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Dissonant Laughter

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Let's say you've got a grim situation. It's a battle, a natural disaster, or a exam that no one studied for; whatever it is, the people experiencing it will be either equally grim or actively trying to stay positive.

Then you've got this guy.

He'll be right in the thick of the battle, laughing his head off, and genuinely enjoying himself. Whatever the reason, he's simply enjoying the fight. This can be downright creepy.

Like the character who displays Dissonant Serenity, the one who pulls off Dissonant Laughter is very definitely at odds with the world around him, although, rather than contrasting chaos with calm, they will contrast the grim situation with their lightheartedness.

The nature of the laugh is not important, either — it can be maniacal, like the Laughing Mad, a mildly psychotic chuckle, whatever the character feels like at the time — so long as it's because they're having the time of their lives.

Compare Dissonant Serenity and Laughing Mad, and consider Stepford Smiler. Can be a characteristic of the Blood Knight. Contrast Berserker Tears.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Shin Kazama does this in the last issue of Area 88. After witnessing the deaths of Saki, Mickey, and Sela, Shin is so emotionally overwhelmed that he starts laughing hysterically. His laughter makes Kim extremely uncomfortable. He returns to his senses when Kanzaki contacts him.
  • In Attack on Titan, Annie (usually very stoic) gives off an unsettling laugh and pulls an extremely creepy smile when Mikasa correctly accuses her of being the Female Titan.
  • Bleach: Only when Zaraki Kenpachi's life is in genuine danger from an extremely dangerous foe does he enjoy the fight enough to laugh.
  • Kemonozume has Ooba, who is obviously completely insane but is obviously enjoying himself immensely and is often seen chuckling or laughing like a maniac.
  • In Magi: Labyrinth of Magic, Ren Kouen laughs out loud for the first time in-story (and apparently in living memory). His subordinates are quite shocked.
  • Donquixote Doflamingo of One Piece is pretty much always seen laughing, or at least grinning widely, even as he forces people to fight each other to the death, among other things. This is cranked up even further during the war with Whitebeard, where he reacts to pretty much everything with psychotic laughter.
  • The intro to Paranoia Agent features the cast laughing while in clearly dangerous or unpleasant situations. These include Tsukiko standing on top of a skyscraper holding her shoes, Yuichi and Shogo standing in the flooded ruins of a neighborhood as a monsoon hits them, and Maniwa falling from the sky headfirst.
  • Misty's Togepi from Pokémon: The Series will often laugh even when things go south. Then again, it's probably just easily excited, since it's a baby.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Sayaka Miki begins to laugh and smile during her battles as a result of her effectively becoming a Death Seeker as she lets her Soul Gem darken. She also giggles insanely during one of her special attacks in the PSP game.
  • Soul Eater's Franken Stein starts laughing at his craziest, notably when facing Medusa, and it's pretty alarming. Even when not at his craziest, he sometimes sports a wide grin while beating the crap out of people. He's a good guy... on most occasions.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Perennial Batman villain the Joker is made of this trope, at least when he's winning or thinks he is.
    • The Creeper acts like this, but in a subversion, it is an act. He does it because he knows how disturbing it is to his opponents.
    • In All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, Batman laughs like a maniac while driving through a bunch of cops.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Crystal: The Skeksis Chamberlain begins to laugh as the castle crumbles and the urRu enter. It's clear that he knows exactly what is going to happen next. It's ambiguous as to whether he's pleased by the prophecy being fulfilled or simply doesn't care anymore.
  • A notable trait of the Joker in The Dark Knight. During the famous interrogation scene, Batman keeps punching the Joker harder and harder until the Joker just starts laughing hysterically. The same thing happens later when Batman throws him off a building. The Joker laughs like a Disney villain. (Won't die like one, though.)
  • In Evil Dead (2013), Eric breaks into mirthless laughter after Natalie's gruesome death.
  • In Fight Club, Tyler Durden laughs like a maniac while Lou beats the snot out of him.
  • In Gamer, when Ken Castle is being interviewed about his new simulation "Slayer", basically any F.P.S. multiplayer but with real humans controlled via brain implants, he talks about his earlier success, "Society", basically The Sims but with real people who are also controlled via brain implants. We see some people controlling their human avatars in "Society," and when a rollerblading human avatar crashes onto another one, the old man controlling her bursts into laughter, while she laughs along, tears stream down her face as she's clearly in pain. To add further insult to her misery, the guy makes her lick her bleeding wound.
  • Hammett: Hammett consults a doctor about a grisly killing that was ruled a suicide. While giving him the gory details, the doctor breaks down laughing.
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Gandalf laughs heartily during his Big Damn Heroes moment as he casually beats the terrified Uruk-Hai with his staff. It was glorious.
  • A character in O Brother, Where Art Thou? laughs while firing a Tommy gun. He stops laughing when someone calls him 'Baby Face'. The character is of course Baby Face Nelson. Later, after gleefully and maniacally robbing a bank, he becomes depressed and wanders off, trailing sad dollar bills behind him. He also laughs and shouts with glee as an angry mob drags him off to the electric chair.
  • In Public Enemies, Baby Face Nelson has to be dragged into the car to stop him laughing and killing people. Earlier, in the robbery in question, he is seen cackling "I GOT ONE!" after gunning down a motorcycle cop. The Real Life Baby Face Nelson almost certainly suffered from bipolar disorder (manic depression). And an incident similar to the one seen in the film occurred when the combined Dillinger/Nelson gang robbed the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa on March 13, 1934.
  • The Room (2003): Mark tells his best friend Johnny a story about a girl he once knew.
    Mark: She had a dozen guys. One of them found out about it; beat her up so bad, she ended up in a hospital on Guerrero Street.
    Johnny: Ha ha ha. What a story, Mark.
  • The Sea Wolves: While at a formal ball, a Femme Fatale Spy gets Captain Stewart to go somewhere private so she can assassinate him, only to get killed herself. A Portuguese official who's working with Stewart then enters the room and is shocked to see a dead woman on the floor. Stewart says I Was Never Here and threateningly tells the official to laugh, so they'll be seen leaving the ball with smiles on their faces so it won't look like were up to anything sinister.

  • There's a lot of this in Baccano!, mostly on the parts of Ladd Russo and his buddies. The most dissonant example comes from Dune, who giggles maniacally as Claire Stanfield dangles him off the caboose of a moving train and grinds his arm to bits against the tracks.
  • In The Belgariad, Mandorallen begins to suffer from phobophobia after he experiences fear for the first time. He's advised that it's normal for brave men to be frightened once in a while, and that he should laugh at his fear to alleviate it. He takes this literally, and makes a habit of laughing out loud while charging into combat, which irritates his companions considerably.
  • Willy Wonka sometimes does this in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Augustus Gloop's mother is horrified that he's laughing hysterically after Augustus has been carried off to who-knows-where via the pipes, and on the boat ride to the Inventing Room, as it speeds off into a dark tunnel, he's "hooting with laughter" as he explains that "there's no knowing where they're going!"
  • In The Disaster Artist, Greg Sestero (Mark) wrote that the crew was always deeply disturbed by Tommy Wiseau's (Johnny) laughing, but when he was asked to sound more serious, Wiseau instead read the line in Creepy Monotone, making the crew even more uncomfortable.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Harry's psycho fairy godmother, Lea, likes killing. Really, really likes it.
    • Sanya is described as laughing while in combat, though in his case it may be more of an adrenaline issue than Lea's bloodlust. Or maybe he just really likes smiting evil.
  • Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again: In Godzilla, Hagiwara—a reporter for New Japan News—is so disdainful towards the people of Ōdo Island's belief that a kaiju caused the disappearance of several ships that he starts laughing in the middle of a sacred kagura dance designed to ward off Godzilla, finding such antiquated superstitions silly. The villagers blame for making the ritual go awry when an ill omen occurs and Godzilla attacks later in the night.
  • In the Harry Potter series, Sirius Black does this all the time, notably when the wizard police find him in a street full of corpses, and later on when he's being killed.
  • Tsuruya of Haruhi Suzumiya is The Hyena and has laughed, serious or not, for everything, practically.
  • In Knights of the Borrowed Dark, the protagonists are attacked by a gigantic monster taking the form of a misshapen angel formed of stone and rubble. Denizen is terrified, sure they're about to die...until Grey digs a sword out of his sports bag, begins glowing, dodges everything the angel can try and destroys it with a Dangerous Forbidden Technique, laughing joyfully the whole time. Denizen starts wondering whether or not he's insane. (He's not, but neither is he particularly stable.)
  • Mike Hammer: Mike was this way during World War II, as related in One Lonely Night.
    "You should have seen the way they looked at me; you'd have thought I'd had fangs."
  • In Mostly Harmless, Ford Prefect laughs while the earth is being ripped to shreds for the last time.
  • Ganner Rhysode, a wayward Jedi in the New Jedi Order series, struggled his entire life with his need to be the hero. After being captured by the Yuuzhan Vong and rescued by Jacen Solo, he realizes that playing the hero had always been his greatest weakness, but it could also be his greatest strength. He uses the knowledge of who he truly is to become one with the Force and rushes out to hold off the Yuuzhan Vong warriors, buying Jacen the time he needs to enact his plan. After his badass one-liner of "None shall pass," Ganner fights and slaughters hordes of Vong warriors...laughing delightedly the whole time.
  • Two Little Girls in Blue: When Steve is told that his daughters' kidnappers are demanding $8 million in exchange for their safe return, Steve begins laughing hysterically and sarcastically remarks "Eight million? Why not eighty million?" Neither he or his wife remotely have that kind of money, they recently used what savings they do have to buy an old fixer-upper farmhouse, and Margaret later says she expects to be paying off her student loan for the next ten years. A little later when the FBI agents ask Margaret if she or Steve have any wealthy relatives, Margaret starts laughing too, before both she and Steve break down in tears. They subsequently explain they both come from working-class backgrounds, their parents are either retired or work low-paying jobs (Margaret's father actually died when she was fifteen), and Steve's brother could only find work as a baggage handler because of his criminal record. They're not personally connected to anyone who has access to $8 million, not even collectively.
  • Watership Down: Rabbits have no concept of laughter, so when Cowslip starts laughing, the rabbit protagonists freak out as they can't understand what's happening. Cowslip's warren turns out to be a Town with a Dark Secret, so that's only one of the strange things about the inhabitants.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Adam Adamant Lives!: The usually straightlaced Adam Adamant tends to chuckle maniacally when fighting mooks, especially if he's been played in the episode; needless to say, it really creeps his opponents out.
  • Babylon Berlin: Whenever the partners Bruno Wolters and Gereon Rath get into a physical fight (which happens repeatedly), it usually ends with Bruno breaking into chuckles. By the end of Season 2, it has veered off into downright Giggling Villain territory.
  • Fisk, XO of the Pegasus in Battlestar Galactica (2003), has a disturbing laugh that he gives after relating how Admiral Cain executed his predecessor. Fisk gives another such outburst in "Resurrection Ship", earning himself a puzzled look from everyone in CIC, who are unaware that Cain had just cancelled her orders to terminate them all.
  • Breaking Bad: The episode "Crawl Space" ends with Walt lying on the floor laughing hysterically when he finds out that Skylar gave away the money he needed to buy new identities for the family, right after Gus Fring had declared his entire family fair game.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "Prophecy Girl", Buffy has a mild episode of very unsettling laughter after she overhears Giles talking about her upcoming prophesied death.
    • "Tabula Rasa" has a spell giving the gang, when they're at a depressing point, a mass memory loss where they're engaged in a freewheeling adventure. When the spell is broken, they revert to their gloomy selves, then Xander starts laughing.
      "Sorry, I just got back the memory of seeing King Ralph."
  • Guido Geller from Caméra Café is known for his downright moronic laughter (hee-hee), usually when he talks about either old oriental legends, firing someone, or the smell of a fried hamster.
  • In Series 4 of Game of Thrones, Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark arrive at the Eyrie after traveling across the war-ravaged Riverlands and seeing the massacre of Robb Stark and his army just as Arya was about to be returned to her family, only to be told that the aunt Sandor hoped to ransom her to has also died only three days before. Arya's response is to break down in peals of laughter as everyone stares at her in disbelief.
  • The House two-parter "Euphoria" starts out with a patient who laughs uncontrollably despite taking a bullet fragment to the skull. It's the first symptom of a contagious disease that soon spreads to Dr. Foreman, who starts laughing while the first patient is bleeding and going into tachycardia.
  • I, Claudius:
    • When Tiberius receives news that the Emperor has died and he is summoned back to Rome to become Emperor himself, he and his astrologer (whom he'd promised to kill if there was no good news) both burst out laughing. And laughing, and laughing, and laughing, while the messenger just stands there uncomfortably and continues to tell the tragic details of the story while they keep laughing.
      Messenger: Sir, all Rome is drowned in grief!
      Tiberius: Well, of course they are. It's only natural. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
    • Later, he excuses it as "nervous laughter" and pretends to wipe a tear. Then he starts laughing again.
  • The Magicians (2016): Quentin's reaction to Penny's death is a burst of hysterical laughter. Penny, who was astral projecting when his body died, is understandably pissed off.
  • The Sherlock version of Sherlock Holmes isn't one for laughter, but you don't see him happier than when he's on a case.
    John Watson: Enjoying yourself? ... I'd drop the smile. Kidnapped kids, remember?

  • In Ajax, the protracted torture of sheep is upsetting enough for Ajax's friends and family, but the sheer glee Ajax derives in doing so (thinking he is torturing Odysseus) just makes it worse.
  • In Les Misérables, it's common to have Thenardier let off some cackles during the "Dog Eats Dog" number. Considering that he's gleefully looting the bodies of murdered men, and singing about how the world is a sack of crap, he definitely counts.
  • In Porgy and Bess, one of the manipulative Sportin' Life's establishing moments occurs when he spends an entire funeral laughing hysterically, much to the disgust of the others in attendance.

    Video Games 
  • In Condemned 2: Bloodshot, the boss character of the Doll Factory tends to get giggle fits related to this.
  • Many, many NPCs in Dark Souls laugh mirthlessly after almost every conversation. It probably has to do with the fact that they are slowly going insane and they know it, and deal with their plight with pitch black sense of humour.
  • In Five Nights at Freddy's, Freddy himself will laugh as he pursues you, and Golden Freddy will giggle (which is actually the unaltered clip for Freddy's laughter) when it gets in your office. In the sequel, one of Balloon Boy's voice clips is a cheerful laugh, which he will occasionally play. He'll also laugh constantly when he's in your office.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Laughing Octopus cackles madly during her battle with Snake. It is revealed that she was captured by enemy soldiers and forced to laugh as she killed people, which drove her insane, and it is implied that she continues laughing to keep from screaming or crying.
  • In The Sims 3, sims with the Evil trait will start laughing instead of crying when witnessing the death of another sim who isn't their friend or from their family.
  • Space Channel 5 Part 2 has Purge. It doesn't help that in the Japanese version of the game, he's mentally ill to the point of being a Psychopathic Manchild along with being a Dark Messiah.
  • Team Fortress 2: The Pyro. In the "Meet the Pyro" video, everybody sees him doing a Menacing Stroll while on a murder spree. Then we get to see his point of view: he sees himself joyfully skipping in a Sugar Bowl world laughing and playing with cherubs. Also done in the video "Crackpot" for the Saxxy Awards, in which the Pyro goes killing and mutilating everybody while he believes to be bathing cherubs in a pot (the "cherubs" are body parts).

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 

  • Bittersweet Candy Bowl has this periodically, most notably from Lucy when Mike throws himself off a cliff to save her, tumbling into the river below in the process.
  • Jagermonsters, of Girl Genius fame, tend to go into battle with a joyful demeanour. Then again, they're just so damn goofy that it's hard to think of them as creepy or frightening.
  • Lackadaisy: Freckle does this whenever he gets ahold of a gun. He enjoys shooting people perhaps a bit too much. This is actually why he was rejected from the police.
  • A frickin' disturbing example comes courtesy of Red from Ruby Quest during this scene. He has just pulled down the tarp in the room Ruby woke up in the second time, revealing a stitched-up, bloody body pinned to the wall.
  • In Weak Hero, Alex sometimes breaks out into mildly psychotic laughter when he's caught in the middle of battle, which serves to unnerve his opponents.

    Web Original 
  • Shadowhunter Peril: Veronica Carter is always doing this. During the final battle, while singlehandedly dueling Valentine in the middle of an Anyone Can Die final battle, she laughs like a child at an amusement park.

    Western Animation 
  • The Inspector: In the episode "Plastered in Paris", after being sprayed with laughing gas by the villain X and crashing their patrol car into a tree, the Inspector and Sgt. Deux-Deux laugh while describing the incredible pain they're experiencing.
  • Popeye:
    • In the 1945 cartoon "Nurse to Meet You", Popeye and Bluto deliberately try to get hurt so they can be close to nurse Olive Oyl at a hospital. As a last resort, Popeye force-feeds his spinach to Bluto, then laughs while Bluto beats the hell out of him.
    • Popeye and Brutus laugh while they beat the hell out of each other in the 1961 cartoon "It Hurts Only When They Laugh".
  • In the Ren & Stimpy episode "Powdered Toastman", after saving the Pope, Powdered Toastman beats up Muddy Mudskipper and ties him to the gun powder keg he had tied the Pope to. Right as the keg is about to explode Muddy laughs like a maniac.
  • Dr. Hibbert from The Simpsons has a knack for laughing at inappropriate moments, typically when he's diagnosing a patient.
  • Transformers: Animated: In his Random persona, Blitzwing will laugh at everything no matter what, but he is especially giggly in battle.

    Real Life 
  • At Lizzie Borden's double-murder trial, one of the pieces of evidence against her was the maid testifying that, during the interval between Lizzie's stepmother being killed and Lizzie's father coming home and being killed, she had heard Lizzie laughing at the top of a staircase, and a person standing at the top of the staircase would have been able to see into the second floor room and look at the step-mother's body.
  • Tennessee Williams, no tower of strength when it came to Adaptation Decay (in a toss-up, Elia Kazan chose lightning-charged energy over subtlety every time), got his revenge when the film of A Streetcar Named Desire came out. While the rest of the audience would be barking like seals at Blanche Dubois being committed, Williams was wooping it up in the back row. "Now she's off to the bughouse!"
  • Most evolutionary biologists believe that laughter is a mechanism originally developed by our distant ancestors to release tension caused by feelings of stress. In fact, biologists who have researched laughter in detail have found that only around 20-25 percent of what elicits a response of laughter in most people (be it a full-on belly laugh or guffaw, or merely a slight giggle or chuckle) is meant to be intentionally funny; all the rest appears to caused by the laughing person feeling awkward or uncomfortable in some way or another. As such, it's not unheard of for people to start laughing when being told extremely bad news, such as a loved one dying, or going through a traumatic event, not usually because they find it funny or they're callous, but out of sheer shock, especially if it happens very suddenly. Feeling nervous or uncomfortable in certain situations can cause laughter too as a coping mechanism. It's also pretty common for people to laugh sometimes if they've injured themselves, especially if it was in a potentially embarrassing situation (such as tripping over).
  • Gelastic seizures cause a person to have uncontrollable bouts of laughter when they have a seizure, which can potentially occur during socially inappropriate moments.