And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.
Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform."
This character is an expert in a skill that has no practical use for them. It may be a cool, weird, fun, or even astonishing skill, but it's essentially pointless for them to have, or other characters are convinced the skill is totally useless. Bonus points if this skill is something nobody else in the world bothers with.
Tropes Are Flexible, so this skill might turn out to be useful in a rare or oddly specific situation, like a balancing-chopsticks-on-your-nose competition, and could even end up saving the day. This is not an Audience Reaction: playing an instrument, knowing a trade skill, or having some other useful ability is only this trope when it's treated as useless for the character In-Universe.
Sometimes, writers will establish a character having this skill early in the work and then use the apparently useless skill in an important way later on so that no detail is pointless. Other times, especially in a Long Runner, established characters suddenly reveal their useless skill as a means of Character Development or to reveal Hidden Depths. For Main Characters, this can help to develop their backstory or just show their quirkiness. It can also flesh out supporting characters without diverting too much of the narrative focus to them.
This kind of skill can also be used as part of a joke, especially if the other characters never asked about it. If the character is an expert in multiple useless skills, they might be doubling as the Plucky Comic Relief. And if this character is a superhero, whose powers are not themselves useless, then they may be a Super Zero.
Compare What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway? when the useless skill is a Stock Superpower or supernatural ability. Compare and contrast Useless Superpowers, which aren't framed as useless but which the story prevents the character from using; and This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman, when otherwise useless powers become useful in a very specific situation.
This trope overlaps with Chekhov's Skill when a situation arises for a character to use a skill that was previously considered useless. See also A Degree in Useless when a character's post-secondary education is treated like this, and Career Not Taken, where such skills are for a dream job they couldn't pursue. Compare and contrast Obsolete Occupation, when a skill was formerly practical but doesn't have a use anymore.
- Doraemon: Nobita can create shapes with strings and rubber bands (called ayatori). It's one of the few things he can do well, and the fact it never sees any meaningful use is usually Played for Laughs.
- Sket Dance: The other characters mercilessly point out how boring Bossun's special ability to "concentrate really well" is.
- Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs: Kogarashi Fuyuzora picked up a large number of mostly useless skills from being possessed by multiple spirits when he was young, including ping-pong, manga illustration, and free diving. These are mostly treated as useless at first but just happen to become handy later on.
- Donald Duck: In one comic, Donald is put in a machine meant to determine his greatest aptitude, and it turns out that he has the innate gift for snake charming. He spends the rest of the stories moping about this trick of fate, only for the skill to be useful when he gets attacked by a giant snake.
- Fantastic Four (1961): Willie Lumpkin the mailman jokingly suggests that he should join the Fantastic Four because of his special ability to wiggle his ears.
- Changeling Space Program & The Maretian: Fireball is a spacewalking expert. You'd think that would be an incredibly useful skill for an astronaut? Not so much when you're marooned on the surface of an alien planet.
- Moonstuck: Woona literally learns Underwater Basket Weaving from a book, which the narration sarcastically notes "there's no possible way this was a waste of your time". Zig-zagged when the seaponies are greatly impressed by the skill, which kicks off a new story arc.
- The Breakfast Club:
- Claire demonstrates her ability to apply lip color by tucking into her bra and rubbing her mouth against it.
- Without ever demonstrating it, Allison claims that she can write, eat, and play "Heart and Soul" on the piano with her toes.
- The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul: A girl in a sanitarium spends all day reciting letters and numbers. Her doctors have figured out that she's accurately reciting the New York Stock Exchange daily trades in chronological order. However, she does it 24 hours after it happens, so the doctors think it's useless — unlike if she were doing it 24 hours in advance. Thus, they don't really care why she's doing it. They even suspect that she's faking it by somehow getting her hands on the numbers and memorizing them to repeat the next day.
- Porthos of Musketeer Space tells her friends to just wait until the fate of the galaxy depends on her dolphin-taming skills.
- The Day of the Triffids (1981). Coker complains to the leader of a Christian commune that her people are learning basket weaving instead of more immediately needed skills. Ironically Coker is later shown arguing that they can't be a Scavenger World forever and need to learn how to make things for themselves.
- Dungeons & Dragons: 3rd Edition characters can invest in "Craft" and "Profession" skills, some of which are so specific and so useless to adventurers that they're usually only of use to NPCs and as prerequisites for certain obscure Prestige Classes. For example, the Archdevil Mammon, Lord of the Third Circle of Hell, happens to be a fantastically skilled bookkeeper. (After all, his portfolio is greed, and that means knowing your way around a bank...)
- Hero System: Discussed where the 6th Edition rulebook specifically asks GMs not to ask players to spend points on useless skills and abilities.
- Pathfinder uses the Craft and Profession skills from Dungeons & Dragons, but lists the most common types of crafts and professions in the skill description. The Unchained expansion adds options to become even more specialized in those skills, though they remain of similarly limited value to adventurers. This varies enormously with the specifics; there are lots of applications for being a skilled sailor or engineer in an adventure, but your baking skill probably won't be called on.
- "Profession" is also a skill in Mutants & Masterminds, but is slightly more flexible in that it acts effectively as a blanket for anything that falls under that profession's umbrella. For example, "Profession: Butcher" means you not only know how to prepare meat, but have a general knowledge of livestock anatomy and some idea of the layout of the local cattle farms.
- The Red Dwarf tabletop game allows characters to take several of these, even allowing for specialisations in said random skills. For example, among the premade Canon characters, Kill Crazy is skilled in macrame using entrails.
- Shadowrun: Player Characters get free skill points for "knowledge skills", which include things like former job experience, hobbies, hometown knowledge, etc. Knowledge skills tend to come into play rarely if at all, and can include things like knowledge of hacker havens, the ability to speak fluent Esperanto, or a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the music of Maria Mercurial.
- Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay liked giving NPCs useless jokey skills mostly for amusement, which would usually tie into the character's personality but be guaranteed to never come up in play. Standouts include "Whine", "Eat Spaghetti" and "Wear Clothes".
- The Pirates of Penzance: Major-General Stanley introduces himself with the iconic Major General Song in which he lists such useless, absurd and/or completely impossible talents like humming a fugue or writing a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform.note Finally, he admits he doesn't have much knowledge a military man should have, such as telling at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin (i.e. a gun from a spear).
- A few skills in Dwarf Fortress have such limited use that any migrants that arrive with levels in them under their belts are highly likely to end up working as haulers or janitors, or having to learn a different trade skill from scratch via practice. Examples include Cheese maker, Fish dissector and Wax worker.
- One NPC in Fallout 3 is Snowflake, a ghoul who runs a barbershop in the ghoul city of Underworld. Since Snowflake is the only ghoul in the entire game with a full head of hair, he's incredibly bored and will work on you for free just to have a customer. (This allows you to alter your character's appearance.) He even directly compares a ghoul barber to "a screen door on a submarine".
- I Was a Teenage Exocolonist: While Nomi-Nomi is decent at fanfiction writing, cosplaying, video games and pop culture, these skills are unfortunately in low demand in a nascent colony under siege by aliens. This results in them being unsure of what actually useful job they want do in the future.
- Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge: The Credits Gag suggests various ways the player could have made better use of the time they spent on the game, including "teach basket weaving to clams".
- Pokémon: Magikarp is infamous for starting out with only one ability, Splash, which has no effect whatsoever. It takes considerable patience to train it to the point where it can learn a useful move like Tackle.
- State of Decay: Several characters have joke traits with no impact on the skills the game tracks (i.e., the ones useful in a survival situation) intended to show how they were specced for life in modern society, not a zombie-infested wasteland. Examples include "Daydreamer", "Loved 'Idol'", "Clerk" and "Enjoyed Antiquing". By the time the second game rolls around, most of these joke traits have vanished. Makes you wonder...
- A strip in The Order of the Stick's final arc has Roy ask the team about any talents or skills they have that could possibly come in handy against Team Evil. All the talents people give are useless ones like crocheting, soapmaking, blowing smoke rings and basket weaving.
Haley: You were hoping for something more useful?
Roy: No, I'm just pre-emptively annoyed that one of those is going to end up saving the day later.
- xkcd: "Every Major's Terrible", a Take That! to nearly every academic major for training students to have completely useless skills and knowledge.
A BA in Communication guarantees that you'll achieve a little less than if you'd learned to underwater basket-weave
- Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG: Exaggerated and overlaps with Master of None:
5. Not allowed to blow all my skill points on 1pt professional skills.
- One episode of The Powerpuff Girls (1998) has Buttercup figuring out her unique ability among the girls (like how Blossom has Ice Breath, and Bubbles is fluent in Spanish). Buttercup's happens to be curling her tongue, which, despite not being as practical as the other two, she seems fine with.
- Sonic Boom: Parodied with this exchange between Sonic and Knuckles when the former offers to help his friend Tails.
Sonic: Don't worry, pal. You're about to be enrolled in the Sonic School of Impressin' the Ladies.
Knuckles: That's a good school. It's where I studied air conditioning and refrigerator repair.
- Unless you make money through tournaments, compete in Speedrunning, or livestream, there aren't that many uses for skill in video games. Well, unless you're a drone or ROV pilot, where the skills transfer quite well.
- Ironically, if taken as a Literal Metaphor, weaving baskets while holding the materials underwater is a very practical skill practiced by some indigenous communities in North America. The water keeps the willow material soft and pliable, making it easy to handle and reducing cuts on the hands. This has created Unfortunate Implications for some people using the phrase unaware of this history.