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Idiot Ball

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Obi-Wan: [trapped in ray shields] Wait a minute. How did this happen? We're smarter than this.
Anakin: Apparently not.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

A moment where a character's stupidity fuels an episode, or a small plot line. If multiple characters have the Idiot Ball, it becomes an Idiot Plot. Temporary (or permanent) Genre Blindness is often a cause of this trope.

Coined by Hank Azaria on Herman's Head: Azaria would ask the writing staff, "Who's carrying the idiot ball this week?" This is generally not a compliment. Frequently, the person carrying the idiot ball is acting out of character, misunderstanding something that could be cleared up by asking a single reasonable question or not performing a simple action that would solve everything. It's almost as if the character holding the ball is being willfully stupid or obtuse far beyond what has been established as "natural" for them. Frequently, it's only because the story (and by extension, the writers) need them to act this way, or else the chosen plot/conflict for the episode won't happen.


Unsurprisingly, this provokes a What an Idiot response from the audience. However, sometimes, the purpose is to help the audience. Sometimes, the holder of the idiot ball asks the dumb question to allow a certain amount of exposition to occur, that wouldn't naturally be talked about, but needs to be stated for the audience.

On the other hand, making stupid mistakes can be the hallmark of Character Development if the person recognizes it in the end. Seeing someone discarding the idiot ball can be a rewarding moment when they are Taught by Experience.

Idiot Balls can also deflect a boring Invincible Hero, which is positive for an audience reaction. There is nothing like a "Why on earth did he do that?" to get the fans talking about the show after it's over.

Note that in any relatively Idealistic setting, the villains will typically always firmly hold onto the Idiot Ball; instead of just shooting the heroes, expect to see plenty of Evil Gloating because... well, the show would be over otherwise, right?


This trope can be seen as Truth in Television, as everyone makes stupid mistakes every once in a while.

Subtropes include:

This trope is the opposite of Smart Ball.

When multiple characters in the story have to grab the Idiot Ball to keep the plot going, you have an Idiot Plot.

Compare with Ping-Pong Naïveté where a character goes back and forth between grabbing and not grabbing a particular Idiot Ball, Forgot About His Powers where a character stupidly advances the plot by not doing something expected rather than doing something unexpected, What an Idiot! which is an Audience Reaction to a potential Idiot Ball, and Too Dumb to Live where an Idiot Ball puts a character in mortal peril if not kills them.


Compare and contrast Hanlon's Razor. See the Ball Index for similar forms of Out-of-Character Moments

Now if you excuse me, I'll be spending my vacation in Chernobyl while all of you tropers look at the many examples of this trope.


Alternative Title(s): Smart Character Stupid Decisions