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Quirky Ukulele

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Do your homework with a fork
And eat your Froot Loops in the dark
And bring your Etch-a-Sketch to work
And play your ukulele
Amanda Palmer, "Ukulele Anthem"

The signature instrument of Endearingly Dorky Manic Pixie Dream Girls everywhere is the ukulele.

Once associated with Polynesian music (though it was originally a Portuguese variant on the guitar), and with 1920s jazz, since the 1990s the ukulele has since become associated with quirky young people. Most examples are women, with males preferring acoustic guitars (and, overall, singing more sentimental songs). Their youthfulness and weirdness is accentuated by the fact they like such an obscure, light sounding instrument as the ukulele.

The character doesn't necessarily even have to play the ukulele. They can just have a ukulele-themed leitmotif.

This became a Dead Horse Trope in the 2010s due to overuse. Ukuleles in relation to quirky characters are more often mocked than played straight.

Compare/contrast Polka Dork. The male variant of this is Girls Like Musicians. It may be her Signature Instrument.


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    Films — Animation 
  • In the VeggieTales movie Gideon, Tuba Warrior, Bob gets pressed into service during the segment of the show that usually contains "Silly Songs with Larry", because Larry (and the other Pirates Who Don't Do Anything) are busy running the rest of the program. The chosen number is a ukelele karaoke called "Lance the Turtle", which ultimately deteriorates into gibberish.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • An early example is gawky Walter Denton's brief ukulele and singing solo in The Movie Grand Finale of Our Miss Brooks back in 1956. Walter sings "It's Magic" to his girlfriend Harriet Conklin on the family's front porch; his breaking voice and off-key singing leads Harriet's father to put his head out and threaten to throw him down the porch steps.
  • With his quirky bona fides already established from the get-go, Navin of The Jerk serenades Marie while walking down a beach and playing a ukulele for accompaniment (Marie later joins in on a cornet).
  • The irritating and somewhat eccentric Louie played by Adam Sandler in Mixed Nuts brings his ukulele almost everywhere with him. From writing a song in an attempt to woo Catherine (and comforting Chris with the same song) to providing accompaniment while the gang sing Deck the Halls as they carry a dead Stanley down the street with them.
  • Ginger in Splendor in the Grass (1961) is an early Unbuilt Trope example. She's a liberated Flapper girl who wants to be an artist and is far hipper than anyone else in her small town, and her main hobby is playing the Ukulele, which she plays along to Jazz records. She dates many men, who clearly see her as a fun breath of fresh air, but unlike in later examples she's not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Instead, her promiscuity ruins her reputation and is implied to stem from some sort of mental issues.

  • Stargirl is a 2000 book about a quirky New Transfer Student who upsets the balance at her new high school. Amongst the odd things Stargirl does is carrying a ukulele around and singing with it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Crashing: Lulu is a young woman who plays the ukulele and she's desperate to be more unconventional than she truly is deep down. She calls her instrument uku-Lulu and plays some strange bits for fun. Lampshaded when she meets Kate: "Is that a ukulele? Wow, quirky!"
  • In one episode of Criminal Minds, Penelope, a FBI technical analysts known for her bright and colorful outfits, bubbly personality, and sharp wit, is shown taking ukulele lessons. This is yet another aspect of personality that contrasts against her darker, much more sedate coworkers.
  • The Mother in How I Met Your Mother is shown in the final season to be exceedingly quirky, and owns a ukulele which is her signature instrument. In fact, she owns it specifically for quirky reasons: she was given it so that she can accompany her breakfast foods as she makes them sing show tunes.
  • In Our Miss Brooks, in "Blind Date" one of the items Miss Brooks returns to Mr. Boynton is his ukulele, that he serenades her with on her back porch. Ukulele playing is featured by Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton and Mr. Conklin in a few episodes of the series, notably "Special Party", "Hawkins Travel Agency" and "School Band". In The Movie Grand Finale Walter Denton enjoys a brief solo playing and singing "It's Magic" to Harriet . . . albeit in an off-key, breaking voice.
  • Shelley, the quirky daycare owner who once made out with Jimmy from Raising Hope plays the ukulele. She uses it partly for fun, and partly to teach lessons to the babies, seniors, and dogs in her care. (Both Shelley and Gooch were were played by Kate Micucci, one half of the musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates.)
  • Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. The musician Tiny Tim is best remembered for singing the song "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" in a falsetto voice while playing the ukulele on the show.
    Dan: Tiny has added a bit of choreography to his usual presentation.
    Dick: There is nothing usual about Tiny Tim's presentation!
  • Parodied in the Saturday Night Live segment "Being Quirky with Zooey Deschanel", which spoofs Deschanel (played by Abby Elliot)'s spacey brand of "quirky". She's playing a ukulele in the theme song.
    Deschanel: But the best kind of girl is a quirky girl! [meows at the camera]
  • Scrubs: Ted's Love Interest, Stephanie Gooch, plays ukulele for kids in the hospital. She's quirky enough to find the balding, sad-sack, incompetent, a-capella-singing attorney attractive. And can play "Carry On My Wayward Son" on her ukulele. And she hates being lied to.
  • Joe's flashbacks in You show his free-spirited, quirky girlfriend Candace playing a ukulele.

  • Amanda Palmer:
    • Amanda has her Ukulele Anthem which is all about this trope. It's a satirical song about how ukuleles make people quirkier and happier.
    • She uses the ukulele quite a lot in her live shows both in a quirky and a straightforward way, but it started out when she wanted to learn to play a quirky ukulele cover of Radiohead's 'Creep'. It proved so popular that she's been opening her shows like that often from that point on, and she also wrote some songs specifically for the instrument.
  • She And Him consists of Zooey Deschanel, probably the poster child for the quirky Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the 2000's on the ukulele, accompanied by M. Ward on guitar. They play jaunty indie pop.
  • Tiny Tim may be one of the most famous, if not Ur-Example, ukulele players due to his eccentric appearance and personality. He made numerous appearances on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, and even had his first wedding hosted on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. He's perhaps best known for his rendition of "Tiptoe Through The Tulips," sung in a high falsetto voice while accompanying himself on the instrument.
  • Kate Micucci plays one of these with Garfunkel and Oates.

  • Some Like It Hot: "Poor Little Millionaire", the number establishing Osgood as an Eccentric Millionaire, has him and his employees play ukuleles to establish how goofy he is for a man of such financial and social standing.

    Video Games 
  • In Risk of Rain, one of the items you can find is a Ukelele, whose only description is "...and his music was electric." It gives your attack a chance to fire a Chain Lightning on hit, and it's definitely one of the better Rare items, and is one of the standouts among other items as one of the more mundane items available.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • In "The Luau" from Homestar Runner, Marzipan, a textbook Granola Girl, throws a Luau party where the only food is a giant block of tofu, and the only entertainment is Maripan playing the ukulele to accompany Strong Sad's Polynesian poetry (which sounds like incoherent cooing). The whole thing is treated as pretty weird and boring by the other characters, but it all fits Marzipan's free-spirited personality.

  • In Dumbing of Age, Danny's attempt at reinventing himself involves learning the ukulele, which he thinks will make people say "Look, it's Danny! With the ukulele! He's a good egg!". His peers mostly just think it's weird, and it's pointed out multiple times how many people try to invoke this trope to make themselves seem more interesting than they really are. The music majors, particularly Sayid, hate this because the computer science majors trying to invoke this tend to hog the music rooms.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • Manic Pixie Dream Wife: Chance's manic-pixie-dream-wife Simone plays the ukulele. In episode "My Get-Well Juice" when Chance is in hospital, she plays her favourite instrument and sings him a song she wrote about toxins from plastic. (The song is a variation on "Littlest Birds" by the Canadian folk group The Be Good Tanyas.)
  • On Joji Miller's Surreal Humor-laden Filthy Frank Show, one of Miller's many Cloud Cuckoolander characters was Pink Guy, who wore a pink Lycra suit and performed a number of bizarre and often deliberately offensive songs. When not rapping, Pink Guy tended to perform those songs in a crooning voice while accompanying himself on the ukulele, which made the Lyrical Dissonance all the more prominent.

    Western Animation 
  • The titular character of Steven Universe is a quirky, slightly feminine boy who lives with his magical guardians, the Crystal Gems. A ukulele is his signature instrument, and most of the songs he composes In-Universe are played with one. However, by Steven Universe: Future he switches to an acoustic guitar, and ends up giving his ukulele away to Pearl.
  • Parodied in the Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart episode "Popularity Conquest". In an attempt at becoming popular, Mao Mao reinvents himself as a marketable, brightly colored character. He turns pacifistic and tries to befriend a monster by playing a song on his ukulele, but it doesn't work.
  • In one episode of Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?, the villain uses a sonic device to brainwash two of the Hex Girls so that instead of their usual goth schtick, they're played as cheerful and wholesome. This culminates in Thorn playing one of her usual goth songs in a peppy voice while playing a ukelele.

    Real Life 
  • British music hall and film comedian of The '40s George Formby became an unlikely screen hero because of his gawky misfit clown persona and his quirly ukelele-based songs. (Technically, he played a banjolele or banjo uke.)
  • An off-the-wall comedian Frank Skinner who is a Formby fan and an accomplished ukelele player. His routines and songs present the ukulele as a musical instrument of quirkiness.


Video Example(s):


Scaredy Matt

At the end of "Phantasm 3 Ukulele Jam!", he goes back to pretending he knows how to play it, strumming it in various absurd and incorrect ways.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

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Main / QuirkyUkulele

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