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A Tale Told by an Idiot

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Ed: ...And stuck in your wall we are. The end.
Edd: Gracious, Ed, what an enchanted world you live in.
Eddy: I got a cramp listening to you.
Ed, Edd n Eddy, "Once Upon An Ed"

A not-too-bright character (The Ditz, Dumb Muscle, Single-Issue Wonk, or just someone with a You No Take Candle speech pattern) attempts to explain a situation the way they understand it. The reader has some idea of what's going on and may see that the explanation is technically correct (or at least gets what they're trying to say), but the person it's being explained to doesn't (usually for an amusing reaction).

Subtrope of Poor Communication Kills (and may lead to Dumbass Has a Point or My God, You Are Serious!). May involve My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels. See also "Rashomon"-Style, Unreliable Narrator, Entertainingly Wrong and Unreliable Expositor. Contrast Innocent Inaccurate, where the character is too young to know better. Compare Geeky Analogy where the issue is that the analogy only makes sense to fellow geeks.

The Trope Namer is Macbeth, specifically the famous Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow speech where a despondent Macbeth describes life as "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Kill la Kill, Mako has a habit of trying to summarize a situation in such a way that it seldom matches what's actually happening. She is a huge Cloud Cuckoolander.
  • Ash from Pokémon: The Series tries his best to explain things like evolution and Z-Moves, things he is well versed in. However his sheer enthusiasm and eagerness to be helpful is obfuscated by his lack of technical terms and he tends to default to feelings and sound effects over concrete explanations. This is usually where Brock or a similarly more grounded friend comes in to fill in the gaps for those asking.
  • Rave Master: early on Lance's minion Bis is sent to retrieve the Rave stone from Musica the blacksmith, is tricked in believing that he hadn't the stone and by the time he returns to recover it he's defeated by Haru. When he finally gets back to Lance and is questioned about what happened, he explains the above situation in such a terse and confusing manner noone, Lance included, understood what he meant to say.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: In the original Asterix in Britain, Asterix's Briton cousin Jolitorax introduces himself as Asterix's "cousin germain" (the French term for first-degree cousins) and asks to shake the Gauls by the hand. Obelix obliges (to Asterix's horror), and later explains to the chief that Jolitorax is a German Briton who must not be shaken even if he asks for it. Fortunately, as the narration notes, Asterix's explanation was rather clearer. (In the English translation, the hand-shaking bit is identical, but Anticlimax is Asterix's cousin once removed, leading to Obelix explaining that he's "been removed once already".)
  • Achille Talon: A repeated gag is for such a character to badly explain the situation to a cop and then get impatient when the cop doesn't understand them (or accuse the cop of being too stupid to understand). Funny Foreigner Lazlo Zlotz once gets himself and Achille thrown into prison after doing this.

    Fan Works 
  • In My Huntsman Academia, Nora tends to call Izuku's Glenn Smash a "finger-bang" thanks to its explosive power at the cost of breaking a finger. Unfortunately, whenever she says he "finger-banged" someone else, people tend to think of much kinkier things. It's briefly Played for Drama when Momo comes to the conclusion that he sexually assaulted a girl in broad daylight without any form of retribution from Nora's description of his fight against Yang.

    Films — Animation 
  • Frozen II: On meeting the Northuldra, Olaf attempts to explain the situation — why the main characters are in the Enchanted Forest, how they got past the magical barrier, why Elsa has powers — by recapping the events of the first movie, none of which answers anyone's questions, even to people who can follow along. Naturally, this leaves the situation even more confused.
  • In The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, A centurion ghost tells Obelix that he and his group were Roman soldiers massacred by man's folly, and came back from the grave to avenge themselves on anyone crossing the battlefield at night. When Asterix wakes up and demands to know what all the racket is, Obelix cuts in by explaining that they're Romans killed by madmen on their way back from somewhere. The ghost tries to clarify things, but Asterix just yells him into disappearing.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Ant-Man and its sequel, Luis tends to explain things in a fast-paced, rambling way that frequently switches perspective or goes on strange tangents, making it hard for Scott to tell what he's saying. This is actually used to his advantage in the sequel, when he's injected with a truth serum. He manages to stall Burch and his men by launching into one of his long-winded, over-explained stories, giving Scott and Hope time to stop Ava.
  • Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle: Whenever Alex tries to tell her father what she, Natalie and Dylan really do, she makes it sound less like they're an elite team of secret agents and more like they're a trio of prostitutes.

  • In His Dark Materials, the cliff monsters have issues with understanding a snow fox retelling the conversation between Iorek and Serafina about the Aesaheetr because these foxes only understand the present tense.
  • In Nightfall, the Sacred Scripture of the local Apocalypse Cult is probably one of these. As discussed, once the civilization had been destroyed through everyone going mad, the only people coherent enough to recount what happened will be either children too young to consider the Night as something truly terrible, or someone who didn't have a lot of intelligence and sanity to begin with. Few take the Cult's warning seriously.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kaamelott: A recurring problem is for Medieval Morons attempting to repeat messages and concepts they have no clue how to explain, with malapropers and highly personal interpretations aplenty.
    • One episode features a messenger who keeps running back and forth between Arthur and Lancelot's bases and is incapable of remembering the message he was given, leading to him deliver Arthur's demand that Lancelot dismember his troops (disband) and Lancelot's threat of a nutritionist (an ultimatum) to Arthur, who is understandably confused.
    • Each and every one of Perceval's reports on his last quest is one of these, to Father Blaise's dismay (since he writes it down in ink on parchment and has to start over every time Perceval realizes he forgot something). And he keeps adding things only he finds interesting (like mysterious old men) and his quests always end up as failures anyway.
  • In Justified, any time Dewey Crowe tries to relay what has happened in any given situation, the character he's talking to usually ends up either exasperated and asking a dozen questions to clarify what he means or staring in awe at how nonsensical his story is. Several one-off characters simply mutter a variation of "Bless your heart" (Southern for "You're an idiot") and continue on with whatever they were doing before he arrived.
  • Midsomer Murders has a character for whom fly-fishing is Serious Business, and explains in great detail why she was entirely justified in assaulting another person for doing it wrong. Poor Troy is stuck taking down her statement with a completely bewildered expression.
  • When prior Rangers guest star in Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, Bridge tries to explain how he got promoted to Red Ranger since Power Rangers S.P.D.. Only Overdrive's own Cloud Cuckoolander, Dax, thinks it makes sense. (For context, what Bridge doesn't explain adequately is that the "dog" and "bird" he mentions are aliens. Plus, SPD takes place about two decades in Overdrive's future.)
    Oh, uh, yeah, well, long story short, our mentor who's, well, a dog, got promoted to head of S.P.D. which was run by a bird but he retired to Miami, and Sky got promoted and I got promoted. That's why I'm the Red Ranger, or will be.

    Video Games 
  • Tales from the Borderlands depicts a grand adventure being told to a mysterious stranger from the perspectives of Rhys and Fiona. Fiona generally tells her story pretty straight, but Rhys himself is a buffoon in most situations, usually surviving situations more on sheer luck than actual plans. Whenever he slips up in retelling the story, he gets called on it.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Caboose tries to recreate Church with Epsilon by telling him stories about their past adventures. Since Caboose is a total Cloud Cuckoolander and a Never My Fault attitude, Epsilon-Church's initial perspective of the world is a little warped.
    • The ending of "Red Vs Blue: The Musical" reveals that the Musical Episode is in fact Donut's version of the Blood Gulch Chronicles, which he's telling to the armies of Chorus. Donut felt what really happened was too dull ("All we ever did was stand around and talk!") and wanted to spice it up.


    Western Animation 
  • In the "Rashomon"-Style Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Once Upon An Ed", each Ed explains how they got stuck in Johnny's wall. When it's Ed's turn, he explains that he and his friends ran away from the giant, mutated Kanker Sisters. Funnily enough, his story is the most accurate in terms of the characterisation of everyone else with the other Ed's stories tinted by their own feelings about the others.
  • Futurama: When the Brainspawn attack Earth, draining the intelligence of everyone except Fry, Leela tries to explain the situation to him so that he can fight back. The results:
    Leela: Brain make people dumb!
    Fry: No, Leela. Brain make people smart.
  • In The Loud House episode "Not a Loud", Lincoln asks his dopey big sister Leni what she remembers about his birth. She claims an eagle brought him. Really he was brought by the First Lady but he was swaddled in a blanket with the presidential seal on it.
  • Sonic Boom: The episode "Dude, Where's My Eggman?" showcased how goofy Knuckles is with his delusions of grandeur when he interrupted Sonic's side of the story with what happened when battling Eggman with a brief story about how Knuckles depicted Sonic as an inept & useless coward while Knuckles is a hammy and ridiculously heroic powerhouse that made Eggman easily cower in fear when Knuckles tried blasting him, much to the point that he sees himself like a godly and widely-praised hero (albeit his transformation looking like it came from Super Sonic), who was also elected as governor before taking off into space... just to cut back to Knuckles smiling off into the sky while Sonic rolls his eyes at him because of how unconvincing the whole story was.


Video Example(s):


Knuckles' tale of heroism

In the episode "Dude, Where's My Eggman?", Orbot and Cubot went to Sonic & Knuckles to see if they founded Eggman when he was supposedly gone when Sonic tried explaining how it happened, being the moron that Knuckles is, he interrupts Sonic's story about what happened with his own story in the most absurd and unbelievable ways possible.

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