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Courtroom Antics

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In Real Life, being in court is a stressful and serious situation. You have to take it seriously in order to avoid being held in contempt of court and win your case. In fiction, though, it's not entertaining to see a long, dry, drawn-out court session, especially in a comedy show. That's why these proceedings are often Played for Laughs, instead, as the characters partake in antics that would never fly in a real life courtroom.

Maybe they have a Bunny-Ears Lawyer whose quirks would be considered disruptive in a real court case. Maybe they're all talking in a casual, breezy language, referring to serious legal terms through Buffy Speak and cracking jokes at inappropriate times. They may even be treating the case like one big party, ordering snacks and listening to music and just refusing to take it seriously. All of this and more can be done to make a court case more entertaining for an audience, showing a sillier and livelier version of what may normally be boring and endless.

A darker version of this trope might try and go for some black comedy in the form of a satire showing just how convoluted things can get even in a scenario that's meant to be serious. The antics will have bigger consequences and often disrupt the court in more ways than just being a nuisance, but ultimately they're still worth a chuckle at the chaos and just how corrupted the whole court is.

This trope is common in a Courtroom Episode, and often alongside tropes like the Frivolous Lawsuit and a Common Nonsense Jury.

Unconventional Courtroom Tactics is when these antics are used strategically by the lawyer to achieve a desired result. Compare and contrast Penultimate Outburst, when antics like these eventually annoy the judge too much that they threaten to have the courtroom cleared.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Gintama episode 95 shouts out to Ace Attorney series, so naturally plenty of courtroom antics ensue, including but not limited to watching porn submitted as evidence during trial and having the judge abuse his power to rewind his favorite scenes in slow motion. It has to be seen to be believed.

    Comic Books 
  • The Smurfs: After Smurfette casually mentions that Gargamel made her, Papa immediately has her arrested and holds a trial, with Brainy as the prosecutor and Jokey defending her. However, his attempts to have a fair trial keep going Off the Rails, as none of the Smurfs want to testify against her, Brainy's attempts to take his job seriously keep getting undermined, and Jokey ultimately accuses Papa of being the one really responsible for what happened.

    Films — Animated 
  • The entire courtroom scene from Alice in Wonderland. The Queen bosses everyone around everyone during the trial and tries to give the sentence at the start of the trial instead of the end. Witnesses who had nothing to do with the case are called and their testimony is treated like it is vital evidence. And the whole trial gets derailed into an unbirthday party for the Queen which devolves into chaos when the Cheshire Cat appears and causes the dormouse to panic leading to the Queen accidentally getting smashed on the head with a hammer, which Alice gets blamed for. She then defends herself by turning herself into a giant and frightening the court, causing the King and Queen to try to get her to leave by citing Rule 42, "All persons more than a mile high, must leave the court immediately." Alice refuses to go and gives the Queen an epic verbal beatdown, not noticing until too late that she is shrinking back to normal size.
  • In Bee Movie, Barry objects to the honey companies using a bear as their logo (which isn't really relevant to his case), and brings in a live, aggressive bear to demonstrate why this is inappropriate. While demonstrations in court are common (there is even a term for items used in demonstrations; Demonstratives), needless to say, a dangerous animal is not allowed in a courtroom.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The final scene of Big Eyes is full of this, as Walter loses his lawyer team just before Margaret's lawsuit is reviewed and chooses to represent himself instead of asking for the trial to be postponed and get someone else. Eventually he and Margaret end up shouting at one another, leading to an exasperated judge declaring that they'll have a paint-off to resolve the issue once and for all. Walter proceeds to fake an arm injury to try to get out of it.
  • The Dark Knight:
    • Not expected or intended, but deliberately played on: a gangster witness tries to shoot Harvey Dent in the middle of the trial. Dent promptly delivers a cross to his face and disarms him, stunning the entire court. When the judge calls for a recess, Dent hams it up: "Your honor, I'm not done yet."
    • A straight version happens later in the movie, when Dent intends to try most of the Mafia roll call (549 criminals) in one sitting. There's a hilarious scene where the judge reads off the list of transgressions, then asks "How do the defendants plead?" Change to the courtroom, packed with mobsters and their attorneys, and all of the attorneys jostle above each other trying to be heard while the stenographer drops his hands, confused.
  • Duck Soup has a version in which the Marx Brothers are performing courtroom antics not to prevent/assure convictions, but simply because their characters are...well...who they are. Cases in point: offering the witness bets on whether there's a conviction, objecting on the grounds of "I couldn't think of anything else to say," sustaining objections on the grounds of "I couldn't think of anything else to say either," and a pun or two.
  • In The Kentucky Fried Movie, a court skit features a prosecutor who pulls out a large, floppy dildo and waves it threateningly at a witness, inquiring "Are you aware of the penal codes in this state?"
  • A mild case in The Lady from Shanghai; Arthur is called on by the prosecution to take the stand as a witness. Once the prosecution is finished Arthur lightheartedly tells them that since he is also the defense attorney he must now cross-examine himself, and does so briefly.
  • In Laughter in Paradise, Deniston's secretary Sheila who is secretly in love insists on being a witness at his trial. Her passionate defense of him contributes almost nothing to the case (save to prove that he does actually have an occupation), and confuses and frustrates the magistrate no end.
  • 22 July: Anders takes advantage of the captive audience of the court by doing Nazi salutes and using his platform to speak as an opportunity to call for further terrorist attacks and to brag about how many people he killed. He did this in real life too.
  • A number of these occur in The Three Stooges short "Disorder in the Court," which is to be expected when characters like the stooges enter a courtroom. While trying to clear an innocent woman of murder, they proceed to re-enact the events of the night of the murder, including an unrelated musical sequence, get perhaps a little too realistic when re-enacting the murder itself (no one dies, but Curly is subject to a bit of abuse), and chase a parrot around the courtroom with a fire hose.

  • The Discworld novel Making Money has a trial in which the hero, Moist von Lipwig, currently acting chairman of the bank, is on trial for the unexplained disappearance of nearly ten tons of gold. He's very nervous about a former accomplice of his threatening to reveal that he is, in fact, a former con artist who had been hanged under an assumed name, and has a slightly guilty conscience as he submits to questioning, when he sees a small dog (the actual chairman) wander in while sitting down and wagging its tail. These are both happening at once because the dog is holding in its mouth its favorite toy a huge chewy vibrator which has turned itself on and whose vibrations are propelling the sitting dog backwards across the courtroom floor and out of sight while everybody tries desperately not to notice and offend the Patrician. Lipwig reasons that a world in which this can actually happen in the middle of a court is a world which can handle him acting as chairman of a bank, and proceeds to confess everything about his backstory.
  • The murder trial in Little Fuzzy, starting even before the trial begins, with two murder cases being combined into a single trial, the appointment of the defense attorneys as special prosecutors, and key witnesses being seized as "evidence." It goes on to mutate from a civilian trial into a court-martial and an academic seminar, with two flavors of surprise witnesses, and the continued prosecution of a dead man after one of the defendants commits suicide. And there are in-universe precedents for most of this: "You could find a precedent for almost anything in colonial law."

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Law: "His Suit Is Hirsute" brings us the character of Frank Pastorini, whose egregious antics (such as singing his objections and tap-dancing his way to a sidebar) would, in Real Life, result in a jail sentence. Michael Kuzak turns the tables on him by doing his closing argument in the gorilla suit with which he interrupted Grace's wedding.
  • Blackadder: The Witchsmeller Pursuivant episode of series one has the Witchsmeller bring in Edmund's horse, Black Satin and first decide its silence means it has something to hide, and then when it says "Neigh" he doesn't believe a word of it, bring in a dog which he claims is Edmund's son, and accuse Baldrick of being a witch for saying that carrots don't grow on trees. Maybe it's just because he was playing a sick man, but BRIAN BLESSED isn't the biggest ham in that episode.
  • Frasier: A mental competency hearing for a wealthy old man, in which Frasier is appearing for the defense, is going very well for Frasier, who is acting like a consummate professional until the defendant's senility kicks in and he chooses that moment to start acting like a train conductor, including punching 'tickets' (the judge's notes and Frasier's tie) and announcing arrivals. Meanwhile Niles, who is appearing for the plaintiff, realizes that the proceedings are being televised and starts playing up to the cameras outrageously. The judge is still quick to tell him off about it, however.
  • Bobby Flanagan's courtroom antics in Schmigadoon! are a pastiche of those of Billy Flynn in Chicago.
  • The point of This is Wonderland. Courtrooms have seen arguments (not always in English), violence, spoken-word poetry, a fake heart attack, car theft from the courthouse's parking lot, mix-ups with defendant's names, shouts of "Boo!" the outbreak of true love, and the occasional Freudian Slip. Judge Maxwell Frasier, who has been known to threaten arrest for this sort of behavior out of anyone other than himself, would often yawn loudly while people he didn't like were talking, call a recess because he was hungry/bored, or go crazy and scream.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: An episode had the prosecution trot out a child witness (whom they had no intention of actually forcing to testify) for the sole purpose of having him dramatically react to the defendant's (his own father) presence. The judge let it fly without so much as a jury instruction to disregard.
  • Hardison's performance as a lawyer on Leverage was full of this. He started by bringing in a massive amount of information so boring and irrelevant that the judge was falling asleep, when by that point she should definitely have been demanding an actual justification for why it was important. Then he discredited his opposition's expert witness by bringing up the fact that he was on the no-fly list, which he only knew by hacking into their database and so had no proof of, and claiming that if the government didn't trust him to fly, how could they trust his testimony. The judge ignored their objection and didn't give so much as a Disregard That Statement.
  • Rumpole of the Bailey: In "Rumpole and the Last Resort," Rumpole secured an adjournment in spite of an unsympathetic judge by collapsing and dying right there in the courtroom.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Devil's Due" has the Enterprise crew going into a court case against a woman claiming she is calling a planet in on a thousand year old debt. During the trial, she causes earthquakes and shapeshifts into the Devil, then "disappears" Picard. Data, acting as judge, allows some leeway, but only some.
    Data: The advocate will refrain from making her opponent disappear.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Battletech, Nicolai Malthus, during his imprisonment after the Clan Invasion, happened to catch an episode of a cartoon series in which a fictionalized version of himself was the villain (the in-universe equivalent of the real-life cartoon). His outrage led someone to inform him that he couldn't declare a Trial by Combat in the Inner Sphere, and that his only recourse would be to hire a lawyer and sue for slander. Which he promptly did. The case was thrown out after Malthus attempted to challenge the judge to a fight.

  • This is the subject of the song "Razzle Dazzle" in Chicago.
  • The entirety of Trial by Jury, which involves, among other things, the court usher telling the jury to ignore what the defendant has to say and the judge marrying the plaintiff at the end.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney is practically the poster boy for this trope. From bringing animals into the courtroom to the defense getting everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them to the prosecution playing air guitar and the witness playing literal guitar, there's never dull moment in court.
  • Neverwinter Nights: In act three, you can agree to help defend Rolgar, a tribesman charged with murder. The prosecutor of the trial is Igland of the Swift Sword, who upon introducing himself loudly declares that he's never lost a case. Which is kind of hard to believe, because he's absolutely obnoxious — constantly speaks out of turn, makes spurious accusations in order to sway the jury (which unfortunately works), and repeatedly interrupts your questioning of the witnesses to put his own spin on the statements. He's repeatedly ordered by the judge to stop his disruptive behavior, but ignores it (and the judge doesn't back up his warnings). If you manage to win the case (mainly by sticking to the facts and avoiding questions that gives Igland something to twist) he'll throw a massive tantrum over the fact that he lost, acting like you cheated somehow, and leaves in a huff.
  • Toontown Online and Toontown Rewritten: In the Chief Justice boss battle, jury selection is done by firing Toon NPCs from cannons, while the trial itself is just a battle to see which side can throw the most "evidence" books.

    Web Comics 
  • Zexion's impeachment trial in Ansem Retort was chock full of this, given how Sora tries to plead the 19th Amendment, Zex makes it clear he won't tell the whole truth, and Zex's lawyer Axel literally threatens the jury into delivering a not guilty verdict. Even the judge eventually gets in on it.
    Phoenix Wright: OBJECTION!
    Judge: Objection overruled, go fuck yourself sustained.
  • Mr. Kornada's trial in Freefall has a lot of this between Mr. Kornada's own carefully cultivated narcissistic stupidity, Blunt's repeated attempts to hijack the trial to advance his own political agenda, and the general legal informality stemming from Jean's relatively small human population.

    Web Original 
  • In The Trial Of Tim Heidecker, Tim represents himself in his murder trial, despite having zero legal training. Nearly everything he does violates courtroom decorum, from insulting the judge, to arguing with and threatening witnesses, to using the court to settle his own petty debates, to using Insane Troll Logic to claim innocence, to blatantly forging evidence in his favor. However, none of that is enough to get him convicted, since he has a hung jury.

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs had an episode where Dr. Scratchandsniff gets a parking ticket and the Warners defend him in court to contest. Examples include holding up a badger to the witness and when swearing the witness in, telling her "you shouldn't [swear], it's not nice."
  • Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! episode "The People vs. Fred Jones" uses a trial as a framing device for the latest mystery. Not only is the jury composed entirely of people they've unmasked in previous episodes (one of whom is a childhood friend of the defendant, two of whom are children, and one of whom takes this as an opportunity to escape), Daphne acts as the defense attorney after getting her law degree from a side-scrolling platform game, the prosecutor routinely storms out of the room to protest the antics before rushing back in for his cross-examination, and the judge allows Shaggy to blatantly modify his testimony (after the prosecutor accuses Fred of being the monster, Shaggy describes him slipping on a burst fire hydrant, being hoisted into the air by a giraffe, mocked by a clown, dumped by his girlfriend who drives away with said clown, and ultimately carried away by an eagle) simply because the image is amusing. Mystery Inc.'s behavior is somewhat justified as an attempt at The Perry Mason Method to get the guilty party to come forward, while the prosecutor is the guilty party trying to frame Fred. The judge and jury come down to pure Rule of Funny.
  • Clerks: The Animated Series: First, the trial is presided over by the honorable Judge Reinhold, and he lets Randal get away with his nonsense through open bias. Randal calls a series of "surprise witnesses." All of the witnesses are directors of movies Randal didn't like, and he demands refunds from each of them. After he's finished, the witnesses leave, without ever saying a single word that has to do with the trial's actual proceedings. He also calls a girl to the witness stand just to get her phone number.The prosecuting lawyer has Dante questioned by a pair of giggling girls, and plays the tapes of a completely unrelated prank call made by Jay and Randal.
  • The Dick Tracy Show: "Court Jester" had Stooge Viller and Mumbles on trial for their crimes, only Stooge has taken it on the lam. The prosecution can't get Mumbles to admit they're guilty because nobody can understand his mumbling without Stooge there to decipher it.
  • King of the Hill:
    • Pops up when Hank is at a workman's comp hearing after being accused of faking a back injury because he was photographed after Yoga cured him. He asks permission to call in a surprise witness — his Yoga instructor, who proceeds to prance around, accuse the officials of having bad energy, and hit on the secretary. It's lampshaded when the chairman claims they've never heard of a "surprise witness" before.
    • Played Straight several times with Dale Gribble, who defends himself in a drug case by rejecting the courts authority because the American flag has the wrong trim, convinces Hank to fight his wrongfully incurred bill for renting pornography by accusing a vast artificially intelligent computer network known as "The Beast" of attempting to defraud him, and when representing himself in a case against his cigarette company calls himself to the stand as a witness in a scene that looks like a cross between Perry Mason and Gollum.
    Dale: I do not recognize the authority of a court that hangs the gold-fringed flag. A flag with gilded edges is the flag of an admirality court. An admiralty court signifies a naval court-martial. I cannot be court-martialled twice. That is all! Furthermore... (bailiff gags him)
  • The Looney Tunes Show's Prison Episode starts with Bugs and Daffy getting sent to prison for contempt of court in a Surprisingly Realistic Outcome for pulling antics like spitting soda in each other's faces in a courtroom despite the judge's warnings.
  • In one episode of Rugrats, Angelica sues her parents for feeding her broccoli. Once in court, she instantly wins over the judge, calls her doll Cynthia and her stuffed zebra as witnesses, and the jury awards her all of her parents assets without even deliberating. It turns out that the episode was All Just a Dream of Drew's.
  • In Sonic Boom, Eggman sues Sonic and Knuckles is the Lawyer. Knuckles, being Knuckles, cross examines himself (and makes it seem like Sonic us guilty) and doesn't notice how blatantly Eggman has rigged things in his favor. Such as the judge being a robot and Cubot and Orbot faking testimony in the courtroom.
  • Wander over Yonder: In "The Good Deed," Wander breaks up a fight between two Feuding Families of hillbilly aliens by staging a frantic courtroom argument all by himself, playing the prosecutor, defense, judge, stenographer, and even the bailiff. The aliens are so baffled they agree to stop fighting just to shut Wander up.
    Sylvia: That made no sense whatsoever, but you did it, buddy! Good deed done and done!

    Real Life 
  • A lot of courtroom tropes from before the 1980s originated in the trial of Bruno Hauptman who was accused of kidnapping and murdering Charles Lindbergh, Jr. The defense was paid by William Randolph Hearst in exchange for working half-heartedly and betraying his client's confidences (the lawyer also received nightly visits of NYC showgirls with champagne, courtesy of Mr. Hearst), a whole string of surprise witnesses who tended to contradict their own testimony and their statements to police, women fainting after pointing to Hauptman, and a judge who did absolutely nothing to rein in the prosecutor's (who was also the Attorney General of New Jersey) excesses and violations of procedure (both wanted to use the case to advance their political careers).
  • The trial of Charles Manson and his accomplices for seven counts of murder and one count of conspiracy is one of the most notorious examples. To begin with, Family members not named as defendants loitered outside the courthouse with plainly visible hunting knives in sheaths, simply to intimidate passersby. On one day of the proceedings, Manson himself was able to smuggle in a copy of The Los Angeles Times with the front page headline "Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares," and flash it in front of the jury (requiring Judge Older to issue a voir dire to the jury before they could proceed). The next day, the female defendants stood up and said in unison that, in light of Nixon's remark, there was no point in going on with the trial. (Older naturally didn't buy it.) Two months later, after Manson's request to question a prosecution witness (who had already been cross-examined by the defense) was denied, he actually tried to attack the judge; he had to be removed after being wrestled to the ground by the bailiffs, as the female defendants rose to their feet and started chanting in Latin. Thereafter, Older kept a loaded revolver under his robe remainder of the trial. Besides the Family themselves, defense attorney Irving Kanarek kept objecting over every little thing, often racking up a hundred in a single day, and was so notorious for having trials extended beyond belief that another attorney had once quit rather than face him again. He was held in contempt of court numerous times but never quit objecting.
  • One Matthew Washington was so infamous for filing dilatory motions and frivolous appeals, culminating in a "Motion to Kiss My Ass," that there was actually a court order issued forbidding him from filing any more motions unless he first posted a $1500 contempt bond in case the court decided to fine him for wasting their time. Part of the reason why this continued for so long was that, as a veteran, he received a fairly substantial disability check each month that he dipped into to directly pay the filing fees rather than seek indigent status, as litigants who regularly use the latter to file frivolous and abusive complaints, motions, and petitions can and often will be barred from using it as a quick-and-clean way of keeping them from being able to continue to waste the court's time without great difficulty. Because Washington didn't do this, they didn't have a quick, easy way to stop him and had to resort to drastic measures that were more difficult to get the court to sign off on.
  • State of Georgia v. Denver Fenton Allen (seen in this animated reenactment by the creators and voice actors of Rick and Morty) started off as relatively mundane (a defendant in a murder trial started out by expressing dissatisfaction with his court-appointed attorney) but quickly took a turn for the bizarre after he started accusing his attorney of trying to force him into allowing him (the attorney) to perform fellatio upon him (the defendant) in exchange for requested documents; from there, the defendant eventually began showering the judge with verbal abuse before then asking the judge to fellate him, followed by a declaration that he "[doesn't] fuck girls" and instead preferred "white boys" with "big butts," which eventually turned into a shouting match between the judge and the defendant before the defendant eventually graphically threatened to murder the judge's entire family (to which the judge responded that he doesn't even have a family), followed by threatening to masturbate and ejaculate upon the judge and the judge daring him to do just that. The judge gave as good as he got, however, telling the defendant looks "like a queer" and that he has "the constitutional right to be a dumbass." Note that none of this is exaggerated or embellished in any way; the transcript indicates that this is a verbatim retelling of what actually happened that day.
  • Charles Julius Guiteau, the man who assassinated President James Garfield, performed a number of antics during his trial. He argued with his attorneys, shouted vulgar insults at the jury, solicited legal advice from random spectators, tried to get a pardon from Chester A. Arthur as thanks for making him President, and even claimed he killed Garfield because God told him to. His attempt at the Insanity Defense failed as the court psychiatrist stated that he wasn't legally insane during the assassination, but that "he was insane his whole life, and was never anything else." Guiteau also violently rejected the idea he was insane, as this would detract from the divine mandate he thought justified his actions. He got his wish, he was found guilty and hanged.
  • The famous trial of Socrates on charges of blasphemy and corruption of youth. By all accounts, the trial was a complete mess; Socrates didn't offer any real defense, he just spent the entire trial ignoring or flouting courtroom procedure for the sake of insulting the prosecution, the audience, and Athenian society in general, while also tooting his own horn (such as literally proclaiming himself to be a gift from the gods) and playing dumb every time someone tried to call him out on his behavior. When he was unsurprisingly convicted, he proceeded to spend the sentencing acting even more obnoxious, like smugly suggesting that his punishment be free food for life (a reward given to victorious Olympic athletes), to the point that the court changed the sentence from a meager fine to death by hemlock poisoning. The sentence of death was passed by a greater majority than that by which Socrates had been convicted, meaning that a not insignificant portion of the jury felt that Socrates was not guilty, but was such an insufferable asshole that he deserved to die anyways.
  • John Gotti's Lawyer Bruce Cutler was infamous for this. Some of his antics included referring to prosecutor Diane Giacacolne as the "Lady in Red" when she showed up in court in a red dress, throwing an indictment in the garbage, verbally berating witnesses, questioning their character, name-calling and even turning prosecution witnesses into his witnesses(which became known as "Brucyfying")


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Alternative Title(s): Courtroom Antic


The Trial of Ham Tobin

The Tobins' courtroom experience is entirely based on movies and TV, so naturally the trial consists of nothing but antics.

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