"Why is everyone so fucking stupid? Why aren't more people interrigent, like me?"
Evil help is hard to find. How else can you explain how the Evil Overlord
's Dragon is a complete nincompoop
are all dimwits
who graduated from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy
, the elite special forces consist of a Quirky Mini Boss Squad
, and all the ninjas are standing around in plain sight
or queuing up to attack the heroes one at a time
Sometimes, it seems like the lead antagonist has deliberately chosen the most incompetent, craven, cowardly, or just plain unreliable underlings around... the trope often culminates in a Dragon
that, instead of being the best of what the lower ranks has to offer, seems to be a living distillation of everything that makes the incompetent underlings what they are
. This version is often punctuated by having the right-hand man actually secretly trying to undermine
the Evil Overlord
, but just too incompetent to be a real threat.
Of course, the simplest answer for why the evil master is surrounded by idiots is because you'd have
to be stupid to work for him. The underlings' being Too Dumb to Live
may well explain why they continue to work for an abusive employer
, but we still have to wonder why the Evil Overlord
hired them in the first place. We can't pretend he's not aware of his hirelings' shortcomings, since he never hesitates to exclaim about them: "FOOLS
! CRETINS! BUNGLERS!" (there always seems to be a basic formula of Mild Insult! Not-So-Mild Insult! EXTREME INSULT!
, if it's not a case of Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking
), sometimes, "It's so hard to find good help these days..." and of course, the oft-repeated Trope Naming line, "I'm surrounded by idiots!" - sometimes accompanied by a Facepalm
. Sometimes after one too many failures tend to say "If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself!" and then proceeds to do far better at any given mission than his underlings have ever done, making you wonder why he didn't just do this in the first place.
Occasionally, one of them will respond to this exclamation by looking around and asking, "Where?
This trope even made the Evil Overlord List
Of course, one possible explanation may be that smart minions tend to try to take over...
or perhaps any minion might be trying to take over, but a smart one might actually succeed.
When the boss
is an incompetent dolt, you have a General Failure
or a Pointy-Haired Boss
Truth in Television
in distilled form. Just ask anyone with a day job (or any gifted public high school student that has ever had to work in a group). See also Conservation of Competence
. Polar opposite of it is Surrounded by Smart People
. Contrast Too Dumb to Fool
. If the character being surrounded by idiots lashes out on them, then it's Enraged By Idiocy
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Anime and Manga
- Another hero example: Orphen repeatedly utters this sentence (and variants) in the manga of the same name. You can't really blame him, though, since he is surrounded by nothing but loads and millstones.
- Not quite a direct example, but Hotaru's various idiot-bashing tools, anyone?
- It's straighter than you think. The Idiot Cannon only works on idiots. She uses it in almost every fight scene on almost everyone.
- In the case of Unsui in Eyeshield 21, he was surrounded by perverts. But in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, this trope is played straight and he seems to be on the verge of saying this.
- In Pokémon, Giovanni often has to put up with the Team Rocket trio (Jessie, James, and Meowth) and often will comment on their stupidity.
- From Eroica with Love's Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach feels that this trope is in effect, but in reality his hapless subordinates are actually fairly competent (most of them, anyway), it's just that he has ridiculously high standards.
- The Second Mizukage of Naruto after being resurrected was incredibly pissed at how none of the shinobi he was fighting would stop attacking the mirages he created and find his actual body.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion has an odd take on this. Witch Homura, and later Akuma Homura, intentionally creates the "Clara Doll" minions to represent parts of her personality, with upbeat names like Blockhead, Laziness, and Vanity. She certainly believes herself to be the sum total of these nasty traits, but the accuracy of her self-loathing (one of the minions is Pessimism) is up for debate.
- Doctor Doom, of course, has pulled it more than once. Then again, Doom has it harder than most — in his eyes — as everyone who isn't Doom fits this quote...
"My greatest flaw. I surround myself with idiots."
- Dr. Light (The hero) was the overly serious member of the late 80s "bwa-ha-ha" Justice League. She said this a lot.
- Lex Luthor's flunkies, back in the day, tended to be dunces and were sometimes played for comic relief. They also might make Heel Face Turns. Otis and Miss Tessmacher are actually quite faithful to this type in the comics.
- Subverted in Empowered where Thugboy and the other self-dubbed Witless Minions pretended to be this to aspiring supervillians so they could fleece their high-tech equipment (and administer some quick, unexpected justice whenever a supervillain tried to cross the Moral Event Horizon). It went pretty well for them for a while, then It Got Worse - So, SO Much Worse.
- Astérix: General Cantankerus once described his troops as "They're all quite thick, and I'm their leader! [sobs]"
- Iznogoud: Or, more often than not, by crazies. Special mention to the palace guards. Iznogoud even lampshades this several times:
Iznogoud: Can't we just fire all crazy people from this palace?!
Dilat: Sure, boss, but who would be in charge of doing this?
- In the Superior Spider-Man run, Otto Octavius (in Peter Parker's body) often consider everyone he ever meets to be an idiot. Then again, he is a genius.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- In the Live-Action Adaptation of 101 Dalmatians
Cruella: Congratulations. You three have just won the Gold, Silver, and Bronze in the Morons Olympics!
- Austin Powers, of course, supplies us with this quote:
Doctor Evil: Why must I constantly be surrounded by frickin' idiots?
- Used in the trailer for Goldmember as well, by the narrator.
'He is brilliant. He is deadly. And he is still surrounded by frickin' idiots.
- Of course he's not too smart himself... Number Two and Scott fit this more.
- In BEACH PARTY (Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon), the world's least scary motorcycle gang leader, Eric von Zipper, declares toward the end of the film that he has "an army of stupids." Not that he has much room to talk.
- In the movie Becket, when Henry II sends some loyal members of his court to arrest the Turbulent Priest, Becket not only refuses to plead to the charges but manages to turn the tables on his accusers by reminding them that he's their spiritual father and threatening their souls if they arrest him on false accusations. Henry II, watching this turn of events from afar, breaks down laughing and says in amazement, "He's made mincemeat of them. I'm surrounded by fools! Becket is the only intelligent man in my kingdom and he's against me."
- In Bickford Schmecklers Cool Ideas, the eponymous character gives what may be one of the best diss lines ever:
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As Butch, Sundance, and their employer are on a mission to pick up a payroll, Butch and Sundance are watching for an ambush. The employer says "Morons. I've got morons on my team.", and explains that no one will ambush them because they don't have the money yet.
- Get Shorty. Very few people not named Chili Palmer consider the consequences of their actions or the possibility that they might not be as smart/sneaky/powerful as they think they are.
- In Guardians of the Galaxy, during the Kyln prison break, an exasperated Gamora comes to this conclusion.
Gamora: I am going to die surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy.
- In 1993 film Hocus Pocus:
Winifred: WHY? Why was I cursed with such IDIOT sisters?
Sarah: Just lucky, I guess
- In the film adaptation of Holes, after 4 days of digging in the same wrong spot in order to find Kate Barlow's loot, the Warden starts to lose her patience with the diggers and both Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski's incompetence, leaving the scene while uttering:
Warden: I'm surrounded by Cow Turds.
- Lawrence of Arabia. After attempting to discuss the uniqueness of Lawrence's face with his minions, they simply don't get what he's talking about. The Turkish Bey laments to Lawrence that he's "surrounded by cattle. If I [he] were posted to the dark side of the moon, I [he] could not be more isolated."
- The opinionated general in Mars Attacks! seems to think he's the Only Sane Man in the White House.
General: Liberals! Peacemongers! IDIOTS!
- Mr. Vandegelder seems to believe this in The Matchmaker, as he states directly to the audience "Ninety-nine percent of the world is populated by fools. And the few that aren't are in grave danger of being overcome by them". Dolly apparently believes it to be the case as well, to a degree, though she feels it's equally foolish to try to separate one's self from them ("A fool among fools, or a fool alone?").
- In Merlin, Vortigern wonders aloud "Why is it that I surround myself with a bunch of incompetent fools?"
- This is the same guy who prides himself on acting before thinking, which is precisely what causes his downfall (pun intended).
- In the New Zealand road movie, Snakeskin, the leader of the skinheads proclaims,
Speed: Terry your brother is a fucking idiot. You're a fuckin' idiot too, I'M SURROUNDED BY FUCKING IDIOTS!
- There's a non-villainous version in Paint Your Wagon, with the missionary expressing disgust at the inhabitants of No-Name City. ("Boozers! Gluttons! Gamblers! Harlots! FORNICATORS!") But his insults fall on deaf ears, partly because the townspeople are proud of their degeneracy and partly because they don't know what a "fornicator" is.
- In Spaceballs, everyone working for Dark Helmet is an asshole. At least, they have the surname Asshole. (The novelization bowdlerises this to "idiots". And the TV Edit substitutes Moron.)
Dark Helmet: "How many Assholes we got on this ship, anyway?"
Dark Helmet: "I knew it. I'm surrounded by Assholes." [closes faceplate] "Keep firing, Assholes!"
- Elijah Kalgan wants you to know that his Space Mutiny is being undermined by his own disciples. His words, not ours.
- Justified in The Spirit as the Mad Scientist villain can create cloned (e.g. expendable) henchmen, but not cloned henchmen who are smart. One attempt to do so creates a bouncing foot...man...thing. Which is just plain damn weird.
- In Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), Lex Luthor had Otis. "It's amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving."
- Possibly originated, certainly codified by The Three Stooges. "I'm surrounded by morons!" could have been Moe's Catch Phrase if he hadn't had so many of them...
- Evil, the Big Bad in Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits, is surrounded by incompetent henchmen. At one point, he says to one of them who's just said something particularly idiotic, "Oh, my dear Benson, you are so mercifully free of the ravages of intelligence." This is likely his own doing, however, as both of the mooks who dare to raise serious questions about Evil's plan are blown to smithereens.
- Averted in The Wicker Man.
Lord Summerisle: You did it beautifully!
- Smee, first mate of the Jolly Roger in every adaptation of Peter Pan, is portrayed as cowardly and bumbling, a little bit too jovial for a member of Hook's crew, and in the live-action "sequel" Hook, is all too happy to run off with his pockets full of treasure when things start going badly.
- Terry Pratchett likes this one.
- Evil Harry Dread in the Discworld book The Last Hero deliberately chooses his underlings for their stupidity, and they quickly kill themselves in battle. He's a traditionalist: "if I surround myself with morons, as I'm supposed to, then the hero will let me get away, like he's supposed to." It's just Terry Pratchett's usual method of taking things to the breaking point to make a joke.
- Carcer in Night Watch, especially after he becomes Captain of the Palace Guard. This is somewhat justified, in that "[Carcer's men] hated Keel with that gnawing, nerve-sapping hatred that only the mediocre can really bring to bear, and that was useful."
- Exactly the same joke/point is made in Guards! Guards!!, an earlier Discworld novel which also stars Vimes.
- Ignatius Reilly, the protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces, views his fellow citizens of New Orleans as such. Inverted to a degree, in that Ignatius himself is very foolish and has some serious Mommy Issues.
- Pavel Kazakov, Big Bad of the Dale Brown novel Warrior Class, says "I'm surrounded by cowards and incompetents" after Tin Men take over one of his oil tankers.
- Redwall's Cluny the Scourge muses on this trope in the first book, and decides that putting up with stupidity from his followers is worth the utter obedience he gets because they're too dim to think for themselves.
- In Animorphs Visser Three has an instant solution to any idiots around him - and it's not pretty. Thing is, though, he's not very tolerant of any failure, and is prone to executing his subordinates for anything from letting the Animorphs escape to reminding him that bugs exist.
- In The Return, Sixth Ranger Traitor David recruits a pair of thugs to do his dirty work, seeing as how he's now trapped in rat morph. They're not very bright, though, and David laments their idiocy several times. Eventually, they even end up turning on him.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire Cersei laments this, unaware that the reason is she's driven away or ignored everyone with good advice.
- In Winnie-the-Pooh, this was A.A. Milne's explanation for why Eeyore is depressed.
- In the Rainbow Magic series, Jack Frost often complains about this. It backfires on him in the movie, where he gets smarter henchmen... who betray him.
- In Harry Potter Severus Snape, the Potion teacher, repeatedly laments that very few, if any, of his students are up to his standards of intellect. To their faces. It becomes a vicious circle, because the environment of constant ridicule and deprecation without any kind of aid or approval from the teacher does not lend to productive education, thus causing children to make mistakes and earn even more insults. In some cases, Neville Longbottom in particular, fear of him makes students so nervous that they're simply so stupefied in terror that can't do their work properly, and thus earning his wrath.
- In The White Rose, the third book of Black Company series by Glen Cook, published in 1985, near the end of the book exactly this occurs: "Idiots" the Lady murmured. "I'm surrounded by idiots. Even the Tree is a dolt".
Live Action TV
- A heroic example is seen in Dads Army with Captain Mainwaring's initial opinion of his men (the joke being that some of them probably feel exactly the same about him). As he states in the episode "Gorilla Warfare"-
: You know, Wilson, over the years that I've come to know the members of the platoon, I've grown quite fond of them. But I can't help feeling sometimes that I'm in charge of a bunch of idiots.
- Edmund Blackadder IS this trope, at least from second season onward. Everyone except the title character is either insane, stupid, or both.
- At one point, during a first season episode of MST3K, Joel Robinson, prompted by yet another difficult wrangling of the robots, declares in anger 'I'm surrounded by idiots, of my own design!'
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- In the first episode that he appears in, Spike explains his lack of perimeter guards to Angel this way.
- Twilight's Co-Dragons include Warren and Amy, and while they are not idiots, their bickering causes him a lot of headaches and trouble, and makes him Facepalm a few times.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Lonzak, in The Adventures of Captain Proton! holoprogram, is an homage to this trope. His bungling gives Mad Scientist Dr Chaotica a frequent opportunity to emote his famous "FOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLL!" line. Lampshaded also when Janeway (posing as Queen Arachnia) is trying to get Chaotica to lower his Lightning Shield so Captain Proton (Tom Paris) can attack.
Chaotica: (suspicious) "Why this preoccupation with the Shield?"
Chaotica: "Ah. Because of the incompetence of your inferiors, no doubt!"
Janeway: "Something like that."
- Jerry Seinfeld when plot developments start getting out of control, although his default mode is the Unfazed Everyman.
- In the original Disney Zorro TV series, the evil commandant of the pueblo at one point actually said, verbatim, "I'm surrounded by incompetents!" Until I read this page, I heard that line as "I'm surrounded by incompetence."
- Aeryn in Farscape references this when she considers who on board Moya is worth keeping. Running down the list, Crichton eventually gets annoyed enough to suggest she just have the whole ship to herself. Aeryn's response: "Mmm. Is that an offer?" Ironically, when one of the people she believes should have left Moya apparently dies later that episode, she reacts with open horror. Guess she was just in a bad mood.
- King Arthur and Father Blaise in Kaamelott. Every time there's a Round Table recap of "heroics".
- Doctor Who. The Ogrons, ape-like minions of the Master and the Daleks, are a literal version of this trope.
- Oddly, that's more of an Informed Ability, as they actually are fairly effective minions, able to hold their own against human soldiers or guerillas as well as draconians.
- In the Eighth Doctor Adventures, Sabbath's minions are an assortment of normal (but seemingly fairly well-trained; they can handle guns) Earth apes. They seem to be about as clever as can be expected, but don't comprehend video cameras and get scared if they hear one producing an imitation of his voice, suggesting he's a bit of a Bad Boss to them.
- Queen Katrika, in Trial of a Time Lord uses this one almost by name while wandering round lost in the underground.
- Harrison Chase from "The Seeds of Doom" declares this twice in one episode.
- The Doctor himself sometimes complains about the human race in this way.
- In an episode of Babylon 5, Emperor Cartagia comments that while he is infallible, he has to put up with everyone else making mistakes.
- This is Reba Hart's default expression. (The other one is "I hate your living guts.")
- On The Wire, Stringer Bell increasingly feels like this, which prompts his "40 Degree Day" speech. Even after that, some of his Mooks *still* don't get it. In an interview, Dennis Lehane, who wrote the episode, said he wrote that speech specifically to embody this trope.
- Beautifully lampshaded in Sanctuary after Magnus beats the crap out of a mook, steals his gun, and points it at the boss.
Forsythe: Why? Why do I even hire these guys?
- Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones is a rare case of a Big Bad who, while unhappy about the situation, is aware of his subordinates' tendency toward idiocy and accepts it as a fact of life. That doesn't stop him from berating them for their incompetence, but he doesn't get angry about it.
- When Arya has one of his lieutenants assassinated right in front of him, Tywin's brief sigh before calling for the guards seems to be less fear he was the intended target, but more exasperation that he's going to have to find someone to replace this idiot!
- This is actually the reason he treats Arya so well, until he hands her over to Gregor at least. He recognizes her as very intelligent and enjoys having conversations with someone on a strong intellectual level, which is rare for him.
- Lieutenant Stone from the early seasons of Power Rangers had the misfortune of having Those Two Guys as his subordinates. He could frequently triple the IQ of a room by entering, and he knew it.
- Power Rangers RPM features this with Tenaya 7, The Dragon; while she sometimes acts sassy towards her boss, Knight of Cerebus and evil AI Venjix, it is easy to sympathize with her when she's dealing with the other . In fact, it's lampshaded when Venjix calls her his most intelligent and reliable servant, and she remarks while looking at the other two that that's not saying much.
- House acts this way around his employees, and is this when it comes to his patients—especially the clinic ones.
- On an episode of Batman, Catwoman is exasperated by the mooks working for her, and asks, "Why can't I get good help?"
- Villain Carla Brunelle from Flander's Company is a Dangerously Genre Savvy Magnificent Bitch and a Dragon-in-Chief who is an actual treat in season 2. Starting with season 3, however, her boss is killed, and the only remaining competent member of her team is Badass Bookworm Nadčge; the three others consist in a bunch of morons with horrible sense of fashion, with only one of them possessing actual (but lame) powers and fighting skills.
- In an episode of Charmed, Barbas mumbles this when his mole revealed itself when captured.
- Bassie & Adriaan: The Baron is frequently full of anger because his henchmen keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over, managing to blow stuff up in his face or have Bassie and Adriaan escape.
- "I am Surrounded By Incompetence", by You've Got Foetus on Your Breath.
- Wrathchild America's "Surrounded By Idiots". Can be cathartic to hear.
- Mr. Burns sings about his lazy employees to Smithers in '''Look at all those idiots''. The words surrounded by idiots is even in the lyrics.
- A Dilbert strip had the Pointy-Haired Boss complaining that he was "surrounded by incompetents", and Dilbert's reply was "If a bunch of incompetents were able to surround you, what does that say about you?"
- Charles sometimes feels like this in Absolute Power:
Charles: I come in here in the morning, I look at him, I look at you, and I want to open the window and shout "I'm not mad! I'm the warden!"
- Leon, a young man who arrives in a town where everyone is cursed to be stupid, in the play Fools.
- In 1776, John Adams continually laments this about Congress. Near the end, Franklin calls him out on his dismissive attitude and points out that the other Congressmen are accomplished men who have been given the trust and responsibility of their colonies, just like Adams, and deserve respect even if they disagree.
- In Pokémon Live!, Giovanni is this to the point that Jessie and James give him migraines from sheer annoyance.
- There are Self Imposed Challenges in The Sims 2 which involve only directing one sim in a household, leaving the others to act under their own free will and capabilities. The "I'm Surrounded By Idiots" Challenge is one version, while the somewhat better-known Asylum Challenge turns the household into an insufficiently-equipped Bedlam House, with your playable sim forced to Go Among Mad People.
- The Courier from Fallout: New Vegas: Old World Blues is this (providing s/he has an INT higher than 1), with the majority of the people there being clinically braindead, with the beings actually capable of communicating with him being a nymphomaniac robot, his own Jerkass brain, a Large Ham Mad Scientist who cannot control THE VOLUME OF HIS VOICE!, a megalomaniacal toaster, and two bickering lightswitches. The only other sane people are Doctor Mobius, who is addicted to every drug in the game from the stress, and Doctor 8, who can only speak in programming code.
- This tends to be the case with whoever the main character is in Ace Attorney. The most notable example is Miles Edgeworth, who is paired with the ever-bumbling, incompetent Detective Gumshoe.
- Although he never says the phrase outright, this is more or less the mindset of Neku in The World Ends with You. Subverted in that his allies really are competent (their reliability is variable but once in track they are powerhouses), it's just his distrust towards people interfering with teamwork and lowering their (both individual and joint) potential.
- Persona 4 provides a rare heroic example with Naoto Shirogane before she joins the Investigation Team, as she says this gem while her future teammates are Drunk on Milk during a school trip to Iwatodai.
"Are we a pack of imbeciles?"
- Dawn of War: Farseer Taldeer takes this opinion of her Imperial Guard catspaws at the start of Winter Assault, and states to that effect twice. In Dark Crusade, she uses this thinking to justify a direct invasion of Kronus by the Eldar, suggesting that the other factions on the planet don't realise the threat the Necrons pose and wouldn't be able to stop them even if they did. At least in her not-so-humble opinion.
"The Imperials test my patience with their incompetence! Very well, we will deal with the Orks ourselves, but only because time grows short."
- 8-Bit Theater here:
Black Mage: Well, at least I shall die as I have lived. Completely surrounded by morons.
- And when he dies and ends up in Hell, Black Mage initially thinks he's dreamed the entire (mis)adventure to date:
Black Mage: What a horrible dream. There was this idiot and these two other idiots. We kept running into idiots. So horrible.
- Black Mage's homicidal impulses seem directly linked to how many stupid things are said in his vicinity at any given point in time. For example, if three people are having a conversation which defies the laws of logic, he will probably snap and stab anything and everything in arm's reach. If his sanity is finally broken by said stupidity, he'll just nuke everything in a five mile radius with a hadoken.
- Darths & Droids here:
Anakin: So, what are you up to?
Grievous: My armpits in incompetence!
- Demonade gives a female main character with two not so bright "Body Guards" who apparently let the inept thief go free because he got them to point out how their jobs sucked so bad they weren't paying attention, while there employer shows some measure of Genre Savvy and she actually utters the trope over three panels to emphasize how much she doesn't like her hired help.
- A variation seen recently in Girl Genius:
Gilgamesh: If I let everyone I thought was an idiot die, there wouldn't be many people left.
- His father, Baron Wulfenbach, often has the same reaction to people around him.
I swear, it's like running a kindergarten.
- Gilgamesh eventually reaches the point where he realizes this explains a LOT of the Baron's behavior.
- Karkat in Homestuck routinely calls everyone in the near vicinity idiots or similar terms of abuse.
- How I Killed Your Master: Master Fei chooses the insult 'oafs' but otherwise done precisely.
- Da Chief from the Cliffport Arc in The Order of the Stick was definitely surrounded by idiots.
- Pretty much any villainous organization in Sluggy Freelance has this problem. Of course, in the Sluggy Freelance multiverse, there aren't many non-idiots to choose from.
- Silas Morth from Exterminatus Now deliberately invokes this, since he plans to sacrifice his minions in exchange for power.
- Happens a lot in Death Note: The Abridged Series (kpts4tv):
- Also when Mello's mafia minions kidnap an old grey-haired guy...
Mello: I asked you to bring me Sayu Yagami. A 17 year old girl. Does this look like a 17 year old girl to you?
Minion 1: No…
Minion 2: Yes.
- This is one of Henri the cat's laments in Henri 2, Paw de Deux: "The white idiot writhes on his chair, begging for cheeseburgers... I'm surrounded by morons."
- While the Real Life Hitler is considered to be an inversion of this trope, the Downfall parodies Hitler is played straight. Hitler's staff is mostly made up of idiots who have such incredibly useful skills as pointing at maps, providing Hitler with useless information, getting drunk, objecting to all of his plans, and ranting. Naturally it's often because of them that Hitler's schemes always backfire. It also doesn't help that most of the people who are slightly more competent are constantly targeting him for their own gain.
- Everyone in Batty Battalion seems to think this about their teammates.
- Whateley Universe: lampshaded by She-Beast during her confrontation with the Anti-Champion:
Yes, I know, I know, it’s MY fault, I hired them… bargain basement villains, hired at the last minute
SO, this is why some supervillains are always screaming about being surrounded by incompetents.
- In Noob, Gaea Worshipper's guild probably wouldn't have even existed if its members hdn't been a bunch of idiots. They want to assisst Gaea, who is playing in an enemy faction, because they are convinced that she's a Double Agent loyal to their own side. In reality, the events that made them come up with the Double Agent scenario are actually a Not Me This Time Frame-Up in which that their own faction's top guild; this isn't even kept as a secret at least in the comic version of the story. An episode of the webseries also hints that Gaea's Manipulative Bastard tendencies have an Everyone Knew Already status to most players and that the members of Gaea Worshipper's guild are the only ones acting as if whatever they see her do should be kept secret. To top things off, they are also quite incompetent as helpers.
- RWBY: Torchwick frequently shows disappointment at his underlings' performance. To be fair, the guys that he hires them from also show the same disappointment.
- In Spongebob Squarepants, Squidward always says, "Why am I surrounded by idiots?"
Spongebob (imitating Squidward): Everybody's an idiot except me.
Squidward: Well, it's true!
- In Pinky and the Brain, one is a genius, the other is, well...Pinky.
- They never specify which one is the genius or the insane one. Still, one is drawing complicated mathematical equations on a chalkboard, and at the same time, the other one is dancing around with his tongue hanging out and is tied up in his own arms... do they really need to specify which one?
- Considering what happened when The Brain enhanced Pinky's intelligence, it might not hurt.
- Especially if you've seen the episode where The Brain actually lets Pinky attempt it on his own (the "Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?" bit) and it WORKS until The Brain screws it up.
- On the other hand, we humans aren't shown as exceptionally bright either. With a few exceptions, folks are perfectly willing to accept the word of a talking mouse in an obvious disguise.
- Mr Burns of The Simpsons fame, as stated in an Image Song produced during the 1990s:
Look at all those idiots! Look at all those boobs! An office full of morons, a factory full of fools!
Jackanapes! Lolligaggers! NOODLEHEADS!
- Frank Grimes. The whole premise of his episode is watching a normal person try to cope in Springfield. Eventually, his frustration overwhelms him and he gets himself killed.
- Prime Evil, from Filmations Ghostbusters. (However, his henchmen did prove themselves to be capable on rare occasions.)
- Megatron of the original Transformers has nothing but bad things to say about Starscream's intelligence, bravery, and trustworthiness... but continually places him in a position of authority and trusts him with pivotal missions.
- Lurky, bumbling henchman of Murky in Rainbow Brite, is not only clumsy and stupid but actually ''good''... he loves colors and happiness and everything Murky hates, yet he continues to obey Murky and Murky continues to employ him.
- The Monarch of The Venture Bros.: "I hate it that you two are my best men!"
- In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), Skeletor was fond of going off on tirades against the intelligence of his many henchmen, calling them lamebrains and numbskulls several times an episode. Not that he was particularly bright himself. Maybe it was just a bad pun.
Skeletor: I have to be brilliant, just to make up for them!
- Parodied in the web animation Bo-Starr and the Masters of Galastrom (link):
Skullduggen: You talk big, Bo-Starr, but you're no match for my legion of Invincible Deathbots!
Skullduggen: ...which I'm not going to be using. Go and get them, Grass-man!
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: After Azula's captain completely ruins her attempt to capture her brother, the princess wisely trades in her Redshirt Army for a Quirky Miniboss Squad Power Trio.
- The sequel series The Legend of Korra has a notable moment when Amon's mooks fail to capture Korra, who has already been kidnapped and locked in a metal box by Tarrlok, but still manages to trick them into opening the box and letting her escape. Amon, having just warned them not to underestimate her, is not amused.
- Cobra Commander laments this on his way out in the last episode of G.I. Joe (before The Movie):
Cobra Commander: Idiots! I'm surrounded by incompetent IDIOTS!!
- But then the Commander's own battle plans were hardly worthy of Sun Tzu either.
- Cobra Commander has never been very appreciative of his employees.
Cobra Commander: Morons! I have Morons on my payroll!
Cobra Commander: Why are great men always surrounded by lesser beings?!
Cobra Commander: I shall be waiting to reward your genius, or to have you beheaded for terminal stupidity! I have spoken.
- Ganon's minions in The Legend of Zelda definitely fit this description. In one episode when they got sick of his abusive management style, they actually managed to overthrow him and tried to take matters into their own hands, leading to an extremely ill-conceived and self-defeating assault on Zelda's castle. That episode may very well have been the closest Link and Zelda ever came to taking Ganon's Triforce of Power for themselves. (Of course, since succeeding at that would pretty much have been the end of the show, they managed to fumble their own expedition as well.) The main reason he keeps these losers around at all appears to be that since they always regenerate, he's basically got an infinite supply.
- In Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog Robotnik reaffirmed the lack of intelligence possessed by Scratch and Grounder in pretty much every episode. However they're typically his first choice to send after Sonic, and he often trusts them with important inventions he created. This was lampshaded in the episode "Spaceman Sonic" in which Sonic states that Robotnik will figure it cheaper to put Scratch and Grounder back together than to build new robots.
- In the episode "Robotnik's Rival", he claimed that this was a plan to ensure that they never betrayed him. Given that he was gloating over the eponymous rival who had just been backstabbed by his own super-competent henchbot, (and given that it's Robotnik) this was doubtless an Ass Pull.
- From the episode "Blackbot the Pirate": "I'm surrounded by defective circuitry!"
- From "Robolympics": "I'm surrounded by a bunch of burnt-out circuits!"
- Another rare heroic example: In DuckTales, Scrooge McDuck is preparing to retrieve his vast fortune from the Marinaras Trench. He sees Doofus, Launchpad, and Gyro Gearloose, the crew that will help him, trip each other up and fall all over the place. And so, Scrooge can't help but exclaim in exasperation, "MORONS! I've got MORONS on my team!!"
- Shredder, Arch-Enemy of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would often lament "Why am I surrounded by such brainless morons?".
- Shredder once actually took the stupidity of his henchmen in stride. After inventing a new robotic weapon, he told Rocksteady and Bebop that he named it after them. He called it "The Knucklehead".
- In Turtles Forever, he watches footage of the 2003 Shredder:
Shredder: Oh, how I've longed for an ally such as this! So unlike the snivelling idiots that I've been forced to suffer!
- Krang isn't particularly appreciative of Shredder's mental prowess either: "Morons! I'm surrounded by morons."
- Krabo/Draffsack of Insektors uses this excuse when the Yuks/Kruds plans fail. The thing is, he's actually right.
- In Donkey Kong Country, K.Rool would bemoan his henchmen being, in his words, 'Home-spun idiots'.
K.Rool: It's at times like this I find that I must ask myself again and again: "Do I really want the Crystal Coconut this badly?"
- Kranky Kong was also a heroic version, with his attitude towards Donkey and Diddy.
- Junkman's henchmen in The Incredible Crash Dummies, although it is his fault (he built them from scrap).
- Megabyte in ReBoot, and how! He's the most brilliant mind in Mainframe, and by rights should be routinely walking over Bob...but all his minions are Dumb Muscle With An F In Evil.
- Played hilariously straight when the plot makes them heroic sidekicks instead of evil henchmen.
- There was also the episode where Enzo accidentally made everyone (but himself) into dimwits.
- In one late episode of Gargoyles, Xanatos's robot Coyote screws up. Xanatos sighs and, sounding more resigned than anything, says "It's so hard to build good help these days."
- After a failed attempt to teach the other kids of the cul-de-sac after various demonstrations of them being Too Dumb to Live, a lamenting Edd of Ed, Edd n Eddy says this verbatim.
- He also says this in another episode, "O-Ed Eleven".
- Raven of the Teen Titans, no doubt.
- In "Lightspeed", Jinx remarks "I don't know why I hang around with you nitwits." By the end of the episode, she's done hanging around with those nitwits.
- Phaeton in Exo Squad is constantly berating his generals for their incompetence. Even when they're right. ESPECIALLY when they're right.
- In The Fairly Oddparents "Wishology" trilogy, The Lead Eliminator is noticeably more competent than his comrades.
- Interesting inversion in Kim Possible when Shego constantly complains about her boss being a nitwit.
- On the other hand, the trope is played straight with Drakken's rank-and-file henchmen.
- Also, Shego seems to have been driven to her Face-Heel Turn by exasperation with her brothers' cluelessness.
- Duke Igthorn on Adventures of the Gummi Bears probably would've have been more successful in conquering Dunwyn if his ogre minions (well, except for Toadwart) didn't have the intelligence of mayonnaise.
- More than once on Sheep in the Big City, when General Specific's army men turn incompetent, he expresses; "I'm surrounded by buffoons!" Then, the camera pans out to show actual madmen out of nowhere, encircling him and bumbling incoherently in propeller hats and diapers.
- Aku complained about this more than once in Samurai Jack (and the majority of his minions being mindless robots didn't tend to help). That Jack was able to turn his robots to junk with such ease was the biggest reason he tried to face him mano-a-mano in "Jack Versus Aku".
- Of course, in that episode, the breaking point for him was a pretty big Epic Fail, when he sent a whole army of robots after Jack, and then one of them tripped, causing all of them to fall over like dominoes, destroying the entire army. Jack never did a thing. You can't blame Aku for wanting to rethink his plans after something like that.
- Most popular depictions of Adolf Hitler during Villainous Breakdown mode during the last part of World War II involve him raving about being surrounded by traitors and fools. Whether any of this was right is another trope entirely, but most historians conclude that Hitler was losing his mind and his cohorts were busily trying to salvage their own skins. He was never a military genius and the maneuvers he insisted on helped lose the war faster, as well as costing him the loyalty of his former cohorts.
- Apparently, Julian Assange feels this way about his organization which he more or less maintains total control over and runs from the top down. Telling quote:
In an encrypted online chat, a transcript of which was passed to The Times, Mr. Assange was dismissive of his colleagues. He described them as “a confederacy of fools,” and asked his interlocutor, “Am I dealing with a complete retard?”
- Several studies has shown that intelligent people tend to underestimate their intelligence and unskilled people overestimate theirs: the Dunning-Kruger effect. So stupid people will tend to think that they are surrounded by idiots.