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Berserk Button / Theatre

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When a nice, normal character suddenly goes into a rage, you've hit their Berserk Button.

  • In Arsenic and Old Lace, Jonathan Brewster will immediately try to strangle anyone who points out the fact that he looks like Boris Karloff.
    • A lampshading in the original production, as Jonathan was played by Karloff himself.
  • Avenue Q: Kate Monster. One word: Racism.
    Kate: What are you trying to say? That all Monsters look the same to you?! Huh? HUH? HUH?!
    • Seems to be a sore spot for Gary Coleman too, although he gets even angrier if reminded of what his parents did to him.
  • Cyrano's nose in Cyrano de Bergerac: In Act II, his fellow cadets claim that even using an handkerchief is sufficient to send him into a murderous rage. He kills onstage the man who hits the Berserk Button, after he comes up with an impromptu list of 20 better jokes than "Big Nose." Christian try to have a duel with Cyrano by using a hurricane of nose puns but doesn't success, Cyrano knowing who he is. It's present in the remake movie Roxanne, as well.
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  • In The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (now that's a Long Title), Ruth mentions her mother's high-school nickname, Betty the Loon. It doesn't end well for Ruth or for her pet rabbit.
  • In Hamlet, the usually meek and passive Gertrude will explode if her husband Claudius is ever insulted ("You have your father much offended") or threatened ("Oh this is counter you false Danish dogs.") She's still fairly ineffectual though.
  • Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing goes berserk upon being called an ass. And then he tells everyone not to forget it.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream: Don't mention Hermia's short stature.
  • In Pokémon Live!, Giovanni mentioning Ash's mom to him makes him furious.
  • Chicklet from Psycho Beach Party takes on her evil personality at the mention of the word "red."
  • The vaudeville sketch The Stranger with a Kind Face (or, Slowly I Turned) is based on this, and has been homaged in various songs and films. To wit: a character encounters a downtrodden-looking man (or, in rare occasions, a woman) and asks how he's doing. The downtrodden man proceeds to tell a long story about his life, and how a man stole his wife and child away from him, prompting him to chase them all over the world, only to discover them in northern New York. The man then remarks that he must never mention the name of either the place he found them or his wife, as he is then "possessed with a lust to kill." The first individual says either "Oh, you mean Niagara Falls" or "Oh, you mean Martha!" Sure enough, the man enters a trance and remarks "SLOWLY I turned, step by step, INCH BY INCH," and proceeds to beat the daylights out of the first person. The rest of the sketch consists of the victim inadvertently saying the trigger word ("You should've met me before you met Mar—oh, that was close. I almost said Martha" or "That's a horrible way to react just because someone says Niagara Falls!") and being repeatedly attacked.
    • An episode of I Love Lucy did the sketch, with Lucy as the first individual. She ends up being hit with a pillow, a bottle of seltzer water, and a pie in the face.
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    • The Three Stooges covered the sketch, but there’s a twist- both the first individual (Moe) and the person who wronged him (Larry) are triggered by the sketch’s word. Curly triggers them both repeatedly.
    • Godspell alludes to this in reaction to Judas taking the Lord's name in vain right in front of Him. It quickly turns into a lesson on turning the other cheek.
  • The Pirates of Penzance: The Pirate King is an orphan, and refuses to harm other orphans. However, word has gotten around and people know to claim orphanhood to be let go. The Pirate King generally trusting, but when he finds out he has been lied to, he becomes ripshit pissed and decides to rob and murder the man in question. For all that Pirates is an extremely silly comedy, the Pirate King's rage at having his fundamentally decent nature abused is played in dead earnest.
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  • Nathan in Sweet Gay Baby Jesus seems much more calm and level-headed than his boyfriend, Jed- until said boyfriend's actually threatened, and then he mashes thing up with a golf club.
  • In Twelfth Night, Orsino very nearly loses it when he hears that his lady-love Olivia has married his page, Cesario. However, careful listening to his monologue reveals that what he's really mad about is losing his page.
  • Wicked: Galinda is terrified and upset when she doesn't get her way.
    • Despite the fact that his Character Song flat-out states that he's stupid, Fiyero becomes furious with Elphaba when she treats him like he is after they rescue the lion cub:
      Fiyero: Boy, you think I'm really stupid, don't you?!
      Elphaba: [surprised] Well, not really.
      • Into the second act, Elphaba becomes his Berserk Button, even lashing out at Galinda for appearing so unconcerned about her best friend's disappearance, status as enemy of the state, and the vast amount of rumours about her - like the one where pure water will melt her...
    • Fiyero is Elphaba's Berserk Button, so much so that half of the song "No Good Deed" is spent with her screaming his name in agony and desperation, as he is being tortured. "No Good Deed" is also her Heroic Blue Screen of Death, Sanity Slippage Song, and Villain Song.
      • Mistreatment of people and Animals also sets her off, which is what causes - well, at least half of the problems in the play. She even starts a fight with Glinda for talking about Fiyero as if he were her property. And of course she becomes a "wicked" outlaw rather than let the Wizard's fascist state go on oppressing Animals.
  • In Heathers
    • In J.D's case, just try threatening or hurting Veronica in any way and see where that gets you - he made sure that Heather Chandler, Kurt and Ram paid for it...
    • Veronica's is bullying Martha, to the point she willingly stands up to the Heathers when they try to humiliate her at Ram's party and calls Kurt out on smacking her lunch tray out of her hands.

Alternative Title(s): Theater


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