Irony as She Is Cast

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Sometimes a talented person is hired to act talentless.

Hey, you know that actor that plays that character? The one that can not sing? Turns out they are a classically trained opera singer. Ironic, isn't it?

Not really. Irony as She Is Cast happens when known skills of an actor and the displayed skills of a role do not mesh - and the fan knows this. If the fan didn't know the actor, then there would be no dissonance.

Their ability might even have been the reason for casting;

Do not expect the character to ever improve in the talent - at least, not for more than one episode. The Character might only be as bad as they are due to the Actor being so good.

Irony as She Is Cast might be reactionary in a long-lived role; extreme cases might try to counter what's Ripped from the Headlines.

Frequently implements: Dreadful Musician; Hollywood Tone Deaf; or Bad Bad Acting (or any of the tropes under Stylistic Suck). Rarely implements Hollywood Homely (although it can be a subtrope of it, instead of talented playing talentless, it's beautiful playing ugly); that is more likely to be Dyeing for Your Art. Contrast: Beautiful All Along, where improvement is part of the story; and The Cast Showoff, where a talent gets to be in the limelight.

Never requires a Talent Double. Is not based of the beliefs of the actor - which tends to result in a Shallow Parody - but may be as a result of observed reactions to that belief.

The Trope Namer is English As She Is Spoke, probably the first real-life example of My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels, and not really related to the trope at all. But it makes for a good trope name.

Examples of Irony as She Is Cast include:

Anime and Manga

  • Rie Tanaka, a voice actor well-respected for her singing ability, has been cast as Yomi in Azumanga Daioh, Xanthippe in Sora Kake Girl, and Eriko in Kimikiss, none of whom could carry a tune even if it was in a bucket.
  • Hekiru Shiina has a singing career. Guess which is the worst subject for her character in Magic Knight Rayearth, Hikaru Shidou... singing.
  • Minami Takayama, the Japanese voice actress for Conan of Detective Conan, is actually a singer in the J-Pop band "Two-Mix"; before Conan, her voice was what she was best known for. Naturally, in the series itself, Conan cannot hold a tune to save his life. Two-Mix itself actually appeared on the show once and invited Conan to sing with them, as a wink to all her fans. They played with it, too: the episode in question makes it a plot point that Conan sounded like her.
  • Takehito Koyasu, while not really a big name in singing career, also sings. Cue Macross 7 where his character Gamlin Kizaki tried to 'outsing' Basara Nekki in singing despite his protests... only for Gamlin to have a horrendous singing tune.
  • Maaya Sakamoto is much better known for her singing career than her acting career, especially considering she's done quite a few anime songs, and worked with the famous Yoko Kanno for some of them. In Ouran High School Host Club she played Fujioka Haruhi who is an atrocious actor, and apparently a horrible singer... so horrible we never actually hear her sing, but LIPSYNC a song by Chieko Kawabe (who sang the opening).
    • Oddly enough, Haruhi's English voice actress, Caitlin Glass, also has a very nice singing voice.
  • Kaere of Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei is sometimes joked to be a dreadful guitar player and awful singer. Her voice actress, Yu Kobayashi, plays guitar as a hobby and is clearly a quite good singer as evidenced by her singing in various music for the show. Kaere's character songs play around with this trope- at some points they are very discordant and Karere is Hollywood Tone Deaf, but this is a reflection of the character's multiple personality disorder. When that's not in effect, the singing is very good.
  • Aya Hirano playing Konata Izumi. Anyone who's watched Hirano as Haruhi Suzumiya (also singing that series' themes) knows that she has a fantastic singing voice. Konata, on the other hand... doesn't (her butchering of "Cha-la Head Cha-la" is but an example).
  • The OP theme of Mapletown is sung by Satoko Yamano, who also does the voice of minor character Puriprin. As with many of the above examples, Puriprin is notable for being a horrible singer: her practice session before the school play is cacophonous enough to wake the entire town.


  • Ricky Jay, the film's magic consultant, as an incompetent stage magician in The Prestige.
  • When he was a boy scout, Harrison Ford was known for being good at handling snakes.
  • Used and parodied by casting Madeline Kahn in Young Frankenstein. She really was a classically trained opera singer, but she was cast as Frederick's tightly-wound fiancee rather than the Bride of Frankenstein. The Bride (from the original movie) could do little more than hiss, whereas Madeline lets forth a soaring aria (when prompted).
  • Madeline Kahn playing the German Lily Von Schtupp in Blazing Saddles. She's an extremely popular entertainer for her sex appeal, but her singing voice is deep, heavily accented, and mostly off-key.
  • Miranda Cosgrove (Carly on iCarly) needed lessons in how to sing badly to play Summer Hathaway in School of Rock.
  • Olivia Olson sang so well that the filmmakers of Love Actually had to train her to sing a little worse as they were afraid audiences would not think it was really the ten-year-old's singing.
  • David Bowie played characters who sang off-key in The Man Who Fell to Earth and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
  • Meryl Streep playing hammy bad actress Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her.
  • Basil Rathbone was one of the best fencers in Hollywood, performing all of his own onscreen fights. As he was always cast as the villain in swashbuckling films, he usually lost against less skillful actors.
  • Ralph Garman, a radio host, voice actor, impressionist and a pretty damn good singer, was cast by his friend Kevin Smith as the mute Caleb in Red State.
  • Subverted by Jean Hagen, a beautiful singer who plays a character with a hilariously shrill voice in Singin' in the Rain. When Debbie Reynolds' character is supposedly dubbing over Hagen's terrible voice, it's actually Hagen's regular voice.
  • Mia Kirschner plays Elizabeth Short in The Black Dahlia, a struggling actress who can't get a part. Kirschner's performance was praised by critics as the best part of the film.
  • At the end of the Steve Martin film All of Me, mystic and Cloudcuckoolander Prahka Lasa is "playing" the piano as accompaniment to a saxophonist performing the eponymous song. This consists of him hitting a single note at the end of each musical phrase for the first verse of the song (and it's the same note each time, except once). Richard Libertini, the actor playing Prahka Lasa, was a professional musician before becoming an actor. Subverted in that a) it's always the right note to blend in with the song and b) at the end of the first verse, he looks at the rest of the keyboard as if in surprise and begins a quite talented accompaniment.
  • The Hairspray movie with John Travolta and Christopher Walken romantically singing together and dancing very, very badly. It's even funnier as both are well known as excellent dancers and are doing it badly on purpose.
  • Inverted in Major League, where the big slugger for the Yankees is played by Peter Vuckovich, who did play in the Major Leagues, but was a pitcher who never hit a home run.


  • The characters of P.Howard (Jenő Rejtő) are supposedly illiterate pirates or otherwise simple folk, but when narrating in first person, they sound like schooled and literate middle class citizens trying too hard to pretend they are complete morons, because they reflect the style of the author.
  • Isaac Asimov once stated that Mark Twain's real genius was in writing Huckleberry Finn as if Huck, who is uneducated and all-but-illiterate, were telling it in such a way that not once does the reader ask himself "How is this illiterate moron telling the story so well?"

Live-Action TV

  • Alfonso Ribeiro is actually a professional dancer (with an instruction video to boot), but Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air danced horrendously (and hilariously).
    • Not completely true; Carlton demonstrated some amazing dancing talent on occasion (as in the episode where he ends up stripping). It's just that the Carlton Dance, which is pretty goofy, has undergone Memetic Mutation and is thus better known.
      • Carlton's crowning example may just be showing Will up during a Soul Train appearance.
    • Perhaps a Double Subversion considering even when he's dancing like an idiot, you can tell that he's still pretty talented. See for yourself.
  • In the original cast of Glee, before the character pool starting growing and flooding over, the cast's best dancer by a million miles was Kevin McHale. His character, Artie, is in a wheelchair.
    • Later on, Matt Bomer is cast as Blaine's older brother, who can't act. (Also, interestingly, Matt Bomer plays the heterosexual brother and Darren Criss the gay one.)
  • Broadway veteran Jason Alexander had to tone down his voice to convincingly sing badly as George Costanza in Seinfeld.
  • Colonel Klink of Hogan's Heroes is a horrendous violin player. His actor Werner Klemperer was apparently very talented at it. His father Otto was a famous symphony conductor who left Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power and served in the US Army during WW 2.
    • Klemperer, in fact, made it a condition in his contract that the Nazis never, ever win. Indeed, the cast had a very large percentage of Jewish actors—Robert Clary, who played Corporal LeBeau, survived Buchenwald; both Leon Askin (Gen. Burkhalter) and John Banner (Sgt. Schultz) lost family members to the death camps. Banner put it best:

John Banner: Who better to play Nazis than we Jews?

  • In "Take Me Out to the Holosuite", an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where Sisko recruits a baseball team to challenge a Vulcan rival, the actors portraying the inexperienced players were actually better at baseball than those playing the experienced players.
    • Much of the episode's plot is driven by Rom's utter hopelessness at baseball. His actor, Max Grodénchik, was a semiprofessional player before pursuing his acting career, and could only appear as bad as he was supposed to by playing left-handed.
  • Neil Patrick Harris is a gay actor who is (supposedly) very nice in real life, and is best known for playing an obnoxious, compulsive womanizer on How I Met Your Mother.
  • Same thing with Dan Butler on Frasier.
  • Played with in 30 Rock. In the Show Within a Show, Danny, a skilled singer, pretends to be a terrible one to avoid upstaging his costar Jenna.
    • In an early episode, Jack was written into a sketch, causing Hilarity To Ensue when he turned out to be a really terrible actor. Of course, he's played by Oscar-nominated Alec Baldwin.
  • On Hannah Montana, Miley's best friend Lilly is shown to have a terrible singing voice. In real life, Emily Osment is a capable singer.
    • In the episode where her poor singing is demonstrated, the "edited" version of the song is actually Osment's real singing voice.
  • In Power Rangers, Billy started as a bumbling dork, who was also incredibly clumsy. His actor, David Yost, used to be a champion gymnast.
    • Billy was also initially portrayed as quite hopeless at fighting while unmorphed and generally weak. Whether or not Yost was as skilled as his cast mates is debatable, but he sure was muscular for a supposedly wimpy teen.
    • And, in a darker form of the trope, Billy was the ranger most consistently shown as getting the girl and winding up in romantic entanglements. In real life, David Yost was a closeted homosexual and claims that the people who wrote the show knew this and were trying to make fun of him.
  • Hi-de-Hi!: Gladys is known for her bizarre semi-off key opera singing. Ruth Madoc is a professional singer.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Shirley Manson's daughter notes that she can't sing.
  • iCarly: Carly Shay cannot draw. Miranda Cosgrove can, very well.
  • Natalie Bassingthwaite did an impressive job playing a bad singer on Neighbours considering her success with the Rogue Traders.
  • Both the David Brent (played by Ricky Gervais) and Michael Scott (played by Steve Carrell) versions of The Office have extremely talented comedians playing a character that is not only not funny, but doesn't understand enough about comedy to understand that they are not funny. See, especially, Michael Scott's improv comedy classes.
  • Kath and Kim: Kim is shown singing off-key in two episodes. Gina Riley, her actress, is a very talented singer who has appeared in several theater productions, and the theme song is also proof.
  • In an episode of Parks and Recreation, the entire cast apart from April and Andy go on a hunting trip. As noted on the DVD Commentary, Chris Pratt, who plays Andy, is the only hunter in the cast.
  • In Married... with Children, Peg, when she sings is awful. Katey Sagal is a talented singer who has recorded albums and was a backup singer for Bette Midler, amongst others.;
    • Likewise with Leela in Futurama, also voiced by Sagal, who serenades invading aliens with a horrific version of "I Will Always Love You."

"The humans are attacking!"

      • However, in actual musical numbers such as "Robot Hell", "Back to Work", "Born to be a Bureaucrat", and "I Want My Hands Back", Sagal's excellent voice can be heard untarnished.
  • Moesha, who was played by the singer Brandy, could not carry a tune to save her life.
  • In the TV-Movie Brian's Song, real-life Michigan State football player James Caan portrayed scrappy underdog Brian Piccolo, while Billy Dee Williams, who did not have a sports background, played the supremely talented Gale Sayers. Caan had to consciously hold back in the training scenes to make Williams seem more believable as the superior athlete.
  • One of the world's all time greatest violinists, Jascha Heifetz, whose name is synonymous with perfection, had a talent for imitating bad students playing the violin and once did this on national television. In reality, his playing was so awesome that it is close to in matters violin.
  • Musician-turned-comedian Victor Borge made a routine out of this: he would play a piece from memory, but throw in a single off-key note, which gradually multiplied into three bad notes, then five, then an altogether unrecognizable mess. At this point he usually stopped, got hold of the sheet music, and played the song again while reading very carefully—until he started hitting the same bad notes again... the implication being that he wasn't a bad player, he'd just learned the piece from a hopelessly erroneous transcription.
    • Other jokes along those lines involved playing something that sounded very bizarre, staring at the sheet music for a moment, then flipping it over (he was reading it upside-down).
  • In Jeeves and Wooster, Wooster (played by Hugh Laurie) was, at best, a competent piano player, while Jeeves (played by Stephen Fry) was very good indeed. In real life, Fry can't play a note, and Laurie is an accomplished musician on several instruments.

Professional Wrestling

  • WWE Diva Michelle McCool, whose current character is, to be put nicely, an Alpha Bitch personified, with a hefty dose of a female Bully thrown in for good measure. However before joining WWE, Michelle was a middle-school teacher and likely spent a good chunk of her time trying to stop bullying.
  • Everyone remembers the infamous skit where Santino Marella tries (and fails) to do the splits on the ring apron. Santino actually can do the splits, as he has demonstrated in other matches.
  • Lisa Marie Varon as psychotic and masochistic heel Victoria who enjoys whacking people with steel chairs and grinding their faces into the mat. Anyone who's met Lisa Marie in real life will confirm that she is one of the nicest and kindest wrestlers out there.


  • Part of comedian Jack Benny's persona was his inability to play the violin, much less realize it. In real life, Benny was an accomplished violinist, often performing with Isaac Stern.
    • As an amusing anecdote, Jack was at one point asked to dine at The White House, and while he was there he would play his violin. When he arrived, a Secret Service agent asked him what he was carrying in his violin case. Benny answered that he had a Thompson submachine gun in there, "the old Chicago typewriter". The agent sighed and said, "Thank God, I was afraid you had your violin in there."
    • Apparently, only a very good violinist can pull off playing badly for comic effect. A bad violinist doing it is just horrible.
      • This holds true for just about any musical or theatrical endeavor, resulting in this trope in the first place; someone who is very good can be far, far worse than someone who is actually bad or merely mediocre.
    • Speaking of Benny, he often compared his skills to the legendary Jascha Heifetz (see the live action TV folder), who himself occasionally recorded hilarious imitations of bad violin students for fun. Once one such imitation of Heifetz was actually rejected in a blind audition test. Heifetz's actual playing was truly spectacular.
  • In The Goon Show, Neddie Seagoon is portrayed as utterly unable to carry a tune in several buckets. His actor Harry Secombe had a successful singing career.
  • Les Dawson and Eric Morecambe both used "playing the piano really badly" in their acts. Of course, both actually played very well, as is necessary to make playing badly comical rather than tedious, and in fact it can be harder to play the wrong notes while keeping the tune recognisable than to just play the tune right.


  • A classic character type in musical theater is The Rival to the aspiring actor/dancer/singer protagonist. Of course, the rival is never as good as the protagonist at acting/singing/dancing. However, this is frequently Irony as She Is Cast. For example in Hairspray, the actress playing Amber Von Tussle has to be a good dancer, because it takes a lot of skill to trip consistently and safely.
    • The girl playing Penny has an even harder job- she has to be awkward and a beat behind everybody else.

Western Animation

  • In Shrek the diminutive Lord Farquaad is voiced by the 6'4" John Lithgow.
  • Dr. Robotnik from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is a horrible singer. However, his voice actor, the late Long John Baldry, was a blues and folk-rock singer.
  • In an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Catwoman jokingly mentions that Black Canary being gagged is for the best since she has a horrendous singing voice. Black Canary's voice actress, Grey DeLisle, is a Grammy-winning professional singer.
  • The Kim Possible episode "Hidden Talent" reveals Kim as a singer who cannot hit high notes. Kim's voice actress is Christy Romano, an accomplished singer.
  • Madeleine Peters, who voices Scootaloo in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is notorious for her rather bad singing in "The Show Stoppers". However, according to Daniel Ingram, Madeleine is actually a very good singer and was told to butcher the song. He would also very much like an opportunity to record a version of the Crusaders' theme sung properly.
  • In the Code Lyoko School Play episode "Laughing Fit", Ulrich gives a spectacularly bad performance as Romeo prior to the Return to the Past... his voice actress was on Broadway at one point.