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Breath-Holding Brat

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That only took three panels.

"She's gonna hold her breath until she gets a new one."
Margo Gru, Despicable Me

A popular form of taking yourself hostage for many a Spoiled Brat or Bratty Half-Pint (or occasionally, a childish adult) who is denied something he/she wants. Simply hold your breath and threaten to continue doing so until either the person you're dealing with gives in to your demands, or you pass out — or worse — from asphyxiation.

Expect the person doing this to start trembling and their face turning red or blue as they keep holding their breath, while the person it is used against gradually goes from dismissing the tactic to realizing it's no joke, and either finally giving in just in time, or allow the kid to pass out.

Note that this wouldn't actually work in real life unless external circumstances cause it. Breathing is only a semi-voluntary reflex, which can temporarily be suppressed but will automatically restart if you go unconscious or become too exhausted to continue holding it in — unless you, say, fall face-first into water, hit your head on the way down, or have something physically obstructing your mouth and nose.


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  • In an old ad for UPS, during the height of NASCAR's popularity in the United States, a child once walked up to Dale Jarrett and told him he was going to hold his breath until Jarrett raced the big brown truck (the normal UPS delivery truck), before puffing up his cheeks and holding his breath. Jarrett proceeded to squish them, making him spit it out.

    Comedy Albums 
  • There is a variation of this in a Cheech & Chong album where Cheech and Chong have to babysit several little kids, and they start a contest to see which kid can hold their breath the longest. One kid refuses to stop holding his breath even after the other kids have given up, prompting an alarmed Cheech to say, "Hey, kid, you're gonna die if you keep doing that!"

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: The page image comes from Asterix in Spain, in which Pepe, the Bratty Half-Pint son of the Spanish chief Huevos y Bacon, is very fond of using this tactic, to the point that it becomes a Running Gag. When Obelix sees how effective it is, he starts using it himself. At one point, Pepe, Obelix, and Dogmatix simultaneously do this till Asterix agrees to visit a nearby ship to ask for provisions.
  • In the comic book based on ALF, ALF tells Willie and Kate that he wants to come along for a picnic, and if they won't let him, he'll hold his breath until he turns blue. Willie says it's out of the question, but then Kate remembers a remote location they could go to without being seen. Willie turns to ALF to tell him the good news only to be horrified to see that ALF is holding his breath and is literally blue from head to toe - fur and all. ("When I'm really upset, I can turn paisley!" ALF adds) Given how much ALF's Bizarre Alien Biology was played up in the comics, this is far from the strangest thing he's done.
  • Garfield: Jon, that paragon of maturity and adulthood, once threatened to hold his breath until Liz went out with him, and immediately did so... then collapsed on the ground because she ignored him.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: There is a comic where the Beagle Boys accidentally kidnap the bratty child of a rich couple. The kid is an extremely Spoiled Brat who tends to hold his breath to get what he wants, even managing to convince the Beagles to play with him with this technique. He is so annoying that his parents initially let the Beagles keep the kid while they enjoy some peace and quiet.

    Fan Works 
  • During a tantrum in Aphelion, Azusami starts holding her breath. Her mother Azula doesn't know what to do about it. Azula's mother Ursa tells her that both she and her older brother also used to hold their breath until they passed out.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Despicable Me, Agnes uses this technique to convince Gru to buy her a new unicorn toynote . When Gru refuses, she pretends to faint, freaking him out. When Gru finally caves, she sneakily opens one eye while smirking. Margo implies she has done this numerous times before.
  • Hubie does this in The Pebble and the Penguin during a song number in order to get Rocko to admit he likes him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934), youngest daughter Europena (Virginia Weidler) often threatens "I'll hold my breath! I'll hold my breath till I turn black in the face!"

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of The Andy Griffith Show has a Spoiled Brat tell Opie that he gets his way with his dad by holding his breath. Opie (admittedly a good kid who doesn't seem to fully understand brattish anger or tantrums as concepts) half-heartedly tries this with Andy, but then he calmly tells his father what he's doing when asked. Andy dismissively says that breath-holding is a good exercise to do.
  • Pretty Little Liars: Fifteen-year-old Alison often throws tantrums and holds her breath until her mother gives her what she wants, like agreeing to let her have a sleepover with her friends. She's so good at holding her breath for extended periods of time that this ability helps her survive being Buried Alive.
  • Kaamelott: Yvain once threatened to do this when he was forced to go back to combat training with Lancelot.
  • Fitting with the "childish adult" variant, Colonel Sherman Potter's debut episode in M*A*S*H has Frank Burns (who's been in temporary command since the death of the previous CO, Henry Blake) do this when it turns out that the brass isn't promoting him to full-time command. Before this he'd thrown a tantrum, stomping his feet and flailing his fists as he yelled about how unfair it was. After this, he actually runs away from the camp. While his lover Major Houlihan is worried for his safety, Hawkeye says that as soon as Frank gets hungry he'll come back. He proves to be correct about this when Frank comes back to camp in the middle of the night.
  • In an unaired Impractical Jokers challenge, the guys had to beg toy store customers to buy something for them. This was Q's tactic...even though the mark informed him that you can't die from holding your breath.
  • In Resident Alien, Max and Sahar blackmail Harry into getting a truce by holding their breath. Sahar also says that she once held her breath for two minutes to get out of a Sufi prayer circle.

  • In the fifth Malory Towers book, June plays a prank on Mam'zelle Dupont by pretending to hold her breath while activating a mechanism that inflates several balloons hidden inside her uniform, giving the impression that June herself is inflating when she's holding her breath. This drives Mam'zelle Dupont into a panic as she begs the girl not to hold her breath.

  • Parodied in Lady Gaga's song "Bad Kids," from Born This Way, which is from the perspective of a much older "kid" than this trope usually applies to:
    I'm a bad kid I'm disastrous.
    Give me your money or I'll hold my breath

  • Mr. Mushnik of all people holds his breath in Little Shop of Horrors until Seymour allows Mushnik to adopt him.

  • In El Goonish Shive, Van does this without making demands when his argument is dismissed. He is ignored and he quickly gives up.
  • In Skin Horse, U.N.I.T.Y tries to use this tactic, but since she's a zombie and doesn't actually need to breathe, it fails.

    Web Videos 
  • In the SuperMarioLogan episode "Jeffy's Tantrum" (before it was taken down), One of Jeffy's tactics of getting Mario to purchase a $2.99 game for his iPad was to hold his breath until he dies.

    Western Animation 
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: In "Sir Ed-a-Lot", Sarah does this to force Edd and Eddy to participate in her tea party (and Eddy to wear a dress).
  • In the Rugrats (1991) episode, "The Turkey Who Came to Dinner", Angelica tries to tell her father Drew about a live turkey in Tommy's backyard that she intends to have the adults cook and eat, but he and Stu are too busy watching many football games to pay attention to her. Angelica manages to get Drew's attention by holding her breath until he gives in. When Angelica takes Drew outside, the babies hide the turkey, and thus Drew believes Angelica made the turkey up.
  • The Simpsons: Referenced in "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" as one of the multiple explanations for why Homer is dumb.
    Homer: You know, when I was a boy, I really wanted a catcher's mitt, but my dad wouldn't get it for me. So I held my breath until I passed out and banged my head on the coffee table. The doctor thought I might have brain damage.
    Bart: Dad, what's the point of this story?
    Homer: I like stories.
  • In an example of an adult doing it, in the King of the Hill episode "Beer and Loathing", Bill, a Fat Idiot who has some clear Manchild tendencies, threatens to do this when Hank has been let in on a secret involving their favorite beer company, and refuses to tell them. Dale lampshades the inevitable outcome when Bill does so.
    Dale: He'll pass out before he dies, he always does...
  • In Garfield's Thanksgiving, Jon holds his breath until Liz says she'll go out with him. She eventually agrees after Jon faints from holding his breath in.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • In the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Baby Buggy Bunny", Baby Finster (actually Ant Hill Harry, a pint-sized robber) holds his breath until he gets the bag full of money that Bugs found (and that Harry had stolen in the first place).
    • In the Compilation Movie Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales, Prince Abba-Dabba, the son of a sultan, threatens to hold his breath if he doesn't get new stories for bedtime. The sultan (played by Yosemite Sam) tells the prince that he doesn't have to... because his servants can do it for him, and so has his Vizier do so ("AIR, please!").
  • In El Tigre, Manny threatened his father with this so he would allow him to buy a tattoo machine. He was unfazed, outright telling him that if he did it he would pass out, and miss the big game they were waiting on TV.
  • In Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race, Taylor does this to her mother Kelly, who never taught Taylor any boundaries. Because of her tantrums, Taylor built up extraordinary lung capacity; Kelly even states that Taylor once held her breath for 7 minutes.
  • A rare positive example of this trope shows up in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. In "Billy and the Bully", the nasty Sperg is tormenting Irwin on the playground, so Billy asks him to stop. When Sperg responds with a threatening "Or what?", Billy takes a giant breath and then holds it...for about eight hours. It doesn't prevent Sperg from coming back and giving him a massive wedgie, though.
  • In Baby Looney Tunes, Melissa wants a shovel for digging holes at the beach, but Floyd disagrees and this results in her holding her breath until she inflates and turns purple.
  • In the C.O.P.S. (1988) episode "The Case of the Ransomed Rascal", Prince Baddin of Rashiland holds his breath to make Hardtop and Longarm agree to his demands to go shopping for toys.
  • The Owl House: The Collector, a powerful Reality Warper with the mentality of a kindergartener, at one point threatens to hold their breath for a million years unless another character reveals a plan to them. They don't end up following through, but given that breathing is likely entirely optional for them, they probably actually could have.

    Real Life 
  • There is a real-life phenomenon called Breath-holding spell, where young children (usually between 6 months to 6 years) are known for holding their breath till they turn blue in moments of extreme emotions, like when throwing a tantrum. And they don't always do it intentionally either.


Video Example(s):



When her unicorn toy is destroyed (admittedly through no fault of her own) and Gru refuses to try and find a solution, Agnes resorts to holding her breath until he acquiesces.

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