Created By: Aminatep on January 7, 2011 Last Edited By: Aminatep on January 12, 2011
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Phoney Call

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Bob wants to trick Alice into thinking that he is talking over the phone to Charlie when he really isn't. Very, very often a Comedy Trope, and as such it almost never succeeds, Alice usually finds out the truth almost immediately and tends to misinterpret it.

Occurs in three varieties.

  • Bob isn't actually talking to anybody (Bob hasn't dialed anyone but pretends he's talking to Charlie). This can fail if:
    • the phone isn't working
    • the phone rings while he is talking
    • Charlie walks into the room (not on the phone)
  • Bob is actually talking to Carol, but he pretends it's Charlie. The comedy here is built on the fact Carol initially can't understand what's going on. It rarely fails, but in cases where it does, it can fail several ways:
    • Carol screws everything up by walking into the room and asking "Why did you just call me Charlie?"
    • Charlie walks into the room, clearly not on the phone, while Bob is still 'talking' to him and asks "who are you talking to, Bob?"
  • Bob is talking to an automated system, such as:
    • a time service
    • his automated banking system (hilarity may ensue if it uses voice recognition)

Regardless of variety, all three attempts can fail if:
  • Alice just knows that Charlie can't be talking at the moment (he's in a coma, dead, on vacation in a remote location with no phones, etc.).
  • Alice later asks Charlie about some details of that phone conversation of which he can't possibly know.

Examples of Type A:

  • In IT Crowd, Jen is pretending to be busy, so she makes Roy wait till she finishes her phone call. When she asks him what he wants, he replies that he came to connect her telephone.
  • In Dilbert, Wally once gets a hands-free and goes around PHB, shouting insults in his face, pretending that he actually talks to his mother. Personal calls have been forbidden in the Path-E-Tech Management ever since.
  • Modern cellphones often have a "fake call" option.
  • In an episode of Scrubs Eliot overhears Dr Kelso talking about his enforced retirement on his cellphone. She later learns that the bathroom doesn't have cellphone reception - this was his way of asking her for help.
  • In The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, Toto has declared himself to be Dorothy's agent, and is apparently calling someone about a gig. Dorothy's reaction: "That isn't even a real phone!"
  • A couple of times in Quantum Leap, Sam picks up a phone without calling anybody, so that he can have a conversation with the Invisible to Normals Al in front of other people.
  • In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the murderer does this to help set up his alibi.
  • There's a well-known lawyer joke along these lines:
    • A young man is just starting up his own law firm. On the morning of his very first day in business, a man comes to the door. Just before he enters the office, the lawyer (wanting to impress this client) picks up the phone and shouts into it: "$100,000* is my final offer! I'm a very busy man, you know, and my time doesn't come cheap. You don't like it? Fine, then, you can just go find yourself another lawyer!" He slams down the phone and turns to the other man. "Now, what can I do for you?" he asks. The other man replies, "Uh, I was just here to hook up the phone."
  • On Just Shoot Me!, Maya is at Nina's birthday party when she sees Nina have a conversation on a pay phone that was out of order. Turns out Nina was upset about many of her former colleages not coming and was faking a phone call to save face.
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Dewey pretends to be talking on the phone to their mother in order to get Reese and Malcom to do what he wants, which they think are orders from their mother. Fails when the phone rings as he is talking.
  • In one of The Simpsons Christmas episodes, Bart and Lisa have to sneak past security guard Gary Coleman who is having an animated phone conversation. Lisa notices that the phone isn't even plugged in.

Examples of Type B:

  • In an episode of CSI, Grissom is taken off a case and Nick covertly calls him to discuss the investigation; when caught, he pretends he's talking to his girlfriend, leaving Grissom somewhat puzzled on the other end.
  • Happens frequently on Frasier -- in one episode, Frasier attempts to get out of a date by pretending he's getting an emergency call from his brother, in another, he and his ex-wife simultaneously make non-calls to "cancel" other dates that they don't actually have.
  • Garfield: Jon once talks about a date with the automated time service.
  • Shock Treatment: Judge Oliver Wright and Betty Hapschatt at adjacent pay phones to cover up the fact that they're actually talking to each other while listening in on a conversation between some nearby bad guys.
  • In the January 23, 1989 Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin momentarily pretends to be calling Susie about homework as his mom passes through when he's actually trying to purchase power tools.
    • In another Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin lies to his babysitter, Roslyn, about feeling sick. Roslyn sees through this and calls the automatic time service, pretending that she's speaking with Calvin's doctor. She then tells Calvin that Doc wants Calvin to take a teaspoon of castor oil and lie down all evening.
Community Feedback Replies: 45
  • January 7, 2011
    DaibhidC
    Type A:
    • In an episode of Scrubs Eliot overhears Dr Kelso talking about his enforced retirement on his cellphone. She later learns that the bathroom doesn't have cellphone reception - this was his way of asking her for help.
    • In The Muppets Wizard Of Oz, Toto has declared himself to be Dorothy's agent, and is apparently calling someone about a gig. Dorothy's reaction: "That isn't even a real phone!"
  • January 7, 2011
    JoieDeCombat
    In an episode of CSI, Grissom is taken off a case and Nick covertly calls him to discuss the investigation; when caught, he pretends he's talking to his girlfriend, leaving Grissom somewhat puzzled on the other end.
  • January 7, 2011
    thegrenekni3t
    A couple of times in Quantum Leap, Sam picks up a phone without calling anybody, so that he can have a conversation with the Invisible To Normals Al in front of other people.
  • January 7, 2011
    sainatsukino
    you should add that, in comedy, the phone almost always rings
  • January 7, 2011
    troacctid
    Title sounds like a prank call.
  • January 7, 2011
    cjcregg
    Happens frequently on Frasier -- in one episode, Frasier attempts to get out of a date by pretending he's getting an emergency call from his brother, in another, he and his ex-wife simultaneously make non-calls to "cancel" other dates that they don't actually have.
  • January 7, 2011
    invinible
    In the episode Impartial Joker of the series My Little Pony Tales, Patch calls all her close friends to prank them that they each won a fake date at the exact same location with the exact same male pony.
  • January 7, 2011
    ssfsx17
    Truth In Television -- Rumor has it that many people in Hong Kong do this. This Troper has also done it once, while walking down a busy street, to feel what it is like.
  • January 7, 2011
    JoeG
    In The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, the murderer does this to help set up his alibi.
  • January 8, 2011
    bluepenguin
    There's a well-known lawyer joke along these lines:

    A young man is just starting up his own law firm. On the morning of his very first day in business, a man comes to the door. Just before he enters the office, the lawyer (wanting to impress this client) picks up the phone and shouts into it:

    "$500,000* is my final offer! I'm a very busy man, you know, and my time doesn't come cheap. You don't like it? Fine, then, you can just go find yourself another lawyer!"

    He slams down the phone and turns to the other man. "Now, what can I do for you?" he asks.

    The other man replies, "Uh, I was just here to hook up the phone."

    (* Or some amount that's quite high for a retainer. I have no idea what lawyers usually charge, never having needed one for anything.)

    Somewhere there's also a much-expanded, practically short-story length version of this joke by an Indian author, but I can't remember who it was or where I saw it.
  • January 8, 2011
    TonyG
    On Just Shoot Me, Maya is at Nina's birthday party when she sees Nina have a conversation on a pay phone that was out of order. Turns out Nina was upset about many of her former colleages not coming and was faking a phone call to save face.
  • January 8, 2011
    henke37
    Garfield: Jon talks about a date with the automated time service.
  • January 8, 2011
    AFP
    • Shock Treatment: Judge Oliver Wright and Betty Hapschatt at adjacent pay phones to cover up the fact that they're actually talking to each other while listening in on a conversation between some nearby bad guys.
  • January 8, 2011
    invinible
    Since you are doing rolling updates, I will show you that I wasn't making it up by pointing that you can find what I'm typed about here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TE9I1Qv3yIE.
  • January 8, 2011
    Aminatep
    Well I'm not watching a low quality boring cartoon. Point me exactly where does that one pony pretend that she calls someone when they actually isn't. From your description it seems like they are just a prankster.
  • January 8, 2011
    Tumbril
    • In the January 23, 1989 Calvin And Hobbes strip, Calvin momentarily pretends to be calling Susie about homework as his mom passes through when he's actually trying to purchase power tools.
  • January 9, 2011
    MetaFour
    • In another Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin lies to his babysitter, Roslyn, about feeling sick. Roslyn sees through this and calls the automatic time service, pretending that she's speaking with Calvin's doctor. She then tells Calvin that Doc wants Calvin to take a teaspoon of castor oil and lie down all evening.
  • January 9, 2011
    Aminatep
    Hm, here's a tricky question. Does calling a time service fall into A or B? Because it can't really fail as the examples from A do, and there aint' any wacky misunderstanding or something as it usually happens in B.
  • January 9, 2011
    MorganWick
    To make it even thornier, I think I originally read that strip as Rosalyn actually trying to call the doctor, but got the time service by mistake, so she made up some bullshit to feed Calvin.
  • January 9, 2011
    lala
    They ingeniously doubled this in Coupling. Susan calls up her boyfriend, but he is trying to dodge a call from someone else, so he puts on an Australian accent and answers "Susan's Bar and Grill." Susan assumes she dialed the wrong number, but is suspicious about why the bar has her name, so she puts on a French accent and asks him questions. She calls back a few times as the confusions pile up between them throughout the episode, and they don't find each other out until they walk in on each other as they are talking to each other on the phone.
  • January 9, 2011
    invinible
    Starts at 1:12.

    And because Patch is a prankster doesn't disqualify it from this trope based on your description.

    And that is as good quality as you are going to get of that series without paying money for hard copies.
  • January 10, 2011
    foxley
    In one of The Simpsons Christmas episodes, Bart and Lisa have to sneak past security guard Gar Coleman who is having an animated phone conversation. Lisa notices that the phone isn't even plugged in.
  • January 10, 2011
    randomsurfer
    ^I don't think that's a prank, I think that's because Gary Coleman is insane (or a Cloud Cuckoolander anyway).
  • January 10, 2011
    Dawnwing
    Type A:

    • In an episode of Malcolm In The Middle, Dewey pretends to be talking on the phone to their mother in order to get Reese and Malcom to do what he wants, which they think are orders from their mother. Fails when the phone rings as he is talking.
  • January 10, 2011
    Aminatep
    invinible, it still looks like a simple prank call for me. Show me where in the episode does Bob trying to trick Alice into thinking that he is talking with Carol while he is really not.
  • January 10, 2011
    invinible
    Actually, at this point I got to ask, do you hate that show so much that you are willing to lean over backwards to come up with excuses not to accept it when by the way Type B is typed up that it may as well be prank calls will cause my example to end up on the list at some point anyway giving that there are way more dedicated fans to that series than me?
  • January 10, 2011
    MorganWick
    Type B's description is really confusingly written in general.
  • January 11, 2011
    Aminatep
    WHERE DOES THAT PONY TRICK SOMEONE INTO THINKING SHE IS TALKING TO SOMEONE WHEN SHE ACTUALLY IS NOT

    WHERE

    THAT'S WHAT THIS TROPE MEANS

    I don't care about your show in the slightest. No one does. Just read the monkey fighting trope description!
  • January 11, 2011
    Aminatep
    Morgan Wick, it is written perfectly clearly and understandably.

    The trope: Bob makes Alice think that he is talking to Charlie when he's talking to

    A. nobody

    B. Carol
  • January 11, 2011
    ZombieAladdin
    I know of a real life case, but that's just the person being crazy. While I wouldn't count that case, out of curiosity, would examples of people talking to no one in particular count to show that this person is somewhat...unhinged?

    (Oh, I see. The Simpsons example is one of them.)
  • January 11, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Can we call this FauxnCall? Please?
  • January 11, 2011
    invinible
    Do you really think Patch is really Chain Link, the male pony most of the other main cast especially Melody were scowing (sp?) over, and that she is a male?

    Why do you think I didn't originally give the start of the phone call? It is because the reason for the phone call starts right at the beginning as in 0:00.
  • January 11, 2011
    peccantis
    Type A is sometimes used IRL as protection in shadier parts of the city, if it's too late to call an actual person, or for some other reason a real person or the intended callee cannot be reached.
  • January 11, 2011
    MorganWick
    @Aminatep The second part of Type B threw me off, though, because it seems to me that "Charlie" and "Carol" should be reversed. Charlie isn't even part of the conversation, why should humor be derived from him not knowing what's going on except in other scenes as the Fawlty Towers Plot collapses? On the other hand, if the humor is derived from Carol not knowing what's going on, she may find Bob suddenly talking to her as though she's Charlie. In the first Calvin and Hobbes example, "Susie" is just a placeholder, and this is a one-off gag; Calvin's mom isn't likely to actually ask Susie about Calvin calling her for homework help. And if Charlie walks in and Bob just called him "Carol", Alice would know Bob wasn't really talking to Charlie no matter what.
  • January 11, 2011
    Aminatep
    This is why proofreading rocks, I've read the description like five times before and didn't notice the error.
  • January 11, 2011
    MGmirkin
    @ MorganWick: I think you had it right the first time, B is confusingly / incorrectly written (it confused me too). I understand what the OP was going for, it's just written a little backwards:

    Second part currently reads:

    B) Bob is actually talking to Carol, but he pretends it's actually Charlie. It rarely fails, the comedy here is built on the fact Charlie initially can't understand what's going on. Can fail if Charlie screws everything up by, say, walking into the room and asking "Why did you just call me Carol?"

    Entire thing should probably read:

    1. Bob isn't actually talking to anybody (Bob hasn't dialed anyone but pretends he's talking to Charlie). This can fail if:
      • the phone isn't working
      • the phone rings while he is talking
      • Charlie walks into the room (not on the phone)
      • Alice just knows that Charlie can't be talking at the moment (he's in a coma, dead, on vacation in a remote location with no phones, etc.).
    2. Bob is actually talking to Carol, but he pretends it's Charlie. The comedy here is built on the fact Carol initially can't understand what's going on. It rarely fails, but in cases where it does, it can fail one of two ways:
      • if Carol screws everything up by, say, walking into the room and asking "Why did you just call me Charlie?"
      • Charlie walks into the room, clearly not on the phone, while Bob is still 'talking' to him and asks "who are you talking to, Bob?"

    I think that should cover most of the bases?
  • January 11, 2011
    MGmirkin
    @ Aminatep: I think that calling a time service or other neutral ph# (your bank's automated system, etc.) should be a 3rd option. You're right, it doesn't fall into 1) or 2). ^(above)^ Though, it could still be found out if someone overhears the conversation then asks the 'callee' about the conversation or mentions something said in the conversation to the 'callee' who has no idea what they're talking about or controverts the conversation having ever happened. Some hilarity sometimes ensues due to misunderstandings.

    Doesn't Stephanie from Full House do this (generally), in one episode, when she gets to Middle School or something (either she doesn't know anyone or she's getting harrassed; I forget the exact reason)? I vaguely remember this... Prbably needs a reference, though, as I could be thinking of some other show.

    @ PapercutChainsaw: I 2nd Fauxn Call. That's pretty slick. :)
  • January 11, 2011
    Aminatep
    Fauxn Call? What is this? Is there a pun? What?
  • January 11, 2011
    MorganWick
    With Fauxn Call the pun is purely phonetic; it looks like gibberish as read, and remains gibberish if you pronounce "faux" as "fox". Fauxne Call is only a slight improvement. It would be awesome if it weren't for that.
  • January 11, 2011
    Aminatep
    Ah. Dat french language.
  • January 11, 2011
    MGmirkin
    Would this include or be related to the trope of using a faked call/page/text to get out of something you don't want to do, or to exit a bad date?

    You know, the one where someone pull out their phone to 'take a call' and "can you excuse me for just one minute?" ... 'fake call, fake call, fake call' ... "Mmm, yeah! My sister just called, and my mom's in the hospital with a Soap Opera Disease and I've got to go. But we'll do this again some other time" 'fake call, fake call, fake call as he's leaving' *never calls, writes or e-mails again. Phew!*

    Also the trope of 'looking busy at work' where some character or another's boss walks by, and they covertly pick up the phone and talk overly loudly into it like they're on the phone with a client or business partner, all to A) impress their boss with their 'hard work' or B) hide their 'slacking ways'...
  • January 11, 2011
    Aminatep
    Sure, why not?
  • January 11, 2011
    Stratadrake
    I'm getting a headache just looking at the letter combination of f-a-u-x-n. I see the pun, but it doesn't read correctly on paper.
  • January 11, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
  • January 12, 2011
    Stratadrake

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=ijcrdc7ruiz14v48n4588gd7