The Freelance Shame Squad
"Ha ha ha! Your pain gives us joy!
Embarrassing things happen to us all sometimes. When they happen, we trust anyone who saw said thing to afford us the dignity of not calling attention to it, and we typically do likewise when something happens to them. Besides, getting splashed by a puddle or dropping a stack of dishes isn't that
funny to begin with.
When embarrassing things happen to characters in a comedy, however, every stranger within a 500-foot radius will go out of their way to stop what they were doing, point out the thing in question, laugh loudly about it, and basically humiliate the character into feeling like a quivering little pile of crap. This is known as the Freelance Shame Squad, a group of otherwise unremarkable people who apparently missed the memo that life isn't like elementary school, and still act like sociopathic 5-year-olds
upon witnessing a stranger's misfortune.
Often illustrated with a Circle of Shame
shot, as the focus of the humiliation looks around them and all they can see are laughing faces.
Thankfully, this is usually not Truth in Television
, as in reality most onlookers will react with either confusion, curiosity or just plain apathy when seeing someone else's faux pas. However, fear
of this trope certainly exists in the minds of young people everywhere. This trope shares a bunk with No Sympathy
, and like that, it's a trope that tends to really get on people's nerves
. See also Embarrassed by a Child
and Humiliation Conga
- In one episode of Azumanga Daioh, Tomo uses Maya the cat to tease Mr. Tadakichi, Maya bites her, and Yomi and Kagura respond by laughing at her and telling her she had it coming.
- In Angela's Ashes, the kids immediately notice and mock Frank's shoes. Partly justified since they're just kids, and Kids Are Cruel.
- In the original The Karate Kid, a ballroom filled with refined, upper-crust partygoers all stop dancing and put down their canapes just to laugh at Daniel-San after he bumps into a waiter and gets bolognese sauce all over his outfit. They were probably mocking the poor waiter too, but it doesn't come across as strongly.
- In Weird Science, an entire mall atrium full of shoppers stop all their business just to laugh at Gary and Wyatt after bullies dump an Icee on their heads. To their credit, the two girls hanging out with the bullies weren't impressed by the crude little stunt, but it doesn't count for much when everybody else in the mall seemed to be.
- The title character from Angus has the squad deployed on him at several points, the worst probably being when the Jerk Jock stole his boxers and ran them up the school flagpole. Angus' friend doesn't help matters by remarking that the shorts are nearly as wide as the flag. The last time is when Rick plays an embarassing video of Angus at the Winter Ball dance just as Angus is being crowned. The principal, at least, is unamused.
- Lucas takes this trope Up to Eleven, as if poor Lucas' life wasn't miserable enough already. There are a whopping four separate instances of public ridicule that he endures, the crowner of which is not only humiliating but incredibly painful; half the student body stands around pointing and laughing while he runs across the school grounds in naught but a towel, clutching his nads because the bullies put liniment on his crotch. Ouch. To his credit, Lucas is an Iron Woobie who refuses to let their cruelty get to him.
Lucas: You can't make me quit! EVER!!
- Done in the film and book versions of Carrie.
- Everybody except poor Carrie's boyfriend finds her getting doused with pig's blood to be the funniest goddamn thing in the world. Then she snaps, and things start getting much less funny in a hurry. In the film, Carrie is hallucinating the mockery, as most of the actual student body is just staring in shock, while in the novel, yes people were laughing, but it was more due to the sheer awkwardness of the situation that no one knew what else to do.
- Played much straighter near the beginning, when Carrie has her first period in the girl's locker room. Every other girl savagely mocks her for this with laughter and thrown tampons, as though they never had one of those before, while Carrie cowers in the corner, terrified that she's bleeding to death.
- Subverted in Trading Places: when the Dukes take Valentine, the homeless man they're training to be a commodities trader, to a big business dinner with a client, the client asks Valentine his opinion on whether or not he should buy wheat futures. Literally every single person in the restaurant stops what they're doing and stares at Valentine. But he gives a picture-perfect answer and impresses the client.
- This may also have been a parody of some famous TV commercials for E. F. Hutton & Co., an American stock brokerage firm. The firm was best known for its commercials in the 1970s and 1980s based on the phrase, "When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen" which usually involved a professional remarking at a dinner party or someplace that his broker was E.F. Hutton, which caused bystanders to stop all conversation to listen to him say what E.F. Hutton thought about an investment. An admittedly low-quality example of these commercials can be seen here.
- Austin Powers in Goldmember gets publicly humiliated twice by his father not attending an honor from the Queen, and earlier, his becoming valedictorian at spy school - both times a wizened old janitor/groundskeeper points and laughs loudly.
- The Trope Namer comes from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Jack Frost, where a large gaggle of villagers comes out of nowhere to mock the wicked stepsister every time something humiliating happens to her. Crow dubs this jolly band of assholes the Freelance Shame Squad.
- Malcolm in the Middle: All the kids sitting on the benches at the water park start giggling derisively at Reese after Malcolm yanks down Reese's trunks in front of them.
- Parodied on How I Met Your Mother. When Barney's eating a meatball sub, Marshall politely points out that he got a little marinara sauce on his tie, and a couple of the people they're eating with respond with a very tiny chuckle. Barney refers to this as "the most humiliating moment of my life". Of course, Barney being Barney, he immediately begins plotting a ridiculous revenge scheme that involves convincing Marshall that he's dying.
- Happens to Eddie on House of Anubis after Patricia accidentally sat on the school speaker button, while the two of them were in the principals office, and they accidentally revealed that Eddie was the principals son to the entire school. When they got out of the office everyone had gathered to mock Eddie.
- In an installment of the series of Nickelodeon interstitials As the Schoolbus Turns, one girl is talking about her problems with her best friend. She keeps whispering embarrassing things to her friend, who then repeats them, making everybody on the bus turn and laugh. The third time, she covers her friend's mouth before she can repeat. The other kids turn in anticipation but don't laugh.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Whenever someone does something embarrassing at Sunnydale High, the students tend to burst into ironic applause.
- The music video for Cher Lloyd's "I Want You Back" has the romantic rival accidentally spilling food on herself. Everyone else in the restaurant points and laughs, and she starts to scream with rage.
- The Simpsons
- Played for Laughs and Exaggerated when Bart already didn't want to go clothes shopping with his mom, but then Marge has to go and throw open his changing room door and leave it open on him, stripped to his tighty-whities. Predictably, everyone in the store points at Bart and guffaws at his embarrassment, one guy even yelling, "Look at that stupid kid!"
- Subverted in "Homer Goes to College": Homer's Nuclear Physics 101 professor makes an atom based pun and everyone but Homer laughs. The professor then drops his notes and Homer laughs uproariously... while everyone else looks at him awkwardly.
- There's Nelson. Despite being only one boy, he's about as straight an example of this as there ever was. His entire function on the show most of the time is to appear out of nowhere and point and laugh whenever someone does something embarrassing. Even when there's no logical reason for him to be present (which is sometimes lampshaded). And at one point, this gets reversed on him in an epic fashion when he makes the mistake of laughing at an extremely tall fellow who happened to drive a tiny car. The man makes him pull down his pants and waddle down Main Street as all of Springfield mocks him. It's not so funny when it happens to you, eh, Muntz?
- Family Guy:
- When the popular kids pelt Meg with rotten meat during her halftime routine, everyone in the stands points and laughs at her, which is worth noting because this was long before Meg became the over-exaggerated Butt Monkey that she later became.
- Peter goes to a high-school reunion attempting to make himself a cowboy astronaut in order to impress his old high school classmates. When it's revealed that the story is bullshit because Peter's cowboy hat can be taken off, the entire auditorium points and laughs at Peter.
- South Park:
- Invoked when Stan shows up to the class Halloween party dressed up as Raggedy Andy (and Wendy doesn't go through with dressing as Raggedy Ann). Mr. Garrison actually says "Let's all laugh and point at Stan, everyone", and they do.
- When Randy gets a DUI in "Bloody Mary", Mr. Garrison gives a lecture on drunk driving, in which he brings Randy into the classroom to give a half-hearted apology speech. Mr. Garrison then berates him quite thoroughly while he addresses the class as Stan hides his face in agonized embarrassment. Inverted since the rest of the class just stare dumbfounded.
- Cartman spearheads these on a frequent basis at the school. In "Bass To Mouth" it's revealed that he does this to such a level one student has actually committed suicide from the ridicule. The School Council orders (and at fail, begs) Cartman not to let the same thing happen to another kid, which he interprets as embarrassing another kid and spearheading a Freelance Shame Squad onto her instead.
- In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim meets up with his old schoolmate, The Boogeyman, and is not happy about it. When asked why, we flashback to their school days, where Boogey gave Grim one hell of a wedgie in front of the whole school. Right before they all laugh at him, one monster says "Let's all point and laugh at his humiliation!"
- Hey Arnold! has these constantly, often spearheaded by Sid or Stinky.
- In the Sponge Bob Square Pants episode "Pranks a Lot", SpongeBob and Patrick make themselves invisible and prank everyone by pretending to be ghosts. When Mr. Krabs makes them visible again, he finds that they are naked as well. (They took their clohtes off because the spray they used stained clothes.) Krabs lets them go, and SpongeBob mentions that he'd die of embarassment if anyone saw him now. They exit Krabs' office to find a crowd of all the people they pranked, laughing and hooting at the "Live nude pranksters".
- Used in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Hurricane Fluttershy". When Fluttershy was younger, her classmates at flight school would point and laugh at her whenever she messed up at flight training, which was rather often. As a result, she has issues with any sort of performing in public. In the present, when it becomes clear that Fluttershy has the worst flight speed of anyone on the waterspout team, a few ponies laugh, then immediately go back to ignoring her. However, Fluttershy's mind makes this far worse than it actually is: she thinks everyone is staring and laughing, and this triggers a panic attack on her part.
- No Service: Mickey Mouse saved himself from this when he regained his clothes (and got Donald's as well). Donald ended the episode being chased by one of those squads.
- One episode of Johnny Bravo had Johnny reading a bodybuilding magazine at a supermarket. A little girl yells that this man is looking at pictures of other brawny men, causing everyone in distance to look over and gasp in horror.
- King of the Hill: Stuart Dooley, a classmate of Bobby's, is a one-man shame squad, there to scornfully state the obvious at every opportunity. An odd inversion has him spotting Bobby pinning a Valentine flower on Joseph's shirt (to make him look popular) and snorting "That took courage."
- Back in the early episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine, the engines are often shown laughing or smirking whenever another has an accident or another humiliating incident, no matter how dire. Downplayed in later episodes, where they often show a more consistent concern for each other whenever they seem to be in trouble.