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Socially-Awkward Hero
Jake Fischer: You gotta make a move!
Billy Hodge: I can't. I get nervous.
Jake Fischer: You wanna jump outta helicopters, but you're afraid to go talk to a girl?
Billy Hodge: Uh, pretty much, yeah.

A Socially Awkward Hero is a heroic character who shows tremendous courage in the face of life-threatening danger... but becomes overwhelmed with knees-knocking fear in ordinary social situations. For such a character, confronting a legion of sociopaths and a chainsaw-wielding maniac is far more preferable to meeting his girlfriend's family or making idle chitchat at a cocktail party. Extremely common in shows for the kid and teen audiences, since viewers of that age often feel socially awkward themselves.

This is to some extent Truth in Television; studies have shown that social situations can be stressful in the extreme, and that people can prefer death to public embarrassment; but even that being considered, some examples of this seem to be parodies of this concept nonetheless.

Often a feature of the Defective Detective, Ambiguous Disorder. Compare/Contrast This Loser Is You and Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World. See also No Social Skills.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Sousuke Sagara from Full Metal Panic! is one due to being raised by the KGB. He isn't actually afraid of socializing, he's just terrible at it.
  • Dragon Ball's Goku is an example as well due to being "Raised by Wolves" and Oblivious to Love (Chi Chi pretty much had to pound it into him or else he might had remained single his entire life). Note however that Goku in no way knows that he is socially awkward, is never in the slightest anxious about social situations, and is in fact very extroverted and friendly.
    • Gohan and Goten are also somewhat socially awkward, but in a completely different way then Goku. They're very friendly, but they're also quite shy (especially Gohan).
  • Jacuzzi Splot of Baccano! is prone to breaking down into tears at the mere attempt to introduce himself to new people. Crippling social anxiety, however, doesn't prevent him from single-handedly raiding eighteen mafia-run speakeasies in one night.
  • Miu from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple fits this trope prior to meeting Kenichi. She does well at school, has good skills in housework, and is a fairly decent fighter, but due to her intense training and her social awkwardness (she instinctively hits Kenichi in their first meeting when the latter was approaching behind her while running towards school), she's never had any friends.
    • Kenichi himself fits this trope somewhat too, as his only real "friend" prior to the start of the series is a Manipulative Bastard who will suck up to whoever's the strongest at the time, whether its one of the bullies, or later, Kenichi himself.
  • Bertolt Hoover of Attack on Titan is awkward in social situations, but he's ranked 3rd in his class and an exceptional soldier. Surprisingly, he turns out to be a villainous example.
  • Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion isn't just shy and awkward, but quite probably suffers from an undiagnosed case of Avoidant Personality Disorder. This doesn't stop him from becoming the best Eva pilot midway through the series.
  • Fate of Lyrical Nanoha rarely loses her cool when risking her life in battle but is very easily flustered in social situations thanks to having been raised in a lonely and abusive household before being adopted by Lindy. She gets better with this in her adulthood, though she still has moments of awkwardness.
  • Shinnosuke Arisu from Apocalypse Alice is so used to danger that his classmate believes him to be unafraid entirely, and his lack of social skills isn't obvious due to him being The Gadfly who gains control of the situation by teasing others. However, when that fails, he's horribly awkward. Case in point: karaoke is nerve-wracking enough for him to the point where he feels as if he were on a life-threatening mission.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman, at least as written by Chuck Dixon, doesn't really have a clue how to behave like a Rich Idiot with No Day Job in his civilian identity, and finds hosting a Wayne Foundation party more stressful than taking on the Joker. Grant Morrison's take on the character has elements of this as well.
  • Samaritan from Astro City suffers from this when his super-heroic peers maneuver him into a dinner date with Winged Victory.
  • When Spider-Man was created, this was a revolutionary concept; a superhero who's an awkward loser in high school. Ironically, he became so popular that this spilled over and became the norm.
  • Marv from Sin City is a Socially Awkward Anti-Hero. Ignoring his violent tendencies, even in his more civilized moods, he is socially inept, particularly when it comes to women — and being ugly as sin didn't really help his case either. This is why he was a virgin until late in life.
    • John Hartigan is a lesser example. His scenes with Nancy Callhan are awkward since she is throwing herself at him but he tries to remain celebate since there is a huge age-gap between them. Later, when his narration states "When it comes to consoling a nineteen year old girl, I'm as competent as a palsy victim performing brain surgery with a hammer."
  • Scott Pilgrim is this trope. He has shown fighting enemies here and there, being evil ex-boyfriends of Ramona, or mooks, and he's always shown to be a confident, if incompetent, musician in his band. Whenever Stephen Stills has a nervous breakdown, Kim and Scott always are holding the helm of the band. But put it on talking of his past, or about relationships, or even the future, and his awkwardness gets over the mark, with stutters, avoiding themes and generally being an ADHD kid. He's maturing out of this, of course. There's also the possibility that he's an unreliable narrator.
    • Beyond Scott, most of his friends also have their own problems. Kim Pine is somewhat misanthropic and insecure. Steven Stills suffers from neurosis and is hinted to get himself into mildly abusive relationships. Ramona Flowers has her insecurity regarding her situations.
  • In a Teen Titans issue, when Kory and Donna were discussing boyfriend woes, Donna asked Raven for her opinion. Keep in mind, Raven is a a demon's daughter who was basically raised in isolation, with her main (and almost only) interaction a really old woman. Raven lampshades this:
    Raven: I... do not know. I-I... am ill at ease with social protocols.

    Film 
  • The page quote is from a coast-guard themed movie called The Guardian.
  • Hancock after years of manic depression, drunkenness, and generally being ostracized by the people he tries to help. Taking the advice given to him to heart, he says "good job" to every cop he sees and asks their permission to save them from a hail of bullets.
  • Batman is portrayed as such in the Tim Burton Batman movies. In his Bruce Wayne persona, he is noticeably awkward, and unsure how to act in social situations, contrasting with the charismatic Rich Idiot with No Day Job from the comics, although this IS Depending on the Writer. During his date with Vicki in the first film, he effectively has to go get Alfred to help him chat her up.
  • In The Sea Hawk: "Him what's taken whole fleets of Spanish ships, can't say a word to a slip of a girl."
  • Transformers: Ladies and Gentlemen...Sam Witwicky. He has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth, and the girls seem to dig that about him. The writers did state their inspiration for Sam's character was basically Marty McFly-on crack. Also helps that Sam is played by Shia LaBeouf.
    Ms. Witwicky: And remember, son: if you meet any girls, make sure to stammer and act as awkwardly as possible around them. Model-hot women inexplicably find that attractive in the movies - it worked for Lloyd Dobbler! Bye!
  • Steve Rogers from Captain America: The First Avenger, even after receiving the Super Soldier serum. Due to his pre-transformation small stature, Steve was very shy and intimidated by women and his apprehensiveness remains as Captain America, even as women throw themselves at his feet.
  • Melvin of The Big Hit is this in spades. Shooting up a room full of armed men is easy. Entertaining your in-laws... that makes him chug Maalox.
  • Lampshaded in Agent Cody Banks as the director of the CIA demands to know how they spent ten million dollars turning a teenager into a super spy capable of extreme feats of athleticism and combat and somehow they neglected to train him in how to talk to girls. Which is kinda important considering his entire mission is to get close to a scientist's extremely beautiful daughter.

    Literature 
  • Sharpe: This is one of his defining characteristics.
  • Harry Potter has a moment of this in book 4: After facing a fierce and dangerous Hungarian Horntail in the first task, he finds himself thinking that "now that he was facing the prospect of asking a girl to the ball, he thought he'd rather have another round with the dragon." (He later manages to pick up two girls, spontaneously, at once. One to go with him and one with Ron, just so we're clear.) He also feels embarrassed or uncomfortable with excess attention from his peers due to his fame, and confides solely to his two best friends throughout most of the series.
  • In The Pale King, Lane Dean attempts to converse with his fellow IRS employees during his fifteen minute break, and fails miserably.
  • Kambili, from Purple Hibiscus can't hold a conversation with girls her own age, even though she desperately wants to.
  • Tiffany Aching from the Discworld books may have bested the Queen of the Elves at age nine in The Wee Free Men, but in that same book she admits she doesn't always "get" people, and she's quite at sea at her first coven meeting in A Hat Full of Sky.
  • Doc Savage was raised from birth to be a hero and is both the greatest athlete and intellect on the planet, however, he has no idea how to deal with women. He does better with men, though.
  • John Carter believes in this trope, lamenting how often a man's skill in battle is inversely proportional to his skill with women. He includes himself in this category.
  • Harry Dresden practically owns this trope. Despite having a crush on Murphy, it took him until the end of Changes to actually broach the topic. That's more than a decade in real-world time. He has a major chivalrous streak that gets him in all kinds of trouble, though he's mostly set it aside. In his own words, he's essentially a magic nerd. There is also other key issues. As Harry is about 6'9" tall, he must move carefully or hurt someone. He can short out any technology from a radius of 100 feet on a good day, and so spends a lot of time avoiding electronics. To avoid soulgazes, he never looks anybody directly in the eye. In a side story from Murphy's point of view, she mentions he gives the impression of being mildly autistic.
    • It doesn't help that he hangs out with Thomas Raith. White Court Vampires are actually irresistible, so much that Thomas can't get a muggle job because he keeps getting his bones jumped.
    • While definitely an example of the trope, Harry and Murphy had realized their mutual attraction to one another some time after the events of Death Masks (as Murphy was "dating" Kincaid by then), but neither acted on it as they were rarely both single at the same time and didn't want to jeopardize their friendship.
  • Malcolm Reed in the Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch novel Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, even more so than in the TV series. He admits that he has a lot of trouble making new friends, and his promotion to captain puts him in charge of an entire crew that he doesn't know. Also, he has recently found out that he may never be able to have children due to the recently discovered negative effects of excessive transporter usage, which causes him to become a lot more reserved. Only by having the very gregarious Travis Mayweather as a first officer is he able to eventually connect with his new crew, and he is even surprisingly open about his reasons when he apologises for distancing himself from them.
  • The Lost Fleet series gives us Captain (later Admiral) John Geary. Excellent tactician and leader of men, unimpeachable personal honour, Cannot Talk to Women if his life depends on it.

    Live Action TV 
  • Dexter doesn't just have trouble relating to people, he DOESN'T relate to people. Though most acquaintances see him as normal enough, for Dexter, maintaining the image of a normal, everyday person with regular emotions and no hidden urge to kidnap, murder, and chop people to bloody bits can be an extremely stressful task.
  • Monk. He and his psychiatrist get kidnapped, tied to chairs and thrown in a truck, and Monk's upset because the psychiatrist is on his left when he usually sits to his right.
  • Gil Grissom on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
  • Temperance Brennan on Bones
  • Cal Lightman in Lie to Me.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer seemed to do this once a season or so.
    • Angel was even more socially-awkward. "I've got two modes with people - bite and avoid."
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor, in his 11th incarnation, is outgoing, but still awkward. He occasionally comes across as a Chaste Hero — he's Master of the Mixed Message and basically goes stock-still and squeaky when kissed. When he spent a few days renting a room from an ordinary human, he ruined his landlord's attempt to have a romantic evening with a nice girl, and he started delivering a huge lecture about pacifism when encouraged to "annihilate" the other team in a football(/soccer) game, before embarrassedly realizing he was just being encouraged to defeat them.
    • Other incarnations have elements of this as well. Sometimes, it's because he's not human. Other times, it's because he's just like that. Usually, he gets by deftly on the few social skills he has. In "Midnight", however, they backfire on the Tenth Doctor in a chilling way that nearly kills him.
  • Seinfeld:
    "According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."
  • Doctor Gregory House.
  • Criminal Minds: Dr. Spencer Reid. He can rattle out an impromptu profile to a dangerous serial killer, but always finds himself stumbling words around a pretty girl.
  • Burn Notice has Michel Weston, a man who always knows what to say and do in any life threatening situation, but doesn't know how to deal with friends or family.
  • On Leverage Parker is this, able to jump off a building or do carwheels through a laser security system, she is unable to make smalltalk when she is given jury duty and when she tries to seduce a mark she ends up stabbing him with a fork. She also is unable to admit her feelings for Hardison and ends up saying that she has feelings for pretzels.
  • Reginald Barclay in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager saved the Enterprise at least twice and was significantly helpful to Voyager, yet had such social difficulty that an entire episode was dedicated to Geordi trying to arrest his withdrawal into a holographic fantasyland.
    • To be fair, said episode was his first appearance, before he was able to develop into the character that did all those other things.
  • Lt. Colonel John Sheppard and Dr. Rodney McKay of Stargate Atlantis would rather pilot an exploding moon (no, really) or rewrite the city's base code from scratch than deal with interpersonal relationships. McKay is pretty upfront about this, but Sheppard's a bit of a surprise, given how charming he comes off to strangers. It makes it all the more impressive when either one makes the effort to let their team know how much their friendship means to them.

    Music 
  • The protagonist of the Temptations song "Can't Get Next to You" has apparently won the Superpower Lottery but still can't, well, get next to the girl of his dreams. (Possibly not-quite-an-example as we don't know whether the guy ever uses his powers for heroism.)

    Theatre 
  • Arthur in the beginning of the Camelot musical, there's even a song about it!
  • Cyrano de Bergerac. Kill a man in a swordfight to the death while composing a poem about it? It's what he lives for. Admit any kind of romantic affection? Too scary for him.

    Video Games 
  • It is an informed aspect of Henry Townshend of Silent Hill 4. His neighbors think of him as a shut-in, which is why it takes a while for anyone to worry that he hasn't left his apartment in days. (It's up to the player whether Henry is a brave slayer of monsters or runs away from everything he sees, so this trope can be played straight or subverted.)
  • Kaede from the Sonohana series is her girlfriend Sara's princely protector, even to the point of having been an active Bully Hunter as a little girl. She also has crippling social anxiety that causes any public attention or praise to be nearly unbearable to her; only her love for Sara can get her to charge in and defend her.
    • It took her until near the end of the second game to remember her childhood with Sara, implying that she acquired that anxiety after Sara's earlier departure.
  • In Borderlands 2, Roland has a penchant for the heroic speech and is a good enough leader to have a formidable army under his command. However, he tends to come off as somewhat socially awkward and emotionally distant when communicating on a more personal level.
    • Especially apparent in the ECHO logs detailing his interactions with his Badass Action Girl Love Interest Lilith.
    • The whole "emotionally distant" thing is mostly just him trying to be professional, what with him always calling the player "soldier". Him being awkward around Lilith is probably just him uncomfortable about their break-up brought on by him wanting things to remain professional.
  • Aveline Vallen in Dragon Age II turns into this during her Matchmaker Quest. She can handle bandits, blood mages and demons galore, but loses all verbal communication skills when it comes to Donnic. To be fair, she used to be married - the awkwardness comes in part from being violently widowed and burying herself into her new job for four years.
  • The final Mass Effect 3 DLC, "Citadel", shows what the galaxy's most lethal (and dysfunctional) soldiers do in their downtime. Several of them have been in training since childhood and hardly any have what you'd call good social skills. Case in point: Miranda Lawson has escaped an abusive father, raised the dead and survived a Suicide Mission by this point, but admits she has no idea what to do on a "normal" night out with a friend.
    • Then there's Garrus, one of the biggest badasses the Turian Hierarchy ever produced, who thinks "Come here often? I imagine anyone who does is probably an alcoholic" is exactly the right thing to say when trying to pick a girl up at the bar.
    • Tali, and to a lesser extent Liara, had this characterisation from the beginning of the franchise, with Tali's romance in Mass Effect 2 having a high enough dose of stuttering awkwardness to risk a drive core breach. Oddly enough, in the Citadel meetups those two are among the most functional, probably because they've known Shepard long enough to get over it.
  • Miles "Tails" Prower and Blaze the Cat from Sonic the Hedgehog. Tails is a shy kid with a love of machines and an alienatingly advanced vocabulary, while Blaze is more naturally reclusive and serious and has pyrokinetic powers that can frighten bystanders. Both were teased as children for these qualities, and both kick ass regardless.
  • Rosangela Blackwell from the Blackwell series. Helping ghosts move on to the afterlife? Easy. Interacting with the living? Not so much.

    Webcomics 
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Antimony Carver has elements of this. She'll fearlessly rush off to help someone with a supernatural problem, but she tends to stand around in awkward silence during public social situations.
  • Elliot from El Goonish Shive.
  • In The Beast Legion: While joiningg Fyre to defeat the Shadow Minions, Xeus shows just how socially awkward he can get in Here and Here.
  • And then there's Kimiko Ross of Dresden Codak. She is perfectly willing to throw down with time colonists or government conspiracies, but as for social situations, well, just take a look at this.
  • This Werewolf: The Apocalypse fancomic. As the author comments "In my groups, this is why the Garou seem so heroic all the time. The truth is that the risk of being simultaneously skinned, raped and eaten from the inside out doesn't seem half as bad as having to talk to an actual person."

    Web Original 
  • Alexis from A Grey World can keep a cool head in a fight, but don't ask her to buy a coffee without severe angst. Her social anxiety is from a Friendless Background and history of bullying.
  • Taylor, the protagonist of Worm, starts out very shy and inept at most forms of social interaction, but over the course of the story, she gains confidence in herself and becomes and an adept manipulator. Even then, however, many of her neuroses linger, and she is almost pathologically incapable of trusting anyone else.
    • Armsmaster's general personality and fall from grace are informed by his almost pathological inability to relate to other people or avoid committing social faux-pas. Later on he has to be literally coached through a conversation in real time to avoid saying the wrong things to a grief-stricken local sheriff.
  • Egg is, without a doubt, one of the most heroic people around on AJCO, but stutters and stammers her way through any and all forms of social interaction and has always done so.
    • Worth noting that while she might not be the best at conversation, she's getting alarmingly good at persuasion and diplomacy...

    Western Animation 
  • Kim Possible. Taking down supervillains comes easy for her. Asking the boy she has a crush on to the school dance is another issue entirely, although she is a popular student and cheerleader. Her sidekick Ron, however, is neither, but still has the problem of social awkwardness.
  • Robin in the Teen Titans cartoon. In one episode he is forced to accompany a villain's daughter to prom, and is envious of the teammates who are merely tasked with stopping said villain.
  • Avatar The Last Airbender: Zuko has never had any opportunity to become normally socialized as part of a Big Screwed-Up Family, but he does improve a bit once he has his Heel-Face Turn and joins the True Companions. Stoic silence serves him in good stead while he's Walking the Earth in season two.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic gives us two examples:
    • Fluttershy is unafraid to walk right up to manticores or three-headed hell hounds, but she's overwhelmed at social gatherings or meeting new ponies. "Hurricane Fluttershy" in particular has Fluttershy afraid to take part in strengthening a tornado by flying along its edges, not because it's a tornado, but because she's worried other ponies will make fun of her if she doesn't fly fast enough.
    • Twilight Sparkle as well. Her social anxiety isn't as crippling as Fluttershy's, but it's somewhat telling that Princess Celestia had to order her to make some friends.
  • Danny Phantom. He was already pretty awkward before getting his powers, but especially when he first gets them he has a hard time controlling them causing him to "randomly" trip or sink into objects, turn his eyes green, and other stuff that might further harm what little reputation he has.
  • Dipper Pines from Gravity Falls. Especially when it comes to trying to impress his crush, Wendy; he came up with an extremely convoluted twenty point plan just to ask her to dance with him at a party.

    Real Life 
  • Again, arguably Truth in Television. People will be much more afraid of the way their peers will judge them for, say, taking a cab home after leaving a party drunk, than of the life threatening danger of driving their own cars home in that state. Back in the Old Days, a man would rather risk life and limb in a duel with horribly random pistols when challenged, rather than face the public shame and the reputation for cowardice, weakness and unmanliness that would come from doing the sensible thing, i.e. telling the challenger to go screw themselves and simply refusing the challenge.
    • Quite a few of those examples seem to fall at one particular end of the Sliding Scale of Testosterone versus Common Sense. In general though, strong adherence to various social mores is what makes human society work. Guilt and shame have very little purpose for loners, but instead serve to keep an individual working within the confines of a social structure. Also why people who do not experience them are often alarming and dangerous, or powerful and charismatic depending on what they do.
      • Many studies have shown that the main thing that keeps people working efficiently in dangerous occupations is fear of being rejected by their True Companions. That is, a fireman may become a fireman To Save Lives. However when he rushes into a burning building it is most likely for his buddies, not for the people he is rescuing.
  • Apparently Johnny Depp is like this. He can talk to you for hours as one of his characters, but will shy away from anyone who wants to talk to him personally.
  • Peter Sellers claimed he could be anybody but himself.
  • Regina Spektor can perform in front of thousands, but off the stage she can barely muster the courage to speak to you. Her shyness and social awkwardness is very apparent in interviews.
  • Freddie Mercury of all people. One of the most flamboyant entertainers ever to walk the Earth, he was a very shy and reclusive person offstage.
  • Caleb West, although not competitive in any way, liked to box, and would spar with anyone. Even if he knew he would get pounded into the ground. He had the same attitude about problems and obstacles in life, except when it came to women.

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