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Harry: You've sort of made up for it tonight. Getting the sword. Finishing off the Horcrux. Saving my life.

Ron: That makes me sound a lot cooler than I was.

Harry: Stuff like that always sounds cooler than it really was. I've been trying to tell you that for years.

You hear tales about the character. Every achievement, every victory. You get assured time and time again that every story you've heard is true. You come to the conclusion only someone of a divine level of badassery could have done these things.

Then you meet them.

It's not so much that the stories about the hero were false so much as they just left out a few crucial details. Namely the fact that the hero is in fact a complete and utter loser.

It's not an act. If it is even they have started to believe it. It's not them stealing the credit from their sidekick either.

As unbelievable as it is, they did actually earn the achievements they're famous for and quite often we the viewers actually see them do it. The question of how they did it can be answered in different ways. It could be luck, the hero could have specific talent that continuously saves the day, an ability to make his flaws work for him or simply the fact that despite how dumb the hero is, the villains are just that bit dumber. Often the answer to Dude, Where's My Respect? because frankly, achievements or not, these guys just don’t seem to deserve it.

Can be considered a sister trope to Warts and All, where the hero is as badass as the stories say but doesn't live up to the pure and virtuous image that people have of them.

Compare with Expecting Someone Taller in which the character is still badass but just doesn't fit the expected image and Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass where the character is mostly a moron but when the time is right unleash their inner badass.

Contrast with Feet of Clay where the character turns out to be incompetent and was in fact lying about most (if not all) of the things that they are famous for.

Not to be confused with the Badass Bureaucrat or Paper Master, both of whom are badasses with paper.

Examples of Badass on Paper include:


  • Jacuzzi Splot from Baccano. He's the leader of a gang of bootleggers, destroyed 18 Russo Family speakeasies in a single night, survived the Pussyfoot Train incident including fighting unarmed with a single, tiny bomb against someone with a flamethrower, stood up to Ladd Russo, willingly almost fought Claire, sacrificed himself to protect someone from being harmed, and has a sword tattoo on his face. He's also a timid shrinking violet who cries all the time, not the least bit physically intimidating, has no special skills, and one of the nicest characters in entire cast.
    • He is shown robbing a mob-run store, shooting with his tommy-gun left and right - all while bawling his eyes out.
  • Comedically applied in Cromartie High School when the guys were trying to decide who was the most badass. (They don't just duke it out- they never just duke it out.) One of the guys had a reputation based entirely on guys being too scared of him to try him out. (Their 'jury' was out as to whether that was impressive or not by the time the plot moved on).
  • Yang Wenli's enemies fear him for his legendary martial victories despite overwhelming odds against him, his superiors are so terrified that he could take over the country they often actively handicap him, and a good deal of his subordinates actually would support him as a dictator - but he's actually one of the nicest, least intimidating guys you could ever wish to meet - a gentle and humble man with a few eccentric habits, poor combat skills, and absolutely zero aspirations besides early retirement.
  • Shinji Ikari, both in the TV series and in the fandom. It's undeniable he defeated more alien enemies each with the potential to end the world by itself than anyone, risking his life several times in the process. On the other hand, his psychological issues, not to mention the plainly nasty things that happen to him prevent him from getting any respect.
  • Vash The Stampede. A legendary force of destruction, leaving nothing but rubble in his wake, and sporting the worlds highest bounty(60 billion double dollars). Then you meet him...a goofy, spiky haired nitwit, with a great love of donuts.
  • Lucy Heartfilia often gets asked about her huge list of achievements (often she takes out much more experienced mages, or ones tailor-made to fight her), but she is a pretty normal girl in person, not an especially great fighter, and has only an average amount of magic. She's even the Butt Monkey of the group, and she often denies the more ludicrous claims (in her defense, the claims are usually very exaggerated). That said, she did do a lot of impressive things, not the least of which is gathering 3/4 of the Ecliptic Zodiac to work for her and express personal loyalty (not the same thing).


  • Squirrel Girl...Come on she has powers based on a ludicrous gimmick, has an obsession with Speedball and can communicate with bushy tailed rodents. This isn't a superhero, this is a parody of a superhero. What two bit wannabe excuses for supervillains would be beaten by her? Bi-Beast?...Deadpool?...MODOK?...DR DOOM?!!!. And these are just ones where the victories happened on panel. Don't get me started on her offpanel rap sheet.
    • More recently, she has beaten Wolverine hand-to-hand in a sparring match. On-panel. On a single page. While temporarily retired from superheroing; she's a nanny and part-time NYU student.



  • For a lot of the series, Harry Potter views himself as one of these. The event that made him famous happened when he was a baby and when in Order of the Phoenix he gets asked to teach a defense against the dark arts club, he argues that all his other achievements have been either through luck or from getting a lot of help.
  • Rincewind is the worst wizard the Discworld has ever known. His hat is the only thing about him that says "wizzard," and that's misspelled. With no magic talent to speak of and a survival instinct heightened by his Genre Savvy, his usual response to a situation is to run like hell, and he's gotten very good at running over the years. He's also thrown down with eldritch horrors, challenged a childlike demigod with nothing but a half-brick in a sock, and saved the entire Discworld. Several times. Arguably, he's gotten being the Right Man in the Wrong Place down to a science.
  • Ciaphas Cain claims that all his achievements were down to luck or the result of him trying to save his own skin (if you're willing to take his word for it, of course).
    • Make no mistake though, the fact that he's a genuine badass is indisputable. He's fit, very well trained in marksmanship and swordplay, and knows the ins and outs of manipulating people to a T. In the Warhammer 40000 universe, however, this is basically the bare minimum of what is required. The debate is over his attitude (modest hero or lucky coward) and how much more of a badass he may be.
  • While he is an honest to gods badass, Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files is transformed into the literal Dreaded for those only reading his rap sheet without knowing the details.
    • And don't think he doesn't know it, too. In Turn Coat, he is ordered to be arrested, and is outnumbered by five hardened wardens as well as three members of the Senior Council, i.e. the strongest wizards in the world. When they approach extremely carefully, he realizes:

 They were dealing with something far more dangerous than me, Harry Dresden, who's battered old Volkswagon was currently in the city impound. They were dealing with the potential dark lord nightmare warlock they'd been busy fearing since I turned sixteen. They were dealing with the wizard who had faced the Heirs of Kemmler riding a zombie dinosaur, and emerged victorious from a fight that had flattened Morgan and Captain Luccio before they had even reached it. They were dealing with the man who had dropped a challenge to the entire Senior Council, and who had then actually showed, apparently willing to fight - on the shores of an entirely too creepy island in the middle of a freshwater sea.

  • Much like the Dresden example above, Kvothe in the The Name of the Wind is badass and does some very impressive things but the legends are even more insane. By the second book, however, he's living up to the legends in truth.

Live Action Television


 Seth: I don't want to be a hero. I've never wanted to be. It's just that I've chanced to be around when things have happened.

And then, after they've defeated the Big Bad and he and his people return to his planet, the Doctor makes this comment:

 Doctor: Poor old Seth.

Romana: Poor old Seth?

Doctor: Yes. Well, just imagine the legends Teka's going to build up around him. He'll have to spend the rest of his life trying to live up to them. It's terrible.


Video Games

  • Monkey Island: Guybrush Threepwood Mighty Pirate (tm) is probably one of the biggest examples of this. It would take too long to list everything that a guy that looks like a flooring inspector and has only the ability to hold his breath for ten minutes as talent has managed to achieve in the space of five games.
    • Gets played with in Tales of Monkey Island when he meets a fan of his exploits. She starts off as a normal fangirl who, despite to catch him to collect a bounty on him, still asks him to sign a picture of him. When she actually sees him in usual Guybrush trial and error action, she throws the photo away in disgust. However, he slowly regains her respect when he proves that while he may not be a conventional pirate, his ways work.
  • Roger Wilco of the Space Quest series is up there with Guybrush Threepwood. A bumbling, lazy, not-particularly competent janitor who only survived the opening shots of the Saurien onslaught in the first game was by sleeping on the job in the closet. Over the course of the games, he saves the planet Xenon, defeats Vorhaul twice, saves Those Two Guys From Andromeda, puts an end to the pukoid threat, and saves countless lives. And yet, if you walked up to him, you'd quickly realize he's still a bumbling, lazy, not-particularly competent janitor.

Web Comics

  • Sinfest: Slick and Squigly—One is a poet who has survived and escaped hell multiple times as well written at least one poem so good that makes most woman weak at the knees. The other is skilled at parkour and is able to achieve flight through narcotics alone. Both deal with beings like God, Satan, Jesus and Buddha on a regular basis... and neither one of them has the respect of any one in the comic, reader included.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob Bob has saved the world or helped save it multiple times. He even got a Medal of Honor once. He works in a little newsstand and gets complaints from his customers for missing work too often.

Western Animation

  • Xiaolin Showdown: We have a villainous example with Jack Spicer. In the span of three seasons he has built countless robotic armies, a time machine, a Shen Gong Wu detector, a shapeshifter, highly impressive AI, is responsible for the release of Wuya thus causing the Wu to start revealing themselves and in a future without Omi he would be ruler of the whole world. Not bad for a guy who lives with his parents and loses his pants everyother episode.
  • In an episode of Batman the Animated Series, an ordinary, bumbling crook manages to frustrate Batman's attempts to catch him by being a bumbler. Then, during the tussle, Batman supposedly falls to his death. Within hours, the word's gotten out that he's "The Man Who Killed The Bat". It's technically true, but the title is loaded language: in truth, it was all based on pure luck. Now, because Asskicking Equals Authority, every criminal in Gotham wants to take him out to prove they're tougher. (The Joker wants him dead because he took away his chance to kill Batman.) However, through Batman's (offscreen) help, the bumbling crook not only survives, but his legend grows because of the crooks he "beat". The story ends with him going to prison with all sorts of Villain Cred: when he arrives in prison he's lauded as The Man Who Almost Killed the Bat (which is true), and the one who helped make the Joker look foolish (which is again true). It's Batman himself who points this out to make him feel better.