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Sad Clown

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"Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, 'Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.' Man bursts into tears. Says, 'But, Doctor... I am Pagliacci.' Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains."
Rorschach, Watchmen

Often found among troops and superhero teams, the Sad Clown is the wisecracking funnyman who copes with his hopeless position with humor — usually of the groan-inducing kind. He is totally insecure at heart and keeps on running his mouth to fool himself into thinking he's confident or to get people to like him.

In the most tragic cases though, people do actually find them genuinely charming and likeable because of their humor and like being around them. This is usually of little comfort to the Sad Clowns, whose insecurities cause them to fear that people only really like the "Clown" part of them, and so they do their damnedest to always be the "Clown" in public, but bury and suppress the "Sad" side of them as deeply as possible, because they are afraid that people would like them less if they were to find out about it.

This character tends to make Dude, Not Funny! jokes at inappropriate times to cope. But he is never deliberately a Monster Clown.

Often put in more serious series to add some comic relief, while at the same time secretly revealing to the audience that the character is a simmering pot of hidden insecurities and angst, just like everyone else in the cast.

Very commonly tragic Truth in Television, as it's actually very common for people afflicted with mental illnesses (especially Bipolar Disorder, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, Personality Disorders, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders for example) to actually have a great sense of humor. It sounds contradictory, but mental illness isn't all sadness and darkness. One thing that is common to many people with mental illnesses is severe self-doubt about their value as a person. Cracking jokes and making people laugh can help temporarily ease some of those feelings. Not to mention that humor is a very effective coping mechanism; if one were to observe interactions between patients in a mental hospital, one would hear a lot of Gallows Humor that Crosses the Line Twice, leavened with a surprising amount of Sophisticated as Hell.

Contrast Non-Ironic Clown. See also Gallows Humor which is often used about a grim subject whenever someone wants to lighten up the mood, Broken Hero, Inferiority Superiority Complex about people who mask their insecurities by acting self-assured in order to gain confidence, Stepford Smiler who pretend that they are happy with their lives often to themselves first and foremost and don't necessarily use humour, Stepford Snarker who has a lot of similarities but is more usually bitter at others and his remarks are generally more cutting, Sour Outside, Sad Inside when the character masks their inner trauma with cynicism and snark rather than humor, The Unwitting Comedian, who doesn't even bother hiding their sadness but is seen as a straightforward jokester anyway, The Comically Serious, where a character gets put in comedic situations but forces themselves to be serious, and Dreaded Kids' Party Entertainer Job, when someone who performs for kids' parties is abused, which may make them depressed or anxious.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cooro from +Anima. He's the story's resident Cheerful Child Genki Guy, but a mix of him being born a +Anima, the resulting inability to understand his own humanity and a toxic relationship with one of his caretakers means that he's hiding a fair amount of sadness, some of which he's implied to have not even realized he had.
  • The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You: Miss Naddy, real name Nadeshiko Yamato, is a reverse Occidental Otaku, a Japanese woman so enamoured with the United States that she dyes her hair, dresses as a hot cowgirl, speaks in horrifically mangled English, and considers Big Macs, the most American food she knows, the best thing ever. Behind the exaggerated stereotypes is a young woman who rejected her upbringing as a Yamato Nadeshiko because it made her miserable. Indeed, any time Naddy drops the act, she is noticeably sadder. In chapter 80, Naddy speaks normally because she's stranded in the woods with Yaku, who can't understand anything she says otherwise. Yaku notices, and encourages Naddy to be herself despite the "language barrier" because it obviously makes her happy and Yaku much prefers seeing that.
  • An older, calmer, more mentor-like version is Doctor Abel Geiger from Ashita no Nadja. Complete with one of the saddest backstories in the series.
  • Bleach has Rangiku Matsumoto. Despite having a funny, carefree nature, she's actually deeply troubled, at least by Gin's behavior. You wouldn't know about her sad past from her attitude today....unless her Hard-Drinking Party Girl act is exactly that; an act to hide that she's really Drowning My Sorrows just like Izuru Kira, one of her regular drinking buddies.
  • GB (a.k.a. 007) from Cyborg 009. His backstory changes in every animated continuity, and yet none of them are pretty.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, though hammy and emotional on the outside, when one of Enmu's henchmen breached Zenitsu's subconscious, it was a pitch-black blank devoid of any hopes and dreams made manifest like the subconsciousness of Rengoku, Tanjiro and Inosuke's. A life of abandonment, loss & betrayal had left Zenitsu's heart so hollow and bereft of hope for the future, all he has to live for is the present; until he met Nezuko.
  • Ebisu from Dorohedoro shows signs of this after getting Chota's hairclip stuck in her brain. In the aftermath of Kai's attack on the En household, Fujita notes that while Ebisu laughed, as usual, she actually looked very sad.
  • Possibly everyone from Gintama. Strangely for a comedy series, most of the cast have a very dark and depressing background.
  • There's a female one in Hana no Ko Lunlun. Sophia the Norwegian Circus Brat is embarrassed about working as a clown in her family's circus (despite having the talent to do so) and lies to Lunlun about actually being a Cute Monster Girl instead. With Lunlun's help she discovers that it's actually fun to make people laugh.
  • Polnareff from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders often plays the comic relief role, acting quite impulsive and has a running gag with toilets. He's also one of the characters who has the worst lives in the series. Before the story, his little sister was raped and murdered, prompting him to go on a 10-year adventure to find the culprit. In Egypt, he was hypnotized and brainwashed into becoming DIO's minion. Within part 3, Polnareff saw Avdol died trying to save him twice, had to kill the reanimated image of his sister, then Iggy also died trying to save him. He developed Survivor's Guilt and wished the two had left him to die. After part 3, he returned to his hometown and lived alone... or so we thought. In part 5, it was revealed that he was almost murdered by Diavolo, losing his eye, legs, and hand. He barely survived and had to hide for 14 years, cutting off all contacts with his last remaining friends Jotaro and Joseph.
  • Kano from Kagerou Project is the very definition of this. He cracks jokes all the time, laughs at the most inappropriate times, and loves teasing others. Underneath it all is a broken teenager with little to no self-worth and believes he doesn't deserve anything.
  • Kaleido Star:
    • Rare female example: Anna Heart, a Bifauxnen artist from the Kaleido Stage who wants to be a comedian, but hides how deeply hurt she's been after her father Jack (a.k.a. "Baron Jack") left her and her mother Julia.
    • Jack was one of these too. The reason why he left is that he was swindled by his manager, and left home because he couldn't face Julia and Anna as well as the crash of his dreams. And he was getting worse, evolving into a very embittered Stepford Snarker who told cruel jokes that mocked everyone (something he had never done in the past) until Anna got to Calling the Old Man Out in front of him. Thankfully, they got better.
  • Nico Yazawa from Love Live! has a goofy personality that mostly hides her insecurities of being unable to form her own idol group, which has made her very snarky and cynical towards the other members of μ's. This makes it all the more heartwrenching when she breaks down crying along with the other girls in the penultimate episode.
  • Izumi from Martian Successor Nadesico is a one-woman Hurricane of Puns. We never get the full story, but one episode reveals she only became like this after her fiance died in an accident. When she's forced to relive it she nearly turns suicidal. It wasn't even the only boyfriend she'd lost!
  • Duo Maxwell from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing tries to be the mood maker for the Gundam pilots, and is certainly the cheeriest and goofiest of the group. He's also got a particularly tragic past (orphan, lost his best friend to disease because only the rich people got the vaccine, bounced between foster homes before settling in a church with a caring priest and sister, only to lose them to a pointless battle) and refers to himself as "Shinigami", not boasting about his ability to kill enemy pilots but because the specter of Death seems to hover around him at all times.
    • A more literal example is Trowa Barton Triton Bloom, who works in a circus as a clown, but is as far from goofy as one can get.
  • Shades of this can be seen in My Hero Academia ‘s Present Mic. His public persona is that of an energetic, upbeat attention loving radio host who often makes jokes but he was hit hard by the loss of one of his best friends during his U.A. student days. He still cried hard and got angry trying to reach anything of Oboro that might be in Kurogiri, the nomu made from his corpse. And he can be brutal if Aizawa, who’s pretty much all he has left, gets hurt.
  • Naruto:
    • The eponymous character of Naruto is partially this along with being a Trickster. Having grown up as something of a pariah for having the Nine-Tails Fox, he grows up to hate the harsh looks the villagers give him. He turns to be a brash prankster as it's still much less harsh than being viewed as something not meant to exist. He more or less grows out of it, though sometimes it's more than the reasons change.
    • Iruka is implied to have been like this, having lost both his parents to the Nine-Tailed Fox. Unlike Naruto, he did not have to deal with being hated, but he acted the way he did to ease his loneliness. He reaches out to Naruto when he realizes they have this in common and becomes Naruto's first father figure.
    • Current Kakshi is a laid-back guy who smiles a lot and makes awful excuses for his late arrivals at work. He's of course nowhere as joyful as he acts, having seen everyone he loved dying horribly. His father committed suicide, his first friend died saving him, his second friend committed suicide by jumping into the line of his Chidori, his teacher died protecting the village. The reason he's always late to work is that every morning he spends several hours staring at their graves.
    • Jiraiya. Aside from being a pervert who loves to peep on women's baths,Jiraiya is deeply haunted by his inability to save his friend and his students. At his last moments, Jiraiya contemplated his life and thought it's "nothing but failure".
  • One Piece:
    • Possibly Luffy, considering the things we've learned about his past in the last few years. After his complete and utter breakdown after Ace's death, it becomes devastatingly clear that underneath his cool, strong Idiot Hero exterior, can awaken a scared boy who's terrified that he's too weak to protect his loved ones and that he's generally nowhere near as innocent, carefree or stupid as he might want you to believe.
    • Brook practically runs on this trope, being a walking pun factory on the subject of his supernatural disfigurement. At inappropriate times? You bet. He is also quite the pervert. We discover that he and his crew died in the most dangerous sea before being able to fulfill their promise to return to the friend they left behind. Only Brook's Devil Fruit which allowed him to come back from death just once offered the slightest chance of fulfilling their promise, and since then he had waited 50 years alone on the corpse-filled ship before the Strawhats came. In the flashback, it seems like Brook was actually quite serious when he was alive, but in 50 years of solitude, he made jokes and thought of puns in order to distract himself from suicidal thoughts. After a major loss for the crew leading to a separation arc, he was put on display in a freak show cage for crowds to scream at in disgust. Then he met the "get people to like him" criteria in truly epic fashion. It's good to be the Soul King.
    • Doflamingo and his brother Corazon fit this trope in different ways. The former always wear a smug grin on his face, while the latter actually wears clown makeup. They both have a traumatizing childhood.
    • Luffy's brother Ace is a pretty jovial guy, much like Luffy. And just like Luffy, he's got a lot of hidden insecurities. He spent his entire life thinking that he didn't deserve to be born.
    • Technically everyone who has eaten a fail SMILE, as they will be forced to smile and laugh forever, even if they want to cry. The most gruesome example is Toko, a little girl who ate the SMILE and now couldn't stop laughing, even as her father is executed.
  • Break from PandoraHearts teases everyone mercilessly, smiles constantly, and has a ventriloquist (probably) act going with a doll he keeps on his shoulder. And is as utterly broken as if not more so than anyone else in the main cast.
  • Sasame flirts (heh) with this trope in the manga version of Prétear. He's constantly flirting with the main character and teasing the other knights, and at first, it seems like he takes NOTHING seriously... but several scenes hint that he's not quite as much of a jokester as it seems. This particularly comes into play when he reveals he was in love with the Big Bad in the past, and you consider what happened to the anime version because of that...

  • Stańczyk is a painting by Jan Matejko that depicts a royal jester who is distraught at the news of the Russians invading the city of Smolensk while the nobles behind him continue their party.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Gargoyles spin-off Gargoyles: Bad Guys, Fang is revealed to be a Sad Clown. He's just as shocked and horrified as everyone else to find out Tasha hung herself. He just dealt with it by making an inappropriate light bulb joke.
  • Batman:
    • Dick Grayson has been retconned into this in his youth. He was the first Robin, and his history is largely unchanged: he was the same person cracking jokes and facing down villains and making terrible, terrible puns. However, his parents were killed in front of him, and his adoptive father figure has been transformed into always having been a brooding creature of darkness, so he was covering for something. As Nightwing, he's less of this, being relatively well-adjusted, all things considered.
    • If the memories of The Joker in The Killing Joke (wherein "Jack" loses his wife, the baby inside her and his face in one day) are to be believed, he plays this trope straight. The heartbreaking finale wherein both the Monster Clown and Batman hysterically laugh at the cruelty of their lives drives in just how deeply both these men have been hurt; Joker in particular must substitute laughter for tears, or the ponderous weight of his sadness would crush what little will to live there is left inside.
  • Crossed: Skip from the Wish You Were arc is characterized as the dependable but somewhat laidback and goofy Australian member of the group for the first volume. However, he is later shown to be experiencing deep inner hurt from abandoning his injured brother in order to get out with the rest of his family before the mob of psychotic infected could reach the pier where their boat was, and raising a child who isn't his own.
  • Deadpool is often written like this. It is frequently implied that all of his Motor Mouth and Deadpan Snarker tendencies and constant Casual Danger Dialogue are really all a massive coping mechanism for not only his borderline Body Horror condition of having cancer in, well, his entire body, which causes him near-constant pain but also the existential terror he feels from being aware of the fact that he is a fictional character.
    • In the first arc of Cable & Deadpool, Cable asks why he's helping the villain's Assimilation Plot — it could be the first step to world peace, but falling in line and giving up his right to be different isn't Deadpool's style. Deadpool replies that all his crazy opinions just cover up the fact that he doesn't have anything.
    • He actually lampshades this trope in his arc in X-Men Origins, when he is telling a screenwriter about his less-than-ideal home life.
      Deadpool: When you're confronted with a horrible situation, there are only two reactions that make sense: laughter or tears. And laughter, after all, is nature's anesthesia. Tears hurt too much.
  • Iron Man verges on this at times, especially when Matt Fraction writes him.
  • Nova AKA seventeen-year-old Richard Rider, definitely fits the bill here. Similarly to Spider-Man, he makes various quips with his enemies, but he is far more insecure, with failing school grades and his family's financial issues, and the fact that just about everyone in his family is some sort of punctual, successful go-getter except him. If not for his girlfriend, Ginger, who knows how mentally worse off he'd be?
  • Plastic Man from DC Comics is often accused of this, denying it every time. Whether he is lying or not depends on your interpretation.
  • In Red Hood and the Outlaws Arsenal tries to chat and make jokes whenever he can, but it's fairly obvious that he's practically dead on the inside. He admits this in Issue 5 to Starfire, saying he believes that as a team the three of them could help each other. Hell, the entire team is dead on the inside and trying to cover it up.
  • Spider-Man: Spider-Man himself is a rare example of a main character being the sad clown. At his healthiest, his notorious mid-fight quips are still as much about coping with how scary his life is as distracting his enemy.
    Iron Man: Have you noticed the closer we get to uncomfortable truths, the more jokes per minute you make?
    • In Marvel Zombies, Spidey drives the other zombies crazy with the constant, irritating jokes he keeps making. When told to cut it out, he informs them that he makes jokes to help himself forget that he's become a flesh-eating evil lunatic.
    • Mary Jane Watson was one of these in her backstory - she kept up a constant Fun Personified party-animal persona to cover up for how miserable her home life was.
  • Beast Boy/Changeling from Teen Titans, in both the comic and the animated series. An Emergency Transformation turned him into a green shapeshifter. He watched his biological parents die in a boating accident. An Evil Uncle got custody and abused him. He ran away and found the Doom Patrol, who were more than happy to show the Evil Uncle why he ought to pick on someone his own size. Rita Farr adopted him, but she was (apparently) killed with the rest of the original Patrol, which made Mento (Gar's adopted father) even more mentally unstable. And his first serious girlfriend turns out to be Terra. He fully admits that his options are "laugh or cry" and he's choosing the former.
  • Much of The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye is about lonely people communicating in snark, so there's a fair amount of this, whether it's Whirl being abrasive to cover up his traumas to Rodimus hiding his insecurities behind a flamboyant display of charismatic goofiness, but the grand prize goes to Swerve, the Motor Mouth bartender, who turns out to be so lonely and isolated that a thirty-second conversation convinced him that Blurr was going to be his lifelong friend. At one point, it turns out that he was running his bar with a holomatter avatar for some time while essentially comatose in his room, having created an entire holomatter Earth based on sitcom tropes because he found them more comforting than actually experiencing his life.
    Swerve: Everyone assumes that if you make jokes, you're happy. Why? Why is that?
  • The zombie-like Ghoul of The Ultraverse, who does it to cope with being The Grotesque.
  • Mentioned in Watchmen throughout flashbacks of Eddie Blake (a.k.a. The Comedian). "But Doctor...I am Pagliacci!" (This joke has appeared in multiple forms, see below.)
  • X-Men:
    • Iceman. He has had a difficult life, starting in his origin story. He first used his powers to save his girlfriend Judy Harmon from a would-be rapist. She was scared of him and ended their relationship. His status as a mutant became public knowledge and he was targeted by a mutant-hating mob. He has had a difficult relationship with his father William Drake, who does not trust mutants. He has had many love interests but his love tends to be unrequited. Even his most successful relationships have ended in sad notes. He feels insecure about his position in the X-Men since the once tight-knit is more recently filled with people he barely knows. He still faces life and dangers with a series of wisecracks.
    • And from X-Factor we have Guido (a.k.a. Strong Guy). Cracking dumb jokes helps ease the physical pain from his mutant powers.note  To say nothing of the problems that come from just being a mutant.
    • Nightcrawler. Despite being the Class Clown, he suffers from being a mutant even more than most as a result of his demonic appearance, and has a depressing backstory. Where he falls on the Fun Personified to Sad Clown scale depends on the writer.
  • Yorick from Y: The Last Man continues to crack lame jokes despite being the only male survivor of the Gendercide, to the frustration of his traveling companions.
  • Although he is a genuinely happy-go-lucky person, Morph has instances of this in both his Age of Apocalypse and Exiles incarnations, which results in teammates telling him to shut up and be serious for once. When he does, it tends to be heartbreaking. His original incarnation (at least, the first to use the name Morph) in X-Men: The Animated Series was like this too, and it was just as sad to see his real psyche.

    Fan Works 
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Peter Parker keeps up a chipper and joking persona around Izuku, but weeps at night out of worry for his ex-wife and daughter as well as the stresses of being a superhero.
  • But Doctor, I Am Pagliacci deals with the Joker getting a Restoration of Sanity- which, naturally, leads to him using his sense of humor to cope with all the absolutely horrible things he's done but now doesn't find funny.
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged: Cracking awkward, horribly inappropriate jokes seems to be how Krillin deals with all the crap he's put through.
  • Metroid: Kamen Rider Generations:
  • In Karma in Retrograde, Touya Todoroki tends to default to bad jokes and beating around the bush when there's something on his mind. When they were younger, Touya would also wear smiles on his face and goof off to cheer up his younger siblings even as they all suffered under Endeavor's abuse.
  • In Requiem for a Loud, Luan Loud is revealed to be one. Beneath her constant pranks, bad puns, and quirky personality, she's actually a depressed and lonely girl who is considered a freak by her classmates.
  • Sword Art Online Abridged's take on Kirito is a snarky Jerkass who can keep up the insults and sarcasm even in combat. But in Episode 8 it's all but explained that this is in part a coping mechanism from spending years trapped in The Most Dangerous Video Game, as seen when Kirito cracks a joke after watching Corvatz die in front of him during a boss fight gone wrong.
    Klein: Really, man?! A pun?!
    Kirito: [nearly bluescreening] What, what's- what's wrong, I'm, I'm a funny guy, It's What I Do...
    ALF Red Shirt: Someone help me! Please!
    Kirito: I-I mean, what do you expect from me? It's not like I care about any of this...
  • Blackened Skies:' Teruteru fancies himself to be a Lovable Sex Maniac who keeps everyone entertained by serving up an endless array of Double Entendres... even though said jokes aren't well received. It doesn't take long for it to come out that this is actually his primary way of distracting himself from the stresses of the mutual killing game, to the point of becoming an involuntary reflex — he keeps digging himself deeper because the comments slip out when he's nervous.
  • Between My Brother and Me: Mors Omnibus: Yvonne Maxa is a snarky puppeteer who usually smirks or smiles at things that go her way, even if said thing happens to be dueling against Zarc and Yuya. Despite her jokes and wit, she has a lot of baggage she's hiding. Aside from losing her older brother when he crashed his motorcycle and landed himself in a coma, only to die a year later, her best friend being repurposed — that is, dead and brought back to life stuck at the age of eleven — but she's been tasked to kill Yusho Sakaki (who she idolized a lot) so he could be brought back as the Dark Signer of the Condor and ends up screaming in agony at what she did.
  • A Clash Of NEETS: Aqua is as much the unlucky goofball she always was, but she's strongly implied to be this. Unlike her days adventuring with Kazuma and the gang in Belzerg, she's painfully aware that her role as a goddess means any mistakes on her part have catastrophic consequences, something she learned the hard way when her well-intentioned decision to reincarnate Arthas Menethil led to the creation of a new Lich King, and all the death and destruction that followed. Combined with her loneliness now that all her mortal companions have reincarnated, and her antics come across more like she's trying to relive happier times.
  • In The Maximoffs (And Friends and Family) vs The Multiverse! (And Sometimes With) Peter and to a lesser extent Wanda are both this in spades. Wanda obviously has her sitcom reality to cope with her overwhelming grief, while Peter at one point discusses this, claiming that he has little hope for himself or that he will make any meaningful relationships besides Wanda, but keeps a joking demeanor because there's little use in angsting about it. Slightly deconstructed during different points in the story where they both seem determined to make light of their awful situations to push away going full Heroic BSoD.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Paradox: Ian Joule is a talkative, foul-mouthed, perpetual smiling, obnoxious, and an upbeat fourth-wall breaker with a rather macabre sense of humor who takes pleasure at trolling others. Underneath that mask lies an emotionally damaged young man who didn't take the truth learning that he is a byproduct of Child by Rape.

    Films — Animation 
  • Aladdin has Genie as a very likely example, who humors himself and his friends to cope with the fact that he has just been imprisoned within a magic lamp for 10,000 years and will most likely be there for another 10,000 once Aladdin's done with him, as with every master he's had before him. Fourtunately, he is proven wrong about this at the end, and his happiness becomes far more genuine after Aladdin frees him for his final wish.
    Genie: PHENOMONAL COSMIC POWERS! Itty bitty living space.
  • Hercules: Hades is a villainous example of this trope, except unlike most villain examples, his humor is mostly to cope with the grim atmosphere of the Underworld he is forced to rule over rather than sadism.
  • The title character of The Adventures of Mark Twain makes various humorous quips to Tom, Becky, and Huck through their journey to Halley's Comet. However, deep down, Twain suffers from a profound sense of loneliness from his wife's passing, and thus, chases the comet so he could finally be with her once more.
  • Davey Stone of Eight Crazy Nights is known for his drunken, destructive antics in the community, especially during the holidays. When he was a child, his parents were killed in a car crash during Hanukkah, so his cynical, mean-spirited mischief became an integral coping mechanism.
  • Vanellope Von Schweetz in Wreck-It Ralph teases Ralph with childish copycatting and crude humor constantly throughout the movie, much to his chagrin. However, deep down, she is tormented by the bullying she receives from the other racers. The most emotionally intense scene in the movie is when Ralph, tricked by King Candy into thinking Vanellope was a potentially fatal glitch in Sugar Rush's code, reluctantly wrecks her go-kart into little fragments right in front of her, and the immense pain emanates from her true psyche.
    • In the sequel, this trope is averted with the resolution of the previous film.
  • The Brave Little Toaster has Air Conditioner, who taunts the protagonists for their ongoing faith in the Master's return until Kirby reminds him he's stuck in the wall. Also, the mangled up appliances from Elmo's parts shop with their Gallows Humor could qualify.
  • Kung Fu Panda had Po, a giant panda who was initially filled with a sense of self-loathing (which he hid well) so profound that it made his heroes' initial disdain for him feel positively kind.
  • In Bee Movie, Barry B. Benson's entire hive, including himself, apparently falls under this, judging by his first conversation with Vanessa. The bees' comedic underreactions when they hear about one of their co-workers dying on the job definitely show signs of desensitization to psychological trauma as well.
    Barry: Bees are funny. If we didn't laugh, we'd cry with what we have to deal with.
  • Toy Story 2 has Jessie. When she's not fun and boisterous, her mind recedes back to the cold dark place where she spent much of her life after being abandoned by Emily and discovered by Al, only for her, the Prospector, and Bullseye to be left in storage until Al kidnapped Woody. As a result, she has a lot of anxiety and sadness deep down. Her writers even called her a character with "high highs" and "low lows". She's none of the clowns and doubles the sad in the first act of Toy Story 3. Having experienced abandonment from Emily and negligence from the greedy toy collector has left her very convinced that Andy intended to have the toys thrown out when he had them placed in a garbage bag he was trying to bring to the attic before his Mom mistook it for trash, even ignoring Woody's equally insistent reassurances.
  • Bing Bong in Inside Out. He is loud-mouthed and jolly, but we later learn that he is deeply saddened by the fact that his creator Riley doesn't remember him, despite spending many years of her childhood with him. He has been spending all his time wandering around in her memory bank to look at their memories together.
    • Jangles is a more literal example—a birthday party clown who's suffering conflicting emotions in the epilogue. It's made clear that while Riley has a fear of clowns, Jangles himself is a normal guy who isn't trying to be scary. His emotions bemoan going to acting school just to be avoided by scared kids.
  • In The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger is a hyperactive Cloud Cuckoo Lander and forever jolly and unflappable. When the others finally succeed in un-bouncing him, however, the result is such a depressed broken shell, they are left heartbroken and completely go back on it.
    • The Tigger Movie takes this a step further, when Tigger comes to realize the ramifications of being the only one of his kind in the Hundred Acre Wood, and starts longing to find out where his family might be.
  • Jack Frost in Rise of the Guardians. On the outside, he's a carefree prankster who wants everyone around him to enjoy themselves. On the inside, being Invisible to Normals and ignored or rejected by all abnormals has taken its toll on him, leaving him depressed and convinced that no one will ever care that he exists if they notice him at all.
  • Downplayed with Nick Wilde, the snarky, cynical con-fox of Zootopia. His smug mannerisms and snarky comments mask a childhood trauma that turned his youthful idealism into cynicism. Throughout the film, we see hints that his kindness and idealism weren't completely destroyed, just buried, and his adventure with Judy helps that side of him re-emerge by the end of the film.
  • Hector from Coco seems like a carefree, charming con-artist who just wants to go to the Land of the Living like everyone else on the holiday. Then it's revealed that he is a deeply tragic character who has been unjustly hated and separated from his family for decades, and all that energetic silliness was a front to cover up a lot of sadness and shame.
  • Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return: As much as the Jester really gets into his role, it's revealed in his Villain Song that he wanted to be a powerful and respected warlock, but his sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, cursed him to be a jester permanently because she was afraid he might overpower her. As a result, nobody takes him seriously, which he highly resents. The Jester has quite a sad tone as he sings about how he longs to have power like his sister's, although he goes back to a more clownish tone at the end of the song, as he accepts that he's still a jester.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • My Dinner with Andre: Andre seems chipper, but one of the running themes of the film is about wearing a mask. When Wally first greets Andre, "You look great!", Andre cheerfully replies, "I feel terrible!" Andre then shows a picture of himself during his experiences in Poland, and he looks desperately unhappy, despite being "reborn" there. He then notes that a picture he had of Chiquita which he thought looked sexy now looked, with his more experienced eyes, as very sad. Later, Andre notes that he's more open with his emotions - when he's annoyed by his family, he tells them they're annoying him (to their shock).
  • Scientist Paul Beaumont in He Who Gets Slapped became a clown after his patron stole his work and wife. As a clown, Beaumont falls in love with another performer who is in love with someone else.
  • Jerry Lewis made The Day the Clown Cried, about a depressed, formerly great German circus clown during the Holocaust. Shooting on the film was completed, but it was never finished or released, due to behind-the-scenes disputes. It was locked in the vault and has since become a Hollywood legend. Lewis eventually came out and said he would never release it, not because of financial problems, but because he's simply that ashamed of it.
  • The 1930 German film The Blue Angel uses this trope for dramatic effect, as the main character's loss of dignity, fall in society, and descent into madness are punctuated by his donning of a clown costume. His first performance in full clown make-up, where he is continually debased and forced to crow like a cock, is the climax of the movie and shows just how pathetic the once proud man has become.
  • Red Skelton, who was known for TV and film comedy, plays one of these in 1953's "The Clown" (a remake of The Champ), where Red plays Dodo Delwyn, a washed-up clown who struggles with alcoholism. Even though his son Dink is slightly amused by his dad's antics at first, Dodo gets an offer from his agent Goldie Goldenson and his ex-wife's new husband gives him $200 which he squanders in a dice game along with the watch that he had given to his son earlier. After he gets arrested in a strip club raid and bailed out by his agent, Dodo realizes his son would be better off living with his mother and her new husband. Just when Dodo is about to make a comeback, he gets dizzy, collapsing and dying on stage.
  • This is implied to be the case for Oscar the Clown from the Olsen Twins Made-for-TV Movie Double, Double, Toil and Trouble:
    "People laugh with me when I'm a clown. Ta-Da! Oscar, the Clown of Renown, the Fabulous, the Fantastic, the Extraordinary! But...when I'm just a little person, sometimes people laugh at me. So...I stay here... Alone... In front of my mirror, and I pretend that I really am... fabulous, fantastic, extraordinary."
  • Buttons the Clown from The Greatest Show on Earth certainly qualifies: he's a former doctor on the run from the law for mercy-killing his wife. The fact that Buttons is played by Jimmy Stewart makes it awesome.
  • This is pretty much the entire plot of Vulgar, the Back Story of the View Askew clown.
  • Gelsomina from Federico Fellini's La Strada. So very much.
  • Played for Laughs in Quick Change by Grimm (played by Bill Murray), who plays a bank robber dressed as a clown, with dynamite strapped to his chest.
    Security guard: [when Grimm shows him the dynamite] What the hell kinda clown are you?!
    Grimm: The crying on the inside kind, I guess.
  • The protagonist of The Last Circus is one.
  • The clown in The Illusionist (2010) who drinks and listens to happy circus music. He did try to kill himself at one point, but Alice unknowingly stopped him.
  • Suggested as the In-Character motivation of Giacomo the Jester (Well... Hubert Hawkins' interpretation of Giacomo anyway) in The Court Jester, via the song The Maladjusted Jester. In brief, he was a morose child who didn't laugh much, to the concern and frustration of his parents. They consulted a witch who foresaw his talent for performance and comedy, much to the bafflement of everyone.
  • A Hard Day's Night had a praised sequence in which Ringo Starr had an affecting performance as a sad clown, but Ringo was not so much acting as he was hungover and so his miserable air was real.
  • The World's End: Gary, and how. He puts on a thin facade of party guy fun and pep, but he's, in reality, a clinically depressed Disco Dan who hates where his life ended up. The entire pub crawl is hinted to be one final night of fun before he kills himself.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Tony Stark has solemn moments of his own due to his massive Guilt Complex as well as personal issues and tends to hide it by being the smartass snarker as he is.
    • Peter Quill (aka "Star-Lord") from Guardians of the Galaxy had a rough youth. His father was never in his life, his mother died in his presence when he was just a child—and just moments after that, he was abducted by a brutal gang of pirates who apparently wanted to eat him,note  and never got to see his family or his home planet again. Still, despite his unpleasant youth, he grew up to be a relatively well-adjusted Handsome Lech Loveable Rogue who loves pop music from The '70s (the memoir mixtape his mother gave him) and all around is a jokey, easygoing guy, even though he still lives with the pain of his mother's death.
    • Loki becomes this in Thor: Ragnarok after all the painful lessons in humility he suffered throughout the MCU, plus having to deal with being the least favorite in the household, on top of knowing he was adopted. In Ragnarok, he's comic relief with some very serious moments. Thor thankfully convinces him to make a Heel–Face Turn with a "The Reason You Suck" Speech after Loki's failed attempt at betraying Thor right before the climax.
    • Avengers: Infinity War: Much of the humor in the film has a dark undertone to it as the characters realize how much trouble they are in, but no one gets hit worse than Thor. Following the events of Ragnarok, he lost his father (his mother died a few years ago), his planet, nearly all of his friends, and most of his people. This movie starts with most of the rest of his people, his brother, and one of his last friends killed by Thanos. He keeps trying to make jokes, but they keep becoming more and more strained. Rocket confronts him about it, and Thor admits that his life is at its worst right now, but insists that Thanos is going to end up dead just like every other enemy he has fought in the past fifteen hundred years. It's clear that he's trying to convince himself more than Rocket.
      • There is a scene with a humorous tone when Thor meets the aforementioned Peter Quill for the first time and the two Sad Clowns converse on their respective grievances like they were talking about their kid throwing a tantrum at the supermarket the other day. Not that life gets any better for Quill when Gamora gets captured by Thanos and hurled over a cliff in Vormir. You can bet that revelation from Thanos created a saddening fit of rage that melted Quill's proverbial clown makeup.
    • Avengers: Endgame pushes Thor to the next level, as he becomes a shut-in who wastes away playing video games and drinking beer. He ends up nursing an unkept Beard of Sorrow, and cannot brief the other Avengers without meandering off into a rambling discourse about old girlfriends.
  • Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault) in Marcel Carné's Le Enfants du Paradis, based on the 19th-century clown and mime.
  • Tae-goo from The Good, The Bad, The Weird comes off as all happy-go-lucky, but Song Kang-ho stated in an interview that for whatever reason, he's the most miserable of the trio.
  • The 2000 live-action Jim Carrey version of the Grinch. He may be goofier in this adaptation, but he may be angrier and sadder than in the original book and animated short. His aura of misery and rage toward the Whos and Christmas deriving from the torment he received from his Who classmates as a child.
  • In The Ninth Configuration, the astronaut Captain Cutshaw wears ridiculous outfits, speaks in absurd non-sequiturs, and makes himself a comical nuisance at the mental hospital, all in an effort to mask his despairing worldview and his guilt over having to abort a NASA lunar mission due to a mental breakdown.
  • The entire premise of Joker (2019), with a proposed origin for Mister J (the character is otherwise a prime example of Multiple-Choice Past). He's introduced as Arthur Fleck, a somewhat optimistic but down-on-his-luck comedian and clown-for-hire with a mental condition that causes him, among other things, to laugh uncontrollably. A combination of awful events coupled with bad decisions both from himself and from people around him (in particular, his boss) cause him to snap completely.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (2020), Sonic still has his signature cocky attitude and makes plenty of quips, but it's all to cope with the loneliness he suffers from, having escaped his home dimension and not allowing himself to befriend anyone lest he put everyone in danger. His only alternative to observing the people of Earth make friends and live their lives is to escape to a barren mushroom planet with absolutely no intelligent life aside from himself. It's not until he attempts to play a climactic inning of baseball with himself that his loneliness finally overwhelms him, causing him to unleash his stress by running fast enough to cause a nationwide blackout and kick off the plot.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit opens with the title character being chewed out by his director and co-Star over his constant inability to produce stars upon being struck on the head. Upon wrapping up shooting for the day, Roger is left helplessly begging the director for one more chance, desperately bashing himself with a frying pan in an attempt to prove he can give him stars. Doesn’t help matters when his wife cheats on him by playing patty cake with someone else, which has him sobbing in an alley after having accepted a shot of whiskey from Eddie, following his receiving of the news. Then he gets framed for murder, being forced to turn to a detective who begrudges toons after one killed his brother. Despite all this, Roger still has an immense passion for comedy, even if the world around him isn't always on the same page.
    Roger: A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it's the only weapon we have.
  • Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers: Tina Williams has a scene where she breaks down crying after a conversation with Dr. Loomis, then composes herself, making sure to smile before rejoining the party nearby.
  • Hello Mary-Lou: Prom Night II: Kelly Henenlotter is an interesting combination of this and a Lovable Alpha Bitch, acting supremely confident in a playful, sometimes goofy way (except around her enemies) but showing some signs of self-loathing and concern that she's not as well liked as she thinks (and since someone else wins prom queen she may have a point).
  • Romeo and Juliet (1968):
    • Mercutio. He's the jokester among Romeo's friends, cracking jokes that amuse them and is constantly sarcastic. At heart, though, he's troubled for unspecified reasons, and briefly shows it during his speech on Queen Mab, covering this with humor. When he's mortally wounded, he angrily denounces both the Capulets and Montagues.
    • The Nurse becomes this by the final scene. We see her ashen-faced and trying to comfort Benvolio as she accompanies the funeral procession inside.
  • In Blood Harvest, the lonely, brain-damaged retired clown Marvelous Mervo covers his misery with a very thin veneer of jolliness.
    Mervo: I may make the world think I'm happy, but I can't hide the truth from myself. Whatever happens, I must go on acting, acting, acting!

  • The Pagliacci joke:
    A man goes to a doctor, claiming he's depressed. He feels as if the world doesn't care about his problems, as if he's the pole the universe pisses on. The doctor ponders the man's problems, unsure of what to do until suddenly he remembers: "The circus is in town, and Pagliacci the clown is there! Why don't you go see his show, I'm sure that'll cheer you up." The man breaks down crying and sobs "But doctor... I am Pagliacci the clown!!"
    • This joke is also told as an anecdote about some real-life clowns, notably Joe Grimaldi and Gaspard-Baptiste Debureau. Wikipedia dates it to 1814, in a book of public speaking which calls the clown Carlina.
    • Ephraim Kishon uses the joke in a different context. His joke starts the same way, but in the end, the patient says instead: "Doctor, I've been at the circus, I've seen Pagliacci. He wasn't funny at all. He was the unfunniest clown I've ever seen." The doctor breaks down: "But mister... I'm Pagliacci!"

  • Marco from Animorphs. It's stated many times that joking is the only way he can deal with the difficult and dangerous situations he's constantly put in and the fact that his mother is Visser One's host. What really kills about this one is that it clearly doesn't work; over the course of the series, he goes from being incredibly emo and depressed to losing his humanity to the point that even Rachel was occasionally horrified by his actions.
    • Another K. A. Applegate example, Christopher from Everworld is almost an Expy of Marco, but with a darker personality, being a budding alcoholic and purposefully making racial or gender-based comments to offend people. And he's not funny.
  • Another great example is Gwynplaine, the title character of Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs. The film version, starring Conrad Veidt, invented the Slasher Smile. Gwynplaine is a disfigured man, and the only way he can make a living is by showing off his disfigurements to an audience. This always spreads laugh among them, but Gwynplaine himself always feels mocked.
    You hear how they laugh? Nothing but a clown.
  • Stephen King examples: Richie Tozier from It, Eddie Dean and (especially) Cuthbert Allgood from The Dark Tower.
  • An atypical violent example: Ogier, a Norse jarl in "The Ballad of the White Horse" is a nihilistic and brutal man who takes joy only in killing. To hide his misery when he isn't fighting, he fills his talk with dark humor.
  • Silk from The Belgariad openly admits at one point that he makes jokes because the alternative is to break down crying.
    • In a rare moment of honesty, he stated that one of the reasons for his sadness was that, being perhaps the greatest spy ever, he had so many multilayered cover-identities that he had lost himself somewhere under them.
    • Then, on top of that, there's his relationship with his mother, who was the World's Most Beautiful Woman until she contracted a disease implied to be smallpox. The disease disfigured and blinded her, the latter being described as a "blessing", which says something about how bad the scarring was. Silk never lets any signal that anything is wrong slip when he meets her, but it's outright stated that the reason he remains a field operative in spite of an impressive track record and advancing age is so that he can spend as little time as possible lying to his mom.
    • And then there's his unrequited crush on his uncle's wife... who also happens to be his boss' boss' boss, is very fond of him but not that way, and also married to the one person Silk genuinely respects.
  • Cradle Series: Eithan Arelius seems happy, as he is constantly smiling and telling jokes. In fact, his most common criticism is that he never takes anything seriously. But the truth is that this is just a mask to cover the isolation that his incredible talent has granted him; he has spent his entire life separate from everyone else because he was advancing in his world's Power Levels at a breakneck pace. In Reaper, he mentions that the Icon (platonic ideals of reality that grant the ability to enforce your will on the world directly) he's holding out for is the Joy Icon. Everyone else treats this as a joke, but it's pretty clear that he's being serious. You earn an Icon when you become a symbol of it to the universe itself. Eithan can do nearly anything, but he can't convince the universe that he's happy.
    Eithan: Of course I'm happy! Why else would I smile all the time?
  • The Dresden Files's Harry Dresden, who "follow[s] the tao of Peter Parker"; see the page quote. Everyone and everything in the universe appears to have it in for him because Being Good Sucks; he responds by making terrible jokes, even when this is not strictly in the interests of self-preservation.
  • Star Wars:
    • Expanded Universe: Clone commando R C- 8015, 'Fi', starts merely with wisecracks. Over time, however, his mood darkens, but he continues to amuse his squadmates with jokes. His tend to be a touch morbid, but very funny.
    • His Deadpan Snarker contrast is his replacement Corr, who copes with bad situations with acid sarcasm.
    • In the X-Wing Series, we get Ton Phanan, though we don't really see the "sad" part until we get to Iron Fist.
    • In Aftermath: Empire's End it is revealed that Jar Jar Binks has become this. He was ousted from the Senate and exiled for his unwitting role in Palpatine's rise to power and now spends his days as a clown entertaining refugee children. Bringing happiness in small ways is his way of atoning.
  • The Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures' Fitz Kreiner. Hardly ever stops cracking jokes, to the point people get mildly annoyed on principle. He was born in London four years before the beginning of World War II and is half-German, for which he was severely bullied. By the time he turned eighteen, his father was dead and his mum was insane. In the first novel he appears in, he's told a joke he makes about his angsty Backstory is Dude, Not Funny! He also tends to make jokes when he's nervous about things like aliens that want to eat his face. The more nervous he gets, the worse the jokes.
  • Bryan Stark, the main character in the teen series DRAMA!, is a mild example of this.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Martian-raised Mike has difficulty understanding humor, until he draws the conclusion that all humor serves this purpose: "They laugh because they hurt so much. Because it's the only thing that will make them stop hurting."
  • The Fools' Guild in Discworld produces nothing but this.
    • Members of the guild are seen often forgetting if they're supposed to be "happy on the outside and crying on the inside, or the other way 'round." This is understandable since the Fools generally don't lead pleasant lives. Indeed, it is common knowledge on the Disc that Fools simply cannot be funny ("if it was funny, a clown wouldn't be doing it"), and clowns are regarded as inherently pitiful or scary, rather than comedic. Exemplifying this is the fact that the guildhall is often mistaken for that of the Assassins, which is actually the light, airy building next door. According to Word of God, it began as a monastery for a particularly sombre group of monks, and the founder of the Fools' Guild was shaped in his philosophy towards comedy by A: the fact that he was honestly nowhere near as funny as he believed himself to be, B: a mindset that convinced him that jokes and humor were Serious Business and should be treated with great dignity and respect, and C: the very pronounced trait of Discwolders, especially those in Ankh-Morpork, to be Literal-Minded to the point of being deliberately obtuse, which doesn't make joking an easy matter. The result is that generations of Fools have had their emotions crushed and any actual knack for humor (not to mention the desire to make people laugh) stamped out of them. No new material or humor is allowed in the guild, only impossibly tired jokes and routines that are centuries old and things nobody would ever laugh at.
    • The head of the Fool's Guild is Dr. Whiteface, whose makeup has a big painted smile... while his actual expression is "as cold and proud as a prince of Hell". And to top it off, we find out in Making Money that the clowns are still very much Monks when we see a former clown who ran away from the lifestyle as a boy, still retaining only the basics of the skills he'd been taught with. Eventually, he demonstrates EXACTLY why Ankh-Morporkians are right to feel nervous and creeped out by clowns, in a demonstration of Battle Clowning that would make the Joker green with envy.
    "You think the ringmaster runs the circus, do you? Only by the consent of the clowns, Mr. Lipwig! Only by the consent of the clowns!"
    • Another book that featured a member of the Fools' Guild as a prominent member was Wyrd Sisters, with the official Fool to the king of Lancre. The story makes it clear that he's a very clever person, both with amusing wit and dangerous amounts of political insight as well as a genuine desire to help the people around him, but the Fools' Guild taught him to be deeply ashamed of these traits and turned him into an Extreme Doormat that just keeps his head down and does tired, guild-approved shtick. To make matters worse he's in the service of a mad, cruel, and humorless king who uses his political insight as a means to better torment the populace. Spending time with Magrat helps him grow a spine, and once she and the other witches depose the king he winds up being crowned Lancre's new ruler. Future books show that he's a capable and compassionate king who genuinely sees himself as a servant of the people.... but after years of pie-in-the-face routine he banned the sale of custard.
    • It is mentioned in Men at Arms that the patrons of the Fools' Guild are genuinely good at their job in making people laugh. In the sense that talking to one is such a miserable, soul-crushing affair that by the time you're done literally anything will seem hysterical. Earlier in that same book, when a fool is murdered, he asks Death if he will still need to do his clown act in the afterlife. When Death reassures him that no, he won't, the dead clown replies, "I like it better already."
  • In the Harry Hole novels, Bjorn Holm's role as a confident hipster and reliable sidekick is deconstructed in Knife, where he gets a monologue reflecting on how his quirks keep people from taking him seriously, hurting him both professionally and socially. Interestingly, Bjorn is a character whose Plucky Comic Relief role was originally played straight but secretly evolved into a sad clown after several books worth of off-screen disappointments.
  • Leo from The Heroes of Olympus. He jokes to deal with the loss of his mom. And they're actually funny, unlike most Sad Clowns. Even worse, Leo has been pushed from foster home to foster home, due to people seeing him as a "demon child" (he is the first son of Hephaestus who can control fire in over 300 years. And the one before him started The Great Fire of London.)
  • Nick Sagan's Idlewild has Mercutio, who describes his coping methods as "Humor? That's my lizard tail. You can look at that while I run away."
  • In The Wide Window, the characters patronize a rather miserably awful restaurant called The Anxious Clown. Guess what all the waiters are dressed up as.
  • Grantaire in Les Misérables plays this role in the Amis; his cynical wisecracking and ridiculous verbal antics mask his grim knowledge that he and his friends are about to give their lives for a cause he thinks is pointless and that his idol Enjolras despises him.
  • This is basically the premise of You Don't Know Me. The protagonist is a First-Person Smartass who's constantly describing his miserable situation in the most bizarrely humorous ways he can.
  • Odd Thomas, in the series of novels of the same name by Dean Koontz, a First-Person Smartass who notes early on that he will be keeping the tone of the books light, otherwise what he has to say would be too painful to tell, and in-story (in other words, in the actual situations) he covers up his sadness, fears, etc. with a healthy dose of snarking or silliness.
  • Albert Campion, Gentleman Detective and Gentleman Adventurer created by Margery Allingham, constantly and compulsively makes jokes and does things For the Funnyz simply because that's part of his personality, but he also uses it to keep people away from what's really going on inside of him.
  • Don't Call Me Ishmael!: While Razz is a genuine egotistical Class Clown in the present, he mentions that when he was younger, he felt like he had to make his mother laugh to cheer her up every time his father made her cry.
  • Kindling Ashes: Frang is constantly making jokes to cope with the fact that he could go up in flames at any moment and a family tragedy in his past.
  • The Moviegoer has Kate, an ill girl who has pseudo-religious experiences one after another to stave off the mundanity of her boring life.
  • In Nerve, (by Dick Francis) one of the victims of Malicious Slander is always joking "like Pagliacci" in a failed attempt to act unperturbed.
  • Doc Webster of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon is an archetypal example. The funniest man in the entire bar, who could recite his Social Security Number, deadpan, and have the audience in stitches, he found his way to Callahan's after a particularly traumatic night: his wife had broken up with him, simply saying that she couldn't stand him anymore. He'd tried for years on end to be the laughing, joking type, building up that wall between himself and everyone else — and he eventually learned better from a patient who was terminally ill, bedridden, and in constant care. That patient was the one who sent him to the eponymous saloon.
  • Mistborn: The Original Trilogy: Kelsier has this down to a philosophy: he smiles and cracks jokes as a way to rebel in a Crapsack World.
  • The Shel Silverstein poem "Cloony The Clown" is about a circus clown whose act gets every possible reaction from audiences except laughter. Fed up, he stands center-ring during his performance and gives a monologue about how miserable it is to be an unfunny clown. Everybody laughs.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has Dolorous Edd, a member of the Night's Watch prone to making morbid quips. He adopts a persona of The Eeyore, but his Deadpan Snarker observations and anecdotes make him one of the funniest characters in the series.
  • The Locked Tomb: Gideon the Ninth: Gideon will make inappropriate jokes in the most dire of situations, mostly because her whole life has been a fairly dire situation. Palamedes observes that Gideon, underneath her bluster, absolutely hates herself. She can't deny he's right.
  • This is the entire character of Yozo from No Longer Human; finding himself incredibly fearful of and completely unable to understand other humans, he puts on an outward facade of cheerfulness and jocularity to fake his way through life and social situations.
  • The poem "Reír llorando" ("To laugh while crying") by Juan de Dios Peza is a more detailed take on the joke: I am Garrick... change my prescription!

    Live-Action TV 
  • 21 Jump Street: Doug Penhall is revealed to be this in the second season. He's a jolly guy, but has a tragic past; amongst other things, his mother committed suicide when he was 6 and he's estranged from his brother.
  • American Horror Story: Freak Show: Twisty. For the first episodes, you would probably only refer to him as the evil clown. But once his backstory is revealed, he truly becomes the sad clown. Perhaps the saddest clown ever.
  • Angel: Lorne's perpetual comic persona starts turning into this in Season Five, mostly after Fred dies. He even gets a whole scene talking about this in "Underneath."
  • Babylon 5:
    • Londo Mollari in the first season, where he uses cheer and wisecracking to cover up his bitterness over his current career and the failing nature of the Centauri Republic.
    • Other wise-cracking characters with tragic backstories include Michael Garibaldi (Shell-Shocked Veteran, alcoholic, and at least once contemplating suicide), Susan Ivanova (brother died in combat, mother died of suicide, and secretly a telepath), Marcus Cole (brother died fighting the Shadows), and Alfred Bester (revealed in the novels to have had his life generally screwed up by the numbers thanks to humanity's attitude towards telepaths and the Psi-Corps' response). Although as often as not, Bester seems to just be cracking jokes because he knows it annoys the Mundanes.
  • Band of Brothers: George Luz has shades of this after the company goes through the hell that is the Battle of the Bulge (during which Luz had to witness Muck and Penkala get blown to bits by a shell that landed in their foxhole). His jokes and wisecracks become more bitter and weary than before.
  • Chip, the protagonist of Baskets is an especially literal example: He started clowning as a way of coping with his father's suicide and keeps it going as a way of fighting his insecurities. His initial clown character "Renoir" is even a stereotypical sad French clown.
  • Better Call Saul: Amoral Attorney Saul Goodman was originally introduced to Breaking Bad to act as Plucky Comic Relief for a show that was going to become very dark. His prequel spin-off depicts an utter Trauma Conga Line of betrayals, attempts to become a better man thwarted by a combination of his own tragic mistakes and those who don't believe he deserves a chance to be better, PTSD-inducing experiences, abandonments from everyone he loved and his own inability to overcome his Fatal Flaws despite his desire to be better. By the end of the show, it becomes quite clear that Jimmy McGill's persona as the sleazy showman that is Saul Goodman is largely a way to distract himself from all his personal guilts, traumas, and self-loathing.
  • The Biggest Loser: It's pretty much a guarantee that male contestants who have boisterous, jokey personalities are hiding major self-esteem issues caused by their weight.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Most of the main characters can be called a sad clown.
    • Leonard makes jokes but he sometimes breaks down when his emotionally detached mother is talked about or shown.
    • Howard often makes the most jokes and insults towards his friends but he became upset when he saw an Alf toy and mentions that when his father abandoned him, his mother gave him the toy and told him that Alf took his father to his home planet and then cries after asking where his father is.
    • Stuart is the depressed comic book store owner who often makes jokes about himself or others. this is even lampshaded by Sheldon who calls him a sad clown.
  • Breaking Bad: Two of the main characters hide their sad nature under a postureing exterior.
    • Hank is introduced as a loudmouth, boisterous, almost oafish DEA agent. Starting around season two, he starts suffering PTSD and panic attacks from the stress of his job but keeps up the same old persona in front of almost everyone.
    • Jesse Pinkman is introduced as a clownish Pretty Fly for a White Guy. But this trope becomes especially apparent in later seasons as he endures more and more trauma, making his jokiness feel forced and out of character to signify his deteriorating mental health.
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Buck, as portrayed by Gil Gerard, really amped up the clowning aspect in the pilot. After the pilot, he still threw around jokes and One-Liner but more akin to the wisecracking Action Hero with a dash of Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer. The made-for-TV pilot epilogue showed some quiet time after defeating the Big Bad where the reality was now sinking in of Buck having lost everything due to being a 500-year-old Human Popsicle. Wilma, who had now warmed up to him (after spending most of the pilot disliking him), understood the secret behind Buck's humor:
    Wilma: You use it to avoid feeling pain... It doesn't always work. Does it?
    Buck: I think you know the answer to that.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Xander is generally the group's wise-cracker, and while it's mostly genuine, it's also how he copes with being The Team Normal in a world of terrifying monsters (and that's not going into his dysfunctional home life).
  • CSI: NY: Adam Ross jokes around a lot at work, but inside he's harboring unresolved issues from his abusive father whom he describes as "a bully." He finally tries to confront him about it in season 9, but is unsuccessful due to the man having Alzheimer's and only having intermittent periods of lucidity, thus not remembering (much less acknowledging) his behavior. As a result, Adam has always looked up to his boss. Fortunately, underneath his tough exterior, Mac is indeed A Father to His Men and has a heart-to-heart with Adam about his issues in "The Lying Game."
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor, in some incarnations more than others. This is especially true in the revived series, which added a traumatizing war to their backstory to represent the years the show was off-air.
    • Directly addressed in "Robot", where one of the outfits the recently regenerated Fourth Doctor attempts to wear is a fancy clown suit with "teardrops" painted on his cheeks.
    • In the words of Eleventh Doctor actor Matt Smith:
      "That's what interests me about the Doctor because, actually, look at the blood on the man's hands. 900 years, countless very selfish choices, and he's literally blown planets up. His own race, you know, that's all on his hands. Which is why I think he has to make silly jokes and wear a fez. Because if he didn't, he'd hang himself."
    • Steven Moffat was once asked which incarnations of the Doctor were happiest and came to the conclusion that Fourth laughed too quickly, and Seventh's comedy business was deflection.
  • The Flash (2014): Ralph Dibny uses humor and sarcasm to quote with his childhood trauma and his dad leaving him when he was a kid.
  • Friends: Chandler is a rare example from a comedy series. This was lampshaded quite early on, when Phoebe's psychiatrist boyfriend, as part of his schtick of alienating everyone by pointing out uncomfortable truths, said, "I wouldn't want to be there when the laughter stops." Chandler himself says later that he's using humor as a defense mechanism. He's scarred from his thoughtless parents and neglected upbringing when it was implied he was used as a pawn in their divorce. He has serious self-esteem issues because of it and it's only through his relationship with the other friends (particularly his girlfriend Monica), that he gains confidence.
  • Game of Thrones: Tyrion's joking, fun-loving nature masks the Trauma Conga Line of abuse he suffers from both his father and society. This becomes apparent in his trial, where he's not at all funny, but deadly serious and frightening.
  • Generation Kill: Ray Person, although his insecurity isn't the only thing fueling his hilarious, uber-offensive humor—it's also the fact that he's generally on almost no sleep and a near-permanent caffeine high thanks to his ever-present bottle of Ripped Fuel. Averted in the finale (and, after the war, in real life) when extra interviews show the real Ray as a generally quiet yet outspoken man.
  • While Jerome Valeska of Gotham is usually much more of a monster clown, being an uncomfortably hilarious psychopath who was raised in a circus, sometimes his character has shades of this, especially when he's joking about his horrifically abusive childhood. Not to mention that, even though he seems to enjoy making his evil plans as funny and outlandish as possible, they are often a means of distracting the heroes so he can focus on his real objective of getting revenge on people who hurt him. This being Jerome, his revenge involves killing his entire family, except for his brother, who he drives insane with Joker venom, turning him into the show's final version of The Joker. Then there's the fact that he dies of suicide, even though it's implied that he did it at least partly because his death was part of his plan to get revenge on his brother.
  • Grey's Anatomy: Amelia Shepherd is a former addict who lost her boyfriend and baby. She had a brain tumor for ten years and her brother died. She makes consistent, usually unfunny jokes (to the other characters) whenever possible, especially when upset.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Barney Stinson, whose constant self-aggrandizing wisecracking, over-the-top stunts (everything from magic tricks to kidnapping his friends), and ridiculous womanizing antics are a mask to hide how utterly insecure and self-loathing he is inside, and how desperately dependent on his friends he is, by trying to make himself look like a loose cannon who is too awesome and confident to need anyone.
  • Kamen Rider
    • Kamen Rider Drive has a downplayed example in the form of Gou Shijima. Gou is jovial and goofy on the outside, but deep down, that exterior hides his innate hatred towards Roidmudes, and worse; after learning his father is revealed to be the Big Bad.
    • Ryoma Sengoku of Kamen Rider Gaim inverts this trope with sociopathic spades. Whatever childish and Black Comedy antics he'll throw at you can give you a bad day. Just ask Kouta, then Micchy in episode #43, with him snarking at the latter after killing Kouta was the last straw for Micchy to break down like a hysterical child.
    • Kamen Rider Fourze: Gentaro occasionally verges into this. Played straight in Movie War Mega Max.
    • The titular hero of Kamen Rider OOO, Eiji Hino is considered to be this, with Stepford Smiler in spades. Though he is rather optimistic as a whole and is always traveling around the world in an outlandish fashion, and a Butt-Monkey on some occasions. In actuality, Eiji is haunted by the traumatic experiences that resulted in civil war in a nation where his father was a political leader.
  • Keen Eddie: Throughout most of the show, Monty makes several ill-timed and insensitive jokes, warranting Eddie to suggest that he has no soul, but after getting snapped at for joking in the face of Eddie's life-or-death situation, Monty admits that he uses humor to cope with situations that worry or frighten him, citing how he laughed all through his uncle's funeral.
  • Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger features Bandora as the main antagonist, who is one of the more humorous Sentai villains, who develops stress headaches whenever the Zyurangers beat a monster of the week, goes on a comedic crash diet and even has her own comical theme song she performs when things go her way. However, she is an evil witch who became that way after she went mad with grief when her son was killed by a T-Rex 170 million years ago for smashing its eggs, causing her to sell her soul to Satan and drive dinosaurs on the brink of extinction. This is what drives her burning hatred for children in present-day 1992.
  • Lost: Hurley is usually seen as a jovial, Plucky Comic Relief kind of character, especially in the first season. In his flashbacks, however, he is portrayed in a much more serious manner and develops into one of the most solution-oriented survivors.
  • Lucifer (2016) is a man ripe with sarcasm and hilarious antics who badgers Chloe during her police operations, and seems to always know exactly what to do and say to people to get what he wants, whether it be to charm his way into getting himself laid or intimidate criminals and suspects. His therapy sessions reveal deep down how enraged he is about having been cast to Hell by the man upstairs, and he's been running away from his given destiny of running the Underworld, casting away his wings and staying put on Earth no matter how hard his brother tries to get him to come back.
  • Luke Cage (2016): Rafael Scarfe is described by Misty Knight as a guy who "cracks a lot of jokes, but he rarely smiles", and it's implied to be the result of his son Earl, who accidentally shot himself with his dad's gun.
  • Mad Men: Roger Sterling uses humor to deflect or cope with many unpleasant aspects of his unbalanced life. Underneath the jokes and playboy exterior, he is a deeply unhappy man.
  • M*A*S*H: Hawkeye Pierce was once accused of this. He was quite offended and spent the rest of the episode refusing to joke. This gets parodied in an episode of Futurama where a robot based on Hawkeye could go from irrelevant to maudlin with the literal flip of a switch.
    • However in another episode, he freely admits to being one in response to a general's Armor-Piercing Question about his constant joking. And in the final episode, we see what happened to Hawkeye when that coping mechanism ceases to be effective.
    • And anyway, he's not alone. BJ Hunnicutt, Trapper John McIntyre, occasionally Margaret Houlihan and even Charles Winchester and Colonel Potter join in the antics to keep from walking into chopper blades. It's pretty much established that Frank Burns was already too far gone to be able to do this and he did crack up in the end. This may be part also of Klinger's continuous Section-8 ploys.
  • The Mentalist: Patrick Jane fits perfectly. He hardly ever STOPS smiling no matter what, but the man is ridiculously full of self-loathing and guilt for his role in the death of his family. He can't sleep at night, he still wears his wedding ring eight years after the death of his wife, and his only home beside the CBI headquarters is his broken-down old house where his mattress is right up next to the smiley face on the wall that is Red John's signature.
  • NCIS: Depending on the Writer, Tony can fit this to a T or seem more genuinely clownish. Lampshaded by Gibbs when he was talking with Tony's father.
  • Not Going Out: Lee in this Britcom has been accused of being one of these by other characters, to the point of being cajoled into seeing a therapist.
  • Psych: Shawn. He admits that he relies on jokes and inappropriate humor to defuse tough situations, and when his funny breaks in "An Evening With Mr. Yang", Gus takes up his Sad Clown mantle to help him stay calm.
  • Revolution: Aaron Pittman, played by Zak Orth, is the comic relief of the show. He was once the Google CEO, he had a beautiful wife, lots of money, and simply had it all...until the blackout. Then he pretty much got left with nothing, and while his wife didn't leave him, he ended their marriage and struck off on his own because he realized that he wasn't going to be able to protect her ("Sex and Drugs"). He has a lot to be sad about. The episode "No Quarter" had him say rather bitterly, "And the punchline was the Blackout. When the world went back to being one giant schoolyard, and the Billy Underwoods are in charge and I am weak and afraid."
  • Scrubs:
    • Motor Mouth paramedic Denise, who keeps telling jokes and funny anecdotes as a way to cope with her son's death.
    • Bob Kelso is similar. He's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who deliberately makes himself the one everyone hates so that they can put up with the fact that medicine is difficult. He's a Deadpan Snarker who pretends not to give a crap, but it's really hard for him to be the object of hate and make the painful money vs. life decisions.
    • According to Dr. Cox, all successful doctors need to do this.
      Cox: You see Doctor Wen in there? He's explaining to the family that something went wrong, and the patient died. He's gonna tell them what happened. He's gonna say he's sorry. And then he's going back to work. You think anybody else in that room is going back to work today? That is why we distance ourselves. That is why we make jokes. We don't do it because it's funny. We do it so we can get by. And because sometimes it's really funny. But mostly it's the getting by thing.
  • The Sopranos: While talking to his therapist, Tony Soprano describes himself as a "Sad Clown": putting on a happy, joking face to his family and friends while keeping his pain locked away. His claims come across more as self-pitying than anything else, given his behavior throughout the series.
  • Stargate SG-1: Jack O'Neill, a rare commanding officer example, owing in part to his backstory from the original film: He had been on the verge of suicide after his son accidentally killed himself with Jack's gun before being recruited for the Stargate mission.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • Neelix is one of these when he's at the top of his game.
    • After spending seven years on TNG bouncing between Jerkass God and Trickster Mentor, Q is revealed to be one of these when it's shown that his people have seen and done everything and have nothing to look forward to but perpetual boredom.
      Quinn: Q was out of control. He used his powers recklessly. He tormented lesser beings. All for the sake of his own amusement. And he desperately needed amusement. Because he could find none here at home.
  • Succession: Roman Roy is a carefree, hedonistic jokester who's lonely, insecure, and terrified of his abusive father.
  • Supernatural:
    • As season one progressed, Dean went from pure comic relief to being a sad, lost little boy who really just wanted his family back together and who wise-cracks only to mask that nasty pain.
    • The Trickster/Gabriel. He ran away from Heaven to escape the fight and spent a very long time teaching people the error of their ways through deadly pranks only for it to be discovered that, behind all the black humor, he was really just scared to get involved. All in all, he's just a heartbroken kid who invested too much of himself in his family to watch them destroy themselves. He spends much of his time onscreen trying to use the Winchesters to prove to himself that he was right to run.
  • The titular Ted Lasso is a cheerful Nice Guy who provides much of the series' humor with his near-constant quips and pop culture references, but it's eventually made clear that his cheerful demeanor hides a lot of trauma. Dr. Sharon Fieldstone correctly deduces that he uses jokes and references to deflect from talking about his issues.
  • The Thick of It: Malcolm started simply as highly-strung and terrifyingly funny, but his characterization eventually developed into this as the series progressed. It soon becomes apparent that jokes come out of him constantly in all situations, he doesn't care whether or not they make people laugh, and it's entirely a cover for a yawning pit of stress and existential horror.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" features a memorable clown played by Murray Matheson with a healthy dollop of Mood Whiplash.
      Clown: I'm a clown. It's neither here, there, nor anyplace... I could be a certified public accountant, a financier, a left-handed pitcher who throws only curves... what difference does it make?
    • Directly inverted with Marvin the Butler in "A Piano in the House". Normally, he is pale and wrinkle-faced, with a frown and a lack of enthusiasm for everything he does for Fitzgerald Fortune. When Fitzgerald starts the self-playing piano to expose Marvin’s personal secrets, he reveals that deep down, he’s insanely happy-go-lucky, loves his job and his pay, and is overall very happy with his life. Fitzgerald cries that it’s impossible because of how poorly he treats him, in which he responds that he finds his ego and temper amusing, and he must keep himself as grim as possible to keep from bursting into laughter.
  • The mime Pierre Oe in Wizbit isn't usually an example, but one sketch has him as the clown in the Pagliacci joke. This is the only time he's seen without his makeup, and when he says "But doctor..." it appears.

  • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles have two songs which fit this trope:
    • "Tears of a Clown" ("Just like Pagliacci did/I got to keep my sadness hid/Smiling in the public eye/But in my lonely room I cry/The tears of a clown")
    • "Tracks of My Tears" ("Take a good look at my face/You'll see my smile looks out of place/Just look closer, it's easy to trace/The tracks of my tears")
  • Burl Ives sings "Funny Way of Laughing" (It's just my funny way of laughing, yes, my funny way of laughing, Your leaving didn't bother me... I'm really happy as can be) as a Stepford Smiler who smiles to hide the tears as his ex-lover leaves him.
    • "Funny Way of Laughing" makes reference to his earlier song "A Little Bitty Tear":
      A little bitty tear let me down, spoiled my act as a clown,
      I had it made up nothing like a frown, but a little bitty tear let me down.
  • Eminem describes himself like this in "Beautiful".
  • "See the Funny Little Clown" by Bobby Goldsboro is literally about this, with the same "I am Pagliacci!" twist at the end.
  • James Darren's "Goodbye Cruel World" finds its narrator "off to join the circus" to "be a broken-hearted clown" after a breakup.
  • While German Medieval Metal Band Schandmaul often uses a funny Jester-style, their Song Der Clown is exactly the opposite of this and tells about a clown with a sad face (Der Clown mit den taurigen Augen)
  • Gary Lewis and the Playboys: "Everybody Loves a Clown" (so why don't you?)
  • Lou Christie's "Two Faces Have I" (one to laugh and one to cry).
  • Neil Sedaka's "King of Clowns"
  • "I'm a Loser" by The Beatles from Beatles for Sale. ("Although I laugh and I act like a clown / Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown")
  • "Sad Clown" by Jars of Clay.
  • The Diddy-Dirty Money song "Coming Home" invokes this in the first verse, namechecking "Tears of a Clown" and saying "it always sounds like it's talking to me when it comes on."
  • Vocaloid offers us Karakuri Pierrot by Hatsune Miku, a song about a woman, despite being stood up by the man she loves, who sees her as nothing more than a clown, is still willing to fall in love and be manipulated by him.
  • A few songs from Insane Clown Posse's "Hell's Pit", particularly "Manic Depressive".
  • Voltaire's "You Married a Fool".
  • Split Enz's "Dirty Creature" was written about singer Tim Finn's struggles with depression, and his efforts to laugh off his demons.
  • Dion's "The Wanderer" ("I'm as happy as a clown, with my two fists of iron, but I'm going nowhere").
  • Marillion's "Script for a Jester's Tear" is self-explanatory. It gets a callback in "The Web":
    I only laugh I only laughed away your tears
    But even jesters cry
    • The Jester character is featured on the band's early album covers. Apparently, he's based on their then-lead singer/lyricist Fish.
  • Paolo Tosti, an Italian musician who wrote both Italian- and English-language songs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, composed "Pierrot's Lament," a song from the perspective of a sad clown. The singer declares that a happy young member of the audience will never know "how many tears it costs."
  • Arena give us "Tears in the Rain", with influences including Marillion and Pink Floyd, and a dash of anger to go with the clown's tears.
  • The Moody Blues: "Painted Smile" ("Laughter is free, but it's so hard to be a jester all the time / No one believing when I say that I'm bleeding and I hurt all the time deep inside")
  • Cabaret artist and [adult swim] writer Michael Geier has the persona, Puddles The Sad Clown With The Golden Voice. He dresses as Pagliotti and often sings pop songs in an operatic manner. He also goes by the name "Puddles Pity Party" and has recorded with Postmodern Jukebox as well as performed in America's Got Talent.
  • The protagonist of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" "heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley."
  • The Charles Mingus song "The Clown" is about a clown who becomes this by trying to be a Non-Ironic Clown, but finds that people only laugh when he hurts himself.
    And all he wanted to do was to make that crowd laugh, that’s all he wanted to do...
    • Mingus himself has said that his original vision for the song ended with the clown killing himself. What is worse, the audience actually laughed, thinking it was just part of the act. The song was changed, leaving the meaning of the song to the listeners up to interpretation, but it could be quite possible, regardless, that people started laughing at the clown in the story because they somehow thought what he was doing was just for show.
  • Moe Bandy's Country hit "Bandy The Rodeo Clown" is about a former rodeo champ reduced to being an alcoholic rodeo clown after a failed romance.
  • The Queen song "The Show Must Go On" features the line Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking, but my smile still stays on.
    • Another Queen song, "It's A Hard Life", makes a nod to the opera Pagliacci in the opening notes.
  • Iron Maiden's "Tears of a Clown", about Robin Williams. It even wonders if his suicide could have been "all just for the best, lay his weary head to rest".
  • The video for Poets of the Fall's "Carnival of Rust" deconstructs this with singer Zoltar, a ragged fortunetelling automaton with peeling paint and a Pierrot's black and white makeup. He's become so warped by playing his role at the frightening carnival where he works that all that's left of his clownishness is his decaying façade. In desperation, he sings an Obsession Song pleading with his latest customer to love him so he can be free, but its sentiment is so Love Hungry that it frightens her off, and he weeps a Single Tear as she leaves.
  • "The Laugh Man" by Harry Chapin just screams this at the end.
    My ego is a bubble that I realize just broke, and alone without a microphone, my whole life's a joke
    I am the laugh man, half clown and half man, half out and half in, Mister can't you see? I'm supposed to leave you laughing, so why don't you laugh at me?
  • Inverted in "I Started a Joke" by The Bee Gees, where the clown's joke causes people to cry.
  • Discussed in Stevie Nicks' "Mabel Normand", which compares herself to the silent movie star Mabel Normand:
    No comedienne has not been the clown
    She did her work
    But her heart was quietly crying
    I guess she even felt guilty 'bout even dying
    Sad Mabel Normand
  • "The Clown Is Dead" by Axel Rudi Pell is about one.
    Behind his mask
    He was only human
    A person who feels
    Just like you and me
  • Billy Joel writes about this in his Cold War song "Leningrad". Viktor was born in '44, grew up without a father, and served out his mandatory time in the Army. It's filled with soul-crushing lyrics like "The greatest happiness he never found was making Russian children glad".
  • Aleksandr Vertinsky's "Piccolo Bambino" is about a literal clown attending the funeral of the woman he loved — a circus ballerina who considered him "just a friend, not a man" and made fun of him for being weird. He breaks down in the end. Aleksandr Vertinsky himself often took on the stage persona of "a sad Pierrot" early in his career.
  • The Isley Brothers' "Behind a Painted Smile":
    Whenever you're near I hide my tears
    Behind a painted smile
    You can't imagine the tears and sorrow
    Behind a painted smile
  • Ray Stevens is mostly known for wacky novelty songs, but fairly early in his career, he recorded "Funny Man", which more or less embodies the trope.
  • Jonathan Coulton wrote "Bozo's Lament", about a man who was named Bozo and felt destined to be a clown, but he is clearly unhappy with the profession.
    The other night I dreamed of Arthur
    Ex-human cannonball
    In the dream he asked the question
    Do I fly or do I fall?
    What's the difference?
    Either way he's still a dead man
    And he's finally free
    No longer has to be up on stage
  • The Kinks' "Death of a Clown".
  • Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy", which is about an entertainer who's always sad when he performs, even as his fans tell him to be happy.
Dear Mister Fantasy play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy
You are the one who can make us all laugh
But doing that you break out in tears
Please don't be sad if it was a straight mind you had
We wouldn't have known you all these years
  • A number of They Might Be Giants songs cover this, with their quirky, but dark lyrics.
    No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful
    Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful
  • The "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Skipper Dan" features a wannabe performer whose grand plans have all fallen apart, and now they're stuck working a miserable job.
    Now I'm laughin' at my own jokes but I'm cryin' inside
    Cause I'm workin' on the Jungle Cruise ride
  • In "Seventeen Going Under" by Sam Fender, he says he "armed [him]self with a grin, because [he] was always the fucking joker", then adds that despite this, the way others saw him was "canny chatter, but he looks sad".

  • In the Susan Calman is Convicted episode "Depression", Susan talks about her battle with depression and how she realised comedy was the career for her. Not because it made her happier, but because she realised all comedians were as depressed as she was.

  • Sean O'Cann of Survival of the Fittest, to which the above quote applies almost perfectly. Prior to the point in the game (Day 3) that he found out his best friend, boyfriend, and cousin died (three different people, before anyone says anything) he still cracked a joke every now and then. Afterward, though, Sean begins making all sorts of remarks, not all of which are in the best taste, and sometimes are just plain offensive.

  • Canio, from the opera Pagliacci, is without a doubt the sad clown. Literally. In fact, he's so sad that he gets violent and turns into a Monster Clown - the quote at the top is when he's just found out about his wife's infidelity, but still has to get ready because The Show Must Go On. Note that this applies on multiple levels though Pop-Cultural Osmosis has garbled the name of the protagonist: the sad clown actor Canio plays Pagliaccio, a stock sad clown character whose name just means "clown", in the Show Within a Show. (He's not named Pagliacci either because that's just the plural of the term. So the opera's title is just "Clowns" in Italian.)
  • While we're in the opera world, there's also Rigoletto from Verdi's Rigoletto. Violence included, too. Costing him the life of his dear daughter Gilda.
  • Jack Point from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard. He is a literal jester, which helps. The whole show is full of Commedia dell'Arte character types.
  • Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet makes Incredibly Lame Puns even as he lies dying, along with a Dying Curse. Comedy dies with him; the rest of the play is an inexorable spiral into tragedy.
  • Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, a sad and lonely clown exiled on the Moon embarking on an eerie and symbolic journey. This character, from Belgian poet Albert Giraud, has been a fascination of early 20th-century composers: Karol Rathaus composed a ballet about him.
  • Launcelot in The Merchant of Venice. His angst about wanting to leave his master vs. wanting to do the right thing gets Played for Laughs, as does his resentment of his father (who apparently cheated on his mother) and his sorrow at having to say goodbye to his only friend, Shylock's daughter Jessica. Alternative Character Interpretation has led to many a production implying that he's in love with Jessica, and he masks his sorrow that she chose Lorenzo over him by making some particularly cutting jokes about her parentage (as well as repeatedly trying to one-up Lorenzo in battles of wits).
  • Turns up pretty often with Cirque du Soleil, which has a habit of blurring the lines in traditional circus roles. The clown at the center of the "Snowstorm" act in Alegría, who makes and loses a friend that manifests him/herself in his hung-up hat and coat, comes to mind.
  • The Trope Codifier would be Emmett Kelly. His character Wearie Willie was known for sweeping up the spotlight after the other performers and he won the hearts of audiences at a time when they expected clowns to make them laugh. He was a staple of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus for a good chunk of the Twentieth Century before going freelance.
  • In the 1914 play He Who Gets Slapped by Leonid Andreyev, Baron Regnard plagiarizes the title character's work and steals his wife. To hide from the pain of this experience, "He" runs away to France and joins the circus as a clown. In his act, he plays a great philosopher who is slapped by the rest of the troupe.
  • Feste from Twelfth Night is very often played this way, although there's no real evidence for it in the text. It's particularly common for his final song ("For the rain, it raineth every day...") to take on a melancholy slant.
  • Inverted in the one-act play Goodbye To The Clown. The titular clown is the Imaginary Friend of a troublesome girl, later revealed to be a coping mechanism to deal with the death of her father.
  • Amos's solo "Mr Cellophane" in Chicago is usually performed in costume as one of these, though the actual character isn't particularly clownish.

    Video Games 
  • AMC Squad: Geoffrey is normally a pretty affable agent and even cracks jokes from time to time, but some of his reactions to certain events imply a level of melancholy. While the other agents complain about rainfall, he wistfully states that he never gets any rain on Mars, and his drunken laughter sounds more like he's crying than actually laughing. Given the circumstances that led up to his current life, it's not hard to see why he's like this.
  • Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica: She's not in any way insecure (the contrary, in fact), but the combination of absolutely bad jokes and absolutely tragic backstory puts the Big Bad Infel straight in this territory.
  • Season 2 of Batman: The Telltale Series has John Doe as this, and he only becomes worse when he becomes Joker. The main source of his anguish depends on whether you pick the Vigilante or Villain route. Harley is also this because of her father who "ate a shotgun lunch" when she was younger.
    • In Episode 5, on the Vigilante path, Alfred of all people qualifies for this trope, welcoming Bruce with a joke about a man with shaky hands when Bruce comes to after having fallen several stories down a building and being impaled on a piece of debris, having been lifted off and carried to the Batmobile by Catwoman/Agent Avesta (whoever helps Batman depends on the path taken) right before losing consciousness. It is during this part of the story that Alfred is slightly more upbeat and funny than usual, but it's not hard to tell that it's a mere coping mechanism for being visibly fed up with the anxiety he gets from Bruce's stubborn crusade as Batman.
  • Devil May Cry:
    • Dante might be known as the "wacky wahoo pizza man" who's always the life of the party, but he's also someone who's suffered a lifetime of tragedy and sorrow. His mother was killed by demons at a young age, he's chosen a life upholding the legacy of a father he hated, unable to live a normal human life like his mother, and ultimately had to choose between his twin brother Vergil and his duty to protect humanity. Because of his tragic life, it's hard not to imagine that Dante's over-the-top antics and personality are a way to cope with his lot in life. One of the most underplayed parts of Dante's character is that despite his over-the-top thrill-seeker persona, he's actually rather distant towards his companions. He barely tries to keep in touch or even attend any social functions, and despite his occupation and business as a demon slayer, he never really makes any attempt to get out of his Perpetual Poverty status. All very common symptoms of depression.
    • Though she is outwardly much peppier in Devil May Cry 4 and especially Devil May Cry 5 than she was during the events of Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, supplementary materials and dialogue lines suggest that Lady isn't so over things internally. When Nero is struggling with possibly having to kill his father Vergil, Lady is quick to tell him that patricide is not something one easily gets over with, while having a sad look on her face as she says this, and as Nico states in her notes on Lady, someone who is as dedicated to demon hunting as she is can't be all that stable mentally.
  • In Digimon Survive, Plucky Comic Relief Minoru constantly cracks wise because he feels as though he has to take it upon himself to lift everyone's spirits while they're Trapped in Another World as he believes he's too weak-willed to contribute more than that despite being a skilled survivalist. His partner Falcomon frequently gives him You Are Better Than You Think You Are speeches to keep him going.
  • Trompdoy in Divinity: Original Sin II was the court jester to the Evil Overlord Braccus Rex before being cursed with undeath and forced to guard his treasures for eternity. When the party encounters him in the present day he viciously mocks them with crude jokes before attacking them, only to have an emotional Villainous Breakdown after being defeated, leaving the player to decide his fate.
  • Don't Starve has Wes the Mime, who is a helpless Joke Character in a Death World. His special power is blowing balloons that can be used to distract hostiles... but each balloon eats into Wes's Sanity Meter, presumably because he's so depressed.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins fits this trope perfectly (apparently, his personality was based on Xander from Buffy). He is arguably the biggest Woobie in the game but tries to compensate for his deep-seated insecurities and painful childhood through sarcasm and witty but misplaced one-liners. Zevran is somewhere between this and a Stepford Smiler — he acts like The Gadfly to cope with having hardly any agency in his entire life thus far. The Player Character can even lampshade it through a dialogue choice:
      The Warden: Is this the part where you deflect questions with humor?
      Alistair: I'd use my shield, but I think you'd actually see me hiding behind it.
    • Anders from the Awakening DLC expansion puts up a pretty glib front but doesn't exactly appreciate having been taken from his parents and locked in a Mage Tower (as evidenced by at least seven escape attempts). If you suggest mages should just accept the system, he reacts very angrily, and if you befriend him he half-seriously admits part of him wants to "rain fireballs on every Templar in creation". When he returns in the sequel, he makes good on this.
    • In Dragon Age II when you play Hawke in a humorous and sarcastic style, s/he may very well come off as this, especially after his/her mother's murder. Aveline explicitly invokes this trope when she calls them out on this, telling them to stop pretending to be okay.
  • Dragon Quest V: Sancho is clearly the game's comic relief character; however, he's generally such a broken man that you feel more sorry for him than anything.
  • Fallout 4:
    • The Sole Survivor can be played like this. The Sarcastic dialogue choices very often stem from how pissed off, disappointed, or done with the world they've become.
      Sole Survivor: My favorite ballpark's become a shantytown. Today's been great.
    • Potential companion and Railroad operative Deacon turns out to be this. He constantly wisecracks and puts up a facade of easygoing nonchalance, but in reality, he has deep-seated self-loathing as a result of his past, in which his former affiliation with an anti-synth gang got his wife Barbara, who was a synth, murdered. Although he killed all the gang members and does everything in his power to save the synths of The Commonwealth with The Railroad, he still hasn't forgiven himself for who he used to be; he doesn't even enjoy being a Consummate Liar as part of his job, calling himself a fraud and claiming that he's everything wrong with the Commonwealth.
  • A clown in Fantasy Quest turns out to be sad indeed, mostly from his lack of a nose.
  • This type of archetype is present in Final Fantasy, usually on the party members' side.
  • Venti from Genshin Impact has a carefree surface, but under the surface, Venti has plenty of interactions with the Traveler to indicate he's quite sad inside and simply keeps a happy facade to keep others around him happy. He gets especially upset when recounting the deaths of friends that he lost to either battle or old age due to his very long lifespan.
  • Grand Theft Auto V: Trevor has an obvious reason to make a fool of himself, setting aside from his homicidal tendencies, and being highly strung. It serves the purpose that Trevor underneath is a self-deprecating individual with mommy issues, as well his insanity was one of the factors behind his current behavior. Ironically enough, Trevor is scared of clowns!
    • Michael himself also qualifies, especially in the first half of the game. He admits how he's messed up as a whole — his issues with his family, his return into the criminal world, and Trevor himself. His sarcasm is the only thing that locks him away from bad situations. He finally got better when he and his family got together. However, in the Kill Trevor ending, Michael relapses into this post-game, in reverence of his regret of killing his once best friend.
      Trevor: Is that sarcasm?
      Michael: Oh, you're fucking A-right it's sarcasm! You fuck! A few weeks ago, I was happily retired, sulking by my swimming pool, and my psychotic best friend shows up out of nowhere to torture me over mistakes I made, honest mistakes I made over a decade ago! We, our little posse, are flat fucking broke, but hey, let's go out and spend two million dollars on a tandem rotor fucking chopper, so I can go steal nerve gas from fucking terrorists! Forgive me, you ignorant fuck, but sarcasm is all I've fucking got! SARCASM! And a room full of you cunts!
  • JumpStart 3rd Grade has a mission in which the antagonist, Polly, sends one of her father’s robots, Pierrot-Bot, a clown robot back to the Stone Age to alter history so that the first painting was a Sad Clown on a Velvet Frame.
  • Axel in Kingdom Hearts II can definitely qualify. He seems the most laidback among the other Organization members and even makes jokes during meetings that can have other members tossing weapons at him. Never mind the fact that, like the other Nobodies, he can't have feelings, what truly causes Axel's sadness is his best and only friend, Roxas's departure from the Organization, and forgetting who Axel is. Deep down, Axel hates the other members and would join Roxas if it were up to him. Despite not being supposed to have feelings, Axel legitimately cries before both he and Roxas disappear from Twilight Town after Sora defeats Roxas in the Final Mix version. The Reveal in Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] that Nobodies can gain hearts of their own explains this.
    • He was less of this in his debut in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and gets softer in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days.
    • In Kingdom Hearts III, Axel makes quite a few jokes among the rest of the seven guardians of light that seem to poke fun at the franchise as a whole and his funny persona comes back with a fiery vengeance. However, the same goes for his sadness when he finds himself remembering Xion during his time with Kairi. Finally, when he successfully reunites with Roxas and a tearful Xion, he jokes that he should've brought ice cream, right before he himself emotionally breaks down and hugs both of his best friends as the trio have the cry of their lives.
    • Luxu is a villainous example. He's full of caustic wit and doesn't seem to take anything seriously... and his secret reports reveal that underneath his lighthearted, taunting exterior lies a broken, lonely old man weary of the years.
  • League of Legends has Galio, an enormously powerful gargoyle-shaped colossus who protects Demacia from mage threats with very goofy overenthusiasm... which is specifically because that's the only time he's awake — without magical presence nearby, he reverts to being an inert statue, and since Demacia's hat is all about denying magic, he stays asleep for up to centuries. The fact he's fully aware of this creates a tragic dissonance to his jolly persona and also informs his refusal to form any actual personal attachments with humans since they'll very likely be dead by the time he next wakes up.
  • Commander Shepard of Mass Effect can be played like this. S/He'll even be called on it occasionally.
    • Sometimes s/he'll do this whether you choose to or not. S/he may be a badass but s/he goes through a lot of crap.
      • Seemingly made canon in the third game. Shepard is clearly not fine and under a ridiculous amount of stress. Even Anderson, who's back on Earth moving from fox-hole to fox-hole whilst fighting the Reaper invasion, seems more concerned about getting people to look after Shepard.
    • Joker is also confirmed to be this in the third game, where a particularly inappropriate joke after the destruction of Thessia gets a Dude, Not Funny! What the Hell, Hero? from Shepard. He then finally lets us know what he's really thinking, and it's not nice. He also reveals that he's not just being the Sad Clown for himself but also for Shepard.
    • Pretty much any teammate who makes jokes can be considered this, due to the fact that they all have issues of their own, and the entire galaxy's going to hell. Kasumi Goto is possibly the only joker who is an exception to this, as even though she does have problems in her past, she genuinely seems to have moved past them (unless she's just really good at covering them up).
      • It's implied that deep down, Kasumi isn't over the death of her lover, Keiji. Depending on how her loyalty mission ends and if Keiji's greybox was saved, Shepard will repeatedly express concern in 2 and 3 that Kasumi is spending too much time watching his memories and not enough making her own. One possible ending in 3 heavily implies that if she survived, she will spend the rest of her life in seclusion hopelessly reliving her old memories with the greybox.
  • Persona:
    • Junpei from Persona 3 makes terrible jokes, has all the sex appeal of a snail, and sometimes displays extremely poor judgment when fighting Shadows. However, all of this is simply an off-shoot of his personal insecurity, as he is fully aware of his own limitations and believes that he will never make anything out of himself in life. Similar to Yukari, he also comes from a one-parent household and lives in the dormitories just so he can get away from his alcoholic father.
    • Persona 4:
    • Persona 5:
      • Ryuji Sakamoto is the resident goofball of the Phantom Thieves who is quick with a joke, but beneath his joking facade is a young man who has been downtrodden by the system, who in essence decided to act the part of the Japanese Delinquent because that's what the powers that be set him up as. His home life was not particularly ideal, with his father being an abusive drunk who walked out on his family, so he was raised by his single mother, who thankfully cares deeply for him. When Kamoshida learned of his home situation, he used it as ammo against Ryuji to provoke him into attacking him, and used the opportunity to not only break Ryuji's leg in "self-defense", ending his track and field prospects; but also disband the track and field team and pin the blame on Ryuji. Becoming a pariah among the student body afterwards, he would lean into the "delinquent" label that would be forced upon him.
      • Morgana is the lovable mascot and strategic brains of the Phantom Thieves who fancies himself a debonair thief in his own right and often forms a comic relief pair with Ryuji. Beneath his bravado, however, lies anxiety about whether he can regain his human form (if he even has one at all) and, at one point, his usefulness to his friends and whether they actually need him or want him around.
      • Token Evil Teammate Akechi was beloved by the public for his bright and cheery facade, and makes many jokes when speaking in public, as seen in his Talk Show appearances and when talking with the Thieves. However, beneath said facade is a tortured soul. His mother was a prostitute who conceived him with the Big Bad who abandoned her while she was pregnant, and she was Driven to Suicide sometime after giving birth, which led to Akechi being passed around from one foster home to the next.
  • In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, Clown Lee (who shows up at Jubilife TV Station or at Pokemon Centers depending on the weekday) can have this line (paraphrased) upon defeat:
    A clown's face is a mask that smiles while it's crying. It defines what we do!
  • In the Plague of Shadows DLC for Shovel Knight, Plague Knight is implied to be this by Specter Knight in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech during their confrontation. Plague Knight's silence indicates Specter may have a point. While Specter never mentions the trope, he does interpret this.
    Specter Knight: So, reaper meets reaper. But you are no kindred spirit. What have you come to harvest, foolish alchemist?
    Plague Knight: Hahaha! If only you could see me yawning under this mask! Ooooooh, SPOOKY GHOST! Whee hee haa haaaa!
    Specter Knight: HSS... A mask indeed. As befits a hollow, blustering fool. You hide only from yourself!
    Plague Knight: ...
  • In The Sims, if a Sim has a clown painting on their lot, and becomes depressed, the painting will summon Tragic Clown to cheer them up. Unfortunately, as the name would suggest, Tragic Clown is also very depressed and any attempt he makes to cheer your Sim up only makes things worse, that is when he isn't off on his own sobbing.
  • The Radioman from Spec Ops: The Line is a wise-cracking, sarcastic asshole who gives Delta Squad no shortage of trouble. His audiotapes heavily imply that it's all an act; a coping mechanism to help him deal with the horrors of Dubai.
  • As mentioned above and below, the eponymous Spider-Man from the Insomniac title of the same name is this, and it even seeps through the mask and into Peter Parker. When Dr. Otto Octavius loses his temper during a failed experiment and starts cursing out Mayor Osbourne, Peter is quick to burst out a joke about said mayor, to which he admits in the ensuing awkward silence afterward that he has a habit of joking in tense situations. Otto calmly commends him for the joke he told, averting how one would normally respond to this trope.
    Otto: DAMMIT! This is all your fault, Norman, you son of a—
    Peter: Well, I know who YOU'RE not voting for in the next election.
    [Otto looks at Peter]
    Peter: Sorry. I, uh, have a habit of making bad jokes in tense situations.
    [brief silence]
    Otto: [laughs] It was a good joke, Parker.
    • Averted for MJ in this, who is a lot calmer than she is in the comics, again as mentioned above.
  • START AGAIN START AGAIN START AGAIN: a prologue: The Traveler Siffrin was once a Lovable Rogue who enjoyed one-liners, puns and quips of all sorts. He still is, on the outside, or tries to be... but being trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop where he and his friends die whenever they reach the King has been wearing him down, and he's desperately trying to keep up the act so that the others don't catch on and realize that their quest is All for Nothing.
  • Tales Series:
    • Zelos from Tales of Symphonia - seems the most cheerful and confident, constantly cracking jokes at inappropriate times, as well as being a Handsome Lech who will hit with any and all females he encounters. But once he opens up and reveals the resentment he feels about his position as Tethe'alla's chosen one, it becomes apparent that he's probably the most messed-up of the lot. And that's saying something.
      I was so excited to see snow for the first time, and I made a snowman in the garden with my mother. Then suddenly, the snowman fell apart. Before I knew what was going on, red snow began to fall. [...] It was my mother's blood. She was murdered. As she fell, she grabbed my shoulder and told me, "You should never have been born".
    • Magilou from Tales of Berseria. She spends a lot of her time making sarcastic remarks and being The Gadfly to the rest of the party. There are multiple moments, however, where this facade slips and she becomes deadly serious. Notably, when the party encounters a Lotus-Eater Machine illusion, she doesn't make a single wisecrack or goofy comment for the entire ordeal. This stems from her backstory of being orphaned twice.
      Suffering can be withstood, but all are powerless before happiness.
  • Implied to be the case with Sans in Undertale and explicitly stated in the Genocide Route. Sans is one of the few characters who is aware of the player's ability to load and save. As a result, he suffers a crippling case of existential crisis which made him lazy and nihilistic - after all, why should he bother doing anything when it could all be reset on a whim? He eventually breaks away from this... On a Genocide Run, where you threaten the entirety of existence with your murderous intent. He even goes as far as saying that "[he] can't afford not to care anymore" and does literally EVERYTHING in his power to stop you.
  • The World Ends with You has Shiki, who is the first person Neku partners with in the UG. She seems to be energetic and playful but later on, she reveals that her personality was all an act, and her physical appearance in the UG is not that of her own because it was used as her entry fee in the Reaper's Game, but of her friend, Eri, a talented seamstress who she finds herself very jealous of. Shiki's angst is resolved when they overhear Eri talk about how greatly she looked up to Shiki before the day of her tragic accident, and Neku and Shiki become far more motivated to win the game.
    • The sequel has Fret. He's as energetic as Shiki above, and a bit of a Casanova Wannabe who doesn't seem to take much in life seriously. After Kanon's death in Week 3, he confides in Nagi that he has long since stopped taking things seriously or being honest about his own feelings after he failed to talk his best friend out of killing himself — he couldn't "stomach anything heavy" after that.
  • Many characters in the more recent Wolfenstein games exhibit this to one degree or another.
    • Fergus Reid is a wisecracking, cool-as-ice badass whose straight-man persona riffs off the outlandish situations he finds himself in. He's also barely hanging on psychologically, occasionally breaking down into screaming tears as he laments that his entire life has been dedicated to violence and nothing ever seems to go his way.
    • Bombate is constantly chipper and cheerful, because it's the only way he can cope with the pain of his family being killed in front of him.
    • Even BJ Blaskowicz himself fits this. He has his fair share of one-liners and dark witticisms, but he's also deeply traumatised by his abusive childhood, the deaths of almost everyone he's ever known, and the crushing responsibilities that he has taken on as a soldier.
  • In XCOM: Chimera Squad, Terminal is one of the snarkiest operatives, who alternatively jokes with and trolls her squadmates. Her life has also been one long Trauma Conga Line: she was orphaned in the initial Alien Invasion when she was four, her uncle took her to a refugee camp but died of disease a year later, she was adopted by a doctor and taken to a Resistance haven only to lose everything when ADVENT razed her new home, and then she was taken in by a rebel cell and fought to liberate the planet. It took multiple psychological evaluations before she was cleared to join Chimera Squad, and while Terminal isn't a Death Seeker, she's accepted that, statistically speaking, she'll fall in the line of duty within five years, and is Not Afraid to Die.
  • The end product of Goro Majima's Character Development in the Yakuza series, going from "unhinged in a disturbing way" in the original game, to "unhinged in a goofy way" in subsequent games, with Yakuza 5 and Yakuza 0 revealing more and more of the tragic past that made him adopt the Ax-Crazy Mad Dog of Shimano persona as both a coping mechanism and an act of rebellion.
  • Zagreus of Hades tends to use humor and cheerful snark both to hide how much his father's emotional abuse gets to him and to win the affection he's starved for. Hades, unfortunately, can see right through him.
    Hades: All that pent-up rage behind those smiling words...

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Moe the circus clown in Justice For All is definitely a good guy at heart, but his jokes are bad and everybody ends up hating him. The problem was that he was so stressed in court he veered wildly between trying to turn his testimony into a comedy act and behaving like a put-upon child. Outside of court, he's at least tolerable and there are flashes of maturity there.
    • Luke Atmey in Trials and Tribulations describes himself like this. He may actually fit the definition, though not in the sense that he intends. It's all in the name.
    • Ace Attorney Investigations 2 has Souta Sarushiro/Simon Keyes, both literally and figuratively. On the outside, he’s a shy, easily frightened man. But inside, he’s cold, manipulative, vengeful, and untrusting of others. Not only was he abandoned by his father when he was kidnapped by his own best friend, but he was also a key witness to a presidential assassination and forced into silence by three figures of high authority.
    • In Dual Destinies, the DLC Case, "Turnabout Reclaimed" introduces Marlon Rimes, who bursts into some random, rather entertaining bouts of rap on some occasions. It's revealed late in the case that Marlon is struggling hardest of all to cope with the death of his girlfriend, Azura Summers, Orla's previous trainer, and only joined the aquarium in an attempt to have Orla killed, deeming her responsible, only to end up causing the Captain's death, bringing about the Orca Whale's framing.
  • Doki Doki Literature Club! has Sayori, the protagonist's best friend since childhood, who is a fun, lazy, and somewhat clumsy Genki Girl at heart. Later during the game's first act, she reveals her energetic spirits to be a mask she had worn in front of him for years, as it turns out she's been suffering from depression for her entire life. Whether you confess your love to her or put her in the friend zone doesn't matter, since, in the end, she is very displeased in both you and herself and has more than enough guilt to, soon after, be found having hanged herself on the day of the festival.
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: Michiru does a very convincing clown act. However, it is revealed on her route that there is a rather depressing reason why she acts like this. Basically acting like a clown is the only thing she feels she is not completely useless at, making people laugh, and making them at least that much happier.
  • 707/Luciel from Mystic Messenger is a Playful Hacker with a zany sense of humor who regularly trolls the other RFA members with practical jokes and appears to take nothing seriously. Underneath that silly exterior, however, is a man who had to give up his identity and birth name to escape his abusive mother, unknowingly abandoning his twin brother to a Brainwashed and Crazy fate in the process, and lives with the constant threat of being made to "disappear" by the intelligence agency he works for if he slips up which has left him reluctant to get truly close to anyone in case he might have to disappear from their lives one day. He only shows the fun side of himself to the RFA because there is no other place for him to find fun in his life.

    Web Animation 

  • Girl Genius: Othar Trygvassen (Gentleman Adventurer), a Mad Scientist who wants to kill off all other mad scientists (and then himself) in order to eliminate the threat they pose forever. He spends most of his time as a goofy hero who gets by due to an annoying amount of Plot Armor, but on the rare occasions he gets a chance to explain his mission, it becomes clear that he is filled with self-loathing and knows that he'll most likely never succeed in his quest. The novels, especially, emphasize a few times that the cheerful facade is exactly that, an act to make himself feel better. He's especially disturbed whenever he realizes he's made friends with someone he is going to have to kill.
  • Mela of We Are The Wyrecats is the most outwardly perky and cheerful member of the team, but sometimes she uses that bright demeanor to hide her feelings of sadness, worry, and resentment.
  • In Peter Parker: Foreign Exchange Student, Ochako notices that Peter sometimes gets awfully quiet while "reminiscing" about something before he covers it up with a bad joke or two.
  • Dumbing of Age: Becky MacIntyre on the surface is an obnoxious in-your-face lesbian unable to take things seriously, but every once in a while the façade cracks and we get glimpses of a broken homeless teenager with a dead mom and an abusive dad.
  • Rudy Strongwell from Rain (2010) seems to be your typical sassy Camp Gay archetype and the comic’s Plucky Comic Relief. But underneath is a kid trying his best to deal with the depression from all the abuse he gets for his orientation, not to mention his sister eventually running away from home. He aims to cope with all this pain by making others laugh.

    Web Original 
  • Phase of the Whateley Universe. Since he narrates his own novels, the reader gets to see just how emotionally damaged he really is, even though he refuses to admit it to anyone (except the school shrink).
  • Teen superhero Clockblocker of Worm is this, as revealed to his therapist.

    Web Videos 
  • Evan in Everyman HYBRID is the most affected by the Sanity Slippage caused by the group's dealings with the Slender Man and other assorted problems; he also tries to lighten pretty much every situation, cracking jokes while exploring creepy abandoned buildings or even while dealing with a monster literally hiding in a closet at a friend's house. The latter is likely the best example of his humor backfiring for those around him, as he pulled this after said monster violently assaulted his friend's brother.
  • Related to the example below, a lot of the comedy (the character-based, at least) in The Nostalgia Critic is based on how unhappy he is with his life.
  • The Nostalgia Chick is also deeply depressed and tries to hide it with Black Comedy and cynical sarcasm. Made Harsher in Hindsight when you consider what went on behind the scenes. She's in a better place now, but don't expect her to talk openly about her Channel Awesome days any day soon.
  • In the SuperMarioLogan plush toy series, the eponymous Doofy the Dragon of the Show Within a Show of the same name that Bowser Jr. loves, is pretty much coated in this trope. Almost every episode of the show features Doofy coping with a nasty divorce, eviction, or legal problems through suicide attempts, right after he sings the audience a song about it in the style of public domain (or, for his slower methods, during the song), unless he's committing murder or violently beating his ex-wife with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
  • In TFS at the Table (Team Four Star's Dungeons & Dragons campaign), recurring side-character Skrung is a snide, cynical smart-ass who typically serves as the Butt-Monkey of the heroes' group. He's also the prince of the goblin kingdom, forced into exile and stranded in the human world because the royal signet ring that identifies him and lets him teleport was stolen, and he's spent billions of Gold Pieces trying to recover it. And if that wasn't enough, partway through the campaign he loses an arm when his magical pistol backfires. After his backstory is revealed, the players and DM all crack jokes comparing Skrung to Pagliacci (in one session Lanipator quotes the punchline to the Watchmen scene quoted at the top of this page), and he even ends up adopting the identity of "Skrungliacci" in the group's traveling show.
  • Parodied by Rémi Gaillard. Remi dresses up like a depressed suicidal clown and random bypassers stop and try to talk him out of suicide. When they let their guard down, he throws a pie in their face and runs away.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: Zig-zagged in "The One", where the layers of Gumball Watterson's personality are dissected. Beneath the surface is Humor, a clown who makes a self-deprecating joke about himself the moment he surfaces, but reveals himself to just be Anxiety wearing a flimsy disguise. The layer beneath him is Fear, who is the way he is to hide his hilariously massive and monstrous Ego.
  • Weasel in The Animals of Farthing Wood is constantly making insulting wisecracks, more frequently when they are more inappropriate.
  • Animaniacs (2020) implies that Yakko Warner is this; in "Fear and Laughter in Burbank", the Pennywise Expy reveals that his greatest fear is that people don't find him funny.
  • Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender. His cheerful exterior and fun-loving personality are a way to cope and ignore the guilt he feels for running away from his home and people and getting frozen, allowing the Fire Nation to wage war for a century, wiping out his people. He finally faces his guilt later on when he's mentored by Guru Pathik.
    • Iroh counts as well. Underneath his goofy facade, he's just a father grieving the loss of his son. He's also done plenty of things in the past that he's not proud of.
    • Sokka shows signs of this, as well. While usually a complete goofball in groups or around Katara, when confiding in friends or by himself, he shows that he's actually very insecure and sad; his mother died when he was a child, his father left to fight a war shortly thereafter, he's (initially) the only muggle in a group of superpowered warriors, and even he believes that he might be too goofy to be of any real help. As he gains more confidence during the series, his jokester tendencies become slightly less pronounced and he becomes more easy-going than lazy.
    • Toph Beifong, when all is said and done, has more baggage than a cargo ship: she was always treated like a fragile thing by her parents, ran away from home after they said they'd be even more strict about protecting her (even after she showed first-hand that she was already one of the best earthbenders in the world at TWELVE), is legitimately torn over how she must have broken her parents' hearts & makes them worry, as a result, feels responsible for Appa having been kidnapped, and is actually terribly insecure about her blindness (despite acting like it's a non-issue normally). Outwardly, she seems like a total snark-bender who doesn't really care about anything, save for her friends.
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold Plastic Man admits to this himself in the episode "Cry Freedom Fighters!" after Batman expresses his skepticism about him joining the eponymous team.
    Plastic Man: C'mon, Bats. No one's ever wanted me to be a part of their team. Even the League threw me out. Give me a chance to be a part of something—to prove to myself that I'm not a three-time loser.
  • Zig-Zagged by Ben 10; in Ben 10: Ultimate Alien Ben Tennyson's 10-year-old past self ends up in the present and gets on everyone's nerves with his antics, especially Ben himself. When Kevin scolds him and tells him to take things seriously, he angrily retorts that he's fully aware that people's lives constantly depend on him and that goofing off is his way of coping with it all. Gwen asks current Ben if it's true, but he denies having put that much thought into things back then.
  • Black Dynamite explored this when Dynamite had to help Richard Pryor. At one point going into a very scary in-depth look into the comedian's psyche. This was based on Pryor's real-life stint with cocaine (though oddly that took place in the '80s; the series is set in the '70s).
  • The Fairly OddParents!: One of the original Oh Yeah! Cartoons shorts had Timmy go to a birthday party. The clown at Tootie's party clearly regrets his life choices.
    "No, Mom, I don't need college. I'm going to follow my dream and become a clown."
  • Family Guy:
    • The hedonistic and womanizing behavior of Glenn Quagmire is largely a way to cope with his failed relationship with Cheryl Tiegs. In one episode, Quagmire has his penis bitten off by a shark in a motorboat accident, and at one point, attempts suicide through a ventriloquist routine where he has the puppet threaten him with a pistol. His friends hastily stepped in before he could ultimately pull the trigger.
    • Peter Griffin may definitely fit the bill. He's had a father and a stepdad, neither one whom he'd formed a healthy, long-term relationship with. His Irish dad dumped his mother while she was pregnant with Peter, and his stepdad was a religious fanatic who despised him right up to the day of his passing. In the episode "Peter's Sister", it is revealed that Peter's bullying antics toward his daughter Meg are due to the humiliating abuse he got from his older sister.
  • Supplementary (and ambiguously canon) material for Gravity Falls indicates that while Bill Cipher puts himself up as a Laughably Evil and carefree trickster, deep down he actually despairs over the destruction of his home dimension and everyone in it, and the fact he can never go home again, even if he'll never admit he alone is responsible for all of it.
    Saw his own dimension burn.
    Misses home and can't return.
    Says he happy, he's a liar.
    Blame the arson for the fire.
  • Green Eggs and Ham: Sam-I-Am is a carefree, child-like, happy-go-lucky spirit when we see him for the first time. He loves animals and he manages to get along with almost everyone while eating Green Eggs & Ham at every restaurant he stops by, trying to get a reluctant Guy to try it at every stop of their journey to Meepville. However, come Episode 10, it turns out that the reason he’s trained himself to become so likable with people is because his own mother left him at an orphanage, leaving him to grow up with no family of his own. The last thing she made for him was Green Eggs & Ham for breakfast, and so he’s constantly been eating said meal in hopes of someday finding his mother.
  • Brett Hand of Inside Job (2021) is a cheerful, charismatic, dim-witted Lovable Jock whose optimistic Yes-Man attitude causes him to almost immediately win people over. However, it's quickly revealed that due to his rough upbringing and nature as a Ridiculously Average Guy, he has a pathological need to feel liked by everyone and stand out to the point that he experiences panic attacks. At one point he mentions lying awake at night on occasion because he fears his lack of a favorite color means he doesn't have a personality.
  • Notably not The Flash on Justice League, as illustrated nicely in the episode Flash and Substance. Some people just don't seem to get it.
    Orion: Now I understand. You play the fool to hide a warrior's pain.
    Flash: Dude...the bad guys went down, and nobody got hurt. You know what I call that? A really good day.
    • It is possible that the high-energy lifestyle and constant peppiness could be a result of him being aware of how dangerous his powers actually are to himself and the people around him, but it's less about masking angst and more about thoroughly enjoying every moment he gets.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Appleoosa's Most Wanted" Trouble Shoes is this played as straight as they come. He's constantly getting into accidents through either his terrible clumsiness or just plain bad luck, and bemoans his fate just as often, even when he's not at fault!
    • Some fans have pegged Pinkie Pie as one of these. In "Party of One", the constantly cheerful party pony is quick to fall into a funk when she thinks her friends don't want to come to her parties or be friends with her anymore. In the episode, "The Cutie Mark Chronicles", it is revealed that she was raised on a rock farm with her family, who never laughed or smiled, and were constantly in a state of colorless sadness until she saw Rainbow Dash make a Sonic Rainboom, which immediately inspired her to throw a party. Without parties or friends, she'll go right back into the endless, cold, black abyss inside the heart of herself and everyone else in her naturally sad family tree.
  • Rocko's Modern Life references the trope, as Rocko had always wanted a portrait of "A Sad Crying Clown in an Iron Lung," but could never afford it - until he got a credit card.
  • Jesus is one of the few sources of comic relief in Seis Manos, but there's hints at him having had a tough life before being adopted (besides his very obvious drinking problem, his sister Isabela briefly alludes to the both of them having troubled pasts when being interrogated by the cops). He's also clearly torn up about the death of his mentor/adoptive father as well as his brother Silencio's downward spiral into revenge as the series progresses.
  • In a more literal example, we have Krusty the Klown from The Simpsons
    Homer: Let's tell Krusty! That guy's hilarious!
    Marge: I keep telling you, off-camera he's a desperately unhappy man.
    • This was also brought up in the episode "Tellow Subterfuge" when Krusty's supervisor asks him why he had become a clown. He simply responded with that he was meant to be one of the sad ones.
    • Homer Simpson is a pretty good example of this trope. Though he's usually fairly exuberant, he's attempted suicide at least three times in the series, and during the early seasons, was often shown to be insecure about the way he looks, not to mention the stress related to his job. In the modern episodes, Homer's childhood was revealed with his parents constantly fighting and his father taking out his frustration on him, bringing about Homer's constant eating habits.
    • Bart Simpson can also be viewed as a sad clown. In "Lisa's Sax", when he was in kindergarten, he was verbally abused by the teacher who told him he would always fail in life when he simply struggled with naming the alphabet, causing him to get depressed and draw a picture of him being dead. However, he cheered up when he started making jokes; this can be further proven given that Bart is constantly abused by Homer and is bullied on a regular basis. At one point he was bullied by the town and attempted suicide in "The Boys of Bummer" as an attempt for forgiveness for failing to catch a baseball that caused the team to lose the match, but still makes jokes and pranks every episode.
      • In the episode "Jaws Wired Shut", Bart tells Homer that he realized he had become a Class Clown when he was pressured to make a joke about the fact that their substitute teacher that day was named Mrs. Doody, and he has gone on since then, ruing that fact.
      Bart: So the substitute teacher comes in and says her name is Mrs. Doody, and everyone's looking at me like, "Take it, Bart. Run with it." Then it hits me. I've become a clown. A class clown. And it sickens me.
  • Randy Marsh of South Park admits in the episode "You're Getting Old" that the reason for his crazy antics was that he was deeply unsatisfied with his mundane life, and was the first to overreact to different fads out of hope that it would give his life a little more meaning.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants becomes this in the Season 1 episode, "Ripped Pants", after bending over and ripping his pants while straining to lift a stick with two marshmallows after seeing Larry the Lobster and Sandy Cheeks show off their strengths when lifting dumbbells. Seeing everyone laugh at him gave him the idea to turn his embarrassment into a comic act in which he incorporates his ripped pants. He goes too far when he fakes drowning and succumbing to the water(?) in his lungs, only to tell the shocked lifeguard and the bystanders he ripped his pants, making the entire beach mad with him, killing the joke. It's then that SpongeBob meets with other misfits on the beach who consider themselves losers that they form a band, SpongeBob admitting the lyrics in the song they perform that he became this trope.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: Eclipsa is known for having a whimsical and carefree personality when interacting with others. But given how much she and her family have suffered throughout the series, it's implied that it's her way of coping with the trauma.
    Eclipsa: Sorry. I get "jokey" when I'm nervous.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Amethyst is extremely flippant and laid-back compared to Garnet or Pearl but hides a lot of insecurity that only becomes apparent on episodes that focus on her.
    • And then there is Smoky Quartz, a combination of Amethyst and Steven who shares both of their fun-loving natures and is almost always smiling, but also shares both of their insecurities. When Smoky fails, the self-deprecating jokes are noticeably harsh.
  • Beast Boy from Teen Titans (2003) is an insecure and vulnerable kid who constantly uses humour as a defense mechanism.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man (2012): Spider-Man's wacky jokes and quirky personality are what he uses to shield him from a relentlessly unkind world.
  • The Van Beuren Studios Mickey Mouse clone, Milton Mouse, briefly becomes his during the end of "Circus Capers" when his girlfriend has an affair with the ringmaster. He even addresses himself as a sad clown in his brief song number, only for his girlfriend to have second thoughts and come back to him.
  • Wander from Wander over Yonder is a guy who is always there to cheer and help everybody that he comes across, but in season 2's "The Wanders" we find out that he does this because he knows what it's like to be afraid, sad and hopeless himself.
  • X-Men: Evolution has Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, who may as well be the poster boy for this trope. He's possibly the most sensitive, emotionally vulnerable character on the show (next to Rogue, his adopted sister), and spends a good deal of his time angsting over his appearance (in early episodes) and his mother, Mystique (in later episodes). Nevertheless, he is the resident "goof-ball", trying his best to appear the carefree joker when deep down, he's anything but carefree.
  • In Young Justice (2010), Beast Boy is usually seen as very cheerful, cracking jokes, and keeping Kid Flash's tradition of collecting souvenirs from their mission, but we learn that he's deeply haunted by the death of his mother, and upon coming across a location that looks identical to the spot where she died, he's reduced to tears.

    Real Life 
  • Real-world crime-scene clean-up crews absolutely must treat their gruesome jobs with a crass sense of humor; otherwise, having to put up with the real-life gorn they're subjected to on a daily basis would be nearly impossible.
    • Most ambulance crews are the same way for similar reasons as crime-scene clean-up crews, and due to the nature of their services, they are always dealing with people who are having bad days.
  • The Trope Codifier is Weary Willie the sad hobo clown (pictures on the right), the alter ego of Emmet Kelly Sr. and Jr.
  • It's startlingly common for comedians to suffer from major depression. Lenny Bruce, Owen Wilson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, most of the Pythons (John Cleese even wrote a book about it), Groucho Marx, Bill Oddie...
  • Peter Sellers is a particularly famous example, so much so that a book and film (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers) was devoted to this. On an episode of The Muppet Show in 1977, Kermit encouraged Peter (dressed in a mishmashed outfit including a single boxing glove and a Viking helmet) to relax and be himself, with Peter somberly telling Kermit "But that, you see, my dear Kermit, would be altogether impossible. I could never be myself. You see, there is no me; I do not exist... There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed."
  • A number of Saturday Night Live castmembers have had troubled private lives:
    • Chris Farley struggled with his weight throughout his life and had low self-esteem as a result. Even at the height of his career, he felt people only liked his comedy because he was fat. Eventually, he turned to alcohol and drugs and it killed him. To wit: Conan O'Brien paid tribute to Farley by playing a clip from a past appearance in which he sang "I'm a Clown, But I Cry".
    • John Belushi started doing drugs because being as funny as he was got exhausting.
    • Molly Shannon was in a car accident when she was four years old that claimed the lives of her mother, younger sister, and cousin. She was left to be raised by her single father, who had frequent emotional outbursts thanks to the combination of his feelings of guilt for being the driver as well as struggling with being a closeted gay man. The emotional trauma followed her for most of her life and it wasn't until she reached adulthood that she was finally able to come to terms with her experiences.
    • Darrell Hammond is famed for his wide variety of impressions and being on SNL for fourteen years (longer than anyone else). His backstory reveals a long history of extreme parental abuse; his mother has been mentioned as slamming his fingers in car doors as a child and cutting his tongue. In fact, he started doing impressions to please his mother to avoid the abuse. Alcoholism, cocaine addiction, and mental illness (he suffers from bipolar disorder, has a long history of self-harm, and has sought treatment for schizophrenia) are also part of his backstory. Remarkably, he has still spoken very openly about it and is far more well-adjusted than anyone in his position should be expected to be.
    • Pete Davidson, whose firefighter father died in 9/11, has talked openly about his struggles with borderline personality disorder and drug addiction.
    • As we're finding out now thanks to her autobiography, Cecily Strong. Lampshaded with an appearance on Weekend Update, where she played "Goober, The Clown Who Had An Abortion When She Was 23".
    • Chevy Chase. He grew up in a very wealthy family, but was subjected to horrific abuse at the hands of his mother and stepfather, was expelled from a prestigious school, found success in comedy, but has lost several friends in the business (including the aforementioned John Belushi) and his own abrasive and unpredictable personality caused him to burn a lot of bridges in television and the silver screen throughout the years, including being banned from hosting SNL again.
  • Christopher Titus. Stories of his horrific upbringing with an incredibly dysfunctional family and his disastrous love life fuel the majority of his work; and no, he didn't make any of that stuff up.
    "This right here is the difference between paycheck and nightly bed check."
  • Jim Carrey has depression stemming from his traumatic, poverty-laden childhood. His father lost his job at age 51, so he and his siblings were forced to drop out of school and work as janitors and security guards. He used to take Prozac before deciding to cease taking all medications and stimulants, including coffee.
  • Russell Brand. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had bulimia as a child. He also used to have terrible cutting incidents and numerous addictions. As he himself puts it, "My biggest problem is that I have lived an autobiography rather than a life."
  • John Lennon, whose childhood included a father who abandoned his family and a complex relationship with a mother who died in a horrific accident in his teen years, was massively insecure, and used his reputation as "the witty Beatle" to cover it up. He even confessed to this directly in "I'm A Loser" and "Nowhere Man" — they came to him after five frustrating hours of writer's block.
  • Chilean lawyer and reality show star Juan Cristobal Foxley, nicknamed "Dandy Chileno" ("Chilean Dandy"). Article in Spanish is here.
  • Richard Lewis. As if it wasn't obvious before he publicly admitted his problems with depression and began making an effort to help others with the same problem.
  • A similar thing was done by New Zealand comedian Mike King — who previously experienced substance abuse and depression — in the form of the Nutters' Club radio show, where listeners call in to explain their mental health issues.
  • Gene Wilder. Incredibly so. One can even sense a profound sadness in his hammiest performances.
  • The Great Zucchini. Wildly successful children's entertainer for people like Sasha and Malia Obama on the one hand; deeply indebted gambling addict desperately trying to hold his life together on the other hand. Thankfully, he got better.
  • P. G. Wodehouse parodied this in the foreword for The Clicking of Cuthbert, an anthology of golf-related stories, where he wrote that he didn't fit this trope before, but now he does because he started playing golf.
  • Desmond Amofah, better known to the Smash community as Etika, gained popularity for his comedic reactions to Smash Bros. and other gaming-related premiere trailers among other content. Etika had struggled heavily with his mental health, and had several incidents relating to assaulting police officers and disappearances, even giving away large sums of money to people just for responding to people on Twitter. On June 25th, 2019, the NYPD reported he had committed suicide in the New York East River.
  • Most people on Channel Awesome are like this. They've gone through depression, abusive relationships, and illnesses, but use comedy to tear those taboo subjects down. Most notable was Jew Wario, who, until revelations of sexual misconduct allegations posthumously sprung up, had one of the cheeriest public personas out of all of them, and wound up dying of suicide in early 2014.
  • Steve-O is one who suffers from depression, mood swings, and drug addiction. He dropped out of University due to poor grades and disobedience, was rejected from Ringling Bros. Circus after graduating clown college, and his mother passed away in 2003 after an aneurysm. His crazy stunts help him to escape.
  • Soviet 1920s–1930s satire writer Mikhail Zoshchenko suffered from severe depression. His semi-autobiographical book Before Sunrise was initially banned by the Soviet censors, as its themes of depression ran against the triumphalism and optimism of Socialist Realism.
  • Dave Chappelle, who disappeared from the public eye mostly after his show ended over becoming disinterested in his own material. Specifically, he became disillusioned with his audience, the network he worked for, and fame in general, feeling that his work was unintentionally veering into Modern Minstrelsy and attracting a Misaimed Fandom of people who were laughing at it for the wrong reasons. In other words, he felt that over time he was being laughed at rather than laughed with.
  • When he was in Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne was considered the "clown" of the group, constantly playing pranks on the other members and performing outrageous stunts and parties to get attention. Once he went solo he became famous for his debauched personal life and shocking onstage antics. His public persona is mostly an act, and in his personal life, he has often struggled with depression, anxiety, and alcoholism.
  • Stephen Chow is best known for his comedic roles, but away from the camera, he's known for being surprisingly humorless and lethargic. A troubled and impoverished childhood might be the cause.
  • Kevin McDonald and Dave Foley of The Kids in the Hall are both this to varying extents. McDonald was struggling with depression and divorce while making the film Brain Candy (ironically about a drug that makes people happy). Foley has been like this since his marriage collapsed, his career declined and he started owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in child support.
  • John Cheese of Cracked has long been like this due to his struggles with alcoholism, poverty, parental abuse, and depression. Despite this, his writing often reflects on such things in an extremely funny light and he has repeatedly claimed that he doesn't blame others for his problems and uses his writing to let people in similar situations know that they are not alone and things can get better.
  • Tom Baker is perhaps best known for playing the Fourth Doctor, a kind, lovable, and oftentimes very witty character that's become a cultural icon in the UK. At the same time, however, he suffered from severe mental health issues, particularly undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and lived a very rocky life before, during, and after his time as the Doctor (including, but not limited to, losing his faith after a life in an emotionally abusive monastery, going through several failed marriages, and spending his entire tenure as the Doctor attempting to stay in-character both on and off the set).
  • Charles Hawtrey suffered from alcoholism, which increased drastically after the death of his mother. He was also insufferable to work with, according to many Carry On actors, and was briefly fired from a film project for being a diva.
  • Marc Maron due to his struggles with mental illness.
  • Sarah Silverman, who has suffered from clinical depression and had a Xanax addiction in her teens.
  • Richard Jeni, who died of suicide in 2007. He once started a show by explaining that comedy was a wall that protected him from the outside world. Many of his bits involved mental health and schizophrenia, which was what he was diagnosed with.
  • Seemingly Donald Glover, at least going by his recent work (Because The Internet).
  • Patton Oswalt, best explained here.
    • Don't call him a sad clown to his face, though.
  • David Lange, the Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1984 to 1989, attributed his acerbic wit to the need to defend himself from being bullied about his weight.
  • Matthew Perry, much like his character Chandler Bing, who is listed in the TV section. While he played pranks and cracked up the audience on the show, at home he battled horrible drug addiction and alcoholism which became in his words "a matter of life and death". Even his notoriously close cast members were unaware of how unhappy he was. He eventually admitted his problems, checked himself into rehab, and became a public figure in raising awareness for drug addictions until his sudden passing in October 2023.
  • Drew Carey has struggled with bipolar disorder for years and has attempted suicide twice due to the severity.
  • Rodney Dangerfield. Good lord, the man just made you want to hug him and tell him "It will all be okay." His memoir "It Ain't Easy Bein' Me" is unbearably sad, detailing his emotionally abusive parents, his initial failure to break into show business, his lifelong struggle with depression, and his genuine self-hatred which he turned into self-deprecating one-liners.
  • In a literal example, a fire at the Hartford circus in 1944 killed 167 people. The tragedy is often called "The Day The Clown Cried" (not to be confused with the infamous movie), in reference to a picture of the aforementioned Weary Willie holding a bucket of water. This also affected Willie, who rarely spoke to anyone about the fire.
  • Mexican actor and comedian Mario Moreno, aka "Cantinflas".
  • Robin Williams struggled with severe bipolar disorder and alcoholism. He eventually died of suicide at age 63, albeit due to an onset of Lewy Body Dementia rather than anything directly related to depression. Cracked took the opportunity to reflect on Robin Williams and Why Funny People Kill Themselves.
  • Ray William Johnson hasn't had an easy life. His father was a drug addict who was eventually disowned after he stole from Ray's college fund (which was created with the help of his grandparents) to buy drugs. When his father was dying, Ray refused to see him one last time. In light of this revelation, jokes about his parents have become significantly more sombre.
  • Artie Lange of MADtv and The Howard Stern Show has had a well-noted drug and alcohol problem as well as dealing with depression since his father died (in particular, his addiction to cocaine, which has destroyed his nose) and has attempted suicide several times, but has worked hard to keep his career going despite all his problems.
  • Wayne Brady revealed that he had struggled with depression for a while in 2014. He kept it a secret for a while (and honestly, if you saw him on screen, you probably wouldn't be able to tell), but reached rock bottom after the suicide of Robin Williams, and at that point decided to come out with it. Fortunately, doing that seems to have helped him start to get better.
  • Youtuber LittleKuriboh, known for his Abridged Series, revealed in 2014 to have been diagnosed with depression, which destroyed his creative output for a while. Since then, he has released a series of vlogs called "We're Still Here", chronicling his struggle while also giving positive life experiences, which is meant to help both him and others who have gone through the same thing. Doing that seems to have helped him get better. He modified the format of "We're Still Here" to have some people he knows tell their stories of struggling with depression when he doesn't have anything to say. His first guest was voice actor/parody writer/singer Jesse Nowack, who revealed to have depression possibly caused by holding himself to extremely high standards due to having a military man for a stepfather. Therapy sessions, coming out of the closet, and getting a tattoo of a fainting goat have helped him start to get better.
  • Actor Paul Lynde, known for years as a funny man, frequently appearing as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, the center square on the game show The Hollywood Squares, and as Templeton the rat in the animated version of Charlotte's Web, also battled with alcoholism for most of his life, which was a big contributor to his fatal heart attack at age 55. Friends noted that despite his jovial persona on screen, in real life he was not a happy person, and at times could be extremely volatile. Other factors in his depression were his being Formerly Fat, having lost a bunch of weight when he first moved to Hollywood, which led to major stress about keeping the weight off, plus lots of Gayngst over needing to officially stay in the closet to keep his career going, despite his Camp Gay persona.
  • Paul Winchell, probably best known to modern audiences as the voice of Dick Dastardly, Gargamel, and Tigger, kept most of his demons to himself. However, his autobiography detailed an abusive childhood, a troubled marriage (which eventually ended in divorce), and a long struggle with depression (which resulted in a mental breakdown and a brief stay in a mental hospital). He had strained relationships with his family, to the point where his own children were not immediately notified of his death in 2005.
  • John Kennedy Toole was a renowned comedic stage performer for most of his life, winning much admiration from his fellow academics for his quick wit and skill at mimicry. He also suffered from serious depression and was continually haunted by his failure to get any of his novels published. His despair ultimately got the better of him, and he died of suicide at the age of 31. 11 years later, though, his mother successfully got his last novel published posthumously; that novel was A Confederacy of Dunces, which is widely considered one of the funniest novels ever written. It's also notable for breaking out of the Comedy Ghetto, being one of the few purely comedic novels ever to win the Pulitzer Prize.
  • More than a few members of the Yogscast have opened up about suffering from mental health issues:
    • Zoey Proasheck has openly admitted to being depressed at various points in her life despite her supposedly being The Pollyanna.
    • Simon Lane is best known for being one half of the main channel and the main goofball of the group. However, he appeared to suffer from a Creator Breakdown in early 2015, which culminated in him insulting former friend TotalBiscuit and then mocking the Yogscast subreddit when they thought his behaviour was out of line. His declining health (both mentally and physically) forced him to take time out from March until September of 2015, and while he's on the mend his appearances on the main channel aren't as frequent as before.
    • Lewis Brindley openly admitted that he was suffering from depression during a charity livestream in 2015.
    • InTheLittleWood is known by his fans for generally being upbeat and a good sport but suffered from a breakdown in late 2014 which required him to take time out and drop out of a livestream he was meant to be hosting. He claimed that he had been depressed for some time and in denial about it.
  • Comedian Kenneth Williams (known for his appearances in Hancock's Half Hour and the Carry On movies) was depressed for most of his adult life and wrote about it, as well as suicidal thoughts, in his diaries. This was mostly due to his homosexuality and beliefs of being the only one suffering from Gayngst (he frequently wrote that other gay men seemed to be dealing with it better than he was). He died in 1988 after overdosing on antidepressants, causing many to debate whether it was an accident or not. Adding to the speculation was the last entry in his diary before his death, which read, "Oh, what's the bloody point?"
  • Abraham Lincoln was a famous teller of humorous stories and a notorious Pungeon Master. However, it was partly a way for him to deal with the deep sense of melancholy that followed him through life, which began in 1835 with his (debatable) lover Ann Rutledge succumbing to the pandemic known as "bilious fever" when he was 26 and was only made worse by tragedies such as the loss of his young son Willie in 1862. The American Civil War certainly didn't help, especially considering it started mere months into his presidency. When the war finally ended, he was assassinated five days later.
  • Cloudcuckoolander comedian Maria Bamford has been open about being diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Her struggles with the illness form the basis of her Netflix series Lady Dynamite.
  • Carlo Moss, one of the creators and writers for The Most Popular Girls in School and Dr. Havoc's Diary, suffers from anxiety.
  • Ben Croshaw is known for his fast-paced Rant Comedy on the Zero Punctuation series and for his comedic novels. He's admitted to suffering from an anxiety disorder and is known to be much more quiet and withdrawn in person than one might expect.
  • Allie Brosh, creator of the comedic webcomic Hyperbole and a Half, suffers from depression, which has resulted in several long absences from the webcomic. She wrote a two-part entry in the series about her struggles with the condition (which actually manages to be very funny in spite of the subject matter).
  • Silent film star Roscoe Arbuckle struggled with obesity his whole life and hated being called "Fatty". He later turned to alcohol and also became addicted to morphine while recovering from a leg infection that threatened to take that leg entirely, which made his health even worse. All that combined with the Virginia Rappe scandal and it's a miracle he was able to stay positive during shootings.
  • President Joe Biden is noted for being snarky and wisecracking, despite enduring so much tragedy in his life. In December 1972, only a month after he was first elected Senator of Delaware, his wife Neilia and their infant daughter Naomi were killed in an auto accident, with their sons Beau and Hunter hospitalized too. And then, in May 2015, Beau died battling brain cancer, which many believe was why Joe decided not to seek the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
  • John Matuszak, who you may know as Sloth from The Goonies, was also a football player who was infamous for the heavy amount of drugs and alcohol he had consumed during his career, especially during said career's beginning, where he was traded constantly from one team to another for his habits despite his great talent. He didn't stop there. After his two Super Bowl wins with the Oakland Raiders, Matuszak was bringing women into his locker room and was incarcerated for public stunts such as firing a gun at street signs and bringing his team out dancing and drinking on Bourbon Street, racking in fines from $1,000-$15,000. In his childhood, John lost his two brothers to cystic fibrosis, and his sister also had the disease long after childhood. When his family moved from Milwaukee, WI, to Oak Creek (a suburb of metropolitan Milwaukee), his new classmates began ridiculing him and calling him a gawky beanpole. By the time his career ended, Matsuzak passed away from a painkiller addiction at 38.
  • Jeff Dunham is an example of this, especially when he and his first wife got divorced. His stand-up following said proceeding was bittersweet at best. While his puppet, Walter, is excited and asks him what it's like, Jeff tells him it's not a good feeling. Jeff got better after he met his second wife. Whether or not his sadness is long-term is to be considered.
  • John Goodman suffered from some intense drinking problems toward the end of Roseanne's original run. Thankfully, he recuperated. Discussed here.
  • Andy Richter, who for years, served as the right-hand man to Conan O'Brien on several of his shows, publicly came out on Twitter as suffering from clinical depression.
  • The authorized biography of Dudley Moore sometimes bears the subtitle The Melancholy Clown. He was deeply insecure from childhood onward due to physical disabilities and short stature, even after years of therapy and huge success as an actor and pianist. There were other personal problems that came up during his career — among them his fraught relationship with longtime comedy partner and Vitriolic Best Bud Peter Cook (especially in the wake of Moore's Hollywood stardom), three failed marriages and a distant relationship with the son the second one produced, and a fourth wife who was abusive and manipulative but whom he struggled to leave. Acquaintances often described him as melancholy and willing to give up on his problems instead of truly dealing with them in his bleaker moods. He managed to leave his final wife, but it was around that time that he began to slowly succumb to progressive supranuclear palsy, leading to his premature death in 2002 at the age of 66 but not before it effectively bore out a longstanding fear of ending up trapped in his own body.
  • Richard Pryor had an absolutely horrific childhood, with a Disappeared Dad and a prostitute mother who abandoned him at age 10, leaving him to be raised by his abusive grandmother, who owned the brothel where his mother had worked. After becoming a star he struggled with drug addiction, culminating in a 1980 freebasing accident in which he suffered second- and third-degree burns, which his daughter Rain theorized was actually a suicide attempt.
  • Joan Rivers struggled with depression after the suicide of her husband Edgar Rosenberg and subsequent estrangement from her daughter Melissa.
  • The famously flamboyant, confetti-showering Rip Taylor was molested while in foster care and bullied heavily in school as a child.
  • Writer and movie critic Mikey Neumann, of Movies with Mikey fame, is famous for his outgoing personality, his surreal sense of humor, and generally maintains the public persona of a lovably weird goofball. He's also been battling Multiple Sclerosis for most of his career, and ultimately left his job at Gearbox Software as a result of complications from the disease; among other things, he was hospitalized for over a week in 2011 after collapsing from a sudden stroke. He occasionally lampshades this in his video essays, noting that he enjoys approaching difficult subjects in a humorous manner.
  • Bo Burnham. He even wrote a song about it; the song contains the line, "Come and watch the skinny kid with a steadily declining mental health, and laugh as he attempts to give you what he cannot give himself."
  • Kiara Strings of The Music Video Show made a video that reveals that she is this, where she explains a suicide attempt. Looking at the Creator Breakdown page, all but 4 seasons have been made out of anger, depression, or suicidal thoughts.
  • Brazilian comedian Fausto Fanti struggled with severe depression, which led him to ultimately commit suicide.
  • A common stereotype of the Class Clown is they use humor as coping with things such as Abusive Parents, Parental Neglect, and/or a Friendless Background. Of course this isn't always the case, but see any of the countless examples in this section for proof that it exists.
  • Hungarian stand-up comedian and cabaret singer Géza Hofi was one of the country's most beloved humorists, even after his death in 2004. He made his career during the second, softer phase of communism/state socialism, following the 1956 revolution, which, despite its failure, forced the new leadership to enact a number of changes. János Kádár, leader of the People's Republic of Hungary after the revolution (which he helped the Soviets to crush, albeit out of fear that they would do it anyway, but with worse penalties for the nation, because of the government's "straying from the cause"), was a fan of Hofi, but, more importantly, considered him "the valve on the country's ass". Hofi's performances often showcased the absurdities and awkwardness of the system, allowing people to laugh at their situation. He even often jokingly addressed the government spies and snitches in the audience. Despite this, he wasn't a happy man, having spent many nights in prison for his satirical performances (albeit always released quickly). Like many "clowns" and humorists", he originally aspired to be an actor, having an excellent singing voice and vocal talent, however, he found himself railroaded into the role of "the regime's court jester". Now, combine this with declining health and being near-constantly watched by the secret police...
  • Jared Padalecki of Supernatural fame has struggled with depression and anxiety for most of his 20-year career and adult life. His giggly, jokestery, Cuddle Bug, Boisterous Bruiser, occasionally-bordering-on-manic public persona camouflages it pretty well, but it was exactly this that made some fans suspect that he was having troubles with mental illness even before he went public in 2013, with some even comparing it to Robin Williams.
  • Anthony Field of The Wiggles has spent almost thirty years educating and entertaining children through music and television but has suffered many hardships in his life including numerous family deaths, health problems (including a battle with meningitis), and has also been open about his battle with depression.
  • The Jewish people as a whole. Given their long history of persecution, it is perhaps unsurprising that humor plays such a prominent role in Jewish culture, or that they've produced so many comedians.
  • Babylon 5 creator/comic writer/screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski is a genuinely funny guy who is well-known for his extremely quick-witted Deadpan Snarker tendencies both on social media and in person. While he'd always talked in vague terms about an unhappy early life, his 2019 memoir Becoming Superman laid bare the depths of the hell his childhood was, including domestic, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse, child molestation, rape, incest, attempted murder, suspected infanticide, and attempted suicide. He is still relatively sane, by the way, if a bit asocial.
  • The legendary Bert Williams was the biggest Black entertainer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Famed for his comic timing, witty songs, hilarious body language, and overall skill, Williams rose to fame in an era of total racial segregation; he was the first Black person to headline a Broadway show and a bestselling recording artist. But for all that, he suffered deeply from the intense racism of his day, and while he tried to deal with it in style, some surviving anecdotes and records reveal his deep pain. Other white cast members often protested his appearances or refused to work with him, and he often had to don blackface and act in a stereotypical manner to make white audiences laugh. W.C. Fields (himself a famously Sad Clown) described Williams as "the funniest man I ever saw… and the saddest man I ever knew."
  • Lucille Ball is one of America's greatest comic talents, with I Love Lucy fondly remembered as one of the seminal sitcoms of all time. But Ball herself suffered from deep self-esteem issues and was convinced that she was not funny. As such, she often rehearsed to the point of obsession to make sure everything was "perfect" and could spend hours trying to nail down a single gag. Her famously tempestuous marriage to Desi Arnaz, who often fooled around with other women, did not help matters, especially because they were playing husband and wife on the show, so there was great public pressure to keep up appearances despite their frequent fighting. When someone watches The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (a sequel series to I Love Lucy with the same characters), they might notice that Lucy's eyes are puffy and voice is hoarse – because Ball had been crying just before filming. It's understandable, as Lucy and Desi divorced the day after shooting on the Comedy Hour wrapped.
  • Per Gessle of Roxette cracks a lot of jokes- during interviews, in social media posts, onstage, and even in his lyrics sometimes, which combined well with the often-upbeat sound of his music. Unfortunately, he's had a lot of emotional issues, including losing his father when he was 18, losing several family members (along with his wife's parents) in the 2010s, and losing his bandmate, with whom he was close friends, at the very end of that decade.
  • The legendary Bollywood actor Govinda, whose talent for comedy earned him comparisons to Charlie Chaplin and Jim Carrey, had a reputation for being temperamental offscreen. This may be explained by the personal losses he endured (his first daughter died in infancy, and both of his parents suffered long illnesses and died while he was at the peak of success) or by his extreme workaholism in order to financially support his working-class extended family. In later years he also expressed frustration at being stuck in the Comedy Ghetto and has pointed to the dramas Hatya and Swarg as his favorites of his own movies.
  • Joseph Grimaldi was a pantomime actor from the days of Regency England who was the Trope Maker for many aspects of the modern circus clown. He was known for his jokes, slapstick, and acrobatics as much as he was known for his troubled personal life: his first wife suffered Death by Childbirth, his son Joseph Samuel Grimaldi died by complications of alcoholism, and he had his own struggles with depression and illness caused by the tremendous strain his brand of physical comedy put on his body. He was said to have joked "I am grim all day, but I make you laugh at night."
  • This almost seems like a requirement for late-night talk show hosts.
    • Johnny Carson was a very shy, introverted man, who suffered from alcoholism, three failed marriages, and the untimely death of a son in a tragic accident, the latter of which led him to step down from The Tonight Show.
    • David Letterman kept his personal life very private but more recently has discussed going through bouts of alcoholism and depression earlier in his career, as well as a very intense self-loathing. There was also the nerve-wracking ongoing situation where a Stalker with a Crush constantly broke into his house and claimed to be his wife.
    • Craig Ferguson was very candid about his personal struggles on his show, which included major drug and alcohol abuse when he was younger, culminating with a plan to commit suicide on Christmas Day, which he called off at the last minute when he stepped into a pub for some sherry, and decided he needed help.
  • Werner Klemperer, who played Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes, was Jewish and an actual victim of Nazi persecution, leaving Germany right at the dawn of the Third Reich when he was thirteen. This was a major reason why he portrayed Klink the way he did; he specifically demanded that Colonel Klink never be portrayed as a Worthy Opponent, instead being a pathetic fool who never, ever won.
  • Lou Costello, one half of the comedy duo Abbott and Costello, suffered tragedy at the height of the duo's fame when his infant son accidentally drowned in his family pool. It's said he was a completely different person afterward, often clashing with partner Bud Abbott, which nearly led to the break-up of their act. Costello would later die of a heart attack at the age of 52, brought on by complications from chronic rheumatism.
  • Ray Combs, a comedian best known for his tenure as host of the 1988 revival of Family Feud, would become another example beginning with his firing from that game show in 1994 due to declining ratingsnote ; followed shortly afterwards by being badly injured in a car accident, financial difficulties after his home was foreclosed on and two comedy clubs he was involved with failed, career strugglesnote  and a crumbling marriage led to Combs being placed under psychiatric observation after Combs' estranged wife Debbie - following reports of a disturbance where the house was ravaged and Ray was banging his head on a wall - alerted authorities that Combs was suicidal. Sadly, early on June 2, 1996, Combs would end up hanging himself while under psychiatric observation.
  • Robert Capron, best known as Rowley of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame, developed an eating disorder after he saw kids laugh at him for his weight and still struggled to get loftier film roles afterwards.


Video Example(s):


More Bounce than Zebedee

When Rodney calls out Del for drinking and partying instead of mourning Grandad, Del admits he has trouble grieving and expressing his real feelings.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / SadClown

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