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Stupidity, as well as intelligence, has often been a trope in television. The reason these traits turned into tropes is that it's very hard to tell the audience that a character is smart, or stupid, without going overboard. Naturally, there is some middle ground, just not a whole lot. After all, why settle for a character with slightly-above average, albeit far more realistic, intelligence when you can have a TV Genius?


See also Intelligence Tropes and Anti-Intellectualism. A character who Took a Level in Dumbass has tumbled a few notches down the list as a result of Flanderization.

Not all of these tropes are mutually exclusive, and some of them even complement each other. For instance, an Absent-Minded Professor can easily be a Cloudcuckoolander as well.

In approximate descending order by intellect:


The morons

  • The Ditz: This character reaches more deeply into the abyss of stupidity. Chances are they will be looked down on by other characters, and probably be book dumb AND street dumb, but usually have someone to help them out.
  • Too Dumb to Live: This character is going to die, and probably soon. They will walk home alone in the wrong side of town to call their friend about the zombie apocalypse, right before being killed by said zombies. If they are a recurring character on a show, expect plenty of pushes on the Reset Button, lest they join the undead themselves....
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  • Lethally Stupid: This character is stupid yet due to sheer dumb luck they manage to avoid getting themselves harmed from their actions but end up harming others or always having to be rescued by friends.

Not too smart, but not too stupid

  • Book Dumb: This character isn't dumb at all, but they won't score high on school tests.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: This character is a daydreamer. Barely even on the list, but a little naive nonetheless.
  • The Fool: Here we reach into a character who is more than a little bit dumb. They may not be stupid and they can go through life without much assistance, but they're still not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: Dumb. But not foolish.
  • Smarter Than You Look: A character appears to be dumb at first (usually by falling into some negative stereotype) but is eventually shown to be intelligent and learned.

Smart, but eccentric

  • Absent-Minded Professor: A character who's unbelievably intelligent but would forget their own head if it weren't attached.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: A character who is smart but rarely puts any effort into things, yet ends up being successful regardless.
  • Ditzy Genius: A character who is clearly intelligent but has nothing in the way of common sense or tact. An expert at landing themselves in trouble.
  • Genius Ditz: A totally ditzy character who is absolutely unbeatable in one area of expertise.
  • Modern Major General: A character who is highly skilled in several areas, except for the one they're supposed to be skilled in.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: Ain't got 'nough time to stand around explainin' quant'm mechanics and the intr'casies of wrangling non-linea' space-time fluctuations to no city slickers. Ya'll wanna use the teleeporta' or not? I got a chess match going against that insufferable genius feller, and the weasel's probably cheating while I kain't see the boards.

Conventional geniuses

  • Book Smart: A character who gets good grades in school.
    • Child Prodigy: A genius who just so happens to be a pre-teen kid.
      • Brainy Baby: A genius who might still be in diapers or daycare.
  • Genius Bruiser: When The Smart Guy and The Big Guy are one and the same. A character who's highly intelligent and intellectually accomplished, while also being physically intimidating and useful in a fight.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Not only ranks this character very high on the brain chain, they are also one of the nicest, if not the nicest, character in their own work. They probably wouldn't make a big deal knowing they're at the top either, not wanting to make their less intelligent friends uncomfortable.
  • Insufferable Genius: A character who has talent, knows it, and will no doubt tell you again and again. While they are very close to the top of the brain chain, they can't reach it due to there being one valuable thing they can't seem to wrap their heads around, humility.
  • The Philosopher: Has deep knowledge about the wisdom of the world and will talk about metaphysical problems, The Meaning of Life and moral dilemmas to a degree that only the smartest characters will understand. Other characters like the Insufferable Genius or The Professor will still learn from him. Is mostly portrayed as a Byronic Hero in fiction, which doesn't make him any less smart.
  • The Smart Guy: A character who can always be depended on to do some Hollywood Hacking, provide some Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, or have technical knowledge.
  • Teen Genius: A genius who just so happens to be a teen. Exactly like the TV Genius (see below), but without the odd side effects.

The biggest brains in the world

  • Einstein Sue: A Mary Sue that, despite often having no reason, is depicted as the smartest character in the setting.
  • TV Genius: A character who, naturally, is smart, but only how an unintelligent person would imagine a genius to act. This usually includes a lack of social skills, an extensive (read: show off) vocabulary, and Nerd Glasses.
  • The Omniscient: The smartest possible character in fiction and on top of the brain chain. He knows everything relevant to the story, if not everything as a whole. Will often be neutral, or have an Omniscient Morality License.