Some families have one member who is especially successful, or at least famous and influential much moreso than the rest of the clan. Sometimes another member of the family decides that this means they should have an in with their well-known, wealthy, or influential relative, and they expect to reap some of the benefits of Nepotism for themselves. Alternatively, such family members try to take advantage of sharing the family name to get a foot in the door elsewhere by exaggerating their closeness to said successful relative or by falsely claiming to share talents or knowledge with them. In other words, they try to get by on the coattails of their more accomplished kin.
This trope covers instances in which a relative tries to capitalize on the success or fame of an unwilling or unwitting relative. It does not cover instances where the successful relative agrees to help out: that's covered under the Nepotism trope. Often, the less-successful relative is not generally incompetent, but needs a way in to an area of enterprise or opportunity that isn't his or her own. As you might expect, Coattail-Riding Relatives tend to be found out, either by the famous relative, or because they end up in over their heads.
This trope is usually Played for Laughs, but it's also occasionally used more seriously in dramas as a source of familial resentments when the successful relative shuts down the coattail rider. There's extra irony if the coattailing relative had previously disowned or driven off their successful relative and now wants to claim that blood is Thicker Than Water.
Inversely, the pervasiveness of this trope has led many genuinely talented people to have to fight the accusations of coattail-riding. This is especially a problem in the acting industry and has led a lot of actors and actresses to change their family names in order to hide from the stigma, e.g. Nicolas Cage (born Nicolas Coppola); an interesting case is Emilio Estevez, who uses his real name professionally so people do not associate him with his more famous father Martin Sheen (born Ramón Estévez) and brother Charlie (aka Carlos Estevez).
This trope sometimes overlaps with Gold Digger, Stage Mom, and Obnoxious In-Laws. The relative looking to ride the coattails may also be Vicariously Ambitious for the famous relative. Compare Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!.
- Faith assumed this was why her Disappeared Dad suddenly reappeared in her life in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9. In reality, it's because he found out she was a slayer and wanted her to kill someone for him.
- The original Captain Marvel contains a few examples:
- When 6-year-old Billy Batson was orphaned by the deaths of his well-to-do parents, he was sent to live with an uncle. Said uncle quickly turned Billy out on to the street, keeping Billy's inheritance for himself.
- "Uncle Marvel," a Bumbling Sidekick who claims to be Billy's & Mary's uncle and pretends to have the Shazam! powers they do, is a major supporting character. He's neither their uncle nor super-powered, but the others humor him anyway. For a short period in the late 1940s, Uncle Marvel's daughter "Freckles" Marvel used the same gimmick before vanishing from the Marvel Family's comics entirely.
- In Ultimate X-Men, the Beast's parents disown him for being a mutant. Later, when the X-Men have achieved fame and (temporary) renown, they return and claim they always loved him...after they've made millions writing a book about how they lovingly raised such a wonderful young mutant.
- In Captain America, the original (male) Viper was able to break into supervillainy by trading on the fact that his brother was the original Eel; said brother was initially very unhappy at this turn of events. Considering it got them both killed by other villains, maybe it wasn't the smartest career choice...
- Tony Stark has a good-for-nothing cousin named Morgan who's been trying to cash in on the Stark family name long before he knew his cousin was the Invincible Iron Man.
- In The Godfather, Carlo's main reason for marrying Connie Corleone is that he thinks it will get him into the upper echelons of The Mafia. His resentment when the Corleones keep him at arm's length becomes a significant plot point.
- In Canadian Bacon, Roy Boy accuses Boomer of accepting help from the mayor of Niagara Falls — who happens to be his uncle — of being this when he applied for the sheriff's job.
- Used for a quick gag at the end of The Waterboy when Adam Sandler's Disappeared Dad turns up once his son has become a football star, in hope of benefitting from the situation. Momma knocks him out with a tackle.
- Million Dollar Baby and you really feel the family is scum for it.
- Joe Dirt spent most of his life trying to find his parents, and becomes a minor celebrity after telling his life story on the radio station he janitors for. In the end, it's revealed that his parents didn't lose him, they intentionally abandoned him, and are only interested in contacting him now to cash in on his fame.
- In Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "My Kinsman Major Molineux" the main character plans to succeed in his new town with the aid of the aforementioned Molineux. When he arrives, he discovers that the major is being tarred, feathered and ridden out of town.
- In Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden is approached by his younger brother Philip, who begs for him to give him a job, not to mention guilt-tripping him for a $10,000 handout, then proceeding to insult him. In fact, Rearden's entire family are perpetrators of this trope, living solely off his hard-earned cash while constantly criticizing and demonizing him. This is especially exemplified when Hank, who had just completed his life's work, a new kind of ultra-efficient steel alloy that could possibly revolutionize industry and save the economy, makes a bracelet for his wife out of the very first pouring of the metal. Her reaction is, let's say, less than grateful. She first insults the bracelet by sarcastically pointing out that its made out of the same metal intended to be used for railroad spikes and oil tankers, then she comes out with this wonderful line: "A chain. Appropriate, isn't it? It's the chain by which he holds us all in bondage."
- In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Count Olaf, a distant relative, spends most of the series trying to get the Baudelaire orphans' inheritance. In the first book, he tries to marry Violet to do this.
- The book The Wild Queen from the Young Royals series is about Mary Queen of Scots. When Mary marries the next king of France her French uncles think they can use her marriage to gain political influence.
- David Letterman occasionally jokes about his uncle Larry, who is always trying to mooch money off of him.
- In Royal Pains, the main character is a doctor who, after being fired from the hospital where he practiced, reluctantly becomes a "concierge" doctor, providing house calls to the rich and privileged of the Hamptons. His huckster brother is constantly coming up with schemes to market and commercialize his brother's practice (though to be fair it is his Job to do that)...and then their long-lost con artist dad shows up.
- On 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy's brother and father turn up to try to take advantage of his wealth and business achievements, but they both end up in a drunken brawl with the rest of Jack's Big, Screwed-Up Family.
- Whenever the Bundys learn of a successful relative on Married... with Children, this trope comes into play.
- This is how Michael perceives most of his family in Arrested Development. They're happy with the Nepotism that's gotten the family business in legal and financial trouble, and he wants to put an end to what he sees as their coattail-riding ways. Of course, Michael himself is happy to take charge of the business and personally benefit from it when it suits him.
- A straighter example is Michael's brother-in-law Tobias—no pun intended—who occasionally tries to use G.O.B.'s dubious "success" in show business to launch his own (equally dubious) acting career.
- Happens quite frequently on The Addams Family: Some Long-Lost Relative tries to get their hands on the Addams estate...and fails comically and miserably.
- Alan mooches off his rich, womanizing brother in Two and a Half Men.
- When General Hospital's Karen begins dating the wealthy Jason Quartermaine, her mother is thrilled and does everything she can to worm her way into the family, starting with showing up at the christening party for Jason's cousin. It backfires due to the trampy way she's dressed and the fact that she gets drunk right away. She tones it down after Karen tells her off, but never quits completely (as it turns out, money aside, she genuinely thinks that Jason is perfect for Karen).
- Cuban-born bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado legally shortened his name to just Pérez Prado when he became famous as "the King of the Mambo". He mostly toured in Mexico and the US. His younger brother, Pantaleón Pérez Prado, was also a bandleader. He exploited Dámaso's popularity by way of Exact Words—he toured Europe and also called himself just "Pérez Prado", passing himself off as his more-famous brother. Dámaso was not amused, and took Pantaleón to court to prevent him from using that name.
- Dannii Minogue managed to get herself a singing career mainly thanks to being Kylie Minogue's sister.
- Used several times on The Simpsons:
- Abe wants to do this with his long lost illegitimate son Herb, who is a rich Detroit auto executive—but by the time Abe gets there, Homer (who went to meet Herb earlier) has already ruined Herb professionally and financially.
- When Rodney Dangerfield turns up to Guest Star as Mr. Burns's long-forgotten illegitimate son, Larry, he briefly tries riding Burns's coattails. Ultimately, Larry proves too lazy and unambitious to do even that.
- Burns never mentions it, but his younger brother is George Burns, as shown in one episode. (Despite the fact that "George Burns" was the comedian's stage name.)
- When Lisa tutors Cletus's children and turns them into a singing group, Krusty hires the clan to appear on his show. Cletus lives the good life as their "manager".
- In an episode that shows Lisa becoming president in the future, Bart, now an unemployed slacker and freshly evicted from his apartment, turns up to mooch off his successful sister and crash at the White House.
- In The Real Ghostbusters, Peter Venkman's Con Artist father uses his son's ghostbusting fame to move into selling phony "ghost repellers," claiming that he taught his son everything he knows about the supernatural. Later, he helps another con man inadvertently resurrect an ancient demon. In both instances, Peter and his colleagues reluctantly step in to save him from himself...and to save his victims.
- In the pilot episode of Futurama, Fry goes to live with his only living relative, his distant nephew Prof. Hubert Farnsworth, whom he specifically refers to as "a rich old relative we can mooch off of". Fry doesn't mooch off that much, seeing as he is holding a job in Farnsworth's delivery company, but he doesn't seem to do much work anyway.
- In the Looney Tunes short "Hare Trigger", Bugs Bunny briefly hides from some rabbits waiting alongside the railroad tracks. "A few of my poor relations. They're always ready for a touch."
- In Metalocalypse, Pickles' shiftless brother, Seth, who constantly schemes to get involved with Pickles, Dethklok, and by extension Dethklok's money. Eventually, he's offered the position of head of Dethklok Australia, to get him out of the way and possibly get him killed, seeing how the last head was assassinated by the Revengencers. Seth appropriates the entire Sydney police force to protect him, causing lawlessness in the city.
Vater Orlagg: Seth is a violent pathological liar and charlatan. I believe his reasons for marriage may simply be for a chance to reunite with his brother's wealth.