I'm not sure if this is a common trope, but I remember an instance of it from the show According to Jim.

Two women (sisters Cheryl and Dana) were talking to each other in a parking lot and were preparing to leave, when a thief suddenly tries to steal Cheryl's purse. She runs after the guy and manages to tackle him and get her purse back. The thief runs away.

After Dana asked Cheryl if she's ok, they finally realize the danger they were just in and the shock finally hits them ("OMG!" "OMG!"). They calmly sit down in the car, look at each other, then slowly start laughing, presumably because of the absurdity of what happened. Then they start crying, probably realizing it could've gone much worse than it did. Then they laugh, then cry, etc...

Is there a name for this trope? Where a character just went through something traumatic, doesn't really realize how dangerous it was at first, then is unsure of whether to laugh or cry at what just happened and just switching back and forth?

1 Answer 1


Ah, this is probably one to argue with over semantics in TV tropes specifically as it's often covered over a few different names.

However this particular 'trope' is a very real and normal human emotional response namely:

Pseudobulbar affect

Described as

A type of emotional disturbance characterized by uncontrollable episodes of crying and/or laughing, or other emotional displays.

Or better known as and specific to TV tropes, and probably experienced by most people as:

Cry laughing.

Though in this case, it's usually because you laughed so much/hard that you started tearing up.

This is also sometimes called Mood whiplash though, that generally refers to drastic changes in story tone between movies, or characters that are far too extreme for the genre they're in.

Another could be the Mirthless Laughter derived from shock of the situation.

Characters tend to do this when they are reunited with a lost loved one or something they care about deeply. When Stepford Smilers and other characters that have fragile facades do this, it's a sign that their mask is about to break. This type of laughter is usually followed by crying.

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