The Gadfly is a character who often says things that make fun of, or provoke, other people, particularly the authorities and elite. The Gadfly isn't afraid to say blunt truths about sensitive issues that everyone else discreetly tiptoes around, and they are quick to weigh in with critical remarks about problems with the status quo.
Maybe they have poor social skills, so it's hard for them to express themselves diplomatically. Or it could be they just like to watch others get annoyed, confused or angry at them. Or maybe the impolite behavior is a Secret Test of Character for the other party.
Usually they're not really bad people. They can be quite witty, amusing and insightful as long as they're not going after you, but their main targets seem to be their allies, who understand that it's all a joke to them. In the Forum Pecking Order, they may be a member of the Old Guard or Blue Blood, and thus are relatively safe from reprisals. Their amicable nature makes them fairly benevolent but they can set off difficult conversations and start arguments.
The Gadfly varies in their focused-upon subject matter. Sometimes they are The Tease, forever raunchy, or they are an intellectual who loves philosophical or political arguments, or they are flat-out crazy and rant about everything in a stream of consciousness. Others are a variant of the Attention Whore, and their outspoken criticism leads to them facing aggression from their targets. To keep them in line requires a Mod (perhaps an elder ruler) who has a long leash and a big stick.
The trope codifier is the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (470–399 BC), who took his self-appointed role as critic of the state so seriously that he refused to take back his criticism even when authorities threatened him with the death penalty. During his trial, Socrates, said that criticism and "dissent, like the gadfly, was easy to swat, but the cost to society of silencing individuals who were irritating [the authorities] could be very high." Socrates' metaphor with the "gadfly" reference is to him acting like a horsefly that is is giving stinging bites to a big horse (the state).
Socrates' death from drinking a cup of poison Hemlock after the trial shows the risks of being a gadfly to a powerful government. Even in modern times, a gadfly in a totalitarian state or junta may find themselves imprisoned in a Black Site or "disappeared" by the Secret Police.
Alternately, the gadfly might be told You Are in Command Now, as his targets decide to Hire the Critic and say Let's See YOU Do Better!. The gadfly then risks becoming the target himself, even as he has to try and figure out how to live up to his rhetoric.
Compare and contrast with Troll, a character who draws pleasure not from ludicrousness but from suffering.
Contrast the Blithe Spirit and Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who often use a very similar M.O. note to improve people's lives. The Devil's Advocate will do this in serious discussion to point out flaws in a stated position.
- Diabolik is a criminal, but once in a while he does something annoying and apparently pointless just to rile up Ginko or whoever exposed himself to whatever he's in the mood of doing. He's so notorious for this in-universe that when in "Challenge to the Police" he started pulling humiliating pranks on the police (such as stealing and giving back their whole archive, replacing a foreign diplomat and chat with the authorities, and stealing and giving back the blueprints of an advanced warplane) only Ginko suspected there could be more to it, and even he only had a nagging feeling until he realized what Diabolik was aiming to by humiliating to his would-be replacement.
- Marvel Comics:
- More or less everything out of Rockslide's mouth from New X-Men: Academy X. While often times a bully, he never truly malicious about it, he just thinks that's how friends act. Like roasting marshmallows on Match's head.
- Spider-Man, one of the founding fathers of the trope itself. Especially to the hero community and his various villains.
- Deadpool does this as constant part of his character but unlike Spider-Man, knows he's in a comic book and is always treating the world around him as a writers intent instead of being actually crazy... which he is.
- The limited series Marvel: The Lost Generation, which dealt with the generation of super-heroes who operated between the Golden Age and the perpetually later and later advent of the Silver Age, had a perky young female superhero named Gadfly, whose personality was that of a lovable pest to the other heroes. Sadly, most of the heroes of that era died stopping a secret Skrull invasion, and the people of Earth never even knew what became of them.
- The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Whirl goes out of his way to irritate and frustrate the people around him. One episode has Team Rodimus crammed into a tightly packed ship; Rung folds himself away in a corner to minimise the space he takes up, while Whirl spreads out on the floor just to be as assholish as possible.
Rodimus: (on a People You'd Like To Punch themed costume party) I was a lone Megatron in a sea of Whirls.
- The Creeper will do or say just about anything to provoke a reaction. Villains hate him, heroes avoid him. Even in his saner civilian persona as Jack Ryder, some portrayals have him as a TV journalist who operates entirely on shock value.
- Broom Hilda: Grelber, who regularly dispenses vicious insults and pulls pranks too if he is in a really bad mood. A sign on his log home (as in an actual log, NOT a log cabin) even reads "Free Insults".
- Hobbes of Calvin and Hobbes loves to rile up Calvin, using everything from Stealth Insults to various pranks to spoiling the endings of Calvin's favorite comic books. Then there's Calvin's dad, who loves to tell Lies to Children, sometimes just to get a reaction out of him (Such as saying that babies come from Sears, although Calvin himself actually came from Kmart). Calvin himself at one point buys an album that glorifies the Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll lifestyle and throws away the record because all he wants to do is leave the cover around to annoy his mother.
- All of the characters in Madam & Eve indulge in this.
- Eve's roadside booths are often a way to throw shade at the Andersons or squeak out a few extra dollars from them.◊
- Madam will prank Eve over her paycheck or their employee-employer relationship requirements.◊
- Thandi periodically riles up Mother Anderson by commenting about her age or her Gin & Tonic habit◊.
- In return, Mother Anderson enjoys telling Lies to Children and fractured fairy tales to Thandi, apparent to see how long it'll take her to realize she's been pranked.
- In Zits, Jeremy's parents note that he's really good at pushing their buttons; this is displayed by Jeremy literally pushing a button on Walt's head and saying "Yeah, right Dad. Whatever," in the middle of a lecture. Considering that Jeremy is in his mid-teens, this is not surprising.
- Done by, of all people, Bruce Banner in The Avengers. He starts acting angry when Black Widow is talking to him, causing her to freak out and pull a gun on him. She calls off all of the SHIELD agents surrounding the building they're in after he says the following:
Bruce: I'm sorry, that was mean. I just wanted to see what you'd do.
- Also done by Tony Stark to aforementioned Banner. Tony gently pokes and prods the guy, seemingly just to test how far he can take it before Bruce... well, Hulks. He even gives Bruce a tiny electric shock with lab equipment, and can be seen looking into Bruce's eyes for an instant as if to check if the "other guy" is in there. In spite of this (or maybe even because of this), Tony and Bruce get along quite well.
Tony: Your work on antielectron collisions is unparalleled, and I'm a fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous, green rage monster.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Rocket has a habit of stealing prosthetic limbs and eyes for his own amusement. In Avengers: Endgame, he freaks out the aforementioned Banner and Stark with a Jump Scare, just for a laugh.
- Also done by Tony Stark to aforementioned Banner. Tony gently pokes and prods the guy, seemingly just to test how far he can take it before Bruce... well, Hulks. He even gives Bruce a tiny electric shock with lab equipment, and can be seen looking into Bruce's eyes for an instant as if to check if the "other guy" is in there. In spite of this (or maybe even because of this), Tony and Bruce get along quite well.
- John Bender in The Breakfast Club is the group's "criminal" who likes to screw with the others and push their buttons for his own amusement which is supposed to be entertaining.
- Loki in Dogma, who convinces a nun that there is no God by spouting off nonsensical allegories about Alice in Wonderland and organized religion. By the way, he's the Angel of Death.
Bartleby: You know, here's what I don't get about you. You know for a fact that there is a God. You've been in His presence. He's spoken to you personally. Yet I just heard you claim to be an atheist.
Loki: I just like to fuck with the clergy, man. I just love it, I love to keep those guys on their toes.
- The Empire Strikes Back: Of the Secret Test sort. Before revealing who he is, Yoda pretends to be a nutty old hermit and makes a nuisance of himself, digging through Luke's stuff and tossing it everywhere.
- In A Hard Day's Night, George Harrison admits he and the other Beatles are this in regards to a fashion model.
Simon Marshall: If you don't cooperate, you won't get to meet Susan.
George: And who's this Susan when she's at home?
Simon: Only Susan Canby, our resident teenager. You'll have to love her: she's your symbol.
George: Oh! You mean that posh bird who gets everything wrong?
Simon: I beg your pardon?
George: Oh, yeah. The lads frequently sit around the television and watch her for a giggle. In fact, once, we all sat down and wrote these letters saying how gear she was and all that rubbish.
Simon: She's a trendsetter. It's her profession.
George: She's a drag. A well known drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.
Simon: [horrified] Get him out of here! He's knocking the program's image!
George: Have I said something amiss?
Simon: Get him out!
- Stumpy from Out Cold.
Stumpy: Did I ever tell you about the time I invented snowboarding?
- Yang Lin from The Condemned (1976) really couldn't stop jesting and screwing around, repeatedly trying to strike up a conversation with his cellmate, Feng Da-gang - the latter in no mood for a conversation after being framed for murder and wrongfully thrown into prison. Yang finally crosses it when he makes an Innocently Insensitive remark saying "It's not like you just murdered someone, why so moody?" causing Da-gang to finally lose it and fly into a rage.
- Heihachi Hayashida in Seven Samurai is a joker and a clown who likes to tease people sometimes. He's particularly fond of picking on Kikuchiyo. He is the one who coined "Kikuchiyo" as the samurai wannabe's new permanent name, as a reminder of the drunken scene that the man made the night before the samurai left for the village.
- The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men: Robin is this.
- He describes his lady love as a blonde, blue-eyed, sweetly-tempered lady to the impetuous brunette Marian just to rile her up.
- He joins the Friar in a duet just to annoy him, and makes him carry Robin across the river just for the fun of it.
- He plays an affable host to the Sheriff so he can mock him.
- He and Little John carry the Sheriff on their shoulders to celebrate his "generosity" in contributing to Richard's ransom, then dump him in the moat immediately after revealing their identities.
- And at the very end, after being declared Earl of Locksley, he leaves Marian in the dark so that she is heartbroken by her Perfectly Arranged Marriage to... the Earl of Locksley.
- X-Men Film Series:
- While hosting guests or defeating enemies, Quicksilver loves to annoy them during his bursts of super speed.
- X-Men: Professor X telepathically guides an anxious Logan—the latter has no idea where he is or why he's there, or why he's hearing a strange male voice inside his head, and because Dr. Jean Grey wanted to take a blood sample, Wolverine assumes that he's being experimented on—from the school's infirmary to Xavier's office, where Charles greets his guest with a polite "Good morning, Logan." Professor X is aware of the traumas that Wolverine had experienced, and it's a bit disconcerting that the former took advantage of the latter's paranoia for a little bit of fun, even if it was only for a short time.
- X-Men: Apocalypse: After Scott Summers accidentally damages Professor X's most beloved tree on the estate, the latter, strictly speaking, didn't have to say anything about the tree being planted by his grandfather (especially when Charles had already made up his mind that he'll accept Scott as a new student), yet he did so anyway just to provoke a reaction from the teen. Scott doesn't want to be at the school (and thus one would assume that he would prefer to be rejected), yet he becomes extremely apprehensive over the possibility that Xavier is furious at him for ruining a priceless family heirloom. It should be noted that Scott is blindfolded, so he can't see Charles' facial expression to judge the latter's emotional state. Alex most likely informed his brother that Xavier is a very powerful telepath, and warned Scott (who has a tendency to be rude) that he should behave himself in front of the Professor. Scott obviously failed spectacularly in that regard, and Charles then teased the young man by making him wince for a moment.
Charles: My grandfather planted that tree when he was five years old. I used to swing from the branches of it myself. [tree finishes falling apart] I think that was probably my favourite tree.
Scott: (worried) Does that mean I'm-I'm expelled?
Charles: (smiles) On the contrary. You're enrolled.
- Discussed in Plato's Apology of Socrates, where Socrates compares his role for the Athenian democracy as that of a gadfly pestering a horse.
- Silk from The Belgariad lives for this. As one description puts it "little man with a face like a weasel who thinks he's funny".
- Fyodor Pavlovich in The Brothers Karamazov revels in annoying and tormenting other people, and will mock the beliefs of his friends, the monks in the monastery, and his own sons for the sake of making them angry, even if those beliefs coincide with his own.
- Jeko from the Col Sec Trilogy. His usual target is his implied crush Heleth, but he heckles Cord a few times as well.
- Unsurprisingly, the Gadfly from the titular 1897 book The Gadfly is a Gadfly. One notable example is when he has a public argument with himself using anonymous letters in a manner strangely similar to sock-puppeting on internet forums, just to see how the public's reaction would be to the debate.
- The Girl from the Miracles District has Freya, whose hobby is to seduce people who've never met her before, then reveal that she can read their minds and enjoy their embarrassment.
- Amonotsuka Academy, in Girls Kingdom, is a veritable hive of gadflies. Many of the upper crust Societal Arts students, as well as a few of the more middle-class Domestic Arts students, who are training to be maids (and one case where the line is straddled a bit) love getting people worked up for lulz sake. Some of the more prominent examples include:
- The Kokonoe twins, who would be on the Societal Arts track if not for some unspecified reasons causing them to be in the Domestic Arts track. They will happily find some way to work up their targets, and in fact have several entire notebooks dedicated to the Societal Arts students, partly so they can find their weaknesses. They also enjoy messing with Misaki, just because they like her.
- Misaki's Mistress, Himeko has a tendency, early on, to spring things on her without explaining them, just because it amuses her, such as offering her a Seraph badge without explaining its significance (or what the Domestic Arts track is all about, which Misaki was ignorant about despite signing up for it), or sending her on her debut without telling her that it was her debut, which actually traumatized Misaki as she found lady Shion's interrogation unbearably intimidating.
- Erisu always comes off as a sweet, gentle soul, so when she goes into gadfly mode, it can be hard to tell until after she's riled up her target. For example, she interrogates Himeko about why she stopped going her restaurant and when she finishes, saying she's done being mean, Himeko's face is cherry red, and when Misaki finishes getting Erisu's restaurant on its feet, Erisu kisses her on the cheek, which makes Himeko extremely jealous and tense.
- Some Quarn in In Fury Born will intentionally switch to speaking Rish to make jokes about Rish sex (which to the Rish is Serious Business) where they can overhear (such as crowded spaceport terminals) just to see if they can provoke them. The Quarn find this immensely funny and appreciate the fact humans find it amusing.
- Journey to Chaos: As can be expected of Tasio's "favorite follower", Kallen Selios loves speaking cryptically to annoy people, challenging their points of view, and heralding change in their lives.
- The League of Peoples 'Verse: Admiral Chee of Expendable sees himself as a social gadfly in the tradition of Socrates, constantly prodding people to deal with issues they'd rather ignore. Like Socrates, he ends up sentenced to execution because of it.
- In addition to his generally rather abrasive behaviour, Clip from Malazan Book of the Fallen has the annoying habit of playing around with his chains, clicking them together or swirling them around his fingers. He is either unaware that he's doing it or obtuse on purpose, even when other people call him out on it.
Silchas Ruin: Must you always do that?
Clip: Do what?
- Effron from The Neverwinter Saga has a habit of quickly bending his torso back and forth, so that his limp arm slaps against his frame and makes a clapping noise. Everyone who witnesses this is annoyed or disgusted by it - which is exactly why he does it.
- Kavik from Of Fear and Faith likes to push his friends' buttons but it's all in good fun and he's a nice guy at heart who knows where to draw the line. That doesn't mean he won't have as much fun as possible at his friends' expense however.
- Lord Henry from The Picture of Dorian Gray is an example, saying whether or not the speaker personally believes an idea is completely irrelevant to its value and saying anything and everything to get a rise out of others.
- Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth enjoys humor of this type. She gets it from her father, who frequently provokes his silly and gullible wife by pretending he won't do this or will do that, and encourages his cousin Mr. Collins into full displays of his foolishness. Darcy points it out at one point, saying that he knows she sometimes likes to express opinions that are not her own. (It's one of the things he likes about her.)
- Psmith, by default. His embracing of socialism, for instance, doesn't seem to extend to much more than calling everyone "Comrade" (and occasionally working for the redistribution of property, i.e. taking stuff.) Similarly he'll profess in flowery language his undying love and respect for people he blatantly dislikes and wishes to undermine.
- The Railway Series: Most of the Fat Controller's engines have gadfly tendencies. Thomas during his Bratty Half-Pint days was particularly so, with a hobby of quietly creeping up on dozing big engines, waking them up suddenly, and then running off laughing. And in general, they all love pushing other engines' buttons and winding them up.
- Cody, a secondary character in The Reckoners Trilogy, enjoys confusing people with Little Known Facts of his own invention, usually pertaining to Scottish history and culture.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo, Dr. Cargraves does this when debating with his three teenage apprentices, to get them to question their own assumptions and realize the importance of being able to prove their assertions. His contrary position is that the Moon might not have a "far side", because no one has ever seen it (the book was written before spacecraft were sent to photograph the far side).
- Safehold: When she can get away with it, Empress Sharleyan can be this. A specific example involves informing a man of his elevation to a Grand Duke just as the man in question is opening her carriage door for her purely to see the look on his face when the news hits him.
- In Midst Toil and Tribulation, Sharleyan is offering generous terms to allow Corisande to enter the Empire of Charis as a member nation instead of a conquered one. She does, however, have one catch she must insist on. She insists that Corisande's princess Irys marry her stepson, who she (Irys, not Sharleyan) had spent the book up to that point developing romantic feelings for.
- Ta Shi Zhujiao: Yu Ru Bing is just this. She's a self-proclaimed arguer even. So much so that many other characters from Tang Han Qiu to even fans know that she's a troll and not to argue with her.
- To Reign in Hell: Mephistopheles continuously tosses out verbal provocations as a way to glean information and make others confront their own issues. He's also a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who cares deeply for his friends and will genuinely apologize if he manages to actually upset someone.
- Twig: the protagonist, Sylvester, is The Social Expert, and likes to manipulate people to cause chaos. He is constantly goading and teasing his friends in various ways. He toes the line between "funny" and "asshole" quite frequently, and sometimes damn well pole vaults across it. His girlfriend explicitly compares him to an emotionally abusive husband at one point. He is self-aware and usually savvy enough to avoid going into truly malicious territory... he saves that for his actual work.
- Byerly Vorrutyer in the Vorkosigan Saga is seen by most people as a gadfly who never saw a foul rumor or vicious innuendo he didn't want to spread. Of course, there's actually a bit more to him than that, and there's a method to his madness, but most see him as an particularly annoying "town clown".
- Safi of The Witchlands loves to annoy people around her just to see their reaction, mostly by making up Embarrassing Nicknames and then insisting on using them.
- X: Farnham's Legend, the novelization of X: Beyond the Frontier, mentions that Kyle Brennan and his best friend Elena Kho get a lot of amusement from pretend-flirting and otherwise feeding the rumors among their coworkers that they're in a Secret Relationship.
- The Harry Potter books have a few.
- Fred and George are both natural born pranksters, and enjoy poking fun at Ron, Percy, their parents, Slytherins, and nearly any authority figure that tries to exert themselves over them (especially Professor Umbridge in Order of the Pheonix). They tend to refrain from pranking people they respect (such as Dumbledore or McGonagall) or people who they feel are genuinely maligned (like Harry), although neither group is entirely exempt from the occasional quip at their expense.
- Peeves the Poltergeist is a more generally malicious version of this trope. While Fred and George tend only to irritate people they feel deserve it, Peeves isn't afraid to go after any authority figure (Dumbledore is the only professor at Hogwarts he actually fears and/or respects), and he frequently antagonizes characters who can't defend themselves, like Neville. His pranks also tend to be less harmless than Fred and George's (several mentions are made to him throwing dungbombs, which imbue the target with a hard-to-get-rid of odor, over the series, and on one occasion he is seen unscrewing a chandelier). It's worth mentioning that Peeves seems to have a mutual understanding with Fred and George, and they generally exempt each other from their pranks - this is most notable when Fred and George order Peeves to "give [Umbridge] hell" after they leave Hogwarts, a command Peeves seems to take to heart.
- Apparently the Marauders, especially James and Sirius, were prone to this during their Hogwarts days, being described as forerunners to the Weasley twins.
- Wit in The Stormlight Archive - after all, it's his role as King's Wit to provoke the high and mighty, perhaps causing them to consider their actions and behavior.
- Imp play this role in Worm where she needles characters with constant jibes and leaning on the fourth wall in order to amuse herself, or threatens to fuck with them in a way they won't remember later, due to her power of making people forget her.
- Cradle Series: Eithan Aurelius uses his incredible power and nigh-omniscience to constantly troll everyone around him, reminding them that he's extremely powerful and they can't interfere with his plans no matter what they do. While he is genuinely a good person who constantly works to make the world better in both major and minor ways, due to the Asskicking Leads to Leadership nature of the world everyone assumes he's secretly hiding some nefarious plan and the constant jokes are just a cruel mask. Of course, even people who really do agree that he's a good person still find his behavior exasperating at best.
- The Marvellous Land of Snergs: Baldry, a jester, loves playing pranks and messing up with people. His penchant for tricking people got him executed or exiled several times.
- Night Huntress: Ian likes to push people's buttons, especially if they already don't like him. Spade, with whom he's been friends since they were human, tells Denise a story showing that he has always been this way.
- Older Than Feudalism: Eris, goddess of strife, as described by Hesiod.
- Loki. He got his comeuppance.
- Satan (yes, that one) from Abrahamic religions. Depending on which text you believe, he might just be Trolling the humans, or out-and-out devilish.
- The original use of the term by Socrates was inspired by the story of Bellerophon, who killed the chimera while riding the flying horse Pegasus. A gadfly bit Pegasus, who, startled, threw Bellerophon. He fell to his death, fitting the previous declarations that no man could survive battle with the chimera.
- This is essentially the job description of any and all Tricksters in polytheistic pantheons. Or the non-deity Tricksters like Eulenspiegel or (less) Nasreddin Hodscha. Being not gods, they sometimes have to run afterwards.
- A Hindu myth goes that Parvati performed tapasya (meditated) in the wilderness for years so she could earn the right to ask Shiva for a boon. When her tapasya is fulfilled, Shiva approaches Parvati in the guise of an elderly human being and asks what she's praying for. She tells him, and Shiva laughs and says it's a stupid thing. Parvati furiously starts to upbraid him, at which point Shiva reveals his true identity and congratulates her.
- In Le Morte D Arthur, during the Roman wars. Gawain and the Saracen Priamus fight to a standstill, and Gawain asks about the lineage and deeds of someone who can achieve such a thing. When Priamus turns the question back to him, Gawain says that he's a servant who Arthur gave a horse and armour last Christmas, apparently just to see Priamus's reaction.
- Eminem, who often breaks character from his Slim Shady Heroic Comedic Sociopath alter-ego to point out that he's only doing it to wind people up, and make a point to society.
I only cuss to make your mom upset!
- A lot of early Punk Rock was based on this. Special mentions go to John Lydon, Jello Biafra, and Steve Albini
- Chell fromSequinox goes out of her way to mess with Hannah, whether it be forcing her to hang out with "unpopular" kids or creeping up behind her while she's meeting with Ethan's mom.
- During the Three Way World Tag Team Title defense the 2016 Death Before Dishonor, Christopher Daniels tagged out Hiroshi Tanahashi just as he was about to lock up with Tetsuya Naito. Given this was Naito, he refused to lockup with Daniels and instead lounged around until he and Frankie Kazarian were practically tripping over each other in rage.
- PythOS, the resident AI of AJCO, seems to have faint traces of this trope. It passed the Turing test (meaning it convinced a panel of researchers that it was human) but acts as if it is a malfunctioning computer system and nothing more. It knows A_J isn't the A_J that built it, and does its very hardest to screw her over as often as possible.
- Hyeon from Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues has fun messing with people, particularly his ex-girlfriend Nadine. When their mutual friend Eddie is lead to believe that the two have gotten back together, Hyeon hams it up and tells Eddie that they're getting married, and encourages him at every opportunity to talk to Nadine about it (even while fully aware that Nadine's mother will kill him if she ever finds out what he's doing).
- Exalted: The Lunars of ages past either slavishly love their Solar mate, or being an extreme gadfly to them. It might have worked as an ad-hoc check and balance mechanism, since the Solars are divinely-empowered god-king superhumans with enough power to rule the entire universe.
- In the biographies of the characters appearing in the vignettes in GURPS Bio-Tech, Professor C. Eric Gideon, who has made a number of acerbic comments throughout the book about the morality of biotech, is described as a "professional gadfly".
- In the Planescape fan expansion Mimir.net, Julius the Symmetrical is an Athar who sees both sides of every question, and is also known as "the Contrary" for the fact that, whatever you propose, he has an argument against it. In the essay "Planes of Contradiction", he argues against every Character Alignment, concludes that nobody has the answer, and then argues against that as well. (He's also a jermalaine; it's been suggested that he has the race's usual enjoyment of humiliating the bigger races, just a more sophisticated way of doing so than his fellows.)
- Yuuichi in Kanon is the best example of this trope fond of making bizarre and outrageous claims while maintaining a completely serious atmosphere in order to confuse all his love interests. Few manage to catch on and also recognize when he is and isn't serious. This works really well considering he's also a Deadpan Snarker.
- CLANNAD has Tomoya. Generally, he's just having fun, but he also has difficulty being honest on occasion. It's most obvious in Tomoyo's route where the only reason he even gets to know her is specifically because he's doing this to Sunohara for shits and giggles. Naturally, this carried over into the anime. It's a wonder that Sunohara listens to a word he says. Tomoyo also lampshades this when she wonders if Sunohara is a masochist. Worth noting that Tomoya does grow out of this as he matures.
- Kouhei, the protagonist of ONE ~To The Radiant Season~, made by Tactics, which later became Key/Visual Arts, is also a good example of the gadfly. This goes as far as convincing a character to drink a soda that he considers to be toxic. Of course, it just so happens that the character in question actually LIKED the drink....
- In Little Busters!, however, the resident gadfly isn't protagonist Riki but Kurugaya, who projects an air of a Cool Big Sis and loves doting on her cute classmates, and just as much loves teasing them mercilessly. It's most obvious in the scenes during baseball training, where every day a girl will ask her for advice and she will suggest they do something completely ridiculous and embarrassing. She tells Riki it's for some higher purpose - like teaching them to trust themselves, for instance - but also readily admits that it's mostly just because it's funny.
- Tohsaka in Fate/stay night, who is also The Tease.
- Her Servant Archer is an even greater example; not in the least because it's hard to tell when he's actually being serious and when he's just probing for a reaction. And true to the origin of the term, Archer's verbal sparring is usually aimed with the goal of making the characters see their own flaws, such as Saber's wish and Shirou's blind adherence to the ideal of a 'hero'.
- Lancer can also be very verbally provocative when he wants to be. Extra points for trolling Tohsaka.
- Kotomine, as well. He is notable for never telling an actual lie while doing so. Considering he was Rin's guardian after her parents' deaths, she likely learned it from him.
- Kenichi in Sharin no Kuni is like this depending on who he's talking to. He more or less leaves Natsumi alone, but Kyouko points out fairly early that he's going to keep messing with Touka as long as she keeps reacting. This trope probably also applies to Isono.
- Kenichi also hews closer to the original definition at times - he intentionally disrupts the lifestyles the girls have adopted to work around their "obligations", as well as bringing up uncomfortable topics for discussion, usually relating to some past event in somebody's life he's been clued in to, to help them get over it.
- Yuki picks up this role in The Devil on G-String though she isn't as blatant about it as Kenichi and it's only really apparent in the Mizuha route. It's never stated outright and is at least partially unintentional since she's simply not good with people, but it's implied that this is frequently what Usami is doing in her sillier moments.
- Akira in Suika starts this way, especially in flashbacks. By the end, not so much.
- Taichi in CROSS†CHANNEL adopts this as his default demeanor. He has a hard time knowing where to draw the line and is often far more hurtful than he intends. It's also an act.
- Yamato in Majikoi! Love Me Seriously! enjoys making up new traditional Japanese customs whenever Chris calls him out on something, which helps build up their Belligerent Sexual Tension. Momoyo isn't above screwing with people either, but is generally more of a tease.
- Higurashi: When They Cry
- Ronove from Umineko: When They Cry is fond of making snarky comments towards his master Beatrice, though she doesn't mind seeing as it makes things less boring. There's also Shannon, who likes making light hearted jabs that most people don't expect due to her usual demure nature.
- Most Voltage, Inc. romance games have at least one guy who enjoys picking on the protagonist to get a rise out of her, sometimes thanks to emotional issues that have led to difficulty in expressing affection honestly, sometimes just because he enjoys teasing the woman he loves. Examples include Kiyoto in In Your Arms Tonight, Saeki in My Forged Wedding, Ryoichi in Seduced in the Sleepless City, Riki in Love Letter from Thief X, Homare in Class Trip Crush, and Minato in Our Two Bedroom Story.
- Okita Souji from Hakuouki. Between his bad jokes and general trolling, he definitely is this, especially in the Drama CDs. Examples of his antics include stealing Hijikata's poetry book (repeatedly), bribing Saitou not to rat him out to Hijikata for various incidents right away with the poetry book, and adopting a cat and naming it Hijikata.
- Okabe Rintarou, the protagonist of Steins;Gate, has a habit of messing with people when in his Hououin Kyouma persona. Generally he just does it for the reaction, but in later chapters he invokes it to avoid awkward confrontations. When he does drop the nicknaming, perverted comments and evil laughter, it's a sign something is seriously wrong.
- In The Fruit of Grisaia Yuuji is asked once if he actually enjoys bullying girls or something. He pauses for a moment and then gives a strong affirmative. In The Eden of Grisaia Thanatos seems to have a similar mean sense of humor, though while it can keep the upper hand against the Mihama girls it can't match Yuuji himself.
- In Mystic Messenger, 707 loves playing practical jokes on the other characters and telling them outrageous tales that they somehow keep falling for. His finest moments of this include convincing Yoosung that he'll faint from drinking too much coffee unless he gulps down as much chocolate milk as possible, sneaking into Jumin's house to bite his beloved pet cat's neck, posting pictures of "pretty women" that are actually of him, and spinning a tall tale about how he saved himself from an island tribe by teaching their leader how to play Tetris (which turns out to be true if you invite the tribe leader to the party). If he stops doing this, it's a surefire sign that serious shit is about to go, or has already gone, down.
- In The Letter, Ashton Frey acts like this towards his friend Isabella Santos.
- Mitsuhide from Ikemen Sengoku loves pushing the buttons of his allies just for his own amusement. Examples of this behavior of his are replacing Masamune's water with sake, constantly making fun of Hideyoshi's mother henning, waiting until the most inopportune moment to interrupt makeout sessions between the main character and her love interest, and telling the main character blatant lies or provocative statements just to see her "interesting" reactions.
- Remy Chevalier in Queen of Thieves is the team's Con Man by occupation, and a frequent instigator of mischief purely for his own amusement. He takes a particular delight in trolling Nikolai - just for starters, in the very first episode of Nikolai's first season Remy directs the heroine to sleep in Nikolai's room, telling her it's the "guest room."
- Animator vs. Animation:
- After having been possessed in Animation VS Minecraft, Red fakes it in the AVM short "The Rediscovery". This earns him a slap in the head by Blue.
- In "Note Blocks", SC is awoken by his friends' late night jam session, so he turns the volume on the computer from 50 to 0. After he goes back to sleep, Green turns the volume up to 100.
- In "Command Blocks", Yellow uses command blocks to troll Red with a hard-to-get cake.
- In "PvP", after dying and respawning, Green returns to find his friends mourning his death. What does he do? He comes out of the makeshift coffin... Causing everyone to freak out and kill him again.
- Ayasaki-san: Chiaki often gets teased by his female classmates because of his attractive appearance and shy personality.
- DSBT InsaniT: Lisa's mainly The Gadfly towards Asia, but pretty much everyone is fair game for her to troll for her own amusement.
- Dreamscape: Nik tries his best to get on Jenna and Aseir's nerves to get a reaction out of them bigger than just some snide remark.
- hololive: Koyori's description states that she enjoys deliberately messing with people just to see how they'll react.
- Bad Moon Rising has Chloe, who takes great delight in needling people. She's been seen to unkindly tease her lover Madison about a girl she's jealous of, openly spoken of how her friends were social rejects in werewolf society, and has even gone as far as to mock a man's dead relatives — including his father and brother — to the man's face.
- Jack Snipe of Erfworld seems to enjoy needling people, and has a particular talent for deconstructing their psychological weaknesses; particularly Wanda.
- In Fated Feather, Yote relentlessly teases friend and foe alike (even during moments of high drama), and the beginning of Chapter 7 suggests he does it just because he enjoys getting a rise out of people.
- Tedd, in El Goonish Shive, teases Susan — amongst others — mercilessly at first, in part because she's The Stoic and Deadpan Snarker combined, and he figures that he might get some sort of reaction out of her (and possibly get her to calm down a bit when she goes off at him). Later on, they become friends, or at least something like friends — and he tones down his gadfly qualities quite a bit. They still tease each other, though.
- Black from Grey is... likes to make people angry because he loves the faces they make.
- The Autoresponder seems to get a real kick out of screwing with people, especially Jake. It almost comes back to bite him when he has to convince Jake to kiss Dirk's severed head to bring him back to life but, because he can't resist leeringly hitting on him and making jokes about 2001: A Space Odyssey even as he tells him that his friends are dead, Jake almost refuses to believe him.
- Damara Megido is a probable example as well; most of her dialogue (with her teammates, at lest) consists of disturbing sexual propositions in badly-translated Japanese. Given that she's considerably less creepy around her ex, who is the only other one who speaks her language, it's quite likely that a good portion of her weirder comments are facetious.
- Paranatural: Boss Leader, head of the Activity Consortium, as the character page states, enjoys playfuly torturing her underlings. For example, makes all of them wear a bizarre mix between a footsie pajama and a tuxedo. She tells Max it's because of safety reasons... before she bursts into laughing.
"They actually wear them!"
- The norm for the Norringtons in Roommates, be it Mrs. N who makes a sport of making people fluster (and by people we mean anybody from her son to powerful fae lords) to James who deliberatelly trolls his roommate with his most hated running gag.
- Mike of Shortpacked! is usually a puppy-kicking jerkass, but occasionally he does or says horrible things to people that force them to acknowledge their own flaws. His alternate universe counterpart in Dumbing of Age continues this trend, being less overtly violent (except for when Joyce pays him to be), and lampshading any hypocritical behavior he witnesses.
- Mikkel from Stand Still, Stay Silent, who, being The Medic, has Induced Hypochondria as an arsenal favorite. He can however cross the line into Troll if someone pushes the wrong button. He also has a history of being snarky and fired a lot.
- In The Wretched Ones, Jack has made messing with Nicky his new hobby. So far he has kicked Nicky's horse in the rear as Nicky was first learning how to ride bareback, sending it into a gallop, and kicked him off a church roof (he teleports him to the ground to avoid killing him and ending his fun)
- In Manly Guys Doing Manly Things this is what Ganondorf has become now that he's more or less a Retired Monster: while he's done with trying to conquer the world, he'll still antagonize Link for funzies.
- When Galatea and Voluptua have a philosophical argument in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, a caption pointing to Galatea identifies her as being "In anti-establishment gadfly mode, wherein she is happiest."
- Dregs: The nudist deliberately makes trouble for the sewer workers because she is bored.
- Nishkose of Anecdote of Error. When Shimei finds out she can manifest pins, she suggests that Shimei might have some Alemi ancestry, knowing that this will piss her off because their country is at war with Alemi. Then when Shimei retorts that she is purely Gahadelian, Nishkose asks if she’s inbred, to Shimei’s annoyance. Then she accuses Shimei of having a crush on Luntsha, since Shimei was going to ask her for advice.
- In Red vs. Blue, Grif often works as a gadfly to Simmons, most notably when he lies to Sarge about seeing Sheila, just for the sake of making Simmons look crazy.
- Ultra Fast Pony depicts Pinkie Pie employing bizarre, long-term pranks just to annoy Twilight. These include pretending to believe she has an unexplainable "Pinkie Sense" and (according to the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue) learning how to fly.
- Linkara. Things like claiming he only follows real reviewers like The Irate Gamer, etc...
- Simon Lane and Lewis Brindley regularly annoy each other, with Simon being more proactive in this department. Over the many years of the Yogscast, Simon has sabotaged his work, bossed him around, made him dress up in a woman's bee costume, tormented him with his sometimes-fake stupidity and caused Lewis to outright rant in the hammiest ways. Despite all this, they're good friends.
- Daithi De Nogla's content largely revolves around him being slightly annoying to strangers online, and being very sarcastic. With that said, he's usually relatively benevolent, only saving the more trollish antics for people such as racists.
- Jayuzumi often behaves this way, even though a significant number of his videos are explicitly labelled as "trolling" or prank calls. At the end of the day, he makes fun of other people via soundboards, but it's mostly in good fun and he can often get a laugh out of the people on the receiving end of the joke.
- During Midnight Screenings, Irving will often make racist, sexist, and generally off-color jokes. He's gone on record that he doesn't fully agree with most of the statements he makes; he just wants to see how his companions will react.
- This was essentially what being an internet troll meant until the mid to late 00's. Less polite names were used for the type of people we call a troll nowadays (although rudeness was far less tolerated in the 90's and early 00's due to Netiquette still being honoured in many communities). A common way of trolling before the era of social media would be to go to a Legend of Zelda forum and post Mario questions. Essentially harmless, but people would be up in arms, much to the OP's amusement. These types of trolls still exist, but are more tolerated (partly due to a far nastier breed of troll having been around for the past decade). "Ken M", who masquerades as a naïve middle-aged father, is probably the best known.
- There's a whole series of YouTube videos built around this called Ventrilo Harassment, where someone joins a Ventrilo voice chat and plays sound effects or music (or both), sometimes using the soundboard cleverly to answer questions, even tricking people into thinking it's an actual person. The best known one uses Duke Nukem sound clips to provoke an enraged, irrational reaction from "Peggy". Later on, videos emerged of people enjoying it (likely due to being fans of the genre themselves). The original ones from the early days of YouTube are gone but mirrored, except for a few that never went viral or had that level of popularity, so ended up forgotten.
- Mike Stoklasa of RedLetterMedia will often play this part in group discussion on the channel's various review shows, particularly Best of the Worst. In one video, he pretends to agree with his co-host Rich Evans about the line "Everyday ends with a TUMS Festival" coming from Samurai Cop instead of Hollywood Cop just to provoke his other co-host, Jay Bauman. (Jay caught this in editing, deliberately ignoring all the times Mike disagreed with him only to repeatedly show clips disproving Rich's statements.)
- Pauline from Atomic Puppet enjoys messing around with others, especially AP and the show's villains.
- Gadfly Garnet from Miles from Tomorrowland is very full of himself. His actions are almost always more annoying than evil, and he loves to make trouble for the Callistos and space patrol.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
- King Bumi spends almost the entirety of his first episode dicking around with Aang and his friends, although ultimately he reveals himself as a Trickster Mentor. He even admits to doing all of that for his own amusement, saying "It's pretty fun messing with people!"
- Toph likes to use her blindness to mess with the rest of the Gaang, such as saying that Sokka's poorly drawn picture of Appa looks just like him, or shouting that she's spotted Wan Shi Tong's Library while the Gaang is flying on Appa's back.
- Whenever she's not being intimidating or manipulating, Azula also fits this trope. Even as a child, she loves to break balls.
- Ikki is a Genki Girl Annoying Younger Sibling who has shown shades of this from saying inappropriate comments about somebody's features (Tarrlok smelling like a woman) to bringing up love concerns between the main characters out of nowhere.
- In the animated version of Beetlejuice, the title character lives for this. He even has a License to Drive People Crazy. (Only good for use in the Netherworld, but he tends to do it to humans in the mortal world too.)
- Bob's Burgers: Louise, the youngest child of the Belcher family, is constantly messing with people she thinks are stupid. This list apparently includes her school guidance counselor, her other teachers, the neighbor kids, her own siblings and anyone she has just met. Whether she's gently teasing or deliberately trying to cause mayhem is often hard to tell; either way, she always brings the joke as far as it can possibly go. Louise is a frightening child.
- Bugs Bunny is a master of this, especially to Yosemite Sam. Wild and Woolly Hare presents this when after a typical Sam bombastic boast, Bugs tells him to shut up:
- Ever After High: Kitty Cheshire is willing to mess with anybody to get a reaction. She provokes a food fight after Legacy Day just for her own amusement, but slides towards troll territory when she attempts to reveal the identity of Cerise's father.
- Gravity Falls: Grunkle Stan is this personified. He loves mocking others for his own amusement as seen in "Little Dipper" when Mabel is teasing Dupper about being shorter than her, Stan wakes up due to "the sounds of mockery".
- Moral Orel: Clay Puppington has long associated abuse with attention and affection because the only way he was able to receive that as a child was through getting beaten by his father. He even spends a whole episode antagonizing fellow bar patrons in the hopes that they'll take their anger out on him and thus validate him.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Discord starts out as something of a Mad God, but once he reforms, he turns into this trope. He's no longer evil and malicious, but he certainly gets a kick out of messing with the other characters. Especially Twilight, whom he occasionally tries to be a Trickster Mentor to (to debatable levels of success).
- Imp in She-Ra: Princess of Power loved being this whenever Hordak was close at hand, needling and provoking his fellow villains, then getting Hordak to punish them for trying to retaliate. Just one of his many nasty traits.
- In the reboot, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Mermista takes on a few of these traits. One episode has her stealing Perfuma's chair solely to antagonise her.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil: Star and Marco's classmate Janna exemplifies this trope. If she can say something to mess with someone, freak them out, or make them uncomfortable, she will not hesitate to do it. Her favourite target is Marco, with later seasons having Tom also getting caught up in her "jannanigans" by proxy. She rarely makes it clear when she's serious or not as well, which just causes her friends more stress at times.
(Janna summons a talking baby version of Marco with wheels for hands)
Marco: (horrified) ...Why?
- Star Wars Rebels: Chopper, the Ghost crew's irascible astromech droid. He loves pulling pranks on his fellow crew mates (particularly Ezra and Zeb), which includes zapping them with his electroshock prod, "assisting" Ezra's Force training when he's just beginning to learn how to use it or removing the support bolts from his bunk.
- Storm Hawks: Arygyn's interactions with the Storm Hawks seem to be an equal mix of his Trickster Mentor routine and messing with them for the heck of it.
Stork: [riding a mechanical bull] Why—am—I—doing—this?
Arygyn: Be—cause—it's—fun! [to Aerrow] And I'm a cruel, cruel man.
- Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) loves to rile up his brothers but most particularly Raphael with jokes and annoying behavior. He doesn't always do it on purpose but with Raph, it's almost always deliberate.
- Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), unlike his other versions, he sometimes gets a kick out of riling his sons up.
- Chris from Total Drama spends most of his time either laughing at his contestants' misfortune or altering challenges so they'll encounter even more misfortune...which he then laughs at.
- Robin/Nightwing in Young Justice (2010) loves messing with people in Season 1 By Season 2, though, he's become considerably more mature.
Robin: (popping out of nowhere) Artemis?
Artemis: (gasps, startled) Robin! I, uh-
Robin: How random that you're in Gotham City! Instead of Star City, where your uncle Green Arrow lives?
Artemis: (nervously) I'm, um, here... to see my cousin! She... was in the state spelling bee. Here, in Gotham. City.
Robin: C-O-O-L. Did she W-I-N?
Artemis: (eyes narrow) N-O.
Robin: (grinning) D-R-A-G.
- Michel de Montaigne wrote, "No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately."
- Andy Kaufman. On and off stage, he loved playing elaborate, unexplained pranks on others by assuming alternative personas, for his own amusement more than theirs. So long as he got a reaction, he was happy. His most infamous persona was Lounge Lizard Tony Clifton, who was presented as an entirely separate entity and deliberately antagonized his audiences with insults. Kaufman was so famous for this that when he died, there were people who insisted — some still insist — he was Faking the Dead as yet another elaborate gag.
- H. L. Mencken said:
"The final test of truth is ridicule. Very few dogmas have ever faced it and survived."
- Ted L. Nancy, the pseudonymous author of the Letters From a Nut series. Over the course of a few years in the 1990s, Nancy sent a number of hilariously absurd letters to hotels, corporations, and even foreign royalty. A frequent gag involved Nancy writing ahead to make some bizarre accommodation request of a luxury resort. Major news outlets speculated on the identity of this mysterious gadfly, the two most common suspects being Jerry Seinfeld (who wrote the foreword to the books) and Larry David. Nearly a decade later, comedians Bruce Baum and Barry Marder admitted to co-authoring the letters under the shared pseudonym.
- Voice actor Phil Hendrie, often called the Andy Kaufman of the airwaves, has a nationally syndicated radio show based entirely on this premise. Hendrie calls into his own show as the "guest", and proceeds to bait callers by taking an outrageous position on some hot-button social or political issue.
- Harlan Ellison:
I spend my life personally, and my work professionally, keeping the soup boiling. Gadfly is what they call you when you are no longer dangerous; I much prefer troublemaker, malcontent, desperado. I see myself as a combination of Zorro and Jiminy Cricket. My stories go out from here and raise hell. From time to time some denigrator or critic with umbrage will say of my work, "He only wrote that to shock." I smile and nod. Precisely.
- The name comes from the term social gadfly. The trope namer, Socrates, said that like a gadfly he could be easily swatted, but that a government who does such a thing pays too heavy a price. The gadfly would help improve politics by raising unpopular, controversial viewpoints for discussion. This didn't work out so well for him. Now, the term generally refers to someone who simply pushes people's buttons for amusement.
- Friedrich Nietzsche is often called a gadfly, apparently sometimes calling himself that (or something similar) at times, and nobody's really sure how many of his (ever-shifting) opinions and proclamations were really his, or intended to provoke his contemporaries. Some things he did absolutely were intended as provocations, like titling one of his works, criticizing institutional Christianity, The Antichrist. He certainly would appreciate the comparison to Socrates; although he despised Socratic philosophy, he regarded the man himself as a transformative figure and Worthy Opponent, and liked to set himself up as a sort of anti-Socrates for the modern age. And he definitely seemed to find the reactions he provoked amusing, or at least energizing; if his writing is any indication, Nietzsche had a wicked sense of humor. He was not a Troll, however: his intent was to improve the West, not cruelly annoy it for no reason.
- By his own admission, Tom Baker loved tormenting his co-stars with "tall stories". A frequent victim was Nicholas Courtney — apparently as much of a lovable wet blanket as the Brigadier.
- When Elijah Wood was in New York promoting The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Dominic Monaghan called from Berlin, pretending to be Hans Jensen, a German TV host. During the interview, Monaghan/Jensen asked Wood a bunch of ridiculous questions (e.g., asking Wood if he played soccer, then clarifying with, "Do you kick balls?"); Monaghan couldn't keep a straight face and was barely able to keep from laughing. The result can be seen on the Return of the King extended edition DVD with an introduction from Wood (who, once the joke was revealed, found the whole thing "brilliant").
- Christopher Hitchens had streaks of this. While he managed to build a rather consistent (to him) set of beliefs out of seemingly opposite tenets (e.g. he was for the Iraq War and still thought Bush was a doofus), it is hard to say which - if any - of his public statements he made just for the sake of conflict and discussion. He once to the Catholic Church against the canonization of Mother Theresa by taking on the role of "Advocatus Diaboli". Given that he wrote a whole book on why Mother Theresa was a terrible person and a fraud, his opinion on that issue was probably genuine. He did argue the case pro bono, after all.
- Matthew Mercer has confessed that he likes to play Overwatch online and randomly say "it's high noon" over voice chat. Since the character Cole Cassidy is voiced by Mercer, and the character says "it's high noon" when using an absolutely devastating attack, this causes the other players on his team to freak out, thinking that one of the enemy teammates must be playing as Cassidy and using that attack on them.note
- In ice hockey, an agitator (also known as a pest or a rat) is a player who is deliberately annoying to opposing players (within the bounds of the rules) to provoke them and get them penalized for instigating a fight.
- President Donald Trump was infamous for this, with his brash refusal to adhere to political correctness in his public statements and his upheaval of Washington, D.C.'s status quo leading to him being vilified by his detractors. On one occasion he stated "We do a little trolling," which quickly became a popular meme.
- After her death, staff who attended to Queen Elizabeth II revealed that she could be quite mischievous, such as during an incident when she and Prince Philip went for an early-morning walk in Yosemite National Park. In the UK, protection officers knew to give the two a wide berth when they went out rambling. However, the United States Secret Service detail assigned to them insisted on staying close. Annoyed at how they couldn't enjoy the landscape without agents getting in the way, the two royals started walking sideways, then backwards, and then in circles until the agents got tangled up in each other and everyone laughed over the ridiculousness of the situation.