Law of Disproportionate Response

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

But Mr. Horrible says "I don't mind,
The thing that bothers me is

Someone keeps moving my chair"
They Might Be Giants, "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair"

Fundament of television comedy:

Characters will not bat an eyelash at the absurdities of their daily life, but a relatively small slight or obstacle will completely unhinge them.

Now, this might be because they live their lives so close to the edge that it only takes a small thing to break the camel's back, but it seems more likely that the writers just can't be expected to consistently come up with problems of the week which really compare to the absurdities they've written into the premise. Perhaps all the weird, outlandish, improbable dilemmas that occur every episode have just become routine by now as a result of living through them, but the more humdrum dilemmas only crop up when a specific subplot needs them, and thus seem more of a break from the norm, and thus cause for panic or irritation.

Small things for our characters to get bent out of shape about include:

Sometimes leads to an Escalating War. Other times, it's the Pretext for War for two trigger happy nations.

Perhaps not actually more common with teenage characters, but less obtrusive, since we expect teenagers to act like that anyway.

The Law of Disproportionate Response may be a subset of Finagle's Law. See also Rant-Inducing Slight. Can go hand-in-hand with Berserk Button, where the cause is specific and predictable (even if the response is no less unreasonable). Occasionally goes the other way, with a Disproportionate Reward for small favors. May result in No Sympathy.

Compare What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?. Not to be confused with Disproportionate Retribution, where the perceived slight may actually be legitimate, but the response is still way over the top.

Examples of Law of Disproportionate Response include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Howl's Moving Castle the titular wizard, who messes around with Things Man Was Not Meant to Know and frequently fights demonic creatures and fleets of airships, goes completely batshit after he accidentally dyes his hair the wrong color.
    • Ditto with the book.
    • Rule of Funny applies as this takes the form of a literal emotional melt-down.
  • Discussed in one chapter of Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei. The sensei pointed out that some people often exaggerate small things, while talking about VERY IMPORTANT THINGS in a very casual manner.
  • Cowboy Bebop - "You spilled my egg. I needed that egg."
    • What's impressive is that the reason the egg was such a big deal to him should have prevented him from being able to do what he did to the guys who spilled it.
    • Specifically, he needed it for a hangover cure. Just in case you wanted to know.
    • Think that's supposed to show how good Spike is at fighting, and fighting like that negated the need for the egg. He was just looking for a non-violent solution?
  • In Deadman Wonderland, Genkaku not batting an eye when a bunch of people (including his own soldiers) die, yet breaking down crying when Shiro destroys his electric guitar. He even goes as far as to say he'll have to hold a memorial service for it (yes, something he would never do for humans).
  • In Medaka Box, Kei Munakata is introduced by the other characters as a serial killer, but Munakata points out that they're making him sound like someone who kills for no good reason, and he always has a good reason for killing. He then rattles off reasons for killing, rather than just fighting, the main character. At first the reasons kind of make sense ("I don't have time to deal with you," "I don't want Kurokami-san as part of the 13 party"), but as he keeps going, he starts giving reasons like, "Because I had a good dream last night," and "Because my phone's battery is almost out of power," finally ending with "And for no reason whatsoever, I'll kill you. The same way you guys think of those things as nothing, they all lead to killing for me, is all."
    • His reason for killing the main characters, however, is that he was told not to kill them.
      • Except it's revealed that he actually doesn't kill people, his ability to attack people without killing them is what earns him his abnormal status, and what he said before was a lie.
  • Fairy Tail - Do not mess with Erza's cake.
  • Edward Elric puts up with a real lot. And he does well, considering his temper is even shorter than he himself. He even stays relatively calm when you threaten his loved ones (though it is not a good calmness). However, call him small - KABOOM - you've got him in your face.
  • In The World God Only Knows, Keima is The Stoic who never bats an eyelash at any oddities his current target might have, for he's truly someone who had seen it all in at least one Dating Sim out of the unspecified thousands he ever played. But when his target turns out to be the Girl Next Door classmate who should be an unimportant secondary character with zero character development as per standard dating sim formulas, he completely flies off the edge and repeatedly proclaims his task as impossible.

Comic Books


  • In Hot Fuzz police officer Nicholas Angel is convinced that the reason behind all the murders is a complex scheme to buy soon-to-be valuable land carried out by Simon Skinner. But it turns out to be a whole conspiracy by the entire Neighborhood Watch Alliance to kill the people who may make the town look bad for the Village of the Year Contest. The charges which led to the executions are as follow (and I quote): Martin Blower: being an appalling actor; Eve Draper: having a very annoying laugh; George Merchant: having an awful house; Tim Messenger: editing the Sandford Citizen Newspaper, riddling it with tabloid journalism and persistent (spelling) errors; Leslie Tiller: being set on moving away.
  • Clive Owen's character in Shoot'Em Up takes gun fights, leaping out of planes and women giving birth in his stride, but people who don't indicate when switching lanes, have unkempt fingernails or yell at their children in public can send him dangerously close to the edge.
  • I Am Legend - "I was saving that bacon."
  • Spaceballs: Princess Vespa has spent the entire movie up until this point suffering repeated kidnapping attempts, murder attempts, and other sundry disappointments and stressors without any reaction above Wangst. Then this happens:

Princess Vespa: My hair. He shot my hair. That son of a bitch.

    • Approximately three seconds after this, the entire hallway will be full of dead stormtroopers.
  • Zombieland: "Sno-Balls? Sno-Balls? Where the fuck are the God damn Twinkies?"
    • For extra amusement value, there is an entire pile of Twinkies visible in the shot -- behind the still-closed other half of the van's rear door, where Tallahassee cannot see them.
  • Jason's speech to Kelly in Mystery Team. He tells the orphaned girl that life isn't fair because he got a car for Christmas instead of a new bike... this discussion taking place hours after they were kidnapped by a drug dealer.


  • Older Than Steam: Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock circles around this trope as surely as the Earth around the sun. In Real Life, the Fermor family (close friends of Pope's) got into a humongous uproar because an aesthetically pleasing lock of Arabella Fermor's hair had been clipped without her permission. She was engaged to the man in question, and was so angry she actually broke off the engagement on account of a haircut. In The Rape of the Lock, then, Pope turns the incident into the subject of its own epic, complete with epic card games, a Battle Royale With Cheese, a journey to the Underworld, and a Deus Ex Machina to crown it all. It's awesome.
  • Vetinari in Discworld. He is used to the absurdities of the Disc, Ankh-Morpork being Ankh-Morpork. But don't be a mime...or else. He does, however, prefer corrective measures against practitioners of that form of art, rather than the ham-fisted "kill them all" approach of lesser patricians.
  • Also in Discworld's Thief of Time, the History Monk Sato is a pacifist unless you touch his hair. If you do, like the Big Bad of the story does, well, let's just say you probably won't be alive long enough to apologize.

Live-Action TV

  • Seinfeld
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Saved by the Bell: Screech takes no issue with being a constant object of scorn and derision, but explodes over a forgotten birthday. Jessie has a complete mental breakdown over The "B" Grade. And caffeine pills. And everything else that happens to her, really.
  • The Drew Carey Show: Winfred-Lauder is taken over by aliens, one of whom informs Drew he will spend the rest of his life in a dead-end job without chance of advance. Drew shrugs it off and asks how long he gets for lunch. On being told "Forty-five minutes", he attacks the alien. (Though the joke here is more that the working conditions the alien describes are exactly like his job anyways.)
  • The nature of Power Rangers led to this quite a bit. Their hometown is attacked by monsters on a weekly basis, causing ungodly amounts of property damage, yet Billy still gets freaked out when he gets a "B" on a test.
  • News Radio episode "Security Door": Bill McNeal has a part in a blue jeans commercial that unexpectedly turns out to consist of dressing in a ridiculous "blue genie" outfit complete with blue body paint. He's outraged...not because of the genie outfit, but because there's no complimentary fruit basket in his dressing room as promised.
  • Full House - During the episode where the children move all the furniture in Danny Tanner's room two inches to the right to cover up a hole in the wall, leading him to the brink of madness convinced that everything is slightly off before the mishap is revealed. Alien Geometries is in Horror Tropes for a reason.
    • The mishap wasn't revealed. He discovered that Kimmy moved a box of baking soda that was in his drawer, and decided that that was why everything felt slightly off, which is itself an instance of this trope.
  • Every episode of My Super Sweet 16 involves some rich girl throwing a fit about some minuscule detail. Another great example involves receiving a Lexus at the wrong time... nobody was watching to see how lucky she was, so she stormed off calling her mother words we will not repeat here.
  • Brides Behaving Badly is another show in this vein.
  • A brief incident involving his boss and a Moistmaker-equipped Thanksgiving leftover sandwich with a clearly marked limerick indicating rightful ownership resulted in Ross from Friends being given "indefinite leave" from his job and enough tranquilizers to calm a elephant.
  • The Big Bang Theory has this a couple of times, particularly one were Howard has an emotional breakdown and the rest of the crew that needs his help is in dismay..for they can't even open the tool box~
  • Craig Ferguson has been known to every so often get derailed from his monologues by a small thing an audience member does.

Craig: ...Of course, Paul Gauguin ended up with a terrible case of syphilis. Like Snookie. ...That's a ridiculous thing to say - Did you just offer him a candy?? You're meant to be pretending to be watching this crap!

  • After years and years of calmly taking crap from his parents, Ray Barone finally flips because the replacement wallpaper on one wall of his living room isn't quite the same as the rest of the room's.
  • A sketch on That Mitchell and Webb Look featured David Mitchell and Olivia Colman as a married couple. Olivia is slightly niggled by David's habit of sleeping with his secretary and the fact that he refuses to start a family...but this is only a front to cover up the heartrending distress she suffered when he left the fridge door open.


  • "It's the Little Things", a song by Alice Cooper: "You can poison my cat, baby I don't care, but if you talk in the movies I'll kill you right there."
  • This is a frequent target of "Weird Al" Yankovic's songs - both parody and original ("Don't Wear Those Shoes", "Close But No Cigar").
    • An example from the latter: "She was gorgeous, she was charming/Yeah, she was perfect in every way/Except she was always using the word "infer"/When she obviously meant "imply"/And I know some guys would put up with that kind of thing/But frankly, I can't imagine why." He's got a point.
    • In a mini-video filmed for MuchMusic, Al recites Green Eggs and Ham to the tune of U2's "Numb" while undergoing the same randomness that the Edge underwent in the original video. He doesn't complain until the moment "Bono" starts singing.
  • Famous example: "You can do anything, but lay off of my blue suede shoes."
  • Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant": While registering for the military draft, the singer/narrator is placed on the "Group W Bench" with an assortment of criminals (mother rapers, father stabbers, father rapers, and so on). When one of the thugs asks what he was arrested for, Guthrie mentions his crime: littering. ("And they all moved away from me on the bench there...")
    • "And creating a nuisance." And they all came back...

Recorded and Stand Up Comedy

  • Christopher Titus's reason for this, in his act, Norman Rockwell is Bleeding is: Normal People. "See, screwed-up people have had a bunch of shit happen in their life. Normal people haven't had enough problems in life to know how to deal with one when it comes up. They just snap. *starts muttering and whimpering, imitating a "normal person"* Toilet's blocked up.... IS THERE NO GOD!??!! Oh, I'm getting a pickaxe, and I'm going to Burger King...


Made into an even bigger head scratcher because earlier, Juliet's father had specifically asked aforementioned rich guy to wait to marry her because she was only thirteen...

Web Comics

Jango Fett: ...You're going to wish you'd never been born.
Obi-Wan: What did I ever do to you?
Taun We: I think you took his parking spot.

  • The Optimist - Did someone say NAPKINS?
  • Spooky Doofus is (as of this writing) gearing up a storyline where Ed sues M&M's/Mars because some of his M&M's have W's on them instead.
  • In Sluggy Freelance everyone who knows Bun-bun gets a rapid head start before he finds out his collection of Baywatch tapes have been erased by Alyee's EMP burst; they spend a season as fugitives from his murderous pursuit and his army of Black-Op elves.
  • In one strip of VG Cats, Aeris's response to Leo making fun of her malfunctioning Xbox and then going off on a tangent consisting of Your Mom jokes is to go back in time to shortly after he was conceived and give his mother an abortion.

Western Animation

  • Powerpuff Girls, "Impeach Fuzz": Mayor's response to Fuzzy Lumpkins becoming mayor and tarnishing his position: "I don't care." Mayor's response to Lumpkins wearing his hat: Challenging him to a wrestling match.
  • Done a lot on The Ren and Stimpy Show. For example, in "Space Madness", the first sign Ren's starting to go stir-crazy is that the sound of a bored Stimpy nervously drumming his finger causes Ren to yell "Do you have to keep tapping like that?! You bloated sack of protoplasm!"
  • The whole premise of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, a show where imaginary beings spring to life on a regular basis, most of the plot involves overreactions to very minor everyday things, such as getting lost or going to the mall.
  • In Adventure Time, Princess Bubblegum and Finn decide to play a harmless prank on the earl of Lemongrab—they leave a sign beside his bed that says "YOU REALLY SMELL LIKE DOG BUNS." How does the earl react? He clenches his fists, starts shaking, and opens up his mouth wide to scream loudly in sheer outrage for several seconds. And how does he attempt to punish those responsible? Round up EVERYONE in the castle, to sentence them to seven years in the dungeon, no trials!
  • An episode of Hey Arnold!, "Olga Comes Home", has Olga, Helga's sister and the stereotypical "perfect girl" in a highly dysfunctional family, becoming catatonically depressed when Helga tricked her into thinking she had gotten a B in one of her college classes.
  • South Park, "Scott Tenorman Must Die": Cartman is cheated out of about $16 and swears revenge. After getting bamboozled through several failed attempts to get even, he eventually makes Scott eat his own parents.
  • Parodied in Family Guy when Chris gets a pimple. It makes Chris vandalize a wall and destroy Mort's pharmacy, assaults his brain then holds a dermatologist at gunpoint. Though this was a crazy, talking pimple.
    • This is actually quite common in Family Guy, especially with Peter:
      • Peter acts casually after the death of Michael Eisner.
      • Sometimes Peter forgets Brian can talk, even though he's done it for the past 6 years. Once, he only understands Brian when he barks.
      • Lois thinks that Stewie's advanced weapon is a toy in Death Has A Shadow.
      • In the Christmas episode, Lois stays calm throughout the disastrous shenanigans that have been going on. Peter gave the presents away? Another family benefits. House burned down? At least no one got hurt. No turkey? We can work something out. No paper towels? Destroy Christmas!
      • This:

Cleveland: I hate Bewitched! (flips couch over)
Stewie: (under couch) Yeah, so that's an appropriate response.

  • In one episode of Kevin Spencer, Anastasia screams at her husband to answer the phone (which is right next to her.) When she doesn't get a response (he wasn't even in the same province at the time. He just didn't tell her he left), she proceeds to destroy everything Percy would hold dear, culminating with the destruction of the house.
  • The Simpsons
    • Homer goes as far as suing the owners of a seafood restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet because they threw him out after closing time, even though he hadn’t yet had “all he could eat”. Marge is dragged along through the whole proceeding against her will and much to her embarrassment.
    • Homer caused similar trouble with the garbage men in 'Trash of the Titans', and with the bag boys union in "Simpson Safari".
    • In a "Monkey's Paw" story, after the first wishes get the earth tyrannized by space aliens, Homer makes a determined wish for a turkey sandwich, making sure the wish has no unexpected horrible loopholes. The sandwich appears, he takes a bite or two, likes the bread, the mustard, but...the turkey is a little dry - he wails to the heavens.
    • Homer was banned from Moe's Tavern for spilling salt in Moe's table as a prank, there were previous pranks involving Moe getting bitten by a Cobra which was considered to be funny.
  • In Kim Possible, after losing his want-to-be girlfriend to a Romantic False Lead, and having his favourite restaurant turned into a kiddie joint by a new owner, Ron finally goes insane (well, for a second time) after they replace the bendy straws with regular ones.
  • In The Emperors New Groove, Yzma gives Kronk a long "The Reason You Suck" Speech. He's, at most, mildly upset. She insults his spinach puff. Kronk does a Heel Face Turn and drops a chandelier on her.
    • Which gets Harsher in Hindsight when we find out in the sequel that Kronk's dad had found him a disappointment for wanting to be a chef.
  • In one episode of Adventures in Care-a-Lot, Grizzle, disguised as Busybody Bear, is trying to break up a band that some of the bears started by spreading gossip about the members. "She" tells Harmony that Cheer said that she sounds like "a thunderwhale with a sore throat" when she sings, but Harmony just says Busybody must have misunderstood. So Busybody replies, "Oh, that's right, she just said that you're bossy," causing Harmony to gasp loudly in shock.

Real Life

  • David Sedaris describes his sister as thus: "Tiffany is big on rules but allows a pretty wide margin when it comes to mortal sin. Rape, murder, the abandonment of children: these are taken on a case-by-case basis. What riles her are the small things, and in denouncing them, she tends towards proclamations, most beginning with the words 'A person doesn't'. 'A person doesn't just go around making things out of pine cones' or 'A person doesn't use the word weenie when talking about a hot dog. It isn't cute. It isn't funny. It isn't done'" Also a lot of humor in David Sedaris essays in general encompasses this trope.
  • The example from The Simpsons was possibly based on a true story where a man at an all-you-can-eat joint was asked to stop eating the oysters after having between 30 or 40 (his count) and 70 (restaurant's count) of the things, because other customers were complaining that there weren't any left. Yes, he did sue them, on the basis that he hadn't had "all he could eat", and as I recall it was settled out of court. The restaurant holds no grudges, though, because the publicity was fantastic and they said that whenever he shows up they're going to present him with a big shovelful of oysters. No word on the man's opinion, though, so one is left to wonder if or even why he would want to go back at all.
    • Because he gets a shovelful of oysters.
  • Piss off Christian Weston Chandler enough and he will write you into his webcomic as an often easily defeated villain. Or make a CAW of you in Soul Calibur and struggle to beat it up.
  • Messing up a carefully-laid straight line of toys can tick some autistic children / people off.
  • Mom gets beaten by her son with a baseball bat when she doesn't share her Royal Farms french fries.
  • A woman in Florida called 911 after her local McDonald's ran out of chicken nuggets and refused to refund her order.
  • Sometimes seems to be true of teens in general, if books like Mortified and Cringe (both featuring excerpts from real teens' diaries) are any indication.
  • Well, to be fair, we've all had our bad days, and we've all done this at some point or another. The trick is to catch ourselves doing it.
  • David Lee Roth and Brown M&Ms. Van Halen's contract had a clause that there had to be a bowl of M&Ms in the dressing room, but the brown ones had to be removed. On one occasion, Roth found brown M&Ms and flipped out. What's not usually included in the telling of this rather well-known story is that the whole reason for the "no brown M&Ms" clause was to test how closely the venue's responsible parties were reading the contract. The band had fairly demanding requirements for power, weight, etc. for their equipment, and needed to know that they had been read and followed. Because, for instance, the heavy stage could sink into the floor due to the contract not being followed, which sometimes leads to the story being told as: "The band trashed the whole venue over brown M&Ms in their dressing room."
  • After the leaking of documents stating ambassadors found the Prime Minster of Canada Stephen Harper "Kind of dull.", his advisers have called for a man who owned a website that hosted the documents to be killed via attack drone. May or may not be direct consequence, but still funny.