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Obfuscating Stupidity

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Advice for spies. And many others.

"It is sometimes the height of wisdom to feign stupidity."
Cato the Elder

Also sometimes known as "playing dumb", a tactic whose effectiveness is predicated on characters convincing others they are complete oafs and therefore harmless. Acting like an ignorant hayseed, misinformed tourist, Handsome Lech, Dumb Muscle, or Funny Foreigner is popular.

In many cases, a character pulling this off may play along until they're in a good position to drop the charade and get serious, usually catching anyone underestimating them badly off-guard. Another variant of this, primarily found in teen comedies, is the popular student (almost invariably a girl) who acts like The Ditz in order to avoid being stigmatized as a nerd; in such cases, the character may be willfully ignorant, but inevitably faces a situation where she needs her native wits to escape a problem.

This differs from the Genius Ditz in that the latter is brilliant in a single field (or multiple obscure fields) but genuinely ditzy otherwise. Another variant is of someone who is a genuine genius but who pretends to be The Fool in order to avoid responsibility, either because they are lazy or because of some trauma which has undermined their confidence. Perhaps they're a Genius Bruiser who prefers using their brawn over their brains enough that they look like a total Dumb Muscle at first glance. May appear to be The Fool until the viewer realizes he's just so good at making intentional actions seem like total coincidences that it appears to be blind luck. If done well, you may not be able to tell if the character is an Almighty Janitor, a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass, a not-so-Inept Mage, or a Bunny-Ears Lawyer. Or, for that matter, Too Dumb to Fool, especially if the character is good at noticing what is too obvious to be seen.

A favorite tactic of The Trickster. The opposite trope is Feigning Intelligence. See also the Old Master, to whom using this trope comes as natural as breathing and the Covert Pervert, where the "stupidity" may be in reference to a particular subject. See also Fauxreigner and Bilingual Backfire. Compare Obfuscating Insanity. Blondes may exploit the Dumb Blonde stereotype to help with the obfuscation. Another tactic characters doing this will use is pretending to be Easily Impressed to make it seem like they have no sense of judgment of quality. A Good Is Not Dumb character is often accused of using this trope.

This can backfire in a big way if the person using Obfuscating Stupidity needs people to trust him or her—only to realize that no one will believe the "idiot". And beware the possibility of Becoming the Mask if the stupidity is held up for so long, a character begins to forget they have brains in their head. Inversely, if other characters think the person is being obfuscating but he really is simple-minded, then he's a Seemingly Profound Fool. Occasional lapses might be dismissed with Too Dumb to Fool.

This may lead to someone Underestimating Badassery.

This is not to be confused with Smarter Than You Look, where that trope has no intention of appearing to be unintelligent; the character simply can't help the appearance of stupidity they have.

This is Older Than Feudalism, occurring in the Book of Genesis and in legends of the earliest days of Rome. note  It is also the core of the 27th stratagem.

Contrast Feigning Intelligence. See also Beneath the Mask, Faking Amnesia, Obfuscating Disability, Obfuscating Insanity, Deliberate Under-Performance, Apparently Powerless Puppetmaster and Playing Sick. Photo Identification Denial can also come into play when someone really tries to sell that they don't know someone after being shown their photograph.

No Real Life Examples, Please!


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  • A lot of spam emails are a variation. They are badly written and spelled, but that isn't because the spammer is from a foreign country and doesn't know how to spell and write correctly. It's because they know that anyone who goes along with that kind of email is less likely to notice later on that something isn't right, so the spammer isn't wasting their time with more alert users who will put the brakes on when things get suspicious.

    Asian Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: Adu Du's Robot Buddy Probe is more Affably Evil than his boss and occasionally makes questionable decisions. However, sometimes he uses his perceived stupidity as a ruse to complete a goal, such as playing dumb to distract Ying before spraying her with sleeping gas to kidnap her.

  • In the Bill Cosby sketch "Chocolate Cake for Breakfast" (from Bill Cosby: Himself), Cosby so horrified his wife by going along with the titular request that she told him to go back to bed.
    Bill: Which is where I wanted to go in the first place. So you see? We are dumb, but we are not so dumb. It takes great thinking and work to keep from working.
  • Larry the Cable Guy. In-character, he's a not-too-smart Southerner. Out of character, he's Daniel Whitney, a reasonably-intelligent satirist. This trope is best exemplified in his book Git-R-Done, where he makes deliberate typos as a form of Stylistic Suck, yet launches into Shown Their Work territory whenever he rants about something that bugs him. (To name just one example, he explains Darwin's Theory correctly.)
  • Lee Mack has a stage persona built around being a dumb Class Clown all grown up, and is very easy to underestimate due to his working-class Oop North background and accent and lack of formal education, but even internationally renowned clever-clogs Stephen Fry has readily admitted that Lee Mack is probably by far the more intelligent of them.
  • Norm Macdonald does this smiling, stuttering, dopey weirdo routine on stage and in interviews, but a brilliant quip is just around the corner. He won half a million for charity on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, too. In fact, the only reason he didn't get the million was because he was talked out of answering by a nervous Regis, concerned that Norm was only guessing (he was), but his idea was correct. After choosing to walk, he was asked for what he thought the answer would be. Solemnly, he was told that he would've been right and gotten the million.
  • Ray Romano suggests that guys screw up shopping as badly as possible so they're never asked to do it again. "They were out of lettuce, so I got a hammer."
  • The late English magician/comedian Tommy Cooper was an undeniable master of using Obfuscating Stupidity in his magic acts. He intentionally botched his own tricks and acted incompetent 90% of the time until he'd pretend to foul up yet another, only to pull off the trick perfectly.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • Calvin is apparently a user of this trope, as he once told Susie that it's far easier to keep people's expectations low, and wow them every now and again, than to keep them high and wind up disappointing at some point.
    • A cloning storyline in which Calvin (supposedly) creates a personification of his "good half" to take his classes for him proves this: if the clone is real, then it demonstrates that Calvin could do well in school if he bothered to try; if it's an extended game of make-believe then Calvin really is doing well for a change (if only for the sake of keeping the game going.) Then again, any of Calvin's musings to Hobbes on the nature of existence and reality during any given 'sledding' strip should tip even the most casual reader off that the kid's a freaking genius; it's just that school bores him senseless.
  • One Dilbert comic discussed this. Alice got stuck with prepping for a trade show because all of the men in the office had disqualified themselves through "Strategic Incompetence".
  • Roger Fox of FoxTrot is usually a quite legitimate Bumbling Dad. However, from time to time he is able to use this apparent cluelessness to get what he wants. For instance, in a week-arc where his wife forces him to go to an aerobics class, he spends the entire time doing embarrassing things like doing the wrong moves and singing along to the music. She gets so mad that she tells him she's never going to take him to another class...which, as his thought bubble points out, is just what he wanted in the first place. In another strip he messes up cleaning the dishes so badly that Andy declares that she will handle all dishwashing in the future. Roger then silently muses that "sometimes having no knowledge is power". Andy then discovers that Roger messed up another chore...
  • Garfield:
    • A 1989 strip sees Odie waiting for the other main characters to leave the house... and then settling down in a smoking-jacket, pipe, in a plush recliner, watching a show on Mozart with a copy of War & Peace nearby.
    • And in another strip where John, Garfield and Odie go on a picnic and Odie "accidentally" locks the doors of the car, "trapping" himself inside while Jon and Garfield try to instruct him on unlocking the doors. The final panel has it pouring rain, Odie enjoying the picnic meal while listening to the radio, and Jon and Garfield stuck in the rain wondering if Odie's not as dumb as he appears. In the animated version, Odie backs this up by smirking at the camera.
    • Another strip has Jon struggling to solve a Sudoku puzzle and giving up, then Odie examines it and solves it very quickly, to Jon's surprise.
    • In another strip, Odie frames Garfield for hiding all of Jon's shirts, then, when Garfield is thrown out, Odie looks on while wearing one of Jon's shirts with an evil grin on his face.
  • Sherman's Lagoon:
    • Discussed in one strip. After a string of robberies, Sherman theorizes that the jellyfish is behind it, to which Hawthorne claims that he doesn't have the intelligence to pull it off. Sherman then suggests that perhaps his lack of intelligence is just a disguise. Hawthorne doesn't believe it.
      Hawthorne: Sometimes I wonder if yours is a disguise.
      Sherman: Nope.
    • Another strip has Hawthorne telling Sherman to do this when the health department comes to his tattoo parlor. In the next strip, Hawthorne discovers that it's been shut down. Why? Well...
      Sherman: I pretended that I couldn't speak English, so they asked me what language I did speak. So I said I didn't speak ANY language. Then they asked, "What language are we speaking now?" So I said "English." That's when they got suspicious.
      (Hawthorne does a Facepalm)
      Sherman: So, you see, I tried to play dumb.
      Hawthorne: But the REAL dumb took over.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In Master and Pupil, the wizard rejects the boy as a servant because he can read. So the boy turns his jacket inside out to disguise himself and lies the next time that he cannot read. Then he learns wizardry by reading the books. Other fairy tales with the hero in the power of the evil wizard have someone warn him to feign incompetence at a lesson even though he gets beaten. Thus, he manages to master all the spells while the wizard thinks he's stuck, and use them to escape.

    Films — Animation 
  • Iago from Aladdin pretends to be a normal parrot in front of everyone but Jafar. At least until the climax.
  • Big Hero 6: At the beginning of the movie, Hiro goes to a back-alley robot fighting competition with a pathetic-looking robot, and shyly asking if he can fight too. After getting beaten in a couple of hits he asks if he can bet more money for a second chance. When the second fight starts he drops the shy attitude and shows his robot's true talents by utterly destroying the rival's robot.
  • Samantha "Sam" Sparks in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was secretly a nerd in her school days but hides her brains behind the façade of the pretty, ditzy weathergirl for fear of being stigmatised. It adds another layer to the character that she is voiced by Anna Faris who is more well known for playing genuinely ditzy characters.
  • Ice Age: The Meltdown: Sid kept going on about how Diego is afraid of water, and subtly teaching him how to swim, saying that most animals can swim when they're babies. It comes in handy when the area is flooded, and Sid's unconscious. Diego jumps into the water, swims to Sid, Crash and Eddie, and hoists them onto a rock. Sid then states that everybody can swim when they're babies... except tigers.
    Sid: I left that part out.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2: Subverted in that Shen believes Po to be using this; Po is actually just being his usual Comedic Hero self.
  • Spider-Man: Spider-Verse:
    • Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tries to play dumb a few times, but it never works because he tends to play too dumb for anyone to actually buy. For example, he attempts to flunk out of the prestigious school he's at so he can go back to his old school with his friends; this fails because he gets a zero in a true or false test, and since pure blind guesswork should have led to him getting at least some answers correct, the teacher figures out that he was giving entirely wrong answers on purpose and knew all the right ones. There's also this exchange:
      Security Guard: I know you snuck out last night, Morales!
      Miles: (thinking) Play dumb. (out loud) Who's Morales? (thinking) Not that dumb!
    • Hobie Brown in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse does it better, playing up his Cool People Rebel Against Authority antics to hide that he meant every word; the goofiness of his punk persona means that he can outright tell the Spider-Society that he isn't loyal to them and will betray them when he feels they've crossed the line, and everyone is still surprised when he actually does it.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: While not a super genius, Ralph is still intelligent and contemplative enough to understand how undesirable his life is at the beginning of the movie, and to yearn for a better life. But when he talks to Felix after trying to enter the game's anniversary party, he acts a lot more awkward and oafish, pretending not to know things that he does know (such as it being the game's 30th anniversary.) Presumably, he feels the need to act the part of the big, dumb brute, since that's what the Nicelanders and Felix think he really is. As the movie goes on, he eventually drops this act and shows his more thoughtful side to the other characters.

  • Folk legends of various European peoples speak of entire towns and villages of unusually-smart folks who purposefully feign stupidity. This article on The Other Wiki sums it up pretty well.
  • The story of Hamlet is based on the legend of the Danish Prince Amled, whose father was murdered by his Evil Uncle Fenge. Amled took to sitting near the fire and carving wooden hooks all day, telling everyone that he would use them to avenge his father. Fenge thought he was crazy—until the night where Amled used the hooks to pin down Fenge and his men under their sleeping blankets and burn down the palace over their heads before they could get free.
  • A female version of the legend has a man kill his tribe's chief and take his place, shortly before lusting after the former chief's daughter. Said daughter knew full well who murdered her father, but pretended to not know anything. Then the murderer asked her to meet him in his tent one night, and she brought a knife with her... and cut some bread?
  • According to his legend, Saint Simeon the Holy Fool. He was a simple ascetic monk whom God himself asked to act like a madman so he could save souls, and lo did he make honor to that.
  • One old story tells about a guy who owned someone else a big amount of money and would be thrown into debtors' prison if he couldn't pay. However, he found an Amoral Attorney who promised him to bail him out for four gold pieces, to be paid after a successful acquitting. So the lawyer advises his client: "When in court, say nothing but 'bleh!', whatever happens!" The process starts, and the client indeed answers nothing but "Bleh!" no matter what he's asked. Finally the judge has enough:
    Judge: Why does your client say nothing but "bleh!"?
    Amoral Attorney: I'm sorry, Your Honor, he's an idiot, when I was talking to him, he also said nothing but that!
So the judge comes to the conclusion that the defendant can't be condemned and lets him go. Now the Amoral Attorney demands his money. But the client, again, just says "Bleh!"
Amoral Attorney: Are you joking? You promised me four gold pieces! I want them now!
Client: (tips on the table) Bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh!
  • The 16th-century Teutonic legend of the Schildbürgers says they were great sages who went far and wide to advise princes—until their wives got sick of them going far and wide and they needed to get the princes to stop seeking their advice.
  • According to legend, the Roman Lucius Junius feigned stupidity (earning the name "Brutus", Latin for "dullard") to avoid being killed by the evil king Tarquin. When the time came, Brutus dropped the mask and led the overthrow of the monarchy, establishing the Roman Republic. (Centuries later, his descendant, Marcus Junius Brutus, followed his ancestor's example by participating in the assassination of Julius Caesar.)
  • Socrates was so good at this, they had him killed.
  • Residents of Wiltshire, England are also known as Moonrakers, based on a 200 year old story about a pair of smugglers sneaking French brandy across the county. The smugglers hid their stock in a lake and went back to retrieve it one night but were encountered by authorities. In an attempt to fool them, they played the fools themselves by taking a pair of rakes and swiping at the reflection of the moon in the water, claiming they were trying to rake in a round cheese. The authorities laughed them off as idiots and went on their way, leaving the smugglers to make a clean getaway.
  • Stories about the Sufi Muslim trickster Nasreddin Hodja sometimes portray him as a clever person who pretends to be foolish to teach people lessons or get away with doing things he shouldn't (then again, others portray him as kind of a dim bulb in general).

  • One joke recounts the tale of a kindly shopkeeper and a little kid named Billy (other variations have it as the village idiot and a tourist). On many an occasion, the shopkeeper would witness older boys teasing Billy by offering him a choice between a nickel and a dime, then laughing at him choosing the nickel, supposedly because the nickel was larger and Billy was too slow to realize that the dime was worth more. Eventually, the shopkeeper took pity on Billy, and took him aside for a quiet word on the matter... only for Billy to reveal that he was playing this trope all along: he knows very well how much the two coins are worth, but if he ever picks the dime, the kids will stop giving him free nickels.
  • Another joke is about two math professors sitting in a restaurant: one of them claims that ordinary people do not understand mathematics at all, while the second one argues that they do. While the first one is in a restroom, the second calls a young waitress and asks her to give the answer "one third x cubed" when he asks her a question (in some versions, he even gives her a tip for this). She is apparently baffled and struggles to say it, muttering to herself: "one thir — dex cue", "one thir dex cuebd". Then the first professor returns from the restroom, and his friend asks the waitress what is the integral of x^2 to prove his point. As expected, she replies: "One third x cubed", the professor is shocked, and his friend is triumphant... and then, turning over her shoulder, she smiles and adds: "Plus a constant".
  • It's a common theme on the internet, often related to "And that's when the fight started." The images, playing on the stereotype that husbands play dumb to get out of helping around the house, show the results when a wife asks her husband to:
    • Put some spaghetti on the stove, and she'll finish up the cooking when she gets home. The photo shows a pile of uncooked spaghetti placed directly on the stove top, sans cooking pot.
    • Peel half of the potatoes and put them in water. Each potato in the pot is exactly 50% peeled.
    • Label the plugs attached to the power strip. He does, but he labels them all "PLUG."
  • A few Dumb Blonde jokes fall into this territory, with the apparently stupid blonde playing on the stereotype to trick people:
    • A beautiful blonde ends up sitting on a plane next to an arrogant professor. He's amused by her ditzy attitude, and the two start playing a trivia game. The blonde agrees to pay a dollar for every question she gets wrong, and the professor, feeling pompous, offers to pay a hundred dollars for his incorrect answers. After missing the first question, the blonde asks something along the lines of "What goes up a hill wet, then comes down the hill dry?" The professor spends the whole ride trying to solve the riddle, but eventually gives up and hands the blonde a hundred dollar bill when the plane lands. As she stands up to leave, the professor asks "So what does go up a hill wet, then down a hill dry?" which point the blonde takes out another dollar and hands it to him with a wink.
    • A blonde walks into a New York City bank and asks for a small loan of $2,000 for her upcoming vacation. When asked for collateral, she offers up her brand-new late-model Ferrari, which is worth at least $100,000. The bank manager accepts the terms, and he and all of his employees laugh at how stupid the woman is for making such a deal while a valet parks the car in the bank's underground vault. A month later, the blonde returns to pick up her car and pays back the $2,000, along with the $15.71 that she owes in interest. The bank manager takes her aside and comments that he looked up the woman's records; she's actually a multimillionaire, so why on earth did she need to borrow such a paltry sum? With a smile, the blonde replies, "Well, sir, where else could I park a brand-new Ferrari in New York City for a month, know that it would be kept totally safe, and only have to pay $15.71 for it?"
      • In some online material, Pawn Stars host Rick points out this is a fairly common tactic used by some people at his shop. He has a few regulars that will bring in seasonal recreational equipment (ATVs, Snowmobiles, etc.) during the off season and pawn them for a small loan. They always come back right before the new season for said item with the loan and interest. Unlike the Bank, the Pawn Stars are very much aware this is going on and see it as more of one of their services they offer rather than anything sneaky on the part of the customer.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible: Some exegesis holds God to be using Obfuscating Stupidity most of the time He deals with humans, explaining why He often asks questions to which He already knows the answer. Other exegesis holds this to be simply a feature of ancient Hebrew rhetoric with its rabbinical style of asking rhetorical questions in order to educate one's understudies.
  • In VafþrúðnismálOdin visits the wise giant in disguise, first asking him innocuous common knowledge questions before cranking up the difficulty and finally tricking him with an unanswerable one.

  • The fact that the Amateur Transplants often affect a stage persona reminiscent of ignorant chavs just makes it all the more impressive and hilarious when they rattle off lengthy amounts of obscure medical terms in their songs.
  • Shy Ronnie from the two songs by The Lonely Island featuring him. When his partner Rihanna's around, he's a wimpy-looking nerd who mumbles everything he says and is prone to pissing himself. Whenever Rihanna leaves, he turns out to be an aggressive, in his own words "twisted as shit" gun-lover.
  • Van Halen was known for offering tour contracts requesting a bowl of M&M's with all brown candies removed. If they found a brown candy, they would proceed to trash the whole place. This had a stealthy purpose: failure to get the bowl of M&M's right implied not reading the contract or failure to get power and safety requirements right.
  • When Dee Snider of Twisted Sister was to talk to a hearing in front of the PMRC regarding accusations about his band and music, he went there in the same trashy clothes he used in the performance the day before, including his now smeared makeup and bed hair, greeted the room with "I don't know if it's morning or afternoon so I'm going to say both: good morning and good afternoon" and took out his talking points from some folded papers he kept in his back pocket. What people didn't know is that he was going out of his way to look like some teenage moron presenting rushed homework, just to drop a bombshell on everyone: in those papers he meticulously deconstructed every lie told about Twisted Sister, defended freedom of speech and music as an art and turned the tables on Ms. Gore, saying that the only reason she found messages about sadomasochism and rape in one of his songs is because that's what she was looking for, all in an incredibly intelligent and eloquent matter.
  • William "Flavor Flav" Drayton of the rap group Public Enemy, played the goofy, silly, mascot who became a fan favorite. This was done intentionally as a contrast to Chuck D's serious, militant, personality and raps. However, Drayton is actually very intelligent music producer behind the scenes who can play over a dozen musical instruments, created a successful reality show in the past, and has opened some successful businesses.

  • Dice Funk:
    Austin: I like to think we're creating a dynamic, that we suck so much of the time, when we're actually good it surprises everybody into doing what we want. They never see it coming!
  • Played in the Mission to Zyxx episode that follows the Council of Seven, wherein they suspect the crew's repeated botched missions are covering for secret Rebel operations.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Maria Kanellis was The Ditz as a backstage interviewer to start off, always asking the wrong questions and getting wrestlers' names wrong. Then she had to testify at Eric Bischoff's (Kayfabe) trial...
    Maria: Last week, Eric Bischoff abused his power in a way that was both malicious and capricious, and it's this rash of discourse that ultimately led to a locker room of disdain and mutiny, and it should be grounds for his immediate dismissal.
She went back to the ditzy gimmick for quite a while afterwards. In a subsequent appearance, Bischoff flat-out accused her of using Obfuscating Stupidity based on what happened at his trial, saying she pretended to be "stupid and sweet" to curry favor from the crowd.
  • LayCool could count. A pair of bubbly ditzy Valley Girls who have managed to dominate the division for over a year, capturing four sets of titles for themselves. The ditziness also (somewhat) concealed their extreme cruelty, making them Faux Affably Evil Alpha Bitches as well.
  • During a brief feud with Maryse, Gail Kim appeared oblivious when Maryse started talking to her in French, appearing to be trying to be friendly. Anyone who understood French knew Maryse was secretly trash-talking and Gail looked to be falling for it. Then Gail dropped the bombshell that she spoke fluent French and hadn't been fooled by the game.
  • Batista played this role to some extent during the first two years or so of his career, serving as the Dumb Muscle of Evolution and remaining more or less in the background; he was the last member to receive a serious title opportunity. He even played along with Triple H and Ric Flair for a while after turning face. Both in kayfabe and out, many people probably didn't expect him to defeat Triple H for the world title, especially considering his (relatively) advanced age.
  • At IWA Mid-South No Retreat...No Surrender, January 21, 2006, Chris Hero faced Garbage Wrestler Necro Butcher in a "European Rules" match with the stipulation that if Necro lasted the time limit Hero would have to face him in a Barroom Brawl Match. Hero imposed tons of rules on the premise that there would be no way Necro would be able to keep up with him. Instead, Necro fought Hero to a draw (Hero won Round 4, Necro won Round 5), thus forcing Hero into the situation he did not want to find himself in, a Barroom Brawl against Necro Butcher. Necro won.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Battletech: A short story based in the game's universe plays this to a T. To all outward appearances, Murphy's Highlanders, a mercenary company stationed on a planet on the border between the Federated Suns and the Draconis Combine is a mess. The mechs are all in a state of disrepair (with the implication that the techs are embezzling parts to resell). The unit's infantry detachment are a bunch of drunken hooligans whose idea of training consists of skeet-shooting bottles they've just drained and picking bar brawls with the locals. The company's executive officer is a slut whose idea of "in uniform" is "wear just enough to cover the naughty bits". The commanding officer seemingly does little else but preside over a floating poker game that travels across the unit's base. The unit's AFFS liaison quit in disgust. And the only thing holding the group to any semblance of standards is the CO's daughter, an exasperated Fiery Redhead who has her hands full trying to remind everybody — including her own father — that they are indeed allegedly a fighting unit. Then, they get word that the Combine is going to invade the world in force, an easy target defended by a joke of a unit. Murphy's Highlanders change almost overnight. It was all a sham to lull the Combine into a trap: Murphy's games were meant to feed hidden microphones false information — real info was discussed when the game moved to the hangar, which wasn't bugged. The mechs were brought to fighting trim by the secretly-stockpiled parts. The Infantry showed themselves to be much better trained and disciplined than anyone thought. The old liaison was a Davion intelligence agent, who left in reality to help in the background with preparations for resisting the oncoming assault. And, the XO was VERY relieved that she didn't have to play the part of eye candy anymore. The only part of the whole charade that was real was the CO's daughter, whom her father feared would lapse into Bad "Bad Acting" if she were to try to play along, and so was kept in the dark. And at any rate she was much more convincing actually genuinely trying futilely to keep the Ragtag Band of Misfits in line!
  • Chess: Arrogance is one of the deadliest weaknesses a player can have. Some people won't hesitate to take advantage of it.
    • Some openings play out like this. For example, in Alekhine's Defense, Black uses their turns moving their king's knight to tempt White into building up a pawn structure in the center of the board after which Black attempts to take advantage of White's overextension.
    • In a particularly notorious example, Tony Miles, a grandmaster, defeated World Champion Anatoly Karpov by psyching him out with the seemingly questionable St. George Defense.
    • One of the bots you can play against on is a cute kitten named Mittens. With a nonthreatening appearance and a supposed Elo rating of 1, players are lulled into a false sense of security and expect a pathetically easy game. In actuality, Mittens is possibly the strongest bot on the site, and she will wipe the floor with any unsuspecting player through highly positional play worthy of the world's best grandmasters.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: While gibbering mouthers and abominations are as mad as they appear, gibbering orbs are very intelligent and use their seeming insanity to mask their keenly calculated malice.
  • Legend of the Five Rings: This is the Scorpion Clan's modus operandi, as revealed to their founder Bayushi by the great sage Shinsei. Shinsei told Baysuhi a parable that Bayushi believed he already knew, about the scorpion and the frog, which normally ends with the scorpion stinging the frog while they're crossing the river and both of them drowning because it's the scorpion's basic nature to sting even when it's not in its best interests. However, at the end of Shinsei's version the scorpion's answer to the frog's question of "why are you dooming us both?" is: "I can swim."
  • In Nomine: Most Demon Princes think that Haagenti, the Prince of Gluttony, is a dim brute only obsessed with constantly eating more and more and more. A couple of Princes — and Michael, Archangel of War — think that he's a lot smarter than he's letting on, and they're waiting a bit nervously for the other shoe to drop.
  • Obsessed with Food: He loves to eat, all the time.
  • Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution: Tony, who is legitimately a genius and a somakinetic, pretended to be less intelligent in school because being too smart was considered a negative quality where he lived. Considering that espers have a higher wits cap than humans, the player might have to do this to avoid arousing suspicion too.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition: The corebook describes what different ranking in different skills approximately look like in practice, to help players know what level they want to aim for. For Subterfuge (the deception-focused skill), the ranks increase through skills like being able to pull off complex deep cover work. The descriptor for the highest rank simply says 'No-one believes you have even a single rank in Subterfuge'.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Some beastmen make a point of playing up their popular image as bestial savages, and are happy to let hostile Imperials remain unaware of the fact that beastmen are just as smart as any other human.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney has a number of these characters, to the point where your average ditz nearly always is smarter than they look.
    • In the original game, the supposedly beyond-senile Yanni Yogi (a Shout-Out to Yami Yugi) faked permanent brain damage for fifteen years before trying to exact revenge and get away with it.
    • Case 5, in the DS remake, has Police Chief Gant. His guise of a lovable, laughing buffoon hides not only a razor-sharp mind, but his true personality of a ruthless genius willing to kill one of his own officers, and blackmail another by framing her sister, in order to put away a serial killer.
    • In Justice For All, Ini Miney from case 2 and Matt Engarde from case 4 are both smarter (and more sinister) than they appear to be at first glance.
    • In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright himself shows a bit of this trope.
    • Also in Apollo Justice, Lamiroir, at first, seems like she doesn't speak a word of English, but quickly drops this act when matters start becoming more serious (though this seems to be more of a case of obfuscating ignorance). A bigger twist is when it's revealed that her partner, Machi, also knows English (though he isn't very fluent in it), and had been hiding it from everyone, including his own partner and lawyer.
    • Dahlia Hawthorne from Trials and Tribulations. a VERY devious girl who hides her true self behind a sugary sweet personality, and not once, not twice, but thrice in the game. And she's dead by the third encounter.
    • Done in Ace Attorney Investigations with the ditzy bubble-blowing Cammy Meale, the jovial Ernest Amano, and the elderly Quercus Alba. They're all murderers or accessories to murders, and all work in the same smuggling ring. Since veteran players of the series will know to look for the trope, the game even plays with your head a little with the delightful, energetic, and oblivious Colias Palaeno—who never even comes under suspicion.
    • And in the sequel, Gyakuten Kenji 2 (AKA Ace Attorney Investigations: Prosecutor's Path) we have Sōta Sarushiro (Simon Keyes in the English Fan Translation), a shy and meek individual Edgeworth defends in the second case. In the climax, The Reveal kicks in and it turns out he's actually the brilliant and cruel mastermind behind the main events of the game.
    • From Dual Destinies we have detective Fulbright (aptly nicknamed Fool Bright by prosecutor Blackquill). For most of the game he looks like a regular detective who strongly believes in justice, and makes sure you know it. It turns out he is actually a spy who killed the real Fulbright, Metis Cykes (Athena's mother) and Clay Terran. He can also hide and pretend emotions (almost) perfectly. To a fault, even.
    • Spirit of Justice continues the trend quite well. At first glance, television mogul Roger Retinz just seems like your typical, sleazy, trend-chasing producer, with a habit of sucking up to others for clout, and a heck of an ego. A douchebag, yes, but nothing too big. Then you learn that he's a former stage magician, and he's been manipulating the victim and two of the witnesses into helping him set up an elaborate remote murder that, had one of the witnesses not messed up their positioning, would have been impossible to connect him to. All for the sole purpose of getting his former mentor's granddaughter convicted for murder as revenge for being fired.
    • The Great Ace Attorney doesn't fail to disappoint with Herlock Sholmes himself. It's hard to tell what's genuine eccentricity and lack of social tact with the man, but when it comes to his deductions, he often takes things over the top and makes claims so outlandish that it's clear he's way off the mark. For most of the duology, it's hard to tell whether this is genuine, but when things get serious during 2-5 and they're strapped for time, Sholmes tells Mikotoba there's no more games and makes a perfect deduction, guiding his partner to the correct solution in one go. It's clear he's been holding back this whole time to give Ryunosuke a chance to pick up on Sholmes's deductive reasoning skills.
  • Sayori from Doki Doki Literature Club! looks like The Ditz, but it's only half true, and a bit complicated. By Word of God, in part it's just the way she operates, even though she's not actually dumb. Another thing is that she uses it to manipulate people, often for their own good, but also probably for her own sake, because she's also a Stepford Smiler who hides depression behind her cheer and clumsiness, which also has the consequence she can't always just ask for someone to do something she needs to feel a bit better. She also loves to make others laugh by acting dumb, which is shown more explicitly in DDLC Plus.
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: Michiru does this, though it's a bit more comlicated then it seems. While she's genuinely not the sharpest crayon in the box, much of Michiru's more outlandish behavior is revealed in her route to be artificial, as being the Class Clown and Plucky Comic Relief is the only thing she feels she can succeed at and give to others.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry:
    • Creepy Child Rika seems like a normal little girl however is wise beyond her years because she's been stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop for centuries.
    • Rena gives off the clumsy, ditzy feel, but she may just be the smartest of the gang. She shows incredibly, almost absurdly, good detective skills when Satoko and Rika disappear in Watanagashi-hen and made up an almost believable theory about Hinamizawa in the Atonement chapter...until she lost it and started talking about aliens.
    • Keiichi is also an example of this as before he moved to Hinamizawa he was an Insufferable Genius with no friends that was picked on constantly in school (which lead to his unfortunate stress reliving activity). After moving he decided Dumb Is Good and began acting like he is known for in the series; however his intelligence sometimes shines through his act and he appears simply Book Dumb. And he's not Book Dumb at all. Several scenes show him tutoring the others, including the older Mion, and it's implied he gets the best grades of the group. He has learned by the start of the story to not put on an act just to feel good about himself and impress others, so he acts the way he does because that's how he genuinely is. So it's really more like he completely lacks common sense. Given the setting, he fits right in right away.
    • Hanyuu acts like a cute, shy Cheerful Child however is a centuries old god. Even ignoring her deity status, she died as an adult so she isn't even really a kid. She does actually have her fair share of Immortal Immaturity however can show her true colors when provoked.
  • Little Busters! has Kyousuke and Masato. Kyousuke is naturally silly and childish, but Refrain reveals that sometimes he was acting that way to throw Riki off from considering his true motives by pretending he was just acting on his own whims. Likewise, Masato is kind of a Dumb Muscle, but he dutifully followed the script Kyousuke set for him to continue to act that way and pretend not to know anything Kyousuke was doing so as to uphold the world and keep Riki at ease.

    Web Animation 
  • DSBT InsaniT: Andy acts like a complete idiot because he thinks its funny, not to catch enemies off-guard.
  • Homestar Runner: Although most of the time Homestar seems just plain dumb, in the Strong Bad Email "stupid stuff", he tricks Strong Bad into using reverse psychology in order to win a bet and make Strong Bad lose his. Then, in "Kick-A-Ball" he seems to have made an outrageous scheme to use Strong Bad's own cheating against him. When they were picking teams at Kickball he picks Pom Pom and whispers Strong Sad as well, which appears to be his wacky non sequitur. However, he then goes on to go through nine innings with himself and Pom Pom alone and is two points ahead with only one out left. He gets Strong Sad to hold out his arms and catch the last ball of the game because Strong Bad didn't know he was on Homestar's team. This only works because Strong Bad cheated a long time ago by adding "double side-mouth whisper drafts are totally legal!" to the rules. Homestar has officially stolen Strong Bad's claim to Manipulative Bastardry.note 
  • Kanon's RomCom Mangas: Tetora pretends to be a dumb student because he is trying to hide his family heritage, famously known for their smartness, however he has the IQ of around 170, which is the lowest within his family.
  • Mani Mani People: Tsumugi may seem dumb but she is more aware than she lets on. She pretends to be the damsel in distress to keep her younger brothers close. Moroboshi warned her not to interfere with their education as they are attending his elite school.
  • RWBY has both of Ruby's family members play that way:
    • Qrow Branwen, who happily makes use of Obfuscating Drunkenness. Qrow might be The Alcoholic, but he's a Functional Alcoholic, and can go from seemingly swaying-on-his-feet smashed to master swordsman in the blink of an eye.
    • Qrow's niece, Yang, also uses this in the Yellow trailer. She comes to a bar and pretends to be a ditzy Hard-Drinking Party Girl, only to show her true side a few moments later when she gets into a fight.
  • In Sims Big Brother 6, Alison's strategy was to appear to be incredibly stupid, so people wouldn't think she was a threat and never nominate her. She unfortunately went a tad far with it, since managed to misspell "Apple" and people begun to suspect whether or not this was an act or not. It was also surprising when she suddenly spouted a college-level description of an organelle after a montage of stupid questions. ("Controversy? What does that mean?" "Influenza? What's that?" "How do you work the elevator?")

    Web Originals 
  • Sometimes Akinator will ask a logical series of questions leading to your character, then suddenly start asking random unrelated questions, apparently having been thrown off the scent. In the end, though, he gets the character right. He figured out what your character was early on and was just using the remaining questions (and you) to learn more about the character in question.
  • In Atop the Fourth Wall: The Movie, 90s Kid reveals that he intentionally acts as a Large Ham so that people will underestimate him.
    '90s Kid: That's the Nineties, really. Make a huge spectacle, and no one will see what's really going on.
  • Cracked: "The 5 Craziest Ways People Have Defeated Terrifying Regimes" lists "A POW Saves Himself and Everyone Else by Playing Stupid" at #3. Douglas Hegdahl pretended to be a gleeful, sweet idiot who couldn't read or write, so his captors would underestimate him. It worked so well that they nicknamed him "The Incredibly Stupid One" and refused to torture him. Even better? He proved how smart he really was by memorizing the names, ranks, locations, and health status of every single POW in his camp. Which he then sung to US authorities in the style of "Old Macdonald" as that was how he remembered it. Because of that over 700 POWs didn't have an "accident" or "escape" as everyone knew exactly where they were.
  • The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids: In the short story "The Resurrection of the Wellsians", Digger-291, whom the alchemist Mandragora sees as The Igor, turns out to have been feigning stupidity to learn Mandragora's secrets and feed them to the rebellion.
  • Royal Fool Marco is this for much of the first half of Fooled, especially when he wants to find out more information from his royal friends.
  • Kickassia:
    • The Nostalgia Chick goes from sane (or as sane as she can be) and opinionated to a Sarah Palin parody who agrees with N. Bison about everything. When Part Four comes around, it's found that she was just pretending to be sweet and stupid while trying to kill him off and take charge for herself.
    • And then there's Kevin Baugh, who fakes being taken over by his alternate personality so he'll be allowed to keep hanging out in his conquered nation, then sets to planting doubts about the Nostalgia Critic's leadership skills. Bonus points that everyone knows he's doing this but roll with it anyway.
  • A favorite trick of Sarah's in lonelygirl15 and LG15: the resistance. Chapter 3 of the resistance is a good example. Furthermore, while she appears to be The Ditz a lot of the time, she's arguably the smartest member of the TAAG.
  • Pay Me, Bug!: New Baron Rolis Tylaris from A Rake by Starlight isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he's smart enough to use this trope to make the most of what he has.
  • In October 2015, a theory on Reddit began to circulate online proposing that Jar Jar Binks, one of the most reviled characters in Star Wars history, is actually a Sith Lord and the true mastermind behind the Emperor's rise to power. The theory posits that, much like how Yoda acts like an annoying swamp creature before revealing himself as a Jedi Master in The Empire Strikes Back, Jar Jar was meant to be his Evil Counterpart, appearing to be an inept yet innocent klutz to gain the Jedi's sympathy and avoid suspicion. Further analysis suggests that his staggering movements in action mirror legitimate Drunken Boxing techniques, and that his hand-waving at all his pivotal plot moments (from his inexplicable promotions to granting Palpatine total control of the Senate) are actually Jedi Mind Trick gestures. Either all that is true, or he's just a dumb character to provide humor, take your pick.
  • In The Salvation War, Jesus first appears to be a shiftless stoner. Then the angels leave, and he reveals himself to be a skilled strategist as he improves on the battle plan the angels gave him.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • The Foundation and other groups view the Unusual Incidents Unit as losers who are completely out of their depth, while the rest of the FBI see them as a crap division you get sent to because the guys in charge don't want you to screw things up. In reality, they're actually pretty competent in their own right; they just don't have the proper funding to deal with the legitimately dangerous anomalies and SCPs. They're well-aware of this and are happy to just let the Foundation take care of that stuff while playing the part of Butt-Monkey if it means their agents aren't getting slaughtered by the dozen.
    • The Foundation's own Ethics Committee pretends to be a bunch of meek bureaucrats with no actual power who rubber stamp every containment procedure and research proposal that comes their way. In reality, they have full access to unredacted SCP case files so that they can make absolutely certain that containment procedures are as humane as possible and can remove Foundation personnel who are using anomalies for their own benefit (up to and including getting them executed for crimes against humanity, in rare cases), to insure that the Foundation doesn't cross the line from Pragmatic Hero to evil. The milquetoast act is so that the kind of people they're looking for will drop their guard and reveal who they really are.
  • Whateley Universe: A tactic used by Sunburst, among others. As Nacht says about Sunburst in Silent Nacht Chapter 2:
    "Mother, you're making the same mistake that everyone else does: you take in her looks and her Malibu beach bunny persona, and you think that she's an airhead. She's NOT; it's a 'Lord Peter Wimsey' act. Check this out: she takes in hundreds of thousands a year for endorsements, personal appearances and things like that, but she doesn't OWN anything. She arranges it so that she lives in elegant housing, drives top-end cars, dines at the big name restaurants, and goes to all the A-list parties; but none of it costs her a CENT. She has no real secret identity, so there aren't any handles on her. Yet, for all that, she isn't regarded as a mooch. Everyone's always glad to have her around.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Playing Dumb


Probe's Distraction

It seems Probe failed his task of capturing Ying. When she confronts him to ask why he chased her, Probe replies that he wants to return her purse, but she doesn't have a purse. Probe admits he only said that to distract her, and sprays her with sleeping gas before making off with her.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ObfuscatingStupidity

Media sources: