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The Freelance Shame Squad

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"Ha ha ha! Your pain gives us joy!"

Embarrassing things happen to us all sometimes. When they happen, we trust anyone who saw said thing to afford us the dignity of not calling attention to it, and we typically do likewise when something happens to them. Besides, getting splashed by a puddle or dropping a stack of dishes isn't that funny to begin with.

When embarrassing things happen to characters in a comedy, however, every stranger within a 500-foot radius will go out of their way to stop what they were doing, point out the thing in question, laugh loudly about it, and basically humiliate the character into feeling like a quivering little pile of crap. This is known as the Freelance Shame Squad, a group of otherwise unremarkable people who abandon their better nature and laugh like a sociopathic mob upon witnessing a stranger's misfortune.

Often illustrated with a Circle of Shame shot, as the focus of the humiliation looks around them and all they can see are laughing faces, or other disorienting, stylized Camera Tricks.

Thankfully, this is usually not Truth in Television, as in reality most onlookers will react with either confusion, surprise, annoyance or just plain indifference when seeing someone else's faux pas. However, fear of this trope certainly exists in the minds of young people everywhere. This trope shares a bunk with No Sympathy, and like that, it's a trope that tends to really get on people's nerves. See also Embarrassed by a Child, Humiliation Conga, and Instant Humiliation: Just Add YouTube!.

Compare Open the Door and See All the People, when the character is surprised by a mob of onlookers, and Passing Judgment, when a character does something embarrassing in public and gets stared at by appalled passengers of a passing vehicle. See also Shamed by a Mob, when the fallen character is met with the crowd's quiet look of disapproval. Compare and contrast Point-and-Laugh Show, when it's the audience who's expected to laugh at a contestant's misfortune.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In one episode of Azumanga Daioh, Tomo uses Maya the (non-domestic breed) cat to tease Mr. Tadakichi (a very large and fortunately laid-back dog), Maya bites her, and Yomi and Kagura respond by laughing at her and telling her she had it coming.
  • Pui Pui Molcar: When Abbey is spotted with an Itasha paintjob by other molcars and humans across the street, he imagines the crowd morphing into laughing silhouettes. In reality, though, they show concern when Abbey runs away in tears.

    Comic Books 
  • According to Chick Tracts, when you go to heaven, your entire life will be watched by the entire population of heaven, who will laugh and mock you for every single mistake, moment of shame and angry outburst you've ever had. This is intended to encourage you to lead a good, pious life, to reduce the mocking to a minimum. At no point in the comic is it suggested that the choir invisible might have some sympathy for the pain of others, or get inured to suffering after witnessing it for the billionth time, or might want to spend their afterlife doing something more fun than reviewing real-time footage of the boring lives of strangers for years on end.

    Comic Strips 
  • A Running Gag in Curtis is Curtis's mom dragging him out to buy new school clothes, sending him to the changing room, and then opening the door while he's in his underwear, prompting everyone in the store to laugh at him. As noted by The Comics Curmudgeon, these laughing strangers are only seen in the relevant panels, as if they were summoned into being by his embarassment.

    Films — Animation 
  • Inside Out: Riley and her emotions think this is happening when she starts crying in class on the first day in her new school, and are convinced people will laugh at them. It's a subversion, though—all of her new classmates are simply looking on with concern and/or sympathy, and the teacher is very empathetic and kind towards her.
  • In Turning Red, when Ming embarrasses Mei at the Daisy Mart, all of the customers in the store laugh at her.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The ABCs of Death: In "X", every person Gertrude passes on the subway and the street mocks her for her weight.
  • In Angela's Ashes, the children immediately notice and mock Frank's shoes. Partly justified since they're just kids, and Kids Are Cruel.
  • Angus has the squad deployed on him at several points, the worst probably being when Jerk Jock Rick stole his boxers and ran them up the school flagpole. Angus' sole friend doesn't help matters by remarking that the shorts are nearly as wide as the flag. The last time is when Rick plays an embarrassing video of Angus at the Winter Ball dance just as Angus is being crowned. The principal, at least, is unamused.
  • Austin Powers in Goldmember: Austin gets publicly humiliated twice by his father not attending an honor from the Queen, and earlier, his becoming valedictorian at spy school - both times a wizened old janitor/groundskeeper points and laughs loudly.
  • During the Bicentennial Man trailer, when Andrew's face is removed, Galatea points and laughs at him. This isn't in the film, where she is hiding her face instead.
  • Done in the film and book versions of Carrie:
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: When Mantis makes a demonstration of her powers on Star-Lord, she reveals his very intimate feelings for Gamora, which immediately leads to their friend Drax bursting out laughing much to Star-Lord's embarrassment. Drax eagerly asks Mantis to do the same for him, but she ends up sensing his amusement and joins in the laughing parade. Somewhat justified, as Mantis is The Empath, while Drax simply has no social filter as part of his cultural hat.
  • In Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, conflict between Kevin and the rest of his family starts because Buzz plays an immature prank on Kevin while he's doing his vocal solo in the school Christmas Pageant, using two prop candles to give Kevin bunny ears, pretending like he's using Kevin's head as a drum, etc., and almost the entire auditorium full of adults think it's hilarious.
  • Johnny Lingo has everybody laughing at Moki for offering Johnny a dowry of three cows for Mahana.
  • In the original The Karate Kid, a ballroom filled with refined, upper-crust partygoers all stop dancing and put down their canapes just to laugh at Daniel-San after he bumps into a waiter and gets bolognese sauce all over his outfit. They were probably mocking the poor waiter too, but it doesn't come across as strongly.
  • Lucas: Poor Lucas' life wasn't miserable enough already. There are a whopping four separate instances of public ridicule that he endures, the crowner of which is not only humiliating but incredibly painful; half the student body stands around pointing and laughing while he runs across the school grounds in naught but a towel, clutching his nads because the bullies put liniment on his crotch. Ouch. To his credit, Lucas is an Iron Woobie who refuses to let their cruelty get to him.
    Lucas: You can't make me quit! EVER!!
  • Tamara: Almost the entire English class bursts out laughing when Shawn humiliates Tamara by grabbing her spellbook and reading it out loud.
  • Weird Science: An entire mall atrium full of shoppers stop all their business just to laugh at Gary and Wyatt after bullies dump an Icee on their heads. To their credit, the two girls hanging out with the bullies weren't impressed by the crude little stunt, but it doesn't count for much when everybody else in the mall seemed to be.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Trope Namer comes from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Jack Frost, where a large gaggle of villagers comes out of nowhere to mock the wicked stepsister Marfushka every time something humiliating happens to her. Crow dubs this jolly band of assholes the Freelance Shame Squad.
    • The trope gets invoked again in I Accuse My Parents, when the main character's mom shows up drunk at his school.
      Student: Hee, hee, hee! She's drunk!
      Crow: (as student) It's funny!
  • In an installment of the series of Nickelodeon interstitials As the Schoolbus Turns, one girl is talking about her problems with her best friend. She keeps whispering embarrassing things to her friend, who then repeats them, making everybody on the bus turn and laugh. The third time, she covers her friend's mouth before she can repeat. The other kids turn in anticipation but don't laugh.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Whenever someone does something embarrassing at Sunnydale High, the students tend to burst into ironic applause.
  • A Running Gag on Doc Martin is a bunch of teenage girls that appear and mock whatever snafus happened on the episode (mostly to the titular Doc Martin), capping it off with at least one calling him "Tosser!"".
  • The Hard Times of RJ Berger has two: the pilot episode with the basketball game after RJ tries to shoot a hoop, misses, and we see his jersey shorts fall down, nearly everyone laughs and then his jockstrap, and the school play episode, of where RJ tries to kiss Jenny, but the tape Miles put on his penis to lessen the humiliation of his erection straps off revealing RJ's large erected penis illuminating on the wall, some wolf whistle, but mostly just laugh, and this is the second time RJ did something in a school play to prompt droll laughter, the first time he soiled himself. It is somewhat sad, because RJ somewhat anticipated it, and though both he and Jenny are embarrassed and look around, in truth, RJ and Jenny both probably perceive the laughter much harsher than intended to be. Some then gasp, jeeringly, as Jenny starts to storm off set, and even RJ has a hilarious and priceless reaction, as he collapses on the bed as the curtains close.
  • Happens to Eddie on House of Anubis after Patricia accidentally sat on the school speaker button, while the two of them were in the principal's office, and they accidentally revealed that Eddie was the principal's son to the entire school. When they got out of the office everyone had gathered to mock Eddie.
  • Parodied on How I Met Your Mother. When Barney's eating a meatball sub, Marshall politely points out that he got a little marinara sauce on his tie, and a couple of the people they're eating with respond with a very tiny chuckle. Barney refers to this as "the most humiliating moment of my life". Of course, Barney being Barney, he immediately begins plotting a ridiculous revenge scheme that involves convincing Marshall that he's dying.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: All the kids sitting on the benches at the water park start giggling derisively at Reese after Malcolm yanks down Reese's trunks in front of them.
  • Oz: It's pretty much guaranteed that anytime a fight or beating goes down, every inmate in radius will stop what they're doing to watch and laugh. Justified trope given that they're in prison and it probably is the best entertainment they've had all day. One of the best examples is at the end of the first season when Beecher takes his revenge on neo-Nazi rapist Schillinger — Alvarez, Adebisi and O'Reily are in the scene for the sole purpose of watching from the sidelines and laughing hysterically to compound Schillinger's richly-deserved humiliation.
  • This is a regular occurrence for Alex on The Worst Year of My Life, Again. As an example, in "April Fools Day", he ends up in his underwear in front of a girls health class the first time round, and then in front of the school band during the loop year. In both cases, the audience burst out in mocking laughter. Almost every episode has a laughing and pointing moment like this.
  • Discussed by a married couple in one of the why-are-you-here segments of The Biggest Loser. The overweight husband, who ran a restaurant, had bent over at work and split his pants, and got laughed at and mocked by all of his employees. It was part of what motivated him to go on the show.

  • The music video for Cher Lloyd's "I Want You Back" has the romantic rival accidentally spilling food on herself. Everyone else in the restaurant points and laughs, and she starts to scream with rage.
  • The Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", from Help!, imagines a crowd responding to the singer's heartache this way.
    Everywhere people stare
    Each and every day
    I can see them laugh at me
    And I hear them say...

    Video Games 
  • Glam: Whenever Glam dies on a level, all the enemies present on it will point at her and laugh.
  • Happens in Leisure Suit Larry 1: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards: when Larry buys a condom, the cashier will announce his choice to the (seemingly) empty store, and shoppers will pop out from everywhere and say "What a pervert!"
  • Need for Speed: Most Wanted: The Blacklist. A group of fugitive street racers of Rockport that are in high priority of capture by the Rockport Police Department. after Razor sabotages the player's BMW M3 GTR to win against them and take their car, Every Blacklist member laughs and mocks at the player. Even after the player begins to climb the ranks to takedown the Blacklist members, they still mock the player (unwise move by the way) ever since the player lost to Razor.
  • In The Sims, other Sims will instantly notice if a Sim has done something embarrassing, and depending on their personality may point and laugh.


    Web Original 
  • Teen Girl Squad: In Issue 5, The Ugly One gets her head stuck in the sand, and thinks "I hope nobody cool or famous is staring at me." Cue a Reveal Shot showing George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Henry Rollins gawking at her.
    Washington: Look, look at that girl.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: in "the Clocktopus", Ben reflects on an incident in a marine based school play he was in when he was much younger. He was dressed as a sailor and bullies J.T. and Cash Murray dropped a line having an arm of a fake giant squid fall right on top of Ben. Quite sadly, even before they knew he was alright, the audience full of adults and children audibly laughed uproariously. This scarred Ben for life.
  • Bob's Burgers: In "Bad Tina", all the kids in the cafeteria laugh at Tina over the bizarre "erotic friend-fiction" she read (in a misguided attempt to avoid being publicly embarrassed by Tammy). Then when Tammy laughs so hard she suffers a bout of flatulence, all the kids start laughing at Tammy instead.
  • The Fairly OddParents! has these constantly as well, in one episode Timmy's Dad was so humiliated by his lowly job that he was actually followed by the shame squad.
  • Family Guy:
    • When the popular kids pelt Meg with rotten meat during her halftime routine, everyone in the stands points and laughs at her, which is worth noting because this was long before Meg was the over-exaggerated Butt-Monkey that she later became.
    • Peter goes to a high-school reunion attempting to make himself a cowboy astronaut in order to impress his old high school classmates. When it's revealed that the story is bullshit because Peter's cowboy hat can be taken off, the entire auditorium points and laughs at Peter.
    • In another episode, Lois encounters a female anchor, Joyce Kinney, who she knew from her high school years. Lois incidentally humiliated Joyce in front of the entire school in an assembly pulling her pants down and putting something in her mouth. Years later, Joyce swore revenge, but to Lois' defense, she said it was just a stupid high school prank she did and did not intend it to cause that much trauma.
  • Glitch Techs: Discussed Miko's older sister Nica is really paranoid about public appearances because every teenager is constantly looking for embarrassing moments from their peers to post on social media.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim meets up with his old schoolmate, The Boogeyman, and is not happy about it. When asked why, we flashback to their school days, where Boogey gave Grim one hell of a wedgie in front of the whole school. Right before they all laugh at him, one monster says "Let's all point and laugh at his humiliation!"
  • Hey Arnold! has these constantly, often spearheaded by Sid or Stinky.
  • One episode of Johnny Bravo had Johnny reading a bodybuilding magazine at a supermarket. A little girl yells that this man is looking at pictures of other brawny men, causing everyone in distance to look over and gasp in horror.
  • King of the Hill: Stuart Dooley, a classmate of Bobby's, is a one-man shame squad, there to scornfully state the obvious at every opportunity. An odd inversion has him spotting Bobby pinning a Valentine flower on Joseph's shirt (to make him look popular) and snorting "That took courage."
  • Mickey Mouse: In "No Service", Mickey saves himself from this when he regains his clothes (and gets Donald's as well). Donald ends the episode being chased by one of these squads.
  • Used in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Hurricane Fluttershy". When Fluttershy was younger, her flight schoolmates would point and laugh at her whenever she messed up at flight training, which was rather often. As a result, she has issues with any sort of performing in public. In the present, when it becomes clear that Fluttershy has the worst flight speed of anyone on the waterspout team, a few ponies laugh, then immediately go back to ignoring her. However, Fluttershy's mind makes this far worse than it actually is: she thinks everyone is staring and laughing, and this triggers a panic attack on her part.
  • A common occurrence in Pepper Ann would have the classroom appear to laugh at Pepper Ann when having a misfortune. She would snap out and call the kids out on their behavior, only to realise that the children were gone or were never there in the first place, and thus she was yelling at thin air. This would be followed by looks of concern from whoever is present, like her friends or her mother.
  • Recess:
  • The Simpsons:
    • Played for Laughs and Exaggerated when Bart already didn't want to go clothes shopping with Marge, but then Marge has to go and throw open his changing room door and leave it open on him, stripped to his briefs. Predictably, everyone in the store points at Bart and guffaws at his embarrassment, one guy even yelling, "Look at that stupid kid!"
    • Subverted in "Homer Goes to College": Homer's Nuclear Physics 101 professor makes an atom-based pun and everyone but Homer laughs. The professor then drops his notes and Homer laughs uproariously... while everyone else looks at him awkwardly.
    • There's Nelson. Despite being only one boy, he's about as straight an example of this as there ever was. His entire function on the show most of the time is to appear out of nowhere and point and laugh whenever someone does something embarrassing ("Haw-haw!"). Even when there's no logical reason for him to be present (which is sometimes lampshaded). And at one point, this gets reversed on him in an epic fashion when he makes the mistake of laughing at an extremely tall fellow who happened to drive a tiny car. The man makes him pull down his pants and waddle down Main Street as all of Springfield mocks him. In another episode, he "Haw-haw"'s himself in the mirror, then remarks that it made him feel really bad. "No wonder no one went to my birthday party."
  • South Park:
    • Invoked when Stan shows up to the class Halloween party dressed up as Raggedy Andy (and Wendy doesn't go through with dressing as Raggedy Ann). Mr. Garrison actually says "Let's all laugh and point at Stan, everyone", and they do.
    • When Randy gets a DUI in "Bloody Mary", Mr. Garrison gives a lecture on drunk driving, in which he brings Randy into the classroom to give a halfhearted apology speech. Mr. Garrison then berates him quite thoroughly while he addresses the class as Stan hides his face in agonized embarrassment. Inverted since the rest of the class just stares dumbfounded.
    • Cartman spearheads these on a frequent basis at the school. In "Bass To Mouth" it's revealed that he does this to such a level one student has actually committed suicide from the ridicule. The School Council order (and when that fails, beg) Cartman not to let the same thing happen to another kid, which he interprets as embarrassing another kid and spearheading a Freelance Shame Squad onto her instead.
    • Jimmy's nightmare in "Erection Day", of where he is a talent show, and suddenly, his penis erects endlessly. Others laugh and point, some girls flip out and leave, Mr. Garrison even says, "Don't worry Jimmy, we're laughing at you, not with you."
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Pranks a Lot", SpongeBob and Patrick make themselves invisible and prank everyone by pretending to be ghosts. When Mr. Krabs makes them visible again, he finds that they are naked as well. (They took their clothes off because the spray they used stained clothes.) Krabs lets them go, and SpongeBob mentions that he'd die of embarrassment if anyone saw him now. They exit Krabs' office to find a crowd of all the people they pranked, laughing and hooting at the "Live, Nude Pranksters".
    • In Grandma's Kisses, Squidward and some customers at the Krusty Krab ridicule SpongeBob for how affectionate his grandma is towards him. This prompts SpongeBob into changing himself to become more mature.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil:
    • In "Cheer Up Star", Marco has a bad day that includes getting his trademark red hoodie ripped, revealing an embarrassing Fun T-Shirt ("I Kissed a Ninja at Karate Kon 2012"). Not only does a random guy on a bicycle point and laugh at him, but Marco's Sitcom Arch-Nemesis Jeremy Birnbaum shows up to rub it in.
    • In "Girls' Day Out", Star is sent to detention for setting the class hamster Marisol free, and Marco is shanghaied into rescuing the hamster. Marco promptly gets his arm stuck in a drain pipe, with Marisol just out of reach. Not only does his crush Jackie Lynn-Thomas see him like this, but he eventually attracts a horde of gawking students, who all take pictures.
  • Back in the early episodes of Thomas & Friends, the engines are often shown laughing or smirking whenever another has an accident or another humiliating incident, no matter how dire. Downplayed in later episodes, where they often show a more consistent concern for each other whenever they seem to be in trouble.
    • The Troublesome Trucks love to make fun of any misfortune that befalls the engines. Sometimes they even do so in song.


Video Example(s):


Leisure Suit Larry 1: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards

In Quiki Mart, a crowd of people shows up to mock Larry for his choice of "lubber."

How well does it match the trope?

4.43 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheFreelanceShameSquad

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