashi Hatake, Jiraya, Tsunade, Anko Mitarashi... and underneath all the crazy is someone who could kill you in the time it takes to blink.
    • Fanon seen in a lot of fanfic is that high-level ninja tend to develop bizarre quirks as a coping mechanism; the more powerful they are, the more crap they end up going though in using that power, and the stranger the coping mechanism gets.
    • Perhaps best demonstrated with Chiyo, who's laughing like a loon the first time we meet her and her elderly brother, and attempting to attack Kakashi as soon as she meets him. She's crazy powerful, though. Naruto sums it up, "She may be old, but she's good."
    • Almost as well demonstrated with the first appearance of Jiraya, when all we know about him is that he is a pervy old guy who does "research" on women's bodies by peeping on them, acts like a ridiculous kid in college with impulse control issues and he can summon giant toads. Then we learned a little more.
  • Xerxes Break from Pandora Hearts. He's a strange Man Child with a Creepy Doll he holds conversations with and a habit of entering and exiting rooms from strange places like cabinets or from underneath beds. His in-canon nickname is even "Pierrot", as most people seem to think he's just a little crazy. He probably is, but isn't not the funny kind.
  • InuYasha: Toutousai is utterly insane. Except he's not. Except he might be. Except he probably isn't. Lampshaded in-universe: the characters themselves are completely baffled over where his obfuscating insanity ends and either genuine senility or great wisdom begins. It's very noticeable, however, that he always plays up the insanity whenever he needs to get Inuyasha or Sesshoumaru to do something they don't want to do yet the insanity vanishes completely whenever he needs to explain the detail of a lesson they've just learned. Toutousai's ability to switch between this trope, Let's Get Dangerous and Older and Wiser in a completely unpredictable manner may be the only thing that's kept him safe from the Hair-Trigger Temper that both brothers possess.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Joker. It should be emphasized that just how much of the Joker's madness is genuine or part of a ploy largely depends on the writer, naturally. He is quite, quite mad, but whether he's an out-and-out loony or just a very driven psychopath with a twisted sense of humour changes from story to story.
    • There was a particular story ("Case Study" by Paul Dini and Alex Ross) that really explored this facet. The story was told from the perspective of two psychiatrists at Arkham, who had found a psychiatric analysis of Joker that revealed him as sane, but faking insanity to get into mental institutions where it would be easier to break free. Hopeful that they can use this to get Joker transferred to a prison, they're disappointed to find out that the person who wrote the analysis was Harleen Quinzel, from before she went insane.
    • Oddly, this changing personality is also something that exists in-story, as noted by the very same Dr. Quinzel, after being driven mad. She theorized that he reinvents his personality on a day-to-day basis, so that one day he may be a funny guy with a penchant for stalking the Bat, then the next he's a monster, then the next he's a glibbering loon. Her madness shows in her conclusion that the only constant is his love for her.
    • This theory is also put forth in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Ruth Adams who describes it as a form of Super Sanity that may be more suited to the end of the 21st century than the here and now. Her theory implies that the Joker might not have that much control over his reinventions; he might be able to choose his different personalities, but he can't help the irresistible impulse to change it in the first place, since it is essentially a coping mechanism to deal with the insanity of the world at large. In the above, however, Joker would be closer to a variation of Histrionic Personality Disorder- i.e. he is acting up for attention (also, he is a sadistic narcissistic sociopath, but that has nothing to do with why he changes personas, only why each persona is always a violent criminal). It should also be considered that Dr Ruth Adams may be a quack, especially if she thinks it constitutes Super-Sanity (which is an oxymoron) rather than some kind of dissociative disorder.
    • Jason Todd once said to the Joker's face that acting so completely insane makes it easier for him to justify his actions. That wiped the smile right off the clown's face.
  • Deadpool also uses this trope to its full advantage, confusing and exhausting his enemies and allies alike with unstoppable mouth and wacky babbling. Like the Joker, Deadpool really is insane (a different kind of insane, though) and knows it, but he plays up and (possibly) exaggerates his insanity for tactical benefit. Also like the Joker, the fact that his personality changes regularly is part of canon. In his case, his healing factor and cancer have combined to leave his braincells constantly in flux. In some stories he's little more than an immature goofball, others he's perfectly capable of committing murders in cold blood that he doesn't even remember afterward. Of course, as a Meta Guy, Deadpool's also the first to admit that the real reason he changes is who is writing him at the moment.
  • In Cerebus the Aardvark, the Captain Ersatz of Groucho Marx, Lord Julius, is a sterling example of this. Cerebus explains it during a croquet game with someone else: "Insanity is the last defense of the master bureaucrat, but you have to lay the foundation early in the game. It's hard to get a refund from the salesman if he's sniffing your crotch and baying at the moon."
    Lord Julius: Baskin, my lad! Come in. Whatever it is, I'm against it. Unless I'm for it, in which case the tie goes to the runner.
  • Shortly after the Black Cat was introduced, Spider-Man tracked her down ... and discovered she had an insane romantic fixation on him. It turned out a few issues later that she'd realized he was about to catch her and set that up as a cover to get herself locked in a mental hospital rather than prison, as the hospital was easier to escape. But then she found herself obsessing about Spidey for real....
  • In the Sin City story Family Values, Dwight used this as a ploy. A female cop was investigating the same crime scene as Dwight and Miho. Since Dwight is a wanted man and he had an assassin ready to kill the police officer, he had to think quick. He started off by flirting with her in hopes that she would be offended and leave. Considering Dwight is Mr. Fanservice, she liked the attention and decided to stick around. He then demanded that they go to a hotel where she would spank him and call him Belinda because "that's how Douglas does is." She wonders why she always attracts the loonies and saunters off.
  • The Invisibles: Tom O'bedlam hides his Obi Wan mentor role behind a facade of raving lunacy.

    Comic Strips 
  • Prof. Bartap from German comic Nick Knatterton, to fool some gangsters who wanted to get their hands on his latest invention, a shaving foam which is also a very effective explosive. "Goodbye, you dummyheads!"

    Fan Works 
  • Harry Potter
    • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Dumbledore is widely believed to be using this. It's effective nevertheless, as it not only gives him an excuse to do whatever he wants, it's also impossible to tell the difference between when he's just keeping up the act and when he's executing some brilliant, secret plan right under your nose.
    • In Oh God Not Again, Harry pulls this for much the same reason as the Methods of Rationality version of Dumbledore.
    • In The Wizard in the Shadows a lot of Harry's craziness and Cloudcuckoolander tendencies are hinted to be put on to get people to think he's fairly harmless. Occasionally, they live to regret it. The author is also an admitted troper and a diehard Doctor Who fan, which makes comparisons to the tenth and eleventh Doctors all the more likely to be accurate.
    • In George Weasley And The Computational Error, George does this frequently, for reasons like having him stay at St. Mungo's instead of being tossed in Azkaban immediately to convincing Voldemort that George is on his side. Sadly, George actually does end up becoming legitimately insane by the end of the story.
  • In the Firefly fanfic Forward, River deliberately invokes this by pretending to be more unhinged than usual while the crew is preparing a heist, so that they'll leave her off the team. Once they depart, she sneaks away for a personal mission of her own.
  • In My Stupid Reality a Death Note AU where L's people are rounding up genius children for some nefarious purpose, Light attempted to stay under the radar by playing dumb. Later, when it becomes impossible for Light to deny that he's a genius he tries to get out of L's program by deliberately failing the psych exam by pretending to be a homocidal maniac who believes all criminals should die. Unfortunately he failed too well and L knew he was faking.
  • In the Transformers fanfic Things We Don't Tell Humans, Megatron does this to his soldiers after Ratchet (mostly) fixes his gaping head wound and the Mind Virus it revealed.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Aladdin, when he first meets Princess Jasmine, Aladdin rescues her from an irate merchant who was about to chop off her hand for taking a piece of fruit (Jasmine never having been outside the palace in her life and unfamiliar with the concept of money) by convincing him that she was not right in the head. Jasmine plays along;
    Merchant: She says she knows the Sultan!
    Aladdin: She thinks the monkey's the Sultan.
    Jasmine: (getting the hint and bowing before Abu) Oh wise Sultan! How may I serve you?
    Aladdin: (sighing) Tragic. Still, no harm done. Come along, dear, let's go see the doctor.
    Jasmine: (to a nearby camel) Oh hello, Doctor. How are you?
    Aladdin: Not that doctor.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In any given Marx Brothers movie, Groucho will spend most of his screen time running rings around everyone else in the room (except his brothers Harpo and Chico, who are always either crazy enough or stupid enough to follow right along) by living in this trope. Nobody (but his brothers) can even hope to keep up with him and as a result he easily gets whatever he wants whenever he wants it. Give Groucho a pair of guns, a sword, a mask and the will to kill and he's Deadpool. Period.
  • Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda pretends to be a random senile alien, as a Secret Test of Character for Luke when they first meet.
  • Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. Exactly how much is obfuscation and how much is Crazy Awesome is unclear. Just the way Jack likes it.
  • Al Pacino as Vincent Hanna in Heat.
    Vincent Hanna: Ferocious, aren't I?
  • In Primal Fear, Aaron Stampler pretends to be insane in order to get away with murder.
    • In fact, he does such a good job that he's got the psychiatrists fooled into thinking his mild mannered persona is the real deal and the conniving psycho just a symptom of multiple-personality disorder. Turns out, there is NO mild mannered guy in there at all, just the psycho...
  • John McClane has to fake this in Die Hard with a Vengeance, when a madman makes him wear a billboard insulting Afro-Americans while in his underwear. His future partner in adventures saves him by claiming his insanity, and he runs with it. And in general, McClane has his moments where he appears "unhinged". He does this for various reasons, either to fool and confuse his enemies, or to cope with the crap he has to go through.
  • A similar thing happens in Johnny English where the title character, a secret agent, mistakes a group of mourners for jewel thieves. His assistant Bough comes to his rescue and tells the mourners that English is an escapee from a lunatic asylum.
  • In Men In Black 3, Agent J briefly pretends a neuralyzer has regressed him back to early childhood.
  • In Scum, one of the Borstal inmates is savvy enough to behave just madly enough for the hard guys and gang inmates to leave him alone as more trouble than he's worth. The warders also treat him carefully, as if he were a hand grenade on a short fuse. This is a known coping strategy for dealing with oppressive all-male institutions such as prison, the military, and boarding school, where those low on the totem tend to get bullied and abused. Unpredictable insanity neatly takes somebody outside the hierarchy.

    Literature 
  • The Radix: Cori's backstory. She was put into the asylum as a part of an experiment, to see if doctors can tell a sane person from a mad. She also fakes insanity when she first meets Adriana Borgia, to pose as a harmless lunatic.
  • Treasure Island: Ben Gunn. Lived alone on the island for three years after being marooned, found at least one dead body of a possible former shipmate, had the murderous living nightmare of his life return, and knew that if he didn't cut a deal with Livesley's group, the pirates would cut him down. Yet he managed to prove a firm ally, helped retrieve Jim from the pirates, sail the ship to a safe port, and had moved the treasure to a new hiding place!. He's still obsessed with cheese, though.
  • John Christopher's YA SF The Tripods series. The hero and his cousin are first informed of the resistance's existence by a wandering man who appears to be crazy. He informs them of the resistance in a speech to them that includes the phrases "And I was born on a rainy morning" and "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings..." as camouflage.
  • Invoked in Catch-22, though defied with the eponymous Morton's Fork.
  • The old king in Once Upon a Marigold realizes that his evil and ambitious wife is slowly poisoning him. But even though he throws out his daily "medicine", he pretends to be crazy and senile as well as sick so he can keep a watch on her without arousing her suspicions.
  • There was an SF story in the '40s or '50s, "Clerical Error", in which a psychiatrist gets himself "accidentally" locked up with an insane patient so he can talk to him.
  • Justine of The Dresden Files actually was deeply mentally ill when she was first introduced, but when she eventually recovers, she keeps up the act in order to act as a spy on the White Court for Thomas.
  • Don Quixote: In Part II, Chapter XI, Don Quixote claims that from a child I was fond of the play, and in my youth a keen lover of the actor's art.". Several critics have toyed with the idea that Don Quixote never lost that passion for theater and behaves like an actor: Don Quixote uses this trope because he does not believe to be a knight, but pretends to be one, as if he's on stage.
  • Wonko The Sane from the fourth The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book. Maybe. Or possibly he's a weird mix of "Genius" and "Cloud Cuckoolander"; the fact he behaves exactly the same when no one else is around implies the insanity is not entirely an act.
  • Mercedes Lackey's Firebird (Lackey): Ilya has to do this to avoid being killed.
  • Bartholomew the Village Idiot/Cynic in Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, though the "obfuscating" part is... questionable, especially when considering conversations like this:
    Biff: I have to go find Joshua.
    Bartholomew: You know he is the Messiah, don't you?
    Biff: Wait a minute, you're not a Jew— I thought you didn't believe in any religion.
    Bart: The dogs told me he was the Messiah. I believe them. Tell Joshua I believe them.
    Biff: The dogs told you?
    Bart: They're Jewish dogs.
  • Sword of Truth: Temple of the Winds: A powerful wizard/sorceress combo are captured by a magic nullifying savages who want to sacrifice them. Solution? Pretend to be completely insane so the tribe won't consider them a proper sacrifice. Instead, they are sold to slavery... where their lack of working skills gets them sold again... to cannibals. Though said cannibals turn out to be their friends the Mud People so it's actually a good thing.
  • Done by the Sleeper Service in The Culture. Basically, the Culture needs a hidden stash of weapons that can move quickly, build quickly and not attract attention. The solution? Have the Service pretend to be Eccentric (Culture-speak for utterly insane), prepare its Storage bays to be turned into engines, and have it construct LOTS of warships. It works beautifully.
  • The method used by the Platinum Dragon god Paladine to aid the heroes as Fizban the Fabulous in the Dragonlance novels.
  • In Jeeves and Wooster, Jeeves sometimes employs a variation by telling people that Bertie is insane to get him out of trouble. By the end of The Inimitable Jeeves, Bertie estimates that about half of London must now think he's off his rocker.
  • Humanx Commonwealth: In The End of the Matter, the plot revolves around a whimsically insane alien named Abalamahalamatandra (Ab for short) who speaks entirely in nonsense rhymes and appears utterly unaware of the concept of danger. Luckily for it, Ab is apparently immune to most forms of harm, including arrows, poison, and electrocution. It is later discovered that Ab is not, in fact, insane, but is instead a five hundred thousand year old construct programmed with several million languages, all of which it attempts to render in the listener's native phonology. It also turns out to be the key to finding and activating a Lost Superweapon.
  • Psmith owes his invincibility to the fact that he acts like a complete Cloudcuckoolander while always remaining on top of the situation.
  • Sherlock Holmes himself, in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow: At the beginning of episode 19, The Count has been reduced to a gibbering wreck, languishing in a mental hospital. After a visit from Oliver Queen, he suddenly escapes. Ultimately subverted when it turns out that the escape was faked by the staff, who had found a way to synthesize vertigo by studying his liver. The Count is simply insane.
  • Jack-of-All-Trades had King George act insane to throw off Napoleon.
  • The A-Team
    • Murdock was eccentric and likely did suffer from some form of PTSD, but was definitely not mad. His team had to break him out of a mental institution in almost every episode. However, at times he faked more extreme insanity to get into an asylum in order to break someone else out, or take down a gun smuggling ring or something. Of course, he might have exaggerated the problem more regularly for the free accommodation and the nurses, or just to irritate B.A. When the situation called for it, Murdock could act completely sane and coldly competent.
    • In one episode, his psychiatrist even calls him out on it that he knows Murdock is sane and simply putting on a VERY good act. Faking insanity not only gave him free room and board at the VA, but also could be a safeguard against any criminal charges. Most of his "insane" actions seemed designed more to deliberately irritate B.A.
    • In the Season 5 premiere episode, Murdock delivers a pair of hired goons, handcuffed, to General Hunt Stockwell — who'd sent them after Murdock. Murdock says that their buddy will check in as well, once he checks out of the local emergency room. Stockwell smiles and says that the psychiatrist who diagnosed Murdock as insane should have his licences permanently revoked.
    • In season 5 he was declared sane. The issue of whether he was ever insane was intentionally blurry. It's best summed up by his answer to the question "are you OK?": "That has never been satisfactorily determined". He had some very lucid moments in that episode.
  • Farscape
    • Stark from was pulling this off when John first met him. He's of the "actually is a bit off" variety by the way.
    • Crichton is also on the brink of insanity, but except the actual, uncontrollable consequences of Scorpius being inside his head, he's mostly faking insanity, and sometimes running with it.note 
      • Also worth noting is the time that he gatecrashed a summit between two rival empires both of which had previously mind-raped him and would like to try again. Then started dancing on the table. With a nuclear bomb strapped to his hip.
  • Dave on NewsRadio feigns insanity whenever he wants Matthew out of his hair. He then passes the tip on to Lisa, who passes it on to Beth, who tells Matthew, who wonders if anyone's ever done it to him.
  • Not exactly insanity, but in Just Shoot Me!, Elliot's brother Donnie fakes being mentally handicapped to leech off everyone else.
  • A season 5 episode of Supernatural has Sam and Dean break into an insane asylum by telling their life story.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor, particularly in his fourth and eleventh incarnations. He's very much of the genuinely a bit nutty variety — his eighth incarnation, in the novels, has difficulties remembering that TV is not Real Life and consequently runs the risk of being Driven to Suicide by EastEnders. However, no matter just how capriciously, adorkably batty The Doctor is, there is always that moment when he goes deadly serious, and then you remember that this seemingly flighty alien is capable of bringing thousands of alien ships to a standstill, is responsible for multiple genocides and has saved countless billions of lives and — oh yes — the very fabric of the universe itself. He doesn't look quite so adorable now, does he?
    • In the fourth-series revival episode "Journey's End", Dalek Caan does this in order to prevent the other Daleks and Davros from destroying the whole of creation. It is possible that he is still mad, as he gives off most of the Mad Oracle tropes, but he is much more in control of his actions — and, for that matter, everyone else's — than anyone expects until it is too late for anyone to do anything about it.
  • In Neds Declassified School Survival Guide: In the "Bullies" episode, Gordy advises Ned to act crazy so Loomer will be too scared to beat him up. It works to a degree; Loomer isn't scared, but too weirded out to beat Ned up.
  • Corporal Klinger of Mash is all about this trope, spending the first six seasons of the series attempting to secure a Section 8 discharge through a variety of methods (most notably donning women's clothing).
  • In the Blackadder Goes Forth finale, Blackadder plans to try this to get out of the Big Push (putting his underwear on his head and sticking pencils up his nostrils), but is forced to change his plans when he overhears General Melchett say he had to shoot an entire platoon for doing the very same thing (via the very same method). Melchett walks in to find Blackadder mid-sentence: "... and the other thing they used to do in the Sudan was get dressed up like this and pretend to be mad." As he later tells Baldrick just prior to going "over the top", it was bound to fail anyway:
    Blackadder: I mean, who would have noticed another madman 'round here?
  • Lord John Marbury in The West Wing, although it's unclear whether he's this trope played straight or a Cloudcuckoolander who pretends to be even crazier than he actually is.
  • Helen Magnus pulls this in the Sanctuary episode "Veritas" by actually making herself a bit crazy with the aid of some Applied Phlebotinum.
  • In Firefly, Jubal Early hides a dangerous intellect behind a veneer of philosophical ramblings and eccentric behavior. It's also not clear when River is doing the same or is genuinely being crazy.
  • Legend of the Seeker: Zeddicus Zul Zorander (Zed) is known as 'that crazy old guy who talks to his chickens'. As it turns out, he saved the Titular Hero's life as a baby, broke through a magical barrier, and brought him to a loving family. He's also a very powerful wizard.
  • Law & Order played this for drama. One person tried to get the Insanity Defense by acting like an actual insane person (voices in head, very erratic behavior, etc.) but wasn't able fool the prosecution's psychologist.
  • A defendant on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit almost got away with it, until they found the books that she had obtained just before her crime about the very disorder she was faking.
  • On one episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Detective Goren faked insanity in order to go on an unauthorized investigation of a mental institution suspected of abusing its inmates. It works a little too well... not only does he become a victim of the abuse himself, but when he's finally busted out, the department responds by placing him on indefinite psychological leave, thinking he might not have been faking it.
  • William Giles in Oz really did have Alzheimer's, but was more lucid than he let on. When asked to choose his method of execution he requested to be stoned to death, knowing that his execution would be stalled by lawsuits from outraged civil rights groups and he would likely die of old age before it could be carried out.
  • Jarod feigned insanity in an episode of The Pretender in order to get himself thrown in the loony bin as part of his plan to bring down the villain of the week.
  • In the Kraft Suspense Theatre episode "That Time in Havana", artist Conrad Easter, an American living in Cuba, seems to be an alcoholic Cloudcuckoolander. Actually, he's working with a cell of anti-Castro guerrillas, and he convinces the protagonists to hand over their million dollar stash so the rebels can buy guns and feed their families.
  • It's debateable how much of this is deliberate, but Merlin from Merlin is known around the castle as "that weird manservant of Arthur's who isn't quite right in the head" and to most of the cast is a complete Cloudcuckoolander. In reality, he's not even an Inept Mage, and is in fact smarter than most of the rest of the cast combined.
  • In the first episode of Bottom, Eddie and Richie avoid incurring the wrath of a man whose wife they just hit on by pretending to be "mere loonies."
  • Mulder of The X-Files, thought to be brilliant but insane by his peers for his belief in the paranormal, tends to react this way when confronted by his closed minded colleagues. For example, in "Squeeze":
    Agent: So, Mulder, whaddaya think? This look like the work of little green men?
    Mulder: Gray.
    Agent: What?
    Mulder: Gray. You said "green men." A Reticulian's skin tone is gray. They're notorious for their extraction of terrestrial human livers, due to iron depletion in the Reticulum galaxy.
    Agent: You can't be serious.
    Mulder: Do you know how much liver and onions go for on Reticulum?
    • He explains in the same episode that he runs into so many hostile people who can't open their minds to extreme possibilities that he can't resist messing with their heads, even if it means they think he's insane.
  • Ellery Queen: Lamont Franklin in "The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer" appears to have gone senile, wanting to do nothing else but play with his electric trains all day. It's all an act; he's merely pretending to have gone crazy so that he can work on his revolutionary new invention in peace.
  • Spartacus Vengeance has a tricky one, since Lucretia often appears insane to the viewers, but to the Romans she appears perfectly sane. She's faking the whole thing to get vengeance on Ilithyia. But she is at least a little crazy.
  • Liz Lemon of 30 Rock has gotten out of jury duty multiple times by cosplaying as Princess Leia and claiming to be a hologram. Sadly, this doesn't quite cut it in New York.
  • In Psych episode "Shawn Interrupted", Lassiter thinks a suspect he arrested is doing this to serve his sentence in a mental hospital instead of prison, but Shawn figures out that not only is the man genuinely insane, he didn't commit the murder in the first place.
  • This is played with on Castle. A witness in a cold case from 1978 really does believe that it is still The Seventies and flies into rage whenever someone confronts him with the truth. After a hitman tries to kill the witness, Castler and Beckett decide that the only way to get the witness to open up is to have everyone pretend that it is 1978 and dress and act accordingly. However, the murder attempt actually shocked the witness back into reality and he quickly pieces together what really happened in 1978. He pretends to still be insane and plays along with the cops' charade so he can get close to the man he thinks killed his best friend in 1978.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: in "The Enterprise Incident", Kirk pretends to be insane so that when he orders the Enterprise to cross the Neutral Zone, if everything on the mission goes to hell, Starfleet won't be blamed because it was clearly the action of a madman.
  • Old mafia widow Livia Soprano engineers a hit on her son Tony, and though she is definitely somewhat senile, it's heavily implied that she's playing it up to give herself some plausible deniability after the plan fails.

    Music 
  • In Arlo Guthrie's "Alices Restaurant", he describes attempting this during his Vietnam War draft registration.
    "I went up there, I said, 'Shrink, I wanna kill. I mean, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead, burnt bodies. I mean, kill. Kill. KILL! KILL!' And I started jumpin' up and down, yellin', 'KILLLL! KILLLL!' And he started jumpin' up and down with me, and we was both jumpin' up and down, yellin' 'KILLLL! KILLLL!' And the sergeant came over, pinned a medal on me, sent me down the hall, and said, 'You're our boy.'"

    Myths & Religion 
  • According to the Trojan Cycle, Odysseus really did not want to go to war in Troy, and attempted to invoke this trope by sowing and ploughing his fields with salt. Palamedes saw right through the ploy, and ensured that Odysseus didn't dodge the draft by dropping his baby boy Telemachus in front of the plough's path. Considering what happens to him afterwards, though... The worst part is that in some versions, he gave Menelaus the idea and authority to draft everyone else should Helen be abducted.
  • In The Bible, David (of David and Goliath fame) was forced to flee (from Saul) into exile at the court of the King of Gath (Goliath's hometown), who happened to be an enemy of Israel. When the King of Gath recognizes him as an anti-Philistine guerrilla warrior, David pretended to be a raving madman, causing the king to think him harmless.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Pro wrestler Brian Pillman is a prime example of this. He developed his "Loose Cannon" gimmick of behaving incredibly erratically, not just at shows, but everywhere he could, to make people genuinely believe he was a nut, in order to get WCW, the company he was working for, to "fire him for real" (as in, send him a real release for a fake firing), which he immediately signed and jumped ship. As his body was deteriorating, particularly his ankle due to a car crash in 1996, it was a way to keep himself on TV in ECW and WWE without him having to wrestle. Before his death, he only let a handful of people he truly respected in on how deep into character he was, and not actually insane.

    Radio 
  • How Green Was My Cactus had treasurer Paul Bearer wearing a chicken on his head as a means of deflecting questions about the economy. While he was wearing a chicken on his head, not a single person thought to ask him a question about the economy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: Malkavians use two different levels of this.
    • First, all Malkavians are innately insane, but most of them also have psychic visions of the future. But those who do obscure their visions by acting so crazy that only their allies who are in the know would trust any of their rantings.
    • Secondly, the majority of them exaggerate the degree of their crazy — for example, a Malk with mild hallucinations will pretend to be wildly schizophrenic. This is so that their fellow vampires won't take them seriously or see them as a threat until they suddenly turn incredibly calm and lucid. The only vampires who have caught onto the Malkavians' Obfuscating Insanity are those of the Tremere clan, and the Malkavians are aware of that.
    "They. Are on. To us."
    • Players of Malkavians also exploit this since people are less likely to expect you to account for your actions if you're playing a Malkavian, which can make for a smoother gaming experience. Bad players doing so can gain reputations as Cloudcuckoolanders.

    Theater 
  • The title character of Hamlet. Among his tactics were absurd self-contradictions, irrational and sudden tirades, and general oddness. How much of his insanity is simulated, is the subject of some debate. Depending on how you look at it, the same might also apply to Ophelia.
  • Hamlet's predecessor Amlaeth is much less ambiguous, largely because the Norse audience of the saga were fully aware that the insane were regarded with superstitious respect and nobody dared kill them and had no problem with a man on a quest for revenge succeeding in his plan and living happily ever after. Shakespeare, in not understanding why Amlaeth's plan actually is a clever way to avoid being killed and needing to rewrite the ending into a tragedy, wrote Hamlet as much more of an erratic idiot.
  • Edgar's masquerade as "Tom O'Bedlam" in King Lear.
  • After first meeting Freddie in Chess, Molokov decides that he must be insane, and therefore easy to beat, but Anatoly thinks he's trying to pull this trope: "That's the problem — he's a brilliant lunatic, and you can't tell which way he'll jump. You can't dissect him, predict him... which of course means he's not a lunatic at all." It turns out that Freddie is just as screwed-up as all the other characters are, if not moreso.
  • Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew, already somewhat eccentric, puts everyone under the impression that he's stark staring mad as part of his plot to tame Katherina.

    Video Games 
  • Falitza from The Reconstruction fits this trope to the T. She allegedly destroyed her mind by "peering into the unknown", but it was all because she was sick of being "little miss perfect" all the time.
  • Far Cry 3 has an interesting variation of this trope explained to Jason (our protagonist) by the main villain Vaas near the middle of the game. Vaas explains in a rather eloquent fashion that insanity is defined as repetitious cycles of behavior done with the expectation that a different result will come from it. When he first heard that he thought it was "bullshit" and even shot the guy who told him that. Actually taking time to look at people around him, Vaas realized that insanity is the norm for humanity because people really do have everyday moments of insanity that they don't even realize that they commit, so in actual fact Obfuscating Sanity is the fake persona because deep down everyone is insane in some way. A major theme of the story is the idea that men being left to their own devices without civilization to bog them down will become immoral animals and do whatever they want. This is explicitly pointed out by the developers that Vaas is supposed to unsettle us because it makes us wonder if it's true that we might become something vile like him if we were left to our devices.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has many people in the game, and one of them, Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone of Morthal is "gifted" with premonition, and some people think she's crazy. She doesn't give the Dragonborn the impression that she is, however, she does give the impression that she is no stranger to faking her visions, coupled with the fact that she's old, and "an old woman can get away with anything", she's the perfect person to arrange a distraction at the Thalmor embassy party.
  • In Tears To Tiara 2 As Hamil is being taken over by Melqart's Blood Lust, he pretends that he's already taken over so that Tart would kill him before he's taken over and kills her. She sees through it right away and chooses to be eaten alive rather than kill him. This prompts him to try to kill himself instead.
  • Ormus the mad mage in Diablo II is a Third-Person Person who speaks almost entirely in obtuse riddles, and is strongly implied to be a lot smarter than he wants people to think he is.

    Visual Novels 
  • Yanni Yogi from Ace Attorney did this, but having to keep the act up for so long particularly losing his wife to suicide as a consequence strained him immensely and he eventually snapped.
  • Anghel Higure actually does suffer from hallucinations of an alternate reality along the lines of a (terribly cheesy) fantasy manga, but the Legumentine's encounter does leave the player character wondering how much of it he's faking to avoid embarrassing himself in front of peers. He also inverts this trope by carefully (and effectively) feigning sanity to his mother.

    Web Comics 
  • Drowtales: Mel'arnarch may be a crazy spider lady and notorious lesbian, but she is NOT nearly as Ax-Crazy as her reputation suggests. The fact that she's actually the protagonist Ariel's biological mother and the later revelation that this is an act specifically so she'll be left alone is part of the overall reveal that she's one of the most complicated characters in the entire story.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Lord Shojo, ruler of Azure City in , deliberately pretends to be senile so that his enemies don't try and assassinate him. If he does what they want, they assume that they manipulated him, while if he doesn't do what they want, they assume that he is being manipulated by one of their enemies. He also uses this so that his paladins don't get suspicious if he takes actions that would break the Sapphire Guard's restrictive code of honor if people thought he was making them lucidly. His legal adviser, Mr. Scruffy, is an ordinary housecat.
    • In the Stick Tale "The Tragedy of Greenhilt, Prince of Denmark", Prince Greenhilt (Hamlet, played by Roy) and Shojonius (Polonius, played by Shojo) both pretend to be crazy. Gets a big lampshade after Greenhilt kills Shojonius.
  • In one strip of Wapsi Square, Bud uses this method to keep police officers from asking questions about a loud boom and flash of light. It was actually caused when she threw an object into the sun.
  • Sluggy Freelance: In "Mohkadun", Gwynn gets her mind magically switched into the body of Queen Siphaniana of Mohkadun in the far past. Not even knowing the local language, she's thought to be insane at first, and as she learns the language and figures out what's going on, she continues to feign insanity to the king with the help of Elder Soco who was given the task of healing her, because she doesn't want to either play the part of the king's wife or to be beheaded for not being her.
  • Ed from Paranatural hints at this - to cover up his ability to see ghosts, he pretends to be even more of a goofy Cloudcuckoolander than he actually is.

    Web Original 
  • In KateModern: The Last Work, Joseph does this to fool Gavin into thinking he's harmless.
  • SCP Foundation: Dr. Clef is unable to be photographed, gives his name as a chord on a ukelele (making him a habitual lyre) and is perhaps most adequately described in an interview where he freaked out the psychiatrist. He's also a senior agent and a Magnificent Bastard, so don't mess with him. He also sometimes claims to be The Devil — though immediately proceeds to go over the top until this is dismissed completely—and has just enough of suspicious incidents to make this hypothesis plausible.
  • Doctor Steel: "Hello, my name is Dr. Phineas Waldolf Steel and I'm crazy. At least that's what they tell me. It's a real load off of my mind, too. I mean, you can get away with pretty much anything if you're bonkers. It really relieves a lot of pressure and responsibility for me."
  • Survival of the Fittest: When she first appears on the island, Liz Polanski's first actions are to make herself appear as Ax-Crazy as possible to ward off potential attackers. How does she do this? By, among other things, smearing her face with make-up and severing the head off one of her classmates' corpse and carrying it around for a while.
  • In the Whateley Universe, there are a few cases of this. Generator intentionally plays up the crazy aspect, wearing both a pacifist and ultraviolent armband, and coming up with insane (yet workable) plans like Radioactive Condor Girl. In the Bad Seeds, though, one has Cheese, someone who plays up the utter lunatic aspect to its full extent. Genre Savvy as most of the Seeds are, though, the smarter ones are absolutely terrified of him.
  • David Thorne, faced with $82 of late fees for some DVDs, rambles them down to a replacement fee. And then immediately finds them without dropping the act, so he'll drop them off later and call it even.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Iroh pretends to go insane when he's imprisoned, to a rather disturbing effect. He does drop the act for one particularly friendly, kind guard - but when nobody's looking, he's actually bulking up to prepare for his escape.
    • King Bumi, on the other hand, is exactly as insane as he appears. It's just that he is also as competent as he is crazy.
  • Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series. Sure she's nutty but when she needs to turn serious and act sane and competent, such as to impersonate a lawyer to bust a criminal out of jail early, slip undetected into a high security museum to steal a $10 million diamond, or to fake a Heel-Face Turn to lure Batman into a trap (he falls for it, by the way), she doesn't seem so looney. It's also worth pointing out that she was a criminal psychologist before, as Robin put it, "she went bonkers".
  • Looney Tunes: In Hare Brush, Elmer Fudd apparently thinks he's a rabbit, while Bugs Bunny (who'd been lured into taking his place in the asylum) is "cured" to think that he's Elmer Fudd. The cartoon ends with Bugs-as-Elmer being hauled off to face tax evasion charges, after which Elmer-as-rabbit tells the audience, "I may be a screwy wabbit... but I'm not going to Alcatwaz!"
  • In season 4 of The Venture Bros., General Trayster tells Hunter Gathers that his office is trashed because he's been turning into a Hulk following gamma ray therapy for his cancer. In truth he's well aware that agents Carholder and Doe are trying to gaslight him into thinking this so that the government will think him insane and remove him from OSI leadership, leaving them both in charge. He's been manipulating events so that Gathers will take his place once Doe and Cardholder get exposed as moles.
  • Van Kleiss from Generator Rex pretends to go insane after forced to work for Black Knight to retrieve the remaining Meta-Nanites. Turns out he was faking his insanity to gain all the power for himself all along.
    Rex:I knew he wasn't crazy!
    everyone else looks at him
    Rex: Okay, he's crazy, but not that kind of crazy.
  • One episode of Drawn Together states (in song, no less) that this is the case for every single alzheimers patient. They fake a mental illness so that they're free to do whatever they want when the orderlies aren't around, which works out just fine for Toot until she blabs the secret to the rest of the cast.

    Real Life 
  • Richard Feynman, at least according to his autobiography. Well, he was first diagnosed as "mentally defective" by an army psych, then decided to play along a little. Not that this opinion wasn't mutual — he would have a good chance to be elected as Patron Saint of "Hard on Soft Science" movement.
  • According to at least one history book, an ancestor of Sun Tsu was arrested and imprisoned because of a jealous rival and feigned insanity, eventually to the point of faking his own death.
  • Another assassin in approximately the same era also feigned insanity to get close to his target. (He got called on his bluff and didn't make it.)
  • Lewis Black invoked this trope in his special "Red, White, and Screwed" on how to deal with terrorism. Paraphrasing: "The only way to defend against crazies is to scare them by acting crazier than them. I should know: we New Yorkers do it all the time." His solution to out-crazy Islamo-terrorists? Elect a dead President: preferably Ronald Reagan.
  • Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union spy during the American Civil War who acted like a crazy homeless person so that the Confederates would leave her alone.
    • There's a a theory about why Ulysses S. Grant didn't object too much to people slandering him as a drunken bum—sometimes the reputation caused people to underestimate him, and he may have used this to his advantage.
  • Kenneth Bianchi, one of the Hillside Stranglers (the other was his cousin, Angelo Buono), tried faking multiple personality disorder to get out of standing trial for his crimes. It didn't work.
  • More than one prisoner-of-war has attempted an escape by means of faking insanity; P. R. Reid's book The Colditz Story, he tells of one officer whose acting was so flawless that Reid's successor as "Escape Officer" did not believe him when Reid reported the attempt-in-progress. (This may have been the inspiration behind an episode of Colditz depicting such an attempt; according to Reid, the officer in question was never repatriated and eventually gave up the ruse.)
  • Vincent Gigante, a.k.a. "The Oddfather", feigned insanity to escape prosecution. He wandered the streets of Greenwich village in a bathrobe and slippers, muttering to himself; psychiatrists testified he was clinically insane. Eventually his "bug act" failed, and he died in prison doing a twelve-year sentence.
    • There's a Law & Order episode that, of course, mixes this plot up with Henry Hill writing Good Fellas. A mob guy in Witness Protection is killed, and the Don who's supposedly responsible is currently in the grips of Alzheimer's. That is, until the prosecution discovers a passage in the mob guy's novel where said Don said that if he ever found himself prosecuted, he'd fake mental illness....
  • Alan Moore
    • He allegedly wrote up false reports of himself being a child murderer and other horrible things, then sent them to magazines under a fake name so people would think he's insane and won't approach him if they encounter him in public. Rob Liefeld, on the other hand, thinks that Alan is doing this all the time.
    • And then there was Alan's 50th birthday where, instead of boring his friends by going through a midlife crisis, Alan decided to go completely mad and declare himself to be a magician. He still refers to himself as one and is introduced as one in interviews. It helps his case that he believes art to be synonymous with magic and as an artist, he really is performing magic by telling stories.
    • In one interview, Alan Moore explained how he flatly rejected boatloads of cash offered by hollywood to make more big screen adaptations of his stories with his name in the writing credits. This actually worried the execs because as Moore put it: "How can this guy not want money!? What does he want??".
  • The first woman reporter, Nellie Bly, pretended to be crazy so she could get committed and write about lunatic asylums from the inside. It worked too well. She couldn't convince the doctors she was sane when she wanted to leave. Her editor had to come in with a couple of lawyers. She wrote about brutality, beatings, unsanitary conditions, ice cold baths, lousy food and all the ways that the inmates were denied any sense of self-respect or humanity. The book she wrote is still in print.
  • The Rosenhan experiment. Psychiatrists and students tried to do what Nellie did almost 100 years later. Like her they had no trouble getting in, though leaving was less of a problem. It's partly the reason the DSM-III was introduced (and of course, subsequently the models DSM-IV and DSM-V). There's a lot of stuff in that book that reformers argue is normal behavior that has been designated as crazy so insurance companies would pay off. Every edition is bigger and more complex. Some of the editors for the DSM-V have come out with concerns that the DSM-V diagnoses relatively normal behaviour as well.
    • As a note the people involved with this were treated rather humanly unlike the first but it took them six weeks or so to get let out. This is also used as an example of why anyone studying psychiatry shouldn't be arrogant.
  • After his arrest, Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo tried this, acting absolutely batshit in front of investigators and in court, though when alone, he acted completely normal.
  • World War I pilots sometimes used a technique called "jinxing" — flying like you have no idea what you're doing. In addition to any possible psychological edge it offered, jinxing made you unpredictable and thus harder to shoot down. This caught on to such a degree, it evolved into the concept of jinking, a series of quick, evasive dodges and turns specifically designed to avoid gunfire.
  • A Soviet man avoided being drafted to fight in Afghanistan by studying textbooks on mental illness, and then faking it. It worked, but he wound up feeling crazy in the Soviet mental hospital. He eventually wrote a memoir about it, Teach Yourself Madness.
  • It's possible that Libya's former dictatorial leader, Moammar Gaddafi, was doing this. He was known to behave very bizarrely and might also have been Obfuscating Stupidity, but Wikileaks cables reveal that he was quite the Manipulative Bastard, playing off any number of rivals, subordinates, and his own family members against each other. Nothing prevents him from having been both completely nuts, yet still politically savvy. He wouldn't have been the first ruler to combine the two traits.
  • In 1200, the English village of Gotham (not that one) in Nottinghamshire learned that King John wanted to build a hunting lodge nearby. This meant that the road through the village would be a royal highway, which would mean anyone travelling on it would have to pay more tolls and taxes. So the entire village pretended to be mad, by attempting to imprison a cuckoo by building a fence round its tree, drowning an eel, and trying rake the moon out of the village pond. Justified by the fact that in the Middle Ages, insanity was believed to be contagious, and therefore a) the idea of an entire village going mad was perfectly believable and b) no-one in their right mind would go anywhere near the place. The hunting lodge was never built.
  • Similarly, during Queen Elizabeth the First's trip around England, one household feigned madness en masse in an attempt to avoid the large price of hosting the Queen. It worked.
  • Richard Nixon called this the Madman theory: "I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, "for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button" and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace." Either the Vietcong were smarter than ol' Tricky Dick gave them credit for or they were even more fanatical about their politics than he wanted them to believe he was about his, because it didn't work.
    • Kim Jong Un is possibly exercising this tactic himself in order to draw concessions from the U.S. and its allies.
  • Poker professional Mike Caro used this during his heyday in the 1970s and 1980s to appear so insane as to frighten or annoy his opponents into poor play. He earned the nickname "Mad Genius" by adopting the look and mannerisms of a schizophrenic bum, doing things like setting money on fire at the poker table, making strange noises or cackling when winning a pot, and chattering non-stop. Underneath the facade is an exceptionally sharp analytical mind, and one of the world's foremost experts on poker tells.


Obfuscating DisabilityMore than Meets the EyeObfuscating Stupidity
Not-So-Harmless VillainHidden BadassObfuscating Stupidity
Friend to PsychosMadness TropesOnly Sane Man
Obfuscating DisabilityInfauxmation DeskObfuscating Stupidity
Nouveau RicheOlder Than FeudalismObfuscating Stupidity
Nouveau RicheWe Are Not Alone IndexThe Obi-Wan
The Nothing After DeathImageSource/OtherOscar Bait

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