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"You know when you're sitting in a chair, and you lean back so you're just on two legs, and then you lean too far and you almost fall over, but just at the last second you catch yourself? I feel like that all the time."
A character with their head in the clouds. They are strangely oblivious to things that everyone else takes for granted, such as whether it is okay to turn their suitemate's room into a landfill and board it up. Male Cloudcuckoolanders often dress in women's clothes for no reason other than they feel women have nicer fashions. Others may wear nothing at all without realizing the taboos attached to it in most cultures. They may have an argument with themselves for fun, make points in an argument with no basis in logic or reality, or tell rambling stories that have nothing to do with the point they're trying to make. They make totally unintentional double entendres, and are great for Getting Crap Past the Radar. Sometimes also called "Space Case" or "Space Cadet", or plain old "Strange."
The concept is well known, as in this joke: "A neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air. A psychotic is the man who lives in it. A psychiatrist is the man who collects the rent." -- Jerome Lawrence
Cloudcuckoolanders are very rarely malicious. They are far more likely to be Comic Relief. Maybe he's one of Those Two Guys or the crazy member of the Comic Trio. They lapse into non sequitur a lot and while they aren't totally insane, they act it much more than some other crazier characters.
One mark of a Cloudcuckoolander is when, 90% of the time, you think the character is just plain nuts, but 10% of the time, you suspect that the character is in fact the Only Sane Man on the show. In other words, a Cloudcuckoolander has massive knowledge and understanding of the workings of the universe... Unfortunately when they are Genre Savvy, nobody else is, and when they are not, everybody else is. In any event, they can be oddly endearing, if not downright Crazy Awesome.
Another notable mark is that often there is nothing actually wrong with what they do, but it is most assuredly not something a normal person would do. A Cloudcuckoolander sees no problem with using a communal shower as their method of hygiene if they lack another method - hell, they may consider going swimming the same as taking a bath (this example wouldn't apply in cultures where communal bathing is common). Sit down with a Cloudcuckoolander and try to explain to them that normal people don't wear the clothes of a dead man. They will never understand what your problem is. It's not like the dead guy cares, is it?
When they are given a specific disorder, it is often Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny, despite the fact that a couple of lesser-known disorders actually fit better: Schizotypal personality disorder, which is essentially schizophrenia-lite characterized in part by acting really weird, and thought disorder, which is when normal speech is disrupted and presumed to reflect a similar disruption in thoughts.
This character is a mainstay of Surreal Humor, Dada Comics, Widget Series, and Word Salad Humor. Even in a series with a little more structure overall, the Cloudcuckoolander's wacky and bizarre antics will often be used for an easy gag, particularly when paired with a straight foil to drive insane. This is probably why there are so many Web Comics examples. Often this character will also be a Granola Girl or New Age Retro Hippie.
When their weirdness delves into disturbing territory, they become a Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant.
On rare occasion, a Cloudcuckoolander may become Bored with Insanity and become more normal. If this happens, sometimes it sticks, and sometimes a "we want our Cloudcuckoolander back" movement, subsequently getting bored with sanity too, or some other means of inducing insanity will make him or her a Cloudcuckoolander again (since, after all, Status Quo Is God).
Their native land is Cloudcuckooland.
The name of the trope comes from the city built on air above the Greek plain in Aristophanes' play The Birds, 414 B.C., whose ruler had quite a large mental gap between the dreamy, wide-eyed, idealistic Utopia that he imagined his city to be and the brutal totalitarian regime that he had actually imposed on it. He also came up with brilliant ideas like keeping people out of his city -- a city you could only reach through flight -- by building a really, really tall wall around it. (We'll give you a minute to figure out why that wouldn't have worked so well.)
For various variants and overlapping tropes see:
- Ambiguous Disorder -- The character obviously isn't just flighty but has a legitimate but undefined problem.
- The Fool -- Not too bright, but good enough of heart that luck's always on his/her side.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl -- "Wacky" love interest to a "normal" person.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer -- Eccentric, but has legitimate talents that make them worth the trouble.
- The Wonka -- Authority figure whose eccentricity is the catalyst for their success.
- The Ophelia -- Insane young woman, likely traumatized into her madness.
- The Mad Hatter -- Aware that he/she is insane—and proud of it.
- Straight Man & Wise Guy
- Ax-Crazy -- Insane and violent.
- Oddball Doppelganger -- Quirky character strongly resembling one of the "normal" ones.
- Hollywood Personality Disorders
If you've ever had a thought like this, please feel free to contribute to our intellectual coal mine of Musings. For various variants and overlapping tropes see The Fool, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, The Wonka, The Ophelia, The Mad Hatter, Straight Man and Wise Guy, Ax Crazy, and Cuckoolandian Counterpart. If written badly or subjected to Flanderization, a character who was supposed to be merely weird may become The Ditz or a full-time Talkative Loon.
See also Cloudcuckoolander's Minder for the person who with or against their will often accompany the Cloudcuckoolanders and try to prevent things getting out of hand. An of course usually nearly impossible task. See also Cuckoolander Commentator, when the Cloudcuckoolander is put in charge of commentary for an event.
Lastly, when dealing with Cloudcuckoolanders, always remember that sometimes their ramblings aren't just ramblings. That's The Cuckoolander Was Right.