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Obfuscating Insanity

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"Works every time."
"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't."
Polonius, Hamlet

It's pretty much a given that no one takes crazy people seriously. It's also a given that a lot of people give crazy people a wide berth lest they flip out on them. A lot of people are aware of this and choose to take advantage of it, although their reasons for doing so vary from one character to the next. Sometimes the apparent nutcase is actually perfectly sane, other times they actually are a little on the Cloudcuckoolander side (or maybe more than a little) but are aware of their eccentricity and deliberately play it up to the Nth degree so that they appear to be far crazier than they actually are. If they are not the point-of-view character, the question may be left open.

Not to be confused with Insanity Defense. Compare Obfuscating Stupidity, where people pretend to be dumb instead of crazy. Contrast Mask of Sanity for when someone actually is insane, but able to hide that fact well.

Often times, this is a Reveal Trope, so expect unmarked spoilers!


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Bleach Urahara loves playing crazy and often goes to great lengths to ham it up. Of course, he still has The Wonka tendencies even when he drops the mask, but that doesn't change the fact he's wearing a mask in the first place.
  • While Ryousuke's mother in Bokura no Hentai does have mental health problems brought on by her daughter's death, it's shown she isn't delusional as she seemed. She reveals later on that she knew her crossdressing son wasn't really his deceased sister.
  • Crest of the Stars: Several of the admirals are... eccentric. Sometimes they have crazy ideas that their saner subordinates shoot down; sometimes they have crazy brilliant ideas that pan out. (Or that were good, but don't pan out anyway.) This resonates with a culture of snark, where one suspects they're trying to see how much insanity they can get away with before someone cracks. Bebaus brothers, especially. The Abh even believe that "genius" and "insanity" are two sides of the same coin, and that any genius must by definition be somewhat insane.
  • Shiro from Deadman Wonderland is revealed at the end to have been faking her Split Personality.
  • In Goddess Creation System crown prince Jun'er pretends to have gone mad after his uncle's coup. He pretends to mistake rainwater in a jug for wine and dances on rooftops until someone says the magic words: Mentioning Xiaxi.
  • Inuyasha: Toutousai is utterly insane and also senile. Except he's not. Except he might be. Except he probably isn't. Lampshaded in-universe: the characters themselves are completely baffled over where his obfuscating insanity ends and either genuine senility or great wisdom begins. It's very noticeable, however, that he always plays up the insanity whenever he needs to get Inuyasha or Sesshoumaru to do something they don't want to do yet the insanity vanishes completely whenever he needs to explain the detail of a lesson they've just learned. Toutousai's ability to switch between this trope, Let's Get Dangerous! and Older and Wiser in a completely unpredictable manner may be the only thing that's kept him safe from the Hair-Trigger Temper that both brothers possess.
  • Secco in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure reveals he was doing this after the death of his partner, who was a Mad Doctor who apparently experimented on him at length. Whether or not he actually did at all is unknown, but if he did, it clearly didn't have the results he thought it did.
  • My Hero Academia: When Midoriya first meets Gran Torino for an internship, the elder hero appears to be off his rocker. This throws Midoriya off when it comes time to spar, as Torino demonstrates skills and wisdom befitting a mentor of the world-famous All Might.
  • Many powerful shinobi in Naruto. The longer they've been around, the crazier they get; see Maito Gai, Kakashi Hatake, Jiraya, Tsunade, Anko Mitarashi... and underneath all the crazy is someone who could kill you in the time it takes to blink.
    • Fanon seen in a lot of fanfic is that high-level ninja tend to develop bizarre quirks as a coping mechanism; the more powerful they are, the more crap they end up going though in using that power, and the stranger the coping mechanism gets.
    • Perhaps best demonstrated with Chiyo, who's laughing like a loon the first time we meet her and her elderly brother, and attempting to attack Kakashi as soon as she meets him. She's crazy powerful, though. Naruto sums it up, "She may be old, but she's good."
    • Obito's alternate personality Tobi can be this as well, combined with Beware the Silly Ones. This seems intentional, to get enemies and comrades alike to underestimate or disregard him due to his antics.
  • Played for Laughs in a chapter of Nichijou, where Yuuko tries to hypnotize Mio. The former is so annoyingly insistent in the latter's eyes that Mio pretends to become an idiot, in order to get her friend to stop. It backfires when the rest of the students and teachers fall for it too, and try to have her hospitalized.
  • Xerxes Break from PandoraHearts. He's a strange Manchild with a Creepy Doll he holds conversations with and a habit of entering and exiting rooms from strange places like cabinets or from underneath beds. His in-canon nickname is even "Pierrot", as most people seem to think he's just a little crazy. He probably is, but not the funny kind.
  • Reign: The Conqueror: Diogenes. Whether this also happened is debatable. Diogenes was more crazy cool. He prescribed masturbation to prevent sexual immorality, then demonstrated.
    Diogenes: If only I could satisfy my hunger by rubbing my belly.
  • Miki accuses Yuki of this in School-Live!, though it's unknown if it's true or not. Note that she only came to the conclusion after reading a few pages on Multiple Personality Disorder in a book. Later on it's implied she did have mental health problems however she fits the trope properly, as she still pretends to be delusional and oblivious after she "snapped" out of it. She doesn't do it for malicious reasons though. She knows her happy attitude is what keeps her friends from breaking down due to the difficulties of surviving during a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • In Vinland Saga, after King Sweyn threatens to attack Wales unless Askeladd pledges alegiance to him instead of Sweyn's son Canute, Askeladd decapitates him, then pretends to have gone mad in order to turn the Danish nobles against himself. Canute catches on to this and kills Askeladd, after which he becomes the new king and calls off the attack on Wales (just as Askeladd intended).

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Joker. It should be emphasized that just how much of the Joker's madness is genuine or part of a ploy largely depends on the writer, naturally. He is quite, quite mad, but whether he's an out-and-out loony or just a very driven psychopath with a twisted sense of humour changes from story to story.
    • There was a particular story ("Case Study" by Paul Dini and Alex Ross, from the anthology series Batman: Black and White) that really explored this facet. The story was told from the perspective of two psychiatrists at Arkham, who had found a psychiatric analysis of Joker that revealed him as entirely sane, but faking insanity to cover his meticulous plans and get into mental institutions where it would be easier to break free. Hopeful that they can use this to get Joker transferred to a prison, they're disappointed to find out that the person who wrote the analysis was Harleen Quinzel, from before she went insane.
    • Oddly, this changing personality is also something that exists in-story, as noted by the very same Dr. Quinzel, after being driven mad. She theorized that he reinvents his personality on a day-to-day basis, so that one day he may be a funny guy with a penchant for stalking the Bat, then the next he's a monster, then the next he's a glibbering loon. Her madness shows in her conclusion that the only constant is his love for her.
    • This theory is also put forth in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Ruth Adams who describes it as a form of Super Sanity that may be more suited to the end of the 21st century than the here and now. Her theory implies that the Joker might not have that much control over his reinventions; he might be able to choose his different personalities, but he can't help the irresistible impulse to change it in the first place, since it is essentially a coping mechanism to deal with the insanity of the world at large. In the above, however, Joker would be closer to a variation of Histrionic Personality Disorder- i.e. he is acting up for attention (also, he is a sadistic narcissistic sociopath, but that has nothing to do with why he changes personas, only why each persona is always a violent criminal). It should also be considered that Dr Ruth Adams may be a quack, especially if she thinks it constitutes Super-Sanity (which is an oxymoron) rather than some kind of dissociative disorder.
    • Jason Todd once said to the Joker's face that acting so completely insane makes it easier for him to justify his actions. That wiped the smile right off the clown's face.
  • Deadpool also uses this trope to its full advantage, confusing and exhausting his enemies and allies alike with unstoppable mouth and wacky babbling. Like the Joker, Deadpool really is insane (a different kind of insane, though) and knows it, but he plays up and (possibly) exaggerates his insanity for tactical benefit. Also like the Joker, the fact that his personality changes regularly is part of canon. In his case, his healing factor and cancer have combined to leave his braincells constantly in flux. In some stories he's little more than an immature goofball, others he's perfectly capable of committing murders in cold blood that he doesn't even remember afterward. Of course, as a Meta Guy, Deadpool's also the first to admit that the real reason he changes is who is writing him at the moment.
  • In Cerebus the Aardvark, the Captain Ersatz of Groucho Marx, Lord Julius, is a sterling example of this. Cerebus explains it during a croquet game with someone else: "Lord Julius always said that insanity was the last line of defense for the master bureaucrat. It's hard to get a refund when the salesman is sniffing your crotch and baying at the moon. Insanity is a virtually impregnable gambit... but you have to lay the foundation early in the game..."
    Lord Julius: Baskin, my lad! Come in. Whatever it is, I'm against it. Unless I'm for it, in which case the tie goes to the runner.
  • Shortly after the Black Cat was introduced, Spider-Man tracked her down ... and discovered she had an insane romantic fixation on him. It turned out a few issues later that she'd realized he was about to catch her and set that up as a cover to get herself locked in a mental hospital rather than prison, as the hospital was easier to escape. But then she found herself obsessing about Spidey for real....
  • In the Sin City story Family Values, Dwight used this as a ploy. A female cop was investigating the same crime scene as Dwight and Miho. Since Dwight is a wanted man and he had an assassin ready to kill the police officer, he had to think quick. He started off by flirting with her in hopes that she would be offended and leave. Considering Dwight is Mr. Fanservice, she liked the attention and decided to stick around. He then demanded that they go to a hotel where she would spank him and call him Belinda because "that's how Douglas does it." She wonders why she always attracts the loonies and saunters off.
  • The Invisibles: Tom O'bedlam hides his mentor role behind a facade of raving lunacy.
  • This is part of the hook of the Creeper; Jack Ryder combines an outlandish costume with manic behavior and crazed laughter to unnerve the criminals he fights. That said, some of the later versions of the character really were insane.
  • Age of Bronze: Odysseus receives a prophecy that he will not return home for twenty years if he heads for Troy. He must fulfill his sacred oath, but he dreads the consequences. His solution: Faking madness. Unfortunately, Palamedes sees through it.
  • In The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Whirl seems to be genuinely a bit loopy, but he's also a lot smarter and more cunning than his Blood Knight antics and general eccentricities lead people to believe. For example, when he's held hostage by a traumatised war hero, most of his lines imply that he's daring Fortress Maximus to go ahead and just kill him, but looked at from another angle, he's getting inside Max's head by continually voicing the most likely thoughts Max is having, leading him to identify with Whirl.
    • Mad Scientist Brainstorm builds weird stuff like My First Gun, the Early Early Warning System and the fourth-wall-breaking Meta Bomb, and most of his weapons on Kimia were deliberately excessive solely to troll the Ethics Committee, making people think that there's an awful lot of "Mad" in there. His antics conceal both his history of spying for the Decepticons and the fact that he's built a time machine in order to change history and prevent the War from ever happening.
  • In The Transformers Megaseries, the Machination tries to brainwash a captive Hunter. He’s able to resist, but acts like a drooling vegetable to convince them otherwise. Once his unsuspecting captors leave the room, he drops the act and tries to escape.
  • The Roman, a crime boss who ran afoul of Wolverine, pretends to be a lunatic who dressed up in a dirty toga and rants about the Roman Empire in public as part of an act to keep the law enforcement agents he knows are tailing him from being able to move against him. They strongly suspect he's putting up an act and even take bets as to how far he will take it. One of the agents even wonders if it really is just an act since The Roman would have to be crazy to keep it up for so long, and his partner responds that The Roman is crazy...crazy like a fox. The Roman takes the act very seriously, hiding out in what looks like a run-down abandoned building on the outside but is actually a palatial mansion decorated with a Greco-Roman theme on the inside. In private he also ditches his dirty rags to put on pristine and finely-tailored suits.
  • A story arc of Sturmtruppen has a soldier try to pull this to be discharged on medical grounds... Except the first step is convince the sergeant he may be crazy, and any and all attempts just got him declared stupid and kept from check up because "stupids are the backbone of the army". He then pulls it off by volunteering to dispose of spoiled nitroglycerine (far more likely to blow up than unspoiled one), thus convincing the sergeant he is mad and allowing him to claim his discharge for insanity... Except this arc is a Shout-Out to Catch-22 and he just incurred the original Catch-22 Dilemma, disqualifying himself from the discharge while still having volunteered for a suicide mission. He actually gets insane out of the sheer terror, and is given his discharge as two orderlies are dragging him to the asylum.
  • Green Lantern: The Fool's crimes were based on him undertaking schemes that seemed either completely moronic or completely insane.

    Comic Strips 
  • Prof. Bartap from German comic Nick Knatterton, to fool some gangsters who wanted to get their hands on his latest invention, a shaving foam which is also a very effective explosive. "Goodbye, you dummyheads!"

    Fan Works 
  • Harry Potter
    • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Dumbledore is widely believed to be using this. It's effective nevertheless, as it not only gives him an excuse to do whatever he wants, it's also impossible to tell the difference between when he's just keeping up the act and when he's executing some brilliant, secret plan right under your nose.
    • In Oh God, Not Again!, Harry pulls this for much the same reason as the Methods of Rationality version of Dumbledore.
    • In The Wizard in the Shadows a lot of Harry's craziness and Cloudcuckoolander tendencies are hinted to be put on to get people to think he's fairly harmless. Occasionally, they live to regret it. The author is also an admitted troper and a diehard Doctor Who fan, which makes comparisons to the tenth and eleventh Doctors all the more likely to be accurate.
    • In George Weasley and the Computational Error, George does this frequently, for reasons like having him stay at St. Mungo's instead of being tossed in Azkaban immediately to convincing Voldemort that George is on his side. Sadly, George actually does end up becoming legitimately insane by the end of the story.
    • Partially Kissed Hero casts Luna Lovegood as a ruthless, calculating, damn-near sociopathic Creepy Child whose apparent spaciness is entirely an act to make people underestimate her.
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Dumbledore is heavily implied to be putting on at least some of his eccentricity - certainly, he can drop it at a moment's notice when necessary, as proven when Fury and Wisdom both goad him to check.
    • Doctor Strange is one example who blurs the lines between 'obfuscating' and 'insanity' - that is to say, some of it is probably put on, but he is almost certainly at least somewhat crazy. No one knows exactly what the balance is, and he seems to like it that way.
  • In the Firefly fanfic Forward, River deliberately invokes this by pretending to be more unhinged than usual while the crew is preparing a heist, so that they'll leave her off the team. Once they depart, she sneaks away for a personal mission of her own.
  • In My Stupid Reality a Death Note AU where L's people are rounding up genius children for some nefarious purpose, Light attempted to stay under the radar by playing dumb. Later, when it becomes impossible for Light to deny that he's a genius he tries to get out of L's program by deliberately failing the psych exam by pretending to be a homocidal maniac who believes all criminals should die. Unfortunately he failed too well and L knew he was faking.
  • In the Transformers fanfic Things We Don't Tell Humans, Megatron does this to his soldiers after Ratchet (mostly) fixes his gaping head wound and the Mind Virus it revealed.
  • In Rewind of Time Harry and his friends decide to use this as their opening strategy for dealing with Voldemort and Dumbledore. It works so well in the latter case that one of the teachers decides to get in on the act.
    Dumbledore: I think we need to have a staff meeting. There is something wrong here and we need to figure out what it is. Who are Sponge Bob and Barney? What in the world are Nargles, and what is this about Middle Earth? I am so confused right now.
    McGonagall: Not to worry Gandalf. We will figure it out with you my precious. The reason is because I love you. You love me. Let's get together as a happy family. We can all live together in a pineapple under the sea. Though I think they are right and you should avoid any and all food offered you by Cornelius [Fudge].
  • Metroid: Kamen Rider Generations:
    • Gou Shijima, of all people, considers himself to be this, only the fact that he's pretty awesome in his own right.
    • Gandrayda is unpredictably insane for a shapeshifter. She loves playing crazy and goes in further heights to ham it up. She more often plays insanity to get close around Samus or pressing Micchy's Berserk Button. Gandrayda's ability to switch into this, Beware the Silly Ones, and Ax-Crazy Combat Sadomasochist is noticable, as noticed in Samus's point of view, even after Gandrayda's revival with no traces of Phazon, she is still Ax-Crazy by nature.
  • In The Demon Who Lived, C.C., now reincarnated as Luna Lovegood, abuses her family's reputation of being completely insane to do pretty much anything she pleases without being questioned. When Kallen, now Hermione Granger, asks how C.C. plans to reunite her with Lelouch/Harry Potter without raising suspicions, C.C. retorts that she could introduce Harry to a purple llama she calls Henry the Fifth without anyone batting an eye.

    Film — Animation 
  • In Aladdin, when he first meets Princess Jasmine, Aladdin rescues her from an irate merchant who was about to chop off her hand for taking a piece of fruit (Jasmine never having been outside the palace in her life and unfamiliar with the concept of money) by convincing him that she is his mentally unstable sister. Jasmine plays along;
    Merchant: She says she knows the Sultan!
    Aladdin: She thinks the monkey's the Sultan.
    Jasmine: (getting the hint and bowing before Abu) Oh wise Sultan! How may I serve you?
    Aladdin: (sighing) Tragic, isn't it? Still, no harm done. (hands the merchant an apple to replace the stolen one) Come along, sis, time to go see the doctor.
    Jasmine: (to a nearby camel) Oh hello, Doctor. How are you?
    Aladdin: No, no, no, not that one.
  • The Swan Princess: A Royal MyZtery has Niccolo, one of the villains from The Swan Princess: Royally Undercover, appear to be suffering from a Split Personality while incarcerated. It later turns out he was pretending to be cuckoo to throw off suspicions that he was behind the film's conflict.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In any given Marx Brothers movie, Groucho will spend most of his screen time running rings around everyone else in the room (except his brothers Harpo and Chico, who are always either crazy enough or stupid enough to follow right along) by living in this trope. Nobody (but his brothers) can even hope to keep up with him, and as a result, he easily gets whatever he wants whenever he wants it. Give Groucho a pair of guns, a sword, a mask and the will to kill and he's Deadpool. Period.
  • Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda pretends to be a random senile alien, as a Secret Test of Character for Luke when they first meet.
  • Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. Exactly how much is obfuscation and how much is genuine is unclear. Just the way Jack likes it.
  • In Analyze That, Paul Vitti successfully fakes insanity to get himself released from prison.
  • Al Pacino as Vincent Hanna in Heat.
    Vincent Hanna: Ferocious, aren't I?
  • In Primal Fear, Aaron Stampler pretends to be insane in order to get away with murder.
    • In fact, he does such a good job that he's got the psychiatrists fooled into thinking his mild mannered persona is the real deal and the conniving psycho just a symptom of multiple-personality disorder. Turns out, there is NO mild mannered guy in there at all, just the psycho...
  • John McClane has to fake this in Die Hard with a Vengeance, when a madman makes him wear a billboard insulting Afro-Americans while in his underwear. His future partner in adventures saves him by claiming his insanity, and he runs with it. And in general, McClane has his moments where he appears "unhinged". He does this for various reasons, either to fool and confuse his enemies, or to cope with the crap he has to go through.
  • A similar thing happens in Johnny English where the title character, a secret agent, mistakes a group of mourners for jewel thieves. His assistant Bough comes to his rescue and tells the mourners that English is an escapee from a lunatic asylum.
  • In Men in Black 3, Agent J briefly pretends a neuralyzer has regressed him back to early childhood.
  • In Scum, one of the Borstal inmates is savvy enough to behave just madly enough for the hard guys and gang inmates to leave him alone as more trouble than he's worth. The warders also treat him carefully, as if he were a hand grenade on a short fuse. This is a known coping strategy for dealing with oppressive all-male institutions such as prison, the military, and boarding school, where those low on the totem tend to get bullied and abused. Unpredictable insanity neatly takes somebody outside the hierarchy.
  • Doctor Edward Bailey in Red 2 is locked up in an asylum for the criminally insane. When the team finds him, he is hyperactive and unable to respond rationally to their questions. At the climax, it turns out that was an act to fool them into breaking him out so he could detonate the doomsday weapon he created, which was the real reason he was locked up in the first place.
  • In Signs, Merril and Graham Hess hatch a plan to scare an ominous dark figure off of the roof of their house (who they assume is a trespassing teenager) by running outside, yelling and acting 'insane with anger'. Graham, a soft-spoken former Pastor, doesn't quite give a convincing effort. Hilarious in Hindsight, considering that Graham Hess is played by Mel Gibson.
  • Na-mi from Sunny pretends to act possessed in order to avoid getting into a fight.
  • In Nerve, this is heavily implied to be the case with Ty. He comes off as completely unhinged and unrestrained for most of the film, but then you find out he's trapped in his current situation, and can't leave, meaning he's being forced to do all these dangerous, illegal, immoral things. When Vee asks for his help in ending the titular game, he instantly agrees. Once he's free at the film's end, while he's obviously shaken up, he seems much more subdued and normal. So, more than likely, the aggressiveness and apparent insanity was just a coping mechanism.
  • The Joker in The Dark Knight - though it's heavily up to interpretation how much he's obfuscating, much like Sparrow, it's clear that he isn't as crazy as he likes to present himself. For instance, when confronting Harvey, he claims he's "a dog chasing cars" and didn't really have any animosity towards Dent in particular, when later on he admits to being entirely aware of the impact and meaning of driving Dent to madness. There're also countless points in the movie that involve him having planted the seeds of long-term plans (particularly explosives). In general, he is psychotic, but he's still highly intelligent and entirely capable of long-term plans - he just wants people to think he's completely random because it makes them dismiss him as a foolish thug. (Considering his overall motivations, this is pretty ironic.)
  • Side Effects: Emily it turns out faked her insanity, with Dr. Sieber advising her on how to do this. It's all part of a plan to kill Emily's husband, blame it on the drug she was taking, and make money after it by short-selling the manufacturer's stock due to the negative publicity driving down the price.
  • One way to interpret Romasanta's claim to be suffering from clinical lycanthropy in Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt. Certainly the Crown Prosecutor believes he is faking it in an attempt to avoid execution.
  • In Day of the Evil Gun, Indian trader Jimmy Noble feigns insanity as the Indians will not kill a crazy person.
  • In Bedtime Story (1964), con artist Lawrence, who is posing as a prince, has his apprentice Freddy pose as his mentally challenged brother Ruprecht, who insists on calling their latest mark "Mother," needs to be spoon fed, sometimes flies into violent rages, and will need constant care, in order to scare her out of marrying Lawrence after he's taken her money.
    Lawrence: Thank goodness this will only happen to one out of every three of our children!
  • No Time to Die. Ernst Stavro Blofeld has been in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison for so long he's apparently gone mad, holding long rambling soliloquies with himself. Turns out he is talking to someone, using his bionic eye to see what his henchman Cyclops (who has a similar bionic eye) is seeing and relaying orders through him, thus running SPECTRE by remote control.

  • In the Choose Your Own Adventure novel UFO 54-40, your character has been abducted by aliens. One of your options is to pretend to have a Napoleon Delusion in the hope that they'll reject you as unsuitable and send you back to Earth. It backfires, as the aliens decide to study your strange behaviour more closely in their laboratories.
  • There was an SF story in the '40s or '50s, "Clerical Error", in which a psychiatrist gets himself "accidentally" locked up with an insane patient so he can talk to him.
  • Done by the Sleeper Service in The Culture. Basically, the Culture needs a hidden stash of weapons that can move quickly, build quickly and not attract attention. The solution? Have the Service pretend to be Eccentric (Culture-speak for utterly insane), prepare its Storage bays to be turned into engines, and have it construct LOTS of warships. It works beautifully.
  • In Daystar and Shadow, Diego pretends to be autistic in the hopes of being captured by the New Christians so Robin can follow them and find out where they've taken Diego's sister and Shadow.
  • Don Quixote: In Part II, Chapter XI, Don Quixote claims that from a child I was fond of the play, and in my youth a keen lover of the actor's art." Several critics have toyed with the idea that Don Quixote never lost that passion for theater and behaves like an actor: Don Quixote uses this trope because he does not believe to be a knight, but pretends to be one, as if he's on stage.
  • The method used by the Platinum Dragon god Paladine to aid the heroes as Fizban the Fabulous in the Dragonlance novels.
  • In Dragon Queen, the old man acts crazier than normal for him in order to make Trava look irresponsible.
  • In the Dred Chronicles, Wills, one of the protagonist's gang members, pretends to be a lot less stable than he really is, so as to be overlooked. Mind you, his real belief is worshipping death, so perhaps he's just insane in a different way than he pretends.
  • Justine of The Dresden Files actually was deeply mentally ill when she was first introduced, but when she eventually recovers, she keeps up the act in order to act as a spy on the White Court for Thomas.
  • Mercedes Lackey's Firebird: Ilya pretends to be a fool to keep his brothers from outright killing him, making out as though the last beating they gave him broke his mind.
  • Wonko The Sane from the fourth The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book. Maybe. Or possibly he's a weird mix of "Genius" and "Cloud Cuckoolander"; the fact he behaves exactly the same when no one else is around implies the insanity is not entirely an act.
  • Humanx Commonwealth: In The End of the Matter, the plot revolves around a whimsically insane alien named Abalamahalamatandra (Ab for short) who speaks entirely in nonsense rhymes and appears utterly unaware of the concept of danger. Luckily for it, Ab is apparently immune to most forms of harm, including arrows, poison, and electrocution. It is later discovered that Ab is not, in fact, insane, but is instead a five hundred thousand year old construct programmed with several million languages, all of which it attempts to render in the listener's native phonology. It also turns out to be the key to finding and activating a Lost Superweapon.
  • In Jeeves and Wooster, Jeeves sometimes employs a variation by telling people that Bertie is insane to get him out of trouble. By the end of The Inimitable Jeeves, Bertie estimates that about half of London must now think he's off his rocker.
  • It's implied that Elodin uses some form of this in The Kingkiller Chronicle. Rather like a few other examples on this page, just how much is actual insanity and how much is him playing it up is up for debate.
  • Bartholomew the Village Idiot/Cynic in Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, though the "obfuscating" part is... questionable, especially when considering conversations like this:
    Biff: I have to go find Joshua.
    Bartholomew: You know he is the Messiah, don't you?
    Biff: Wait a minute, you're not a Jew— I thought you didn't believe in any religion.
    Bart: The dogs told me he was the Messiah. I believe them. Tell Joshua I believe them.
    Biff: The dogs told you?
    Bart: They're Jewish dogs.
  • In The Machineries of Empire it eventually turns out that Jedao's supposed psychotic break was a planned and premediated thing and he's perfectly fine in the head, if too extremist for anyone's good.
  • It's really hard to tell if Iskaral Pust from the Malazan Book of the Fallen is faking his absolutely erratic dialogue and cripplingly clumsy behaviour, which includes stating that "she's falling for my clever scheme" to the face of the person he's trying to manipulate, or if he just happens to be both rather bright and totally nuts. He certainly is effective in reaching his goals despite his quirks.
  • The old king in Once Upon a Marigold realizes that his evil and ambitious wife is slowly poisoning him. But even though he throws out his daily "medicine", he pretends to be crazy and senile as well as sick so he can keep a watch on her without arousing her suspicions.
  • In Penryn and the End of Days, not even Penryn knows how sane her mother is. If the demons and ghosts she keeps talking to are real or due to her paranoid schizophrenia remains unexplained. In World After, she certainly helped some people who were seemingly dead but actually just paralyzed to stay alive by making them look like part of a satanic ritual. No one wanted to touch them, while all the other victims got Buried Alive. There is also the pet tracker with the chips sewn into the starburst she sews on every single one of Penryn and Paige's pants "for protection".
  • Phryne Fisher: The murderer in Death in Daylesford has spent years establishing a persona that would allow him to plead Insanity. Phryne only gets an insight into his true calculating personality when she sees him playing a masterful strategy in bridge. Ultimately, however, he decides it is Better to Die than Be Killed and takes a Cyanide Pill after he is caught.
  • Psmith owes his invincibility to the fact that he acts like a complete Cloudcuckoolander while always remaining on top of the situation.
  • The Radix: Cori's backstory. She was put into the asylum as a part of an experiment, to see if doctors can tell a sane person from a mad. She also fakes insanity when she first meets Adriana Borgia, to pose as a harmless lunatic.
  • In the first Redwall book, Matthias manages to avoid being killed by King Bull Sparra by pretending to be stark raving mad. That said, Bull Sparra, who's no stranger to insanity himself, does seem to figure out Matthias isn't quite as insane as he pretends to be (even correctly guessing Matthias knows about Martin the Warrior's sword).
  • Saturnin: The Grandfather eventually uses this tactic to deal with Aunt Kateřina's ingratiations.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Singular Case of the Duplicate Holmes, Lady Featherstone comments that people aren't particularly cautious about what they say around her, figuring she's too old and senile to understand what is being said. In reality, she's still quite mentally sharp, but she allows people to think otherwise.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Historical Fantasy novel The Spirit Ring, the character of Lord Pia—a castellan, now imprisoned in his own castle by the man who slew the Duke whom Pia originally served, and seemingly violently insane (and also obsessed with bats)—seems to be a case of the "maybe more than a little crazy, but also playing it up for effect" variety. Pia's obsession with bats does date back to before his imprisonment (and is perhaps only a harmless eccentricity), but at the end of the book he is described as recovering from the "overstressed dementia" of the days of his imprisonment. He is nonetheless capable, even at his apparently craziest, of making and executing complex plans against his enemies. When he first meets the man one of the protagonists of the book wonders if Pia is really mad, or only pretending, or perhaps both at once.
  • Sword of Truth: Temple of the Winds: A powerful wizard/sorceress combo are captured by a magic nullifying savages who want to sacrifice them. Solution? Pretend to be completely insane so the tribe won't consider them a proper sacrifice. Instead, they are sold to slavery... where their lack of working skills gets them sold again... to cannibals. Though said cannibals turn out to be their friends the Mud People so it's actually a good thing.
  • Treasure Island: Ben Gunn. Lived alone on the island for three years after being marooned, found at least one dead body of a possible former shipmate, had the murderous living nightmare of his life return, and knew that if he didn't cut a deal with Livesley's group, the pirates would cut him down. Yet he managed to prove a firm ally, helped retrieve Jim from the pirates, sail the ship to a safe port, and had moved the treasure to a new hiding place!. He's still obsessed with cheese, though.
  • John Christopher's YA SF The Tripods series. The hero and his cousin are first informed of the resistance's existence by a wandering man who appears to be crazy. He informs them of the resistance in a speech to them that includes the phrases "And I was born on a rainy morning" and "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings..." as camouflage.
  • The White Queen in The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign gives the initial impression of being a psychopathic Yandere obsessed with the main character Kyousuke. Among other things, she claims to want to murder any girl whose name Kyousuke says in front of her. However, it soon becomes apparent that she's far more composed than she claims. At one point, she disguises herself as someone else, and doesn't react to Kyousuke repeatedly interacting with other girls in front of her. When she reveals herself, she speaks cordially with one of the girls in question, even though there's no more need for the act, confirming that this isn't actually a Berserk Button for her.
  • Subverted in The Witches of Worm where Jessica tries faking an Ambiguous Disorder to get out of trouble, but quickly learns that when a child starts acting a little bit crazy, the reaction is often more toward drugs and institutions and of forgiving them their offenses.
  • in "the Diabolic" by S.J. Kincaid, Tyrus pretends to be mad to avoid being bumped off by his grandmother

    Live-Action TV 
  • Liz Lemon of 30 Rock has gotten out of jury duty multiple times by cosplaying as Princess Leia and claiming to be a hologram. Sadly, this doesn't quite cut it in New York.
  • Arrow. In "Unfinished Business", the drug Vertigo is back on the street so Oliver Queen goes to visit The Count only to find him a gibbering wreck, languishing in a mental hospital. However he then escapes, making it seem like he was faking. Then it's revealed that the escape was faked by a member of the hospital staff who worked out how to synthesize Vertigo and was posing as The Count to conceal his actions (though the Count recovers and escapes for real in a later episode).
  • The A-Team
    • Murdock was eccentric and likely did suffer from some form of PTSD, but was definitely (maybe) not mad. His team had to break him out of a mental institution in almost every episode. However, at times he faked more extreme insanity to get into an asylum in order to break someone else out, or take down a gun smuggling ring or something. Of course, he might have exaggerated the problem more regularly for the free accommodation and the nurses, or just to irritate B.A. When the situation called for it, Murdock could act completely sane(-ish) and coldly competent.
    • In one episode, his psychiatrist even calls him out on it that he knows Murdock is sane and simply putting on a VERY good act. Faking insanity not only gave him free room and board at the VA, but also could be a safeguard against any criminal charges. Most of his "insane" actions seemed designed more to deliberately irritate B.A.
      • At the end of the episode in question, though, Murdock's psychiatrist is taken away by orderlies. He had gone mad and released all of his patients
    • In the Season 5 premiere episode, Murdock delivers a pair of hired goons, handcuffed, to General Hunt Stockwell — who'd sent them after Murdock. Murdock says that their buddy will check in as well, once he checks out of the local emergency room. Stockwell smiles and says that the psychiatrist who diagnosed Murdock as insane should have his licences permanently revoked.
    • In season 5 he was declared sane. The issue of whether he was ever insane was intentionally blurry. It's best summed up by his answer to the question "are you OK?": "That has never been satisfactorily determined". He had some very lucid moments in that episode.
  • In the Blackadder Goes Forth finale, Blackadder plans to try this to get out of the Big Push (putting his underwear on his head and sticking pencils up his nostrils), but is forced to change his plans when he overhears General Melchett say he had to shoot an entire platoon for doing the very same thing (via the very same method). Melchett walks in to find Blackadder mid-sentence: "... and the other thing they used to do in the Sudan was get dressed up like this and pretend to be mad." For further Dramatic Irony, he tries to cash in a favor from General Douglas Haig himself to get out of the offensive and all Haig cares to provide is the advice to do that same thing Blackadder tried at the beginning before hanging up. As he later tells Baldrick just prior to going "over the top", it was bound to fail anyway:
    Blackadder: I mean, who would have noticed another madman 'round here?
  • In the first episode of Bottom, Eddie and Richie avoid incurring the wrath of a man whose wife they just hit on by pretending to be "mere loonies".
  • The Brokenwood Mysteries: In one episode, a man living in a dementia care home turns out to have been exaggerating his senility, using his status as a dementia patient to escape suspicion about the threatening notes he was leaving at a man’s doorstep.
  • On Bull, Hazel Diaz has been a major drug lord for almost 30 years. She brilliantly acts in public like she's mentally ill, even talking to thin air and wild acts. Thus, any time she's arrested, her lawyer argues she's not fit for trial, she goes to a mental ward for a bit then back on the streets. When he's called in for her latest case, Bull is both impressed and amazed at how Diaz has been pulling this act off for so long (as he points out, she's showing too many symptoms to be real) and accepts the challenge of proving she's a fraud in court.
  • This is played with on Castle. A witness in a cold case from 1978 really does believe that it is still The '70s and flies into rage whenever someone confronts him with the truth. After a hitman tries to kill the witness, Castle and Beckett decide that the only way to get the witness to open up is to have everyone pretend that it is 1978 and dress and act accordingly. However, the murder attempt actually shocked the witness back into reality and he quickly pieces together what really happened in 1978. He pretends to still be insane and plays along with the cops' charade so he can get close to the man he thinks killed his best friend in 1978.
  • In Season 2 of Community, Abed is cornered by Chang when the study group invites a number of their classmates to a mixer to select a new member. When Chang demands to know why he wasn't invited, and refuses to believe Abed's excuses, Abed starts repeating himself like a glitching robot until Chang leaves. He then stops and mutters to himself, "Works every time." Given that this is Chang we're talking about, it's actually quite a feat to act crazy enough to make him uncomfortable.
  • Devs: Lily fakes a schizophrenic episode as part of a ploy with a friend to steal some security camera footage from her company. This comes back to bite her when the company follows up by giving her a mental health screening, forcing her to pretend to be schizophrenic to a licensed physician and thus putting her mental illness on record, giving the company deniability against any of her accusations.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor, particularly in his fourth and eleventh incarnations. He's very much of the genuinely a bit nutty variety — his eighth incarnation, in the novels, has difficulties remembering that TV is not Real Life and consequently runs the risk of being Driven to Suicide by EastEnders. However, no matter just how capriciously, adorkably batty (or occasionally twistedly, obsessively deranged) the Doctor is, there is always that moment when he goes deadly serious, and then you remember that this seemingly flighty alien is capable of bringing thousands of alien ships to a standstill, is responsible for multiple genocides and has saved countless billions of lives and — oh yes — the very fabric of the universe itself. He doesn't look quite so adorable now, does he?
    • "The Invasion of Time": The Doctor spends most of the plot acting like a manic, mood-swinging, power-crazy, Evil Laughing backstabbing tyrant, without even letting his companions in on what he's doing. Of course it's as part of a complicated Batman Gambit to save the Time Lords from an invasion (while also, hopefully, scaring them into drastically changing their political system — or at least getting a good time out of it).
    • The uncompleted story "Shada" had a unique variant of the trope: Salyavin does this to himself, where he locks away that part of his mind and pretends to be the harmless, slightly barmy Professor Chronotis.
    • "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End": Dalek Caan does this in order to prevent the other Daleks and Davros from destroying the whole of creation. It is possible that he is still mad, as he gives off most of the Mad Oracle tropes, but he is much more in control of his actions — and, for that matter, everyone else's — than anyone expects until it is too late for anyone to do anything about it.
    • "The Beast Below": The Doctor, having noticed something odd about Starship UK, grabs a glass of water off a table and puts it on the floor. He gives the following "excuse" to the people sitting at said table:
      "Sorry, checking all the water in this area. There's an escaped fish."
  • Ellery Queen: Lamont Franklin in "The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer" appears to have gone senile, wanting to do nothing else but play with his electric trains all day. It's all an act; he's merely pretending to have gone crazy so that he can work on his revolutionary new invention in peace.
  • Farscape
    • Stark was pulling this off when John first met him. He was slightly off to begin with but played up his mental state to fool his captors. As the show progresses and the traumas pile up his genuine insanity becomes far worse than his initial pretense ever was.
    • Crichton is also on the brink of insanity, but except for the actual, uncontrollable consequences of Scorpius being inside his head, he's mostly faking insanity, and sometimes running with it.note 
      • Also worth noting is the time that he gatecrashed a summit between two rival empires both of which had previously mind-raped him and would like to try again. Then started dancing on the table. With a nuclear bomb strapped to his hip. The degree to which they decided to treat him as a dangerous lunatic just helped his plans.
  • The 2020 miniseries The Head involves several murders among the winter-over crew of an Antarctic research station. A young woman who survived is suffering from Polar T3 syndrome, so the details have to be slowly coaxed out of her. When she gets on the helicopter to return home however, her hands stop trembling and we get The Reveal that she's actually the killer, though as she then hallucinates one of her victims it's left ambiguous as to whether she really did go crazy.
  • Himmelsdalen:
    • Enzo faked having sociopathy, thinking he'd get better treatment in a mental institution vs. prison. This ended up just backfiring however, as now he may never leave, and every attempt to prove he's not a sociopath has been taken as sociopathic manipulation.
    • Dr. Fisher turns out to have multiple "in beds" (psychiatrists undercover) within the patients. "Margot", real name Jane Taylor, turns out to be one.
  • Jack of All Trades had King George act insane to throw off Napoleon.
  • Not exactly insanity, but in Just Shoot Me!, Elliot's brother Donnie fakes being mentally handicapped to leech off everyone else.
  • In the Kraft Suspense Theatre episode "That Time in Havana", artist Conrad Easter, an American living in Cuba, seems to be an alcoholic Cloudcuckoolander. Actually, he's working with a cell of anti-Castro guerrillas, and he convinces the protagonists to hand over their million dollar stash so the rebels can buy guns and feed their families.
  • Law & Order played this for drama.
    • One person tried to get the Insanity Defense by acting like an actual insane person (voices in head, very erratic behavior, etc.) but wasn't able fool the prosecution's psychologist.
    • There's a Law & Order episode that, of course, mixes this plot up with Henry Hill writing GoodFellas. A mob guy in Witness Protection is killed, and the Don who's supposedly responsible is currently in the grips of Alzheimer's. That is, until the prosecution discovers a passage in the mob guy's novel where said Don said that if he ever found himself prosecuted, he'd fake mental illness....
  • On one episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Detective Goren faked insanity in order to go on an unauthorized investigation of a mental institution suspected of abusing its inmates. It works a little too well... not only does he become a victim of the abuse himself, but when he's finally busted out, the department responds by placing him on indefinite psychological leave, thinking he might not have been faking it.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • A defendant on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit almost got away with it, until they found the books that she had obtained just before her crime about the very disorder she was faking.
    • Stabler once pulled this in court, pretending that he was high on mushroom vapors to stop a False Confession.
    • Munch also pulls this once, pretending to be a homeless madman in order to draw out a gang of thugs who attack the homeless.
  • Legend of the Seeker: Zeddicus Zul Zorander (Zed) is known as 'that crazy old guy who talks to his chickens'. As it turns out, he saved the Titular Hero's life as a baby, broke through a magical barrier, and brought him to a loving family. He's also a very powerful wizard.
  • A small one on NCIS: Los Angeles when Kensi is searching for their suspect in a nightclub; as a beautiful woman, she sits at a bar and lets the men approach while her team checks them out behind the scenes. When she gets the word to cut them lose, this is the ploy she uses to scare them off. It's effective and she gets to keep the free drink.
  • Corporal Klinger of M*A*S*H is all about this trope, spending the first six seasons of the series attempting to secure a Section 8 discharge through a variety of methods (most notably by donning women's clothing).
    • The closest he came was by pretending to not be aware that he was in the Army or in Korea. Colonel Potter was filling out the discharge papers and Klinger still kept up the act... Until Potter asked him his rank and he automatically replied "Corporal".
      Potter: (gleefully) GOTCHA!
    • Hawkeye pulls this in a bid to get an R&R pass to Tokyo in "Bananas, Crackers and Nuts".
  • It's debateable how much of this is deliberate, but Merlin from Merlin (2008) is known around the castle as "that weird manservant of Arthur's who isn't quite right in the head" and to most of the cast is a complete Cloudcuckoolander. In reality, he's not even an Inept Mage, and is in fact smarter than most of the rest of the cast combined.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Talking to the Dead", the murderer pretends to have gone gibberingly mad; having been driven into a dissociative state by something he encountered in the woods. His act is very convincing, and it takes Barnaby some time to rumble him. By the end of the episode (after the murderer confesses), Barnaby starts to think he may no longer be acting and may be genuinely going mad.
  • In Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: In the "Bullies" episode, Gordy advises Ned to act crazy so Loomer will be too scared to beat him up. It works to a degree; Loomer isn't scared, but too weirded out to beat Ned up.
  • Dave on NewsRadio feigns insanity whenever he wants Matthew out of his hair. He then passes the tip on to Lisa, who passes it on to Beth, who tells Matthew, who wonders if anyone's ever done it to him.
  • The Office (US) used this in the episode "Murder", calling into question Michael's characterization for much of the series. In season 6, the office is being co-managed by Michael and Jim. When rumors spread that the company is about to go bankrupt, the workers begin to panic that they will lose their jobs. Jim's solution is to insist that everyone just keep working and not worry. Michael's is to drag everyone into a murder mystery role-playing game. As the news worsens, Jim gets more aggravated, and Michael tries more desperately to keep the game going. Eventually, Michael seems unable to break character, leading the others to fear that he's snapped. But after Jim ends up being the only one to know just how bad the situation is, the episode ends with these confessionals:
    Jim: I think today was a good day to have two managers, because if you're a family stuck on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, one parent might want to just keep rowing. But if the other parent wants to play a game, it's not because they're crazy. It's because they're doing it for the kids, and I get that now.
    Michael: [in character] There has been a lot of murder, and a lot of intrigue. My little heart can barely take it no more. [breaking character] Today is the hardest I have worked in a long, long time.
  • On Orange Is the New Black, Piper assumes that fellow inmate Flores is crazy because every day she goes to the bathroom and has animated conversations with "Diablo". It turns that "Diablo" is her boyfriend and she is talking to him with a contraband cell phone.
  • William Giles in Oz really did have Alzheimer's, but was more lucid than he let on. When asked to choose his method of execution he requested to be stoned to death, knowing that his execution would be stalled by lawsuits from outraged civil rights groups and he would likely die of old age before it could be carried out.
  • Jarod feigned insanity in an episode of The Pretender in order to get himself thrown in the loony bin as part of his plan to bring down the villain of the week.
  • In Psych episode "Shawn Interrupted", Lassiter thinks a suspect he arrested is doing this to serve his sentence in a mental hospital instead of prison, but Shawn figures out that not only is the man genuinely insane, he didn't commit the murder in the first place.
  • Rome. Jocasta mentions doing this as a response to Cleopatra's God Save Us from the Queen! moments. Given that she's something of a Talkative Loon (especially during that scene) there's no doubt that she could pull off the deception brilliantly.
  • Helen Magnus pulls this in the Sanctuary episode "Veritas" by actually making herself a bit crazy with the aid of some Applied Phlebotinum.
  • In the mini-series Shogun (based on the novel by James Clavell), Toranaga is being smuggled out of his castle in a litter. Someone gets suspicious and goes to look inside, so Blackthorne pretends to suffer a fit of madness as a distraction, which nearly gets him killed but is ultimately successful.
  • The Sopranos: Old mafia widow Livia Soprano engineers a hit on her son Tony, and though she is definitely somewhat senile, it's heavily implied that she's playing it up to give herself some plausible deniability after the plan fails.
  • Spartacus: Vengeance has a tricky one, since Lucretia often appears insane to the viewers, but to the Romans she appears perfectly sane. She's faking the whole thing to get vengeance on Ilithyia. But she is at least a little crazy.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: in "The Enterprise Incident", Kirk pretends to be insane so that when he orders the Enterprise to cross the Neutral Zone, if everything on the mission goes to hell, Starfleet won't be blamed because it was clearly the action of a madman.
  • A season 5 episode of Supernatural has Sam and Dean break into an insane asylum by telling their life story.
  • Lord John Marbury in The West Wing, although it's unclear whether he's this trope played straight or a Cloudcuckoolander who pretends to be even crazier than he actually is.
  • Mulder of The X-Files, thought to be brilliant but insane by his peers for his belief in the paranormal, tends to react this way when confronted by his closed minded colleagues. For example, in "Squeeze":
    Agent: So, Mulder, whaddaya think? This look like the work of little green men?
    Mulder: Gray.
    Agent: What?
    Mulder: Gray. You said "green men". A Reticulian's skin tone is gray. They're notorious for their extraction of terrestrial human livers, due to iron depletion in the Reticulum galaxy.
    Agent: You can't be serious.
    Mulder: Do you know how much liver and onions go for on Reticulum?
    • He explains in the same episode that he runs into so many hostile people who can't open their minds to extreme possibilities that he can't resist messing with their heads, even if it means they think he's insane.

  • In Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant", he describes attempting this during his Vietnam War draft registration.
    "I went up there, I said, 'Shrink, I wanna kill. I mean, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead, burnt bodies. I mean, kill. Kill. KILL! KILL!' And I started jumpin' up and down, yellin', 'KILLLL! KILLLL!' And he started jumpin' up and down with me, and we was both jumpin' up and down, yellin' 'KILLLL! KILLLL!' And the sergeant came over, pinned a medal on me, sent me down the hall, and said, 'You're our boy.'"
  • "Mad John", from The Small Faces album Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake.
    There was an old man who lived in the greenwood
    Nobody knew him or what he had done
    But mothers would say to their children beware of Mad John.
    John would sing with the birds in the morning
    Laugh with the wind in the cold end of night
    But people from behind their curtains, said he's not quite right.

    Myths & Religion 
  • According to The Trojan Cycle, Odysseus really did not want to go to war in Troy, and attempted to invoke this trope by sowing and ploughing his fields with salt. Palamedes saw right through the ploy and tested Odysseus by putting his newborn son Telemachus in the plough's path; when Odysseus swerved to avoid him, it proved that he was perfectly sane. Considering what happens to him afterwards, though... The worst part is that in some versions, he gave Menelaus the idea and authority to draft everyone else should Helen be abducted.
  • In The Bible:
    • David (of David and Goliath fame) was forced to flee (from Saul) into exile at the court of the King of Gath (Goliath's hometown), who happened to be an enemy of Israel. When the King of Gath recognizes him as an anti-Philistine guerrilla warrior, David pretended to be a raving madman, causing the king to think him harmless.
    • Several Hebrew prophets were instructed by God to act in seemingly crazy ways to illustrate various parables. Isaiah walked barefoot and half-naked for three years to symbolize the Israelites' coming captivity; Ezekiel lay on a stone to represent the captivity of Jerusalem; Hosea married a prostitute to symbolize God's love for faithless Israel.
    • In the New Testament Book of Corinthians, the apostle Paul mentions "foolishness for Christ" on several occasions:
    "We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised." (1 Corithians 4:10 KJV).
  • The "Holy Fool" or yurodivy in Orthodox Christian tradition is a figure who acts insane in public to preserve his humility while providing a cover for secretly doing good works. They are known to go around half-naked, homeless, and speaking in riddles, often acting wild and disruptive, and only doing charity or working miracles out of public view. Similarly to a Court Jester, their feigned insanity can also let them get away with making social commentary that would get other people in trouble. Famous examples include St. Simeon of Emesa (the Patron Saint of holy fools), Brother Juniper (an early follower of St. Francis) and St. Basil Fool for Christ (who is so revered in Russian Orthodoxy that the iconic St. Basil's Cathedral is named for him).
    • One story tells of a monk who tells his abbott that he would like to become a Holy Fool, but by this time enough people know that Holy Fools are only feigning their insanity, so they look down on them as self-righteous fakers. The abbott ponders this and then advises the monk to go ahead and become a Holy Fool anyway, since being condemned as a self-righteous faker when you're not is just as good a way to cultivate humility.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Pro wrestler Brian Pillman is a prime example of this. He developed his "Loose Cannon" gimmick of behaving incredibly erratically, not just at shows, but everywhere he could, to make people genuinely believe he was a nut, in order to get WCW, the company he was working for, to "fire him for real" (as in, send him a real release for a fake firing), which he immediately signed and jumped ship. As his body was deteriorating, particularly his ankle due to a car crash in 1996, it was a way to keep himself on TV in ECW and WWE without him having to wrestle. Before his death, he only let a handful of people he truly respected in on how deep into character he was, and not actually insane.

  • Bleak Expectations: At the end of series one, Agnes Bin reveals at least some of her grief induced madness has been an act, mainly to stop Mr. Benevolent forcibly marrying her. As to why she never told her son this when they were alone together... well, it's a comedy.
  • How Green Was My Cactus had treasurer Paul Bearer wearing a chicken on his head as a means of deflecting questions about the economy. While he was wearing a chicken on his head, not a single person thought to ask him a question about the economy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: Clan Malkavian uses two different levels of this.
    • First, all Malkavians are innately insane, but most of them also have psychic visions of the future. But those who do obscure their visions by acting so crazy that only their allies who are in the know would trust any of their rantings.
    • Secondly, the majority of them exaggerate the degree of their crazy — for example, a Malk with mild hallucinations will pretend to be wildly schizophrenic. This is so that their fellow vampires won't take them seriously or see them as a threat until they suddenly turn incredibly calm and lucid. The only vampires who have caught onto the Malkavians' Obfuscating Insanity are those of Clan Tremere, and the Malkavians are aware of that.
    "They. Are on. To us."
    • Players of Malkavians also exploit this since people are less likely to expect you to account for your actions if you're playing a Malkavian, which can make for a smoother gaming experience. Bad players doing so can gain reputations as Cloudcuckoolanders.

  • The title character of Hamlet. Among his tactics were absurd self-contradictions, irrational and sudden tirades, and general oddness. How much of his insanity is simulated, is the subject of some debate.
  • Hamlet's predecessor Amlaeth is much less ambiguous, largely because the Norse audience of the saga were fully aware that the insane were regarded with superstitious respect and nobody dared kill them and had no problem with a man on a quest for revenge succeeding in his plan and living happily ever after. Shakespeare either did not understand why Amlaeth's plan actually is a clever way to avoid being killed and needed to rewrite the ending into a tragedy, and so wrote Hamlet as much more of an erratic idiot, or understood perfectly well, but understood that for an audience that did not have a superstitious dread of the insane, the story would be much more powerful and affecting if it were more ambiguous as to whether Hamlet were insane.
  • Titus in Titus Andronicus. Knowing that he's having a sanity slippage, his enemies, the Roman Queen and her two sons, dress up as spirits and pretend to make a deal with him so he would think it's for his benefits. He comes out and interacts with them quite cordially... aaaaaaand captures the two sons. He was insane but he wasn't fooled one bit.
  • Edgar's masquerade as "Tom O'Bedlam" in King Lear.
  • After first meeting Freddie in Chess, Molokov decides that he must be insane, and therefore easy to beat, but Anatoly thinks he's trying to pull this trope: "That's the problem — he's a brilliant lunatic, and you can't tell which way he'll jump. You can't dissect him, predict him... which of course means he's not a lunatic at all." It turns out that Freddie is just as screwed-up as all the other characters are, if not moreso.
  • Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew, already somewhat eccentric, puts everyone under the impression that he's stark staring mad as part of his plot to tame Katherina.

    Video Games 
  • The Infohut Guy from Deadly Rooms of Death acts like his mind has snapped, (which is something you can't really blame him for) but he certainly knows what's what. Case in point, when Beethro asks how to get to the bottom of a three-mile-deep pit, Infohut guy implies jumping in. When Beethro tries to put it bluntly, Infohut guy calls Beethro out on how stupid the idea is and shows him a three-mile rope. It's pretty likely that he doesn't do this on purpose.
  • Falitza from The Reconstruction fits this trope to the T. She allegedly destroyed her mind by "peering into the unknown", but it was all because she was sick of being "little miss perfect" all the time.
  • Far Cry 3 has an interesting variation of this trope explained to Jason (our protagonist) by the main villain Vaas near the middle of the game. Vaas explains in a rather eloquent fashion that insanity is defined as repetitious cycles of behavior done with the expectation that a different result will come from it. When he first heard that he thought it was "bullshit" and even shot the guy who told him that. Actually taking time to look at people around him, Vaas realized that insanity is the norm for humanity because people really do have everyday moments of insanity that they don't even realize that they commit, so in actual fact Obfuscating Sanity is the fake persona because deep down everyone is insane in some way. A major theme of the story is the idea that men being left to their own devices without civilization to bog them down will become immoral animals and do whatever they want. This is explicitly pointed out by the developers that Vaas is supposed to unsettle us because it makes us wonder if it's true that we might become something vile like him if we were left to our devices.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness, is definitely insane. There is no denying that. But since he consistently seems to be ten steps ahead of everyone else, it's likely that Sheogorath plays up his madness to hide the fact he's far more on the ball than he lets on. Further, After the Champion of Cyrodiil assumes the mantle of Sheogorath, it begs the question if his behavior in Skyrim is due to inheriting the mantle of Sheogorath, or if it's merely an affectation for when he deals with mortals.
    • In Skyrim, Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone of Morthal is "gifted" with premonition, and some people think she's crazy. She doesn't give the Dragonborn the impression that she is, however, she does give the impression that she is no stranger to faking her visions, coupled with the fact that she's old, and "an old woman can get away with anything", she's the perfect person to arrange a distraction at the Thalmor embassy party.
  • In Heroes Chronicles' Dungeon campaign, Tarnum occasionally uses this to prevent his Always Chaotic Evil servants from figuring out he's actually a good guy.
  • In Tears to Tiara 2 As Hamil is being taken over by Melqart's Blood Lust, he pretends that he's already taken over so that Tart would kill him before he's taken over and kills her. She sees through it right away and chooses to be eaten alive rather than kill him. This prompts him to try to kill himself instead.
  • Ormus the mad mage in Diablo II is a Third-Person Person who speaks almost entirely in obtuse riddles, and is strongly implied to be a lot smarter than he wants people to think he is.
  • Similarly, Covetous Shen in Diablo III tends to wander off into old-man ramblings, repeatedly gets lost in underground sewers, and frequently talks about nonsensical tangents, to the point that the Nephalem eventually either dismisses the conversation or gives up on the whole thing. It does a good job of hiding the fact that he's actually a minor god who knows far, far more than he lets on.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: It's difficult to tell if the Sith classes (particularly the formerly enslaved Inquisitor) are genuinely cracked in the head or playing it up to Troll their many enemies.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, it certainly appears that Anju's grandmother is quite senile, mistaking both you and Anju for Anju's father, as well as mistaking you for Kafei's father if you wear the Kafei Mask. However, if you read her diary, you find out that she's faking it in order to get out of having to eat Anju's terrible cooking.
  • Some people believe that Trevor, one of the protagonists in Grand Theft Auto V does this. While he is not exactly sane, he just might be faking some of the craziest actions we see; most notably, during a meeting, he eats some stew (presumably) made from people, yet vomits it back out after everybody has left, indicating that he did it to intimidate. Additionally, while his text messages to other protagonists are badly written, his messages to his right-hand man Ron are much better written.
  • Played with in Final Fantasy X. No one believes that Tidus is really from 1000 years in the past; they think he is suffering the effects of exposure to Sin's toxin. Rather than try to get people to believe his story, Tidus goes along with this explanation, though he often forgets his cover and blurts out the truth.
  • In Fate/Grand Order, Berserker Eric Bloodaxe is apparently only pretending to be an insane Screaming Warrior to avoid conversation, out of faithfulness/fear to his wife. Since it's normal for Berserkers to be insane and unintelligible anyway, nobody ever questions it.
  • Goro Majima of the Yakuza series presents himself as a cackling madman ready and able to go nuts on friend or foe at a moments notice, but later developments establish this is a façade he uses to keep himself from being under anyone's thumb but his own, and his exterior hides a remarkably intelligent and deep person within. Truly, Majima is a calculating and savvy man- he helped turn two failing clubs in the 80s into the biggest moneymakers in Sotenbori in Yakuza 0, outmaneuvered an attempt by Terada to put a Yes-Man in the captain's seat in his side campaign in Yakuza Kiwami 2 through using the man's own rules against him, and even managed to run a successful and productive construction company without having any construction experience whatsoever that built one of the largest buildings in the entire city. When when he drops the façade completely, it's always a sign that something has gone very wrong (and the bad guys are in for a world of hurt).

    Visual Novels 
  • Yanni Yogi from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney did this, but having to keep the act up for so long particularly losing his wife to suicide as a consequence strained him immensely and he eventually snapped.
  • Anghel Higure from Hatoful Boyfriend actually does suffer from hallucinations of an alternate reality along the lines of a (terribly cheesy) fantasy manga, but the Legumentine's encounter does leave the player character wondering how much of it he's faking to avoid embarrassing himself in front of peers. He also inverts this trope by carefully (and effectively) feigning sanity to his mother.
  • In the novella for Spirit Hunter: NG, Yasuko is fully aware that the children and fetuses she steals from the hospital aren't hers, but she pretends to delusionally believe it so that the police's judgement of her will be less severe.

    Web Animation 
  • The Grand Finale of Season 1 of Inanimate Insanity reveals that Taco had been completely lucid the entire time. And she deliberately pretended to be a babbling loon just so she would be regarded as Too Quirky to Lose.
  • RWBY: Tyrian Callows is an Ax-Crazy, serial killing Blood Knight under the personal employ of Salem. Despite his evidently blood-thirsty nature, he's repeatedly shown to be far more cunning (by disguising his venomous scorpion tail as a belt before requiring it in combat), manipulative (as seen when he goads Qrow into pulling an Enemy Mine against Clover, resulting in the latter's death), and perceptive (by tearing apart Mercury's reasons for working for the Big Bad) than he seems on the surface.

  • Drowtales: Mel'arnach may be a crazy spider lady and notorious lesbian, but she is NOT nearly as Axe-Crazy as her reputation suggests. The fact that she's actually the protagonist Ariel's biological mother and the later revelation that this is an act specifically so she'll be left alone is part of the overall reveal that she's one of the most complicated characters in the entire story.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Lord Shojo, ruler of Azure City, deliberately pretends to be senile so that his enemies don't try and assassinate him. If he does what they want, they assume that they manipulated him, while if he doesn't do what they want, they assume that he is being manipulated by one of their enemies. He also uses this so that his paladins don't get suspicious if he takes actions that would break the Sapphire Guard's restrictive code of honor if people thought he was making them lucidly. His legal adviser, Mr. Scruffy, is an ordinary housecat.
    • In the Stick Tale "The Tragedy of Greenhilt, Prince of Denmark", Prince Greenhilt (Hamlet, played by Roy) and Shojonius (Polonius, played by Shojo) both pretend to be crazy. Gets a big lampshade after Greenhilt kills Shojonius.
  • Ed from Paranatural hints at this - to cover up his ability to see ghosts, he pretends to be even more of a goofy Cloudcuckoolander than he actually is.
  • Sluggy Freelance: In "Mohkadun", Gwynn gets her mind magically switched into the body of Queen Siphaniana of Mohkadun in the far past. Not even knowing the local language, she's thought to be insane at first, and as she learns the language and figures out what's going on, she continues to feign insanity to the king with the help of Elder Soco who was given the task of healing her, because she doesn't want to either play the part of the king's wife or to be beheaded for not being her.
  • In Unsounded Cutter secretly the Black Tongue Delicieu hides beneath the mask of a whimsical rhyming lizard an equally crazy but far more calculating and controlled personality.
  • In one strip of Wapsi Square, Bud uses this method to keep police officers from asking questions about a loud boom and flash of light. It was actually caused when she threw an object into the sun.

    Web Original 
  • In KateModern: The Last Work, Joseph does this to fool Gavin into thinking he's harmless.
  • SCP Foundation: Dr. Clef is unable to be photographed, gives his name as a chord on a ukelele (making him a habitual lyre) and is perhaps most adequately described in an interview where he freaked out the psychiatrist. He's also a senior agent and a Magnificent Bastard, so don't mess with him. He also sometimes claims to be The Devil — though immediately proceeds to go over the top until this is dismissed completely—and has just enough of suspicious incidents to make this hypothesis plausible.
  • Doctor Steel: "Hello, my name is Dr. Phineas Waldolf Steel and I'm crazy. At least that's what they tell me. It's a real load off of my mind, too. I mean, you can get away with pretty much anything if you're bonkers. It really relieves a lot of pressure and responsibility for me."
  • Survival of the Fittest: When she first appears on the island, Liz Polanski's first actions are to make herself appear as Ax-Crazy as possible to ward off potential attackers. How does she do this? By, among other things, smearing her face with make-up and severing the head off one of her classmates' corpse and carrying it around for a while.
  • In the Whateley Universe, there are a few cases of this. Generator intentionally plays up the crazy aspect, wearing both a pacifist and ultraviolent armband, and coming up with insane (yet workable) plans like Radioactive Condor Girl. In the Bad Seeds, though, one has Cheese, someone who plays up the utter lunatic aspect to its full extent. Genre Savvy as most of the Seeds are, though, the smarter ones are absolutely terrified of him.
  • David Thorne, faced with $82 of late fees for some DVDs, rambles them down to a replacement fee. And then immediately finds them without dropping the act, so he'll drop them off later and call it even.
  • Dreamscape: Ethan acts like a total loon...acts. Its all to unnerve others.
    Dylan: But how the hell did you-! Wait...are you FROM that parallel universe?!
    Ethan: AHAHAHAHA! BINGO! You got it! Now I know why my sister enjoys toying with you so much, perhaps I WONT outright kill you after all!
    • His sister, Curien, is the same.
    Curien: Ahahahahahaha! Oh this'll be FUN!

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Iroh pretends to go insane when he's imprisoned, to a rather disturbing effect. He does drop the act for one particularly friendly, kind guard - but when nobody's looking, he's actually bulking up to prepare for his escape.
    • King Bumi, on the other hand, is exactly as insane as he appears. It's just that he is also as competent as he is crazy.
  • Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series. Sure she's nutty but when she needs to turn serious and act sane and competent, such as to impersonate a lawyer to bust a criminal out of jail early, slip undetected into a high security museum to steal a $10 million diamond, or to fake a Heel–Face Turn to lure Batman into a trap (he falls for it, by the way), she doesn't seem so looney. It's also worth pointing out that she was a criminal psychologist before, as Robin put it, "she went bonkers".
  • Big City Greens: The episode “Bill-iever” is about Cricket trying to convince Bill that aliens are real so that he won’t get blamed for destroying his garden. At first, it doesn’t work. Eventually, Cricket poses as an alien in front of Bill, and this seems to have done the trick. Now, Bill is acting incredibly crazy, as he is wearing nothing but his underwear and a Tinfoil Hat, climbs his roof and repeatedly shouts how aliens are real. Eventually, not wanting his father to be humiliated, Cricket admits that he destroyed the garden. Bill, however, reveals that he knew that the “alien” was Cricket the whole time, and he intentionally humiliated himself so that he would admit to what he did.
  • Van Kleiss from Generator Rex pretends to go insane after being forced to work for Black Knight to retrieve the remaining Meta-Nanites. Turns out he was faking his insanity to gain all the power for himself all along.
    Rex: I knew he wasn't crazy!
    everyone else looks at him
    Rex: Okay, he's crazy, but not that kind of crazy.
  • One episode of Drawn Together states (in song, no less) that this is the case for every single Alzheimer's patient. They fake a mental illness so that they're free to do whatever they want when the orderlies aren't around, which works out just fine for Toot until she blabs the secret to the rest of the cast. Although the cast doesn't believe her because they still think she has Alzheimer's, but the other patients decide to kill her anyway.
  • The Futurama episode "Insane In the Mainframe" sees both Bender and Fry being sent to "The HAL Institute for Criminally Insane Robots" after a successful Insanity Defense (the human asylums being overcrowded after poverty was declared a mental illness). While Fry slowly goes insane in this environment, Bender enjoys it and happily fakes insanity.
    Bender: Je suis Napoleon! Heh heh heh heh. No, seriously, I'm not.
  • Gravity Falls. Subverted, with Old Man McGucket, the resident toon loony. Dipper thought after discovering a possible link between him and the Journals that his insanity was an act. In reality, it was genuine and largely self-inflicted after witnessing something terrible while working with the author, and subsequently trying to erase his memory, causing brain damage. After the Society of the Blind Eye is shut down and his memories are returned to him, it's played straight. He keeps up the kook facade even though he's regained enough of his sanity to speak seriously if he needs to.
  • Lampshaded in Hey Arnold!. Arnold does this to avoid a fight with Harold. He tells him that he's crazy and that he shouldn't hit a crazy person.
  • Looney Tunes: In Hare Brush, Elmer Fudd apparently thinks he's a rabbit, while Bugs Bunny (who'd been lured into taking his place in the asylum) is "cured" to think that he's Elmer Fudd. The cartoon ends with Bugs-as-Elmer being hauled off to face tax evasion charges, after which Elmer-as-rabbit tells the audience, "I may be a screwy wabbit... but I'm not going to Alcatwaz!"
  • Rocko's Modern Life: In "Commuted Sentence", a postal worker on a crowded subway car says he's feeling disgruntled. The other passengers immediately clear out, only for the postal worker to start swinging around since he wanted space.
  • The Simpsons. One episode has Homer befriending an obese, white mental patient who claims he's Michael Jackson and talks and acts like him. At the end of the episode, he reveals his name is actually Leon Kompowsky, he's perfectly sane, and he just does the impersonation of Jackson because people enjoy it. Leon's speaking voice was actually performed by Michael Jackson credited as "John Jay Smith" for contractual reasons, with Kipp Lennon providing his singing voice, and Hank Azaria as his normal voice.
  • Subverted with Screwy Squirrel. He breaks out of an asylum then brings watchdog Meathead out. He asks Meathead if he's the one in charge of chasing all the wacky squirrels that break out. When Meathead says "yes," Screwy replies, "Well, you better chase me, chum! I'm nuttier than a fruitcake!"
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Green Goblin is initially presented as a Laughing Mad Cloudcuckoolander villain but proves to actually be The Chessmaster. This is because his true identity is the very sane Corrupt Corporate Executive Norman Osborn, who drops the Goblin's quirky mannerisms and voice when finally unmasked.
  • In season 4 of The Venture Bros., General Trayster tells Hunter Gathers that his office is trashed because he's been turning into a Hulk following gamma ray therapy for his cancer. In truth he's well aware that agents Carholder and Doe are trying to gaslight him into thinking this so that the government will think him insane and remove him from OSI leadership, leaving them both in charge. He's been manipulating events so that Gathers will take his place once Doe and Cardholder get exposed as moles.

    Real Life 
  • Richard Feynman, at least according to his autobiography. Well, he was first diagnosed as "mentally defective" by an army psych, then decided to play along a little. Not that this opinion wasn't mutual — he would have a good chance to be elected as the Patron Saint of "Hard on Soft Science" movement.
  • According to at least one history book, a descendant of Sun Zi (Sun Bin) was arrested and imprisoned because of a jealous rival (Pang Juan) and feigned insanity, eventually to the point of faking his own death note .
  • Another assassin in approximately the same era also feigned insanity to get close to his target. (He got called on his bluff and didn't make it.)
  • Some animal species hunt by jumping around like crazy to confuse and distract their prey, slowly getting closer to them as they jump around until they can strike. Weasels and some foxes do this.
  • Lewis Black invoked this trope in his special "Red, White, and Screwed" on how to deal with terrorism. Paraphrasing: "The only way to defend against crazies is to scare them by acting crazier than them. I should know: we New Yorkers do it all the time." His solution to out-crazy Islamo-terrorists? Elect a dead President: preferably Ronald Reagan.
  • Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union spy during the American Civil War who acted like a crazy homeless person so that the Confederates would leave her alone.
  • There's a a theory about why Ulysses S. Grant didn't object too much to people slandering him as a drunken bum—sometimes the reputation caused people to underestimate him, and he may have used this to his advantage.
  • Kenneth Bianchi, one of the Hillside Stranglers (the other was his cousin, Angelo Buono), tried faking multiple personality disorder to get out of standing trial for his crimes. It didn't work. A doctor believed he was the genuine article, but a real multiple (the famous "Eve") spotted him as a phony.
  • More than one prisoner-of-war has attempted an escape by means of faking insanity; P. R. Reid's book The Colditz Story tells of one officer whose acting was so flawless that Reid's successor as "Escape Officer" did not believe him when Reid reported the attempt-in-progress. (This may have been the inspiration behind an episode of Colditz depicting such an attempt; according to Reid, the officer in question was never repatriated and eventually gave up the ruse.)
  • Even before he was the boss of the Genovese family from 1981 to 2005, Vincent "the Chin" Gigante exploited this and the Wandering Walk of Madness tropes by feigning insanity as part of his strategy to stymie any indictmentsnote . Among other things, he wandered aimlessly around Greenwich Village by dressing shabbily, mumbling gibberish, and urinating in public. It actually worked for many years up until other mobsters stated that the whole thing was a hoax. With the cat now out of the bag, Gigante finally admitted it was faked.
  • Alan Moore:
    • He allegedly wrote up false reports of himself being a child murderer and other horrible things, then sent them to magazines under a fake name so people would think he's insane and won't approach him if they encounter him in public. Rob Liefeld, on the other hand, thinks that Alan is doing this all the time.
    • And then there was Alan's 50th birthday where, instead of boring his friends by going through a midlife crisis, Alan decided to go completely mad and declare himself to be a magician. He still refers to himself as one and is introduced as one in interviews. It helps his case that he believes art to be synonymous with magic, and as an artist, he really is performing magic by telling stories.
    • In one interview, Alan Moore explained how he flatly rejected boatloads of cash offered by Hollywood to make more big screen adaptations of his stories with his name in the writing credits. This actually worried the execs because, as Moore put it: "How can this guy not want money!? What does he want??".
  • The first woman reporter, Nellie Bly, pretended to be crazy so she could get committed and write about lunatic asylums from the inside. It worked too well; when she wanted to leave, she couldn't convince the doctors she was sane, so her editor had to come in with a couple of lawyers. She wrote about brutality, beatings, unsanitary conditions, ice cold baths, lousy food and all the ways that the inmates were denied any sense of self-respect or humanity. The book she wrote is still in print.
  • The Rosenhan experiment. Psychiatrists and students tried to do what Nellie did almost 100 years later. Like her they had no trouble getting in, though leaving was less of a problem. It's partly the reason the DSM-III (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders edition III) was introduced. There's a lot of stuff in that book that reformers argue is normal behavior that has been designated as crazy so insurance companies would pay off. Every edition is bigger and more complex. Currently, they're up to version V. Some of the editors for the DSM-V have come out with concerns that the DSM-V diagnoses relatively normal behaviour as well. It has gotten so nutty in the "bureau of who's sane and who isn't" that many respected psychiatric organizations have officially abandoned the DSM.
    • As a note, the people involved with this were treated rather humanely, unlike the first, but it took them six weeks or so to get let out. This is also used as an example of why anyone studying psychiatry shouldn't be arrogant.
    • Furthermore, the staff at the hospitals never noticed that the "patients" were phonies...but the other patients saw right through them.
  • After his arrest, Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo tried this, acting absolutely batshit in front of investigators and in court, though when alone, he acted completely normal.
  • World War I pilots sometimes used a technique called "jinxing" — flying like you have no idea what you're doing. In addition to any possible psychological edge it offered, jinxing made you unpredictable and thus harder to shoot down. This caught on to such a degree, it evolved into the concept of jinking, a series of quick, evasive dodges and turns specifically designed to avoid gunfire.
  • A Soviet man avoided being drafted to fight in Afghanistan by studying textbooks on mental illness, and then faking it. It worked, but in a textbook case of Gone Horribly Right he wound up feeling crazy in a Soviet mental hospital. He eventually wrote a memoir about it, Teach Yourself Madness.
  • It's possible that Libya's former dictatorial leader, Moammar Gaddafi, was doing this. He was known to behave very bizarrely and might also have been Obfuscating Stupidity, but Wikileaks cables reveal that he was quite the Manipulative Bastard, playing off any number of rivals, subordinates, and his own family members against each other. Nothing prevents him from having been both completely nuts, yet still politically savvy. He wouldn't have been the first ruler to combine the two traits.
  • In 1200, the English village of Gotham (not that one) in Nottinghamshire learned that King John wanted to build a hunting lodge nearby. This meant that the road through the village would be a royal highway, which would mean anyone travelling on it would have to pay more tolls and taxes. So the entire village pretended to be mad, by attempting to imprison a cuckoo by building a fence round its tree, drowning an eel, and trying to rake the moon out of the village pond. Justified by the fact that in the Middle Ages, insanity was believed to be contagious, and therefore a) the idea of an entire village going mad was perfectly believable and b) no-one in their right mind would go anywhere near the place. The hunting lodge was never built.note 
  • Similarly, during Queen Elizabeth the First's trip around England, one household feigned madness en masse in an attempt to avoid the large price of hosting the Queen. It worked.
  • Richard Nixon called this the Madman theory: "I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, "for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button" and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace." How effective the tactic was is debatable. The North Vietnamese did eventually make a peace deal acceptable to the Nixon administration in 1972 (3 years after Ho Chi Minh's death), albeit probably for more complex reasons than just this. The deal itself is much more favorable to the Vietnamese.
    • Nixon based this on his experience as Dwight Eisenhower's Vice President. Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons during the Korean War, which many argue forced China and North Korea to the negotiating table. The reality's a bit more complicated, but Nixon certainly believed it.
    • Kim Jong Un is possibly exercising this tactic himself in order to draw concessions from the U.S. and its allies.
  • Poker professional Mike Caro used this during his heyday in the 1970s and 1980s to appear so insane as to frighten or annoy his opponents into poor play. He earned the nickname "Mad Genius" by adopting the look and mannerisms of a schizophrenic bum, doing things like setting money on fire at the poker table, making strange noises or cackling when winning a pot, and chattering non-stop. Underneath the facade is an exceptionally sharp analytical mind, and one of the world's foremost experts on poker tells.
  • In his non-fiction book Defending the Guilty, Barrister Alex McBride tells how he was assigned to handle a bail application for a junkie who was pretending to be insane. He was too inexperienced at the time to realise he was being conned, until the junkie's stream of gibberish was interrupted by the sight of an attractive blonde lawyer bending over to pick up her pen, whereupon the junkie exclaimed: "Gawd, can I have her defending me?"
  • One of Muhammad Ali's opponents spent time in prison, and Ali exploited the fears he'd picked up during his stint by pretending to be Ax-Crazy.
  • The Medieval Arab scholar Alhazen was invited to Cairo by the Caliph al-Hakim in order to realize a project to regulate the flooding of the Nile. Upon arriving in Egypt, Alhazen quickly discovered that A) he had vastly underestimated the scope of the task,note  which was completely impossible; and B) al-Hakim was not a man who took kindly to disappointment. According to legend, Alhazen got out of this predicament by pretending to be insane for eleven years until al-Hakim died in 1021.
  • Malcolm X pretended to be mentally disturbed in order to avoid being drafted during World War II.


Video Example(s):


"Sadly yes, she is my sister"

Aladdin saves Jasmine from getting her hand cut off by pretending he's her brother and that she's "a little crazy".

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / BoyfriendBluff

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