open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Ranma ˝: Nabiki Tendō. 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 fiancées 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 Ukyō 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.
- Kaiki from Bakemonogatari waxes philosophical for entire episodes, in the shows trademark fashion, about why he tricks people, what it is like to be tricked, and what the capability to be trick says of the human condition.
- 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.
- Oddly averted in Barnum! In Secret Service to the 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
- 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.
- In Pogo, P. T. Bridgeport is an example of this, taking his moniker from the Trope Namer. His dialogue-font is even rendered in "old-timey circus poster" fashion. Seminole Sam also shades into this territory at times as well.
- Unigate Milk commercials used "Watch out... there's a Humphrey about!" for their advertising campaign, referring to a milk stealing thief named Humphrey that would drink your milk if you don't drink it in time.
Films — Animation
- 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.
Films — Live-Action
- 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 along with his more directly violent and murderous acts as a (sort of) crime boss of the seas.
- 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, though at least he has the excuse of doing it to save his own skin rather than out of greed.
- "Professor" Emelius Browne from Bedknobs and Broomsticks plays up this image, but ultimately is a subversion. His introductory song (in the extended version) "With A Flair" has him singing to a crowd of people about how much he enjoys ripping them off, though he doesn't feel too bad about it because they know they're being ripped off, but they don't care because of how charming they think he is - which ends up backfiring, as the people he's singing to do not find him (or his bad magic tricks) endearing in any way and end up leaving.
- 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.
- In A Face in the Crowd, Lonesome Rhodes sees his audience as a bunch of gullible morons, and he's not afraid to say so to Marcia or to his cronies.
- The Greatest Showman depicts the Trope Namer as a non-malicious version, though he sometimes forgets how his schemes impact others.
- 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.
- The narrator of the Confessions takes great delight in describing how Cicero exposed all the vanities, lies, and hypocrisies of those who call themselves "philosophers" to swindle others out of their time and money.
- 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 is a shout-out to P.T. Barnum, who used the trick in real life.
- 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.
- 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.
- Harry Mudd from Star Trek: The Original Series was a bombastic con artist, thoroughly pleased with himself when his schemes were working and shamelessly spinning his past misadventures when he shows up for a second time in the original series and again in the animated series.
- His personality in prequel series Star Trek: Discovery suggests that by TOS he had mellowed out!
- Travelling space circus owner and master of ceremonies P.T. Mindslap from the 11th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. He gets called out by Max and Kinga that his circus doesn't have any actual acts, only the description Mindslap gives the audience after turning off the lights.
- 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."
- Kids Praise: Risky Rat is characterized as a Con Man, and even describes himself as one in his Villain Song. He fits this subtrope because in his first appearance, he was appealing to Charity Churchmouse's ambition to try to enslave her, with the implication that it's to make money off her singing.
- 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 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.
- At one point he laments having to quit his Gas-powered car con now that they actually exist.
- 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 the guy's corpse down and recover the money. He gives you the guy's gun as payment for the job.
- Frank Fontaine in Bioshock. A career criminal who immediately realized that Rapture had a serious flaw: even in a city populated solely by people who believed themselves to be "exceptional," someone would have to scrub the toilets. That nobody else seemed to figure this out convinced Frank that Rapture was full of suckers. At one point he even calls it a confidence man's playground. He quickly scammed his way into being one of Rapture's richest and most powerful figures.
- His counterpart in Columbia has played EVERY Company Town card in the book, after his brother told him about these weird dimensional rifts that gave him a complete history of how corporations have scammed, betrayed, and outright enslaved the minority masses, and his reaction was "golly, I bet I could set a world record". He doesn't even get targeted by a working resistance movement until Elizabeth completely overwrites the fabric of spacetime.
- Bioshock 2 has a slightly-more heroic Foil to Frank Fontaine in Augustus Sinclair. Like Fontaine, Sinclair is an opportunistic scumbag who scams the poor and destitute that rose to the top of Rapture's society by taking advantage of the system's faults and dead-spots. For example, knowing that Rapture had no homeless shelters or charity halls, Sinclair bought cheap housing early to become a slumlord. Knowing that Andrew Ryan had no prison system (he was building a Utopia after all) he purchased buildings that could be converted into penal colonies and then charge Ryan for sending inevitable undesirables there. But despite all that, he's got some scruples and lines he won't cross, unlike Fontaine, who's a sociopathic thug at heart. Sinclair genuinely likes and tries to assist the player character through the game.
- Kuroji Shitodo from the Shoot 'em Up game Len'en Project. They only solve incidents for money, and resort to amoral acts such as stealing or robbing from others, however they do use the money that they swindle to support themself and their younger siblings.
- In Fallout 4, you can meet a man in the South Boston area not far from the Castle who sells "charge cards" for 110 caps each. He claims the cards are accepted in all the major shops in the Commonwealth and can be used as an alternative for caps. Of course, the cards were once valid before the Great War but are now absolutely worthless and no shop anywhere will accept them, and he won't accept returns if you go back to him. In other words, he's a con man. As if the con weren't fairly apparent from the start, he even calls you a "retard" under his breath regardless of whether or not you accept his offer, foolishly giving away his cover as a scammer. The only way to get your money back is to kill him, or better still if you have the Junk Jet on you, load the charge card into it and "forcibly return it" to him, inflicting a good Laser Guided Karmic Death.
- 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.
- Hot Bikini Beans features a character named Hinkler with a loud fashion sense and buffoonish Get Rich Quick Scheme tendencies.
- Jim Sterling of The Jimquisition Retooled his show and gave himself this persona when his dictator routine stopped being funny and started being worrying due to the return of neo-Nazism to the public eye. He now portrays himself as the leader of a questionable sideshow of miscellaneous alter-egos.
- 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.
- The Transformers: 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.
- Gravity Falls:
- Great Uncle Stan Pines, 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 and the season two premiere reveal that he does know about the journals and the strange things that happen in Gravity Falls. He knows better than to use anything truly paranormal for the Shack, though, because A) that stuff tends to be dangerous, and B) as shown in Boss Mabel, people are fooled by his cheap tricks but refuse to believe their eyes when confronted with a real monster.
- Gideon Gleeful is similar, though instead of fake exhibits he specializes in displaying fake psychic abilities while playing up his cute appearance for all it's worth. With just a little help from genuine paranormal artifacts and spy cameras all over town. However, he is far more malevolent than Stan is.
- Eugene Krabs from SpongeBob SquarePants is a surprisingly mild example, considering his EXTREME Money Fetish. It helps that Spongebob is quite possibly the best frycook under the sea, and the Krusty Krab has a loyal clientele that Krabs would be stupid to cheat...at least, blatantly cheat. Doesn't stop him from charging customers a dollar a tomato to throw at Squidward's ill-fated interpretive dance show.
- The self-styled King of Ooo from Adventure Time.
- Louise from Bob's Burgers has shades of this whenever she engages in a get-rich-quick scheme.
- Eddy from Ed, Edd n Eddy, when his scams are actually working.
- 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. By today's business standards, McMahon is probably the ultimate example of this trope considering that WWE still inflates attendance figures, manipulates merchandise sales, and has skillfully deflected declining television ratings.
- The 19th-century gambler and 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.
- A similar quote "A sucker is not a mammoth. A sucker won't become extinct" is often attributed to a Russian Con Man Sergei Mavrodi. The quote is so famous among Russian-speaking swindlers that "notmammoth" is a slang term for The Mark among them.