Giftedly Bad

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Dame Fortune has been very kind to me by endowing me with the genius of poetry."
William McGonagall on William McGonagall
"He was so giftedly bad that he backed unwittingly into genius."
Stephen Pile on William McGonagall

Someone who is Giftedly Bad is someone, typically an artist, who plies his trade with intense passion, infinite drive, supreme self-confidence, and absolutely no talent whatsoever. If they are actors, they might be melodramatic hams; if they are singers, they might warble and screech; if they are poets, they might be masters of the Painful Rhyme. They are convinced that they're the best at whatever it is they do, but nobody else agrees. Sometimes they'll think this because their friends compliment them to avoid hurting their feelings, but just as often, they'll be constantly decried by the critics. Their response is inevitably to bury their head in the sand, tell themselves they'll be Vindicated by History, maybe fire off a Take That, Critics! or two, and keep on making trash. One possible variation is for them to be people who were once actually good, but became Fallen Creators and haven't quite figured it out yet.

But there's an upside! The Giftedly Bad are so inept that very often, their works will end up being So Bad It's Good. If, in real life, an artist retains a cult following that considers their work So Bad It's Good—not just one slip up, but their entire oeuvre—they're almost certainly Giftedly Bad. But this is never an intended effect, since anyone Giftedly Bad always considers himself a true artist. Accordingly, the Giftedly Bad artist's work may often be a case of Muse Abuse, which rarely helps him/her/them/it reconcile with the abused muse in question.

To be Giftedly Bad, one must be universally criticized. You may, for example, hate Eragon, but as long as there's a fair number of people who disagree with you, adding Christopher Paolini is just Complaining About Authors You Don't Like. The key element separating the bad from the Giftedly Bad is Selective Obliviousness. While being So Bad It's Good is a bonus, and usually what makes someone famous enough to get on this page, someone who is just plain terrible can still be Giftedly Bad, and this is more common in fiction, since fictional characters don't have to rely on their own talents (or untalents) to become famous.

So Unfunny It's Funny is a Sub-Trope. Compare Small Name, Big Ego, whose overestimation of himself extends to everything he does. For the same concept applied to inventors, see Bungling Inventor. Also compare Bile Fascination.

DO NOT POST EXAMPLES JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE BAD. They must be not only bad, but deluded, as demonstrated by either comments they've made or their sheer persistence.

This trope, while appearing fairly often in fiction, seems to be even more common in Real Life. There's even a name for it: the Dunning–Kruger effect. That said, No real life examples, please; it would violate the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement. This is not Complaining About People You Don't Like.

Examples of Giftedly Bad include:

Anime and Manga

  • Clannad: Kotomi is completely oblivious to the fact that her violin playing is so atrocious that it shatters glass and leaves everyone who hears it lying on the ground in a fetal position clutching their ears in pain, although when she practiced playing it was little, she played the violin pretty well.
  • In Onidere Saya is completely oblivious that the food she cooks is probably the most lethal thing to have ever existed.
  • Heaven's Lost Property Nymph can play keyboard well, but when she sang, it causes madness, mass destruction, withered plants, solar eruption. And then the entire humanity lost ability to speak any intelligible language for a while.

Comic Books

  • Cacofonix the bard from Asterix.
  • Snoopy from Peanuts seems to think he's a famous writer:
    • He isn't. Still, pretty impressive for a dog.
    • On another occasion, Snoopy received a letter from the publisher telling him that he's a bad writer, that they wouldn't publish any of his works if he paid them to, and to stop bugging them already. Snoopy convinces himself that this is probably just a form letter.
  • Gaston Lagaffe uses this trope a lot with music, inventions and cooking. Notably, Gaston (and his Love Interest Miss Jeanne) thinks the music he plays on his gaffophone is great even though it causes plants to commit suicide.
    • His scientific skill fits the bill as well. His perennial chemical science project of a wax-that-shines-without-slipping is edging ever closer to an absolute zero-friction material with every new iteration, while his hair growth formula has been known to eat through skin in seconds.
  • In the G.I. Joe comic, Major Bludd has a rather (deservedly) dismal reputation as a poet. People tend to not bring it up to his face because he's a cold blooded killer, so he believes himself to be a peerless poetic genius.


  • William McGonagall in The Great McGonagall, again based on real life. This trope was originally named The Great McGonagall.
  • Roger de Bris from The Producers.
    • Not to mention Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind, whose play was already terrible before de Bris got his hands on it, and in the original film, LSD, a "performance artist" of the worst kind.
      • And Max Bialystock, one of the titular producers. He used to have the magic touch, but now blames unappreciative audiences for his downfall, rather than the fact that he started producing crap.
  • Echo from Mr Young is a terrible singer. The titular Mr Young spends the episode about her singing trying to either improve her voice or hide it. By the end he saves her public embarressment by performing a duet with his own amazing voice. Echo then believes that the horrible voice is the duet was his and the amazing one was hers.
    • The entire episdoe is built around the Aesop 'Don't hide the truth to spare someones feelings', but it's broken when Echo just calls Mr Young jealous when he finally does tell her the truth.
      • So the moral is 'Only accept the truth when it's what you want to hear.'
  • Withnail of Withnail and I. The character is an out-of-work Large Ham who genuinely has no idea why he never seems to win any parts:

"Bastards! You'll all suffer! I'll show the lot of you! I'm gonna be a STAAAAAAAAAAARRRRR!"

    • By contrast, his infinitely more modest flatmate Marwood is the one who auditions for a minor role in a play... and gets offered the lead. Withnail's passionate delivery of the Hamlet monologue indicates that he has talent; the reason he never gets any parts is probably his constant drinking, drug abuse, unreliability and overbearing attitude. He doesn't have the time for anyone who doesn't recognise his genius already: "No, I don't want to understudy Constantine. Why can't I play the part?"
  • Edward Lionheart (played by Vincent Price) in Theatre of Blood
  • The Cobra Dance in Bride and Prejudice.
  • Randy Watson and his group Sexual Chocolate in Coming to America.


  • The Imperial Intelligence HQ in the Vorkosigan Saga was designed by an insane architect (Relative of Mad Emperor Yuri) that created a building so uncomfortable to be in as either prisoner or actual member of Imperial Intelligence it verges on Alien Geometries - to a point Simon Illyan once offhandedly remarked that he was never so close to immigrating as when he saw the beautiful glass tower that housed Escobar's intelligence agency. Arguably Averted, in that creepy discomfort seems to be exactly the effect Yuri was looking for.
    • The main argument against the architect being an aversion is the fact that the municipal stadium he built is arguably even uglier, and doesn't have 'meant to be hideous and intimidating' as an excuse.
  • The entire Vogon race in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is literally deadly bad at poetry, but that sure doesn't stop them writing it.
    • In fact the whole thing's gone very metaphysical; they've realized how Giftedly Bad they are, but rather than try to become genuinely good at it, they've honed the terribleness of their poetry so that it can be used as an actual torture device, and devised complicated machinery to enhance perception of metaphor and similar poetic devices, just so their victims can really appreciate how bad their poems are.
    • The second worst (the Vogons are third) belongs to the Azgoths of Kria, a less meta example. Their poet master caused four deaths by internal haemorrhaging and one case of "survived only by gnawing one of his own legs off" with a single poem recitation. It was directly followed by his own major intestine acquiring sentience and throttling his brain to save the rest of the universe from any encores.
    • "The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England in the destruction of the planet Earth. Vogon Poetry is mild by comparison."
      • "Paul Neil Milne Johnstone" in the original radio series. This was changed in all subsequent versions because Johnstone was a real poet who went to school with Douglas Adams and he complained. (Not because of the reputation it gave him, by the way—he admitted that he was an awful poet as a teenager—but because the original broadcast used his real address. The "dead swan" poem visible in the TV series, by the way, is in fact one of his actual works from that period.)
    • The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation -- "It is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of them by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all. In other words -- and this is the rock solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation's Galaxy-wide success is founded -- their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws."
  • Discworld:
    • Bloody Stupid Johnson embodies this trope. He was such a poor architect/inventor that people commissioned him just to see what he'd come up with. Indeed it became something of a status symbol to own something designed by BS Johnson. His genius was that the final product was brilliant, often in some way completely unrelated to the original intent. Some of his creations warped time and space, such as his terrace rows and a omnitemporal mail sorting machine containing circles where pi=3.
      • "If you wanted a small surface-to-air missile, you asked Johnson to design an ornamental fountain. It came to pretty much the same thing in the end."
        • The weird thing about BS Johnson is that he's named after the late experimental darkly comic novelist of the same name, who isn't known for being a poor writer or even a popular one while he was alive or when Terry Pratchett introduced the character. The theory is that Pratchett might just had wanted to make a reference to a writer he admired. (Also his character appears to be a mirror of the great gardener Capability Brown.)
      • It's quite a status symbol to own a Johnson Organ. While they amazingly did actually play music as intended, they had strange voices like "Farm Animals" and "Young Ladies Screaming" and, in the case of the Great Organ at Unseen University, the 128' long Earthquake pipe. Also, on account of having three keyboards and over 100 knobs, the Librarian is pretty much the only person with enough flexibility to play the Great Organ.
    • In Maskerade, Christine is an immensely bad singer, but she is genuinely convinced that she is a gifted singer. In truth, she is only the prima donna because she is pretty and she has Connections.
    • In Reaper Man, Death fakes this to gain friends all the while contemplating why people think it's harder to hit a bullseye 40 feet away as opposed to hitting the hat of a man 100 feet behind him.
  • In The Graveyard Book, one of the ghosts is a poet whose response to a bad review was to vow never to publish his poetry again, his logic being that people would one day discover his poetry and revere him as a genius, making the reviewer look foolish. On Neil Gaiman's blog, he says that the poet's epitaph was "Swans Sing Before They Die", in reference to a verse from Coleridge:

Swans sing before they die - 'twere no bad thing
Should certain persons die before they sing.

  • Jorge Luis Borges' short story "El Aleph" features a poet who is obsessed with his own mediocre poetry, and believes that as soon as anyone of importance will read his epic poem, he will be immediately regarded as the greatest poet of his time. During the story, he is attempting to write a poem describing in minute detail the entirety of the Earth.
    • To elaborate a bit: Carlos Argentino Daneri recitates to a resigned Borges a stanza with a lot of words invented by himself, switching between languages in the same line, his concepts are general nonsense. Immediately Carlos explains the poem. Borges comments:

"[He] read me many another stanza, all of which earned the same profuse praise and comment from himself. There was nothing memorable about them. I could not even judge them to be much worse than the first one. Application, resignation, and chance had conspired in their composition; the virtues Daneri attributed to them were afterthoughts. I realized that the poet's work had lain not in the poetry but in the invention of reasons for accounting the poetry admirable; naturally, that later effort modified the poem for Daneri, but not for anybody else. His oral expression was extravagant; his metrical clumsiness prevented him, except on very rare occasions, from transmitting any of that extravagance to the poem."

  • in David Eddings' The Tamuli, the minor antagonist Elron spends most of his free time composing his ridiculously lengthy poem "Ode to Blue" (yes, the primary color) which, according to the protagonist unlucky enough to be forced to hear a part, is the most awful dreck ever allowed to sully a paper. When another character presents him with a starkly poetic (and entirely spontaneous) description of the steel-grey light of a harsh Rendorian dawn, Elron actually flees.
    • This is also true of his villainous persona, "Sabre". While Elron/Sabre clearly wants to be a Magnificent Bastard, and may even think he is one, he doesn't actually have the first clue what one is like. The result, rather than being Badass and intimidating, is such a Cliché Storm that the heroes, upon seeing him for the first time, are utterly amazed he's actually for real.
  • In Good Omens, we have Newton Pulsifer. He's passionate about electronics, but manages to destroy everything he touches. His ham radios manage to black out entire districts and when he buys a computer, he always buys the one that doesn't work.
    • The book also brings us Newton's car. It doesn't work well. Among many other things, its airbags tend to go off in dangerous situations such as driving at low speed down a straight, dry stretch of road but are about to crash because an airbag has just deployed in your face.
    • Then there's the time an electronics magazine he reads printed a design just for people like him, who are terrible at electronics—a circuit that doesn't work at all, in any fashion, whatsoever. When he put it together, he got a fully functional transistor radio that appeared to be picking up communications from Russia.
  • Three Men in a Boat:

It is one of Harris’s fixed ideas that he can sing a comic song; the fixed idea, on the contrary, among those of Harris’s friends who have heard him try, is that he can’t and never will be able to, and that he ought not to be allowed to try.

Live-Action TV

  • Trina from Victorious.
  • Friends has Ross and his "wordless sound poems" (which everyone except Pheobe, who skirts this trope with her original songs, hates. She is actually Ross's biggest fan after himself), and Joey's show Mac and CHEESE, where the other characters had to argue over what little good there was so they could complement it for Joey's sake.
    • It's worth mentioning that Joey believes the term "abysmal" signifies something very positive, since his critics use it so much when describing his work.
  • Sophie Devereaux from Leverage. Among her more interesting performances are a hamtastic rendition of Lady Macbeth, a soap commercial where she viewed the dirt "as a metaphor for sin," and an unseen performance of Death of a Salesman where she played Willy Loman. In a twist, she actually can be a great performer... as long as she's conning someone.

Parker: (reading a quote from a newspaper's theater critic) Never before has a performance of The Sound of Music made me root for the Nazis.

    • That same performance led Eliot, one of her best friends, to declare having to attend it the 'worst night of his life'. At the time he says this he is mentally flashing back to an incident where he was held prisoner and forced to play Russian Roulette with psychotic North Koreans... and then reaffirms 'No, this was the worst.'
    • And her singing is even worse!
  • Tobias Funke of Arrested Development believes himself capable of getting a career as an actor, responding to a statement that he should stop wasting time with it by agreeing that he should land a major movie role. On the rare occasions he did get a job, he neglected to read the script.
    • Gob as well. He just isn't a very good magician (his props constantly fail, he kills his animals, he often fails at simple sleight of hand, and his method for getting a yacht to disappear is to sink it while nobody is looking) but not only does he continue to vigorously pursue it, he insists upon his tricks illusions being taken seriously.
  • Part of the Backstory for Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was that he was a Giftedly Bad poet. Becoming a vampire seems to have cured him of the notion that he was a poet, however.
    • He gets applause when he reads one of his old poems in a modern setting, with the implication being he was ahead of his time (mixed with a bit of Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas as he read a poem about his mom to a group of badass bikers).
      • Either that or people enjoyed him on a So Bad It's Good level. Some people shown from William's party (when he was still human) discuss how bad he is:

woman: They call him William the Bloody because he writes bloody bad poetry!
man: I'd rather have a railroad spike driven through my head than listen to one of his poems!

  • The main character in the Korean Series Oh My Lady is the world's worst actor.
  • The Muppets thrive on this trope, especially in The Muppet Show. Fozzie Bear is probably the most pure example, but he's only one among many.
    • A debatable instance, though, because once in a while he came up with something good.
  • How I Met Your Mother has Marshall Eriksen, who has a lot of impressive talents, like winning every boardgame invented (and then triumphantly saying that game's name). However, stand-up comedy is not one of those talents.
  • Kamen Rider Double has one-shot character Jimmy Nakata, whose singing causes physical pain to its listeners and knocks birds out of the sky. And he's winning an American Idol style show in spite of this (because the Monster of the Week is rigging the contest). In a slight subversion, when the MotW is dealt with and Jimmy sings again, the judges say it was bad, but they can't disparage anyone who sings from the heart.
  • The scouse woman in the second episode of Black Mirror is convince she can sing. So sure of herself she paid 15 million merits to even enter the contest and then waited for over 2 months to be seen. She's on stage for all of a minute after which she's told she's rubbish. She isn't convinced.
  • Seinfeld had Elaine and her dancing skills, which George likens to "a full-body dry heave set to music."
  • The WB's Superstar USA, a parody of American Idol, was built around this trope. The show used the same "series of auditions, then on to Hollywood" format, but purposely picked the worst performers to advance, while showering them with praise. The singers weren't told until the very end that they were actually picked for being terrible.
  • Jack from Will and Grace practically lives and breathes this trope. Mostly due to the fact that he's so wrapped up in himself and has to be the center of attention.


Tabletop Games


  • The Poetic Fiend in the Grail Quest series, encountered once a book. He's a horrifically bad poet, yet convinced of being the best of the best. However, it is in the interest of the player to always praise his work, since the Fiend is also a nigh-unstoppable vampire who can kill an adult Tyrannosaurus Rex with one bite. As such he may also have useful items for you, in the last book he teaches you a cringingly bad poem that will neutralise instant-death powers used on you.


  • Cyrano De Bergerac:
    • Montfleury thinks he is a dramatic actor capable of romancing the ladies. Everyone else (except maybe his protector the Duke of Candale) disagrees: the bore calls him “a shame for theater”, Theatre representant, Jodelet, thinks the public came to see him to laugh at him, nobody really tries to help when Cyrano bullies him out of the scene and everyone calls him a coward.
    • ◦At Act II Scene IV, Baker Ragueneau, who wants to be a poet, declaims his poem (A recipe in verse) to his friends, the poets, he is totally serious about his poem, but it was Stylistic Suck.

Video Games

  • Portal gives us Cave Johnson, CEO of Aperture Science, a man with great enthusiasm, vision, and commitment to Science!, but next to no business acumen, much less common sense. Inventions include Repulsion Gel, which allows objects to bounce off of it without losing any momentum, thereby enabling a perpetual motion machine. It was originally marketed as a dietary aid replacing pudding so that the food would bounce right out of people's stomachs. Aperture's most famous invention is the Handheld Portal Device that can create wormholes and is powered in part by a miniature black hole. Johnson's original intent for it was to be used for shower curtains. It goes without saying that either of these inventions could have changed the world, but Aperture instead became obsessed with trying to get them to function in their original roles, and became trapped in an endless cycle of cube and button-based testing.
    • "Excursion funnels are part of an investigation into how well test subjects can solve problems while traveling through a churning funnel of liquid asbestos. Results so far have been highly informative: They cannot."
    • Aperture Science as a whole fits the profile as well: for instance they invented Wheatley, to be the dumbest moron who ever lived, but through all the idiocy is able to outsmart both GLaDOS and the player.
  • No One Lives Forever gives us Inge Wagner, a Brawn Hilda who's Start of Darkness began when her parents pressured her into becoming an opera singer, ignoring that she was completely tone deaf. The combination of reassurement, ridicule, pressure, and resentment drove her mad, and she eventually fell in with H.A.R.M. She runs a cover operation as a nightclub in Hamburg, where her responsibilities as a hostess extend to singing for her patrons. Badly. Yet the club remains popular with beatniks, who think that she does so deliberately as an avant-garde rejection of conventional taste in music. She is completely ignorant that this is why they enjoy her singing.

Patron: "Anyone can sing a melody. It takes a true artist to defy a melody!"

  • May in Dragon Nest is a fairly typical example. She genuinely believes that she is amazing at painting, cooking, managing her small business, fashion, and everything else, and she believes herself to be smart, sophisticated, and attractive, but in reality, she is so stupid and terrible at everything that other townsfolk begin to wonder if she's cursed after a while. This is compounded by her endless quests that tend to create problems rather than solve them. It's almost a wonder she isn't chased out of town with torches and pitchforks.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Harmony Smurf
  • Squidward Tentacles from SpongeBob SquarePants is not as good at music as he thinks he is.
    • He does have his moments though.
      • The trope is zig-zagged depending on whether it would be funnier, at the moment, if Squidward were an unappreciated talent or Giftedly Bad.
  • Murdoc Niccals has never canonically been heard to sing onscreen except for the growling-whispering rap in "White Light", but his singing has been described as sounding "like someone treading on a duck". He insists the world is merely too small-minded to appreciate his genius and he needs 2D's more "conventional" voice for the albums.
    • The first part has been averted. As of phase 3, we have heard him sing, but contrary to what the characters and Word of God said in ROTO, his voice is actually not bad. Though that may be an oversight on the management, so who knows.
  • Brian Griffin of Family Guy is a dedicated, passionate, confident writer...whose book was such a flop that the unsold copies were sent back to him packed in shredded copies of his book.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle has Captain "Wrong-Way" Peachfuzz, the worst sailor in the world. Despite having wanted to be a sailor since childhood, he's totally incompetent at it. He only captains a ship because he inherited a huge sum of money, bought a cruise liner, and hired himself as its captain. The rest of his crew has a conspiracy to keep him from actually controlling the ship: they disconnected all the controls on the bridge, and the ship is actually steered from a secret control room he doesn't know about.
  • From Daria, Trent and his band "Mystik Spiral" (although they're thinking of changing their name) are pretty poor musicians in general, but Trent is absolutely abysmal at writing lyics. The lyrics of "Oh, my nose! Oh, my face!" have to be heard to be believed.