The Freelance Shame Squad

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"Ha ha ha! Your pain gives us joy!"

Embarrassing things happen to us all sometimes. When they happen, we trust anyone who saw said thing to afford us the dignity of not calling attention to it, and we typically do likewise when something happens to them. Besides, getting splashed by a puddle or dropping a stack of dishes isn't that funny to begin with.

When embarrassing things happen to characters in a comedy, however, every stranger within a 100-foot radius will go out of their way to stop what they were doing, point out the thing in question, laugh loudly about it, and basically humiliate the character into feeling like a quivering little pile of crap. This is known as the Freelance Shame Squad, a group of otherwise unremarkable people who apparently missed the memo that life isn't like elementary school, and still act like sociopathic 5-year-olds upon witnessing a stranger's misfortune.

Thankfully, this is not Truth in Television, as in reality most onlookers will react with either confusion, curiosity or just plain apathy when seeing someone else's faux pas. This trope shares a bunk with No Sympathy, and like that, it's a trope that tends to really get on people's nerves. See also Humiliation Conga.

Examples of The Freelance Shame Squad include:


  • Roughly 90% of all kid's movies tend to feature this, preying on the crippling fear many children have of public humiliation. For these movies, having a group of kids do this is normally justified in that many real kids are obnoxious little bastards and publicly find other people's distress funny. It's still not justified when, say, the entire cafeteria erupts into laughter when little Susie drops her lunch tray.
  • In Angela's Ashes, the kids immediately notice and mock Frank's shoes.
  • In the original The Karate Kid, a ballroom filled with refined, upper-crust partygoers all stop dancing and put down their canapes just to laugh at Daniel-San after he bumps into a waiter and gets bolognese sauce all over his outfit. They were probably mocking the poor waiter too, but it doesn't come across as strongly.
  • In Weird Science, an entire mall atrium full of shoppers stop all their business just to laugh at Gary and Wyatt after bullies dump an Icee on their heads. To their credit, the two girls hanging out with the bullies weren't impressed by the crude little stunt, but it doesn't count for much when everybody else in the mall seemed to be.
  • The titular character from Angus has the squad deployed on him at several points, the worst probably being when the Jerk Jock stole his boxers and ran them up the school flagpole. Angus' friend doesn't help matters by remarking that the shorts are nearly as wide as the flag. The last time is when Rick plays an embarassing video of Angus at the Winter Ball dance just as Angus is being crowned. The principal, at least, is unamused.
  • Lucas takes this trope Up to Eleven, as if poor Lucas' life wasn't miserable enough already.
  • Done in the film and book versions of Carrie. Everybody except poor Carrie's boyfriend finds her getting doused with pig's blood to be the funniest goddamn thing in the world. Then she snaps, and things start getting much less funny in a hurry.
    • Actually averted in the movie, in that most all of the students but the girl who set up the prank are in shock and horror, but Carrie hallucinates them laughing at her. In the book, survivors admit that they were so shocked they didn't know what else to do.
    • Played much straighter near the beginning, when Carrie has her first period in the girl's locker room. Every other girl savagely mocks her for this with laughter and thrown tampons, as though they never had one of those before, while Carrie cowers in the corner, terrified that she's bleeding to death.
  • Subverted in Trading Places: when the Dukes take Valentine, the homeless man they're training to be a commodities trader, to a big business dinner with a client, the client asks Valentine his opinion on whether or not he should buy wheat futures. Literally every single person in the restaurant stops what they're doing and stares at Valentine. But he gives a picture-perfect answer and impresses the client.
    • This may also have been a parody of some famous TV commercials for E. F. Hutton & Co., an American stock brokerage firm. The firm was best known for its commercials in the 1970s and 1980s based on the phrase, "When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen" which usually involved a young professional remarking at a dinner party that his broker was E.F. Hutton, which caused the moderately loud party to stop all conversation to listen to him say what E.F. Hutton thought about an investment.

Live Action TV

  • The Trope Namer comes from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Jack Frost, where a large gaggle of villagers comes out of nowhere to mock the wicked stepsister every time something humiliating happens to her. Crow dubs this jolly band of assholes the Freelance Shame Squad.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: All the kids sitting on the benches at the water park start giggling derisively at Reese after Malcolm yanks down Reese's trunks in front of them.
  • Parodied on How I Met Your Mother. When Barney's eating a meatball sub, Marshall politely points out that he got a little marinara sauce on his tie, and a couple of the people they're eating with respond with a very tiny chuckle. Barney refers to this as "the most humiliating moment of my life".

Western Animation

  • Humorously exaggerated in an older episode of The Simpsons. Bart already didn't want to go clothes shopping with his mom, but then Marge has to go and throw open his changing room door and leave it open on him, stripped to his tighty-whities. Predictably, everyone in the store points at Bart and guffaws at his embarrassment, one guy even yelling, "Look at that stupid kid!"
    • Subverted in "Homer Goes to College": Homer's Nuclear Physics 101 professor makes an atom based pun and everyone but Homer laughs. The professor then drops his notes and Homer laughs uproariously... while everyone else looks at him awkwardly.
    • And of course there's Nelson. Despite being only one boy, he's about as straight an example of this as there ever was. His entire function on the show most of the time is to appear out of nowhere and point and laugh whenever someone does something embarrassing. Even when there's no logical reason for him to be present (which is sometimes lampshaded).
      • And at one point, this gets reversed on him in an epic fashion when he makes the mistake of laughing at an extremely tall fellow who happened to drive a tiny car. The man makes him pull down his pants and waddle down Main Street as all of Springfield mocks him. It's not so funny when it happens to you, eh, Muntz?
  • Done in Family Guy, when the popular kids pelt Meg with rotten meat during her halftime routine. Everyone in the stands points and laughs at her, which is worth noting because this was long before Meg became the over-exaggerated Butt Monkey that she is now.
    • Also done in an episode where Peter goes to a high-school reunion attempting to make himself a cowboy astronaut in order to impress his old high school classmates. When it's revealed that the story is bullshit because Peter's cowboy hat can be taken off, the entire auditorium points and laughs at Peter.
  • Invoked in South Park when Stan shows up to the class Halloween party dressed up as Raggedy Andy (and Wendy doesn't go through with dressing as Raggedy Ann). Mr. Garrison actually says "Let's all laugh and point at Stan, everyone", and they do.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim meets up with his old schoolmate, The Boogeyman, and is not happy about it. When asked why, we flashback to their school days, where Boogey gave Grim one hell of a wedgie in front of the whole school. Right before they all laugh at him, one monster says "Let's all point and laugh at his humiliation!"
  • Hey Arnold! has these constantly, often spearheaded by Sid or Stinky.