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A pratfall is better than anything.
—Preston Sturges, Eleven Rules for Box Office Appeal
The buttocks. The ass. The fundament. The behind. The posterior. The sitter-downer. Whatever you call it, it's inherently funny. Falling down and landing on it? Comedy gold!
The Pratfall (named for an archaic word for buttocks) is a staple of Slapstick humor and one of the most fundamental forms of Schadenfreude. Many comedians have built entire careers around variations on this theme. A stock gag for the circus clown, the pratfall is Older Than Radio and dates back at least to the days of vaudeville and music hall theater, and it was very popular in early silent films. It may well be as old as comedy itself. One suspects our primitive ape-like ancestors may have enjoyed watching the goofy ape hop around and then deliberately fall down on his sitter.
The humor often comes from the exaggerated nature of the fall, and many physical comedians practice their pratfalls carefully to make sure they are funny enough. (Online lessons are available.) The humor may also be associated with what the character lands in or on.
Anime & Manga
- Expect this to happen to the resident Dojikko quite often.
- Ah! My Goddess (1993 ver.) - Keichi has a pretty good one in the second episode.
- Excel performs an excellent one during the intro to Excel Saga.
- Death Note: When discovering about the true nature of Kira, L is so surprised he falls out of his chair. Word of God confesses that this scene was drawn just for the visual image of L flat on his ass.
- Charlie Chaplin used this in many of his early movies when playing the character The Little Tramp.
- Buster Keaton perfected the pratfall and even made a variation of it called the backward roll, where he would fall on his ass and continue the momentum, flipping backward over his head and back up to his feet
- Silent film stars Laurel and Hardy were also fond of this trope.
- There's even a Laurel and Hardy fan magazine called Pratfall.
- In Bringing Up Baby, David slips on an olive Susan dropped and falls really hard on his butt.
- In Clockwise, John Cleese (playing an uptight overstressed headmaster) gets a car stuck in the mud, and when he gets out, furious, he kicks it, slips, and ends up sitting in the mud himself.
- Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello was a master of the technique.
- Curly Howard of The Three Stooges also made regular use of it.
- Kevin James in Zookeeper performs an excellent flying one after running into a large metal crossbar with his head.
Live Action TV
- The intro to The Dick Van Dyke Show features Dick performing a very tricky full somersault version after tripping over an ottoman.
- In the first and second seasons of Saturday Night Live Chevy Chase did this a lot when doing his "impression" of Gerald Ford.
- Yuji Naka and Naoto Oshima, who were fans of the show, made Sonic fall down in reference to this.
- Chevy Chase's character Pierce does this almost once an episode in Community. Occasionally other characters will also do prattfalls. Notably Annie in an alternate timeline that results in the death of Pierce.
- Manuel on Fawlty Towers would sometimes perform these when Mr. Fawlty got mad and started pushing him around.
- The classic Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, Upperclass Twit of the Year Awards, features some unusual, highly stylized, and deliberately awkward pratfalls.
- Amateur versions are regularly featured on America's Funniest Home Videos.
- In F Troop, Captain Parmenter frequently showed us how it's done.
- An episode of Bones features a disturbing but still funny version. Agent Booth is anxious to find a corpse's missing head, because he has another appointment. In his hurry, he slips on a muddy riverbank, and slides into the water, then triumphantly holds up the head.
- In Peanuts, the famous sequence where Lucy would pull away the football at the last second always resulted in Charlie Brown landing on his backside.
- In Bloom County and its sequel Outland, Opus would often perform pratfalls out of sheer surprise, as when he got a letter from his long-missing mother.
- In Futurama, resident klutz Amy Wong is prone to this.
- The Simpsons: Bart awakens after falling, to find himself staring into the eyes of an attractive young girl.
Bart's brain: She's beautiful! Say something clever.
- Zecora suffers this when Twilight Sparkle disturbs her meditation in Swarm of the Century.
- Used as a game mechanic in Super Smash Bros Brawl — there's a random chance of pratfalling whenever the control stick is hit, discouraging excessive dashing and pivoting.
- The "Pratfall Cheat Code" for Saints Row 2 allows players to perform pratfalls and faceplants for their own amusement.
- The Bouncywild enemies in the first Kingdom Hearts game throw out Banana Peels that cause Sora to fall on his ass.
- In Dragon Quest IX, the Minstrel class can unlock the Pratfall Ability, staging a slapstick fall for the amusement of the local Slimes, hopefully depriving the enemy team of a turn as a result of side-splitting hilarity.
- The classic (and classically hard) track and field Flash game QWOP is so difficult that pratfalls are virtually inevitable.
- Sonic the Hedgehog sometimes does this.
- Rune Factory 4 has resident Cute Clumsy Girl Xiao Pai doing this as her introduction animation.
- In Suburban Knights, Luke pulls off one when he trips over Film Brain's wand while running from the Cloaks.