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Frank: God, I've had to work hard every day of my life, and what do I have to show for it? This briefcase, and this haircut! And what do you have to show for your lifetime of sloth and ignorance?

Homer: What?

Frank: Everything! A dream house! Two cars! A beautiful wife! A son who owns a factory! Fancy clothes and (sniffs air) lobsters for dinner! And do you deserve any of it? No!

Homer: (gasps) What are you saying?

Frank: I'm saying you're what's wrong with America, Simpson. You coast through life, you do as little as possible, and you leech off of decent, hardworking people like me. Heh, if you lived in any other country in the world, you'd have starved to death long ago.

Bart: He's got you there, dad.

Frank: You're a fraud. A-- a total fraud. (walks out, pokes his head back round the doorway, and speaks to Marge and the kids) It was nice meeting you.
The Simpsons, "Homer's Enemy"

This is what happens when a character who is known for making consistently poor judgments never has to answer for them. In fact, nearly the exact opposite happens: Whatever mind-numbingly stupid idea they've come up with this episode, it will work. If he sells the party's material possessions for some magic beans to give to a Nigerian prince he met over the Internet, we can be rest assured that at the end of the episode a Nigerian prince will come solve the conflict with a Deus Ex Machina. The Idiot Houdini will be healthy, wealthy, and have an ample supply of True Companions even though in Real Life anyone acting the way he does would almost certainly have died ten episodes before the series began.

Characters will sometimes notice this bizarre disparity inside a story. When they do they almost always find it a serious cause for concern, although since the Idiot Houdini lives a relatively charmed life there's little anyone can do about it. In other cases, they may be blind to it conversely because of the character's excess of prosperity. Surely since my best friend is successful in life, he can't be a complete idiot- more importantly, I really don't want to consider the fact that he is, since that implies bad things about the world.

Depressingly, there is a certain amount of Truth in Television to the latter portrayal, as any rudimentary analysis of pop culture fixtures indicate that, yes, for some people no matter how badly they screw up, they're so famous that they'll always get a second chance.

A "loveable" example of this trope generally relies on Hanlon's Razor to gain sympathy (especially if the victims to their stupid antics are even more sympathetic). As such this can generally lead to Unfortunate Implications regarding their actions if they are suggested to be Obfuscating Stupidity (and thus suggested to be getting away with doing such supposed stupid actions completely on purpose).

Overlaps significantly with The Load, The Scrappy, Born Lucky and The Fool. Frequently a side effect of playing Too Dumb to Live for laughs in a series where Status Quo Is God.

Examples of Idiot Houdini include:


Anime and Manga

 Villager 1: (as Vash is dancing along the street with headphones in) He's dodging the bullets!

Villager 2: Dodging? That dumbass doesn't know he's being shot at!

  • Easily Kamina of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, at least before his death, anyway. Almost everything he does is outrageously stupid (such as attempting to hijack an enemy mech with zero idea of how it works or any of its security codes), yet he gets away with it thanks to sheer Refuge in Audacity and Rule of Cool. He operates entirely off of Indy Ploys, all of which succeed, and, in fact, the one time he actually tries to be smart and plan things beforehand, he dies, although it was more Simon's fault than his.

Film

  • The two dumbass main characters from Bio-Dome live in relative luxury despite having no useful skills, and exhibit intelligence you'd expect from idiots who went on to get brain damage.
    • On the other hand, they were smart enough to repair the damage they did to the dome experiment.
  • Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies shows crime-solving skills that make the Scooby gang look good.

 Outraged Matron: That's a priceless Steinway!

Clouseau: Not anymore.

  • In Go, a sleazy strip-club owner berates his useless son for this.

 "You know what wakes me up in the middle of the night covered in a cold sweat? Knowing that you aren't any worse than anyone else in your whole screwed up generation. In the old days, you know how you got to the top? Huh? By being better than the guy ahead of you. How do you people get to the top? By being so fucking incompetent, that the guy ahead of you can't do his job, so he falls on his ass and congratulations, you are now on top. And now the top is down here, it used to be up here... and you don't even know the fucking difference."

Live-Action TV

  • Nearly everyone in the Bluth family on Arrested Development falls into this trope. Gob, Lindsey, Buster and their mother all live high-class lifestyles despite the fact that none of them have any useful skills or even common sense. It gets worse. We find out in the first episode that the family patriarch is similarly idiotic: The only thing he ever actually seemed to do effectively was break the law in order to steal company money, to the point that the viewer is genuinely surprised he wasn't arrested much sooner.
    • Later we meet prosecutor Maggie Lizer, who's a successful lawyer in spite of the fact that she's spent several years doing a very, very poor imitation of a blind person. The only rational explanation for how she wasn't found out sooner is that she's never met anyone who had seen a real blind person before. And even when Michael tries to expose her she wriggles out of it because she had temporarily lost her sight, when she should have been disbarred.
  • Greg the Bunny. With no marketable skills and a large amount of anti-puppetism' in universe he lucks into a regular cast position on the in-universe children's show. It gets worse, in the spinoff Warren the Ape Greg is revealed to have a massive mansion and live a high class lifestyle. He acquired his riches by helping a Nigerian prince move some money out of the country. It actually worked.
  • Ashley Abbott on Young And The Restless falls into this pattern chronically. Her characters arcs tends to follow a simple pattern. Make an extremely poor decision. Then, get mad at other characters when they point out why what she's doing is a bad idea. When she finally realizes how stupid she's been, she then gets mad at other characters for offering advice and decides to deal with her problems by going it alone. Rinse and repeat.
    • This doesn't even get into her ability to screw up other people's plans simply by being involved in them. On one occasion, while speaking with Abbott arch-nemesis Victor Newman, she gets a phone call from her brother Jack about an important business deal. So, naturally, she excuses herself so she can talk about it without Victor over-hearing. Which room does she go to? The nursery. She left Victor in the living room with the baby monitor. It's hard to miss the fact that, in a show where many of the main characters are business executives, Ashley stands alone as the one whose business sense is clearly an Informed Ability.
  • Michael Scott on The Office has a habit of falling into this from time to time. Even though he has aspirations to being a highly successful businessman, for example, he doesn't seem to have a rudimentary grasp of economics. An episode where he meets his accountant shows that he spends a great deal of his money, not just on luxuries, but on objects that are almost completely useless to him: He has a fishing rod worth several hundred dollars even though he doesn't know how to fish. His best escape act, though, is when he bankrupts the Michael Scott Paper Company by not understanding that his prices are so low he can't recoup his costs. Dunder-Mifflin, not realizing this (in part because Jim sabotages Dwight's attempt to warn them), offers him a buy-out because on paper Michael's taken a lot of their customers.
    • To be fair though, the Michael Scott Paper Company example wasn't entirely his fault. Their ability to undercut their competition was really all that was keeping them in business, and Ryan had also given an okay on the prices, specifically saying that they would become profitable given enough sales (but having failed to figure required company growth into those projections).
    • Michael does show a grasp of the situation during the buyout discussion with David Wallace. When confronted with the fact that his company is worth very little, he replies with a devastating analysis that he is, in fact, holding all the cards.

Newspaper Comics

  • The Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert is this, but unlike most examples it's not a quirk of his personality. Rather, it's because the company's promotion protocols seem to be designed in such a way to ensure that a person of his intelligence level becomes a manager, and that said manager is impossible to fire.
    • Scott Adams' book The Way Of The Weasel offers a possible explanation to this phenomenon: that a company will naturally shift incompetent people to management because that is where they cause the least harm. Dilbert and the rest of the employees prove this by regularly finding way to circumvent the pointy-haired boss' idiotic requests and policies, getting their work done despite of him.
  • Michael Patterson of For Better or For Worse's adult career is defined by this, thanks to his development into a Wish Fulfillment Jerk Sue. Guy married his childhood crush after witnessing her car accident and snapping photos instead of helping, shunts all the work of raising their kids onto her and gets lauded as a 'wonderful father', slanders his Ceiling Banger neighbors... Then came the apartment fire, where he ditched his wife and terrified children to run back into the blaze to grab his laptop. Not only is he never called on this, but one of the fireman who saves him instead decides to gush about how great his newspaper column is!

Web Comics

  • Ethan's devolution to this in Ctrl+Alt+Del is in large part why the comic has such a hatedom. In early strips, other characters put up with his stupidity only to the extent necessary to keep him as a character in the webcomic. By the time Winter-een-mas rolls around, the universe is bending over backward to turn all of his stupid ideas into outrageous successes.

Western Animation

  • Homer Simpson at first showed reasonably poor judgment, but repeated encounters have gradually turned him into this trope. A good example is the episode "Homer Defined" that features Homer saving the nuclear power plant from a meltdown, and becoming a hero because of it; but in reality he simply hit the override button by going "eeny-meeny-miney-mo." When this is discovered, the term "Homer" thus becomes a trope of its own in the episode, for whenever someone does something good on just plain dumb luck. Magic Johnson even said, "Looks like I pulled a Homer!" when he won the game by accident.
    • This aspect of his character was deconstructed in the eighth-season episode "Homer's Enemy" featuring Frank Grimes, an orphan who had to struggle and work hard all his life just to reach the lower middle class. He is perplexed and disturbed by how successful Homer is despite the fact that he's incompetent at nearly everything. Grimes finally snaps when, after tricking Homer into entering a future nuclear plant model contest for children, the crowd cheers and applauds Homer when he wins the competition by building a scale model with minor efficiency tweaks and stripes going down the towers.
  • Scooby Doo. He has NO detective skills and in fact is a dumb coward but he always manages to catch the Monster of the Week by accident and gets congratulated by everyone at the end of each episode- in some of the spinoffs he's even famous for it!
    • If you're a dog and you solve mysteries and talk, you can be sure that's going to get some attention at least. And it doesn't matter if you solve them through hard work or by complete accident, if you solve the mystery, you've solved the mystery.
  • Inspector Gadget is even worse at detective work than Scooby Doo, yet no one ever seems to catch on to this fact; it helps that Penny and Brain (who do pretty much all the work) are either unwilling or (in the latter's case) unable to reveal the truth.
  • Peter. Griffin. Should not be able to survive, much less thrive.
    • The show occasionally lampshades this. At the end of "Tale of a Third-Grade Nothing", Peter actually goes to jail for blowing up a hospital earlier on. Naturally, he gets released just in time for next week's episode. Often combined with Karma Houdini due to Peter's frequent high scale Jerkass tendencies, though it is sometimes hard to define which trope he plays on occasion (being a Psychopathic Manchild has that way).
  • SpongeBob SquarePants leans more and more increasingly into this trope as seasons pass, frequently bothering or inflicting misery on the other residents of Bikini Bottom (usually his neighbour Squidward) due to his well-intentioned stupidity, and someone else facing the repercussions for it. Combined with his friend Patrick's near equal Idiot Houdini tendencies the show becomes disturbingly sociopathic for a kid's cartoon at times.
  • The latter half of fellow Nick Toon Cat Dog is even worse, his brainless dog antics frequently making his conjoined twin Cat's life unbearable. The show nearly always plants things in Dog's favor in the end. Granted Cat isn't the soundest of people, but not really to deserve what he suffers from his twin, especially since there are times this converts into a Karma Houdini and Dog gets away with being a genuine Jerkass himself.
  • To an extent, the entire Planet Express team of Futurama tend to cause endless problems in their botched deliveries. Of course many of them (especially Bender) fluctuate between this and an outright Karma Houdini at times. Nibber, the Team Pet, seems to undergo this trope due to being a mindless animal (until falling for the above stated Unfortunate Implications when he is revealed to be The Mole for a super intelligent race playing dumb).
  • Deedee from Dexter's Laboratory. She normally means to be playful, but always destroys everything Dexter works hard for with nearly no comeuppance at all.
    • Of course, this can be explained by Dexter not wanting to tell his parents she broke some stuff in his secret laboratory.
  • The flock from Shaun the Sheep qualify. No matter how stupid of an act they do, they're saved by the end, it inconveniences the Farmer in some way.

Real Life

  • Timothy Dexter, who became wealthy after marrying a wealthy widow, was persuaded by his friends to invest his wealth into all sorts of ridiculously dumb things. When Dexter sent mittens and warming plates to the West Indies, the mittens were bought and shipped to Siberia, and the warming plates were sold as ladles to the molasses industry. When Dexter shipped coal to Newcastle (the British capital for coal mining at the time), it arrived during a strike and was bought quickly for a great price. When he played the stock market by buying stocks at random, all of them went up. When he wrote a book called "A Pickle For The Nowing Ones"--a travesty of literature--it sold very well.
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