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Compliment Backfire

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"You're a stand-up guy, Bats. Don't ever let them call you a crazed loner."
The Flash, Justice League

There are already enough jerkasses in the world, even without tossing in things like Poor Communication Kills. On the other hand, you get the genuinely nice and well-meaning people who honestly want to compliment someone else.

It fails horribly, of course.

There may be a few reasons for this: Suppose Julie wants to compliment Alice, but goes wrong because...

  • The compliment reflects an aspect of herself Alice dislikes: see Your Approval Fills Me with Shame.
    • It reveals that Alice has traits she dislikes, like the above but rather than treading on old wounds, it cuts a fresh one.
  • The compliment wasn't strong enough.
  • Similar to Ma'am Shock, the compliment comes with the implication that Alice is old. Usually comes in the form, "I've admired you since I was little!"
  • She ends up digging herself into a hole.
  • They make a comparison to someone famous that has unwelcome implications.
  • The form it takes has Unfortunate Implications: see You Are a Credit to Your Race, for praise tainted by racism, sexism, or other -isms.
    • A popular version: "I can't understand why people say what they do about you."
  • It's a Deliberate Values Dissonance. For example, Julie is a Proud Warrior Race Guy and Alice is a pacifist, and Julie calls Alice a "great warrior" or similar.
  • Alice has no idea what Julie is trying to say, and assumes it's an insult.
  • Alice doesn't believe that the compliment applies to her and therefore assumes that she's being mocked.
  • Alice's self-esteem is too low to take it, and just degrades her opinion of Julie.
  • Alice was Compliment Fishing by putting herself down; Julie wasn't supposed to show support by agreeing with her.
  • The compliment misidentifies Alice's ideological stance. For example, Alice is an atheist and was complimented for her "Christian behaviour." Or Alice holds politically conservative views and is complimented on her "liberalism."
  • Julie is comparing Alice to Bob, who Julie likes and respects, but who Alice hates.
  • Alice is miscredited for something she didn't actually do, especially if the actual person turns out to have less-than-pleasant motives or means.
  • Alice has a hot temper, and can take any and everything as an insult.
  • The compliment is about something which Alice sees as basic but is made to sound like an achievement.
  • The compliment comes across as dismissive; for example, You're Cute When You're Angry, which suggests Julie cares more about Alice's looks than about her emotional state.

Julie means well, of course. How Alice takes it, however...

Subtrope of Dismissing a Compliment. Compare Your Approval Fills Me with Shame, in which the compliment itself is fine, it's the source that's the problem. This is the inverted form of an Insult Backfire. Contrast with Backhanded Compliment, where this is done intentionally to insult someone with the pretense of complimenting them. Often the trait of the Tsundere.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bloom Into You, this often happens in fairly comedic moments, and in a few serious ones.
    • In one extra, when Koyomi notes that she doesn't wear her uniform's ribbon due to not liking "cute" things, at which point Akari then asks Koyomi whether she liked the stuffed animal Akari bought her. Koyomi reassures her that she did, because it wasn't cute, much to Akari's disappointment.
    • In another extra, Touko and Yuu meet two of Yuu's kouhai from the middle school softball team. Touko points out that Yuu doesn't look like much of a senpai because she's shorter than the two younger girls (which Touko finds cute), which offends Yuu. Yuu's kouhai then point out that Yuu is cool and reliable... despite being short.
    • Played for Drama in Chapter 21. Touko meets Ichigaya, who served on the student council with Touko's older sister, Mio. After revealing that Mio's status as a perfect student council president was a facade, he says Touko's a much better president, due to actually being the person Mio pretended to be. Touko, who'd spent the last seven years trying to emulate her sister, is quite troubled, since in reality, it means Mio was more like Touko than Touko had thought.
  • Seigi in The Case Files of Jeweler Richard compliments Richard for almost everything, but especially and explicitly his beauty. Constantly. But Richard hates his appearance and is very self-conscious about his good looks.
  • Kaiju Girl Caramelise: When Kuroe gets a makeover from Rairi, monster-obsessed Cloudcuckoolander Manatsu compliments her by saying she looks like Astromons. This would be a pretty weird compliment for anyone, but Kuroe is so sensitive about actually being a Kaiju that being compared to one, even in a positive sense, is enough for her to want to immediately wash off the makeup.
  • Played for Drama in Kodomo No Jikan, Aoki-sensei is pushed to transfer to a joint primary-middle school. He thinks this shows that the school board didn't trust him, despite everything he had done for his students. It turns out that they were more than satisfied with the job he had done; they merely wanted him to teach somewhere that his skills would be put to better use.
  • In the second Sound Stage of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, Nanoha and Fate tell Chrono about how the Lieze Sisters believe that Nanoha should become a Combat Instructor, and he agrees. Chrono then gives his own thoughts on the matter which leads to the following exchange:
    Chrono: Nanoha's combat ability is considerable. Your irresponsible reliance on your magic power complements your basic true character.
    Nanoha: Er...
    Chrono: You're extremely solid and quick to recover too.
    Nanoha: Er... Are you praising me or are you insulting me?
    Fate: Oh, he's praising you, really.
  • Dramatic version in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny: After destroying the Freedom Gundam, Shinn tells Athrun "I got revenge, for me and for you"...and gets punched in the face. From Shinn's perspective this comes completely out of left field: the Freedom had previously shredded Athrun's Saviour Gundam and badly injured him in the process, on top of the non-personal interference it'd pulled on ZAFT's forces. What he doesn't know is that the Freedom's pilot is Athrun's Childhood Friend, so naturally being told that he's (apparently) dead isn't exactly comforting.
  • Molester Man: Molester Man tells Kansai "Kimono look good on girls with tiny breasts", leading to her indignantly asking "Who's a girl with tiny breasts?"
  • In Chapter 80 of Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, Sakura and Nozaki are pretending to be a couple to come up with ideas for manga dialogue. Nozaki asks Sakura (who he doesn't know likes him for real) to say what she likes about him. She thinks saying his height would make her sound shallow, and mentioning his kindness and sense of humor is too cliche, so she ends up saying "I like how when you kneel for a long time, your foot doesn't fall asleep".
  • Naruto, when attempting to encourage Sakura, calls her a "master of brute force." Of course, being Naruto, he meant well, but that didn't stop Sakura from getting mad. And then hitting him.
    • On that note, there's also when, during the "Invasion of Konoha Arc", Kakashi's ninken (summoned tracking ninja dog who can talk), who is leading Naruto and Sakura on the search for Sasuke, stops in his tracks. The reason? To comment to Sakura that he's just realised - from the smell - that she uses the same brand of shampoo in her hair as he uses for his fur. Cue Colour Failure and Naruto of all people calling him out on this random comment.
      Sakura: (half-delusional) I smell like a dog. I smell like a dog. I smell like a dog...
  • Jessie of Pokťmon: The Series gets a lot of the third one, but it's often a slip-up by James and Meowth. Harley secretly turned heel on May because of the second.
  • There are 2 instances in Pokťmon Adventures. One is when Moon is impressed by Ultra Megalopolis and says that the scientists in this world must be more advanced than theirs. Zossie thinks of it as sarcasm because of the harm their scientists brought. Another is when Henry wins against Nessa, who praises her and says that their strategy would've only worked on a Gym Leader. Nessa then accuses him of talking down to her.
  • Akari, a character in the Ranma Ĺ manga, loves pigs and complimented Ryoga repeatedly by comparing him to a pig. He did not see this as a compliment, in part because he turns into a pig.
    • Akane did this herself to Ryoga once. He was very depressed and using that depression for a special attack, and Akane tried to cheer him up by saying "You're a good friend!" Cue Ryoga, who has unrequited love for Akane, getting even more extremely depressed than he was already! (note the Real Life section below)
    • Nodoka has insulted Ranma before by complimenting him on his cute, girlish looks or his talent at feminine tasks, because she has no idea that "Ranko" is actually her son. While Ranma loves being better than everyone else, he's not too thrilled that it's coming from his mother, the one person whom he needs to consider him manly.
      Nodoka: You'll make a good wife to some lucky man, Ranko!
  • In The World is Still Beautiful, while Nike is disguised as Luna's fiance Kanaris, Luna's brother Teibe is vocal about how he admires "him" for his manliness. Nike takes this as an insult to her femininity and sulks to Livius afterward.
  • A variation occurs in Yugami-kun ni wa Tomodachi ga Inai: Self-made loner protagonist Yugami is given a Love Letter by a girl he doesn't remember. In the letter, the girl talks about how kind and wonderful he is, but Yugami isn't the least bit flattered by these comments because she's overglorified his personality to extremes and this leads him to think the girl is delusional. This troubles Yugami so much that he concludes not replying to the letter is the best course of action.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Judai Yuki is absolutely amazed by Edo Phoenix's Destiny Hero monsters and expresses how cool they are. Edo, who has absolute disgust and contempt for Judai at this point, is annoyed.
  • Zombie Land Saga: Played for Drama. In episode 11, Lily tries to cheer up a depressed Sakura by telling her she's cute, even offering her signature star ornament for Sakura to try on. Sakura's response says it all though.
    Sakura: Really? What if I wear the star, does it look cute then?
    Lily: Uh... you're doing it wrong.
    Sakura: If you're cute those details don't matter. But the harder I try to be cute, the dumber and uglier I end up looking. Because... I'm a failure!
    (Sakura tosses the star into the ground, frightening Lily. Lily is later seen sobbing herself to sleep.)

  • A review of a show by comedian Simon Munnery said that his show was "the nearest comedy gets to modern art". Munnery replied with a routine stating that this obviously meant his stand-up had moved away from comedy to the point where it wasn't funny...but 'the closest' meant it could never actually be art.

    Comic Books 
  • An Archie comic story opens with Veronica asking Archie "Will you still love me when I'm old?" Archie replies "Of course I do." Following is Archie after Veronica clobbers him and storms off.
  • Astro City: Steeljack, a Reformed, but Rejected supervillain, breaks into the local Justice League Expy headquarters to warn them about another supervillain's plot, and is nearly immediately apprehended by a group of heroes, including Quarrel II, the daughter of one of his old accomplices, the original Quarrel. As he is dragged out, he mentions that her dad would have been proud of her. While he probably means that he would be proud that she got away from the slums and crime and became an upstanding citizen and hero, Quarrel flies into a rage at being complimented by an accomplice of her father's and a supervillain, and given approval by proxy from her said father, whom she has done everything to distance herself from.
  • A Running Gag in Empowered. It seems Thugboy finds Emp's backside one of her most alluring features, while Ms. Powers herself often finds it disgustingly oversized (along with the rest of her). You can see where this is going.
    • One of the only times this compliment didn't backfire was when Ocelotina remarked that Emp's butt "quivers fetchingly" when spanked. When Thugboy confirms this, she is delighted.
  • Firefly: The Sting: Logar likens Inara to a sheepdog among sheep, intending it as a compliment. She isn't having it.
    Logar: Not many women 'round these parts like that, the sheepdog instead of the sheep.
    Inara: First of all, women aren't sheep. Second of all, calling me a dog isn't a compliment.
  • The Flash:
    • In one issue, Wally goes to Captain Cold's parole party, mingles with the Rogues, and ends up keeping an errant boomerang from hitting Golden Glider (who went into villainy after the death of her lover, the also-villainous Top).
      Golden Glider: Thanks for saving me. You're not at all like Barry Allen. You're as brave and honest as the Top.
      Wally: I... but the Top was...
      Gentleman Ghost: I'd take that as a compliment, old thing, and let it go at that.
    • In another issue, he rescues the then-reformed Dr. Alchemy, who enthuses "I don't know why everybody says you're such a jerk!"
  • In elementary school, Ironheart told her teacher about her dream to be a scientist. She found it a fine idea, but Riri was disappointed because she wasn't challenged over it like all the other great female scientists. When her teacher tells her that it's because of those scientists that she has confidence in Riri, she thinks it means her teacher doesn't see anything special about her.
  • A Running Gag in Justice League International was that whenever Ice had a Moment of Awesome someone would say "Way to go, Ice! I don't know why everyone thinks your powers are lame!"
  • In Marauders, Emma Frost notices Captain America looking at her with something. She's not particularly interested in him, but rather flattered with the attention. She reads his mind and recoils with turns out she reminds him of his mother.
  • Ultimate FF: Namor: "Say what you want about me, but watch your mouth around this beautiful creature!" Sue: "*sigh*"

    Comic Strips 
  • A Dilbert comic listed one of "The 7 Habits of Highly Defective People" as "use compliments to show your prejudices". The corresponding picture showed the Pointy-Haired Boss telling Alice "Ooh, nice crisp photocopy, Alice. I don't think a man could have done it better!"
  • Garfield:
    • A strip shows Jon telling Vet Liz that because animal medicine is a difficult field, she must "have a great mind for a woman." She, offended, responds, "I have a great mind for a MAN." He attempts to flirt by telling her she has "a great body for a man too."
    • Jon's attempt at complimenting Liz doesn't work out as well as he hoped in this strip.
      Jon: Liz, you're not like the other women I've known. You haven't run away screaming.
      Liz: Yet.
      Garfield: She beat me to it!
    • Another strip had Jon praising the necktie of a man passing by. The man retorted that Jon was a weirdo for saying that.
  • One strip of Out of the Gene Pool has the baseball player Puff Maghee punching out a sports reporter. Another reporter on the scene points out that the term Cinderella Story is a compliment.
  • In the Redeye comic strip, the incompetent brave tried to butter up his chief with the line, "You don't sweat much for a fat guy." The brave intended it as a compliment. This is a gender-reversal of a real life line Alex Karras originally said to a girl he was dancing with, with the same intention.
  • In Tumbleweeds, the title character praises the cook Greasy for baking a blueberry pie and calls Greasy one of the best pie bakers in the whole world. Cue Tumbleweeds getting a Pie in the Face.
    Greasy: "One of" don't cut it.

    Fan Works 
  • batman & (smol) son has little Damian admiring Dick's long ponytail because it reminds him of his mother Talia. Unitentional emasculation apart, Dick never liked Talia so his thanks is a mite clipped, and Bruce outright hopes his eldest son felt so insulted he's finally going to get a haircut.
  • In Code MENT, when faced with a gun-toting Shirley:
    Lelouch: C'mon Mao, you can read minds! Say something that'll make her stop!
    Mao: Shirley, listen to me. No one even notices how much bigger your left boob is from your right.
    Lelouch: Thank you, Mao.
  • In A Discordant Note, Hala, a part-giant, is told by a local courtesan she'd make a very exotic whore. While the courtesan means it as a compliment, being a whore herself, Hala is naturally quite insulted.
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Gohan is twice stated to be like his father. His response? "In what regard?" Of course, he is relieved to hear the answer was being strong and brave like him.
  • The Fifth Act: Vincent tells Sephiroth that he sincerely has faith in Sephiroth and that he won't go mad as Cloud fears. Since this comes after the revelation that none of friends trust him and it's coming from a total stranger this doesn't do much to comfort him.
  • Hivefled: Vriska learns why one should not tell someone who was horribly tortured by his own parents that he should look on the bright side because his new scars are "fucking hardcore" when he responds by giving her some new ones since she likes them so much.
  • in dreams you follow (but I dream in the dark): Subverted when Kiba compliments Konan by referring to her as the "alpha bitch" of Akatsuki. While the rest of the group is horrified, Konan recognizes that's just his way of acknowledging her as being the woman in charge of everyone.
  • Rivals Series: When Yuuri wins gold at the Junior Grand Prix, Viktor attempts to compliment him. However, he does so by criticizing Yuuri for winning without using any quads (which Yuuri was lacking in at the time) and giving unwanted advice after Yuuri's hard-earned victory. Yuuri ends up so angry that he walks away so he wouldn't make a scene.
  • Team 8: Naruto appreciates Hinata's willingness to work hard and get dirty, but when he tries to compliment her, it comes out as "I like how you're like a boy, instead of a girl." Understandably, she's rather upset, and then confused when he tries to explain.
  • In Yu Yu Hakusho Abridged, Suzaku (who is a redneck) tries to compliment Yusuke.
    Suzaku: You and I seem to be of an even intemellect, Detective.
    Yusuke: You take that back right the fuck now.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Great Mouse Detective: The poor little drunkard mouse calls Professor Rattigan "the world's greatest rat!" at the end of the little musical number. Rattigan feeds him to his cat.
  • In Igor, Eva tells Igor he's a good person, but since they live in a country where being evil is celebrated, Igor asks her not to say that.
  • Sing: When meeting with Nana Noodleman to try and convince her to sponsor his competition, Buster cheerfully tells her that she doesn't look "a day over 90". Eddie can only Face Palm at this.
  • During one of the video sequels to Disney's Tarzan, Tarzan mentions how much more used to getting around the jungle Jane is.
    Tarzan: You act more like an ape every day!
    Jane: Well, I never[sees his confused expression] ... heard such a sweet sentiment.
  • Zootopia:
    • Officer Judy Hopps compliments Nick in a condescending way by calling him unusually "articulate" for a fox, to which he sarcastically responds "It's rare that I find someone so non-patronizing" which she doesn't pick up on.
    • Judy also receives a compliment from Benjamin Clawhauser that she is "even cuter" than he thought she would be. She gently informs him that it's offensive for non-bunnies to call bunnies cute (Clawhauser is a cheetah), and he immediately apologizes without a second thought.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The "Tommy, you're a funny guy" scene from Goodfellas. To elaborate, Tommy is a sociopath with a Hair-Trigger Temper and his immediate response is to question "I'm funny to you how?" to the poor guy who said it with an increasingly angry rant and a clear intent to perform a violent retribution no matter what he says. Turns out that Tommy was just pulling the other guy's chain, but he's the only one who truly finds this prank funny.
  • Overboard: Nate urges Charley to say something nice to the Captain, seeing as it's his birthday — on such short notice the best Charley can come up with is "Wow — you barely look insane today!"
  • The captain of the Enterprise-B in Star Trek: Generations, to Captain Kirk: "I read about your missions when I was in grade school."
  • Star Trek: Spock is complimented by his elders on overcoming the "disadvantage" of being a Half-Human Hybrid. Spock's response, while unflinchingly calm and polite, is very clear on where they can stick their praises. It is a credit to Quinto's performance in this scene that his "Live Long and Prosper" comes off clearly as "fuck off and die in a hole" without any obvious expression of emotion.
  • In X-Men: First Class, Erik tries to compliment Hank's Beast form, but Hank takes it as sarcasm and responds with a Neck Lift. Erik is remarkably understanding about the mistake.

  • Discworld:
    • In Unseen Academicals, Mr. Nutt, whose social skills are somewhat lacking, tries to flatter the plump and plain Glenda by describing her as "fecund". Glenda is mortified, but dips down to "embarrassed" after she rushes off to look up the word, and manages to gently explain to Nutt where he went wrong.
    • In Jingo, when Vimes finds out that among the D'regs, being trustworthy is apparently an insult.
      Ahmed: I left him [Prince Khufurah] with a woman I trust.
      Vimes: Your mother?
      Ahmed: Heavens, no! My mother is a D'reg! She would be terribly offended if I trusted her! She would say she had not raised me right!
  • In the backstory of Dreadnought!, the main character Piper brought her Vulcan friend Sarda's research to the attention of his superiors, thinking it would help his career. Unfortunately, they figured out a way to weaponize it and did give him a commendation, but he was thoroughly humiliated by the warping of his intentions and the public attention it brought him. Even worse, his fellow Vulcans ostracized him over the perceived immorality of his work, causing him no end of problems in his personal life. Needless to say, Piper and Sarda's relationship fell apart after that, and didn't really come back together until the events of the book were over.
  • From Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ron compliments Luna on her commentary regarding a Quidditch match. Ron's sincere, but Luna thinks Ron's mocking her because everyone else tells her she did a lousy job. (Considering her performance, it's easy to understand.)
    • In the beginning of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Dursleys have to drive to their safe house to avoid Ministry (and, by extension, Death Eater) detection, because their Order of the Phoenix guards don't know how. Dedalus Diggle praises Vernon on his driving (which would confuse him to no end), but Vernon is dismayed to hear that Dedalus can't drive.
  • In the Agatha Christie novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, Heather Babcock meets actress Marina Gregg and immediately launches into a story about how Marina was her favorite actress, and how many years ago, she had been sick but had ignored the doctor's orders to go get Marina's autograph. Miss Marple and her friend Mrs. Bantry speculate that Marina probably doesn't like being reminded how many years she's been acting. Actually, it was an Compliment Backfire for an entirely different reason: Marina had caught German Measles from Heather on that earlier occasion. Marina was pregnant at the time, and the illness resulted in serious birth defects.
  • In Moon Rising, Kinkajou tells Moonwatcher that she usually doesn't like NightWings - but since Moonwatcher is "hardly like a NightWing at all", she doesn't mind hanging out with her. Moonwatcher is a little upset by this.
  • Subverted in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. After Percy goes through hell to rescue Annabeth and the goddess Artemis from the Titan forces with his comrades, the latter tells him that he was "Not Bad, for a man". He thought it was this at first, but then realized that was the first time she didn't call him "boy" and it was actually her way of giving him respect. Given Artemis's history with men, this was essentially high praise and one of the best compliments a god ever gave him outside of his dad Poseidon.
  • In the third book of A Song of Ice and Fire, a number of the men start calling Sam "Sam the Slayer" after he claims to have killed one of the Others. Sam is mad when his friends pick it up, but Grenn explains that while others might be using the name to mock him, Sam's friends know that he actually did kill the Other and has more than earned it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Andy Griffith Show:
    Goober: You don't sweat much for a fat girl.
  • Sheldon Cooper, the Insufferable Genius on The Big Bang Theory, sees even fields such as experimental physics and engineering to be beneath him, and takes offense when his sister tells him that she's always bragging to her friends about "my brother, the rocket scientist".
    Sheldon: You tell people I'm a rocket scientist??? ...Why don't you just tell people I'm a toll-taker at the Golden Gate Bridge? Rocket scientist. How humiliating.
  • In an episode of Blossom, one character recently introduced to another says "I don't care what they say, you keep wearing that shirt."
  • A couple examples of this occur in Community episode "Basic Genealogy":
    • Pierce compares his ex-step-daughter's appearance to those of the call girls he frequents. It goes over about as well as you'd expect.
    • Britta's comment about the attractiveness of Troy's grandmother ends in her being spanked.
    • In the first episode, when Pierce tells Jeff "You remind me of myself at your age", Jeff's response is "I deserve that."
  • Doctor Who:
  • Dollhouse:
    • When Topher is talking to Bennett, he says that "I had a crush on you even when I thought you were a dude." Bennett seems mildly creeped out by it, but appreciates it after Topher adds: "This is better."
    • In their first meeting there's also Bennett describing Topher as "very pale skin. Like a pig." and having to clarify that she likes pigs. They're an awkward couple.
  • Drake & Josh: One episode features this exchange, just to show how much of a Butt-Monkey Josh really is.
    Josh: Have a nice day.
    Delivery Man: Don't tell me what to do!
  • Farscape had Aeryn compliment Zhaan on being "a true warrior" after she almost singlehandedly defeated the episode's Big Bad when she and D'argo failed. Zhaan just looks shocked and quietly leaves. D'argo explains to Aeryn that Zhaan is a priestess and a fervent Actual Pacifist, who had seriously bent her ethics to beat the baddie. Essentially, "You could not have cut her more deeply."
  • A common problem with Simon Tam from Firefly in regards to Kaylee.
    Simon: Plus, every other girl I know is either married, professional, or closely related to me, so you are more or less literally the only girl in the world.
    Kaylee: That's a hell of a thing to say.
    Simon: I was joking...
    Kaylee: No, no, I get it. Back on Osiris you probably had nurses and debutantes crawling all over you. But down here at the bottom of the barrel, there's just me.
  • Frasier: Frasier and Niles read a new manuscript by a reclusive novelist. They lavish compliments on him, including how brilliant it was to mirror Dante's nine levels of Hell in the nine rooms of a bordello. The author hadn't intended this, realizes he ripped off the entire structure from Dante, and throws the manuscript into the fireplace.
  • Early on in Friends:
    Chandler: What do you say, Monica — if we're both single when we're 30, let's get married?
    Monica: (angrily) Why wouldn't I be married by 30?
    Chandler: ... Omigod, this parachute is really a knapsack!
  • Turned into a running gag on F Troop with Sgt O'Rourke's "I don't know why everyone says you're so dumb" compliments to Corporal Agarn, with the humor coming from the amount of time it takes Agarn ("Who says I'm dumb?") to realize he's just been insulted.
  • Full House:
    • After Rebecca gives birth to twins Nicky and Alex, Joey goes into Cuteness Proximity mode, saying that they look like miniature Elmer Fudds. To this, Becky screams "MY BABIES LOOK LIKE ELMER FUDD!" and breaks into tears. In this case, this trope was explicitly stated to be because of leftover pregnancy hormones turning Becky into a Mood-Swinger.
    • Overlaps with Digging Yourself Deeper in the episode "Making Out is Hard to Do", in which Michelle tries to console Jesse when he feels down after finding out that the Rippers became more popular under the new leadership from Barry Williams than they ever were when Jesse himself was the leader:
      Michelle: I liked the Rippers better when Uncle Jesse was in the band.
      Jesse: Aw, that's sweet, Munchkin.
      Michelle: Before they had a hit song, and everybody loved them, and they opened for the Stones
      Jesse: W-W-Whoa, the Stones?
      Michelle: Only in the west coast.
      Joey: Uh, I think that's all the cheering up that Uncle Jesse can stand right now.
      Michelle: [awkwardly] Gotcha.
  • At one point in Game of Thrones, Sansa promises Cersei that she won't be any trouble: "I'll be a good queen just like you, I won't hatch anything!" Since Cersei has just engineered her husband's death and seized power for herself and her son, her reaction is priceless.
  • In The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy 1981, when Arthur is the one to realise they arrived at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe by travelling in time, but not in space, Zaphod snaps at him and the waiter intervenes "No, your monkey has got it right, sir." Arthur spends a second being pleased that he got it right before double-taking and glaring at the waiter.
  • The Muppet Show, where newcomer Annabel Sue Pig tells Miss Piggy of her lifelong admiration of her.
  • In an episode of Murder, She Wrote, Jessica is doing a book-signing at a police station and one of the cops comments "My grandmother will be thrilled. She's been reading your books since she was a girl." The fact this can't actually be true (Jess isn't that old, and she only started writing after she retired) is lampshaded by her Friend on the Force, who drily comments "I remember my great-great-grandfather telling me he read your books by candlelight."
    • In another episode, someone starts by saying he's a fan, but it backfires when he not only says he's been reading her books for twenty years, but gets the genre wrong entirely.
  • In a flashback of Our Flag Means Death, Stede Bonnet, upon looking at a painting of a lighthouse, declares that he didn't know his children were so good at art. The painting was actually done by his wife, who is clearly none too happy at his assumption. He then attempts to correct by saying that "you can tell!"
  • In an episode of Parks and Recreation, this is April's response to being told that she's a "very nice person."
  • Greg's Double Entendre introductions on Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld are meant to be complimentary (except to Bill), but often end up being this trope. Introductions such as "She's so hot, Smokey the Bear flings feces at her" can be less than flattering.
    • "She's so hot, when dogs go into heat, it's called 'going into Jill Dobson'" prompted a faux walk-off from the person in question.
  • One episode of Roseanne has Bev inadvertently do this to the titular character. Bev laments that she's sad that Jackie never made more out of her life, because she always thought she had more potential than Roseanne. To soften the blow, Bev then tells Roseanne that she's still very proud of her, because she always expected that she'd settle down into a happily mundane adulthood as a housewife and mother, which is exactly what she's done. Roseanne, who harbored big dreams of being a writer and poet before giving them up when she married Dan (largely because she was pregnant), ends up more upset at this "compliment" than Jackie is about the insult.
  • Screech from Saved by the Bell does this twice. The first time he makes this mistake, he tries to compliment his prospective girlfriend's mother with a celebrity... and he compares her with, of all people, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The other mistake involves an episode of Saved by the Bell: The New Class series where Screech attempts to be complimentary to Mr. Belding when introducing him to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
    Screech: This is Mr. Belding, the man who made me what I am today!
    Kareem: (turning to Mr. Belding) Mr. Belding, we need to talk.
  • In Scrubs J.D. means to compliment Julie when he says "you smell like my mom". Naturally this has the opposite effect. Thankfully he saves himself...
    J.D.: I didn't mean you smell like my mom, I meant you smell like mamum. It's a rare fragrant herb.
    Julie: (hugging him) I feel so silly.
    J.D.'s Narration: (sniffing her) Ah, Mommy.
  • Spaced has Twist, who constantly makes backhanded insults in the guise of compliments towards her friend Daisy. For example when Daisy appears on the scene of her birthday party at a restaurant with a brand new dress and make-up in an attempt to impress, Twist comments that she looks nice and follows that with "I wish I could dress down like that". This is particularly grating in that everyone else at the table hasn't even noticed the way Daisy looks and the atmosphere is already extremely tense for a multitude of reasons.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • In one episode, Spock is a little too honest:
      Spock: My congratulations, Captain. A dazzling display of logic.
      Kirk: You didn't think I had it in me, did you?
      Spock: No, sir.
    • Most of the crew have at one time or another told Spock that he has acted very human. While this is often meant as a sardonic jab or even an overt insult, it is occasionally meant to be a sincere compliment. Regardless of the intent, though, it always offends him.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. The Emergency Medical Hologram has a tendency to do this, even when he's not trying to be his usual Dr. Jerk self.
    Kes: Neelix and Tom Paris had a physical fight over me.
    EMH: How delightful.
    Kes: Delightful?
    EMH: You should consider it a high compliment. Throughout history, men have fought over the love of a woman. Why, I can quote you autopsy reports from duels as far back as 1538.
    Kes: That's not funny.
    EMH: It's not meant to be. You've always been interested in autopsies.
    • Tom Paris, on realizing that Tuvok has feelings for a woman:
      Paris: You know something? I always thought that beneath that cold Vulcan exterior lay a...even colder Vulcan interior. But now, I'm convinced you're a hopeless romantic.
      Tuvok: There is no need to insult me, Mister Paris.
  • From Supernatural:
    Castiel: [to Dean] You are not the burnt and broken shell of a man that I believed you to be.
  • From That '70s Show:
    Kitty: And Jackie, you're such a doll. I don't even mind your back-handed compliments.
    Jackie: Oh, Mrs. Forman, you're my favorite old lady!
  • Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson, infamous for his dislike of Americans, makes a somewhat bizarre comment when faced with a rather attractive young American lass.
    Jeremy Clarkson: You're American? [backs up, looks up and down her body] You can't be! You're nowhere near fat enough!
  • In True Blood Arlene attempts to comfort Sookie by saying "You really are smarter than people give you credit for."
  • In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah asks Clay "Do you think I could ever be as pretty as Jessica Davis?" Clay, who has a crush on Hannah, initially doesn't know how to respond, then says that while Jessica is pretty he thinks Hannah is "special". Unfortunately, due to her own insecurities Hannah takes offense to this, even sarcastically asking if he means "special like retarded" before sweeping off, leaving Clay utterly confused.
  • Victorious: In one episode, a guy is trying to ask Jade out and tells her "You look great today". Jade angrily replies: "So yesterday I looked gross?!"

  • Flight of the Conchords' "Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)" is an extended form of this, a lovely Prince-esque serenade towards a romantic interest, including such gems as how she's "the most beautiful girl in the... room," and how "when you're on the street, depending on the street, I bet you are definitely in the top three..."
    You're so beautiful... you could be a waitress...
    You're so beautiful... you could be an air hostess in the 60's
    You're so beautiful... you could be a part-time model...
  • The Mitch Benn song "These Ghoulish Things" is a List Song of these, about a Nightmare Fetishist trying to compliment a girl, and unable to understand why she's not taking it the way he intended:
    A hanging tree on a rainsoaked hill,
    A paper cut, a dentist's drill,
    The rotting corpse of a kangaroo,
    These ghoulish things remind me of you.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "That's Your Horoscope for Today": "You are the true lord of the dance, no matter what those idiots at works say."

    Pro Wrestling 
  • At DGUSA's Enter The Dragon the Matt Jackson didn't like the suggestion that he and Nick were "the tag team of the future", instead suggesting The Young Bucks were the hottest tag team in the world.
  • Bryan Danielson tried to convince fans that Davey Richards would become his superior and successor at Open The Ultimate Gate. Problem was, the fans didn't really buy it, heckling Richards after his match with SHINGO, which in turn caused Richards to attack Danielson for the "endorsement".
  • While Ambassador Ric Flair's assertion that Austin Aries was a "fair hand" who might be the next Shawn Michaels or Nature Boy some day was an attempt to put over RoH on HD net, Aries took it as a suggestion he wasn't great already.

  • Hall-of-Fame first baseman Lou Gehrig had an off year in 1938, but manager Joe McCarthy kept him in the lineup throughout the season. He was much worse at the beginning of 1939, but everyone still thought he'd play through it. The end came in a game when he fielded a soft grounder and flipped the ball to the pitcher covering first base to end the inning. On the way back to the dugout, his teammates mobbed Gehrig, patting him on the back and congratulating him - for making a routine play. Gehrig realized how bad his performance must have been for his team to be complimenting him on something so basic. In his words, "They meant it to be kind, but it hurt worse than any bawling out." Gehrig retired shortly thereafter. He was later found to be suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease which today bears his name. Two years later, he was dead.
  • Complimenting a fighter's toughness is always a mixed bag, since it also implies a deficiency in skill or performance. While some fighters take pride in their durability, others state flatly that they never want to be praised for how well they take a punch.

  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Cyrano tricks a poor Bore to invoke this trope (so he can literally kick the Bore's ass) at Act I Scene IV: When asked if his nose is large, the Bore desperately says itís minute:
    Cyrano: Why then that air Disparaging? -ó perchance you think it large?
    The Bore (stammering): No, small, quite smallóminute!
    Cyrano: Minute! What now?
    Accuse me of a thing ridiculous!
    Smallómy nose?
  • Set up and then subverted in Mary Mary. Bob, at a loss at how to win back Mary, says she doesn't know he believes she's pretty. He never got to tell her that she was as beautiful as "a lovely piece of white porcelain," because he knew what she would say: "White porcelain? You mean like the kitchen sink?" Indeed, in their final reconciliation scene, he gives her that compliment, and her retort is as predicted, except that she catches herself in mid-sentence and goes sweet.
  • Ride the Cyclone: Happens during a tender moment when the dead teen choir members hold an impromptu birthday celebration for Jane Doe (the only one of their number suffering from Ghost Amnesia). Ocean pays her best friend Constance a series of Backhanded Compliments, while sincerely believing she's saying something nice:
    Ocean: You know I envy you?
    Constance: No you don't Ocean.
    Ocean: No, I do. I mean, I got straight "A"s since I was in grade one. I was working towards something. I was building a life. You? You were satisfied doing nothing! Making cupcakes, eating them. You are what the Taoists call an un-carved block.
    Constance: I'm a block?
    Ocean: Just learn to take a compliment!
  • The bridesmaid Zorah has a line like this in Ruddigore: "Dame Hannah, you're a nice old person..." Play it right and it always gets a laugh from the audience.
  • In Waitress, Dr. Pomatter affectionately compares Jenna to a waitress he once knew that he had a crush on as a kid. Unfortunately, he opens by commenting that said waitress must be in her forties by now. Luckily, he quickly backpedals and clarifies that he meant that Jenna reminds him of how nice she was to him.

    Theme Parks 
  • In Transformers: The Ride at Universal Studios, when Evac refers to the Safety Instructor A.I. as "the lady with the robotic voice", she gets defensive, saying at the end, "... and I do not have a robotic voice!", to which Evac responds, "Hey, I'm a robot. It was meant to be a compliment!"

    Video Games 
  • Animal Crossing: New Leaf: In his "Distress" joke, Dr. Shrunk recalls how he tried to compliment his wife on her birthday by saying "Of all the fish in the sea, I caught a whale!" What distresses him is that she interpreted it as a crack about her weight and got mad.
  • Flattering another player in Anno 1404 for diplomatic purposes may result in this, especially when you try too hard or too often. For instance, Willem van der Mark, a depressed Dutch intellectual, will express his regret over a book he wrote after you lauded him for it.
  • When Angelico of Dead In Vinland attempts to say "words of love" to his crush Kari, she does not take it well (partly because of her Hair-Trigger Temper and partly because of her conflicted feelings toward him). When he tells her that her hair looks pretty today, she asks if she usually looks like shit. When he reassures her that she always looks beautiful, even when she's coming back from exploration covered in mud, she gets offended that he's implying she's dirty and smelly.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has this occur in one of Ulysses' audio tapes. Ulysses' tribe, the Twisted Hairs, was conquered and assimilated by Caesar's Legion, which Ulysses served in as a scout. He eventually made contact with another tribe called the White Legs, and helped train them in preparation of joining the Legion. After a round of Rape, Pillage, and Burn, the White Legs decided to honor Ulysses by adopting his dreadlocks, but without knowing the context and symbolism of his tribe's hair style.
    Ulysses: They... had taken my braids, the way of the Twisted Hairs, as if it showed they were like me, of me... while every knot in their braids spoke of raping, violence... and ignorance of what the knots meant. They thought to show respect... defiled it. Lost myself in trying to read the braids they wove, when I remembered they had put no meaning in it. They had no history of what it meant. They didn't even know the insult in the twists, knots...
  • The King of Fighters: In the Maximum Impact sub-series, Rock Howard attempts to be polite and respectful to Mai Shiranui by calling her "aunt". Not only is it technically true (Rock was adopted by Terry Bogard, and Mai is engaged to Terry's brother Andy), he's actually being extra nice by recognizing her as family despite the fact that she and Andy aren't married yet. Mai just sees it as Rock calling her old and flips out on the poor kid.
  • A lot of a male player's attempts to compliment Nathyrra in Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark are...ill-received (at best).
    • Though by chapter three she seems to have decided that the player character is joking.
  • In one Solatorobo sidequest, when Waffle attempts to complement Alica for looking pretty in a princess dress, she just gets mad at him for comparing her to Princess Theria.
  • The attraction system in The Sims 3 gives a pop-up message when one Sim interacts with a Sim they find attractive the first time. Some of the lines can come across like this.
    "I don't care what anyone else says, I think you're hot!"
  • Played absolutely for drama in the backstory of Shiki from The World Ends with You. Shiki and her best friend Eri work together to design and make clothes, with Eri doing the designs and Shiki taking the construction. Shiki always felt inferior and wanted to be a designer too, and the eventual argument about this culminated in Eri telling her she "just wasn't suited to being a designer." She meant that Shiki was such a good, detail-oriented seamstress that turning her attention to designing would be a waste of her skill, but Shiki took it... poorly. And ran away crying. And died in an accident before Eri could explain.

  • In Freefall Sam's idea of complimenting Florence is "You look good... for a dog in a dress."
  • It would appear that this cartoonist was not a fan of The KAMics.
  • Girl Genius has a genuine compliment apparently designed to go like this, as befits between two Mad Scientist Vitriolic Best Buds.
  • NEXT!! Sound Of The Future: After Shine meets her favorite Idol Singer Tech, she lets Tech know that she's had a huge positive influence on her life, and even inspired her to become an idol just like her. This leads to Tech angrily shouting at her that she hates the idol industry and doesn't think Shine should ever try to become one, even calling Shine worthless just to dissuade her from it.
  • Pixie and Brutus: Seeing a picture of rookie Brutus, Pixie gushes about how cute and small he used to be. Brutus immediately becomes flustered and protests that he couldn't help it.

    Web Original 
  • In Twig, Lillian reacts like she's been slapped when Sylvester, who hates her for being New Meat and The Team Normal, compliments her on a job well done, signifying that he considers her as part of the gang.

    Web Videos 
  • This fan art of Todd in the Shadows. After seeing it, Todd joked that it made him seem like a Caustic Critic.
    Todd: The more I look at this (amazing) fanart of me, the more I wonder what the artist thinks of me. My world is bleak, muted, gray. I am bored. I turn on the radio. My world is suddenly filled with bright, vibrant colors. I am shocked and quickly begin criticizing the colors, harshly. Then, I run out of energy and return to my boredom and my bleak, dull room. What does this mean about me?

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs: Goodfeathers sketches, Pesto ALWAYS takes Squit's compliments as insults. Granted it's obvious that Pesto is an homage to Joe Pesci and it was a spoof of GoodFellas but still...
    Squit: I wanna be a tough bird, like you, Pesto.
    Pesto: Whaddaya mean by that?
    Squit: I just mean you're tough, that's all.
    Pesto: Are you sayin' I'm an overdone piece of meat? Is that what you're sayin'?
    Squit: No, that's not what I'm saying.
    Pesto: I am tough?
    Squit: Yeah, that's what I'm sayin'.
    Pesto: DAT'S IT!!!! (he starts to beat up Squit)
  • Arthur: In "The Lost Dinosaur", Bud is nervous about a dentist appointment. He asks his temporary Imaginary Friend, Platy, to encourage him. Platy's reassurance ends up being "It won't be so bad when they remove all your teeth!" Bud decides not to bring Platy with him.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Zuko goes on an incredibly awkward date with a girl in Ba Sing Se. He tries to offer her a compliment, but since he sucks at talking to girls...
      Zuko: Uh... you have... quite an appetite for a girl.
      Jin: ... Thanks?
    • In another episode, Aang and Katara are stuck in a cave and... this happens.
      Aang: Well, if there was a choice between kissing you and dying...
      (Katara makes an offended grunt)
      Aang: What, I'm saying I'd rather kiss you than die, that's a compliment!
    • Yeah, Aang is guilty of these. Take this one he gives Zuko, whose initial smile fades as he processes the compliment.
      Aang: You know, Zuko I don't care what everyone else says about you, you're pretty smart!
  • Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers had a poodle actress (dog food commercials, Lassie takeoffs and the like) as a recurring guest star. Every time someone says how much they admire her, they tell her they've been fans for years and years. And years. And years...
  • In Daria, Quinn goes to see plastic surgeon, Dr. Shar about getting a nose job. Dr. Shar however says she wouldn't do anything to Quinn's nose, calling it a "pretty little schnoz." Quinn then exclaims, "It's a schnoz?!" Dr. Shar then has to backtrack a little bit.
  • Family Guy: Peter triggers Lois's midlife crisis by calling her his "reliable, old plow horse".
  • Amy from Futurama does this to Leela a lot. To whit:
    Amy: Those are great shoes!
    Leela: Thank you.
    Amy: Do they come in women's sizes?
    (Leela smashes Amy with the Planet Express Ship stairway ramp)
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius gets Jez a giant, solid gold statue of herself for her birthday. her reaction? "So you're saying I'm big? Is that it?"
  • In an episode of Littlest Pet Shop, Blythe is impressed over the stuck-up Biskit twins' unusual math skills, that she asks them to join her Math team for the day. Although she compliments them for being "geniuses", the twins somehow take it as an insult. They agree to join her if she can get them out of detention and:
    Whitney Biskit: Stop calling us "geniuses". Someone might hear you.
    Blythe: Easy enough...
  • In the "T.K.O" episode of OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes, when Mr. Gar tries to stop K.O. from destroying the Plaza:
    Carol: Tell him what all his hard work means to you!
    Mr. Gar: Uh, huh? Oh, oh... uh, you're a valuable help at the Bodega, K.O.! Uh, excellent work! You're a very nice, helpful boy!
    K.O.: Enough! Your approval's useless to me now!
  • The Proud Family: Due to her snooty nature, Lacienega has a unique gift for being insulting even when she makes an attempt at a compliment.
  • In an episode of Snooper and Blabber the duo are disguised as servants protecting the valuable diamond of a matron whose 65th birthday is being celebrated. Snooper gets the cake thrown in his face after quipping to her "You'll never see 60 again!"
  • Played for Drama in Steven Universe. When Garnet meets the Off-Colors she gives them sincere compliments, wanting to hear Rhodonite's story, finding the Rutiles amazing, and flat-out calling Fluorite beautiful. Problem is, they've had the idea that they're worthless mistakes drilled into them for so long that they assume she's making fun of them.
  • In Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race, Carrie and Devin compliment Crimson after she and Ennui have been "un-Gothed."
    Devin: Wow, your skin is so... flesh-colored.
    Carrie: I love your hair!
    Crimson: (recoiling) You're throwing a lot of positive emotions my way, and I don't know what to do with that.
  • In the Wander over Yonder episode "The Fancy Party", the ancient and sinister Queen Entozoa is getting ready to choose which of a group of villains (including Lord Hater) will receive the empire she's spent a thousand years building. One of the villains awkwardly quips "You're a thousand years old? You don't look a day over four hundred!", and gets dragged away and tortured... because Entozoa sees such blatant and desperate buttering-up as a sign of weakness.

    Real Life 
  • Nikola Tesla was eventually awarded the Edison Award, which is named after his archrival, Thomas Edison. Then again, nobody measures anything in Edisons...
  • Journalist Johann Hari decided it was definitely time to change his diet and get in shape when the staff of his local Kentucky Fried Chicken gave him a Christmas card and a round of applause for being their best customer.
  • Saddam Hussein decided that the best tribute he could pay to Islam would be to have a copy of the Qur'an written using his blood as ink. To write the Qur'an in blood is actually a major blasphemy in Islam, and pretty quickly every Islamic organisation outside Iraq denounced it. It gets better. If they were to destroy it, the act could also be seen as blasphemy. So either way they have a Qur'an that's blasphemous to do anything with.
  • Joan Rivers said in her documentary she hates being told she was a trailblazer for female comics because she's not done working!
  • A blogger once wrote about webcomics as a new artform, which for some reason annoyed Tim Buckley enough to write a huge blog entry about how webcomics are just fun entertainment, not art.
  • "Is any man wiser than Socrates? / No." The rest is, very literally, history.
  • During the 2012 American Presidential Election Republican VP nominee Paul Ryan stated that (without any irony whatsoever) that one his favorite bands is Rage Against the Machine. Tom Morello's reaction then lampshaded the irony that Ryan's politics is the very machine the band's been raging against.
    Morello: Ryan claims that he likes Rageís sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I donít care for Paul Ryanís sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage.
  • Andrew Jackson hated paper money, and tried to outlaw it. Today, he's on the $20 bill.
    • For that matter, he hated secessionists so much that he regretted not having his own Vice-President hanged for his secessionist sympathies. The Confederacy then put his image on a postage stamp.
  • When Colin Powell was a young lieutenant in the U.S. Army, an officer tried to pay him a compliment by saying Powell was "the best black lieutenant" he'd ever seen. Powell quietly vowed to show the officer that he was "the best lieutenant, period."
  • In the 2016 Star Trek film Star Trek Beyond, the character Hikaru Sulu is depicted as gay (becoming the franchise's first confirmedly gay character) because castmember and screenwriter Simon Pegg hoped to salute Sulu's original actor George Takei, who is himself gay and a prominent LGBT rights activist. However, Takei specifically asked the filmmakers not to do this, saying that he and Gene Roddenbery had decided that Sulu was heterosexual back while filming the original show and that it would have been better to create an entirely new LGBT character instead of simply adding an LGBT orientation onto an existing character. When they went ahead and did it anyway, Takei was reportedly quite disappointed.
    "Iím delighted that thereís a gay character. Unfortunately, itís a twisting of Geneís creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think itís really unfortunate."
  • Common among men and women who are Like Brother and Sister is the statement "I wish I could find a guy like you" when the woman is talking about her troubles with dating. What she's trying to say is he has a good personality, but by seeking someone LIKE him who ISN'T him, this is essentially implying that her friend is ugly. Of course, she could be complimenting his appearance with this phrase, but that would lead to possibly even worse implications.
  • Most members of the military aren't too fond of being thanked for their service. Usually it puts the member in an awkward position where no matter what they say in response, it will either come off as arrogant (if they are too appreciative of the gratitude) or rude (if they aren't appreciative enough of the gratitude). In fact, being the kind of member who enjoys being thanked for your service will earn you scorn from other members.


Video Example(s):


Is That What You're Sayin'?!

Basically Pesto's character trait is to attack Squit whenever he says something nice about him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / ComplimentBackfire

Media sources: