If you can't keep the bad thoughts out, at least you can make fun of them while they're there.
Often found among troops and superhero teams, the Sad Clown
is the wisecracking funnyman who copes with his hopeless position with humor—usually of the groan-inducing kind
. He is totally insecure at heart and keeps on running his mouth to fool himself into thinking he's confident or to get people to like him.
This character tends to make Dude, Not Funny!
jokes at inappropriate times to cope.
Often put in more serious series to add some comic relief
, while at the same time secretly revealing to the audience that the character is a simmering pot of hidden insecurities and angst, just like everyone else in the cast
Contrast Non-Ironic Clown
. See also Gallows Humor
, Hurting Hero
, Inferiority Superiority Complex
, Stepford Smiler
, and Stepford Snarker
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Anime and Manga
- An older, calmer, more mentor-like version is Doctor Abel Geiger from Ashita no Nadja. Complete with one of the saddest back stories in the series.
- GB (a.k.a. 007) from Cyborg 009. His backstory changes in every animated continuity, and yet none of them are pretty.
- Duo Maxwell from Gundam Wing tries to be the moodmaker for the Gundam Pilots, and is certainly the cheeriest and goofiest of the group. He's also got a particularly tragic past (orphan, lost his best friend to disease because only the rich people got the vaccine, bounced between foster homes before settling in a church with a caring priest and sister, only to lose them to a pointless battle) and refers to himself as "Shinigami", not boasting about his ability to kill enemy pilots but because the specter of Death seems to hover around him at all times.
- A more literal example is Trowa Barton Triton Bloom, who works in a circus as a clown, but is as far from goofy as one can get.
- There's a female one in Hana no Ko Lunlun. Sophia the Norwegian Circus Brat is embarrassed about working as a clown in her family's circus (despite having the talent to do so) and lies to Lunlun about actually being a Cute Monster Girl instead. With Lunlun's help she discovers that it's actually fun to make people laugh.
- Rare female example: Anna Heart from Kaleido Star, a Bifauxnen artist from the Kaleido Stage who wants to be a comedian, but hides how deeply hurt she's been after her father Jack (a.k.a. "Baron Jack") left her and her mother Julia.
- For that matter, Jack was one of these too. The reason why he left is that he was swindled by his manager, and left home because he couldn't face Julia and Anna as well as the crash of his dreams. And he was getting worse, evolving into a very embittered Stepford Snarker who told cruel jokes that mocked everyone (something he had never done in the past) until Anna got to confront him. Thankfully, they got better.
- Izumi from Martian Successor Nadesico is a one-woman Hurricane of Puns. We never get the full story, but one episode reveals she only became like this after her fiance died in an accident. When she's forced to relive it she nearly turns suicidal. It wasn't even the only boyfriend she'd lost!
- The eponymous character of Naruto is partially this along with being a Trickster. Having grown up as something of a pariah for having the Nine-Tails Fox, he grows up to hate the harsh looks the villagers give him. He turns to being a brash prankster as it's still much less harsh than being viewed as something not meant to exist. He more or less grows out of it, though sometimes it's more that the reasons change.
- Iruka is implied to have been like this, having lost both his parents to the Nine-Tailed Fox. Unlike Naruto, he did not have to deal with being hated, but he acted the way he did to ease his loneliness. He reaches out to Naruto when he realizes they have this in common and becomes Naruto's first father figure.
- Usopp from One Piece.
- Possibly Luffy as well, considering the things we've learned about his past in the last few years. After his complete and utter breakdown after Ace's death, it becomes devastatingly clear that underneath his cool, strong Idiot Hero exterior, there's a scared little boy who's terrified that he's too weak to protect his loved ones, and that he's generally nowhere near as innocent, carefree or stupid as he might want you to believe.
- Brook practically runs on this trope, being a walking pun factory on the subject of his supernatural disfigurement. At inappropriate times? You bet. He is also quite the pervert. We discover that he and his crew died in the most dangerous sea before being able to fulfill their promise to return to the friend they left behind. Only Brook's Devil Fruit which allowed him to come back from death just once offered the slightest chance of fulfilling their promise and even then he had to wait 50 years alone before the Strawhats came. After a major loss for the crew leading to a separation arc, he was put on display in a freak show cage for crowds to scream at in disgust. Then he met the "get people to like him" criteria in truly epic fashion. It's good to be the Soul King.
- Luffy's brother Ace is a pretty jovial guy, much like Luffy. And just like Luffy, he's got a lot of hidden insecurities. He spent his entire life thinking that he didn't deserve to be born.
- Break from Pandora Hearts teases everyone merciless, smiles constantly and has a ventriloquist (probably) act going with a doll he keeps on his shoulder. And is as utterly broken as if not more so than anyone else in the main cast.
- Sasame flirts (heh) with this trope in the manga version of Prétear. He's constantly flirting with the main character and teasing the other knights, and at first it seems like he takes NOTHING seriously... but several scenes hint that he's not quite as much of a jokester as it seems. This particularly comes into play when he reveals he was in love with the Big Bad in the past, and you consider what happened to the anime version because of that...
- Kano from Kagerou Project cracks jokes all the time, laughs at the most inappropriate times, and loves teasing others. Underneath it all is a rather broken and solemn teenager.
- Beast Boy/Changeling from Teen Titans, in both the comic and the animated series.
- Iceman from the X-Men.
- His counterpart in X-Men: Evolution is Kurt. Who has two or three shades of this in the comic, actually.
- And from X-Factor we have Guido (a.k.a. Strong Guy). Cracking dumb jokes helps ease the physical pain from his mutant powers. To say nothing of the problems that come from just being a mutant.
- Spider-Man himself is a rare example of a main character being the Sad Clown. At his healthiest, his notorious mid-fight quips are still as much about coping with how scary his life is as distracting his enemy.
Have you noticed the closer we get to uncomfortable truths, the more jokes per minute you make?
- Iron Man himself verges on this at times, especially when Matt Fraction writes him.
- In Marvel Zombies, Spidey drives the other zombies crazy with the constant, irritating jokes he keeps making. When told to cut it out, he informs them that he makes jokes to help himself forget that he's become a flesh-eating evil lunatic.
- Mary-Jane Watson was one of these in her backstory - she kept up a constant Fun Personified party-animal persona to cover up for how miserable her home life was.
- Mentioned in Watchmen throughout flashbacks of Eddie Blake (a.k.a. The Comedian). "But Doctor...I am Pagliacci!"
- Which is stolen from the poem "Reír llorando" ("To laugh while crying") by Juan de Dios Peza. The poem follows the same line in more detail, and the sad man is not "Pagliacci" (which means just "clown" in Italian) but David Garrick, a very famous English actor who really existed. I am Garrick... change my prescription!
- Plastic Man from DC Comics is often accused of this, denying it every time. Whether he is lying or not depends on your interpretation.
- Dick Grayson has been retconned into this in his youth. He was the first Robin, and his history is largely unchanged: he was the same person cracking jokes and facing down villains and making terrible, terrible puns. However, his parents were killed in front of him, and his adoptive father figure has been transformed into always having been a brooding creature of darkness, so he was covering for something. As Nightwing, he's less of this, being relatively well-adjusted, all things considered.
- If the memories of The Joker in The Killing Joke (wherein "Jack" loses his wife, the baby inside her and his face in one day) are to be believed, he plays this trope straight. The heartbreaking finale wherein both the Monster Clown and Batman hysterically laugh at the cruelty of their lives drives in just how deeply both these men have been hurt; Joker in particular must substitute laughter for tears, or the ponderous weight of his sadness would crush what little will to live there is left inside.
- If you feel a bit uncomfortable feeling that much sympathy for him, the comic allows you to play the Multiple-Choice Past card and go on hating him. Honestly, that's clever.
- In Death Of The Family, Harley Quinn shows indications of this. She has tears marking her face, and she cracks jokes as she tries to survive being around Joker. Joker, once again, himself implies this about him.
- Pol Pitron from Yoko Tsuno.
- Although he is a genuinely happy-go-lucky person, Morph has instances of this in both his Age of Apocalypse and Exiles incarnations, which results in teammates telling him to shut up and be serious for once. When he does, it tends to be heartbreaking.
- His original incarnation in the X-Men TV series was like this too, and it was just as sad to see his real psyche.
- In the Gargoyles spin-off Bad Guys, Fang is revealed to be a Sad Clown. He's just as shocked and horrified as everyone else to find out Tasha hung herself. He just dealt with it by making an inappropriate light bulb joke.
- The zombie-like Ghoul of The Ultraverse, who does it to cope with being The Grotesque.
- Deadpool is often written like this. In the first arc of Cable & Deadpool, Cable asks why he's helping the villain's Assimilation Plot - it could be the first step to world peace, but falling in line and giving up his right to be different isn't Deadpool's style. Deadpool replies that all his crazy opinions just cover up the fact that he doesn't have anything.
- He actually lampshades this trope in his arc in X-Men Origins, when he is telling a screenwriter about his less-than-ideal home life.
Deadpool: When you're confronted with a horrible situation, there are only two reactions that make sense: laughter or tears. And laughter, after all, is nature's anesthesia. Tears hurt too much.
- Yorick from Y: The Last Man continues to crack lame jokes despite being the only male survivor of the Gendercide, to the frustration of his traveling companions.
- In Red Hood and the Outlaws Arsenal tries to chat and make jokes whenever he can, but it's fairly obvious that he's practically dead on the inside. He admits this in Issue 5 to Starfire, saying he believes that as a team the three of them could help each other.
- Christ, the entire team is dead on the inside and trying to cover it up.
Films — Animated
- Kung Fu Panda had Po, a giant panda who initially had a well hidden self-loathing so profound that it made his heroes' initial disdain for him feel positively kind.
Films — Live-Action
- Scientist Paul Beaumont in He Who Gets Slapped became a clown after his patron stole his work and wife. As a clown, Beaumont falls in love with another performer who is in love with someone else.
- Jerry Lewis made The Day the Clown Cried, about a depressed, formerly great German circus clown during the Holocaust. Shooting on the film was completed, but it was never finished or released, due to behind-the-scenes disputes. It was locked in the vault, and has since become a Hollywood legend. Lewis eventually came out and said he will never release it, not because of financial problems, but because he's simply that ashamed of it.
- The 1930 German film The Blue Angel uses this trope for dramatic effect, as the main character's loss of dignity, fall in society and descent into madness are punctuated by his donning of a clown costume. His first performance in full clown make-up, where he is continuously debased and forced to crow like a cock, is the climax of the movie and shows just how pathetic the once proud man has become.
- Buttons the Clown from The Greatest Show on Earth certainly qualifies: he's a former doctor on the run from the law for mercy-killing his wife. The fact that Buttons is played by Jimmy Stewart makes it awesome.
- This is pretty much the entire plot of Vulgar, the Back Story of the View Askew clown.
- Gelsomina from Federico Fellini's La Strada. So ever much.
- Played for Laughs in Quick Change by Grimm (played by Bill Murray), who plays a bank robber dressed as a clown, with dynamite strapped to his chest.
- The protagonist of The Last Circus is one.
- The clown in The Illusionist who drinks and listens to happy circus music. He did try to kill himself at one point, but Alice unknowingly stopped him.
- Suggested as the In-Character motivation of Giacomo the Jester (Well... Hubert Hawkins' interpretation of Giacomo anyway) in The Court Jester, via the song The Maladjusted Jester. In brief, he was a morose child who didn't laugh much, to the concern and frustration of his parents. They consulted a witch who foresaw his talent for performance and comedy, much to the bafflement of everyone.
- A Hard Days Night had a praised sequence in which Ringo Starr had an affecting performance as a sad clown, but Ringo was not so much acting as he was hung over and so his miserable air was real.
- The World's End: Gary, and how. He puts on a thin facade of party guy fun and pep, but he's in reality a clinically depressed Disco Dan who hates where his life ended up. The entire pub crawl is hinted to be one final night of fun before he kills himself.
- Peter Quill (aka "Star-Lord") from Guardians of the Galaxy had a rough youth: his father was never in his life and his mother died in his presence when he was about 8 or 9. Moments after that, he was scooped up by some aliens who apparently wanted to eat him (though the actual validity of this claim seems to be wishy-washy; Yondu's been lording the fact he stopped them from doing so over Peter since that day but, again, there seems to be a deeper understanding between them as well). Still, despite his unpleasant youth, he grew up to be a relatively well-adjusted Handsome Lech Loveable Rogue who loves pop music from The Seventies (the memoir mixtape his mother gave him) and all around is a jokey, easygoing guy (though, as he qualifies for the trope, he still lives with the pain of his mother's death and this comes up at the end of the movie).
- Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault) in Marcel Carné's Le Enfants du Paradis, based on the 19th-century clown and mime.
- The Pagliaccio joke:
A man goes to a doctor, claiming he's depressed. He feels as if the world doesn't care about his problems, as if he's the pole the universe pisses on. The doctor ponders the man's problems, unsure of what to do, until suddenly he remembers: "The circus is in town, and Pagliaccio the clown is there! Why don't you go see his show, I'm sure that'll cheer you up." The man breaks down crying and sobs "But doctor... I am Pagliaccio the clown!!"
- This joke is also told as an anecdote about some real-life clowns, notably Joe Grimaldi and Gaspard-Baptiste Debureau.
- Ephraim Kishon uses the joke in a different context. His joke starts the same way, but at the end the patient says instead: "Doctor, I've been at the circus, I've seen Pagliaccio. He wasn't funny at all. He was the unfunniest clown I've ever seen." The doctor breaks down: "But mister... I'm Pagliaccio!"
- Marco from Animorphs. It's stated many times that joking is the only way he can deal with the difficult and dangerous situations he's constantly put in, and the fact that his mother is Visser One's host. What really kills about this one is that it clearly doesn't work; over the course of the series he goes from being incredibly emo and depressed to losing his humanity to the point that even Rachel was occasionally horrified by his actions.
- Another K. A. Applegate example, Christopher from Everworld is almost an Expy of Marco, but with a darker personality, being a budding alcoholic and purposefully making racial or gender-based comments to offend people. And he's not funny.
- Another great example is Gwynplaine, the title character of Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs. The film version, starring Conrad Veidt, invented the Slasher Smile.
- Stephen King examples: Richie Tozier from It, Eddie Dean and (especially) Cuthbert Allgood from The Dark Tower.
- Silk from the Belgariad openly admits at one point that he makes jokes because the alternative is to break down crying.
- In a rare moment of honesty, he stated that one of the reasons for his sadness was that, being perhaps the greatest spy ever, he had so many multilayered cover-identities that he had lost himself somewhere under them.
- The Dresden Files's Harry Dresden, who "follow[s] the tao of Peter Parker"; see the page quote. Everyone and everything in the universe appears to have it in for him because Being Good Sucks; he responds by making terrible jokes, even when this is not strictly in the interests of self-preservation.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe: Clone commando R C- 8015, 'Fi', starts out merely with wisecracks. Over time, however, his mood darkens, but he continued to amuse his squad mates with jokes. His tend to be a touch morbid, but very funny.
- His Deadpan Snarker contrast is his replacement, Corr, who copes with bad situations with acid sarcasm.
- In the X-Wing Series, we get Ton Phanan, though we don't really see the "sad" part until we get to Iron Fist.
- The Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures' Fitz Kreiner. Hardly ever stops cracking jokes, to the point people get mildly annoyed on principle. He was born in London four years prior to the beginning of World War II and is half-German, for which he was severely bullied. By the time he turned eighteen, his father was dead and his mum was insane. In the first novel he appears in, he's told a joke he makes about his own angsty backstory is Dude, Not Funny! He also tends to make jokes when he's nervous about things like aliens that want to eat his face. The more nervous he gets, the worse the jokes.
- Bryan Stark, the main character in the teen series DRAMA!, is a mild example of this.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Martian-raised Mike has difficulty understanding humor, until he draws the conclusion that all humor serves basically this purpose: "They laugh because they hurt so much. Because it's the only thing that will make them stop hurting."
- Members of the Fools' Guild in Discworld often lapse into this, sometimes forgetting if they're supposed to be "happy on the outside and crying on the inside, or the other way 'round." This is understandable, since the Fools generally don't lead pleasant lives. Indeed, it is common knowledge on the Disc that Fools simply cannot be funny ("if it was funny, a clown wouldn't be doing it"), and clowns are regarded as inherently pitiful or scary, rather than comedic.
- Exemplifying this is the fact that the guildhall is often mistaken for that of the Assassins, which is actually the light, airy building next door. According to Word of God, it began as a monastery for a particularly sombre group of monks, and the founder of the Fools' Guild was shaped in his philosophy towards comedy by the fact that A: he was honestly nowhere near as funny as he believed himself to be, B: a mindset that convinced him that jokes and humor were Serious Business and should be treated with great dignity and respect, and C: the very pronounced trait of Discwolders, especially those in Ankh-Morpork, to be realistic and literal-minded to the point of being deliberately obtuse, which doesn't make joking an easy matter. The result is that generations of Fools have had their emotions crushed and any actual knack for humor (not to mention desire to make people laugh) stamped out of them.
- Leo from The Heroes of Olympus. He jokes to deal with the loss of his mom. And they're actually funny, unlike most Sad Clowns.
- Even worse, Leo has been pushed from foster home to foster home, due to people seeing him as a "demon child" (he is the first son of Hephaestus who can control fire in over 300 years. And the one before him started The Great Fire of London.)
- Nick Sagan's Idlewild has Mercutio, who describes his coping methods as "Humor? That's my lizard tail. You can look at that while I run away."
- In The Wide Window, the characters patronize a rather miserably awful restaurant called The Anxious Clown. Guess what all the waiters are dressed up as.
- Grantaire in Les Misérables plays this role in the Amis; his cynical wisecracking and ridiculous verbal antics mask his grim knowledge that he and his friends are about to give their lives for a cause he thinks is pointless and that his idol Enjolras despises him.
- This is basically the premise of You Don't Know Me. The protagonist is a First-Person Smartass who's constantly describing his miserable situation in the most bizarrely humorous ways he can.
- Odd Thomas, in the series of novels of the same name by Dean Koontz, a First-Person Smartass who notes early on that he will be keeping the tone of the books light, otherwise what he has to say would be too painful to tell, and in-story (in other words, in the actual situations) he covers up his sadness, fears, etc. with a healthy dose of snarking or silliness.
- Albert Campion, Gentleman Detective and Gentleman Adventurer created by Margery Allingham, constantly and compulsively makes jokes and does things For the Funnyz simply because that's part of his personality, but he also uses it to keep people away from what's really going on inside of him.
- Kindling Ashes: Frang is constantly making jokes to cope with the fact that he could go up in flames at any moment and a family tragedy in his past.
- The Moviegoer has Kate, an Ill Girl who has psuedo-religious experiences one after another to stave of the mundanity of her boring life.
Live Action TV
- 21 Jump Street: Doug Penhall is revealed to be this in the second season.
- Angel: Lorne's perpetual comic persona starts turning into this in Season Five, mostly after Fred dies. He even gets a whole scene talking about this in "Underneath."
- Babylon 5: Londo Mollari in the first season, where he uses cheer and wisecracking to cover up his bitterness over his current career and the failing nature of the Centauri Republic.
- Band of Brothers: To some extent, George Luz.
- The Biggest Loser: It's pretty much a guarantee that male contestants who have boisterous, jokey personalities are hiding major self-esteem issues caused by their weight.
- The Big Bang Theory: Most of the main characters can be called a sad clown
- Leonard makes jokes but he sometimes breaks down when his emotionally detached mother is talked about or shown.
- Howard often makes the most jokes and insults towards his friends but he became upset when he saw an Alf toy and mentions that when his father abandoned him and his mother gave him the toy and told him that Alf took his father to his home planet and then cries after asking where his father is.
- Stuart is the depressed comic book store owner who often makes jokes about himself or others. this is even lampshaded by Sheldon who even calls him a sad clown
- Hank on Breaking Bad is introduced as a loudmouth, boisterous, almost oafish DEA agent. Starting around season two, he starts suffering PTSD and panic attacks from the stress of his job, but keeps up the same old persona in front of almost everyone.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Xander.
- Doctor Who: The Doctor:
- Directly addressed in "Robot" where one of the outfits the recently regenerated Fourth Doctor attempts to wear is a fancy clown suit with 'teardrops' painted on his cheeks.
- In the words of Eleventh Doctor actor Matt Smith:
"That's what interests me about the Doctor because, actually, look at the blood on the man’s hands. 900 years, countless very selfish choices, and he's literally blown planets up. His own race, you know, that's all on his hands. Which is why I think he has to make silly jokes and wear a fez. Because if he didn't, he'd hang himself."
- Friends: Chandler is a rare example from a comedy series. This was lampshaded quite early on, when Phoebe's psychiatrist boyfriend, as part of his schtick of alienating everyone by pointing out uncomfortable truths, said, "I'd hate to be there when the laughter stops." Chandler himself says later that he's using humor as a defense mechanism. He's actually scarred from his thoughtless parents and neglected upbringing when it was implied he was used as a pawn in their divorce. He has serious self-esteem issues because of it and it's only through his relationship with the other friends (particularly his girlfriend Monica), that he gains confidence.
- Generation Kill: Ray Person, although his insecurity isn't the only thing fueling his hilarious, uber-offensive humor - it's also the fact that he's generally on almost no sleep and on a near-permanent caffeine high thanks to his ever-present bottle of Ripped Fuel. Averted in the finale (and, after the war, in real life) when extra interviews show the real Ray as a generally quiet, yet outspoken man.
- How I Met Your Mother: Barney Stinson, whose constant self-aggrandizing wisecracking, over-the-top stunts (everything from magic tricks to kidnapping his friends), and ridiculous womanizing antics are a mask to hide how utterly insecure and self-loathing he is inside, and how desperately dependent on his friends he is, by trying to make himself look like a loose cannon who is too awesome and confident to need anyone.
- Keen Eddie: Throughout most of the show, Monty makes several ill-timed and insensitive jokes, warranting Eddie to suggest that he has no soul, but after getting snapped at for joking in the face of Eddie's life-or-death situation, Monty admits that he uses humor to cope with situations that worry or frighten him, siting how he laughed all through his uncle's funeral.
- LOST: Hugo is usually seen as a jovial, Plucky Comic Relief kind of a character, especially in the first season. In his flashbacks, however, he is portrayed in a much more serious manner and develops into one of the most Genre Savvy and solution-oriented survivors.
- Mad Men: Roger Sterling uses humor to deflect or cope with many unpleasant aspects of his unbalanced life. Underneath the jokes and playboy exterior he is a deeply unhappy man.
- M*A*S*H: Hawkeye Pierce was once accused of this. He was quite offended, and spent the rest of the episode refusing to joke.
- The Mentalist: Patrick Jane fits perfectly. He hardly ever STOPS smiling no matter what, but the man is ridiculously full of self-loathing and guilt for his role in the death of his family. He can't sleep at night, he still wears his wedding ring eight years after the death of his wife, and his only home besides the CBI headquarters is his broken down old house where his mattress is right up next to the smiley face on the wall that is Red John's signature.
- NCIS: Depending on the Writer, Tony can fit this to a T or seem more genuinely clownish.
- Lampshaded by Gibbs when he was talking with Tony's father.
- Not Going Out: Lee in this Britcom has been accused of being one of these by other characters, to the point of being cajoled into seeing a therapist.
- Psych: Shawn. He admits that he relies on jokes and inappropriate humor to defuse tough situations, and when his funny breaks in "An Evening With Mr. Yang", Gus takes up his Sad Clown mantle to help him stay calm.
- Revolution: Aaron Pittman, played by Zak Orth, is the comic relief of the show. He was once the Google CEO, he had a beautiful wife, lots of money, and simply had it all...until the blackout. Then he pretty much got left with nothing, and while his wife didn't leave him, he ended their marriage and struck off on his own because he realized that he wasn't going to be able to protect her ("Sex and Drugs"). He has a lot to be sad about. The episode "No Quarter" had him say rather bitterly, "And the punchline was the Blackout. When the world went back to being one giant schoolyard, and the Billy Underwoods are in charge and I am weak and afraid."
- Has the Motor Mouth paramedic Denise, who keeps telling jokes and funny anecdotes as a way to cope with her son's death.
- Bob Kelso is similar. He's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who deliberately makes himself the one everyone hates so that they can put up with the fact that medicine is difficult. He's a Deadpan Snarker who pretends not to give a crap, but it's really hard for him to be the object of hate and make the painful money vs. life decisions.
- The Sopranos: While talking to his therapist, Tony Soprano describes himself as a "Sad Clown": putting on a happy, joking face to his family and friends while keeping his pain locked away. His claims come across more as self-pitying than anything else, given his behavior throughout the series.
- Stargate SG-1: Jack O'Neill, a rare commanding officer example, who gets close to Dangerously Genre Savvy.
- Star Trek: Voyager: Neelix is one of these when he's at the top of his game.
- As season one progressed, Dean went from pure comic relief to being a sad, lost little boy who really just wanted his family back together and who wise-cracks only to mask that nasty pain.
- The Trickster/Gabriel. He ran away from Heaven to escape the fight and spent a very long time teaching people the error of their ways through deadly pranks only for it to be discovered that, behind all the black humor, he was really just scared to get involved. All in all, he's just a heartbroken kid who invested too much of himself in his family to watch them destroy themselves. He spends much of his time onscreen trying to use the Winchesters to prove to himself that he was right to run.
- The Thick of It: Malcolm started out simply as highly-strung and terrifyingly funny, but his characterisation eventually developed into this as the series progressed. It soon becomes apparent that jokes come out of him constantly in all situations, he doesn't care whether or not they make people laugh and it's entirely a cover for a yawning pit of stress and existential horror.
- The Twilight Zone: The episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" featured a memorable clown played by Murray Matheson with a healthy dollop of Mood Whiplash.
Clown: I'm a clown. It's neither here, there, nor anyplace...I could be a certified public accountant, a financier, a left-handed pitcher who throws only curves...what difference does it make?
- In the Susan Calman is Convicted episode "Depression", Susan talks about her battle with depression and how she realised comedy was the career for her. Not because it made her happier, but because she realised all comedians were as depressed as she was.
- Canio, from the opera Pagliacci, is without a doubt the sad clown. Literally. In fact, he's so sad that he gets violent and turns into a Monster Clown.
- While we're in the opera world, there's also Rigoletto from Verdi's Rigoletto. Violence included, too. Costing him the life of his dear daughter Gilda.
- Jack Point from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard. He is a literal jester, which helps. The whole show is full of Commedia dell'Arte character types.
- Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet makes Incredibly Lame Puns even as he lies dying, along with a Dying Curse. Comedy dies with him; the rest of the play is an inexorable spiral into tragedy.
- Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, a sad and lonely clown exiled on the Moon embarking on an eerie and symbolic journey. This character, from Belgian poet Albert Giraud, has been a fascination of early 20th century composers: Karol Rathaus composed a ballet about him.
- Launcelot in The Merchant of Venice. His angst about wanting to leave his master vs. wanting to do the right thing gets Played for Laughs, as does his resentment of his father (who apparently cheated on his mother) and his sorrow at having to say goodbye to his only friend, Shylock's daughter Jessica. Alternate Character Interpretation has led to many a production implying that he's in love with Jessica, and he masks his sorrow that she chose Lorenzo over him by making some particularly cutting jokes about her parentage (as well as repeatedly trying to one-up Lorenzo in battles of wits).
- Turns up pretty often with Cirque du Soleil, which has a habit of blurring the lines in traditional circus roles. The clown at the center of the "Snowstorm" act in Alegria, who makes and loses a friend that manifests him/herself in his hung-up hat and coat, comes to mind.
- In the 1914 play He Who Gets Slapped by Leonid Andreyev, Baron Regnard plagiarizes the title character's work and steals his wife. To hide from the pain of this experience, "He" runs away to France and joins the circus as a clown. In his act, he plays a great philosopher who is slapped by the rest of the troupe.
- Feste from Twelfth Night is very often played this way, although there's no real evidence for it in the text. It's particularly common for his final song ("For the rain, it raineth every day...") to take on a melancholy slant.
- Raimi Matthews from Broken Saints does not have a happy past, and probably turned into a Deadpan Snarker to dull the pain of reality.
- Sean O'Cann of Survival of the Fittest, to which the above quote applies almost perfectly. Prior to the point in the game (Day 3) that he found out his best friend, boy friend, and cousin died (three different people, before anyone says anything) he still cracked a joke every now and then. Afterward though, Sean begins making all sorts of remarks, not all of which are in the best taste, and sometimes are just plain offensive.
- Evan in Everyman HYBRID is the most affected by the Sanity Slippage caused by the group's dealings with the Slender Man and other assorted problems; he also tries to lighten pretty much every situation, cracking jokes while exploring creepy abandoned buildings or even while dealing with a monster literally hiding in a closet at a friend's house. The latter is likely the best example of his humor backfiring for those around him, as he pulled this after said monster violently assaulted his friend's brother.
- Related to the example below, a lot of the comedy (the character-based, at least) in The Nostalgia Critic is based on how unhappy he is with his life.
- The Nostalgia Chick is also deeply depressed and tries to hide it with Black Comedy and cynical sarcasm.
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Cracking awkward, horribly inappropriate jokes seems to be how Krillin deals with all the crap he's put through.
- Phase of the Whateley Universe. Since he narrates his own novels, the reader gets to see just how emotionally damaged he really is, even though he refuses to admit it to anyone (except the school shrink).
- Teen superhero Clockblocker of Worm is this, as revealed to his therapist.
- Weasel in The Animals of Farthing Wood is constantly making insulting wisecracks, more frequently when they are more inappropriate.
- Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender. His cheerful exterior and fun-loving personality is a way to cope and ignore the guilt he feels for running away from his home and people and getting frozen, allowing the Fire Nation to wage war for a century, wiping out his people. He finally faces his guilt later on when he's mentored by Guru Pathik.
- Iroh counts as well. Underneath his goofy facade, he's just a father grieving the loss of his son. He's also done plenty of things in the past that he's not proud of.
- Beast Boy from the Teen Titans animated series is an insecure and vulnerable kid who constantly uses humour as a defense mechanism.
- X-Men: Evolution has Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, who may as well be the poster-boy for this trope. He's possibly the most sensitive, emotionally vulnerable character on the show (next to Rogue, his adopted sister), and spends a good deal of his time angsting over his appearance (in early episodes) and his mother, Mystique (in later episodes). Nevertheless he is the resident "goof-ball", trying his best to appear the carefree joker when deep down, he's anything but carefree..
- In Batman: The Brave and the Bold Plastic Man admits to this himself in the episode "Cry Freedom Fighters!" after Batman expresses his skepticism about him joining the eponymous team.
Plastic Man: C'mon, Bats. No one's ever wanted me to be a part of their team. Even the League threw me out. Give me a chance to be a part of something—to prove to myself that I'm not a three-time loser.
- Notably not the Flash on Justice League, as illustrated nicely in the episode Flash and Substance. Some people just don't seem to get it.
Orion: I understand now. You play the clown to hide a warrior's pain.
Flash: Dude...the bad guys went down, and nobody got hurt. You know what I call that? A really good day.
- It is possible that the high-energy lifestyle and constant peppiness could be a result of him being aware of how dangerous his powers actually are to himself and the people around him, but it's less about masking angst and more about thoroughly enjoying every moment he gets.
- Some fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic have pegged Pinkie Pie as one of these. In "Party of One", the constantly-cheerful party pony is quick to fall into a funk when she thinks her friends don't want to come to her parties or be friends with her anymore.
- In a more literal example, we have Krusty the Klown from The Simpsons
Homer: Let's tell Krusty! That guy's hilarious!
Marge: I keep telling you, off-camera he's a desperately unhappy man.
- This was also brought up in the episode "Tellow Subterfuge" when Krusty's supervisor asks him why he had become a clown. He simply responded with that he was meant to be one of the sad ones.
- Bart can also be viewed as a sad clown. In "Lisa's Sax", when he was in kindergarten, he was verbally abused by the teacher that told him he would always fail in life when he simply struggled with naming the alphabet, causing him to get depressed and draw a picture of him being dead. However, he cheered up when he started making jokes; this can be further proven given that Bart is constantly abused by Homer and is bullied on a regular basis. At one point he was bullied by the town and attempted suicide in "The Boys of Bummer" as an attempt for forgiveness for failing to catch a baseball that caused the team to lose the match, but still makes jokes and pranks every episode.
- Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Man's wacky jokes and quirky personality are what he uses to shield him from a relentlessly unkind world.
- The hedonistic and womanizing behavior of Glenn Quagmire on Family Guy is largely a way to cope with his failed relationship with Cheryl Tiegs.
- Black Dynamite explored this with when Dynamite had to help Richard Pryor. At one point going into a very scary in-depth look into the comedian's psyche. This was based on Pryor's real life stint with cocaine (though oddly that took place in the 80s. The series is set in the 70s).
- Steven Universe has a brief but emotionally powerful instance in "Too Many Birthdays". Steven loses control of his shapeshifting abilities and is on the brink of death due to the Rapid Aging that ensues. The Crystal Gems make a desperate attempt to save his life by throwing a reverse birthday party (makes sense in context). Pearl (the dignified and intellectual Team Mom) has to put on greasepaint, don a rainbow wig and perform the Pie in the Face routine while (unsuccessfully) trying to hold back her tears.
- Real world crime-scene clean up crews absolutely must treat their gruesome jobs with a snarky sense of humour, otherwise the job's nearly impossible.
- It's startlingly common for comedians to suffer from major depression. Lenny Bruce, Jim Carrey, Owen Wilson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, most of the Pythons, Groucho Marx, Bill Oddie...
- Peter Sellers is a particularly famous example, so much so that a book and film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers was devoted to this.
- Chris Farley. It killed him.
- To wit: Conan O'Brien paid tribute to Farley by playing a clip from a past appearance in which he sang "I'm a Clown, But I Cry".
- John Belushi started doing drugs because being as funny as he was got exhausting.
- Christopher Titus. Stories of his horrific upbringing with an incredibly dysfunctional family and his disastrous love life fuel the majority of his work, and no; he didn't make any of that stuff up.
"This right here
is the difference between paycheck and nightly bed check."
- Russell Brand. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had bulimia as a child. He also used to have terrible cutting incidents and numerous addictions. As he himself puts it, "My biggest problem is that I have lived an autobiography rather than a life."
- John Lennon used his reputation as "the witty Beatle" as a mask to cover up his massive insecurity, to which he even confessed in "I'm A Loser" and "Nowhere Man"—they came to him after five frustrating hours of writer's block.
- Chilean lawyer and reality show star Juan Cristobal Foxley, nicknamed "Dandy Chileno" ("Chilean Dandy"). Article in Spanish is here.
- Richard Lewis. As if it wasn't obvious before he publicly admitted his problems with depression and began making an effort to help others with the same problem.
- A similar thing was done by New Zealand comedian Mike King - who previously experienced substance abuse and depression - in the form of the Nutters' Club radio show, where listeners call in to explain their mental health issues.
- Gene Wilder. Incredibly so. One can even sense a profound sadness in his hammiest performances.
- The Great Zucchini. Wildly successful children's entertainer for people like Sasha and Malia Obama on the one hand; deeply indebted gambling addict desperately trying to hold his life together on the other hand. Thankfully, he got better.
- P. G. Wodehouse parodied this in the foreword for The Clicking of Cuthbert, an anthology of golf-related stories, where he wrote that he didn't fit this trope before, but now he does, because he started playing golf.
- Most people on Channel Awesome are like this. They've gone through depression, abusive relationships and illnesses, but use comedy to tear those taboo subjects down.
- Most notable was Jew Wario, who had one of the cheeriest public personas out of all of them, and wound up committing suicide in early 2014.
- Soviet 1920s-1930s satire writer Mikhail Zoshchenko suffered from severe depression. His semi-autobiographical book Before Sunrise was initially banned by the Soviet censors, as its themes of depression ran against the triumphalism and optimism of Socialist Realism.
- Dave Chappelle, who disappeared from the public eye mostly after his show ended over becoming disinterested in his own material.
- When he was in Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne was considered the "clown" of the group, constantly playing pranks on the other members and performing outrageous stunts and parties to get attention. Once he went solo he became famous for his debauched personal life and shocking onstage antics. His public persona is mostly an act, and in his personal life he has often struggled with depression, anxiety, and alcoholism.
- Stephen Chow is best known for his comedic roles, but away from the camera he's known for being surprisingly humorless and lethargic. A troubled and impoverished childhood might be the cause.
- Shane Dawson his draw my life episode is self explanatory
- Onision has a whole channel dedicated to his troubles.
- Darrell Hammond of Saturday Night Live is famed for his wide variety of impressions and being on SNL for fourteen years (longer than anyone else). His backstory reveals a long history of extreme parental abuse; his mother has been mentioned as slamming his fingers in car doors as a child and cutting his tongue. In fact, he started doing impressions to please his mother to avoid the abuse. Alcoholism, cocaine addiction, and mental illness (he suffers from bipolar disorder, had a long history of self-harm and has sought treatment for schizophrenia) are also part of his backstory. Remarkably, he has still spoken very openly about it and is far more well-adjusted than anyone in his position should be expected to be.
- Kevin Macdonald and Dave Foley of The Kids in the Hall are both this to varying extents. Mac Donald was struggling with depression and a divorce while making the film Brain Candy (ironically about a drug that makes people happy). Foley has been like this since his marriage collapsed, his career declined and he started owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in child support. If he ever returns to his native Canada, he could very well be arrested.
- John Cheese of Cracked has long been like this due to his struggles with alcoholism, poverty, parental abuse and depression. Despite this, his writing often reflects on such things in an extremely funny light and he has repeatedly claimed that he doesn't blame others for his problems and uses his writing to let people in similar situations know that they are not alone and things can get better.
- Marc Maron due to his struggles with Mental illness.
- Sarah Silverman, who has suffered from clinical depression and had a Xanax addiction in her teens.
- Richard Jeni, who committed suicide.
- Seemingly Donald Glover, at least going by his recent work (Because The Internet).
- Patton Oswalt, best explained here.
- Don't call him a sad clown to his face, though.
- David Lange, the Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1984-1989, attributed his acerbic wit to the need to defend himself from being bullied about his weight.
- Matthew Perry, much like his character Chandler Bing who is listed in the TV section. While he played pranks and cracked up the audience on the show, at home he battled a horrible drug addiction and alcoholism which became in his words "a matter of life and death". Even his notoriously close cast-members were unaware of how unhappy he was. He eventually admitted his problems, checked himself into rehab and since then has been a public figure in raising awareness for drug addictions.
- Drew Carey has struggled with bipolar disorder for years and has attempted suicide twice due to the severity.
- Rodney Dangerfield. Good lord, the man just made you want to hug him and tell him "It will all be okay." His memoir "It Ain't Easy Bein' Me" is unbearably sad, detailing his emotionally abusive parents, his initial failure to break into show business, his lifelong struggle with depression, and his genuine self-hatred which he turned into self-deprecating one-liners.
- In a literal example, a fire at the Hartford circus in 1944 killed 167 people. The tragedy is often called "The Day The Clown Cried" (not to confused with the infamous movie).
- Mexican actor and comedian Mario Moreno aka "Cantinflas".
- Robin Williams struggled with severe bipolar disorder and alcoholism. He eventually committed suicide at age 63.
- YouTube gamer CinnamonToastKen released a video explaining his battle with depression and the pressures he and other players face. Ken is known to his fans for his upbeat sense of humor.