The Pratfall

A pratfall is better than anything.
Preston Sturges, Eleven Rules for Box Office Appeal

The buttocks. The fundament. The behind. The posterior. The sitter-downer. Whatever you call it, it's inherently funny. Falling down and landing on it? Comedy gold!

The Pratfall (named for an archaic word for buttocks) is a staple of Slapstick humor and one of the most fundamental forms of Schadenfreude. Many comedians have built entire careers around variations on this theme. A stock gag for the circus clown, the pratfall is Older Than Radio and dates back at least to the days of vaudeville and music hall theater, and it was very popular in early silent films. It may well be as old as comedy itself. One suspects even our primitive ape-like ancestors must have found it hilarious when a fellow ape sat down a bit harder than expected.

The humor often comes from the exaggerated nature of the fall, and many physical comedians practice their pratfalls carefully to make sure they are funny enough. (Online lessons are available.) The humor value may also depend on the falling character lands on (or in).

A favorite technique for The Klutz. May involve a Banana Peel, dog droppings, or just a slippery surface.

Subtrope of Amusing Injury and Literal Ass Kicking. Compare Face Plant, which is a similar way of going from upright to sprawled very quickly for humor, and the closely related Face Fault.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

  • Gretchen in the "circle of trust" did this in Mean Girls.
  • Charlie Chaplin used this in many of his early movies when playing the character The Little Tramp.
  • Buster Keaton perfected the pratfall and even made a variation of it called the backward roll, where he would fall on his ass and continue the momentum, flipping backward over his head and back up to his feet
  • Silent film stars Laurel and Hardy were also fond of this trope, so much that it's one of their trademarks.
    • There's even a Laurel and Hardy fan magazine called Pratfall.
  • In Bringing Up Baby, David slips on an olive Susan dropped and falls really hard on his butt.
  • In the automat scene from Easy Living, there are so many pratfalls that it's hard to count them all. Being a Preston Sturges script gives you an idea why this is the case.
  • In Clockwise, John Cleese (playing an uptight overstressed headmaster) gets a car stuck in the mud, and when he gets out, furious, he kicks it, slips, and ends up sitting in the mud himself.
  • Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello was a master of the technique.
  • Curly Howard of The Three Stooges also made regular use of it.
  • Kevin James in Zookeeper performs an excellent flying one after running into a large metal crossbar with his head.
  • Yuki Meguro's work as Lupin in Strange Psychokinetic Strategy is as professional as American Vaudeville acts. With a completely stiff, still body, he falls straight back like a cartoon cat recently hit by an anvil.
  • Plenty from the toons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and when Judge Doom has one, it's a clue that he's a toon. The previously humorless Eddie Valliant does a bunch during his dance to make the weasels Die Laughing.

  • Emma and Lori go for a walk in Aunt Dimity Digs In and wade in a nearby stream to cool off—until Emma's dog Ham bounds in to join them, causing them to flail for balance and land in the water. At least they got cooled off.

    Live Action TV 
  • The intro to The Dick Van Dyke Show features Dick performing a very tricky full somersault version after tripping over an ottoman.
  • In the first season of Saturday Night Live Chevy Chase did this a lot when doing his "impression" of Gerald Ford.
  • Chevy Chase's character Pierce does this almost once an episode in Community. Occasionally other characters will also do pratfalls. Notably Annie in an alternate timeline that results in the death of Pierce.
  • Manuel on Fawlty Towers would sometimes perform these when Mr. Fawlty got mad and started pushing him around.
  • The classic Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, Upperclass Twit of the Year Awards, features some unusual, highly stylized, and deliberately awkward pratfalls.
  • Amateur versions are regularly featured on America's Funniest Home Videos.
  • In F Troop, Captain Parmenter frequently showed us how it's done by tripping over nearly everything, including rugs, floorboards, hitching posts, and, in one unfortunate instance, the fort well. Ken Berry's dancing talents allowed him to pull them off beautifully, including one instance where Parmenter encounters several obstacles on a stroll through town and not only manages to still land on his feet in the end, but does all of them while distracted by a letter he's reading.
  • An episode of Bones features a disturbing but still funny version. Agent Booth is anxious to find a corpse's missing head, because he has another appointment. In his hurry, he slips on a muddy riverbank, and slides into the water, then triumphantly holds up the head.
  • On Father Ted, Mrs. Doyle wins a date for tea with her idol, TV heartthrob Eoin McLove. When she meets him, she begins shaking uncontrollably, then goes rigid as a board and falls right over on her arse.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Peanuts, the famous sequence where Lucy would pull away the football at the last second always resulted in Charlie Brown landing on his backside.
  • In Bloom County and its sequel Outland, Opus would often perform pratfalls out of sheer surprise, as when he got a letter from his long-missing mother.

  • Sega's Sapporo shows several skiiers suffering various pratfalls and tumbles.

    Video Games 
  • Used as a game mechanic in Super Smash Bros. Brawl — there's a random chance of pratfalling whenever the control stick is hit, discouraging excessive dashing and pivoting.
    • In Super Smash Bros. Melee there's a score bonus called "Pratfaller" for always landing on your back after being knocked down during a match. Alternatively, always landing face down gives you the "Face Planter" bonus.
    • This is, funny enough, one of Toon Link's victory poses. He fails to catch a pig, trips and lands on his backside. You get to watch rest of the participants of the match applaud him while he stays on the floor, rubbing his butt.
  • The "Pratfall Cheat Code" for Saints Row 2 allows players to perform pratfalls and faceplants for their own amusement.
  • The Bouncywild enemies in the first Kingdom Hearts game throw out Banana Peels that cause Sora to fall on his ass.
  • In Dragon Quest IX, the Minstrel class can unlock the Pratfall Ability, staging a slapstick fall for the amusement of the local Slimes, hopefully depriving the enemy team of a turn as a result of side-splitting hilarity.
  • The classic (and classically hard) track and field Flash game QWOP is so difficult that pratfalls are virtually inevitable.
  • One of the few times Bastila shows a sense of humor in Knights of the Old Republic involves using the Force to knock Mission over, after insisting (to Mission's questioning) that she's above such things.
    Mission: Hey! That wasn't funny!
    Bastila: I have no idea what you're talking about, Mission. Let us move on and, please, do try to be less clumsy in the future.
  • There's a specific type of stagger in Play Station All Stars Battle Royale called a "butt drop" that leaves victims unable to do anything for less than a second while they get back up.
  • In Tales of Symphonia you can get Titles for characters which are like a combination of Video Game Achievements and Classes, one for the character of Regal is "Pratfall King" and you get it for being knocked down repeatedly in one battle. Presumably Regal gets an achievement for getting knocked down a lot because since his hands are constantly bound in handcuffs because he'd be the character who'd have the hardest time getting up on his own.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Futurama, resident klutz Amy Wong is prone to this.
  • The Simpsons: Bart awakens after falling, to find himself staring into the eyes of an attractive young girl.
    Bart's brain: She's beautiful! Say something clever.
    Bart: I fell on my bottom.
    Bart's brain: D'oh...
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Zecora suffers a fall on her backside when Twilight Sparkle disturbs her meditation in Swarm of the Century.
  • In the first episode of Ben 10: Omniverse, we see young Ben defeating an alien named Malware, after which he proceeds to do a celebratory jump with the alien's enhanced jumping abilities, but the Omnitrix's timer runs out and Ben returns to normal form, landing on his butt. He still takes a moment to taunt the fleeing enemy before he starts rubbing his backside.

Alternative Title(s):