Every now and then, life sucks. Sometimes getting out of bed in the morning can seem a feat of Herculean strength, and dragging yourself into school or work is all but impossible. Often, the one thing that can sustain us as we limp into the office/classroom after a relationship break up, family row or disastrous guinea pig incident is the reassurance that our friends will lend an ear to sympathize in our hour of need...
Er, we hope. As long as someone else isn't entitled to more angst than we.
In many stories — and often in real life too — there's only so much sympathy to go around. So if you arrive to your workplace bemoaning the frankly humiliating first meeting with your in-laws, or the parking ticket you got as a result of an over-talkative cashier and a downright malevolent traffic warden, better take a note of the gripes of your co-workers before you launch into that pent-up tirade. Chances are that if someone has an angst that "trumps" yours, your worries — no matter how valid — become instantly trivial. And the rest of the episode will probably be devoted to you "getting over" yourself in order to be there for your pal. Even you yourself will eventually give a monologue on the importance of not dwelling on your worries because there are people worse off than yourself, and you should count your blessings.
There is a certain validity to this way of thinking; it's usually better to be positive after all, and seeing the difficulties others are facing can be helpful in putting your own problems into perspective. However, human nature being what it is, we're allowed to feel sad or grumpy from time to time without being criminalized for it. Occasionally, a show or book will acknowledge this and subvert this trope, revealing that the character who was being told off for being such a drama queen by friends with "bigger issues" is actually in pretty serious trouble.
On the other extreme, this can be used for comedy... such as, for example, a character loudly complaining about their bad manicure as if it's the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone ever while someone else in the background is being chased by enraged rhinos. In such cases, it's clear that the viewer is supposed to see their worries as trivial, and usually we will — unless Fridge Logic kicks in.
Sometimes this is a pretty logical trope — a parking ticket isn't nice, but a bereavement is on a totally different level of grief altogether. At other times, though, the viewer might note that the character with the "lesser" gripe has every right to be downhearted — for example, a character whose illness is serious, but not as serious as someone else's — and may accuse the supporting cast of having No Sympathy when they fail to acknowledge this. Falsely setting up problems in competition seems to imply that only the biggest problem can be dealt with, whatever the feasibility issues or nature of the lesser one. At its worst, a character who consistently has severe problems but is always one-upped by different people who once or a few times have a worse problem, leaving their problems totally ignored, could suddenly explode in rage over time from being subjected to this far too often. Even an Iron Butt Monkey has their limits. And, of course, even a minor problem can be made easier to cope with or slightly more tolerable if you know that the people around you have some sympathy; the character who got the parking ticket might not be demanding that everyone drop what they're doing and focus on them to the exclusion of the character dying from cancer (although they might be, of course), they might just be looking for a few kind words, which doesn't seem entirely unreasonable.
May show up on internet debates, especially as Flame War fuel. If this happens on your message board, it might be a good idea not to post until it's all over — your will to live will be drained one way or another, either in sympathy or in despair at so much angsting. If it gets out of hand, you may need to lock the thread.
Also sometimes known as Misery Dicks (i.e., my misery dick is bigger than yours) and Woe-Offs — as well as Oppression Olympics, when it occurs in debates concerning social justice issues.
- In Gravitation, Shuichi is constantly chided for his whining - even when his woes involve his boyfriend vanishing without a word, Shuichi getting kicked out of their shared home every time Yuki has a temper tantrum, and Tohma's various unpleasant schemes to "protect" Yuki at Shuichi's expense. Everyone, down to best friend Hiro, points out how much tougher Yuki's life has been, and Shuichi himself trivializes all of his angst, even the fact that he was gang raped.
- In Elfen Lied, Yuka constantly angsts and treats Kouta badly because Kouta is rejecting her sexual advances and forgot a promise - that he made to her ten years ago, in extremely promise-inducing circumstances, barely half an hour before he saw his father and sister brutally ripped to shreds by someone he saw as his closest friend. This in a house that has taken in girls that have, in no particular order: lost her arms, legs and was abandoned by her family and foster father figure; got beaten so hard by her own father that she became incontinent and has to wear diapers just because she wanted to become a singer like her mother, who committed suicide when she was a child; sexually abused by her stepfather and is a runaway; and Lucy, who is just really messed up.
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei takes this across the line several times, as is its habit. Nami tried to elicit sympathy from her classmates by coming in with a bandaged arm - then Abiru came in with bandages around half her head, her arm in a sling, and her leg in a cast. Then Nami tried to complain about being so poor she had to live in a small apartment and share a room with her parents - then in came Maria, an illegal immigrant who lives with 20 others in a single room, carrying a big bag of garbage and waxing lyrical about Japan's incredible bounty and how much better it was than her home country, where people knowingly eat poisonous mushrooms because there's nothing else. Then Nami tries to get attention by threatening to jump out a window -at which point Nozomu flies down from the roof in a noose and crashes into the wall (he gets better).
- In Weiß Kreuz, after Tomoe Sakura has one of her kidneys stolen by a Mad Scientist and becomes the subject of a great deal of prying media attention, she laments what's happened to her and that the surgery has left her unable to run track like she could before. Aya, whose little sister and only living family has been in a coma for two years and shows no signs of ever waking, delivers a verbal slap to Sakura in which he roughly points out to her that at least she's still alive and conscious and capable of moving under her own power.
- In Cross Ange, both Ange and Hilda had this moment on who had the worse reunion between Ange with her sister, and Hilda with her mother. Ange was whipped, publicly humiliated, had eggs thrown at her and was nearly hanged at the gallows while Hilda was beaten up by fifty guards though she does claim that she did beat them up. In the end for the both of them, it was a tie.
- The official rules for picking out who starts a game of Gloom is to have a game of Misery Poker covering the current day. Makes for amusing contrivances if played the first thing in the morning, and for the bizarre situation where your pals might hold "grudges" against you for having such a miserable life.
- Invoked in Richard Jeni's Card Table Dating routine — on a first date, the two people write down their problems on cards and then take turns playing one card at a time and showing their issues. Though this quickly becomes less Misery Poker and more Insanity Poker.
Man: [plays card] I can't have an orgasm unless I'm on top.
Woman: [plays card] I can't have an orgasm unless I'm on CRACK!
Man: [plays card] I'm neurotic. I need to see other people.
Woman: [plays card] I'm schizophrenic. I AM OTHER PEOPLE!
- Nick Swardson highlights why young people should never engage in this with the elderly.
"I'm like, 'How was your day?' And she's like 'Well I...woke up again. And my heart hurts when I breathe. And another one of my friends died.'"
- Dane Cook mentions that this is why you should not talk to your father when having a bad day. After getting a sympathetic ear from mom, he says dad would be put on the phone.
"Crying because you had a bad day? I was in NAM! I could grow crops with my tears!"
- Christopher Titus referenced this in his special Norman Rockwell is Bleeding.
- This post from the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.fandom sums up the trope. Note: everything written about the Huntress' origin story here actually happened in the comic.
"So, what's your origin story, Huntress?"
"My entire family was gunned down before my very eyes."
"Big deal. Join the club."
"But it turns out they weren't my real family."
"Well, my mother was really my mother, but I was actually illegitimate."
"So was your real father?"
"The guy who arranged for the hit on my family."
"Well, at least you weren't killed by your own father."
"No, but I was supposed to be."
"The hitman was supposed to kill me and her husband, but spare my mother so she could marry my real father and they could start a family."
"So what happened?"
"The hitman got his Helenas confused."
(There is a stunned silence for a moment. Then the Punisher, the Executioner, and several other vigilante heroes look at one another for a moment before all throwing their money on the table in front of the Huntress.)
"Okay, you win."
"You've got me beat."
"And I thought my origin story sucked."
- Batgirls Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown (then Spoiler) compare sucky childhoods:
Steph: Nobody ever talks about your family, what was your dad like?
Cass: Assassin. David Cain.
Steph: Are you serious?
Steph: [laughs] You've been listening to me whine about having the Cluemaster for a dad, when your dad's like the scariest killer on the planet?
Steph: When my dad was mad at me he'd lock me in the closet - what did yours do?
Cass: Shot me.
Steph: Oh man, I can't beat you at anything.
- Very nicely averted in Fantastic Four. After a particularly brutal encounter with Dr. Doom, Reed is left with a painful burn scar covering half his face. After a short while living with it, and acting increasingly irrationally, Ben calls him out on his behavior. During the speech, he tells him that he's noticed that even though he's clearly bothered by it, Reed hasn't complained about the scar once since getting it, at least not in front of Ben. While he has it much worse, as a giant rock-monster, Ben was quick to acknowledge his friend was suffering.
- In All Fall Down, the Pantheon get together for a game and this is the result. Phylum wins.
- Ultimate FF: The heroes had one in the pocket universe where Rick Jones was trapped with the Gah Lak Tus swarm.
- Happens often in For Better or for Worse, especially to April - every time she griped about a not-so-good situation, someone would happen by who was in far worse shape.
- In the book Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies, Dogbert advises office drones that, if you run late, make sure your excuse trumps the one before you; otherwise, you're the weak link and ripe for discipline.
Ted: Sorry I was late. There was an accident and traffic was backed up for miles.
Wally: I was the accident. I hit some kind of large animal.
Dilbert: Somebody ran over my mother.
- This also tends to be Topper's standard MO: wait til someone complains and then top their complaint. With the twist that he'll also do this with anything positive they say.
- In the book Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies, Dogbert advises office drones that, if you run late, make sure your excuse trumps the one before you; otherwise, you're the weak link and ripe for discipline.
- The Miraculous Ladybug fic Powers of Invisibility:
- It has an inversion (mostly) when Adrien finds out about Juleka's appallingly neglectful parents, who spend most of the year out of the country doing archaeology work leaving her alone in an apartment in Paris, at the age of 15, and have been doing this for some time.
Adrien: And I thought I had it bad. I don't get to spend a lot of time with my dad and when I do, he's pretty distant, so I get it. But I guess I don't really have any room to complain.
Adrien: You have it worse than I do.
Adrien: My parent is usually in the same city as me.
Juleka: Yeah, but weren't you, like, forbidden to go to school until this year?
Adrien: Sure, but that means my dad's protective. Your parents literally don't tell you where they are.
Juleka: Absent parents means I can basically do what I want. Overprotective ice sculpture pretending to be a parent is way worse.
Adrien: But at least I know he cares. And even if I have to spend Christmas at a dumb company schmooze party, at least I know I'll be spending it in the same room as my dad.
Juleka: But even if my parents aren't home, I still have to go to a schmooze party with my mother's family.
[realises that she's now arguing against her point]
Adrien: See? You have it worse than I do.
Juleka: Adrien, this isn't the Crappy Life Olympics.
Adrien: Oh. Right. Sorry.
Juleka: Besides, even if you don't win the gold in Crappy Parents, which I'm not convinced you don't, everyone has the right to complain. Our lives both suck and we both get to complain about it.
- Played straight in a later chapter, during the aforementioned "schmooze party". It comes shortly after Juleka's parents have come home and stated that they want to take Juleka back to China with them next year, though less out of any apparent love for her than thinking that she'll finally be of use to their work. Juleka refuses, storms out of the party and runs into her cousin Chloe.
Chloe: How do you do it?
Juleka: Do what?
Chloe: You know.
Juleka: I don't.
Chloe: How do you get them to let you near them?
Chloe: Everyone. Your parents, my mother, everyone at school, Adrien. How do you do it? You're not pretty, you're not rich, you're not interesting, not like me. So how do you get them to like you? How?
Juleka: Our parents don't like me.
Chloe: Oh, really? Then why do they let you stay?
Juleka: They can't make you leave if they don't notice you're there. If I stay quiet and still, they tolerate me. Doesn't mean they like me. Doesn't mean they actually talk to me more than they talk to you.
Chloe: Boo hoo. Poor Juleka doesn't get as much attention as she wants.
Juleka: I wouldn't call standing within five feet of them attention.
Chloe: Oh, please. It's a hell of a lot more than I get.
Juleka: What you get? You mean a parent that actually pays attention to you?
Chloe: When he isn't busy paying attention to all of Paris.
Juleka: At least he's in Paris.
Chloe: My mother's in Paris and you talk to her more than I do.
Juleka: No, I don't. I nod and stand there and hope they won't send me away.
Chloe: Yeah, just like they do to me every year.
Juleka: Like they've done to both of us. [long beat] This... this isn't the Crappy Life Olympics, Chloe.
- It has an inversion (mostly) when Adrien finds out about Juleka's appallingly neglectful parents, who spend most of the year out of the country doing archaeology work leaving her alone in an apartment in Paris, at the age of 15, and have been doing this for some time.
- The Dragon Age: Inquisition fic The Heralds of Andraste indulges in a playful version of this before the Halamshiral ball, in All This Sh*t is Twice as Weird. Mahanon has to go explore the castle and face down a would-be assassin, plus who knows how many Venatori and other assorted deadly foes... but Victoria has to smile and make pleasant conversation with Orlesians.
- The Girl Who Loved has Harry Potter and Ranma Saotome play a game of My Scar is Bigger Than Yours about Ranma's Hilariously Abusive Childhood and the crap that the Dursleys and Wizarding society has put Harry through, and call it a tie.
- Defied in Born Of The Same Impulse, when Tony started ranting to Stephen about how the Avengers were disrupting his privacy, and that their concerned attempts to get him out of his shell are hindering him from work. Stephen, at this point, is verging on depression due to having to relive his hand injuries, but—unlike Tony—doesn't have the luxury of either friends or work to distract him from his troubles. In his monologue after this interaction, Stephen expresses bitterness over Tony's apparent whining, but he humours the latter while he was talking.
- Ultra Fast Pony: In "The Longest Episode" all of the main cast are having a bad night at the Gala. As everyone sums up their problems, Applejack chimes in: "No, seriously, screw their minor problems! Why isn't anyone buying from me? This is my livelihood we're talking about!"
- In one Naruto fan comic, Sasuke complains about losing his parents, prompting Lee to bring up the time he was almost permanently crippled and forced into retirement, Neji to bring up his low status in his clan and Gaara to bring up his social isolation and multiple attempts on his life. Sasuke, Lee and Neji conclude Gaara is worst off.
- Chapter 2 of the Code Geass fanfic The Black Emperor has Kallen tell Lelouch, Milly and C.C. about how her family life took a turn for the worse (her parents were forced to split up, her father remarried to a complete shrew and left, her mother suffers abuse while working as a maid) after Britiannia conquered Japan. Then Lelouch says he wished he had it that easy, which initally angers Kallen... until he tells her what he had to go through (narrowly avoiding getting killed by OSI operatives, having to carry his blind and crippled younger sister around for weeks, coming dangerously close to starving to death before he's finally found) and she agrees he had it worse by the time he's done recounting.
- In this fanfic, Robin and Law decide to engage in this trope during a rare get-together of their crews. They're mostly doing it for laughs but the rest of both crews are horrified by what the pair are lying out.
- In Fantastic Four (2005), The Thing is sitting next to a suicidal person and tells him, "You think you've got problems? Take a good look, pal."
- In Notting Hill there's a scene where the main characters intentionally engage in a game of misery poker with a concrete reward: the last brownie. The movie star character almost wins, using "the higher you are, the deeper you fall" argument (Hugh Grant's character actually wins).
- A large part of The Breakfast Club consists of the five students declaring what's shitty about their lives, particularly their relationships with their parents.
- Lampshaded in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: Lena reflects on how she feels awful falling in love with a guy whose family hates hers. She also mentions how two of her friends, who've gone through divorce and the death of one's mother, are so happy, while she's so miserable over this (which she sees as trivial in comparison). This manages to depress her more. However, the two friends have other problems which are depressing them.
- In An Extremely Goofy Movie, Max is behaving eagerly because he gets to leave home and get away from his father who loves him but is annoying. PJ, who generally does not engage in this although he usually has the right to, lets Max know that his father is callously tossing him aside for his own selfish agenda.
- In 42, Pee Wee Reese asks to be excused from an upcoming baseball game after he receives a threatening letter for associating with Jackie Robinson. In response, Mr. Rickey opens a filing cabinet and produces three bulging folders full of death threats Robinson received.
- In The New Guy, there's a very brief one when Dizzy arrives in prison.
- The Penguin in Batman Returns gets by mocking everyone else for their issues, obviously considering them trivial compared to his own, like telling Catwoman.
Penguin: Maybe you're just a screwed-up sorority chick who's gettin' back at her daddy for not buying her that pony when she turned sweet sixteen.
(Later, to Batman)
Penguin: You're just jealous, because I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask!
- In Blade Runner 2049, it's shown with the racism toward Replicants we see with the underclass and K. While K is treated like garbage by his colleagues, he's still a police officer and one of the employed who can afford to purchase virtual girlfriends and live in a decent-looking apartment. This is in direct contrast to the people living outside his apartment in the halls and in the junkyard's enormous sweatshop, who are left to die by society. It should be noted the super-destitute still hate Replicants and find this as reason to hate them more.
- Wade and Vanessa play this in Deadpool (2016), inventing (we hope!) ever more outrageously abusive childhoods and traumatic experiences to trump the other's. Gets given a Call-Back at the end when they reunite after Wade's hideous transformation and Trauma Conga Line.
- Avengers: Infinity War: Thor had it rough: his brother Loki just died, after his secret evil sister Hela tried to kill them and slashed his eye, after his father Odin died, and after his mother Frigga died killed by an elf, after Loki tried to kill him and usurped their father's throne. Quill, unhappy to see Thor bond with Gamora over their Dark and Troubled Past, steps in, and also tells how he had it rough too since his mother Meredith died because his father Ego killed her and he had to kill him; but he got away with both his eyes at least.
- A Netflix Original movie by the name of Tall Girl has a line early on that practically screams this. Protagonist Jodie is 6'1 (the average height of a fully grown woman in the US is around 5'4), though with no other apparent issues. Her parents make good money, she's thin, acne-free, cisgendered, white and apparently smart. An introductory monologue says "You think your life is hard? I'm a high-school junior wearing size-thirteen Nikes. Mens size-thirteen Nikes." topped off with an almost smug-sounding "Beat that." Naturally, the internet has reason to the challenge with people bringing up victims of abuse, people living under oppressive regimes, and other miseries that no decent person would ever contest.
- One of the main problems Sandry has in the Circle of Magic series is getting people to see her as a person, not a noble - the assumption being that her status makes her immune to the woes of the common people. Even her adopted siblings initially regard her with an attitude of "what do you know about suffering? You're rich!" Her upbeat and friendly attitude only serves to aggravate this. However, when she reveals that her parents died in a smallpox epidemic, then she was trapped in a hidden room in pitch darkness while an angry mob killed her last remaining caretaker, people tend to be more sympathetic. (It's a hell of a way to make friends, but it works.) Her friends start giving her this attitude again in Will of the Empress because they've all been traumatized by their travels (not knowing this, she felt abandoned because her uncle had a heart attack and she had to basically become his co-regent) and now Sandry is being singled out by the Empress of Namorn, so they dismiss her concerns over a broken friendship and noble life (as Sandry prefers to be casual). They ease up, to a degree, after she suffers multiple kidnapping attempts and reveals that she had some rather gory experiences just staying in Emelan while they were dealing with murderers abroad.
- In Flour Babies by Anne Fine, the protagonist is told at the end of the story that hundreds of children go through the same trauma and worse that he went through...and none of them made as much fuss about it as he did. Possibly a Lampshade Hanging - the author makes it clear that the teacher's being an unsympathetic Jerkass.
- Referenced and then defied in Bruce Coville's My Teacher Flunked the Planet: When Peter hears Susan say "Boy, I miss my family" (as they're traveling with aliens and can't see their families, and she can only have occasional phone calls with them) he thinks "At least you have family to miss" (due to him thinking that his father couldn't care less about his disappearance) but keeps silent because he doesn't want to get in a game of "Who's the most miserable".
- In the third book of the Inheritance Cycle, Eragon and Roran compare bruises, complete with buckets of incestuous Ho Yay, mocking each other's for not looking painful enough. Eragon appears to win by removing his trousers to show Roran the massive groinal bruising from bareback dragon-riding, but Roran is able to top that by revealing that an Elite Mook more-or-less tore off his arm. This is a rather rare example of this trope being straight up useful as Eragon is suitably horrified by the injury and proceeds to heal it. This is particularly useful since they're going into battle against said mook in a few hours.
- Toward the end of The Man Who Was Thursday, Syme tries to instigate this with God (or at any rate, the novel's Christ-figure). He loses, badly.
Syme: ...have you ever suffered?
Sunday: Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?
- This is right on the heels of Gregory actually starting the game in a much longer speech about how much he has suffered while those who keep order, those who rule haven't felt a single bit of pain. Sykes immediately counters him hard; the whole exchange can be found at the end of this page.
- Invoked to great effect by Donal Noye and Benjen Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire. When Jon Snow, who dreamed of becoming a ranger in the Night's Watch like his uncle Benjen Stark, bemoans his lot in life: how the Night's Watch is not what he is expected, how it totally sucks compared to what he'd dreamed it would be, how he wants to be a ranger but his uncle won't let him yet, and is unable to inherit due to being illegitimate, Donal Noye and his uncle point out how privileged Jon's life has been, reminding him that he had a highborn upbringing in a castle, and to take a look around at his fellow soldiers, most of whom are lowborn and all who have had it much, much worse. This prompts Jon to quickly turn his attitude around and he befriends his fellow soldiers, whom he helps train.
- Blake and Rose Thorburn, a pair of Distaff Counterparts in Pact, argue about this occasionally due to their divergent backstories. Where Blake ran away to escape their toxic family tearing itself apart, became homeless, and briefly joined a cult, Rose stayed, helping her parents spy on her cousins and enduring death threats and worse. They both acknowledge that they're pretty screwed up, but which of them is more screwed up depends on who is arguing and what point they're trying to make.
- During the Animorphs book "The Sickness", everyone except Cassie is temporarily benched due to an alien disease. In the last chapter, they engage in some one-upping over who had it worse.
Rachel: My mom didn't let me eat any solid food until today. And it's been four days since I got sick.
Tobias: (a hawk) That's the worst thing that happened to you while you were sick? I'm not even sure Cassie's dad is a real vet. He tried to shove a pill up my-
Marco: Yeah, well, my dad brought me baby aspirin from the store. Baby aspirin! Like for a baby.
- Forms a rather large (but unspoken) part of the Cancer Support Group experience in The Fault in Our Stars. People with more serious cancers tend to get more respect automatically, and people with "lesser" forms of cancer (like appendicidal cancer) are somewhat looked down upon.
- Pretty much the whole point of Dr. Seuss' Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, where an old man tells a young kid not to worry about his problems, by thinking of all the other people in the world less lucky than him.
- JD of Scrubs is the poster child of this trope. The catalogue of disasters that befall him are listed under No Sympathy. In the same episode, Dr. Cox objects to being asked for help in dragging J.D. out of his misery, and when Turk, Carla and Elliot point out that J.D. rescued him from severe depression, he justifies himself with "I accidentally killed three patients...he passes out when he poops!"
- A rather better-handled example also came up in the episode that introduced Michael J. Fox's character Dr. Casey - sure, Dr. Cox may not be the best doctor, Turk may never be the best surgeon, and JD may need a bit more mentoring than most people, but Dr. Casey has severe OCD, and he deals with it gracefully - most of the time.
- Dr. Cox and one of his patients had a game where they would complain about their fathers and argue over which one was worse. Cox said the other guy always won since his father was still alive.
- In one episode, when the other couples complain about the problems they're having, JD snaps at them and says they should feel lucky and that he envies them, since they are arguing for petty reasons while he is angsting about being single and lonely.
- Played for Laughs when J.D. is shot down by Molly because he's "too normal", invoking this to prove that he's her type.
J.D.: My emotional journey began at five years old when I walked in on my parents having sex in a position my father would later playfully describe as "the jackhammer." I have a mentor that verbally abuses me every chance he gets, and no matter how much I try, I can't stop constantly narrating my own life... Molly, I'm narcissistic, I'm pessimistic, I'm obsessive, I'm insecure. And I'm so afraid of intimacy that every one of my relationships are a journey of self sabotage that inevitably ends in a black vacuum of shattered expectations and despair.
- Played for laughs when J.D.'s dad dies and Turk is diagnosed with diabetes in the same episode. Being friends, they're able to casually joke about the timing and stealing each others' "thunder".
- In the episode "My Saving Grace", Katie unloads a Freudian Excuse on Carla to justify her attitude, explaining her dad died, her mother was an alcoholic and she's always had to do everything for herself. Carla's response:
Carla: Oh, Katie ... Heard it! Me, dead mom. JD, dead dad. Eliot, emotionally abusive parents. Dr Cox, emotionally and physically abusive dead parents, who he may have killed. No-one's sure.
- This trope was a big part of choosing the winner on Queen for a Day; the contestant would get on the TV (originally radio) show and talk about how miserable their life was.
- From House: House, who suffers from chronic pain, argues with a patient who can't feel pain about who has it worse.
(Hannah refuses to sit still for the tests and House is called in.)
House: I'm sure I can say this without being condescending, but then you'd get the false impression that I respect you so: You're a kid, you're scared, you're stalling. Grow up.
Hannah: I'm not scared. I'm never scared.
House: See? How juvenile was that? You can't feel pain. Nothing left but pleasure. Why don't you tell me how wonderful that is?
Hannah: It sucks.
House: Better than being in pain all the time...
Hannah: Every morning I have to check my eyes to make sure I didn't scratch a cornea in my sleep.
House: Oh God, stop. I'm in a pool of tears here.
Hannah: I can't cry.
House: Neither can I. Every morning I check my eyes for jaundice. In case the Vicodin's finally shot my liver.
Hannah: I can't run anywhere without examining my toes for swelling.
House: I can't run.
Hannah: Boys can't hold me for too long because I can overheat.
House: Girls can't hold me for too long because I only pay for an hour.
Hannah: I need an alarm on my watch to remind me to go to the bathroom. You know how many humiliating experiences before I thought of that?
House: The bathroom's 50 feet from my office. Every drink of water I weigh the pros and cons.
Hannah: After everything I do, I self-check: Mouth, tongue, gums for cuts. Count teeth, check temperature. Fingers, toes and joints for swelling, skin for bruises.
House: I got shot.
Hannah: ...I sat on the stove when I was three. Want to see the coil marks?
Hannah: You think I'm lying?
House: You think I just wanna check out your tuchus, as your people would say?
(When she shows him, he gives her a sedative injection.)
- The Seinfeld episode "The Andrea Doria." George finds a great apartment for himself, but the owners decide to rent it to an old man who survived the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria instead, because of his sad past. George realizes that if it's misery they want, he's got more of it than anyone else, so he entertains the panel with a recap of all the banally depressing or humiliating things that have happened to him since the show began, from being Chained to a Bed and robbed to having a woman see his penis post-cold-water-shrinkage.
George: [speaking to an obviously deeply moved panel] In closing, these stories have not been embellished, because they need no embellishment. They are simply, horrifyingly, the story of my life as a short, stocky, slow-witted, bald man. Thank you. [He goes to leave, then turns around.] Oh — and my fiancee died from licking toxic envelopes... that I picked out. [The panel bursts into tears] Thanks again. [Exit]
- In the end, despite clearly winning the game of misery poker, he loses the apartment to someone else who simply bribed the owners with cash to get it.
- The "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch from At Last the 1948 Show, popularized by Monty Python. The Four Yorkshiremen reminisce about their childhoods, each man describing his as more terrible than the man before - and promptly amending their previous tale of woe when it was their turn to speak again.
- One of The Daily Show's essential pieces is the "Bootstrap Story" segment mocking the candidates' milking of their humble origins at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (the one at which Barack Obama upped the stakes forever by relating that his father was once a goatherd). Stephen Colbert, in turn, tells Jon how hard his father worked mining turds in the Appalachians and how grateful he was not to have to lick goats' balls like his father used to back in the old country.
Jon: ...How is that a job?
Stephen: You have to understand, Jon, in the old country the most important thing was to keep the goats happy. Now, as it turns out, the easiest way to do that... [makes a helpful illustrative gesture] ...was to work the balls.
Jon: You know, I had never realized that about your family.
Stephen: It's true, Jon. It's all true. [speaking to the camera] That's why I believe in the promise of America — that I, the son of a turd miner, the grandson of a goat-ball licker, could one day leave those worthless hicks behind while still using their story to enhance my own credibility!
- Saturday Night Live in the 1980s had a recurring skit about two buddies (Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest) topping each other in claiming to have suffered absurd, painful injuries, many of which were self-inflicted.
- Done in an episode of Monk after the title character gets hit in the eyes by acid and goes blind.
Monk: I'm blind.
Homeless Guy: I'm homeless.
Monk: My wife is dead.
Homeless Guy: So's mine.
Monk: Car bomb?
Homeless Guy: Pneumonia.
- The Big Bang Theory featured a scene in which Penny expresses disbelief that Leonard, Howard, and Raj haven't gone fishing with their fathers before. Leonard and Raj both express misery that their fathers were always busy with their scientific jobs, and then Howard mentions that his "father-son bonding" time was spent waiting for his dad to come home. Leonard even says, "Okay, Howard wins." And that's not the only time Howard has pulled the "My dad left" card to trump someone else's complaints.
- This also happens regarding their mothers between Leonard (emotionally detached, literally treated him as a science experiment) and Howard (mortifying, overbearing, and loud). Sheldon tries to play, but everyone else thinks that his mother is the tough, no-nonsense reality check that Sheldon needs.
- My Name Is Earl has this exchange.
Celeste: I used to live in a storm drain. Rain washed my doll heads away.
Earl: That sounds horrible. I once lived in my car for two months.
Celeste: Did you ever have to move because a pack of stray dogs kicked you out of your house?
Earl: ...Let's not make this a contest.
- ER had Dr. Mark Greene get in a good one on his last day of work, when a nasty old lady from the pilot returned:
Mrs. Raskin: How much longer do I have to sit here?!
Mark: Mrs. Raskin. It's been a long time.
Mrs. Raskin: Well the service isn't what it used to be.
Mark: What's the trouble?
Mrs. Raskin: I have this hangnail and it is very painful!
Mark: I have a brain tumor, and it's inoperable.
Mrs. Raskin: What?
Mark: I win.
- Friends has this exchange (for context, Chandler's worrying about his commitment issues).
Rachel: Hey, Chandler. Monica just broke my seashell lamp.
Chandler: Neat. I'm gonna die alone.
Rachel:...OK, you win.
- How I Met Your Mother: When Robin complains about the jealous behavior that comes with being in a relationship with Ted, Lily, who had recently broken up with Marshall at the time despite still being in love with him, says being single is worse.
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Scientific Method", Chakotay and Neelix get afflicted with a condition that screws with their DNA in different ways—Chakotay starts hyper-aging while Neelix starts turning into another humanoid species (Mylean, which his great-grandfather was). While in Sickbay, they start a lighthearted game of misery poker, with Chakotay in the lead before more patients come in.
Chakotay: Do you smell something strange?
Neelix: Oh, I'm...I'm afraid that's me. I seem to be developing Mylean sweat glands. Sorry.
Chakotay: It's not so bad.
Neelix: Well, whatever happens, I try to keep in mind that things could be worse. I still have my home here on Voyager...my friends...
Chakotay: Your hair.
Neelix: True, but I'd gladly lose it if I could have my taste buds back.
Chakotay: At least you're not losing your eyesight. (points to nearby display) See that display over there? It's nothing but a blur.
Neelix: You think that's bad? The Doctor tells me my pupils have dilated sixty percent. I can't even look at that display, it's so bright.
Chakotay: Yeah? Well, I've got chronic arthritis in my fingers. (holds up a glass of water) I can barely keep this glass steady.
Neelix: That's nothing. My spinal column is fusing together. In a matter of days, I won't be able to walk.
Chakotay: Got you beat—I can barely walk now.
- The entire point of Mad Tv 's Depressed Persian Tow Truck Man. It's even lampshaded in the opening jingle.
- The George Lopez Show: In "George to the Third Power", George argues with Max's dentist over whose childhood was worse.
Dentist: My mom locked me in the closet for a day and a half just so she could go and party!
George: Oh yeah? Well, my neighbor touched me inappropriately, in my no-nos.
Angie: That never happened.
George: (to Angie) Quiet. I'm in it to win it.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "As You Were", Riley finds Buffy working at a Burger Fool and promises to swap stories if they get a chance and see whose were more exiting/dangerous/crazy etc.
Buffy: Did you die?
Buffy: I'm gonna win.
- Played for laughs in an episode of Frasier where Frasier gets punched in the face by a man who is later murdered. Subsequently, every time he does something that others view as a What the Hell, Hero? moment, he tries to wriggle out of it by gravely pointing out that he is still suffering the psychological after-effects of "being punched in the face by a man now dead". Incredibly, despite the other characters having far more significant problems going on in the same episode, it works every time.
- Iris in Roseanne used this with customers at the salon, responding to their problems with non sequiturs such as "I watched my village burn to the ground." When asked, she stated that it was her way of saying "Shut up or I'll turn your hair into a bonsai tree".
- In the Netflix series 'What/If,' Anne and Foster have a fight entailing this, although Foster uses his daughter as Anne's competition, saying that the pain she suffered although the same as Anne's and by the same man was clearly worse because she killed herself. Inverted when Anne says that there's "more than one way to end a life," explaining that she figuratively killed herself too.
- Taylor Swift's song "New Romantics" has the following lines:
We show off our different scarlet letters
Trust me, mine is better
- In one episode of Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation, he says that sometimes he worries that comforting the bereaved can come across like this: if your mother is suffering dementia and you tell someone whose mother died suddenly "At least she was with you right up to the end", you're kind of saying their situation isn't as bad as yours.
- "It Sucks To Be Me" from Avenue Q as well as serving as an introduction to most of the cast also has them trying to outdo each other regarding whose life sucks the most. In the end they all agree Gary Coleman outsucks them all.
All: Is there anybody here it doesn't suck to be?
- In The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), the Angel of the Lord announces an auction in which God's favors will be awarded to the one who suffers the most. The winner, of course, is some modern-day experience so mind-numbingly awful that it beats the fiery furnace.
- "I Think I Got You Beat" from Shrek: The Musical has Shrek and Fiona doing this. They even sing in unison about how bad their lives have been.
Fiona: Okay top this. I missed my prom.
Shrek: My dad and mom sent me away, it was my birthday.
Fiona: I was sent away on Christmas Eve. Haha!
- Six opens with the six wives of Henry VIII arguing over who had the worst time being married to him. Katherine Howard gets a scene where she makes a really compelling argument that it was her, snarking that compared to her fate of being executed at the age of fifteen (not to mention the lifetime of abuse she endured before that), the other wives' problems of almost being sent to a nunnery, or being divorced, or dying of natural causes are pretty lame by comparison. While the women all agree in the end that it doesn't really matter, and that they should stop letting Henry define their stories, pretty much the entire fanbase agrees Katherine wins.
- Touya and Calvina get into this in Super Robot Wars OG: The Moon Dwellers at their first meeting. Calvina had the facility she was employed with destroyed, with all of the friends she made and students she taught dying in the process and, worse, she discovers that one of her students and her boyfriend are still alive, only to find that both of them are members of the FURY, with the former going Ax-Crazy, and the latter being believed to be the one responsible for the attack on the earlier mentioned facilitynote . Meanwhile, after years of living in isolation due to his mother's death and father's absence, Touya finally meets his dad again, only to see him just getting out of a sticky situation piloting the Granteed and trying to protect two girls, learn that he's a high ranking soldier of the FURY, reluctantly join him to survive the ongoing attacks of the FURY, and then see him die right in front of his eyes, leaving Touya only his father's legacy as a Knight of the FURY to try to carry on. They don't do that in the future meetings, it's mostly for different issues, and in the end, they're on good terms thanks to both sides having Character Development.
- BJ Blazkowicz and Caroline get into an argument over whose war injuries are worse. Unlike many other examples on this page, the entire thing is done as completely good-natured ribbing between old war buddies, the two of them catching up after many years.
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II has Rean and Crow engage in one except they're playing a misery poker for the other person, with the two claiming that the other person's Dark and Troubled Past is sadder than their own. When Crow finally tells Rean his reasons for shooting the chancellor at the end of the previous game, Rean actually almost looks like he's about to cry while Crow brushes it off as him being a footnote in history and claims that Rean's mysterious past is sadder than his.
- One Diesel Sweeties strip had this exchange by several superheroes:
Spiderman: My uncle is dead!
Punisher: My family is dead!
Green Lantern: My city is dead!
Superman: My PLANET is dead.
Superman: (to Wonder Woman) Wanna help rebuild the species?
Wonder Woman: Chivalry is dead.
- Planet B has this:
RZ: I hate my job.
Gungu: Try taking 16 school hours and working two jobs just to pay for it all.
RZ: Thanks. Now I hate my job, and I feel like a jerk.
Furato: Hey, RZ! Have you heard of the millions of starving people on Planet S?
- Also, some literal misery poker.
- Friendly Hostility: Collin trumped Nadine's record of "time not spoken to parents," but was beaten by Leslie Rudd in the "who had the most negligent/abusive" parents stakes. In the last few months of the comic, some Fox vs. Collin Misery Poker went on, particularly amongst the fandom, with Fox's past injuries to Collin being weighed against Collin's increasingly passive-aggressive, taciturn behaviour.
- Davan from Something*Positive trumps Kestrel from Queen of Wands at a game during one of their crossovers when they compare their jobs.
- A pair of Akril's King's Quest comic strips feature misery poker. In the first, Cassima and Rosella are comparing "battle scars;" but Rosella conceded when Cassima starts talking clean-up detail. In the second, Alexander and Edgar are comparing notes. Taken from their families at infancy? Check. Almost caused the destruction of their homelands? Check. Went to the underworld and came back? Check.
- Selkie's school secretary tried (sort of) to comfort Selkie after her shirt was stolen.
- When Robin's sister Roz first appears, she and Leslie play "Who's Got The Worst Daddy", which Roz admits is all about one-upmanship (Roz's dad was a womanizer, while Leslie's disowned her for being gay). Robin, not feeling well-disposed towards her sister, suggests she play that with Amber - whose father was emotionally and physically abusive. Roz is smart enough to ask Ethan for details first.
- There's a general understanding that Amber's dad is about as awful as it gets (Robin later measures her own father's dismalness in ADUs - Amber's Dad Units).
- Parodied in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal #2314, where a chain of "Stop being unhappy! There are people who have it worse than you!" goes through everybody in the world until it reaches the least fortunate man on Earth; who has no arms, one eye, one tooth, a metal pipe impaling him through the head, a small patch of his beard missing, a unibrow, is standing in a barrel of nuclear waste, surrounded by several large bags of more nuclear waste, and is on fire.
Least Fortunate Man: Wait. I'm the least fortunate man on Earth? So, I automatically win every pissing contest?
Second Least Fortunate Man: Yep.
Least Fortunate Man: This is the happiest day of my life.
Hidden panel: The moral: no one should have to be a ginger.
- It's an odd way of bonding, but Mercy and Cirr of Ice masochistically compete over who's hurt Sarah more.
- Strong Female Protagonist: This shows itself as an early hurdle for a support group for dynamorphics (people who, in the world's Mass Empowering Event, had their body structure mutated and transformed). One woman in the group confesses about her employer using her so he could seem progressive, but another in the group gets angry and demands to hear about "real problems", since the first woman looks mostly normal aside from her green skin while the latter has grown massive scales and thus can't afford fitting clothing or be easily employed.
- The point of http://first-world-problems.com/ — the joke being that only "First World Problems", i.e. minor annoyances of priviledged citizens of wealthy countries/cities are allowed in contrast to "big problems" such as bone-dry poverty, universal food shortage, or being caught in a raging civil war.
- A meme going around Tumblr takes a form similar to the Diesel Sweeties comic above, but much more extended; starting with Batman's dead parents, going through Superman's dead planet, and making a final stop at Homestuck's TWO dead universes.
- Discussed in two Cracked articles which note that people who do this forget a basic fact of life: everyone deals with problems differently and this is simply blowing off someone's very real problems because We don't want to deal with it and that tells people that They and Their issues don't matter.
- This forum post all the way, in which the posters find new ways to feel oppressed. No, it's not a joke.
- Can be a problem for people with depression or other mood or social disorders, if the people around them are young or don't understand the nature of the problem. A seeming disparity between their emotional state and whatever is going on immediately around them can lead to a lot of frustration for others and alienation for the sufferer. Furthermore, if the people a depressed person approaches turn their attempts for support or sympathy into joking games of Misery Poker, that person's depressed mind can easily draw the conclusion that they have it so good that they aren't "allowed" to feel bad. And that, dear children, is one destructive thought.
- Some people love Misery Poker so much that they'll do it even when someone obviously isn't fishing for sympathy. For instance, mention that you didn't get much rest last night when someone asks why your eyes are bloodshot, and suddenly everyone in the vicinity will start trying to one-up each other with hyperbole-laden tales of how little sleep they're running on. If STFU, Parents is any indication, parents looooove doing this to non-parents. Of course, sleep deprivation sucks for everyone, and it doesn't matter why you only got 3 hours of sleep the night before, it affects you the same way.
- Complaining about the weather tends to turn into this if you're doing so on the Internet. The most common form of this is complaining about it being cold out during winter when you live relatively close to the equator, getting this reaction from people living closer to a pole. Or vice versa for it being hot during summer.
- Very common among military personnel. Trying to out-misery each other on how terrible your previous assignment, deployment, commanding officer, first sergeant, barracks, or whatever is practically a tradition. Get the hell out of the way if veterans from two different wars start on each other. "Let me tell you about Vietman. We had claymore mines, napalm, agent orange, Bouncing Betty's, left-over C rations from Korea, shit-covered punji sticks, terrible pay, rifles that jammed, and no Goddamn cell phones and no internet. Okay, your turn."
- Some experts on communication between the sexes believe that this is a cause of tension in couples. Generally speaking, men tend to cheer people up by suggesting concrete solutions, while women tend to cheer people up by creating a sense of solidarity by pointing out that they have a similar problem. To men, this approach comes across as a challenge to a game of misery poker, which causes friction if they were looking for advice and get what looks to them like unsympathetic oneupsmanship. To women, the 'male' approach may come off as the "suck it up and get over it" part of this trope.
- A very common game on the Internet. (Tumblr and Reddit are memetically famous for this.) Complain about how hard of a day you had, and then someone will respond that you have far more privilege than they do and they have it worse, only to get another person with less privilege saying that they have it worse, then it keeps going on and on until Poe's Law kicks in.
- Happens between generations every single time. Nobody's complained to a significantly older person without hearing "back in my day..." at least once.
- With Ring Theory, the idea is that when multiple individuals are directly or indirectly affected by some trauma, you let the person closest to the suffering dump on you and you can dump on those who are further away from it. So you can win Misery Poker, you just have to play it with the right people.
- Among social justice activists, this is referred to as "oppression Olympics", and strongly discouraged. Trying to one-up people about who's suffered more discrimination (of whatever kind), prejudice, violence etc. only divides them against each other and detracts from improving things by group efforts. Even so, it still happens.
- On May 17, 2017, President Donald Trump addressed the graduating class of the United States Coast Guard Academy. Telling them to persevere amid hardships and difficulties, he told them, referring to himself, "No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly." The internet, being what it is, responded with pictures of John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, and other political leaders who suffered imprisonment or death for their political beliefs or their participation in politics.