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Little People Are Surreal

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"Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it? Do you know anyone who's had a dream with a dwarf in it? No! I don't even have dreams with dwarfs in them. The only place I've seen dwarfs in dreams is in stupid movies like this! 'Oh make it weird, put a dwarf in it!' Everyone will go, 'Woah, this must be a fuckin' dream, there's a fuckin' dwarf in it!' Well I'm sick of it! You can take this dream sequence and shove it up your ass!"
Peter Dinklage as Tito, Living in Oblivion (1995)

If you see a little person in a film, or TV show or comic book, chances are whatever you're watching resembles a Disney Acid Sequence.

Little people rarely just appear in fiction. They tend to show up to make sure the audience understands that a story is surreal. More often than not, they dress in overly colorful clothes, or talk in a particularly strange way, or just stare at the other characters to symbolize that someone's having a nightmare. Sometimes, they're magical. Particularly famous examples include the Munchkins in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, especially the versions in the iconic cinematic adaptations, respectively The Wizard of Oz from 1939 and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory from 1971; each of these examples inspired a legion of Stock Parodies that have become staples of the Off to See the Wizard and Charlie and the Chocolate Parody plots.

Note that this trope applies only when a little person is shown or perceived to be notably different from the "normal" reality. (Big Figure in Watchmen, for example, doesn't count.)

Not to be confused with that other kind of dwarf. Remember: dwarves are fantasy creatures, dwarfs are short humans, and nowadays the polite term for the latter is "little people."

Compare and contrast with Depraved Dwarf. For another physical condition that's often treated as an oddity, see Albinos Are Freaks.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Trigun (the original manga version), Grey the Ninelives is revealed to be nine dwarfs in a suit.

  • John Mulaney mentions this in a routine about the word "midget":
    ...he goes, "If you put that word on TV, there could be a protest of midgets on this building." And I said, "Promise?"
  • Brad Williams is a stand-up comedian with dwarfism, and much of his act involves this trope.
    That's why we are not using midgets properly in this country. We have normal jobs! We should not have normal jobs, they should be giving midgets to cancer patients! How awesome would that be? "Sorry sir, discovered you have cancer." "Damn it!" "Here's your midget." "FUCK YEEEEAAAAHH!!!"

    Comic Books 
  • Invoked in The Killing Joke: the Joker's attempt to drive Gordon mad includes several little people stripping, collaring and dragging Gordon around while speaking in monosyllabic commands. While the main focus of Gordon's Mind Rape was what the Joker did to his daughter, the little people were certainly intended to heighten the feeling of breaking from reality.
  • In an issue of The Simpsons, Bart gets access to a movie set by telling the security guard that he's the dwarf for the movie's dream sequence.
    Bart: All movies with a dream sequence need a dwarf, you know!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Peter Dinklage, probably the most renowned little person in show business, has defied this trope by explicitly refusing most roles that would cast him as a fantasy creature, and in fact has occasionally parodied this trope:
    • Our page quote comes from Living in Oblivion, where Dinklage's character Tito is brought in to act in a dream sequence. He's got an attitude right from the start and seems to be deliberately sabotaging his takes. When the director finally confronts him, he explodes about how much he hates this trope.
    • Dinklage's appearance in Elf as a children's author named Miles Finch inverts this trope. Instead of highlighting the surreal nature of a situation, Miles's presence highlights just how out of touch Will Ferrell's character is with the real world. Ferrell's character Buddy was raised by Christmas Elves, so he assumes that Miles is also an elf and makes some Innocently Insensitive comments during a business meeting. Miles proceeds to run across the table and kick Buddy's ass in a scene that you really have to see to believe.
    • He did play a traditional fantasy dwarf in Prince Caspian, but likely accepted the role because Trumpkin defied this trope. The fact that normal people find him surreal is a point of criticism towards them, and he's also a badass without having any kind of magical agility. He has been affectionately called "Proto-Tyrion" by some fans for this reason.
    • Played With in Avengers: Infinity War, where Dinklage does play a Dwarf … but it's one who's roughly three times the size of Thor. So basically, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dwarves are just giants.
  • The page image features King Fausto, who rules the Sixth Dimension in Forbidden Zone. That said, he may actually be one of the less surreal elements of this film.
  • In The Wizard of Oz, the Munchkins are the first people that Dorothy meets in Oz after Glinda. All the Munchkins were played by little people — who got paid less than the dog who played Toto. No, really. (Contrast that with the 2010s, when the aforementioned Peter Dinklage became one of the highest-paid stars on Game of Thrones, and you'll see that we really have come a long way.)
  • Hervé Villechaize appears in The Man with the Golden Gun as the Big Bad's exotic sidekick. Austin Powers later parodied this with Verne Troyer's character of Mini-Me.
  • Subverted in Cabaret: Sally, trying to shock Brian, asks whether he's ever had sex with a dwarf. Brian calmly responds with, "Yes. But it wasn't a lasting relationship."
  • Deconstructed in Tiny Tiptoes, which stars... erm, Gary Oldman as a little person. The female lead spends most of the film trying to come to terms with the fact that her husband's parents and brother have dwarfism.
  • Lampshaded, subverted, and played straight in In Bruges. Dwarf actor Jordan Prentice plays a dwarf actor who is set to appear in a dream sequence that's being filmed in Bruges, which seems to cause Colin Farrel's character no end of delight ("They're filmin' midgets!"). Mostly, the surreal quality comes in from what a non-issue his dwarfism is; his character's defining trait is that he's an obnoxious, coke-headed bigot.
    Actor: You have no idea how much shit I get from black midgets!
    Ray: That's... undeniably true.
  • Played with in Jackass 3D: an all-little-person barroom brawl is broken up by dwarf cops and dwarf EMTs.
  • The title character in The Sinful Dwarf is both surreal and creepy as hell.
  • At the ball scene in The Three Musketeers (1973), the King of France is eating hors-d'oeuvres off plates balanced on the heads of dwarf servants. This is mainly to emphasize the decadence of his court and is Truth in Television.
  • In Terry Gilliam's movies:
    • The Time Bandits are all little people to minimize the height difference between them and the Kid Hero, so that audiences would be more inclined to accept a child as an equal member in their gang. Jack Purvis, one of the actors who played the bandits, would go on to act in Gilliam's next movies — Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen — but in both movies, he's one of the least surreal elements (and in Baron Munchausen, nobody treats him any differently from the Baron's other True Companions).
    • In The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Percy (played by Verne Troyer, also known as "Mini-Me" in the Austin Powers movies) appears to play the "miscellaneous" role in Parnassus's productions, with the other three performers filling in the man, woman, and old man roles.
  • In Blade Runner, two of the genetically engineered "toy-friends" created by J.F. Sebastian are dwarfs in outlandish outfits, one of which has an extremely long nose. Their presence certainly makes the already-surreal clutter of Sebastian's apartment seem even more bizarre.
  • Happy Gilmore's special "Happy Place" is a magical dreamworld full of things he'd love to see, like his lingerie-clad love interest carrying two giant pitchers of beer and his grandma hitting a slot machine jackpot. In the middle of all that stuff is one little fella dressed like a cowboy, hopping around on a broomstick horse.
  • Very unusual variation in Mulholland Dr. with the character of Mr. Roque, played by Michael J. Anderson of Twin Peaks fame. The 3 foot 7 inch tall actor was given prosthetic limbs to make him look like an average-height person with an Uncanny Valley effect. So basically, the character is made stranger by not looking like a dwarf. Though played straight (to the extent that there's anything "straight" about the movie anyway) in the ending, with cartoonish little versions of Diane Selwyn's grandparents driving her to suicide.
  • Mordecai from High Plains Drifter, who not only enjoys spying on the Stranger having sex, but is eventually given the dual title of sheriff and mayor.
  • In Saboteur, during part of their journey, Barry and Pat travel with a sideshow, and the bearded lady, thin man, little person, and conjoined twins seem to parallel the then-current situation in Europe.
  • In Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), it's revealed through dialog that the play Riggan is working on includes a dream sequence with dancing dwarfs.
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) features Nelson de la Rosa, one of the shortest men of the twentieth century, as a creation of Dr. Moreau.
  • Faust: Love of the Damned: Mephistopheles' entourage includes a random dwarf.
  • The Great Beauty: Dadina, Jep's editor, averts this trope for the most part, but there's one such scene towards the beginning when she wanders alone through the silent remains of a luxury birthday party.
  • The Field Guide to Evil: In "The Palace of Horrors", the jailer of the dungeons of the palace is a dwarf, which just adds to the surrealism of palace when combined with bizarre nature of the prisoners and the black-and-white filming.
  • The Trip (1967): While tripping on LSD, Paul sees a dwarf in the forest, helping his much larger friend prepare a stew. Later, he reappears on a carousel, where he yells "Bay of Pigs!"
  • Don't Look Now uses this trope in an unexpected way. John corners what he thinks is the spirit of his daughter... but it's not. It's an elderly female serial killer with dwarfism, who taunts him even as she drives the edge of a hunting knife into his jugular.

  • Mirror, Mirror (2003) by Gregory Maguire includes an Inner Monologue by the main villain about how dwarfs tend to have an air of self-possession about them, even in the role of court jester mid-joke. Interestingly, this is used to increase the surreality of the dwarfs who don't. It's so common for dwarfs to act abnormal, that the relative normalcy is what tips her off that these aren't normal dwarfs. She's just that kind of character.
  • The Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its many adaptations are little people who serve as the main workforce at Wonka's factory, emphasizing its sometimes whimsical, sometimes bizarre nature. Some kind of dwarf workers often appear in Charlie and the Chocolate Parodies as a riff on the Oompa-Loompas.
  • In Dune Messiah, Bijaz is a dwarf who is supposed to tell Paul the names of those conspiring against him, but to the annoyance of all he speaks in rhyme and riddle, making it hard to know what he means. It turns out he was part of the conspiracy all along, he was genetically engineered by the Tleilaxu to trigger the ghola Hayt to murder Paul.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Tyrion, the most notable dwarf character, is never played for surreal effect — ditto in the TV adaptation, Game of Thrones. In-universe, however, dwarfs often find work as "mummers" (actors and entertainers), usually in farce. Penny and her brother, for example, perfect a routine in which they "joust" while riding a dog and a pig, playing up the absurdity and painting their shields with the sigils of their audience's political opponents. In the continent of Essos, it is believed that rubbing a dwarf's head brings good luck.
    • Before entering the House of the Undying, Daenerys is served a glass of shade-of-the-evening by the tiniest dwarf she has ever seen, who only comes up to her knee. Inside the House itself, one of the many surreal visions she sees is a beautiful woman being raped by four dwarfs, which has been interpreted by readers as a metaphor for Westeros being destroyed by the War of Five Kings.
  • Alcatraz Series: Subverted Trope. Despite this being a very strange story, Kaz is just a person who happens to have dwarfism. That's it. When Alcatraz first sees Kaz, he thinks Kaz a leprechaun or something. Alcatraz finds the fact that Kaz is just short much stranger than any supernatural explanation would've been.
  • "Hop-Frog" by Edgar Allan Poe memorably deconstructs this trope. The title character is a jester with dwarfism and deformed legs (hence the nickname) who gets a chilling but satisfying revenge against the king and courtiers who constantly mocked him as an oddity.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mr. Roarke, owner of the eponymous Fantasy Island (which, as you can guess by the title, is rather surreal), has a dwarf sidekick named Tattoo who introduces each episode with a shout of "De plane! De plane!" Tattoo is played by Hervé Villechaize.
  • Game of Thrones: Notably averted with Tyrion Lannister, who just happens to be a little person. Peter Dinklage has noted how he is actually presented as a character in the show and not as his condition.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Encounter at Farpoint" has a whole gang of little people as part of the audience in Q's post-apocalyptic Kangaroo Court, plus a more snazzily dressed one who punctuates the prosecutor's reading of the charges with a cowbell for no good reason. In "All Good Things...", the first sign something's wrong is when they show up again to jeer at Future Picard.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Thaw": Fear the Clown's surreal domain prominently features a character simply called the Little Woman, wearing a brightly coloured tutu, played by Patty Maloney.
  • On SCTV, Whispers of the Wolf, a (parody of a) surreal Ingmar Bergman film run by mistake on Monster Chiller Horror Theater, features a dwarf — about whom the "Swedish"-speaking heroine remarks, "Hmmm... shrimpkin."
  • Lexx did Shakespeare on drugs for the fourth-season episode "A Midsummer's Nightmare". To go along with Oberon and Puck's Camp Gay, Titania was a male dwarf crossdresser with a 5 o'clock shadow.
  • Samson from Carnivàle, played by Michael J. Anderson, is the manager of the carnival and also narrates at the beginning of each season premiere. This is actually something of an inversion, as Samson is one of the most normal, mundane, and grounded characters in the entire show. He doesn't have psychic powers or religious visions; he's just a man of the world with lots of experience and common sense.
    Samson: Do I look simple to you, Hawkins?
    Ben: No.
    Samson: Well, that's good, because I'm not. I been to New York City. I been to Chi-town and the Big Easy. I met Caruso and Dempsey. I made eyes with Theda Bara. On a bad day, I've cracked tougher nuts than you.
  • The janitor (not the Janitor, but one of his co-workers) in Scrubs, who has dwarfism, seems to appear more often in J.D.'s Imagine Spots than outside of them.
  • Played With on Pit Boss. Several of the jobs that come through Shortywood invoke this, which frustrates its members to different degrees. In particular, this is a big Berserk Button for Ronald, who finds it insulting and degrading to put on costumes like lobsters and Oompa Loompas.
  • Subverted in a few episodes of NCIS: Abby dates a dwarf who looks and acts positively button-down compared to Abby.
  • Boardwalk Empire also plays with it, as the little people who box on the Boardwalk aren't too keen to play leprechauns at the St. Patrick's Day dinner. But as it's the Twenties and Nucky's offering them good money, they swallow their pride.
  • Picket Fences:
    • Ginny Weedon who, despite playing the same kind of character that she did in Poltergeist, kept complaining about "little people" stereotypes.
    • There was also the titular Peter Dreeb in "Mr Dreeb Comes to Town," who was a fairly normal guy but was introduced coming down the highway riding on an elephant which he had stolen from the circus he worked at out of concern for the abuse it was receiving.
  • In the Masters of Horror episode "Imprint", one of the pimps on the hellish island is a dwarf with a missing nose, signifying how the episode is gonna be one long decline into surreal horror and insanity.
  • In any of the "Stefon" sketches on Saturday Night Live, there will be at least one instance of dwarfs in the New York club scene, often while acting as household implements.
  • The Lone Gunmen: Part of the convoluted plot of "Madam I'm Adam" involved a female wrestler in a dwarf wrestling league, but it turns out her role in the whole thing is quite ordinary. Driven away by her husband's anger management issues, she starts an affair with a appliance store pitchman. (Both gents are normal-sized.) Her husband gets a drastic procedure to curb his anger so he could try to repair his marriage, which caused him temporary amnesia, and the pitchman reveals himself as a first-rate Jerkass by making a creepy, fetishizing comment about the lady's height. The Gunmen, who are very used to the unusual (after all, Agent Mulder is a regular client), take the whole situation with barely a raised eyebrow.
  • Rome:
    • While Julius Caesar is off campaigning, Marc Antony is left in charge of Rome. He doesn't take his duties particularly seriously, so holds court accompanied by topless prostitutes and a dwarf dressed as Cato (a politician opposed to Caesar).
    • Played with when Vorenus' wife commits suicide; he flees into the street and encounters a legless cripple shouting that Julius Caesar is dead. Vorenus becomes convinced he's having a terrible nightmare, and starts begging people to wake him up.
  • A Christmas Episode of the Australian talk show Rove Live had a group of little people dressed as Christmas decorations get strung up on a Christmas tree. When viewers complained about the un-PC nature of the act, the little people later returned to the show to explain that they were obviously OK with the act because they agreed to do it in the first place — and that it had paid them better than any other job they had done that year.
  • Twin Peaks: The Man from Another Place in the Black Lodge, played by Michael J. Anderson. Let's just say that his stature is one of the less surreal things of the place.
  • French TV series Joséphine, ange gardien is about a guardian angel called Joséphine, played by Mimi Mathy, who has dwarfism. It is obvious she got the role because of this trope.
  • The first Christmas Episode of iCarly is an It's a Wonderful Plot and one of the first supernatural episodes of the series. Carly's guardian angel, Mitch, is played by little person Danny Woodburn.
  • Jonathan Creek: A guy Adam hired as a bodyguard for one episode turned out to have dwarfism, resulting in an in-universe example: Jonathan and Adam were visibly bewildered by the idea of someone with such an obvious physical disability having a job protecting other people, but trying really hard not to show it because they didn't want to be rude... and the guy turned out to be very good at his job, if a bit gung-ho. And then he got eaten by the python that was supposed to be appearing in Adam's new routine, leading to the last scene of the episode being Adam getting roughed up by a bunch of other people with dwarfism after his public apology went horribly awry, which was even more surreal. And hilarious.
  • Jackass used Wee Man for several pranks that ran on this, like "Poo Switcheroo", where Preston Lacy — a tall, fat guy — going into a port-a-potty in a public plaza, you hear a lot of loud farts...and Wee Man emerges wearing the same outfit, to the confusion of onlookers.
  • In a darkly comedic sequence in We Own This City, three GTTF oficers are at a strip club when a dwarf stripper takes the stage and distracts them from their previous conserns. Wayne calls for the stripper for a private dance, but ends up robbing her instead, which the other two consider fucked up even for Wayne's standards. The other officers reccalling the incident leaves the FBI interrogators speechless.
  • No Soap, Radio was a Short-Runner Sketch Comedy that used a hotel for a Framing Device. Morris the bellboy (played by Jerry Maren) is a little person, which simply emphasizes the Absurdism and Surreal Humor of the show.
  • Kamen Rider BLACK SUN features Baraom, who in comparison to his original counterpart, is played by dwarf actor Pretty Ohta. His Kaijin form, on the other hand...

    Print Media 
  • German magazine "Cinema" once used this in a Take That! against heavily subsidized German True Art movies.


    Music Videos 
  • Similarly, Ozzy Osbourne's video for "Time After Time". Little people in black body suits, playing air guitar. Yeah, that's surreal.
  • Eminem's music video for "The Real Slim Shady" features a nurse with dwarfism; however, she's one of the least surreal parts of the video.
  • Peter Gabriel's Surreal Music Video for "Shock the Monkey" features a scene where several little people start dragging him down to the ground. They appear out of nowhere, and never show up again afterwards. And that's hardly the weirdest thing in the video...
  • The video for "Dog Police" by Dog Police features a dwarf waiter. Given the video's subject matter, this is pretty much an afterthought.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Dwarf wrestlers and matches involving dwarf wrestling is a common novelty-type match, booked more for comedy relief.
  • To cement his Heel–Face Turn Doink the Clown was joined by his dwarf sidekick Dink. This led to several surreal moments, but the most notable was probably their appearance in a 1994 Survivor Series match. Doink teamed with Dink, Wink and Pink, against Jerry Lawler and his mini-kings Queasy, Cheesy, and Sleazy.
  • Dylan Postl competed in WWE as Hornswoggle, an eccentric individual whose most common character was a leprechaun.

  • In the Australian production of Love Never Dies, one of the "freaks" at the Phantom's Coney Island amusement park is Fleck, a little person in a jester-esque outfit. She is also one of his lackeys. (In the original London staging, this character was of average stature, but also "half-bird, half-woman".)

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • Subverted in Ennui GO!. Sarah is a professional clown with dwarfism, but off the clock she's fairly normal compared to the World of Weirdness she lives in.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama: The Slurm factory is manned by the Grunka Lunkas.
  • Pawtucket Pat uses Chumba Wumbas on Family Guy.

    Real Life 
  • Little people have been used for spectacle throughout history:
    • Many royal courts had a "court dwarf" (the Ottoman Empire had a whole troupe of them). Little people were also a popular addition to The Freakshow; one such performer was Charles Stratton (also known by the stage name of "General Tom Thumb"), who was discovered by P.T. Barnum and became one of the nineteenth century's most famous international celebrities.
    • The Kingdom of the Little People, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, is a theme park in China. Many people consider it degrading, but the inhabitants themselves are okay with the situation and view the theme park as home.
      • Pre-imperial China averts this trope, since they use little people as court entertainers of all levels, up to and including the Court Jester. Many a Mirth to Power story in this period involves little people employed this way.
    • Freddie Mercury reportedly hired a troupe of little people to carry trays of cocaine on their heads at the party celebrating Queen's 1978 album Jazz.
    • On the other hand, a little person who appeared in Miley Cyrus's shows wrote a pretty angry rant about being treated as a prop, and — as mentioned in the Film section above — Peter Dinklage usually explicitly refuses to play fantasy creatures.


Video Example(s):


Tito about dwarfs in movies

Peter Dinklage's character rants about the absurdity of associating little people with dream sequences.

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Main / LittlePeopleAreSurreal

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