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The Barnum
There's a sucker born every minute.

A trickster-philosopher who lives by pandering to people's greed and gullibility. Not only does he never feel guilty about it, but he will be offended by suggestions that he stop. If people want to be tricked, who is he to say no? Furthermore, if he's exposed, he'll shrug while admitting it and use his backup pitch about the con with equal fervor.

The true mark of the Barnum is how serene and happy he usually is, despite what he does every day. He's reached a cynic's nirvana.

Compare the (usually adolescent) High School Hustler. Closely related to Honest John's Dealership.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ranma ˝: Nabiki Tendo. An excellent example of the unprincipled type, having actually been described by the author as having "no maidenly heart". This gets really extreme as the series progresses, culminating in her ruining her own little sister's wedding because she believes that inviting Ranma's other fiancees and his rivals will bring in more cash as wedding presents. Fanon often bumps her into a High School Hustler, but this is arguable, as her schemes tend to mostly be limited to quickly taking advantage of situations, and her ongoing "business" is mostly limited to selling a large amount of soft-porn prints and images, some non-working merchandise or unreliable information, using blackmail or swindling opportunities, and investing in stocks. On occasion she has employed schemes with several stages of efficient outrageous planning to them however, and she is an expert actress. Mostly, in a series populated by Made of Iron Jerkasses with Super Strength, she survives through a combination of knowing when to get when the getting's good, and sticking to taking advantage of people who would never actually attack her (Akane, Tatewaki, Ranma..), and not being so irritating to those who would that a cheated customer considers it worth their time to just kill her. This accidentally happened with Shampoo and Kodachi in the manga, and Ukyo at least initially attempted to threaten and beat her up, but Ranma came to her rescue, whereafter his paramours apparently decided to leave her alone.
  • Kyubey from Puella Magi Madoka Magica follows shades of this. If people are willing to make a contract without reading the fine-print, as it were, why on earth would he say no? It's not his fault that the fine print You Didn't Ask about says that you'll turn into a Lich when the contract is made, and that you'll eventually turn into a witch.
  • Miroku in Inuyasha, in spite of being a Buddhist monk, is an adept and inveterate con artist whose favorite trick whenever he arrives in a town is to size up the largest and most wealthy-looking house, declare that he senses it's haunted by evil spirits, and offer to "exorcise" them in exchange for a meal and a bed for the night. If there's a pretty young girl in the household he's also been known to selflessly volunteer to stay with her all night to protect her.
    • He's done it so often that when one house he's "exorcised" actually was haunted, his companions were nothing short of shocked.

    Film 
  • "Captain" Hector Barbossa of Pirates of the Caribbean definitely fits the bill, as a trickster who seemed nothing but content with his own cruel, selfish, and dishonorable schemes. Jack Sparrow also qualifies, at one point tricking a man who saved him from hanging into joining the crew of the Flying Dutchman and subsequently trying to "harvest" another ninety-nine to save his own skin.
  • Nick Naylor from Thank You For Smoking is a tobacco lobbyist fully aware of what he's doing, but quite happy to keep doing it with a smile. The rest of the M.O.D. fits as well.
  • Clinton Stark in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao is a bit of an inversion; he doesn't feel remorse for exploiting peoples greed and short sightedness, but as he told his henchmen, he always hopes that his cynical assumptions will be proven wrong on each scheme. When his scheme fails thanks to Dr. Lao's inspiration of the townspeople, he is genuinely happy about the failure.
  • Thaddeus Bradley of Now You See Me is this, especially since he doesn't seem to actually want the thieves stopped. In the finale, however The Fifth Horseman proves to be a much bolder example to Thaddeus himself.

    Comic Books 
  • Oddly averted in Barnum! In Secret Service to Tte USA: P.T. Barnum here may be a bit of a flim-flammer, but he gets most of his joy from entertaining the crowd rather than conning them
  • Phoncible P. ("Phoney") Bone.

    Literature 
  • Discworld:
    • Moist von Lipwig from Going Postal starts out as one of these, but when confronted by one of the innocent victims of his scams he decides to stick with government service. He still misses the excitement of the con in Making Money, but not the actual taking advantage of people.
    • And Lipwig's antagonists, Reacher Gilt in Going Postal and Cribbins in Making Money. Unlike him, they never stopped.
    • The Amazing Maurice in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. After all he's a cat, and cats long ago worked out how to take advantage of humans. He just uses his intelligence to expand it a little.
    • Professor Monty Bladder, mentioned in A Hat Full of Sky, appears to be one, since the advertisement for his Three Ring Circus declares "See The Egress!" He had a man with a dictionary standing by to prove people had got exactly what they paid for.
      • This one was actually done by P.T. Barnum in real life as well.
  • Kaptah in Mika Waltari's The Egyptian turns into one of these later in life.
  • Lazarus Long of Robert A. Heinlein's Future History is often described this way. And being the unrepentant Marty Stu that he is, he always gets away with it, too.
  • Moira Loftus from Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks is a fake psychic who does it because, really, people are practically asking to be fooled.
  • Sylvester McMonkey McBean from The Sneetches.
  • Judith Merkle Riley's Margaret of Ashbury trilogy features one, a relic seller in 14th-century England who sells people body parts that supposedly belonged to saints. However, he's a Lovable Rogue and generally sympathetic, and his scams are Played for Laughs.
  • The relic-seller above is probably an expy of the Pardoner from The Canterbury Tales, only with a Sympathetic P.O.V..
  • Crowley from Good Omens — a demon whose job it is to tempt people to sin, but can't force them to do anything they don't chose to, and often what people chose to do on their own is worse than anything he comes up with.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Basi from the Nigerian TV show Basi and Company was a man whose goal in life was to become a millionaire without ever doing work. (His Catch Phrase was "To be a millionaire, think like a millionaire!") As a point of honor, he pulled all of his scams while unemployed and living in a crumbling boarding house, which didn't hurt his spirits at all.
  • Ethan Rayne from Buffy the Vampire Slayer could be considered The Barnum. He's a trickster who worships chaos and shows no remorse for what he does. note 
  • Psych's Shawn Spencer has no apparent respect for anyone or anything as he brazenly lies to the police. Considering that the lie started as a way to get out of jail time for solving half a dozen open cases from his armchair, it's little wonder. Shawn does respect the sanctity of life. When it comes down to it, he'll never let a violent criminal get away, although he's not above making light of their acts.
  • Daisy Adair, from the TV series Dead Like Me, who has been shown to have no problems whatsoever to exploit and trick the dead people's mourning relatives to get cash.
  • Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck from The A-Team genuinely and unrepentantly enjoyed being a Con Man. He would occasionally gush and revel in explaining his latest scheme to the other members of the A-Team. For instance, he once started telling Hannibal about how he was starting his career as a movie producer by taking a student film, dubbing it over in another language, and then adding subtitles so that he could market it as a foreign film. Another time, the A-Team had to live in a suburban house for a few days to protect a client, and as soon as they get there, Face goes on a tangent about how he bought the house with a certain type of mortgage specifically so he could make more money when he sold it. He also loved living the high life by scamming his way into hotel penthouses and fancy beach houses, mostly because he could. Face also enjoyed seducing women by pretending to be a high-ranking film executive or director or even a neurologist and never, ever felt bad about it.
  • Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister, Sir Humphrey had a cynical motto for everything ("Gratitude is merely the lively expectation of future reward"; "The Official Secrets Act exists to protect officials, not secrets"), and was always cool — except when some honesty broke into his perfect world. A more positive take on Sir Humphrey is that he and the Civil Service are providing effective (or at least stable) government, and performing damage control when elected politicians pander to their electorate without regards to their own political survival.
  • Mr. Humphries of Are You Being Served?. Mr. Humphries knew how ridiculous his job was, and did it just as absurdly as he was supposed to. After all, he was never the one who had to face the consequences — that was the boss or the customers.
  • Del Trotter from Only Fools and Horses was one of this, to the point that similar characters in other shows and real life have been referred to as "a bit of a Del Boy" by the media. He was pretty unscrupulous about what he sold to people and even short-changed his own brother on occasion.
  • Don Draper on Mad Men will happily sell any product, if there is money in it. In the first episode he comes up with a new ad campaign for Lucky Strike cigarettes after promoting safer cigarettes is outlawed. Don Draper is based off of the character who invented the Marlboro Man His solution being, Lucky Strike: It's Toasted, Lucky Strikes' slogan in Real Life.
    • While Don is non-judgmental to the point of apathy about the products his clients are selling, he believes deeply in sincerity in advertising. Throughout the show he has reacted poorly to any suggestion that advertising is a scam or easy to do. His response to people who suggest he's duping the public is to note that gullibility is part of human nature, and people will delude themselves no matter what you tell them.
  • Kingfish from Amos N Andy sold tickets to fake raffles and fake tickets to a real ballet. When said tickets were revealed to be fake, he refunded the money... in counterfeit bills. He also took Andy for a grand tour of the entire United States, which is rather impressive since they never left Central Park. He briefly dabbled in selling shares in a uranium mine, and sold overpriced rabbits as chinchillas. Finally he sold a ring found in a box of crackerjacks for quite a sum, only to find out it was actually worth quite a bit more.
  • In a fourth-season episode of Sea Patrol, an old friend of Two Dads joins the crew. It turns out that not only is he using his position to send info to a gang of pirates, he's also scamming another crew members into an online romance. Two Dads eventually turns him in.
  • Quark from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a borderline example of this. Grand Nagus Zek is (usually) a much straighter example.
    • In the first Deep Space Nine Relaunch novel, Quark considers it a favour to only inflate the sale price of a shuttle by 20% for a close personal friend.

    Music 
  • The Evelyn Evelyn song "A Campaign of Shock and Awe".
    "Behold, the eighth wonder of the natural world! Come one and come all, see the two-headed girl. Stupendous! Revolting! You’ll be shocked, you’ll be awed! A true freak of nature, a blunder of God! But possessing such talents, hear them sing, see them dance. As seen in the highest class parlors of France. Just 10 bucks a photograph, get your seats while they last. We take Visa and MasterCard, debit or cash."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Dogbert in Dilbert.
    "That's outrageous! Idiots shouldn't have money!"
    • His rationalization for his behavior is also amusing.
    Dogbert: I only scam people who would do the same to me if they were smarter.
    Dilbert: So you use arrogance to cancel guilt?
    Dogbert: It's a good system.

    Theater 
  • At the risk of being redundant: Phineas Taylor Barnum of the musical "Barnum", epitomizes this trope as he quite literally IS THE BARNUM- and perhaps this character is even more so than the real-life counterpart after which he is modeled. He is constantly scheming ideas for new sideshows, looking for ways to take advantage of people, and views his audience as little more than walking bags of money.
  • M. Thenardier from Les Misérables, following his persona from the book, though he's not entirely serene. (Depending on the actor) he is shown as delighting in tricking and scamming his guests, but hungry to move his predatory activities to more savory prey.
  • The Wizard of Oz is portrayed as this in Wicked, although he tricks people into believing he's magical for political power rather than money.
  • 5th century BC comedy The Clouds by Aristophanes portrays Socrates and his students that way, accusing them of all sins of contemporary sophists (see RL section about sophists). While this was not true, the "facts" from the comedy were used as evidence in Socrates trial.
  • The Music Man: "Professor" Harold Hill, at least until Marian.

    Video Games 
  • Subverted by an actual character named Barnum in the second Fable game. Going along with his moneymaking ventures usually ends up with the object of his venture becoming much more lucrative, such as fixing a broken-down bridge, which restores a failing inn to prosperity, or building up a tent-town into a thriving village.
  • Marcus in Borderlands and Borderlands 2. The second game has a sidequest that reveals he tricked an internet celebrity into thinking he was The Chosen One just so he could sell him a ludicrously overpriced gun. He then realizes he gave the guy too much change, and hires you to track him down.

    Webcomics 
  • Sam Starfall in Freefall prides himself on being a trickster and at one point has to convince himself that there's nothing inherently wrong with taking a well-paying but completely legal job. He has claimed that his habits are because his race evolved from scavengers who stole food from under the noses of predators. He's also on the run from his own race.
  • MSF High: Fenris. She runs quite a bit of businesses, and hates any class where she can't sell things. As for what she sells, well Donovan discovered some interesting characteristics about his sword.
  • Homestuck: Doc Scratch, although he sees it as a point of pride to manipulate everyone without ever telling a lie.

    Western Animation 
  • Bender from Futurama sometimes channels the Barnum. Leela and Amy have both told him, "Bender, you should be more ashamed of yourself than usual!"
  • Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, being the incredible Jerk Ass that he is. Although considering his success rate, it may be more accurate to call him a Barnum Wannabe.
  • Swindle of the Combaticons
    • In the episode "B.O.T.", his Combaticon comrades were blown to their component parts, and Swindle took the opportunity to sell them to both USSR and Middle Eastern stereotypes. When a predictably enraged Megatron made him get them back, it is generally assumed that he didn't return their money.
    • In Transformers Animated note  he conned humans into stealing things for him, engaged in sales banter with Megatron, and sold random objects out of a hammerspace drawer in his chest, including some helmets from various G1 characters.
  • Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog is The Barnum mixed with actual, infernal magical power, thanks to his Friends on the Other Side. He wins people over with his incredible charisma, plays on their insecurities or desires, and then uses the power of a contract with them to manipulate them to his own ends.
  • Honest John from Pinocchio — he swindles Pinocchio twice due to his gullibility and it had been suggested that he had been doing that for years.
  • Great Uncle Stan Pines from Gravity Falls, owner of the Mystery Shack, museum for countless oddities- all fake. One of his 'attractions' is the Bag of Mystery, which causes any money put in to mysteriously vanish. He claims that all of the myths surrounding the town are just cooked up by guys like him to shill clueless tourists. Though the ending of season one reveals that he does know about the journals and the strange things that happen in Gravity Falls.
  • Eugene Krabs from SpongeBob SquarePants is a surprisingly mild example, considering his EXTREME Money Fetish.

    Real Life 
  • Phineas Taylor Barnum, an American showman, businessman, and entertainer famous for founding one of the circuses that merged to form the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, as well as putting forward various hoaxes. He did not, however, say, "There's a sucker born every minute." That was actually said by a rival of Barnum when they got into what could only be described as a "hoax war."
  • Vincent Kennedy McMahon has been called the modern day PT Barnum, yet this probably applies better to all the wrestling promoters who preceded him for building the Kayfabe wall that he essentially tore down. Depending on who you talk to, the biggest wrestling fans always suspected that the game was staged and just didn't care, giving the promoters no reason to stop their charade of claiming it was completely authentic competition. Conversely, said "smart" fans despise McMahon for tearing down the wall and turning wrestling into "sports entertainment" - though in many cases the disdain comes from making WWE more about the theatrics than the in-ring action.
  • The 19th-century gambler & con artist "Canada Bill" Johnson was fond of saying, "It's immoral to let a sucker keep his money."
  • Common attitude among ancient Greek sophists — philosophers, who traveled around Greek cities teaching for money (mostly philosophy, rhetorics, politics) or working as mediators (e.g. in court). They tended to be relativists, believing that law was merely a consensus between people and that justice didn't exist. Now they are mostly remembered as instructors in deception, being hated by Socrates, and "sophism" meaning Logical Fallacy.


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alternative title(s): Humphrey; The Humphrey; Shameless Shyster; Shameless Con Man
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