If a comedy show has three main characters, they will almost always fill stock roles in the plot. To get how it works, imagine this scenario:
Three people are in a car. The Leader of the group considers himself the smartest, and appoints himself navigator. He tries to get the three of them to their destination, but he's seriously out of touch with reality, or has no idea what he's doing but refuses to admit it, and shouts bizarre directions that will inevitably lead to the car going off a cliff.
In the driver's seat is The Fool, a total moron who blindly does whatever he's told. So, with the navigator screaming directions at him, the car approaches the cliff. In theory, the driver could stop at any time, but due to either ignorance or stupidity, he's confident that heading towards a cliff is all part of the plan, so he soldiers on with his oddball behavior and/or his blissful ignorance.
Meanwhile, trapped in the back seat is the Only Sane Man. He doesn't have to be smart, but he is the only one who is fully aware that they're about to fly off a cliff, and he's completely unable to stop it. He tries to alert the navigator, but he can't outshout that bullying idiot. He tries to reason with the driver, but the driver happily ignores him, maybe cheerfully explaining: "Thanks, but I already have a navigator!" He then looks to the wheel to grab it from the driver, but he doesn't have the guts to try, and risk crashing the car himself. He often resigns himself to his powerless position, offering a witty comment, shrugging at the audience or just remaining strangely calm as the car goes sailing off the cliff and falls to its doom.
The most common set-up is for the navigator to be a Pointy-Haired Boss and incompetent Schemer whose schemes always backfire, but there are other ways to do it. It's also fairly common for the Straight Man of the trio to be female if its a ¡Three Amigos! setup.
In clowning, these positions are respectively referred to as Whiteface, Auguste, and Tramp.
- The Team Rocket trio in the Pokémon anime: Jessie and Meowth alternate roles as scheming navigator and driver, though Jessie is often more loudmouthed, while James more often than not suffers in some way, frequently at the expense of his bottle cap collection. James also can act as the driver when Jessie is the navigator, with Meowth too nervous about getting yelled at by Jessie to do anything (often the scenario in earlier episodes). Whenever any one of them decides to enter a competition (other than Jessie's Pokémon Contests) and try to win fair and square for once, they can always count on the other two mess everything up by obliviously playing the villain right as the "good" third actually seems to have a chance at winning.
- It's also been well established that Brock can't follow a map to save his life and Ash (at least before Misty left) is more enthusiastic than smart. He actually even marched right off a cliff once, though, too his credit, he was in a dense fog.
- Shin-chan thinks Ryuko, Ogin and Mary (the Crimson Scorpions of Saitama) are this. Hilarity Ensues!
- Berserk: Corkus, Rickert and Pippin were this to Band of Hawk. With Corkus being the loudmouth jerk, Rickert being the over emotional kid and Pippin the gentle giant. Guts also got pulled into comic situations earlier on, being knocked into a moat when Rickert comes to congratulate him and when he is being pulled up, Pippin comes up from behind causing Guts to fall back and pulling Rickert back in to water. All while Casca watches on.
- Some shades of this come from the Main Trio, Guts, Casca and Griffith themselves. Especially on this Christmas poster◊ which in retrospective is waay to happy when thinking about what happens to these three later.
- In Guts new traveling party, two comedy trios are set up, both with Isidro in them. The kid trio with Isidro and the two girls Schierke and Isma the Mermaid is very silly and even goes into Love Triangle territory. The second trio is Puck. Isidro and Magnifico (Farnese's younger brother) who goof around relentlessly during the Hawk of the Millennium Empire Arc which goes from funny to annoying very fast especially when dealing with the more important matters of curing Casca in the Fantasia Arc.
- The Yorozuya from Gintama qualifies. Kagura is the schemer, Gintoki is the follower (despite being the leader of the group), and Shinpachi is the voice of reason, but they change the roles every now and then.
- Also Ino-Shika-Cho in Naruto during the Chunin Exams specifically. Their first team battle when saving Sakura is amusing to say the least (the anime even gives it some quirky, fun background music) and in the Viz translation of the manga, Naruto even refers to them as 'The Three Stooges'.
- They even seem to fit the roles of the Comic Trio too: back then, Ino was definitely the hot-headed, driving force of the team, often shooting down the lazy but intelligent Shikamaru's ideas, while bossing Choji around
- The main trio in Daily Lives of High School Boys have shades of this. Hidenori is the loudest and usually comes up with zany schemes, making him The Leader; Yoshitake is somewhat dense and goes along with whatever Hidenori suggests, making him The Fool; and Tadakuni is the Only Sane Man who get's dragged into everything whether he likes it or not.
- Hetalia: Axis Powers:
- The Axis are this more often than they would like. With Germany as the leader, Italy as the one who blindly follows orders (or surrenders and having the leader bail him out) and Japan as the one who cannot understand Western Culture. Though this trio is a bit of an unusual case, as the leader in this case is often the Only Sane Man, while Italy is the main screw-up who causes most of the wacky hijinks to ensue.
- The second example of this could be the fandoms interpretation (and sometimes canon) of the Bad Touch/Friends Trio. Usually with Prussia as the 'leader', Francis and Spain swap between the other two roles. Although there are fics and strips with each of them playing each role.
- The four senior K-On! girls come very close to this. Yui and Ritsu are dual leaders, bouncing their energy off each other and running wild. Mio is the ever-suffering sane girl, and Mugi will happily go along with pretty much anything. Alternately, Yui is The Fool.
- Sgt. Frog has Keroro as the idiot schemer; Tamama, Mois and Kululu as his followers (Tamama and Mois out of love for Keroro; Kululu just didn't care); and Giroro and Dororo being powerless to stop him.
- The Conquest Club in Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! Kinshiro is The Leader whose out-of-touch schemes never work out, Akoya is the complainer who sees through most of what is going on and is powerless to stop it (emphasised in the manga), and Arima alternates between The Fool and the Only Sane Man.
- Luffy, Zoro and Nami had this dynamic in early One Piece. Luffy was the idiot Captain, Zoro followed and Nami just questioned what the hell the other two were thinking.
- Comic subversion: Jeff Smith's Bone. While it may seem that the Bone cousins each fill the workings of the Comic Trio early on (Phoney is a schemer, Smiley is stupid, Fone is powerless), it becomes more obvious as the series progresses that this is not the case: Fone can exert some power and definitely has a backbone, Phoney might only be greedy because all three of them were orphaned at an early age and, being the oldest of the three, he had the reponsibility of looking after the cousins himself. He also becomes slightly more sympathetic as the comic goes on. Smiley is more obvious, as he is not stupid, just very optimistic, and even later agrees with Fone that Phoney might not always be right.
- The pirate crew in Asterix — Redbeard is the leader, Baba (the crow's nest pirate) is the follower, and Pegleg is the Only Sane Man. Lampshaded in Obelix All at Sea, when a centurion describes them as "those stupid [Redbeard], impudent [Baba] and pretentious [Pegleg] pirates".
- In the The Flash storyline Chain Lightning, Impulse (Bart Allen), XS (Jenni Ognats), and the future Kid Flash (Iris West II) team up and form this dynamic, with Bart as the leader, Jenni as the follower, and Iris as the incredulous straight woman to their Keet} antics.
- This is a common interpretation of The Hitchhiking Ghosts from The Haunted Mansion at Disney Theme Parks. Ezra as the schemer, Gus as the follower, and Phineas as the powerless one. Seeing as how much of the Haunted Mansion's fanon becomes ascended, this might become official someday.
- In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, the three androids take this role. In the original series, all three got along fairly well without real roles. Here, they all fit in fairly easily. Android 17 is the de facto leader and schemer. Android 18 goes along with things and usually complains. Android 16, who doesn't have any programmed personality, simply does anything he is told would help him to kill Son Goku (when he isn't bird-watching).
- Many a story-driven YouTube Poop featuring Zelda CD-i will have this with King Harkinian (crazy), Link (doofus), and Zelda (serious).
- Discussed in the Fire Emblem: Three Houses fic A Mercenary and a Goddess land a Professorship. Manuela notes that she, Hanneman, and Byleth would be fit to star in a comedy skit; Manuela and Hanneman perfectly fit as The Leader and the Straight Man, although Byleth is more deadpan follower than clueless ditz.
- The Bolt Chronicles:
- Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino exemplify the trope in "The Ski Trip," "The Cakes," and "The Supermarket," with Rhino being the instigator, Bolt as the muscle, and Mittens as the Only Sane Man. The last eventually loses patience and morphs into a Not So Above It All active participant in retaliation during the first two stories.
- Played with in the case of puppy mill females Corabell, Dorabell, and Mae in "The Seven" and pigeons Vinny, Joey, and Bobby in "The Protection Payment." While being trios of comic characters, they do not fulfill the tropes most common stock roles.
- Miraculous: The Phoenix Rises gives us Max as the schemer, Leon as the dumb follower, and Kiku as the straight woman.
- The Emoji Movie has Gene, the hapless leader, Jailbreak, the genius hacker girl & Hi-5, the egotistical Tagalong.
- A Goofy Movie, particularly in the scene where Max gets onstage to impress Roxanne, has one in the form of Max (the schemer), PJ (the powerless), and Bobby (the follower). Strangely, though the trio gets more screentime in the sequel, they don't play this as much, though they still do have the personalities to match. This is evident when Bradley is impressed by Max's charisma, and unimpressed by Bobby's weirdness and PJ's timidity.
- Mulan gives viewers the three men who serve largely as the comic relief, often involving slapstick humor that made them reminiscent of the Three Stooges. Yao is the self-appointed leader of the trio. Ling and Yao occasionally have disagreements, but Ling grows to accept Yao as their leader. Chien-Po is either naive compared to the two of them, or he's serene enough to accept whatever they do without fuss (it's established that he's very physically strong, so whatever mischief they get into, he could probably rely on his force to get them out of it).
- The Hyenas from The Lion King (1994). Shenzi has the power as Navigator, Banzai does what she tells him, and although an idiot, Ed is the guy in the back seat, along for the ride. Alternatively, Ed goes with everything while Banzai may complain to Shenzi.
- In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Rainbow Rocks, the Dazzlings fit this to a T, combining with Freudian Trio to great effect. Adagio, the leader, also serves as the brains of the group. Sonata, the dingbat, serves as the emotive one. Aria, the complainer, balances the two out.
- Robin Hood: The Sheriff, Nutsy and Trigger. The Sheriff is the main antagonistic force terrorizing Nottingham and enforcing Prince John's will, Nutsy is the ditzy follower, and Trigger is the Only Sane Man and competent sidekick.
- The Three Stooges may have been the original Comic Trio — certainly they're the guys we're most likely to think of. Moe comes up with dumb schemes, Curly and his replacements carry them out (while making them even dumber), and Larry is just too spineless to avoid being dragged along. (Sometimes, but only sometimes, Larry's aware of the stupidity of a plan; he's got a less crippling case of Cloud Cuckoolander than Curly or his replacements do.)
- The Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico and Harpo) became this as well a bit later in the 1930s when Zeppo left the group.
- Planet of the Apes:
- Planet of the Apes (1968) has a whole society based on this. The orangutans run things, the gorillas carry their plans out, and the chimpanzees have all the brains and none of the power.
- Planet of the Apes (2001) exchanges the orangutans and chimpanzees' roles, possibly as a response to Science Marches On.
- The three main characters of The Hangover:
- Phil leads the charge in finding Doug, Stu complains ineffectually throughout the film and Alan goes along with it all.
- In the third, Stu leads the charge, Phil complains, and Alan goes along (and at times, makes things worse).
- Mystery Team: Jason, Duncan and Charlie.
- A number of Soviet comedies (including Operation Y and Shurik's Other Adventures and Kidnapping, Caucasian Style) feature the actors Vitsin, Nikulin, and Morgunov playing the roles of Coward, Fool and Experienced respectively. Morgunov plays the leader, Nikulin the dingbat and Vitsin the complainer. The 2014 remake of Kidnapping, Caucasian Style also uses the characters' dynamic (though they are played by new actors due to all three of the original actors having passed away).
- Shaolin Prince has the three bumbling monks who raised the titular hero, appropriately called the "3 Holy Fools". They fit the Big, Thin, Short Trio trope as well.
- The ¡Three Amigos!: Lucky Day, Dusty Bottoms and Ned Nederlander.
- Horrible Bosses: Kurt, Dale, and Nick.
- The pre-Winston Ghostbusters: Peter (the navigator); Ray (the driver); and Egon (the Only Sane Man). Uniquely, they balance the Comic Trio qualities with those of a more traditional Power Trio: Ray combines massive amounts of paranormal knowledge with very practical real-world skills (he rebuilds that old ambulance into the team's Cool Car); Egon comes up with the calculations and science that allow for Ghostbusting; and Peter, the schmoozer, facilitates the actual business side of the Ghostbusters operation. Most importantly, their Zany Scheme succeeds.
- O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Everett (George Clooney) is The Leader, Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) is The Fool, and Pete (John Turturro) is the Only Sane Man (compared to the other two, at least).
- In Superbad, Seth is the leader, Evan is the complainer and Fogell is the idiot.
- Panic Room has a villainous version amongst the three robbers: Junior is the leader, Raoul is the follower, and Burnham is the Only Sane Man. At first, then it turns out that Raoul is even crazier than Junior.
- Olsen-banden is one of, if not the most famous examples of this trope in Scandinavian media. Egon is the schemer, Benny is the follower and Kjeld is the complainer. For added measure, whenever they're in a car, they tend to follow this dynamic precisely: Benny behind the wheel, Egon in the passenger's seat and Kjeld in the backseat. The Swedish adaptations generally keep to this pattern, with Egon's counterpart always remaining the leader; however, once Kjeld's counterpart is Put on a Bus and Harry takes his spot, Harry sometimes switches between the complainer and follower roles due to Alcohol-Induced Stupidity.
- The Bunnicula series from The Celery Stalks at Midnight onward: Chester is the leader, Howie follows him around, and Harold is the skeptic who can't stop Chester's wild imagination.
- The Golden Trio ended up being this in the early Harry Potter books, with Harry being the Leader, Ron being the Idiot and Hermione being the Complainer. Take Chapter 9 of the first book: Harry wants to get even with Malfoy, Ron tags along (he even says that he's Harry's second), and Hermione is trying to stop them from breaking more rules.
- In Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, Axel Lidenbrock sees himself as the sane guy, his uncle as the leader, and their guide Hans as the blind follower. It later turns out they're a more effective Power Trio than they look...
- Marunde, Abdel, and Lazy in Someone Else's War.
- In The Goodies, the three characters alternated these roles regularly. Most commonly, it seemed to be Graeme being the leader, Bill carrying through his schemes, and Tim disagreeing, but requiring the money for the job enough to go along. Then again, as Graeme was at times too distracted to carry through all the way, Tim was at times dedicated enough to serving England to take over leadership, and Bill had his moments of inspiration too, the roles did switch around a lot. Occasionally it would even avoid separating the roles - in one episode, Graeme is a power mad pirate radio station owner, and both Bill and Tim are the powerless snarkers.
- In the classic Last of the Summer Wine trio Foggy comes up with the schemes, Compo is the one who knows it'll lead to disaster, but can't do anything to stop it, and Clegg is not so much clueless as content to offer wry observations from the sidelines, since he's never the one it's happening to. Lampshaded in "A Merry Heatwave":
Foggy: Wait a minute!Compo: Ey-up, he's getting another idea.Clegg: Oh dear, do you think so?Compo: You can always tell. Three stages. One: he goes like that. Two: he gets an idea. Three: he looks around for a couple of idiots like us to carry it out.
- The Trio from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Warren is the schemer, Jonathan is powerless even though his conscience might otherwise lead him to speak up against Warren; and Andrew may not be stupider than the others, but he's by far the most out-of-touch with reality. Andrew's also the one most likely to do whatever Warren tells him to, no matter how stupid or evil, due to his idol crush on him (or just plain crush, depending on how you interpret Andrew's character).
- Later seasons of M*A*S*H have one in the form of Hawkeye (bizarre one), B.J. (the one who goes along), and Winchester (the smart one). Earlier seasons had the first two roles covered, but no one else at the 4077th was smart/sane enough to see what was coming (except for Radar on occasion).
- Top Gear has a lot of shuffling with this, although Jeremy's usually the schemer, with Richard and James trading off on the stupid/going along with it and the helpless.
- In a few episodes of Supernatural such as "Tall Tales" and "Dream a Little Dream of Me," Sam, Dean, and Bobby transition from a Power Trio to a Comic Trio. Sam comes up with an idea, Dean helps him carry it out, and then Bobby shows up when it goes wrong and tells them that they're idiots.
- The guys and the girls of Coupling tend to split off into separate comic trios. Specifically, Susan and Steve tend to be the sensible ones, whilst Patrick and Sally are the ditzy navigators, and Jeff and Jane are basically nuts.
- The Tanner sisters from Full House. Michelle is definitely the naïvely used one, but while DJ takes charge, she's pretty much the Only Sane Man. Stephanie is quite intelligent, but is more of a Ditzy Genius who makes things crazier by going along with DJ (often to her annoyance). In the end, both often share the blame for what happens. Lampshaded once where they were called "the Three Stooges in pantyhose".
- Heartbeat: A few seasons in, one formed between Claude, David and Bernie. Claude schemes, David gullibly does the dirty work, and Bernie is smart and powerless. After Claude left, Bernie's brother Vernon filled the role before David's Aunt Peggy replaced him.
- In Pigs in Space on The Muppet Show plays with the roles a bit. Link Hogthrob is the leader, Miss Piggy is loudmouthed and Dr. Strangepork is insane, so they all have characteristics of the navigator. Link is usually too dumb, though. Strangepork is the smartest, but Piggy is the sane one.
- However, some of the sketches follow a pretty basic comic-trio layout: Link, or sometimes Dr. Strangepork, will suggest a stupid plan, the other will go along with it (Strangepork because Link is captain and Link because Strangepork is smarter than him), and Piggy will be overruled despite her quite sensible protests.
- Power Rangers Ninja Storm: Shane is the leader, Dustin is more laid back than dumb, and Tori is "the responsible one".
- In The Office, Michael, Dwight and Jim often act as this with Michael being the leader, Dwight being the blindly obedient one and Jim being the only one with sense, particularly evident when they team up in the 'Branch Wars' episode. Ironically, in another episode of that season Dwight acts as the smart man while Michael blindly obeys (and misinterprets) the directions of his GPS, driving directly into a clearly visible lake.
- Also the trio who start the Michael Scott Paper Company in Season Five. Michael is once again the leader. Ryan is usually the guy who follows him — or at least doesn't question him much — but arguably in the episode "Broke" he is analogous to a navigator as he formulates their unworkable company strategy. Pam is the closest thing this company has to an Only Sane Man although she is Not So Above It All by virtue of having joined in the first place. She even compares the company to a crashed car. Another variant is when Ryan and Pam bicker while Michael is the mediator as it's looks like a dysfunctional family of two siblings and a father.
- 30 Rock loves this. See:
- The Tracy Jordan Entourage. Tracy is the unstable leader, Dot Com is the smart and powerless guy, Grizz is the enabler (although Grizz is almost as smart and just as sane as Dot Com, he's less troubled by letting Tracy do what he wants).
- The actors on the show. In this case, Tracy is the follower, while Jenna is the crazy leader and Danny is the smart one. Lampshaded by Jenna.
Liz: I don't know who's worse, you or Tracy.
Jenna: Oh, definitely me. I'm more aware of what I'm doing.
- In the writers room, we have Frank as the leader, Lutz as the follower, and Toofer as the smart guy.
- One could also make a case with Jack as the leader, Jonathan as the follower, and Liz as the smart one, but Jack also tends to be right.
- The Gang in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia shuffle roles around many episodes, but Mac, Dennis and Charlie are the most common trio (usually with Dennis as the clueless leader, Mac as the ignored voice of reason and Charlie as the dumb follower, although this can switch an any given moment). Dee, Artemis and The Waitress are the Distaff Counterpart, though Dee also tends to fill the "ignored voice of reason" role (in which case Mac will usually be the dumb one). Frank, as the Wild Card, can fill any role.
- The Stellas fit this trope to a T. Michael Black is the leader, Michael Showalter the smart one, and poor David is the third guy.
- Blackadder has the title character, Baldrick, and Percy in the first two series, with George replacing Percy in series three and four.
- Doctor Who:
- A truly bizarre example is the three Daleks in the serial "The Chase" — there's a permanently frustrated Pointy-Haired Boss Dalek, a stupid Dalek who gets confused easily, stumbles over his words and falls over and a Dalek who is better at exterminating but is powerless to resist orders from his superiors. "The Chase" is a pretty weird Dalek story.
- Robert Holmes often derived his Creator Thumbprint Lightmare Fuel tone from setting his villains up like this, then using them to tell a genuinely frightening horror story. Even when he wasn't using the entire trio, the "character who thinks he's a genius, has some legitimate talent, but actually has no idea what he's doing" was one of his favourite archetypes, and formed the backbone of the Master, the Fourth Doctor (a rare heroic example from him), and virtually all other prominent characters he created.
- "The Brain of Morbius" features Solon, an obsessive, grandiloquent idiot who thinks he is a genius despite his plan being a glaringly obvious Idiot Plot that a toddler could see the issues with; Condo, his even stupider thrall who does the grunt work; and Morbius, an actual genius, well aware that Solon's plan is terrible, and powerless to do anything about it between his diminished physical status and suicidal depression.
- "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" features Chang, whose intelligence rivals even the Doctor's, but derives his means to survive in Victorian society from Greel's approval; Greel, a domineering, vain moron with a nonsensical plan that will lead to his demise; and Mr. Sin, an Omnicidal Maniac with the brain of a pig who cares about nothing except getting to kill as many people as possible.
- In Season 16: The Doctor thinks he's the most remarkable genius in the Universe, but is a failed student, egomaniac and the stupidest person aboard the TARDIS at that point, and mostly gets out of situations by schoolboy science, blagging, and dumb luck. Romana's intelligence leaves him in the dust, but her catty personality, the whim of the Guardian, and her generally horrible luck leads to her having to be his second-in-command. K-9 is also much smarter than the Doctor in terms of raw computing power, but can't understand common figures of speech, is not capable of independent thought and has no common sense at all.
- Fur TV has Ed as The Leader, Lapeño as Only Sane Man and Mervis as The Fool (and The Woobie too).
- Al, Jefferson and Griff in Married... with Children. Al is always The Leader, but the role of The Fool and Only Sane Man may change between Jefferson and Griff depending of the episode, although most of the time Jefferson is the latter.
- The Chanels in Scream Queens (2015) fit this in different combinations:
- With Chanel, Chanel Number Three, and Chanel Number Five, Chanel is always The Leader, with Three and Five altering between The Fool and Only Sane Man depending on the situation. Most consistently, with Number Five as The Only Sane Man and Number Three as The Fool.
- When Chanel Number Three, Chanel Number Five, and Hester team up, Hester takes on the role of The Leader, with Chanel Number Three being The Fool and going along with whatever Hester plans (though slightly more so out of amusement than stupidity) and Chanel Number Five as the Only Sane Man.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Mads fit this archetype during the Sci-Fi Channel years. Pearl Forrester is the leader, Bobo is her dumb-as-a-brick minion, and Observer is the (mostly) sane man who nobody listens to.
- Joel (and later Mike and Jonah), Crow, and Tom Servo in the theater certainly qualify.
- Yonderland has Negatus' three demon minions: Neil, the loudmouthed, 'leader' one, Jeff, the stupid one, and Rita, the most intelligent one. Downplayed in that they are all fairly bumbling and incompetent.
- Gorillaz had this during the Plastic Beach/ Phase 3 story arc. Murdoc is an amoral, insane mastermind, Cyborg Noodle follows (in all fairness she's a robot and most likely has no sense or what's right and wrong), and 2D -who's become surprisingly more intelligent since being kidnapped- constantly snarks at and criticizes Murdoc but can't really do anything without getting the crap beaten out of him. The example at the top of the page is used almost exactly during the video for Stylo (only the leader is driving instead of the follower), in which Murdoc actually does drive like a madman whilst 2D slumps back in his seat, running his hands over his face.
- The Doug Anthony All Stars. Tim as the ignorant narcissist, Paul as the angry jerk and Richard as the Butt-Monkey.
- British sketch troupe Pappy's fit into this. Generally speaking, Tom comes up with the crazy ideas, Matthew is the Only Sane Man (with hints of The Napoleon about him), and Ben just smiles.
- Team Fortress 2: The Soldier, Scout and Heavy seem to form this in several 'Meet the Team' videos as schemer, complainer, and follower respectively.
- Sonic the Hedgehog:
- The Chaotix from Sonic Heroes onward form this trope perfectly. The loud, bossy and money-driven Vector is the leader of the group, the immature, scatterbrained Charmy follows Vector's quirks, and while resident stoic ninja Espio is clearly the most mature of the three, his concerns are often ignored by Vector and Charmy.
- The Babylon Rogues in Sonic Riders. Jet is the impulsive schemer, Storm is the blind idiot, and Wave is the powerless one who usually complains about Jet's reckless behavior.
- In Sonic Colors and subsequent games, Eggman, as the series Big Bad, is the schemer who comes up with evil plans, while of his two robot advisors, Cubot is the dim follower who does whatever his boss wants and often annoys him with his antics, and Orbot is the rational one who shrugs at the stupidity of both his boss and his fellow advisor.
- Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi, under certain interpretations. Mario is the schemer, Yoshi the follower, and Luigi is powerless.
- Bully introduces Jimmy, Gary, and Pete. In chapter one, Gary is clearly the leader, Jimmy is at times the idiot, and Pete is obviously the victim and the only sane man, being the one who clearly never wants to take part in Gary's schemes.
- Being one of the more light-hearted and comical iterations of the franchise, Final Fantasy X-2 has Yuna, who is meant to be the leader but typically ends up the follower to her cousin (or anyone else for that matter), while Paine is powerless.
- The Academy Trio — Noel, Tsubaki and Makoto — fit. Makoto is the assertive one who comes up with all the zany and often stupid plans, Noel just goes along with what Makoto says, and poor Tsubaki sits there snarking, knowing full well that she can't stop them. This is most apparent in the Teach Me, Miss Litchi segments.
- In episode 1 of Teach Me! Ms. Litchi Reloaded, the roles are swapped. Litchi and Tsubaki are assertive dingbats who try to take shortcuts in restoring Taokaka's intellect from the previous season, Noel is still the tool who keeps the ball rolling, leaving poor Makoto to shriek in futility to get them to stop the abuse. It culminates in Tao nearly getting wasted from everything they've done.
[Tao starts glowing from the eyes as the room ominously darkens]
Litchi: Yes, Tao! That's amazing! Yes!!
Makoto: HOW CAN YOU CALL THIS "AMAZING" WITH A STRAIGHT FACE?! Turn it off right now, before the NOL Animal Welfare division comes down on us!
- The Materials have this dynamic in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable : The Gears of Destiny and all related Spin Offs, with Lord Dearche as the leader, Levi the Slasher as the dumb and obedient one, and Stern the Destructor as the smart yet usually passive one. They provide the majority of the game's comic relief, until the situation proves serious enough for Stern to take charge of the planning so that they could have a chance to defeat the Arc Villain.
- In Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, the trope falls to L'Arachel, Dozla, and Rennac.
- On Homestar Runner, in some cartoons Strong Bad is the schemer, Strong Mad is stupid, and the smart one who's powerless will either be The Cheat or Strong Sad (usually the former, since the latter doubles as Strong Bad's favorite target). Just as often, though, Homestar will be the stupid one, and Strong Bad will be smart and powerless.
- Sort of subverted in Park Bench, since there's no real straight man, but the three take turns powering the plot (although it's barely ever Tully, and sometimes isn't anyone).
- The Red Team in Red vs. Blue are often examples of this, with Sarge being the navigator, Simmons going along with it through thoughts of promotion and glory, and Grif being too lazy to stop them.
- The Yogscast have had some examples over the years:
DUNCAN: The smart one.
- During the Jaffa Factory videos, Honeydew Inc. was run this way, with the dynamic firmly set for later series such as "Hole Diggers". The basic format was Lewis Brindley coming up with the plans, Duncan Jones being smart enough to make them work but never questioning orders, and Simon Lane doing all the heavy lifting and just sort of fooling around in the meantime. Or, as one commenter put it:
LEWIS: Has a plan!
SIMON: DIGGY DIGGY HOLE!
- The main three campers in Camp Camp form one, with Max being the leader/schemer, Neil being the nerdy one/Only Sane Man, and Nikki being the air headed/silly one. This is lampshaded in the fifth episode, "Journey to Spooky Island", where Max outright refers to them as a comic trio.
- Trick Moon: Trickshot is the cocky leader, Pocket is the happy-go-lucky follower and Prince, despite how much he tries, is quite literally powerless to stop them.
- Subverted in Achewood with the three cats who started out as a real Comic Trio, but after some character development: Ray is the navigator (a subversion since his plans, no matter how insane, ALWAYS work out), Beef follows Ray's lead (he's a manic depressive with passivity to a fault — but still the only person capable of talking Ray out of anything), and Pat is the "smart one" (but so "smart" that he's unbearably obnoxious, and so unwilling to listen to other points of view that he ends up making the wrong calls in the end).
- Freefall plays Sam as the Schemer, Helix as the Follower, and Florence as the Sane (Wo)Man. Alternatively, Florence or Sawtooth play sane men to Qwerty and Dvorak.
- Two Guys and Guy typically has Guy as the leader/navigator, Frank the idiot/driver (though he enables the situation through his apathy rather than his ignorance), and Wayne the complainer/backseat, though the roles can shift depending on the joke.
- Romantically Apocalyptic has The Captain as The Leader, The Pilot...as the pilot, and Mr. Snippy as the Only Sane Man.
- The Light Warriors of 8-Bit Theater are a rare attempt of translating this into a quartet — although many times one is left out to make sure it fits. Red Mage is the Schemer, Fighter is the Follower, Thief is the Sane Man (with Schemer moments too), and Black Mage is the Somewhat Sane Man.
- From Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, Chimera manages the exploit of being this all by himself. The lion head is the leader, the dragon head is the idiot, and the goat head is the complainer.
- Girl Genius has a couple of different trios, but Dimo, Maxim and Oggie are the best example. Dimo is the Straight Man of the group, but Maxim and Oggie tend to switch roles every so often. Generally Maxim is the one who thinks he knows best, and Oggie just goes along with it. But don't be fooled by the goofing around — they're all 300-year-old Super Soldiers and can very quickly become a Power Trio if called for.
Maxim: Excellent! Hy vill teach him how to impress de gorls!
Oggie: Hy vill teach him about de birds und de veasles!
Dimo: [under his breath] Und hy vill teach him how to avoid those two.
- Homestuck: The Midnight Crew. Their leader is Spades Slick, a vile backstabber who forms all the plans, and there are Clubs Deuce, who more resembles a Tag Along Kid than a member of the crew, and Hearts Boxcars, a big guy who just tags along with their plans, and Diamonds Droog, the Only Sane Man.
- Yamato Damashi's series of Touhou fan comics has Reimu portrayed as an over-the-top hot headed schemer, Marisa as her blind and equally wacky follower, and resident vampire Flandre portrayed as a completely silent girl with a permanent Cat Smile who happens to be the least ridiculous of the three, and is obviously fed up with the antics.
- The side characters "The Unstoppable Three!" at Superhero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe. Captain Bravo (flying brick with energy beams from his eyes) is the schemer (well, the leader), Hyper (speedster) is the follower, and Long John (stretchy "Mister Fantastic" type) is powerless. Even the people they attack mock them.
Phase: Long John? You named yourself after underwear? What, "Fruit of the Loom" was taken?
- The Balloon Shop are a three piece comedy troupe, formed by Olan Rogers (the loud and jovial one), Thomas Gore (the closest any of them can get to being a straight man), and Joshua Pursley(The butt of nearly every joke). The three made videos after meeting each other in High School. There are no solid roles for any of the characters, because the roles change depending on each video. Their videos range from fairly realistic (BBQ Fiesta) to insanely unrealistic and kooky (Birds, and The Sargentos)
Josh: Chris, couldja calm down? We TOLDJA what we do wit double crossers.
Thomas: You people, just shot me, in the chest!
Josh: Wait a second Chris, what seems to be the problem here?
:: It should be noted that before this scene, Olan gets offended and shoots "Chris", however, he seems to be perfectly fine.
- In The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, Peter Davison is the leader, Sylvester McCoy is mostly content to follow along, and Colin Baker is the skeptic.
Colin Baker: You really are from another planet, you know that?
Peter Davison: This is not the real TARDIS.
Colin Baker: REALLY?
Sylvester McCoy: I'd like to go home now.
- In this scene of the SnapCube dub of Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Team Dark forms one of these, as Shadow (the leader), on a whim, has Omega (the fool) count the grains of sand in the desert. Rouge (the straight man) admonishes Shadow for how much time this would surely take... until it turns out that Omega was counting by the million, and finishes relatively quickly.
- MonteFjanton's series Mystikhörnan parodies conspiracy theorists, with the protagonists following this dynamic. Morgan Månstråle is the schemer who sets out to prove his theories are correct using... unconventional means, Kenneth Hyvel is the follower who helps Morgan with his experiments, and Leffe is the complainer who's stuck with them (mostly because they're hiring his studio) and constantly criticises the others' plans.
- Whenever Steven Universe needs trio gags (which is a lot, particularly in season 2-3 episodes), the Crystal Gems very readily provide. Garnet is the leader (usually Comically Serious), Pearl is the neurotic nutcase who makes some spectacularly stupid decisions despite being normally intelligent, and Amethyst just sits back and watches.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Shake is insane, Meatwad is stupid, Frylock is powerless (Well, it's more like he just has a lot of self-restraint). This is a possible Double Subversion, insofar as, as a superhero, Frylock is easily the most powerful of the three, with a great deal of inherent destructive potential plus gadgeteering. He's just completely ineffectual when it comes to stopping Shake's antics.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- The mildly ditzy Sweetie Belle, the gung-ho Scootaloo, and the practical, sane Apple Bloom. Generally, Scootaloo will suggest something crazy, Apple Bloom (who isn't stupid by any means; she's just game for anything) will go along with it and Sweetie Belle (who despite being a bit ditzy actually has the most common sense of the three) won't complain loud enough to avoid getting dragged along.
- In the episode "Green Isn't Your Color", Rarity forces Fluttershy to live out her dream, Fluttershy is too nice to say no, and Twilight is powerless to solve the problem due to her Pinkie promises.
- Beast Wars: Inferno, Quickstrike and Waspinator are frequently paired together to carry out minor schemes of Megatron's. Inferno is in charge and gives the orders, but is absolutely insane. Quickstrike's a complete idiot who will blindly follow anyone who gives him a chance to slag somebody. Waspinator is aware of how ridiculous the two are but is too powerless to do anything but complain to himself, and usually suffers for it. In the finale Waspinator finally stands up for himself, tells off Inferno and Quickstrike, and quits the Predacons. Almost immediately thereafter, Inferno and Quickstrike are killed and Waspinator's life is saved by virtue of not being with them.
- Transformers has two more trios like this. In Transformers Armada, Rad is the ringleader, Carlos right behind him, Alexis trying to keep them out of trouble. In Transformers: Prime, Too Dumb to Live Miko puts herself In Harm's Way explicitly because it's fun to her, Jack follows to save her butt (thrusting him into 'driver' role despite his not really thinking "let's go into the middle of a warzone because it's KEWL LOLZ!" is a great plan) while Raf takes the Alexis role.
- Mom's sons, Walt, Larry and Igner. It's subverted in that the leader, Walt, is actually the most intelligent of the three. However, he still comes up with some pretty awful plans, usually revolving around ridiculous disguises, while Igner is retarded and Larry even more spineless than most comic trios to compensate. The main reason they succeed at all is because Fry is the frequent target of their plans.
Mom: Be careful. You'll need all your stoogely cunning...
[Gilligan Cut to scene where the trio screeches to a halt outside Planet Express in a van labeled "Smother Brothers"; this time Walt's latest ridiculous scheme involves owl exterminators]
- The main three characters often display this dynamic with Bender and Fry switching off between the driver and navigator, with Leela as the straight man.
- Mom's sons, Walt, Larry and Igner. It's subverted in that the leader, Walt, is actually the most intelligent of the three. However, he still comes up with some pretty awful plans, usually revolving around ridiculous disguises, while Igner is retarded and Larry even more spineless than most comic trios to compensate. The main reason they succeed at all is because Fry is the frequent target of their plans.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy: Eddy is the schemer, Ed is stupid, Edd is powerless. Currently provide the Trope Image. The Movie actually has them in a car, with Ed moving it Flintstones style, Eddy uselessly trying to steer, and Edd trying not to throw up in the passenger seat.
- Catscratch: Greedy and arrogant Mr. Blik is the schemer, Waffle is the stupid one, and Gordon is powerless to stop Blik, making him the sanest of the three.
- Clarence: Clarence is mainly the ditzy leader, Jeff is the Only Sane Man and poindexter while Sumo's the more street-smart member.
- SpongeBob SquarePants.:
- Variant: SpongeBob is demented, Patrick is stupid, Squidward is powerless. The difference is that Squidward is the bossy, unsympathetic one. So the audience roots for SpongeBob instead, even as he leads the trio off the cliff.
- Alternately, the Krusty Krab trio can be considered this, with Mr. Krabs as the scheming leader, SpongeBob as the idiot that goes along with everything, and Squidward as the straight man who's largely ignored by the other two.
- Rocko's Modern Life plays this interestingly. Rocko, the main character is usually the leader while Heffer is the fool and Filburt is the neurotic Nervous Wreck. Sometimes, the trio alternates their roles, with Heffer being the leader who mainly instigates the predicaments, Filburt following along, and Rocko complaining about his friend's antics.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks: Alvin is the schemer, Theodore is more timid than dumb, and Simon is the smart one who's powerless.
- Looney Tunes:
- The shorts would sometimes combine Bugs, Daffy and Elmer this way. Daffy is the pushy and loud one, Elmer is the stupid one who'll do anything, and Bugs is the smart one. In a bit of subversion, since he's the "hero" of the story, he doesn't end up going off the cliff as much as Daffy does in his place.
- Perhaps an even better example would be Chuck Jones' Three Bears series, with Pa as the bossy one, Junyer as the idiot, and Ma as the sane one who's ignored.
- Even with more than three main characters, this trope can pop up. In Kappa Mikey, for example, these tend to crystalize around Mikey as the crazy one, with Gonard generally the stupid one, and Guano. Lily, or Mitsuki as the powerless one, as the plot demands. The roles can switch around, though... One episode actually has Ozu as the crazy one, Mikey as the stupid one, and Yes Man as the powerless one.
- Classic Disney Shorts: Mickey, Donald and Goofy arguably fit, but their roles don't play out the same. Donald Duck could be the loudmouthed jerk and Goofy could be the submissive idiot (Mickey Mouse is more or less the sensible but ineffectual straight man, anyway), but a lot of the time Donald is actually right; Goofy is the one to cause the trouble while Donald ends up suffering for it.
- Dexter's Laboratory: The Justice Friends. Major Glory is the schemer, Krunk is stupid, and Valhallen is powerless.
- The Fairly OddParents: Timmy tries to navigate them to the destination (he wishes for stuff), Cosmo is the driver (he grants the wishes without thinking about the results because he's The Ditz) and Wanda's the powerless smart person. She tries to stop Timmy from making the dumb wishes but he never listens.
- Hank, Dale, and Bill from King of the Hill fit this trope. Dale is a paranoid schemer, Bill is a dolt who goes along with it, and Hank is the voice of reason that they almost always ignore. Whenever Hank is elsewhere, Boomhauer fills his role.
- The Smoggies: Emma is a vain, greedy schemer, Polluto is a stupid strongman, and Captain Clarence is a spineless geek.
- Sonic the Hedgehog:
- Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog has Scratch, who originates most schemes independent of Robotnik, Grounder, who tries to carry them out, and Robotnik himself, who's left fuming at the mess they get into. When Robotnik dispatches all three of his robots to capture Sonic, Coconuts, the smartest of the three, is usually powerless.
- Clifford, Cleo, and T-Bone in Clifford the Big Red Dog are an example. Cleo's the impulsive one. Clifford's the dog who goes along. T-Bone's the voice of reason who usually gets ignored.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius is a strange example as Jimmy is the schemer, Sheen goes along but the role of the voice of reason depends on the episode. If it's just Carl with them, then he's the powerless sense of reason.
- Their female counterparts also count. Cindy is the schemer, Brittany is the ditz and Libby is the voice of reason who is never listened to.
- Megas XLR: Coop is the schemer. If he wants to do something, he will, and in his way. Jamie usually complies with a fist bump and horns of rocks. Kiva lets Coop know that what he's planning won't work, but to no avail.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy is a good example. Mandy is a scheming evil genius, Billy is stupid (very stupid), and Grim is the Only Sane Man who is powerless because he lost a game of limbo.
- Bob's Burgers: The Belcher kids. Louise, despite being the youngest, is the schemer and the only one confident enough to be The Leader. Gene is The Ditz (and even when he realizes there's a problem, he's too much of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander to care). While Tina, despite being the oldest, is too insecure to refuse to play along, let alone try to stop her younger siblings.
- Pearlie and her three friends are this. Pearlie is the leader who gets herself in a bad situation, Jasper is the tag-a-long and Opel is the brains who is also the only sane member of the trio (as well as the only sane character in the show).
- Count Duckula The Count and his two servants often fill these kind of roles. The Count himself is the leader, Nanny the unquestioning dumb muscle and Igor the ignored voice of reason.
- ChalkZone: Rudy the leader who usually causes (and eventually solves) the troubles in ChalkZone through their adventures, Penny (being the smartest) is the brains, and plucky, little Snap is the tag-a-long, since he's Rudy's creation.
- Pound Puppies (2010):
- The Super Secret Pup Club happen to be one with Patches as The Leader, Rebound as The Fool, and Cupcake as the Only Sane Man.
- Whike the main dogs on the show do make up a perfect Five-Man Band, there is one episode where they become a Comic Trio. In the episode, "Hail to the Chief", Cookie and Squirt are in the episode, but they sit out on the mission while the other three go on it. In this case, we have Strudel as the schemer trying to prove that she has good leadership skills, Niblet as the big doofus, and Lucky (despite being the true leader) as the Only Sane Man who is mostly powerless and just along for the ride.
- Shuriken School has Ezian the leader, Okuni of sane one and Jimmy B. the tag-along.
- Aaahh!!! Real Monsters has Ickis (the leader), Oblina (the brains of the trio), and Krumm (the Cloudcuckoolander).
- The Greaser Dogs from CatDog. Cliff is the leader as he's the strongest and meanest of the three, dumber-than-a-sack-of-hammers Lube is the follower, and pint-sized token female Shriek is the only one of them who seems to show some form of intelligence.
- Invader Zim has Zim as the schemer, GIR being too insane to not follow him, and the Computer (and later Skoodge) as the voice of reason powerless to stop him.
- The three main characters in Clarence. Sumo is the schemer, Clarence himself is the stupid one, and Jeff is the ignored voice of reason.
- In League of Super Evil we have Voltar as the one who comes up with the team's Poke the Poodle schemes while Doktor Frogg is always the one to object to these and Red Menace simply goes along with Voltar's plan of the episode.
- In We Bare Bears Grizzly is the leader, Panda is the Only Sane Man, and Ice Bear is the follower, though in a few episodes (such as "Nom Nom") Panda is the follower while Ice Bear is the sensible one who gets ignored.
- Camp Lazlo has Lazlo as the one who comes up with the various schemes leading to misadventure, Raj is the complainer due to his nervous nature, and Clam, who rarely says much, follows Lazlo's antics.
- The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack has the eponymous character as the follower while Captain K'nuckles comes up with the schemes and Bubbie objects to them.
- DuckTales (2017) gives us two to serve as foils.
- The triplets. Huey is always the complainer, but his brothers trade off — either Louie's got a selfish scheme and Dewey follows, or Dewey's got a reckless adventure and Louie follows.
- The Beagle Boys. Big Time is the schemer, and like Ed he's not good at it. Burger is the follower. Bouncer, surprisingly, is both the complainer and the smartest of the three by far.
- The Penguins of Madagascar has the three lemurs: King Julien is the egomaniacal leader, Mort is the ditzy Fearless Fool, and Maurice is the Only Sane Man.
- Gumball (leader) and Darwin (follower) are usually the duo in The Amazing World of Gumball but they qualify for this when they're joined by their little sister, Anais (complainer).
- The last three males of Total Drama Island and Total Drama Action.
- Island: Duncan (the insane), Owen (the stupid), and Geoff (the powerless)
- Action: Duncan (the leader), Owen (the follower), and Harold (the complainer)
- Ready Jet Go!:
- Jet is the leader who comes up with crazy schemes. While Sydney isn't dumb, she's very eager to join Jet's plans. Sean is the Only Sane Man and complainer.
- The trio of younger kids fit into this as well. Mindy is the leader, Lillian is the airheaded follower, and Mitchell is the complainer.