Just standin' up there to give it all his might
He got caught in the spotlight
But when we get to the end
He wants to start all over again"
A character has an ability that they cannot show off to or use in front of others because of nerves. When under pressure, the character can't perform as well, making others doubt that character's ability.
Usually, once under pressure, the character is unable to perform at all, looking like a complete idiot as they stand there unable to do what others are asking them to do. Other times, it has a more mild effect, causing them to simply make stupid mistakes that they wouldn't any other time.
The trope name is a more technical term for Stage Fright (see Real Life examples below).
If all we ever see is the character cracking under pressure, then it starts to edge into Informed Ability territory. Compare Centipede's Dilemma (aka Paralysis by Analysis), in which a character loses an ability by thinking too hard about it. Related to Dead Air, an occasional occurrence on radio. If the character is shown to actually be good at whatever it is they're attempting to do in public when they're in private (or doing it for friends/family), it usually goes hand in hand with Hidden Depths.
- Hitohira: Mugi Asai. The plot revolves around her being convinced to join her school's drama club, and she has a tendency to get so nervous in front of people that sometimes she faints.
- Akiyama Mio from K-On!.
- Anpanman himself from Anpanman. Despite being a powerful superhero, he is horrible at onstage acting. He stutters, speaks his lines in a very forced tone, and blushes like mad. This leads to problems when he's roped into performing (normally by Shiratama-san or the Den Den Troupe). However, as soon as Baikinman attacks the stage, he forgets all of his fear and goes back to being the one thing he truly is: a superhero.
- An episode of Cinderella Monogatari features an acrobat named Mary who is nervous about performing in front of the prince - she sees everyone as the prince. Mary's first performance in the episode fails when she messes up and everyone laughs at her. Cinderella tries to help her but is unable to make Mary's insecurity go away. Charles decides to help out and helps Mary overcome her anxiety.
- Chopin from Classi9 has terrible stage fright and fainted more than once while playing in public. He feels better when he's playing with someone, and usually performs duets with Liszt. Truth in Television as the real-life Chopin gave around 30 public concerts and preferred private and cozy concerts in his home than big concerts.
- Sorata from The Pet Girl of Sakurasou suffers this in Episode 8 during his presentation for his video game idea. Naturally, this doesn't go very well for him. Subverted come Episode 10, where he performs just fine.
- Haruka Harano of Go! Princess Pretty Cure suffers from this in Pretty Cure All Stars: Spring Carnival - she can sing by herself pretty well, but in a crowd, it's just a bunch of frightened warbles. It takes being put in a Darkest Hour moment to overcome that fear.
- Itsuki from Yuki Yuna is a Hero is a good singer but her voice cracks when she sings around others. Episode 4 revolves around her trying to resolve the issue before a test in music class.
- Yuri!!! on Ice:
- This is Yuri Katsuki's Fatal Flaw. He's genuinely a really good skater — the top male skater in Japan, even — but he suffers terribly from stage fright and consequently tends to do much worse than usual at competitions. One of the main arcs of the anime is about teaching him to have confidence in himself as a skater, but Episode 7 proves that even Victor's encouragement or his recent successes can't cure anxiety completely.
- Jean-Jacques Leroy suffers from a one-off attack of performance anxiety in Episode 11. It ends up ruining his short program and his chance at victory in the Grand Prix Final.
- In Boruto, Metal Lee is a very anxious kid who freaks out a lot. Fighting in front of others often causes him to stiffen up.
- Natsumi Murakami of Mahou Sensei Negima! has this listed in her character profile as something she actually enjoys.
- Miko Iino from Kaguya-sama: Love Is War suffers from crippling stage fright, which is cited as the reason why she's never managed to win a student council election. Shirogane pretending to insult her values and putting her focus on him instead of the crowd lets her give her speech properly. She still doesn't win the election (getting just under 50% of the vote compared to the 5% that she'd normally get), but she did earn the respect of her fellow students and basically assured that she'd win the following year.
- Valt from Beyblade Burst has stage fright. It's especially bad since, as a beyblader, he is very often on stage.
- A one-shot character on Yu-Gi-Oh! GX is a competent duelist who gets stage fright when dueling in front of others. He deals with this by creating the "Duel Giant", where his very large friend (who has his own self-esteem issues) disguises himself to look like a fierce giant and duels others while the smaller one relays instructions via hidden radio.
- On the eve of a big presentation Dilbert gets some dubiously-helpful advice from Dogbert, who points out that fear of public speaking trumps fear of death in most people, so "technically, if you kill a guy who's scheduled to speak, you're doing him a favor." He then casually asks Dilbert when he plans on getting some sleep...
- One story in Archie Comics involved Reggie getting stage fright during his first attempt at stand-up comedy, leading to Jughead heckling him, which got Reggie mad enough to reply and then go into the rest of his routine.
- Arthéon from Noob, according to one of the early short stories.
- In Jem and the Holograms stage fright is Jerrica's reason for creating the "Jem" persona. She can't sing in front of people besides her family members as Jerrica, but as Jem, she's a flamboyant and popular pop star.
- Asterix, in Asterix and the Cauldron, one of Asterix and Obelix' attempts to raise the money they need is to try their luck at performing in a theater. Unfortunately, Obelix is hit by a massive case of stage fright; his face turns pale, he starts sweating, and can only stare at the audience with open mouth. When he finally does manage to say something, it's his catchphrase "These Romans are crazy", angering the Roman audience.
- Referenced in The Man Who Knew Too Little:
James: [Wallace] got the lead part in the school play but on opening night... I never knew it was possible for someone to forget so much so quickly without a severe blow to the head.
- One of the superheroes in Mystery Men has the power to become invisible — but only when nobody is looking.
- In My Favorite Year, Alan Swann is a beloved swashbuckling film star. When he learns he has to perform in front of an audience (and on live television) for his latest gig, well...
- Todd in Dead Poets Society is actually quite a good poet, but has a bit of a problem with reading/speaking in front of people, which leads to him taking notes at Dead Poets meetings rather than doing any of the actual reading. At first, his aversion to public speaking is so strong that he refuses to join the society at all.
- Constantine, the villain in Muppets Most Wanted, surprisingly suffers from stage fright.
- Meena in Sing has a tremendous singing ability when she's alone but gets shy in front of people, even her own family. When she tries to audition for the singing competition, she freezes up and totally blows it. In the finale, she finally overcomes it and literally brings down the house.
- Outback Wawa: Apocass1n is a lot more boring and quiet in his Click Quest series, presumably because he's not used to doing Let's Plays alone.
- Gamingandstuff in the last episode of his Pokemon Emerald Parlocke, he lost to Wallace's Gyarados even though he could have won had he attacked instead of trying to set up. This may have been because it was the finale and nervousness, or he just didn't think it through.
- Ron Weasley has this problem in Harry Potter books five and six. He's a good Keeper when no one is looking, but he gets too nervous to play when people are watching him play.
- Happens to Petra in Ender's Game, crippling her usefulness to Ender. This is not because of an inherent inability to deal with nerves, but because of the enormous weight of pressure and responsibility that Ender had placed on her.
- The Great And Powerful Turtle in Wild Cards suffers from this when using his telekinetic powers. This gets in the way of his desire to be a superhero until he gets access to some military surplus battleship armor and a scrap Volkswagen Beetle.
- In Lonely Werewolf Girl one of the biggest problems Dominil has acting as manager for werewolf punk-rockers Beauty and Delicious is preventing them from getting completely drunk due to their stage fright. Yep, werewolves with stage fright.
- In Moving Pictures, clickie superstar Ginger is terrified to step out of the coach in front of a cheering crowd, having only acted in front of a camera crew rather than an audience. Victor snaps her out of it by suggesting that she pretend it's a click, and it works: she can handle the attention if she stays in character.
- Similarly, in Wyrd Sisters, Death gets a case of stage fright and starts fumbling over the lines "he" is supposed to play when he turns up for real on the stage towards the climax at the book. It's explained this is because the circumstances mean everyone is expecting to see him, and thus they can, and it's very unusual indeed for him to be seen by such a large crowd of living people.
- A children's book about a boy getting the lead role in the school performance of Robin Hood brings this up. "The more mistakes I made, the more nervous I got. The more nervous I got, the more mistakes I made." It gets so bad that he ends up mixing up words; when the script reads "Listen to the minstrel", he comes onstage and announces "Listen to the Smartie!"
- "Randys Dandy Lions" is a children's book written by Bill Peet that features a troop of performing lions that suffer from what the book refers to as 'cage fright.' This results in the firing of their trainer and the hiring of a new one. This does not end well.
- In one Horatio Hornblower story, Hornblower goes down in flames when he takes his examination for lieutenant before a board of three captains. They pose him a hypothetical shipboard disaster and he blanks out as they point out all the horrible things that would be happening in the real situation—and then the Spanish send a fire ship into the harbor. Hornblower helps steer it away from the fleet with one of the examiners, who makes a point of telling him afterward what a mercy it was because he was about to fail. (Hornblower's heroism does net him the promotion.)
- Our Miss Brooks: The plot of the episode "Public Speaker's Nightmare".
- On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon wins an award but is a nervous wreck because he has to give a speech (public speaking being one of his many phobias/quirks). He has a few drinks beforehand, but winds up getting so drunk he makes a total fool of himself.
- The Brady Bunch:
- "You Can't Win Them All," from the fourth season, was about Cindy earning a spot on a Quiz Bowl-type show for elementary students ("Quiz the Kids," with Chris Knight's father, Edward, playing the quizmaster). Cindy's huge ego (the central focus of the episode) underlied the fact that she studied hard for the program ... only for it to come crashing down when the cameras started rolling and the live TV broadcast began. Cindy fails to so much as mutter a syllable the entire time - all she can do is stare blankly at the camera throughout the show - and Mike reassures his disconsolate, humiliated youngest daughter afterward, "It can happen to anyone."
- "The Driver's Seat," one of the last episodes from Season 5, where Marcia, Jan and Greg each experience this: Marcia, when trying to pass her driver's test to get her license (despite Greg's heckling about Women Drivers); Jan, when she tries out for the debate club; and Greg, when he tries to beat Marcia in a winner-take-all driver's obstacle course competition.
- Family Ties: The first season episode, aptly titled "Stage Fright," had a High School Bowl-type program in its plot, where the highly intelligent Alex, captain of his school's quiz bowl team, is forced to turn to his dunce of a sister Mallory when a teammate falls ill. Alex is well prepared for the show and victory for his school is assured just by his mere presence ... only for him to unexpectedly come down with stage fright. Alex is unable to answer one question or spit out a coherent statement, while Mallory (the underachiever) is relaxed, despite only answering a few of the questions right.
- Game shows are a prime example of this trope. Many shows have qualifying tests, which producers use to select the contestants they believe will perform the best and have a chance to win. While many contestants selected to play the game do well, many others simply do not ... not necessarily because of the unexpected difficulty of the material or because they're facing a Ken Jennings-type champion, but because they simply are unable to relax or perform well under pressure (i.e., when he/she is expected to do well). As such, contestants sometimes unintentionally say the wrong thing when asked a question everybody knows the right answer to ... if they are able to give any response at all; the contestant will almost always - unless they were honestly stumped or truly believed their answer was right - admit their error once they realize their mistake or the host reads the right answer.
- Pat Sajak, host of Wheel of Fortune, has said many times - especially after an easy Bonus Round puzzle goes unsolved - that playing the game at home or from the studio audience is much different than a contestant playing the game, and that nerves and the pressure to do well take their toll when the cameras begin rolling.
- At least one champion from The $100,000 Name That Tune recounted his experiences from the $100,000 tournament in Jefferson Graham's "The Game Show Book"; in an elimination round, he knew the titles to three songs ("Yesterday," "America" (from West Side Story) and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree") but was either unable to answer before being buzzed or press his lock-out buzzer fast enough, and he owed his lack of success to extreme nerves (particularly since he knew a large prize was up for grabs). At least one other book - pitching advice to prospective game show contestants - included its author's own disastrous experience on the Jim Perry version of Card Sharks; she wrote that, despite being relaxed beforehand, she became completely unnerved when told she was going on air to play the game, and those nerves - plus a lack of support from others in the contestant pool, whom she had thought were her friends - contributed to a pair of quick losses to a dominant champion.
- Chuck's ability to "flash".
- Dee Reynolds on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia suffers from debilitating stage fright to the point of dry heaving during a stand-up comedy routine.
- Played with in Married... with Children. Marcy is anxious about having to deliver bad news at a presentation to her bank executives. She sees a psychotherapist who conditions her to associate public speaking with sex. This not only relieves her performance anxiety but causes her to have an orgasm during the presentation. She's soon in demand throughout Chicago as a speaker delivering bad news.
- Simon in Misfits has difficulty when trying to get the hang of his power — he can't turn invisible while people are watching.
- Starsky & Hutch: Hutch can pull off the most embarrassing undercover roles without a hitch or a stammer but put him in front of an audience in his own identity and he freezes up.
- Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Singing in front of people is identified as one of her worst fears in "Nightmares", a first season episode.
- In Zoey 101, Michael gets a bad case on Open Mic Night, to the point of vomiting on the first row of spectators, including the girl he has a crush on.
- Ally from Austin & Ally has a bad case of this whenever she gets on stage. How bad is it? She accidentally destroys an entire TV studio while trying to get away when Austin gets her on a live TV show.
- The second Horatio Hornblower telefilm is appropriately titled "The Examination for Lieutenant" in the UK and "The Fire Ships" in America. Despite spending all his free time inside of a book (even when commanding a quarantined supply ship) Hornblower, as in the original story, can barely give his name correctly. It's compounded by the fact that he'd previously an angry exchange with one captain on the board who insisted on taking provisions before the quarantine was up. All interrupted by the fire ship, of course. Hornblower ends that particular episode still as an acting-lieutenant, but the official promotion comes down in the next.
- Shoestring: On his first day as radio show presenter, Eddie has an attack of nerves. He stammers his way through much of his first broadcast and even giggles at one point.
- The Partridge Family:
- Before the band's first public performance, Shirley is so nervous she has trouble moving her mouth and is afraid she'll faint on stage. She does fine; it's the kids who end up freezing up, and she has to tell them to close their eyes and pretend they're still in their garage.
- In "The Red Woodloe Story," the titular folk singer agrees to perform with the family, but on the first night he gets scared and leaves before he's supposed to appear. The next night he tries to do the same thing, but Tracy stops him and helps him overcome his stage fright.
- In the concert version of Pink Floyd's The Wall, Pink starts "The Show Must Go On" asking if he has to "Stand up wild-eyed in the spotlight" and why he shouldn't turn and run
- The Band, as quoted above, released an album named "Stage Fright." Fittingly enough, its title track is about a man who suffers from it.
- This is actually what the front cover art to Jean-Michel Jarre's Equinoxe (1978) represents (original artwork by Michel Granger is indeed titled Le Trac (stage fright)). As Equinoxe was the follow-up to his 1976 breakthrough album Oxygéne, Jarre knew that the new album was invariably going to be compared with its predecessor, which is why he chose the art piece about stage fright as the album cover.
- In Granblue Fantasy, we later learn that Sen has symptoms of this. Her Christmas Version's Fate Episodes has her overcoming her own stage fright with the guidance of Clarisse and Ladiva.
- In the Homestar Runner short "A Decemberween Pageant", Strong Sad gets the part of The First Decemberween in the titular pageant. He gets so nervous that he locks himself in the bathroom before his scene, and the rest of the cast are forced to improvise to extend the play. When Strong Sad finally does come on-stage, it turns out that The First Decemberween's entire part consists of walking on-stage and saying "What?" (or alternately, that Strong Sad's part was supposed to be larger, and no one in the audience noticed or cared that he messed it up).
- When Park Hyung Suk is about to sing in the School Festival in Lookism he suddenly freezes and can't sing at all, even though he's in his Bishōnen body at the time. Thankfully does Duk Hwa have the courage to rap until Hyng Suk feels confident enough to sing, and the concert became a success.
- In Questionable Content, Marten claims to suffer from performance anxiety. Later, he shows this when, on the occasion of his father's remarriage, he's called upon to give an impromptu speech, which quickly descends into Inane Blabbering.
ANYWAY. Ma-marriage! Yes! Marriage yes. Good job marriage. Good dads. Yes. Thanks.
- Irya from Bits Fair is a constant victim to stage fright, first seen at the start of chapter one.
- Rougina of Alice and the Nightmare, while with a lot of practice, still dislikes public speaking and the stress of it makes her tremble and in need of several minutes of exhausted panting afterward.
- The Smoke Knight Malek from Girl Genius is generally quite good at his job but starts having trouble when working with someone since he's used to working alone and it makes him nervous which leads to potentially fatal mistakes:
Varpa: Are you trying to kill us?!
Malek: I'm used to working alone! I get nervous when someone's watching!
- A mild version is called the "Let's Play Curse", where the LP-er's game will be completely thrown off his mojo. It happens a lot more often in live commentary because the LP-er has to focus on two things at once.
- In an episode of Birdz, Eddie's friend Gregory is shown to have a fine singing voice, but is afraid to perform onstage. At first, he has Eddie lip-sync to him, but then feels guilty over pushing Eddie into the spotlight this way and runs off. Eddie finally fakes a sore throat, forcing Gregory to step in as his understudy and overcome his stage fright.
- Darnell from Buddy Thunderstruck in the episode "Buddy Shreds" reveals himself to be a talented guitar player, but is too nervous to play in front of people, so he records himself playing and Buddy pretends to play the music on stage.
- Even though she does perform out in public in the same episode, Aelita from Code Lyoko has stage fright in "Music to Soothe The Savage Beast". Luckily a return trip helps lessen this near the end of the episode.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Fluttershy is very nervous about performing in the Hearth's Warming Eve play in Canterlot. Does not get better when Rarity tells her there might be thousands of ponies watching.
- In "Hurricane Fluttershy," Fluttershy has to help out in whipping up a tornado with the other pegasai but is overcome by fear of her own perceived inadequate flight capabilities. This has a cause; as a filly, she was bullied for being a weak flier. This also only occurs when she's being observed by other ponies; she goes off to train with her animal friends and is fine when they are watching, but as soon as they don Uncanny Valley pony masks, Fluttershy falters. By the end of the episode, however, Fluttershy manages to overcome her inferiority complex, and in Season 4 proves capable of flight performance in a very public setting twice.
- In "Filli Vanilli", Fluttershy is afraid of singing publicly, and as a result, hides behind a curtain while another pony lip-syncs to her voice. To her credit, she had a deep bass singing voice at the time. When she accidentally knocks the curtain down and outs herself as the real singer, she has a nervous breakdown. For this specific problem, she ultimately is able to try again but decides to work through it slowly.
- Happens with Rainbow Dash in "Sonic Rainboom" after she crashed during every practice session and was being upstaged by Rarity.
- Sweetie Belle has an instance of this in "The Show Stoppers." Like Fluttershy, she has a good voice but is shy about singing in front of others, prompting her to do props and costumes for their show instead of singing, which goes to the Hollywood Tone-Deaf Scootaloo. She appears to have gotten past it as of "For Whom the Sweetie Bell Toils," when she writes, directs, and acts in a play, but she has yet to publicly sing.
- In "Equestria Games", when it's time to light the torch in front of the entire stadium, Spike's unable to trigger his fire breath.
- Fluttershy is very nervous about performing in the Hearth's Warming Eve play in Canterlot. Does not get better when Rarity tells her there might be thousands of ponies watching.
- In the Christmas Episode of Ready Jet Go!, Sean assures his friends that it won't be a pressure to sing in the Christmas pageant. But when it comes time to actually sing, Sean gets nervous and freezes up on stage when he realizes that everyone's looking at him.
- This was the original reason why SpongeBob from Spongebob Squarepants kept failing to get his boating licence. The first couple episodes it was shown, it was stress that made Spongebob freak out and crash into everything. Then it became a case of Depending on the Writer, where his driving skills would vary according to how the scene could best be formatted, and when he drove well, there'd be a decent justification for his confidence boost. Then Flanderization and Seasonal Rot hit, and the reason was completely forgotten, and that Spongebob would just inexplicably turn into a crazy, senseless Person of Mass Destruction behind a wheel, no matter the situation. Another episode has SpongeBob suddenly develop a fear of public speaking when he has to give an oral report in boating school.
- SpongeBob has this in the episode "ChefBob" when Mr. Krabs creates an open kitchen. SpongeBob gets past this by inventing a new persona, a puppet named ChefBob, that becomes a hit from insulting the Krusty Krab customers and staff.
- In The Smurfs episode "All The Smurf's A Stage", Poet Smurf, who decides to become the lead male star of a play he wrote, comes down with stage fright and is unable to perform on the night of its production, requiring Timid (who was studying to become an actor behind the scenes) to take Poet's place as a last-minute substitution, which earns him the rename Actor.
- Steven Universe:
- This is the main reason Sadie doesn't want to perform her song in "Sadie's Song".
- Navy, one of the Homeworld Rubies, becomes flustered and runs away when brought up to talk to an audience, as seen in "Back To The Moon".
Navy: If I remember correctly, we were on Earth... uh... (chuckles nervously) this is so embarrassing, ohoh, oh... (yells and runs off to the side)
- We Bare Bears: In "Occupy Bears", Panda gets stage fright and turns red all over when the interviewer mentions the thousands of viewers watching him.
- Truth in Television for many people: glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is commonly listed as the most common phobia in humansnote . When referring to people specifically performing something (like a play or a music recital), it's colloquially called Stage Fright.
- The Trier Social Stress Test, a common method used in laboratories to generate genuine stress in human subjects on short notice, is composed of speaking (usually, the question is framed as the "opening pitch" of a job interview, i.e. "Why should we hire you for X position?") in front of a panel of three stern-looking men and performing an tricky arithmetic task in front of them.
- Also a common malady in the sexual realm, and a frequent contributor to The Loins Sleep Tonight.
- Everywhere in amateur/high school productions of plays or musicals. It can merge into Bad Bad Acting eventually if the performer does not try to keep it under wraps. The way to spot it is a refusal to put down their arms, frequent gesturing to emphasize words and/or legs placed firmly on the stage, complete with bobbing in some performers.
- Barbra Streisand has admitted to having terrible stage fright before every performance.
- Steven Tyler of Aerosmith was extremely reticent about singing in the studio in the band's early years.
- Peter Gabriel used to suffer stage fright as the frontman of Genesis. Wearing outlandish costumes onstage helped him overcome it.
- Till Lindemann of Rammstein has such an extreme case of anxiety on stage, he rather set said stage and himself on fire in order to keep people distracted from staring at him, this is how and why Rammstein's popular style of performances was created. He used to wear sunglasses but he figured fire was more effective.
- Reputedly, the discomfort original Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips had with the larger audiences and venues the band played post-Trespass led him to quit the band.
- Alyson Hannigan is afraid of singing in front of people, leading her to request almost no singing lines in Once More, With Feeling, the Musical Episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- This is still a problem for Ringo Starr. That's right, the drummer of The Beatles still gets an anxiety attack before every gig he plays. Luckily, when you're behind a drumset, nobody can see your legs shaking.
- Some people argue that not having an anxiety attack before public speaking to a group is weirder than having one, depending on the circumstances and topic.
- Roy Orbison fabricated his cool-looking, sharp-dressed image to try dealing with this problem.
- Mitch Hedberg, to his dying days, wore rose-colored aviator sunglasses on stage to help him get over his stage fright. He said it helped the audience feel that much farther away.
- It is very possible to develop this kind of anxiety with things that are not actual performances. If a person is micro-managed too much on anything, be it a chore, a job, or anything else, they might get this in regards to that task, not wanting to let others see them inevitably mess up and call them out on it.
- Andy Partridge of XTC. For years, his stage fright was kept under control by valium (he was prescribed for it as a teenager, but the doctor never took him off of it), but when his wife threw away the pills on him, his stage fright was so crippling the band had to cancel the rest of the tour they were on and became a "studio-only" band.
- Actor Ian Holm suffered a catastrophic attack of anxiety during a performance of The Iceman Cometh in 1976 and didn't do any live theatre for almost fifteen years.
- Meg White's increasingly severe phobia of live performance was the main reason for the end of The White Stripes.
Don't mess up the edit, Troper... Remember, we are all watching, listening and judging.