"Cruelty is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke."A deadly tactic often used by a Villain with Good Publicity. The heroes, after much strife and turmoil, have finally managed to uncover proof of the villain's evil plans and are able to go public with it. When the villain gets wind of this, they discredit the proof in the place they best know how: the court of public opinion. In a nutshell:
— The Screwtape Letters, chapter 11
The Hero: We have uncovered evidence that the villain has been torturing enemy soldiers with whips and spiked collars!Yes, that's right. The all-encompassing evil that embodies the spirit of Kick the Dog? It's a joke now. If you're lucky, it might show up on a late night talk show. But no one, ever, is going to take it the slightest bit seriously now. After all, how can something so hilarious possibly be a crime against humanity? However, this trope can backfire against the villain if their ultimate goal relies on things like being able to convincingly intimidate an enemy. A villain who comes off as amusing (and not in an Affably Evil manner) will often be viewed as a practical joker, and subsequently be ignored. Alternatively, this trope is what causes most Narm under the "failed Crowning Moment Of Awesome" heading, since a Crowning Moment Of Awesome is badly undercut when the character in question engages in accidental comedy. This is the logical in-universe extension of Laughably Evil. See also Sarcastic Confession, Refuge in Audacity, and "Just Joking" Justification. Contrast with Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor. Often a causing factor of Draco in Leather Pants — if the villain makes you laugh, how can he be bad? But no matter how amusing they are, never forget to Beware the Silly Ones. Often involves Appeal to Ridicule, and can be seen as a combination of Comedic Sociopathy and Rule of Funny. Compare Actually Pretty Funny. Contrast Dude, Not Funny!, for things that may be seen as too evil to be funny.
Villain: Hold on, you thought I was torturing them?
Villain: Hold on, you thought I was torturing them?
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- An example of this aimed at the real life audience (rather than the in-universe public) in D.Gray-Man: Komui is one of the good guys. When he tries to murder innocent people, he does so with incompetent killer robots, so it's clearly just a joke - despite the damage he causes and the sociopathy he exhibits while doing it. The audience isn't expected to hold it against him in the more serious episodes.
- Mukrezar is a soulless, murderous bastard who completely wiped out all life on an entire continent, apparently for kicks. He is also an unrepentant torturer who apparently finds screams of the tormented 'soothing'. He is also a terrible cook. Despite this, he is an amazingly quirky and charismatic leader and manages to pass himself off as Plucky Comic Relief.
- Shown at the ending in The Men Who Stare at Goats, and as happened in Real Life. The only part of the report that the main character made that shows up in the USA's media is that the prisoners were held in solitary confinement and made to listen to a deafening, two-minute clip of Barney music on repeat all day every day until they broke. It'd drive you utterly insane before long, given that a mere two minutes is enough to give most listeners nausea, but since it's the butt of a joke nobody cares.
- A variation is used against villains in Dean Ing's story "Very Proper Charlies" (and later his novel Soft Targets), in which a media policy of portraying terrorists as pathetic laughingstocks undercuts their ability to terrorize people.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Shagwell, a former jester who is part of the monstrous mercenary group The Brave Companions, tries to claim that he's this when he's cornered by Brienne. Considering all the things that both the audience and the characters have seen him do, (and that mere moments ago, Shagwell first crushed the knee and then the head of a man with a mace) nobody in universe or out is buying it.
Shagwell: I yield, I yield. You mustn't hurt sweet Shagwell, I'm too droll to die.
Brienne: You are no better than the rest of them. You have robbed and raped and murdered.
Shagwell: Oh, I have, I have. I shan't deny it... but I'm amusing with all my japes and capers. I make men laugh.
Brienne: And women weep.
- In C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape advises Wormwood that his patient can get away with many sins as long as he passes them off as jokes to his fellows.
- He also advises using the Big Red Devil image to his advantage, because with that in his head the patient won't be able to take the Devil or demons seriously.
- Warbreaker has this at the forefront with Denth and Tonk Fah, in a meta example. Both of these characters say horrible things that they are to do, followed by giving a "Just Joking" Justification... despite the fact that the very fact that they would joke about such things is indication that they are not good people, which can easily fly over the head of a first reader.
- A meta-example with the Orks of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. These guys embody Stupid Evil, Chaotic Stupid, and Crazy Awesome. In the actual 'verse though, they are interstellar butchers and murderers who would have already conquered the whole setting, if not for the fact they spend half their time stabbing each other in the back, and the other half stabbing each other in the front.
- Kefka comes across as an unusually silly character. He dresses like a clown, seems to have a few screws loose, and is just all around goofy. At first.
- Another meta example in Azure Striker Gunvolt. Merak is the embodiment of sass and generally agreed to be one of the funniest characters in his own game. In the first translation of the game, they made no mention of his Moral Event Horizon, (namely drowning an entire subaquatic base just so he wouldn't have to fight you), so he comes across as something of an Anti-Villain. This is especially true when most of the other villains' Pet the Dog moments are confined to audio dramas and supplementary materials. Now, the game has been retranslated and what's said is done, but the character is still pretty popular. It doesn't help that he's a Lazy Bum who makes it clear he doesn't really have anything out for the hero.
- Handsome Jack seems like this at the start of the game, but as you become more and more of a threat to him he starts showing his true colors, and when you finally press his Berserk Button he shows you just how much of a threat he really is when he has nothing left to lose.
- The Illuminati members of The Secret World have learned to weaponize this concept. If ever caught on being members of a ancient world spanning conspiracy, rather than deny it, they cop to it while playing up the idea of being part of a secret organization that is several millennia old, controls the world and has supernatural elements as one massive punch-line to a bad joke by conspiracy nuts. They don't even need to lie, all public figures need to do is roll their eyes and no one cares.
- Black Mage of 8-Bit Theater. His utter incompetence and his Cosmic Plaything status prevents anyone from taking him seriously even though he would very quickly destroy all life if given the opportunity.
- Redcloak of The Order of the Stick warns Jirix not to think this of Xykon. He may be funny and charming when he wants to be (Charisma is the primary casting stat for Sorcerer's after all), but underneath the facade he is a monster, and quite possibly the most powerful spellcaster alive (sort of).
- Played for Laughs in this case since Redcloak is one of the bad guys, and the whole conversation was a setup for a Cutaway Gag showing Xykon's twisted and evil act of dressing up the undead in the style of American Gladiators.
- Also Thog, explicitly pointed out by Tarquin, who wants to have him killed, because he's a violent murderer, but since he's so whimsical, the audience thinks he's harmless and enjoyable. This also serves as a Take That, Audience!, since this is a common reaction to Thog by the readers of the comic.
- Dragon Ball Abridged: Nappa is made to appear almost as if all of the things he does are because of being stupid instead of malicious.
- Vegeta is such a long-suffering and sardonic Only Sane Man (whose evil plans are always thwarted anyway) that he becomes the most sympathetic character.
- Comedic Sociopathy is the Bastard Operator from Hell's entire purpose. Anyone who can use Refuge in Audacity to get away with what the BOFH does and make you laugh at it must be all about this.
- In one episode of Pinky and the Brain, Brain's plan was to take over the world by overwhelming everyone with the Tear Jerker "Brain's Song", then take advantage of their weakened mental state to assert dominance over them. Unfortunately, his last scene on a vibrating electric football gameboard caused him to shake in spasms while stating his demands, and everyone falls out of their depressed crying state laughing uproariously at Brain's absurd remonstrations of "I'm the o-o-o-o-o-o-o-overlord!"
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In "The Return of Harmony Part 1", Discord has escaped from his can and signs of his return are everywhere. Even the God Empress is terrified, and she immediately sets the ponies on a mission to use the Elements of Harmony to save Equestria again... while Pinkie Pie is too busy being ecstatic that eternal chaos comes with chocolate rain and seems to think the local God of Evil is a big party animal. She quickly changes her mind however after falling subject to his Mind-Control Eyes.
- In "Keep Calm and Flutter On", Pinkie Pie and Spike are absolutely delighted by Discord's antics while Fluttershy tries to reform him, and the other ponies are alarmed, suspicious, and freaked out. Though it's worth mentioning that Pinkie Pie and Spike don't get attacked by the dancing candles or the soup tureen either.
- Dick Dastardly. He's Wile E. Coyote in human drag.
- Varrick from The Legend of Korra has many of the traits of a Corrupt Corporate Executive (or at least an amoral one). He manipulates and elevates conflicts between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes to engage in War Profiteering, sabotages his competitor Asami's products in order to force her to sign her company over to him and frames Mako for his crimes. However, many of the characters (and the fanbase) are willing to give him a free pass because he's also the resident Cloudcuckoolander. Fortunately he gets better later on.