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Beggar with a Signboard

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Poverty leaves your spirit deflated.
"If a homeless person has a funny sign, he hasn't been homeless for that long. A real homeless person is too hungry to be funny."
Chris Rock, "No Sex (In the Champagne Room)"

A trope that is frequently seen with people who are homeless, jobless, or both. They spend their time sitting or walking around on the streets, holding an often handwritten cardboard sign to indicate that they are poor and need help.

This trope can come in several variations, for example the beggar uses his signboard to quickly inform people of his situation and to ask them for help. A well-known example is: "homeless, please help". Another variation is demonstrated by the page image, and often used for a quick joke or Cutaway Gag. Instead of traditional begging for some change, the beggar uses his signboard to try to offer some sort of services in exchange for (most often) food or money. The most common (and serious) of them is "will work for food", but this trope can easily be Played for Laughs by making the task promised, or the good asked for by the beggar, something absurd. Some variations may include the beggar making a threat ("Give me money, or else!").

Compare: The End Is Nigh, Waving Signs Around. Such a character, if played seriously, is at a high risk of turning out to be a Disposable Vagrant. Sadly Truth in Television.


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    Comic Books 
  • A Daffy Duck comic has Daffy using the sign, then seeing an open mic night at a comedy club. He goes and meets with absolute failure, moving on to insult the audience (all rabbits) who respond by pelting him with produce. The final panel has him back on the street with the sign changed to "Will be funny for food".
  • In a The Powerpuff Girls comic, after the Mayor loses Townsville to the Amoeba boys in a shell-game, he ends up living on the streets carrying a sign that says "Lost Townsville, Needs help".

    Comic Strips 
  • Brevity:
    • One strip has a homeless man holding out a sign and cup for money. Right next to him is a puppy with an overflowing cash cup, wearing a sign reading: "Give Me Money, I'm Cute."
    • The next day's strip has the homeless man take advantage of the pup, by now wearing a sign reading: "Give Me Money or I Eat the Dog." His money cup is overflowing.
  • Garfield: A dog says he will eat homework for food.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, Q*bert and his fellow characters sit around in Game Central Station after their game is unplugged, holding a sign that says "Game Unplugged, please help". In a version of the scene that's not in the film proper, they are also shown with a sign that says "Will NPC in FPS 4 food".
  • In A Bug's Life there's a cricket begging in the city with a sign that reads "Kid pulled my wings off".
  • In Robots, a robot in Robot City's station has a sign simply saying "Got Screwed". The giant screw in his head turns out to be fake.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Baśń O Ludziach Stąd has a gag with a bunch of those for the beggars to pick out of.
  • In Dredd, Dredd and Anderson encounter a beggar holding a sign saying "Will debase self for money." Dredd orders him to move on or he'll end up in the isocubes for vagrancy. He's so apathetic he refuses to move, and is squashed by a giant door just as he's about to be arrested by Dredd on his return.
  • In Grand Canyon, Dee notices a man with a cardboard sign that reads "Will Work For Food" as she drives to work.
  • Justice League has a beggar with a "I Tried" sign in its Title Sequence. Its absence in Zack Snyder's Justice League means that this was a Joss Whedon addition (and perhaps a hidden message about the film's infamously troubled production).
  • The Three Stooges short "Pop Goes the Easel" begins with the stooges walking around begging for work, like many did back in the depression days of the 1930s. Larry's sign reads "Must have a job, will do anything. Position as bridge instructor preferred." Curly's sign reads "I am starving, must have work... if I can't get anything ELSE." Moe's sign reads "Stop, look and listen. Social secretary seeks situation. Wages no objection." All three have no luck in their search, although a random bum to which Moe had handed his sign when asked to spell "chrysanthemum" manages to get picked up shortly afterwards.

  • Two immigrants compare how much money begging gets them. The first says he doesn't have any success with the usual "I'm hungry please help" sign, the other tells him he's raking in the cash with a sign that says "I need 500$ to go back to my country".
  • A hobo with a sign reading "I don't drink, smoke, do drugs or chase women... and now look at me".

  • In Discworld this is used by some of the beggars of the Ankh-Morpork Beggar's Guild. Coffin' Henry of the Canting Crew likes to use a sign reading "FOR SUM MUNY I WONT FOLLOW YOU HOME. KOFF KOFF". The Discworld Companion's Long List of recognised Guild categories includes "people with placards reading 'Why lie? I need a beer'". (Note that anyone with a sign saying "Will [do something] for food" would not be accepted by the Beggars' Guild, since the whole point is that you get given things.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a Saturday Night Live short film, Norm MacDonald plays a homeless man holding a "will work for food" sign. A distinguished looking gentleman picks him up and takes him to his home, where he has the homeless man do various secretarial/data entry work: rubber stamping, stapling, calculating, etc. At the end of the day the distinguished man gives the homeless man a hot dog on a bun and returns him to where he picked him up. The homeless man then gives the hot dog to his Heterosexual Life Partner-in-homelessness, who is worse off than he is.
  • In an episode of Castle dealing with an Occupy Wall Street type of protest, a background character is shown holding one of these signs, but the word "work" has been crossed out and replaced with "protest".
  • CSI: NY: While investigating the death of a homeless man in "Crime and Misdemeanor," Danny and Aiden spot a man in a park with a homemade sign which reads, "Why lie? I have a huge cell phone bill." (Signs of the times, it originally aired in 2005.)
  • Game of Thrones. Aimee Richardson's reaction to Princess Myrcella being recast.
  • Scrubs: J.D. has one of these in an Imagine Spot early in the series. When he's about to kiss Elliot, he imagines two likely consequences: either she reciprocates, leading to a steamy romance, eventual marriage, and a threesome with another girl, or she takes it the wrong way and slaps him, he's thrown out the hospital on his ass for sexual harassment, and he ends up wearing a filthy scrub holding a sign saying he'll diagnose for food.
  • On Married... with Children, Bud and Kelly have been so desperate for cash that they've been reduced to panhandling. Sometimes they'll pretend to be Hobos, and other times they'll hold up signs reading "Bundy-Please Help!" and "This Man Is Our Father!" next to a picture of Al Bundy.

  • Mark Wills' "Don't Laugh at Me" mentions this in the second verse:
    I lost my wife and little boy when
    Someone crossed that yellow line
    The day we laid them in the ground
    Is the day I lost my mind
    And right now I'm down to holdin'
    This little cardboard sign...
  • "What If She's an Angel" by Tommy Shane Steiner:
    There's a man standing on the corner
    With a sign saying, "will work for food"
    You know the man, you see him every morning
    The one you never give your money to
    You can sit there with your window rolled up
    Wondering when the lights going to turn green
    Never knowing what a couple more bucks
    In his pocket might mean...

    Music Videos 
  • Seen in the music video of the Van Halen song "Right Now", is a guy holding a sign saying "I will wrestle you for food" with the caption "Right now somebody's got the wrong idea."
  • Done in hide's PV for the song "Misery", where hide holds a cardboard sign with the words "Stay Free My Misery" in English.
  • Done in Dr. Dre's "Fuck Wit Dre Day" video, where "Sleazy-E" ends the video holding a "Will Rap for Food" sign. the video for Eazy-E's response, "Real Muthaphuckkin G's", also begins with "Sleazy" holding up the same sign.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The page image for Genius: The Transgression shows a legless robot with a signboard, "Will process data for energy".
  • An advertisement for Mayfair's Grimdark supers game Underground showed a busy subway station with a guy in the corner wearing a tattered superhero costume and holding a sign saying "Homeless Vet".

    Video Games 
  • Detroit: Become Human features beggars with signboards in several chapters, most of them claiming that they lost their jobs to androids.
  • In Grand Theft Auto V, some homeless men can be seen holding a sign stating "Need money for beer, pot and hookers (at least I'm not bullshitting U)".
  • In Pepsiman, the sidewalk beggars are holding up "Give Me PEPSI" signs.
  • In the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games, Ollie the Magic Bum is a fictional playable character, and one of his special moves involves spinning in the air while sitting and holding out a sign that says "Will Skate For Food."
  • The Binding of Isaac has Beggars, little cute fellas with signs requesting various items in exchange for potentially helpful pickups. Coins are not the only thing they'll beg for, though - you'll often find ones that want bombs, keys, or your health. If you have a lot to spare, it's always worth a shot, especially since, if/when they pay out, they'll drop a lot of good stuff and/or maybe even a pedestal item. Watch out, though, they drop a troll bomb that will not only damage you if you don't get away in time, but also kill the Beggar and therefore remove a source of extra goodies.
  • The first Penny Arcade Adventures game has hobos as enemies to fight against. One type in particular has an attack called "Down On My Luck", where he'll pull out a sign to show and deal damage to the party. It's even revealed in concept art to say "Will deal damage for food".

  • Blood & Smoke (Paul Mitzkowski): In the very first panel, a homeless man can be seen sitting on the sidewalk with a sign in hand.
  • Demon Aid: Esta gives her pay for a job she just finished to an elderly demon on the street with a sign reading "Will magic for food." He bursts into tears.
  • Brawl in the Family:
  • Dungeons & Doodles: Tales from the Tables: As a result of Eriawynn losing most of the party's funds in Episode 19, they're shown in the next episode panhandling on a street in Waterdeep, even using Angela's shield as a signboard.
  • Rusty and Co.: In the beginning of Level 8, we see a down-on-his-luck Calamitus (the Evil Sorceror, Starter Villain of the webcomic) lying in a dark alley with a signboard reading "Will perform EVIL 4 gold!"
    Alt Text: The court got Calamitus for practicing Necromancy without a license... took everything, even his material components.
  • The Order of the Stick: The cover for the compilation book On the Origin of PCs features Elan holding up an "Will adventure for food" sign.
  • Ozy and Millie: In one strip, Llewellyn is telling a typically rambling story about an ancestor who travelled the road, despite the fact "marketable skills, it should be noted, lie somewhere outside our family tradition". He has a sign that says "Will say things that seem to make sense until you think about them for food".

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • While not shown, The Runaway Guys mention seeing such a beggar during the Yoshi's Island playthrough. He was dressed to resemble a Stormtrooper, and bore a sign reading "Death Star blown up by teenagers. Need money for booze."
  • In the SuperMarioLogan episode, "Mario's Hobo Problem!", Hansel the Hobo carries a sign that says, "Will WORK 4 FOOD!!". When Mario hires Hansel to unclog his toilet (clogged up by Shrek), Hansel does not live up to his sign, as he spends his time drinking Mario's beer instead of doing the job Mario gave him.
  • Played for laughs in this Door Monster sketch, where the recurring Extortionist Hobo character tries to get money out of Jefferey with a series of these. None of them are very good, including ones that say "Lost arms in war every bit helps" (he clearly has both arms), a single big dollar sign, and "Give $$ quick or this sign will explode!".
    Jefferey: I don't think anyone would buy that. Plus, that's more like extortion, not begging.
    Hobo: Oh, that reminds me!
    He pulls out a sign that says "Buy this sign for 20$"
    Jefferey: Because I said extortion?
    Hobo: No, because you said nobody would by that.
    Hobo: [points to a part of the sign that now says "Or I'll stab you"] And extortion.

    Western Animation 
  • The Fairly OddParents! uses this trope at least twice:
    • In the episode, "The Big Problem", Timmy says that one advantage of being an adult is not needing a babysitter. In his Imagine Spot, Vicky is on the street corner, holding up a cup and a sign that says, "Will babysit for food". The handsome adult Timmy stops by and puts a coin in the cup, then pulls it away, as the coin is attached to a string. As he does this, he says, "Psyche!" to Vicky and drives away.
    • In the episode "Timmy TV", after his own show, "Leave It to Binky", is cancelled, Binky ends up on the streets holding a sign that reads "Will act for food".
  • The Simpsons: In "Krusty Gets Kanceled", Bart and Lisa encounter a homeless Krusty on a street corner holding a sign saying "Will drop pants for food". Unfortunately for Krusty, the Old Jewish Man is just down the block "doing it for free" (on top of dancing and singing "The Old Gray Mare").
  • Family Guy:
    • A Cutaway Gag highlights the dangers of encountering a moose on the highway. Here, a driver encounters a moose holding a sign reading "Will do moose stuff for money", and he inquires what "moose stuff" is.
      Moose: Whatever you want it to be. I could have sex with you, or I could just stand over there and drink from the lake, and everything in between.
      Driver: [beat] Get in.
    • When Peter found Brian when he was a stray, he was holding a sign reading "Will sit for food".
  • On Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko opens his refrigerator, but there's nothing in there, except a bug wearing a hat, scarf, and several pairs of mittens, holding up a "Will Work for Food" sign.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures:
    • In the episode, "Thirteensomething", When Babs leaving ACME Acres to audition for the titular Show Within a Show leads to Buster being unable to find a replacement co-host and the downfall of Tiny Toons, Plucky holds up a sign that says, "WILL TAKE FALLING ANVILS FOR LAUGHS".
    • In the short, "Nothing to Sneeze At" (part of "What Makes Toons Tick"), when Oogie the closet monster returns from failing to scare Hamton, a mummy can be seen in the unemployment office, holding up a sign that says, "HELP! NEED WORK". Unfortunately, he stands right where Oogie ends up sliding into him.
  • Animaniacs: In "Hooray for North Hollywood (Part 2)", Mr. Plotz is ousted from Warner Bros. for turning down the Warners' script that became a mega-hit movie, and he gets reduced to a bum holding a sign reading "Will run a studio for food".

    Real Life 
  • Vet James Herriot recalls graduating from university into the recession of the early 1930s. The professional magazine, The Veterinary Record, had at the time decided to refuse advertisements from newly qualified vets along the lines of "Will work for board and lodging", on the grounds that this was bad for the image of the profession. Herriot himself was lucky — he anticipated unemployment awaited him. Instead he met established vet Seigfreid Farnon.
  • Contrary to the page quote, plenty of long-term or chronically homeless people have funny signs. A funny sign for a homeless person can function a lot like a catchphrase for a corporation: something that a passerby will be more likely to notice and remember. The larger the number of homeless people in a given area, the more you'll see funny signs.
    • In Washington, DC after a national election homeless people will frequently claim to be staffers or clerks from the outgoing administration. This is obviously a joke of course, given how well government workers are paid, but it fits in with the common business practice of making everything a reference to national politics.