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Stupidity, as well as intelligence, has often been a trope in television. The reason these traits turned into tropes is that it's very hard to tell the audience that a character is smart, or stupid, without going overboard. Naturally, there is some middle ground, just not a whole lot. After all, why settle for a character with slightly-above average, albeit far more realistic, intelligence when you can have a TV Genius?

See also Intelligence Tropes and Anti-Intellectualism. A character who Took a Level In Dumbass has tumbled a few notches down the list as a result of Flanderization.

Not all of these tropes are mutually exclusive, and some of them even complement each other. For instance, an Absent-Minded Professor can easily be a Cloudcuckoolander as well.

The further you go down the list, the more you think, "What an Idiot!!" So, in approximate descending order by intellect:


  • Insufferable Genius: A character who has talent, knows it, and will no doubt tell you again and again. However, they are at the top of the Brain Chain, so maybe they have a right to brag.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: A character who's unbelievably intelligent but would forget their own head if it weren't attached.
  • The Smart Guy: A character who can always be depended on to do some Hollywood Hacking, provide some Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, or have technical knowledge.
  • Teen Genius: A genius who just so happens to be a teen. Exactly like the TV Genius (see below), but without the odd side effects.
    • Child Prodigy: A genius who just so happens to be a pre-teen kid.
  • TV Genius: A character who, naturally, is smart, but only how an unintelligent person would imagine a genius to act. This usually includes a lack of social skills, an extensive (read: show off) vocabulary, and Nerd Glasses.
  • Modern Major-General: A character who is highly skilled in several areas, except for the one they're supposed to be skilled in.
  • Ditzy Genius: A character who is clearly intelligent but has nothing in the way of common sense or tact. An expert at landing themselves in trouble.
  • Brilliant but Lazy: A character who is smart but rarely puts an effort into things, yet ends up being successful regardless.
  • Smarter Than You Look: A character appears to be dumb at first (usually by falling into some negative stereotype) but is eventually shown to be intelligent and learned.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: A character with a very definite and noticeable quirk, but who is so incredibly competent in an area of expertise that no one seems to notice it (at least not after the first meeting).
  • Genius Ditz: A totally ditzy character who is absolutely unbeatable in one area of expertise.
  • Book Dumb: This character isn't dumb at all, but they won't score high on an IQ test.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: Dumb. But not foolish.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: This character is a daydreamer. Barely even on the list, but a little naive nonetheless.
  • The Fool: Here we reach into a character who is more than a little bit dumb. They may not be stupid and they can go through life without much assistance, but they're still not the sharpest tool in the shed.
  • The Ditz: This character reaches more deeply into the abyss of stupidity. Chances are they will be looked down on by other characters, and probably be book dumb AND street dumb, but usually have someone to help them out.
  • Too Dumb to Live: This character is going to die, and probably soon. They'll walk home alone in the wrong side of town to call their friend about the zombie apocalypse right before being killed by said zombies. If they're a recurring character on a show, expect plenty of pushes on the Reset Button, unless they join the undead themselves....
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