Follow TV Tropes

Following

Idiot Houdini

Go To

Frank: God, I've had to work hard every day of my life, and what do I have to show for it? This briefcase, and this haircut! And what do you have to show for your lifetime of sloth and ignorance?
Homer: What?
Frank: Everything! A dream house! Two cars! A beautiful wife! A son who owns a factory! Fancy clothes and (sniffs air) lobsters for dinner! And do you deserve any of it? No!

This is what happens when a character who is known for making consistently poor judgments never has to answer for them. In fact, nearly the exact opposite happens: Whatever mind-numbingly stupid idea they've come up with this episode, it will work. If he sells the party's material possessions for some magic beans to give to a Nigerian prince he met over the Internet, we can rest assured that at the end of the episode, a Nigerian prince will come solve the conflict with a Deus ex Machina. The Idiot Houdini will be healthy, wealthy, and have an ample supply of True Companions even though in Real Life, anyone acting the way he does would almost certainly have died ten episodes before the series began.

Characters will sometimes notice this bizarre disparity inside a story. When they do they almost always find it a serious cause for concern, although since the Idiot Houdini lives a relatively charmed life, there's little anyone can do about it. In other cases, they may be blind to it conversely because of the character's excess of prosperity.

There's a certain amount of Truth in Television to the latter portrayal, as any rudimentary analysis of pop culture fixtures indicates that no matter how badly they screw up, some people are so famous that they'll always get a second chance.

A "loveable" example of this trope generally relies on Hanlon's Razor to gain sympathy (especially if the victims to their stupid antics are even more sympathetic).

Overlaps significantly with Born Lucky and The Fool. The character who provokes Minor Insult Meltdown is usually also this as other characters scold the meltdowner rather than the provocateur. Contrast Too Dumb to Live, where a character does not escape the consequences of their stupidity, but instead pays the ultimate price. Compare and contrast Karma Houdini, where the lack of consequences is for immorality rather than stupidity. Also compare Elimination Houdini, for when this happens in a Reality TV show.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Code Geass:
  • Dragon Ball Z: The fat Majin Buu killed thousands of innocent people just for fun, both before and after turning on Babidi, but is forgiven for his actions and allowed to live because he didn't understand that what he was doing was wrong. That being said, he does reap what he sows in other ways; being the weakest and least skilled Buu form, he gets his butt kicked mercilessly by his evil counterparts. He gets turned into chocolate and eaten by Evil Buu, exactly what he did to many of his victims, and later he is overwhelmed and beaten to near death by Kid Buu, again just like he did to his victims. Also, unlike many examples of this trope, he does learn the difference between right and wrong, so if he faces no consequences for the actions he takes after the Buu Saga, it's because he doesn't need to.
  • The title protagonist of Irresponsible Captain Tylor would be this if you buy into the interpretation that he really is an incredibly lucky idiot and not merely Obfuscating Stupidity.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • Cameron is incredibly scatterbrained, often forgetting to bring his Pokémon to matches and almost not making it to the League. He even brings 5 Pokémon to a 6-on-6 match by accident, and still manages to defeat Ash. Averted when he gets eliminated in the next round anyway- even if he was an idiot, that would not have allowed him to win the entire Unova League.
    • Clemont's Chespin. Whenever he is ordered to work with Bunnelby, Chespin will always get all the credit even though it's Bunnelby who's the only one who did any actual work.
    • Clemont's Dedenne in "Adventures in Running Errands". He was requested to help the other Pokémon keep the electricity on, but only slept the whole time, and yet he gets most of the credit.
  • Vash the Stampede in Trigun appears to be this from time to time:
    Villager 1: (as Vash is dancing along the street with headphones in) He's dodging the bullets!
    Villager 2: Dodging? That dumbass doesn't know he's being shot at!
  • Easily Kamina of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, at least before his death, anyway. Almost everything he does is outrageously stupid (such as attempting to hijack an enemy mech with zero idea of how it works or any of its security codes), yet he gets away with it thanks to sheer Refuge in Audacity, Rule of Cool, and the efforts of his little bro Simon. He operates entirely off of Indy Ploys, all of which succeed, and, in fact, the one time he actually tries to be smart and plan things beforehand, he dies, although it was more Simon's fault than his, though that also was due to a certain misunderstanding.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert is this, but unlike most examples it's not a quirk of his personality. Rather, it's because the company's promotion protocols seem to be designed in such a way to ensure that a person of his intelligence level becomes a manager, and that said manager is impossible to fire. Scott Adams' book The Way of the Weasel offers a possible explanation to this phenomenon: that a company will naturally shift incompetent people to management because that is where they cause the least harm. Dilbert and the rest of the employees prove this by regularly finding ways to circumvent the pointy-haired boss' idiotic requests and policies, getting their work done in spite of him.
    • Perhaps ironically, "looking good to his own superiors" is the one thing the original Pointy-Haired Boss is actually competent at. Several strips illustrate how a ridiculous-seeming decision is actually a logical and clever way to avoid looking bad even though it actually makes things worse: in one, the PHB is faced with a problem he can't do anything about and also can't be seen ignoring, so he has Dilbert tell everyone that he wants daily status reports until the situation improves.

    Fan Works 
  • Iris in Ace Attorney fic The Fey Family Cousin. Through the fic she never does a single logical thing. She deliberately avoids and pushes away a guy she's in love with knowing that he loves her, keeps visiting her sister knowing that she's Manipulative Bitch who doesn't give a crap about her, ignores Mia's advice about both of the above and later during her trial she doesn't give her lawyer critical information about the case leading him to run in circles for most of the trialspoiler  and almost getting herself found guilty. Despite this she gets her Happily Ever After.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Moana, we have Heihei the rooster. There are several points throughout the film where he should've drowned, but he doesn't. It helps that the ocean likes the protagonist, though in time it gets fed up with him and stuffs him in a Matryoshka Object before cramming all of it into the cargo area of the ship.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The two main characters from Bio-Dome live in relative luxury despite having no useful skills, and exhibit intelligence you'd expect from idiots who went on to get brain damage. Which considering the scene where one of their mothers was seen drowning them, they may very well have brain damage. On the other hand, they are smart enough to repair the damage they did to the dome experiment.
  • Forrest Gump: The lead character is cognitively disabled yet all his decisions lead to success, wealth and fame. He becomes a star footballer just by running across his high school's football field during practice. He survives an ambush and napalm strike in Vietnam, saving some of his fellow soldiers and emerges with nothing more than a stray bullet in the ass. He becomes a world table-tennis champion because he is bored while recovering from his bullet wound and wants to occupy himself. He makes millions as a shrimp boat captain despite having no skills, experience, or success until a freak storm wipes out the local industry, leaving him miraculously unscathed.note  He inspires the creation of the smiley face by using a t-shirt to wipe mud off his face and the phrase "shit happens" after accidentally stepping in dog poop. He meets three different presidents and exposes the Watergate break-in by pure accident. He fumbles and stumbles through life pursuing on a whim whatever seems like a good idea at the time, yet nothing he ever does throughout the film leads to negative consequences for him.
    • Of course this is played in that unlike most examples, Forrest is a good person at heart whose luck doesn't extend to those around him. His Medal of Honor came at the cost of his best friend, he lost his Mother to cancer, and his wife/childhood sweetheart to what is most likely Hepatitis C (which was unknown/undiagnosed at the time of the film's events).
  • In Go, a sleazy strip-club owner berates his useless son for this.
    "You know what wakes me up in the middle of the night covered in a cold sweat? Knowing that you aren't any worse than anyone else in your whole screwed-up generation. In the old days, you know how you got to the top? Huh? By being better than the guy ahead of you. How do you people get to the top? By being so fucking incompetent, that the guy ahead of you can't do his job, so he falls on his ass and congratulations, you are now on top. And now the top is down here, it used to be up here... and you don't even know the fucking difference."
  • Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther movies shows crime-solving skills that make the Scooby gang look good.
    Outraged Matron: That's a priceless Steinway!note 
    Clouseau: Not anymore.
  • Dr. Silberman from The Terminator. It's bad enough watching him get away with his ignorance in the first film, when he actually had an excuse for not believing Kyle Reese's crazy-sounding story, but when you see how he's made a career out of Sarah Connor's "insanity" for telling the same story in the second movie, it gets downright infuriating to see him get away with his stupidity. What, he's just going to walk out of the police station past the Terminator right before the guy shoots up the place, demonstrating that Kyle was right about everything? Yep: that's exactly what he's going to do. He doesn't get any presumed comeuppance at all until the third film, and that's all off-screen after he's demonstrated he still doesn't believe in any of that Terminator crap. There is catharsis in seeing him in the loony bin in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the implication of a Bus Crash in Terminator: Dark Fate.

    Literature 
  • Bioshock Rapture: In the backstory to the Bioshock game, this trope drives Andrew Ryan, but it runs out shortly before the events of the game. He used to be a good little boy working in a Jewish enclave - until his family was brutally slaughtered in a Bolshevik revolution, convincing him that good guys die first. The instant he let the darkness into his heart, fate itself seemed to bow before him - he escaped multiple Soviet purges, made his way to America solo, struck oil after buying a random patch of land, became a multimillionaire despite his obvious Russian origins and lack of social tact, got away with starting a massive wildfire on his property, and built a giant underwater city without drowning. This string of borderline physics-defying luck warped his personality into a sociopathic workaholic who believed that people who work for themselves always get paid what they're deserved - which is the exact opposite of true. When his 'capitalist utopia' finally crumbled under its own arrogant weight and lack of social infrastructure, he couldn't comprehend the idea that his hard-working exploitation and lack of empathy was the cause, especially since he hadn't faced any negative consequences for his sheer number of reckless gambles that always went well for him, and he went full fascist trying to convince his few remaining loyalists to go back to work, destroying what was left of the city.
  • Tommy Wiseau and The Room (2003). The Disaster Artist (a book later made into a film) details all of the bizarre decisions Tommy made as Writer/Director/Producer/Star, spending $6 milliion on a film that took So Bad, It's Good to new heights, drawing in crowds to its showings and lifting him to stardom.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrested Development:
    • Nearly everyone in the Bluth family falls into this trope. Gob, Lindsey, Buster and their mother all live high-class lifestyles despite the fact that none of them have any useful skills or even common sense. We find out in the first episode that the family patriarch is similarly idiotic: The only thing he ever actually seemed to do effectively was break the law in order to steal company money, to the point that the viewer is genuinely surprised he wasn't arrested much sooner.
    • Later we meet prosecutor Maggie Lizer, who's a successful lawyer in spite of the fact that she's spent several years doing a very, very poor imitation of a blind person. The only rational explanation for how she wasn't found out sooner is that she's never met anyone who had seen a real blind person before. And even when Michael tries to expose her, she wriggles out of it because she had temporarily lost her sight, when she should have been disbarred.
  • Ashley Abbott on The Young and the Restless falls into this pattern chronically. Her characters arcs tend to follow a simple pattern. Make an extremely poor decision. Then, get mad at other characters when they point out why what she's doing is a bad idea. When she finally realizes how stupid she's been, she then gets mad at other characters for offering advice and decides to deal with her problems by going it alone. Rinse and repeat. This doesn't even get into her ability to screw up other people's plans simply by being involved in them. On one occasion, while speaking with Abbott arch-nemesis Victor Newman, she gets a phone call from her brother Jack about an important business deal. So, naturally, she excuses herself so she can talk about it without Victor over-hearing. Which room does she go to? The nursery. She left Victor in the living room with the baby monitor. It's hard to miss the fact that, in a show where many of the main characters are business executives, Ashley stands alone as the one whose business sense is clearly an Informed Ability.
  • Michael Scott on The Office has a habit of falling into this from time to time. Even though he has aspirations to being a highly successful businessman, for example, he doesn't seem to have a rudimentary grasp of economics.
    • An episode where he meets his accountant shows that he spends a great deal of his money, not just on luxuries, but on objects that are almost completely useless to him: He has a fishing rod worth several hundred dollars even though he doesn't know how to fish. His best escape act, though, is when he bankrupts the Michael Scott Paper Company by not understanding that his prices are so low, he can't recoup his costs. Dunder-Mifflin, not realizing this (in part because Jim sabotages Dwight's attempt to warn them), offers him a buy-out because on paper Michael's taken a lot of their customers.
    • Another good straight example is when Michael was vying for a raise in "The Negotiation". The exec who was conducting the review to determine if he deserved one was Jan, who Michael was in a relationship with at the time. Despite Jan telling Michael not to try bringing up their relationship and Michael already having numerous legitimate reasons as to why he deserved a raise, Michael's relationship with Jan is the only card he ever tries to play, at one point even threatening to withhold sex from Jan if she didn't give him the raise. Not only is he somehow neither sued nor fired over this, but he also actually gets the raise.
  • In Family Matters, while Steve Urkel is not an idiot per se, he does several stupid and destructive things to the Winslows, mostly involving destroying their property and getting the family injured. This is largely laughed off as him being clumsy, but it got so bad that their insurance company decided to charge them more just for having him as a neighbor. Every time the family (usually Carl) gets mad at him for being destructive, and tries to keep him away from the house, they're presented as being judgmental and "bad friends", even though Steve at best presents a very real and serious financial liability. He REALLY grated on some fans' nerves when he broke out his (in)famous catchphrase "Did I do that?"
  • Kamen Rider Zero-One: Gai Amatsu, the CEO does pretty good as a Villain with Good Publicity, but what makes him a criminal mastermind is that the other characters think with an Idiot Ball, not a brain. No matter what ludicrous scheme he comes up with, it brings him closer to his goal. Sabotage a collaborative project with Hiden Intelligence and pin the blame on them? It has zero effect on the company's reputation. Force the protagonist (the current CEO) to use a Dangerous Forbidden Technique in order to publicly discredit him? Great, now it's his Super Mode. The only reason he ever manages to take over Hiden Intelligence is because the plot says so.
  • Played with for The Gang from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. All of The Gang are varying degrees of Insufferable Imbecile, often causing themselves and those around them all kinds of misery either due to their short-sighted schemes, conflicting egos and their inability to realize that they are wrong about something. However, they are all so self-involved that they act on Negative Continuity, usually ignoring or forgetting the consequences of their actions by the end of the episode and has to be reminded of it when to comes back to bite them.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Greg the Bunny. Greg: with no marketable skills and a large amount of anti-puppetism in-universe, he lucks into a regular cast position on the in-universe children's show. Meanwhile, in the spinoff Warren the Ape, Greg is revealed to have a massive mansion and live a high-class lifestyle. He acquired his riches by helping a Nigerian prince move some money out of the country. It actually worked.

    Video Games 
  • Killzone 3: Rico's overly aggressive plans somehow manage to work every time throughout the game, despite the sheer level of General Ripper vibes one would normally get. He only gets some karma after the events of the game, where he and his team are declared international criminals for destroying Helghan.note 
  • Nicholas J. Tillman, a character in The Oregon Trail, is known for giving horrible advice, such as plunging into deadly rapids everyone else avoided because "it'll be fun," or not buying food and relying on hunting alone. He brags about taking his own advice, too, but somehow he remains alive to keep giving it.

    Web Animation 
  • Neebs from Doraleous & Associates. He embodies Too Dumb to Live, and most of Doraleous' bad luck stems from his arrogance and disobedience (which eventually gets him fired), but said idiocy earns him half the throne of Ashbury, a fortune in broom sales, and (arguably) most of the credit for the Geighs' victory over the Giopis.

    Webcomics 
  • Ethan's devolution to this in Ctrl+Alt+Del is in large part why the comic has such a hatedom. In early strips, other characters put up with his stupidity only to the extent necessary to keep him as a character in the webcomic. By the time Winter-een-mas rolls around, the universe is bending over backward to turn all of his stupid ideas into outrageous successes. At the comic's end, he did end up getting some comeuppance by getting killed off trying to fix the consequences of his actions. The author admitted the decision behind this was that he was overdue to get some backlash after having things go his way for so long.

    Web Original 
  • No matter how much Jeffy from SuperMarioLogan makes Mario miserable, he never seems to learn anything from it or have anything bad happen to him.
    • Bowser Junior always doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes, even if it involves a single situation turning into a big outcome.
  • Self-applied by Danny when the Game Grumps come together to play Among Us and Danny wins a round as an imposter thanks to pure dumb luck and for being so bad and inexperienced at the game at that point that nobody believed he had any chance in hell in getting away by being an imposter:
    Danny: Ah ha ha ha ha! Once again I stumble ass-backwards into victory!

    Real Life 
  • Timothy Dexter, who became wealthy after marrying a wealthy widow, was persuaded by his friends to invest his wealth into all sorts of ridiculously dumb things. When Dexter sent mittens and warming plates to the West Indies, the mittens were bought and shipped to Siberia, and the warming plates were sold as ladles to the molasses industry. When Dexter shipped coal to Newcastle (the British capital for coal mining at the time), it arrived during a wintertime strike and was bought quickly for a great price. When he played the stock market by buying stocks at random, all of them went up. When he wrote a book called A Pickle for the Knowing Ones — a travesty of literature — it sold very well. To give an idea as to just how blindly lucky he was, he's the only example in the "Real Life" folder on The Fool. He actually made it into The Book of Lists for shipping coal to Newcastle (along with such others as selling oil products, specifically lighter fluid, which was too small a market to bother building a refinery locally to produce, to Saudi Arabia). Every one of the entries on the list was something that's generally used as an example of a stupid thing to ship to a particular place.

Top