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Too Funny to Be Evil

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Cruelty is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke.
The Screwtape Letters, chapter 11

A deadly tactic often used by a Villain with Good Publicity. The heroes, after much strife and turmoil, have finally managed to uncover proof of the villain's evil plans and are able to go public with it. When the villain gets wind of this, they discredit the proof in the place they best know how: the court of public opinion. In a nutshell:

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The Hero: We have uncovered evidence that the villain has been torturing enemy soldiers with whips and spiked collars!
Villain: Hold on, you thought I was torturing them?

Yes, that's right. The all-encompassing evil that embodies the spirit of Kick the Dog? It's a joke now. If you're lucky, it might show up on a late night talk show. But no one, ever, is going to take it the slightest bit seriously now. After all, how can something so hilarious possibly be a crime against humanity?

However, this trope can backfire against the villain if their ultimate goal relies on things like being able to convincingly intimidate an enemy. A villain who comes off as amusing (and not in an Affably Evil manner) will often be viewed as a practical joker, and subsequently be ignored. Alternatively, this trope is what causes most Narm under the "failed Crowning Moment Of Awesome" heading, since a Crowning Moment Of Awesome is badly undercut when the character in question engages in accidental comedy.

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This is the logical in-universe extension of Laughably Evil. See also Sarcastic Confession, Refuge in Audacity, and "Just Joking" Justification. Contrast with Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor. Often a causing factor of Draco in Leather Pants — if the villain makes you laugh, how can he be bad? But no matter how amusing they are, never forget to Beware the Silly Ones.

Often involves Appeal to Ridicule, and can be seen as a combination of Comedic Sociopathy and Rule of Funny. Compare Actually Pretty Funny, when even the target of the abuse sees it as humorous. Also compare Insult Comic, whose sense of humor lets them get away with rude remarks. Contrast Dude, Not Funny!, for things that may be seen as too evil to be funny.


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Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • An example of this aimed at the real life audience (rather than the in-universe public) in D.Gray-Man: Komui is one of the good guys. When he tries to murder innocent people, he does so with incompetent killer robots, so it's clearly just a joke - despite the damage he causes and the sociopathy he exhibits while doing it. The audience isn't expected to hold it against him in the more serious episodes.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Fic 
  • Mukrezar is a soulless, murderous bastard who completely wiped out all life on an entire continent, apparently for kicks. He is also an unrepentant torturer who apparently finds screams of the tormented 'soothing'. He is also a terrible cook. Despite this, he is an amazingly quirky and charismatic leader and manages to pass himself off as Plucky Comic Relief.

    Film 

    Literature 
  • A variation is used against villains in Dean Ing's story "Very Proper Charlies" (and later his novel Soft Targets), in which a media policy of portraying terrorists as pathetic laughingstocks undercuts their ability to terrorize people.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Shagwell, a former jester who is part of the monstrous mercenary group The Brave Companions, tries to claim that he's this when he's cornered by Brienne. Considering all the things that both the audience and the characters have seen him do, (and that mere moments ago, Shagwell first crushed the knee and then the head of a man with a mace) nobody in universe or out is buying it.
    Shagwell: I yield, I yield. You mustn't hurt sweet Shagwell, I'm too droll to die.
    Brienne: You are no better than the rest of them. You have robbed and raped and murdered.
    Shagwell: Oh, I have, I have. I shan't deny it... but I'm amusing with all my japes and capers. I make men laugh.
    Brienne: And women weep.
  • In C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape advises Wormwood that his patient can get away with many sins as long as he passes them off as jokes to his fellows. He also advises using the Big Red Devil image to his advantage, because with that in his head the patient won't be able to take the Devil or demons seriously.
  • Warbreaker : Denth and Tonk Fah both say horrible things that they're planning to do, followed by a "Just Joking" Justification... despite how the very fact that they would joke about such things is indication that they are not good people, which can easily fly over the head of a first-time reader.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Kuroto Dan releasing an unknown virus with 100% mortality into the world is an act of bioterrorism, plain and simple, but the fact that one of the symptoms is spawning of video game characters all over the place around the infected raises some questions on how could anyone take it seriously. The real killer is why he did it, though. An eight year old child who loved his games sent him a fan mail with praise and a some suggestion for a new game. Kuroto thought those ideas are so good his ego was ireparably slighted. He became a raving lunatic because of a fan mail.
  • Kevin Can F**k Himself: As a Genre Deconstruction of sitcoms, specifically the kind that ran on Comedic Sociopathy and Awful Wedded Life, this trope ends up discussed. Kevin is a petty, selfish, pigheaded manchild whose treatment of Allison is emotionally and financially abusive, but he's so goofy and over-the-top that many people In-Universe find his behavior amusing. For Allison, whose mind has begun to fray after ten years of living with this, the story is very different. In a Leaning on the Fourth Wall moment, she calls out Patty for her enablement of Kevin's treatment of her, describing one of his stunts in what sounds like a standard sitcom plot, only to point out the consequences and how they deeply hurt her.
    Allison: Patty, do you remember when I got that job as a paralegal? I started working a lot, and Kevin convinced everyone I was having an affair?
    Patty: My money was on cult. But yeah.
    Allison: He thought that I'd fallen in love with my boss, who was sixty, and married. But that didn't matter. Kevin still put sugar in his gas tank. Ruined his Saturn.
    Patty: Okay, fine, I never said he was a great guy. But that's the kind of juvenile crap he does.
    Allison: Patty, he got me fired. Right when I felt like I was worth something, he ruined it. And you just watched him and laughed. Can you just think about that for more than one second? He didn't like something that was my own, and so he took it away from me. Like this car. Like my friends. Like any shred of a life that is my own.
    Patty: [shaken] I-It... It seemed... harmless.
    Allison: And when he spent all our life savings without telling me? Was that harmless, too?

    Tabletop Games 
  • A meta-example with the Orks of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. These guys embody Stupid Evil and Chaotic Stupid. In the actual 'verse though, they are interstellar butchers and murderers who would have already conquered the whole setting (and almost did once), if not for the fact they spend half their time stabbing each other in the back, and the other half stabbing each other in the front.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy VI: Kefka comes across as an unusually silly character. He dresses like a clown, seems to have a few screws loose, and is just all around goofy. At first.
  • Another meta example in Azure Striker Gunvolt. Merak is the embodiment of sass and generally agreed to be one of the funniest characters in his own game. In the first translation of the game, they made no mention of his Moral Event Horizon, (namely drowning an entire subaquatic base just so he wouldn't have to fight you), so he comes across as something of an Anti-Villain. This is especially true when most of the other villains' Pet the Dog moments are confined to audio dramas and supplementary materials. Now, the game has been retranslated and what's said is done, but the character is still pretty popular. It doesn't help that he's a Lazy Bum who makes it clear he doesn't really have anything out for the hero.
  • Handsome Jack seems like this at the start of Borderlands 2, but as you become more and more of a threat to him he starts showing his true colors, and when you finally press his Berserk Button he shows you just how much of a threat he really is when he has nothing left to lose.
  • The Illuminati members of The Secret World have learned to weaponize this concept. If ever caught on being members of a ancient world spanning conspiracy, rather than deny it, they cop to it while playing up the idea of being part of a secret organization that is several millennia old, controls the world and has supernatural elements as one massive punch-line to a bad joke by conspiracy nuts. They don't even need to lie, all public figures need to do is roll their eyes and no one cares.

    Web Comics 
  • Black Mage of 8-Bit Theater. His utter incompetence and his Cosmic Plaything status prevents anyone from taking him seriously even though he would very quickly destroy all life if given the opportunity.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Redcloak of warns Jirix not to think this of Xykon. He may be funny and charming when he wants to be (Charisma is the primary casting stat for Sorcerer's after all), but underneath the facade he is a monster, and quite possibly the most powerful spellcaster alive (sort of).
    • Played for Laughs in this case since Redcloak is one of the bad guys, and the whole conversation was a setup for a Cutaway Gag showing Xykon's twisted and evil act of dressing up the undead in the style of American Gladiators.
    • Also Thog, explicitly pointed out by Tarquin, who wants to have him killed, because he's a violent murderer, but since he's so whimsical, the audience thinks he's harmless and enjoyable. This also serves as a Take That, Audience!, since this is a common reaction to Thog by the readers of the comic (not to mention a pretty apt description of Tarquin himself).

    Web Original 
  • Dragon Ball Abridged:
    • Nappa is made to appear almost as if all of the things he does are because of being stupid instead of malicious.
    • Vegeta is such a long-suffering and sardonic Only Sane Man (whose evil plans are always thwarted anyway) that he becomes the most sympathetic character.
  • Comedic Sociopathy is the Bastard Operator from Hell's entire purpose. Anyone who can use Refuge in Audacity to get away with what the BOFH does and make you laugh at it must be all about this.

    Western Animation 
  • Pinky and the Brain:
    • In one episode, Brain's plan was to take over the world by overwhelming everyone with the Tear Jerker "Brain's Song", then take advantage of their weakened mental state to assert dominance over them. Unfortunately, his last scene on a vibrating electric football gameboard caused him to shake in spasms while stating his demands, and everyone falls out of their depressed crying state laughing uproariously at Brain's absurd remonstrations of "I'm the o-o-o-o-o-o-o-overlord!"
    • A similar thing happened in the episode when Brain tried to imitate Orson Welles' infamous The War of the Worlds radio broadcast; instead of frightening the populace, he only amused them.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • Dick Dastardly. While he's definitely a dirty cheating racer who'll do anything to win the Wacky Races, He is also highly comparable to Wile E. Coyote in human drag.
  • Varrick from The Legend of Korra has many of the traits of a Corrupt Corporate Executive (or at least an amoral one). He manipulates and elevates conflicts between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes to engage in War Profiteering, sabotages his competitor Asami's products in order to force her to sign her company over to him and frames Mako for his crimes. However, many of the characters (and the fanbase) are willing to give him a free pass because he's also the resident Cloudcuckoolander. Fortunately he gets better later on.


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