"I cannot go to school today,"
Said Little Peggy Ann McKay.
Sometimes in a fictional story, a character will pretend to be sick (otherwise known as malingering). Most often, this is to avoid something unpleasant at school or work, such as a test, visit from management, or similar inconvenience. Some just do it to get a day off, and some just want attention. This is often accompanied by completely overblown "symptoms", often exaggerated further by the character holding a thermometer up to a light bulb to fake a temperature.
In comedy, this almost never works
, with the ruse either being readily discovered or backfiring on the character. A backfire might be whatever they were trying to avoid being moved to a day not covered by their ploy; it's also common for the character to end up missing out on something fun. Another risk is that the character may be compelled to take medicine or otherwise submit to medical treatment, as unpleasant and counterproductive as such things may be for someone who is not in fact sick. For added irony, it is rather common for someone who's playing sick to actually
get sick somewhere along the way. This is often depicted as Laser-Guided Karma
See Munchausen Syndrome
for the more serious, even pathological version.
Compare Do Well, but Not Perfect
, Obfuscating Disability
, Playing the Victim Card
& You Don't Want to Catch This
. Contrast Working Through The Cold
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Anime & Manga
- In InuYasha, Kagome's absences from school to go time-traveling in Feudal Japan are attributed to increasingly bizarre illnesses that still somehow manage to fool her friends. Maybe she should try for some smarter friends....
- In an episode of the manga of Ichigo Mashimaro, Chika really is sick, and is being cared for by her big sister. Miu pretends to be sick, as well, to gain attention. (Though by the end of the episode, Miu actually gets sick, probably due to prolonged exposure to an airborne illness, and is taken to the doctor.)
- Konata of Lucky Star often makes up different excuses to skip school, including playing sick. So much so, that when she actually does get sick, she gets hit with accusations of Crying Wolf.
- The series Paranoia Agent is made of this trope. Lil' Slugger is essentially a means of feigning injury in order to shirk personal responsibilities.
- Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch had one of these happen in the early episodes, where the main girl's friends ditch her so she could go on a date, and one of them played sick. When suspected after insisting the main character to go, she just said she was just pushing herself.
- No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular has Tomoko think to herself how she will do this to avoid going on the field trip in her second year, beginning by mentioning how she feels unwell three days before the trip, then have a worsening cough... so she can stay at home and just play games.
- Subverted in a Calvin and Hobbes strip. Calvin won't get up because he's too sick to go to school. His mother mentions that it's Saturday and he won't miss school, but Calvin's only response is to curl up further in his blankets and mutter "I know". Cue final scene of his frantic mother dashing to the phone to call a doctor.
- This is done in a Dilbert strip where Dogbert describes sick days as "Vacation days with sound effects", and depicts Dilbert with a makeshift slingshot made out of kitchen furniture loaded with a chicken calling his boss and saying "Don't be surprised if I cough and you hear my lungs hit the refrigerator".
- Parodied when Dilbert calls in sick and pretends to have a cough. He then admits that he doesn't have a cold, but he does have a headache, and he doesn't know how to make a headache sound over the phone.
- Inverted in another strip, where the Alice (who still looks rather sick) comes to work after taking a sick day, and the PHB tells her he was suspicious of her taking it on a Monday. She then turns to him and coughs up what appears to be a lung and a spleen. In the last panel, she tells Dilbert and Wally, "It was a good thing I had some extra organs."
- Inverted in FoxTrot, Jason attempts to fake being well in order to go to school and at the very least take a math test despite clearly being sick. The teacher doesn't buy it and tells him to go home.
- The Smurfs do this in the comic book story The Reporter Smurf to fool Gargamel into thinking he has contracted a disease from them that turns humans into toads.
- Bob in Knights of the Dinner Table habitually claimed to be sick to avoid going to work when it would interfere with his gaming. After getting caught at it once too often, he was fired and thrown out by his angry and disappointed father.
- This is, of course, the entire impetus to the plot of Ferris Bueller's Day Off...
- The film A Gift for Heidi has her friend Clara faking she still has her stomach ache from yesterday (after eating too much ice cream). However, she's doing it so that her chaperone has someone he can care for, for once in his life.
- In the movie ET: The Extra Terrestrial Elliott very convincingly pretends to be sick (even warming the thermometer using a light bulb) so he can be alone with his new alien friend. Taken from Steven Spielberg's own childhood; he sometimes faked being sick to stay home from school.
- The title character in Billy Madison tries this when not wanting to go to school while in third grade. Billy's maid offers to let him shave her armpits while he's home sick, which forces him to get up and go to school.
- Thirteen Days: During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, who is Locked Out of the Loop, is told that the next day the president's going to have a cold. He isn't told anything else, except how bad it is is up to him. The reason is that Kennedy needs to get back to Washington so he can deal with he crisis without letting on what's going on.
- In Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant, the 12th film in the Dr. Kildare series, the Patient of the Week is a newlywed woman with a sudden and inexplicable case of total amnesia. Turns out she's faking it to get out of her marriage.
- In Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Dying Detective, Dr. Watson discovers that Sherlock Holmes is bedridden with an exotic foreign disease. Holmes is faking it in order to tease a confession out of the evil genius who tried to infect him with said exotic foreign disease. He made a very thorough job of it, though: he starved himself for three days.
- In Diane Duane's Deep Wizardry, Dairine does this for her sister's benefit.
- One story from the Doctor Who 2007 Storybook has a boy putting his head next to a radiator to fake that he has a fever so that he can get sent to bed early and later sneak out to help the Doctor.
- From the Harry Potter books:
- In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Fred and George Weasley's "Skiving Snackboxes". One end of the candy will make you graphically ill (nausea/vomiting, nosebleeds, rashes, etc.); upon being excused from your class, you eat the other half, which restores you to perfect health.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ron intends to explain why he isn't returning to Hogwarts by claiming to be ill with spattergroit (a highly contagious fungal disease), and has a ghoul impersonate him in bed with the condition. He does this with his family's assistance, since they're really all in danger.
- The Shel Silverstein poem "Sick" consists of Peggy Ann McKay listing symptoms of her illness — from a sliver to a 108 degree fever to a shrunken brain — keeping her from going to school until she realizes it's Saturday, when she miraculously recovers.
- Papillon makes this into an art form. Hospitals have less security then the Penal Colony and a hospital stay can buy time to make better arrangements for labor assignments or plan escapes. They find many ways to feign illness; for example planting lice, eating spoiled food, or intentionally causing injuries. If that fails, bribe a doctor.
- A deleted chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory involves this. Willy Wonka shows the tour group a room in which Spotty Powder, which you put over your cereal in the morning like sugar. You then eat the powder and get spots on your face, so that when your mother sees you across the table, she'll think you're ill and send you to bed. Perfect for the day you have exams (as Charlie declares). Deleted characters Miranda Mary Piker (a school-obsessed, snobby girl) and her father (a headmaster) are both appalled by this and try to destroy the machine. They walk into the room where the machine that makes the powder is being made and are last heard laughing their heads off for some unknown reason.
- Hulliam d'Averc from Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon series constantly claims to be suffering from unnumbered, crippling maladies...but lives the life of a lusty action hero, showing that his health is as good as anyone's. The stories never say outright whether he knows he's faking, though it seems likely.
Live Action TV
- "Weird Al" Yankovic did a song about this, titled Calling in Sick.
I think I'll call my boss and I'm
Gonna hack and cough and wheeze
Swear I've got some strange disease
What's that little twerp gonna say?
- A common set-up for a wrestling feud. One such execution will have a face wrestler scheduled to take on a heel, but the scheduled heel is a "no show" because he claims to be ill. So one of the heel's underlings will take his place. The good guy will beat on the underling heel for a few minutes, until the supposedly sick wrestler runs into the ring to mastermind a severe beatdown of his foe.
- Vampire: The Masquerade has "Schere's Disease". It was created to mimic vampire symptoms and to be used as a cover-story, explaining why someone burns in sunlight and needs to drink blood from a medical perspective. The Schere Foundation was simultaneously created to give out false information about the disorder and provide medical credentials for individual vampires who might need them.
- In Fallout 3, claiming to be sick is one of the dialogue options before taking the G.O.A.T. exam. However, your father is the Vault doctor, too and very quickly shuts down the attempt with a light mocking. If you chose this dialogue option, another character comments on you trying the old "I'm sick" routine.
- Mocked by Liam Neeson, and check one more off the list.
- In Fire Emblem Tellius the character Makalov exemplifies this trope, frequently making excuses and trying to got out of battles and debts by feigning illness. After the game's lord, Ike, overhears him planning this, Makalov is told that the company payed off his debts, that he would be working for free for a while, and not to even think about being sick.
- The Sims can sometimes call in sick to get a day off, with fake coughing and chuckling when they think the person on the other end can't hear them.
- This Wapsi Square comic has Dietzel recommending that Monica do this.
- A story arc in PreTeena has Teena Keene, normally an A student, panicked into faking illness to escape a test she hasn't prepared for. Older sister Jeri, a veteran of escaping tests and homework by similar ploys, congratulates her for coming over to the dark side, but Teena's conscience gets the better of her and she shamefacedly confesses and apologises.
- Arthéon from Noob frequently does this for the double benefit of not having to go to class and getting his overprotective mother to leave him alone "so he can rest".
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Jimmy Neutron once gave his friends special patches that mimicked illness, allowing them to skip school. Unfortunately, the patches got absorbed and made them really sick, forcing Jimmy to pull a "Fantastic Voyage" Plot to develop a cure (hence the episode's title, "Journey to the Center of Carl").
- Used in several Arthur episodes.
- In "Arthur's Chicken Pox", younger sister D.W. pretends to have come down with the titular sickness. It works until the spots come off in the bath.
- Another episode has D.W. faking she has lost her voice (or, rather, keeps pretending to have lost it after it returns) so that everyone spoils her. Arthur overhears her talking and has to get help from his friends to make her come with the truth.
- One Care Bears cartoon has two characters drawing spots onto themselves to fake that they have spots. However, when they wash the spots off and declare they're better, the parents declare that the illness is getting worse!
- Happens with Dale on the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "Kiwi's Big Adventure"; he pretends that his foot is injured just to get closer to Gadget. Chip is well aware of this, however, and gets Gadget, Monty, and Zipper to see him walk perfectly okay by himself when they leave him alone. Dale would end up breaking his foot for real near the end, though.
- The Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Cry Ed", although Eddy is pretending to be severely injured instead of sick, and trying to get attention and pity from the other kids rather than out of school.
- In an episode of The Emperor's New School, Kuzco did it after learning that the Royal Treasury would provide funds to look after him (in luxury) if he was ill
- One episode of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack has Flapjack pretending to be struck dumb by a curse so that Captain K'nuckles will take him to a carnival.
- And another has K'nuckles pretending to be dead so Flapjack will leave him alone.
- The My Little Pony Tales episode "Too Sick to Notice" - Bon Bon feels ignored by her family when her youngest brother gets sick, so she decides to pretend she's sick too.
- And attempted in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Family Appreciation Day" by Apple Bloom. It doesn't work. Granny Smith, having raised first her own children as well as Apple Bloom's older siblings before her, sees right through it.
- Fluttershy does it in "Hurricane Fluttershy" to avoid tornado duty, painting spots on her face and making rather obviously fake sneezes. Rainbow Dash isn't fooled, dumping water on her and washing away the spots.
- "Three's A Crowd": Discord does this by claiming to have the "Blue Flu" and having Twilight and her visiting sister-in-law Cadance tend to him. Naturally he's doing this for his own amusement in the hopes it'll spoil the visit (though he claims it's also a Secret Test of Character for Twilight to see if she really does care for him). It winds up backfiring since Cadance didn't mind it since it gave her some much needed excitement from her princess duties. Plus, he catches a real disease in the process.
- Pepper Ann had an episode where she fakes she has a fever (by putting the thermometer in a cup of coffee) so that she can have a day off school.
- One episode of Rugrats has Angelica faking having a broken leg to get out of chores, and so she can more easily boss the adults around. It works when there is a mix up with the X-Rays at the Hospital.
- Angelica does this again in the spin-off All Grown Up! in which she starts quoting lines of a deranged character from a soap opera so she can stay in the hospital longer.
- In The Simpsons Bart does this a few times, in one case pretending to have Tourette's Syndrome (later changed to rabies via Executive Meddling) and various other symptoms while Grandpa warns him against playing the "boy who cried wolf". Eventually he's attacked by an actual wolf that's escaped from Krusty's show and isn't believed.
- In another episode, Bart eats a jagged O from a box of Krusty-Os and develops agonizing stomach pains. No one believes him except Lisa (although it's also likely that the Teachers not believing him was also simply due to callousness on their part rather than previous faking sick attempts, as Krabappel once mentioned that she also won't be held accountable if one of her students [Milhouse in this case] was eaten by the pet snake), though he is eventually taken to the hospital.
- Ms. Hoover also was speculated to have faked sick by some of the students when she revealed that her Lyme Disease was actually Psychosomatic in one episode, to which she confirms it both faking sick and being crazy.
- Even Lisa got in on the act to get out of a bad birthday party when a lot of the kids get sick from eating raw oysters (which Lisa, being a vegetarian, would have never eaten in the first place).
- In one episode of Strawberry Shortcake, Strawberry finds a fairy with a hurt wing and offers to take care of her until her wing heals. The fairy takes advantage of Strawberry's hospitality and all the attention her friends dote on her, pretending she can't fly even after her wing has healed.
- Ginger Snap does it in "Ginger Snap's No Light Night of Fright" to try to get out of going on a camp-out because she's scared of the dark, but it doesn't work.
- Tom and Jerry did a variation in which Jerry painted spots on Tom to make him believe he had measles. Tom eventually finds out and goes after Jerry, only to find that now Jerry had the measles for real.
- Code Lyoko does this in countless episodes. "Mrs. Hertz? I don't feel good, I have to go to the infirmary." "Me too!" "And I'll escort them!" Cue running off to Lyoko. With three or four students doing this all at the same time, and it's the same ones every time, you wonder why the teachers don't see through it.
- The teachers and principal start getting fed up with this in the last Season and aren't fooled as often, so it becomes harder for the heroes to pretend being sick.
- Keep in mind that most of these visits never happened.
- South Park: Stan and Kyle give one another ludicrously overblown maladies (date rape psychosis and cancer, respectively) in Towelie, telling their mothers that they're too busy nursing one another to bother with baseball practice or school.
- An old Popeye cartoon has him and Bluto feigning illness to get into a hospital and be treated by nurse Olive. As they try to outdo each other and start fighting, Olive sees through their ruse. A later WWII cartoon has the two in the US Navy; Bluto fakes illness to get out of working. Popeye sees through it and proceeds to teach him a lesson.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender had an entire city pretend that they were sick with Pentapox in order to let the citizens flee the occupied city. This mysterious disease was actually just hickies from a Purple Pentapus.
- Katara also fed Appa a bunch of bright purple berries to make it seem like he was sick, so they would have to stay for longer so that she could be the Painted Lady.
- One episode of Recess had the main characters pretend to be sick in order to be sent home from a boring school day (every other student is out with a real illness). Unfortunately, Gretchen mixes up the symptoms, so instead of an illness that would mandate being sent home, the nurse thinks that they've contracted some horrible disease that leads to them being quarantined by public health officials.
- In The Mask, Lonnie the Shark's henchman Pete is prone of making excuses to get sick to avoid doing work.
- Jokey Smurf does it at least twice in The Smurfs: once in "Jokey's Funny Bone" in order to get attention, and another time in "Calling Doctor Smurf" in order to make Dabbler feel useful as a doctor.
- Dragon does it in "The Bug Flu" on Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends after seeing Spiderus do the same thing.
- In one episode of The Flintstones, Fred and Barney tried to call in sick to go to a baseball game. Fred's boss believed him, but Barney's wanted him to check with the company nurse. He did, and when she took his temperature, Fred tried to fake a fever for him using his cigarette lighter. Unfortunately that made it register way too high, and the nurse panicked and called an ambulance, and suffice to say, it only got worse from there.
- Goof Troop did this twice, once played very sympathetically and once played very unsympathetically.
- The sympathetic example is when PJ plays sick (at Max's coaxing) to get in one last day of freedom before being Grounded Forever for failing his math test, which he thinks he did. Pete is very strict about what counts as "sick enough" to stay home, so Max makes PJ look very sick, which results in him being taken to the hospital and Pete very briefly realizing that he's a bad parent. Unfortunately, PJ didn't even need to play sick in the first place because he didn't fail the test.
- The unsympathetic example is when Pete pretends to be sick so that he can take the day off fishing. This wouldn't be so bad by itself, especially considering Pete is his own boss, but he tells PJ he's sick and dying and that PJ has to take over his job. He goes so far to make him feel guilty by saying that Peg, Pistol, and Chainsaw will be stuck doing terrible jobs if he doesn't succeed. This starts to backfire when Max and Goofy give PJ the idea to use Pete in some stunts (since he's dying anyway), and backfires even further when PJ tearfully presents the proceeds to Peg and tells her what Pete said.
- In Holly Hobbie And Friends: Christmas Wishes, Holly is said to have lost her voice due to a "freak scarf accident" and this is the reason why she has to give up her solo to the widow Kelly Deegan. In reality, it's just a scheme to try to restore happiness to this Broken Bird, and it works.
- An episode of ChalkZone has Rudy faking sick to get out a test he forgot to study for. However, the test turned out to be the next week and instead he was to have gone on a field trip to a dinosaur-themed amusement park, so Rudy makes a portal to ChalkZone to go to the park without getting caught.
- The Silly Symphonies "The Wise Little Hen" is a straightforward telling of The Little Red Hen, whose attempts at getting help growing her corn are met with feigned sickness by a pig and his cohort, Donald Duck, in his debut.
- Bugs Bunny's many "death scenes" to pull one over on Elmer Fudd always work. Most notably in "The Wabbit Who Came To Supper" where Bugs—having been locked out of Elmer's house—says he'll catch "p-neumonia!"
- China's Wei General Sima Yi pulled this trick (along with his sons, too) so that he could plot a coup in secret without anyone being suspicious. This is also written in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
- Cao Cao did this as well. Not to say, they both faked to have some kind of neurological disorder in front of people; Sima pretended to have what we call Alzheimer's now, and Cao pretended he had stroke— when he was a teenager.
- Lu Meng also used a fake illness to put Guan Yu off his guard.
- In ancient Rome, an epileptic fit was one of the omens considered dire enough to put an end to any public assembly where a fit was seen. The sufficiently cynical would see this as a useful political ploy.
- In her childhood, actress Toni Collette once faked a burst appendix so she could miss school. Her acting was so convincing that she ended up having it removed.
- There's a modern trick called the Munchausen by Internet syndrome, where people lie about their own healths, pretending to be seriously/deathly ill to garner sympathy. A list of some infamous cases are here
- Trying the light bulb thing is an easy way to generate a real-life subversion; choose the light unwisely and the mercury in the thermometer can expand so forcefully it breaks the thermometer.
"Huh? What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is Saturday?
Good-bye! I'm going out to play!"