It is said that laughing and crying are very close actions, despite usually expressing opposite emotions. So close that, in fiction, a character faced with a dreadful situation may start laughing out loud, gradually growing more and more discordant and strained, before that laugh progressively melts into sobs. When this happens, the initial laughter is usually just there to mask the distress, and isn't so much genuine as it is a hysterical reaction. It's sort of a way to say, "My emotions are out of control; not even my body knows what to do right now."
It can also be done as a form of Mood Whiplash, where the character is in the middle of a laugh and learns bad news, immediately making them switch to tears. It has nothing to do with laughing so hard that you have tears in your eyes.
It's also sometimes used by actors to cover for Corpsing, in scenes where they can get away with disguising a fit of the giggles as violent sobbing.
This trope is surprisingly prevalent in Real Life with some often resorting to laughing when faced with any depressing or traumatic moments, before starting to express their true grief in tears.
- Osamu Tezuka's Adolf: Adolf Kaufman enters into this moment toward the end of the story. By this point, He's become a violently fanatic Nazi, even murdering his Jewish friend's father. He finally uncovers the documents that could expose Hitler's Jewish ancestry. Then he learns that the war is over, and Hitler is dead, meaning he sacrificed his life for worthless paper. He starts cackling over the irony, but then breaks down in tears.
- In Attack on Titan, Eren bursts into this after witnessing Hannes' death by the jaws of the smiling titan, the very same one that ate his mother all those years ago, lamenting on how he's still the same weak brat who couldn't save anybody. He does the exact same thing after Sashas death 4 years later, knowing that it was partially his own fault.
- During the scene where the unnamed female champion of one of "The Programs" is shown on TV, the manga version of Battle Royale combined this trope with Laughing Mad for a terrifying mixture of Nightmare Fuel and Tearjerker. The girl doesn't even look human anymore!
- Inverted in the Italian dub of Death Note. After Near exposes him as Kira, Light sounds like he's about to cry, only to break into psychotic laughter.
- Dr. Tenma from Monster has a moment doing this after the director and two other doctors are murdered and he gets promoted as a result. Later on, it's implied that Johan of all people does this after he finds out he wasn't the one who was really sent to the Red Rose Mansion.
- One Piece:
- Nico Robin went through this as a little girl. After being sent away from her Doomed Hometown, she tries to laugh away the pain like her friend Saul had taught her before breaking down into sobs like any child would.
- A happier and inverted example happens when Usopp is accepted back into the crew. Nami was crying Tears of Joy while laughing and pointing out how ridiculous Usopp and Luffy looked, bawling out like idiots.
- The Wano Country arc shows a dark example of the trope. When a certain character is executed, the saddened citizens who saw the deed burst out laughing, including the character's own daughter. Zoro, who was present, was appaled and enraged, but another ally explains the truth; no matter how genuinely sad the citizens are, they are physically incapable of showing any emotion other than smiling and laughter, because of the SMILE fruits Kaido brought to Wano.
- In Terra Formars Alex finds out Yaeko is older than him and laughs because her immaturity made her seem younger. Alex had spent the night acting like he was not upset over his friend Sheila's death, which Yaeko was trying to comfort him for. Alex continues to laugh as tears start falling from his eyes, showing that he had actually been Trying Not to Cry the entire time.
- In Tokyo Ghoul Jack, Minami does this in their final moments as she complains that she studied so hard for her final exams.
- Sakaki Yuya, the protagonist in Yu Gi Oh ARCV, does this a lot. But then, being a Stepford Smiler, it's a central part of his character. Most of the first times his ace monster, Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon, is destroyed, he starts crying, only to fake a laughter and put on a cheerful facade.
- In Strangers in Paradise, after one of their (many) fights, Katchoo goes to David's apartment only to realize he's already moved away. She finds a funny picture he drew of them and Francine and starts to laugh, which then turn into tears after she realizes she's pushed away the only man who stuck by her side.
- In Thessaly: Witch for Hire, after Thessaly finds out that her Stalker with a Crush has managed to get her contracted to kill a Tharmic Null - a beast that nothing and nobody can kill - she starts laughing and crying simultaneously, because he's finally given her a death sentence from which she can't escape.
- In one X-Men Annual, Mystique goes on a cruise to scatter Destiny's ashes at sea, recalling the exact instructions that she was given for disposing of the ashes (including precise date and time), their long relationship, and the time that Destiny swore that she would make Mystique laugh if it was the last thing she ever did. After reminiscing, she throws the ashes out onto the water... only to have them blown back in her face. She starts crying over having failed to carry out Irene's last wishes, until she realizes that Destiny planned the whole thing, knowing the wind would send the ashes back in her face. She then starts laughing.
- In Inner Demons, the Queen of Darkness Twilight Sparkle's Villainous Breakdown after Trixie dies protecting her starts with her begging her friend not to die and sobbing over her body. Then she starts laughing...
- In Between My Brother and Me: Mors Omnibus: Deadpan Snarker Yvonne Maxa starts laughing after she screamed and howled in agony for killing Yusho Sakaki in front of a live audience by asking Yuya and Zarc if she was either laughing or crying. When Yuya replies that it's the latter, he questions why. Yvonne answers that she'd kill herself if she found herself crying in front of a lovely audience before she finally breaks down. It doesn't help that killing Yusho — whom Yvonne saw as her late brother, Xavier — means forfeiting his life to Wiraqocha Rasca.
- Steven Universe: The Movie: Near the end, when Steven finally gets through to Spinel that he wants to help her and wasn't planning to abandon her like Pink Diamond, she has a Heel Realization that leads to an outburst of Mirthless Laughter, followed by her bursting into tears as she admits that all she wanted was to complete the purpose she was made for and be somebody's friend.
- Adrift (2018): Tami, after returning to Richard's boat and finding the dried-up flower he gave her months ago, starts laughing while breaking down in tears.
- In Dogma, an angel, Bartleby, has his wings shot off. He touches the stump of one of his wings, licks the blood from his fingers, and breaks into hysterics, wavering between laughing and sobbing.
- In Ever After, this is Danielle's reaction after Henry finally proposes to her.
- Done by Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element when he opens the chest that he thought contained the alien elemental stones and it's empty.
- The Fugitive. Richard Kimble does this after Gerard tells him that Nichols used his keys to let his wife's killer into his house, realizing that but for the mundane act of loaning his friend his car, his wife might still be alive.
- Zig-Zagged at times with Arthur Fleck in Joker (2019). Arthur's Pseudobulbar affect caused him to laugh compulsively through the film, even when he breaks down in distress. Joaquin Phoenix does a good job of making his laughs look like they're genuine if you're unfamiliar with Arthur's character, and at the same time conveying that he's under terrible duress if you are.
- At the end of In the Mouth of Madness, when John Trent finally watches the movie adaptation of Cane's book In the Mouth of Madness and realizes that it was just a novelisation of everything he did in the last few days and that he may just be a fictional character, he breaks down laughing for a minute before crying.
- Seen in Kinsey, as the newly married couple are in bed. Prok and Mac begin making fun of the silly things Prok's father says, then Prok begins to break down at how horrible of a person his father is.
- In Midnight Mary, a woman faints after being turned away from the mere opportunity of applying for a job. Mary cry/laughs at her own despair; her options aren't much, either.
- In Revenge of the Pink Panther, Dreyfus is giving his eulogy at what appears to be Inspector Clouseau's grave. He cries to cover up his in-universe Corpsing.
- Street Angel: Gino, when he is told that the woman he loved had disappeared because she was in a jail for prostitution.
- The December 5, 1986 telecast of The $25,000 Pyramid had host Dick Clark playfully pressuring Vicki Lawrence into selecting the category with the Mystery 7 as a car was up for grabs. Vicki just glared at Clark and called him a bleeped-out name. We can only guess what was bleeped as Vicki selected the category "Loosen Up", and Clark read what the subject matter was: Things that are stiff. The studio broke down laughing; Dick and Vicki were both crying laughing.
- In the Babylon 5 episode "Acts of Sacrifice", G'Kar is reduced to begging for aid from other races. After a negotiation where he ends up getting only a small portion of what he asked for, he breaks down like this. A fan asked on Usenet if G'Kar was laughing or crying, and J. Michael Straczynski replied:
It's both; laughing at the absurdity, and crying...about as close as we've seen to a nervous breakdown.
- Breaking Bad:
- Near the end of Season 4, after Walter White frantically searches his basement for money needed to hide himself and his family from Gus Fring (who threatened to kill them all), only to be told by his wife Skyler that she gave it to Ted Beneke, he screams and breaks down into tears, which turns into a fit of mad laughter.
- At the end of the series finale, Jesse Pinkman drives away from the neo-Nazi compound, laughing hysterically with tears in his eyes, since while his life is in shambles, he's finally free of Walt and the meth business.
- In Robin of Sherwood episode "The Greatest Enemy", Little John and some others have been captured by Gisburne's men. When Gisburne tells them that Robin of Loxley has been killed, John starts laughing and says that he doesn't believe it's true. Then his laughter turns into sobbing because he knows it is true, it's just hard to accept.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Family", Picard visits his childhood home in France where his brother is still living with his own family. During an argument, the two Picards get into a mud brawl. Picard starts laughing over it before he breaks down crying, recounting the Mind Rape that the Borg put him through in "The Best of Both Worlds."
- Three's Company had an episode where Chrissy had to go to the hospital for something. When the doctor came to examine her, Chrissy, being The Ditz, managed to get him laughing so hard that he started crying and excused himself. When he went out of the room, he bumped into Janet in the hallway, who saw the doctor's tears and began to think Chrissy was going to die.
- Near the end of the flashback section of The Untamed, Wei Wuxian does a mix of this and Laughing Mad at the Nightless City while watching everyone fight over the Stygian Amulet he just destroyed; this is part in mockery, part his Trauma Conga Line (particularly the deaths of Jin Zixuan, the Wen clan and Jiang Yanli, the latter of which happened just minutes ago) piling up on him, part realization that no matter what he does and says, everyone will always find a way to blame him and label him a monster.
- In Marcus Welby, M.D. a teenage model reacts this way when her friend jokes with her about being pregnant. At first she laughs at her friend's joke, but suddenly the laughter turns into crying. Unsure where that came from, she consulted Dr. Welby. It turned out she actually was pregnant.
- Weasels Ripped My Flesh by Frank Zappa: Roy Estrada's moaning during "Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Sexually Aroused Gas Mask" borders between laughing and crying.
- "The Man With Glooey Hands!" by The Aquabats! ends with a bout of half-laughter, half-crying from the Laughing Mad narrator.
- In "Pity Party" by Melanie Martinez, the lyrics include:
I'm laughing, I'm crying
It feels like I'm dying
- Frank Sinatra's "Glad to Be Unhappy":
But for someone you adoreIt's a pleasure to be sad
- In Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack gives the Vault Hunter a side-mission to check on his grandmother. Once the Vault Hunter fights off a group of bandits that secured themselves inside her house and discovering a bloody room with a cane, Jack immediately starts sobbing... before laughing maniacally since he was actually going to ask the Hunter to kill his grandmother for him anyway.
- When afflicted, the Jester in Darkest Dungeon will occasionally undercut his Laughing Mad spurts with sobbing. This is best seen when he is Irrational, where he laughs and weeps seemingly nonstop and cause stress to the other party members listening.
- This happens in Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening at the start of mission 20, after Lady finishes off her father Arkham. After unloading a whole clip from her gun in him, she drops to her side, laughing into the air before being overcome with tears mid-laughter.
- Inverted in Dissidia Final Fantasy by Kefka. After being defeated by Terra in Shade Impulse, Kefka shows a brief hint of sorrow as he rants about how life, dreams, and hope are not enough to fulfill a man's heart and that destruction is what makes life worth living. As he dies, he briefly begins to sob before it turns into a sorrow-filled laugh.
- In Five Nights at Freddy's, Freddy makes a deep, demonic laughter as he moves. However, listening closely makes it clear it's a mixture of sobbing and laughter. As of 2, this is foreshadowing; Freddy and the others are tragic monsters, in that they tried to stop the murders, but failed, and are now butchering every single night guard they come across. And they're probably not in control anymore, too. They have to watch as they subject innocent people to genuinely horrifying deaths for the rest of their lifetimes.
- In Undertale, you get this line of dialog if you pick "Laugh" while fighting the Refrigerator Amalgamation in the True Lab:
You laugh, and keep laughing. It's SO funny, you can't stop. Tears run down your face. ...what? You didn't do that?
- Luigi does this at the end of Luigi's Mansion, because while rescuing Mario has brought him tears of joy, Mario having the entry frame of the Ghost Portrificationizer stuck around his head is what brought the laughter.
- In Higurashi: When They Cry, Tsumihoroboshi-hen, Rena spends a long monologue insisting that she had no other choice than killing Teppei and Rina who were swindling her father, and that telling her friends would have been useless. Then she mocks them and starts laughing out loud... before bursting into tears, as she understands fully well that this may not have been the right choice.
- In Volume 3, Nora has a moment of making herself depressed by describing how her team's lives could be ruined by losing in the Vytal Festival Tournament that's capped off with some manic laughter that turns into a sob right into a Headdesk.
- A particularly disturbing example occurs in Volume 4, after Tyrian slinks back to his mistress in defeat. Salem's cold response that she's disappointed in him leaves Tyrian sobbing on the floor until a Grimm tries to attack him. Tyrian takes his rage out on the creature, and begins laughing hysterically with tears running down his face. Even Cinder looks disturbed by his behavior.
- Near the end of Alice Grove, Alice starts to do this as she learns that everything she's tried to accomplish for the last few hundred years is all going to be for naught thanks to the reintroduction of nanite-based technology into the world.
- In chapter 9 of Archipelago, Lucinda does this right before her Berserker Rage.
- In chapter six of Gunnerkrigg Court, Annie is laughing at her own joke when she starts to cry. The reason? She misses her mother after she died a long, slow death in the hospital.
- In Homestuck, Dave visits his old room and spends some time looking at all of his stuff. He starts laughing as he remembers all of the silly things he used to do before he learned about Sburb. He starts crying at the same time as he mourns the life he lost.
- In Bennett the Sage's Anime Abandon review of Inuyasha the Movie: Affections Touching Across Time, the consequences of a very gross Sight Gag lead Sage's co-worker's smile at the end of the video to break down into sobs of humiliated rage.
- In the episode of Joueur du Grenier about simulators, Seb ends up testing Toilet Tycoon (which is, yes, a management game about building toilets).
Seb: See? When you click on the menus, it makes a fart noise! Funny, isn't it? Ha ha ha ha ha... uuuuh...
- Happens to the second Robin, Tim Drake, in a flashback in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. The Joker applied ample amounts of Cold-Blooded Torture to Tim, leaving him Brainwashed and Crazy. When ordered to kill Batman, after The Joker has him in a position he wouldn't be able to protect himself, Tim breaks through the brainwashing and murders The Joker instead, laughing like a maniac the whole time. Once The Joker succumbs to his injuries, Tim's laughing abruptly turns into uncontrollable sobbing, as the weight of everything that transpired suddenly sets in. The flashback ends with Barbara/Batgirl trying to console him.
- Family Guy:
- Meg has done this at least once or twice.
- Lois did this in a cutaway flashback to when she was pregnant.
- In the second episode of Futurama, Bender taunts a park mascot who says that he still has his self respect, tries to laugh it off and falls into this trope.
Mascot: Hello, sir! I'm Craterface! I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to confiscate that alcohol!
Bender: Better mascots have tried. [drinks beer and shoves bottle into mascot's eye]
Mascot: At least I still have my self-respect! Hahahah...[breaks into sobbing]
- The Huckleberry Hound Show:
- Huckleberry Hound does this at the end of "Huck's Hack", when he realizes the consequences of leaving his taxi meter running.
- Also happens at the end of "Cops and Saucers" when Huck (inside of a spaceship) hears a news broadcast of men from outerspace invading, which the announcer comments on how it's the most ridiculous thing he's ever heard.
- Infinity Train: When Simon thinks he's killed Grace, he has total mental breakdown, crying while laughing maniacally as his passenger number rapidly climbs up far enough to completely cover his face. The laughter stops really fast when he realizes Grace survived.
- One episode of Kaeloo had the gang try to put on a ballet recital with Pretty as the star. When Stumpy accidentally causes Pretty to break her leg, it becomes clear that Eugly is the only person to fill in the role. Kaeloo starts laughing, which then turns into sobbing.
- In King of the Hill episode "Return to La Grunta", Hank confesses to his friends that he got attacked by a horny dolphin, which he kept quiet about due to being bribed and out of pride. They predictably roar in laughter much to his expense... Until Bill broke down sobbing because the same thing also happened to him six years ago and four years ago, including having to keep quiet about it since he was bribed with merchandise.
- Looney Tunes:
- In Knighty Knight Bugs, the king orders Bugs Bunny to retrieve the Singing Sword from the Black Knight (Yosemite Sam) or else Bugs will be "put to the rack, burned at the stake, and beheaded". Bugs' reaction is mirthless laughter, followed by gross sobbing.
- Zig Zagged in Porky's Bear Facts. When the lazy bear farmer loses the only food in the house to a mouse, he starts crying, which turns into maniacal laughter, before going back to crying.
- In the Merrie Melodies short Rocket Bye Baby, a lecturer laughs about people believing in Little Green Men, but when one flies by on a Flying Saucer, his laughs turn to tears.
- In Miraculous Ladybug, a tear of joy is required for the recipe of a Kwami's aquatic Power-Up Food, enabling their users to breathe underwater and swim just as well as they can run. Marinette was able to produce this ingredient by telling Master Fu enough jokes to invoke this trope.
- The Simpsons
- Krusty switches between laughing and crying after he reveals he's bipolar.
- Inverted in the episode "Krusty Gets Busted". When asked about Krusty and if he's enjoying it now that he's in jail, Sideshow Bob, who now runs the show, breaks into tears, but when the reporters are out, his "crying" turns into maniacal laughter.
- Steven Universe:
- During the Whole Episode Flashback "We Need to Talk", a young Greg has this reaction (which provides the page image) when he realizes that he and Rose are still worlds apart from understanding each other.
Rose: Why are you laughing? ...Why are you crying?
- In "Catch and Release", Peridot does this after Steven is unable to fix the Homeworld Warp, meaning she's stranded on Earth, which is in danger from "The Cluster" she keeps going on about, which turns out to be a Gem superweapon buried deep beneath the Earth's surface that will destroy the Earth if it activates.
- In "Stuck Together", Lars and Steven are in dire straits, as both have been captured and are being flown off to Homeworld. By talking to each other, their frustrated and despondent moods mildly improve to anxious tears, and then laughing on top of that.
- In "Legs From Here to Homeworld", Blue Diamond laughs and sheds tears while cuddling her long-lost sister "Pink" (actually Steven). Said tears end up affecting the other Gems too.
- In "Change Your Mind", Steven sheds tears and laughs while re-fusing with his Gem half, causing Gem Steven to laugh too.
- In The Movie, Spinel does this during her Villainous Breakdown, giggling sadly with tears in her eyes before devolving into sobs at how broken and toxic she's allowed herself to become and how horribly she's treated the one person who actually tried to help her.
- In Steven Universe: Future, when Steven reverts to his original form after accidentally corrupting himself into a colossal, Kaiju sized monster, he has difficulty even forming coherent sentences. Soon he begins laughing, only to break down quickly into some of the most gut-wrenching sobs in animation. It's so powerful that the remainder of the portion of that episode (itself the penultimate installment in a four-part finale) has no dialogue.
- During the Whole Episode Flashback "We Need to Talk", a young Greg has this reaction (which provides the page image) when he realizes that he and Rose are still worlds apart from understanding each other.
- Done by Tom at the end of the Tom and Jerry short "Is There a Doctor in the Mouse?" when he faces a giant Jerry.