Mabel"La commedia è finita!"
: Don't worry, I've seen enough movies to know this is the part where
the audience thinks it was all part of the show, and loves it. Cue applause!
An audience is awaiting the next performance inside a theater or at a public event, when suddenly, all hell breaks loose. The performers are all viciously gunned down by an unidentified shooter, hostile alien invaders begin to land on platforms, a portal to an alternate dimension takes form, a clan of demon ninjas attack, evil ghost pirates begin pillaging left and right, buses filled with nuns crash onto the stage, the four horsemen arrive to herald the dawn of apocalypse.... at the same time....
The reaction of the audience at the sight of the havoc, mayhem and destruction: "Wow, what a great show!"
All Part of the Show is the frequent tendency for people at a showing to credit the bizarre, supernatural occurrences or peculiar statements and actions of certain performers that take place to a very creative Special Effects
coordinator, cast or both.
Can be great for keeping the people hilariously ignorant
toward the supernatural happenings and beings that exist around them, but naturally, it can also be very
disadvantageous to the characters trying
to convince them otherwise
. It can also sometimes suggest the Viewers Are Morons
. Often forms part of a Concert Climax
When an "All Part of the Show" moment actually is
all part of the show, then it becomes You Just Ruined the Shot
. When a character is trying to appear part of the show by attempting to act out a real part in it, it's Pushed in Front of the Audience
. When bad guys create the show specifically to cover their criminal activities, it's Film Felons
. Some Nutty Publicity Stunt
is similar, but the event seems more "out of the blue" and not part of a specific performance or public event.
Compare Fatal Method Acting
and This Is Not a Drill
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Anime and Manga
- Subverted in an early Captain America story and a 1980s The Question story where there is a hand to hand combat exhibition where villains secretly appear to attack the feature players for real. As the fight gets more serious than the feature players suspect, the audience slowly begins to realize that there is no way that the exhibition could be that realistic.
- An old Superboy story features criminals using this trope. They bring movie cameras and pretend to film themselves robbing banks so that people passing by will simply assume it is all a movie and ignore the screaming bank employees. Luckily, Superboy notices they didn't bring any sound equipment, so guesses they are criminals. Luckily, he had apparently never heard of looping.
- Grant Morrison used the same idea when he wrote Marvel Boy. The incredibly wealthy Dr. Midas sets up lights and cameras so no one will find it strange when his army lets loose on the title character with lasers and other assorted sci-fi gear.
- And how can we forget the classic Marvel Team Up where Spider-Man met The-Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players, complete with Silver Samurai breaking into a performance of SNL?
- This was lampshaded by The Comics Curmudgeon in 2006 during his (now weekly) pillorying of the newspaper strip. Mary Jane, as "Marvella", stars in a hackneyed exploitation movie where she is attacked by "Panthera", played by the washed-up and homicidal Narna Lamarr.
"They’re putting them in a real elevator, with no microphones of any kind (otherwise Narna’s bitchy off-script taunts would be picked up) and having them improvise some fisticuffs. (I hear this is exactly how Robert Altman filmed most of
McCabe & Mrs. Miller.)"
- Dick Tracy fights Putty Puss on a stage. Vitamin Flintheart tries to convince the audience it's for real, but he's such a ham he only makes things worse.
- During the Batman: Hush storyline, Batman and Catwoman wind up fighting Harley Quinn in the middle of a crowded opera house. The opera-goers seem to think this is part of the show, even applauding after Batman manages to catch Catwoman in mid-air.
- The final fight of the first Batman/Judge Dredd crossover takes place at a Heavy Metal concert, on stage. The audience is not shown having any particular reaction to Batman appearing on stage, or a cop from another dimension, or for that matter a zombie cop from a third dimension who had killed half the band (Well, since Judge Death was singing while he killed them, there was some justification for assuming that it was staged).
- In a Marvel Transformers comic, the Decepticons attempt to steal energy from the sound at a Brick Springstern concert. When this erupts into a battle against the Autobots, the audience just assumes it's a massive special effects extravaganza.
- Similarly, when Scorpionok and the Dinobots travel to Tokyo during the Starscream Triumphant story, they're mistaken for monster movie props, much to Grimlock's annoyance.
- Played with in Astérix and the Cauldron. Astérix and Obélix get hired by a Roman theater company whose avant-garde director proclaims True Art is "spontaneity", improvisation and offending the public. (Ironically, as is shown during the play rehearsal, basically everything is in fact minutely staged.) When the actual play is performed in public, the Roman city prefect does enjoy the controversial show, until the point where Obelix improvises the play's final line: "These Romans are crazy!" Now that pushes the prefect's Berserk Button: he is not amused and sends the troops on stage to arrest the actors. The military intervention is not part of the show, but the public does believe so:
Spectator #1: Very well staged, that show!
Spectator #2: Yes, it's getting exciting!
Spectator #3: Now they're pushing it. It lacks realism.
Spectator #4: It's a new aesthetics. I, for one, dig it.
- A Prayer for Owen Meany: During the Nativity play, Owen (playing Jesus) stands up and addresses the audience, telling them they are not worthy and should be ashamed of themselves for even setting foot in a church. The audience sitting in the church assumes this is a sermon to them and part of the play; the reader knows that Owen was talking to his sacrilegious parents.
- In Anne Rice's novel Interview with the Vampire (and its film adaptation), the French Théâtre des Vampires troupe of vampires kill humans on stage, but the audience always believes the deaths to be part of the show.
- Done straight in Bernard Cornwell's The Warlord Chronicles (a serious version of the King Arthur story). The Saxons know that the Celts have a series of beacons ready to light as soon as Saxon invaders are sighted. So they wait for the Beltane festival, when every Celtic community has a bonfire anyway...
- In the Discworld novel Maskerade, nobody in the audience of the Ankh-Morpork Opera House panics when they see the Phantom being chased by Greebo (in human form) across the Boxes and over the chandelier in the middle of the opera Il Truccatore, because they think it's supposed to be part of the show. (In fact, not wanting to seem uncultured, they start saying they remember hearing about a production in Quirm that did this.)
- And in Wyrd Sisters, the real Death walks on stage during a play in place of the actor playing the role. He then realizes he's become the center of attention (because the Weirdness Censor doesn't work if they think you're just some guy in a costume) and gets stage fright.
- Inverted when Granny Weatherwax attends a play for the first time, and doesn't know it's all pretend. When the actor playing the king is "killed" and other characters start asking each other who could have done such a thing, she stands up in the audience and loudly identifies the "murderer".
- And in The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, (mostly set in our world) Elves launch an attack on the Globe Theatre during the first production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is mistaken for part of the play.
- In Moving Pictures an Eldritch Abomination takes the form of the lead actress in the 'clicks' and climbs out of the screen. Everyone just stands by and applauds the special effects. Although to be fair, they're pretty much mind-controlled by this point.
- In Artemis Fowl during an opera, as a distraction, the stage light fused out. Even though the actors ran, people thought it was just symbolic.
- This is pretty much the climax of Snow Crash within the Metaverse.
- In The Darfsteller, a Hugo Award-winning novelette by Walter M. Miller, Jr., the protagonist is an actor. He is in a play where his character is shot and killed in the final scene. He puts a real bullet in the gun, in place of the blank, intending to commit suicide. When he changes his mind, he dodges but still gets shot. He then tries to lie as still as he can, so as to not ruin the show.
- On that respect, the tragic death of Brandon Lee during the filming of the movie The Crow. Since he got shot for real just in the scene where his character (Eric Draven) is shot by mobsters, the director and the crew all believed his death (and the actress playing Eric's girlfriend's pleas for help) to be part of the filming. Only when Brandon did not react after the "Cut!" mark did they realize what was going on. This, incidentally, caused his entire death to be captured on film.
- In the fourteenth book in the Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate, the Animorphs uncover a plot by the Yeerks to infiltrate a military organization (Zone 91, a clear parody of Area 51) and attempt to stop them while at an amusement park. The Animorphs are battling several Hork-Bajir, as well as Visser Three, in the middle of one of the rides. Cassie is somewhat startled to discover that the ride is still running, and several of the patrons think that the battle is All Part of the Show.
- The Pilo Family Circus suffers so many disruptions of its performances that "All Part Of The Show" has become a mantra on the showgrounds. One memorable example shows Mugabo the Magician getting sick and tired of pulling a rabit out of his hat, and deciding to liven up the show by simply blowing it to pieces with his powers. As two carnies tackle the rebellious magician to the ground, one of them shouts to the shocked and bloodstained audience "All part of the show, folks!"
- The Master and Margarita has a demonic black cat beheading an annoying actor during Woland's Black Magic Show. The public is horrified at first, but then mistakes it for a trick.
- In Thomas Pynchon's novel V., an unconventional ballet concludes with a virgin sacrifice (echoing The Rite of Spring,) but the ballerina fails to wear key protective gear and ends up killed for real. While she dies onstage, the audience applauds what they think is her very realistic performance.
- Mocked in The Onion when a dance club burns down. The fire chief yells "The roof! The roof! The roof is on fire!" to which the dancers respond "We don't need no water, let that motherfucker burn!"
- In Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones, the protagonists are very disappointed that the attendees of a fantasy convention mistake the villains (and various other otherworldly people) showing up as just part of the convention.
- The Doctor Who Expanded Universe short story "Swamp of Horrors (1957) ? Viewing Notes" by Michael Rees tells the story of how the Sixth Doctor disrupted the shooting of a B-Movie to rescue a stranded alien - from the perspective of a film critic praising the finished movie's thoughtful message, cinema verite direction, and quite amazing effects work. (It also includes a You Just Ruined the Shot; when the Doctor first appears, he mistakes the rubber monster from the film for his alien, and the director yells at him. The critic thinks this Breaking the Fourth Wall moment doesn't really work.)
- The final battle against Maleficent in the first Kingdom Keepers book is dismissed as Disney World's best light show ever.
- In Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, the reenactment of a Revolutionary War battle ends with the Greaser Delinquents turning a battle between the Minutemen and the Redcoats (played by members of the U.S. Army) into an all-out brawl. The audience's first reaction is to applaud how realistic the acting is.
Live- Action TV
- Are You Afraid of the Dark?: A guy turns into a banshee onstage and goes after his young male co-star, who is transformed into a toad and saved by a leprechaun friend. Not only is the audience sitting back and watching while he's begging, "Somebody help me! This is really happening!", but the confused stage hands are flipping through the script backstage, wondering, "Did we miss this in rehearsal or something?"
- The climactic scene in the Doctor Who episode "The Shakespeare Code" takes place at the end of a performance of Shakespeare's play "Love's Labours Won", the ending of which was written by the evil aliens to call the rest of their race to take over the world. After the villains are defeated, the audience stands up and applauds. Martha assumes that they think it was all special effects.
- The Eleventh Doctor uses this trope when he wants pocket change in "The Bells of Saint John". He materializes at London's South Bank (next to an annoyed and upstaged Human Statue) and has his companion pass the hat around for his "Disappearing Police Box" act, implying that he's going to go back in time and do the first half. Or he's already done it. Whatever...
- Also, in "The Unqiet Dead", when Mr Redpath's mother's face turns blue and the gelth leave her body in Charles Dickens' reading of A Christmas Carol, Dickens tries to explain it away as 'a trick of the lights'. Unlike usual, though, the audience doesn't believe him and run.
- In an episode of Glee, the kids are performing at an alcohol awareness assembly when Brittany throws up on Rachel mid-performance. Principal Figgins praises them on informing the students about the dangers of alcohol using special effects. In reality, New Directions were drunk off their asses.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Puppet Show" where the Scoobies fight a demon on the stage of the school talent show, only to have the curtains open just after they finish. Buffy is holding a venquilitrist dummy. Willow is holding a hatchet. Giles and Xander are standing next to a guillotine with a decapitated demon.
Principal Snyder: I don't get it. What is it, avant garde?
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Wormhole X-Treme!", an alien spaceship appears in the sky during the filming of a sci-fi TV show; the crew assumes it's part of the script and gets it on camera, with the creator of the show saying...
Martin: We're gonna win an Emmy for this! ...For special effects.
- In an unusual variation, Martin knew in advance it would happen, and had the outdoor filming scheduled accordingly.
- In the episode "Bounty", an attempted assassination of Carter appears to be part of a demonstration of the technology she and Dr. Lee bring to a trade show.
- Probably helped by the fact that they were demonstrating hologram technology. Looks like their original plan was to have "Carter" walk on stage and then wow the audience when she turned out to be a hologram generated from backstage. The sniper fell for it too of course and fired on the hologram which promptly disappeared. Cue the real Carter coming out from backstage holding a working laser gun which she uses to stun the sniper. The audience applauds and it's not hard to see why they would believe it to be part of the demonstration.
- In The Vicar of Dibley, Alice Tinker gives birth to her child while playing Mary during a Nativity Play, to various comments of "it's very realistic".
- Ace Lightning: Lord Fear invaded Mark's school during the showing of a play which was a somewhat uncreative remake of The Phantom of the Opera - of course the audience thinks he's just a very convincing actor. Lord fear typically relishes the attention, and Mark is the only one who freaks because he's the only one who knows what's going on.
- Double-subverted in CSI: Miami. It's the start of a fashion show. The lights suddenly cut, somebody asks "Is this part of the show" and two women dressed in your typical robbery gear enter with machine-pistols, spraying off a clip. One says "Now do I have your attention?". Then the two remove their outer clothes, the music starts and it does turn out to be the fashion show. Then one of the models gets electrocuted- which is definitely not part of the show and no-one thinks it is.
- An episode of Wizards of Waverly Place features an actual faerie appearing on stage during Justin's production of Peter Pan to chastise Alex's dismal performance of Tinkerbell. The audience is flummoxed. Max reviews the play lauding Justin's creative direction of Tinkerbell "fighting herself," saving Justin's college recommendation.
- On Cheers, Diane and crazy Andy are performing Othello when Andy really begins to strangle Diane. She struggles, causing the present acting scout to exclaim, "I love it! A Desdemona who fights back!"
- In an episode of Goodnight Sweetheart Gary is acting in a play and falls down drunk. His friend Ron comes onstage and says "Ladies and Gentlemen, Gary Sparrow has been under a lot of stress recently" cut to an audience member saying "Its a bit too avant-garde for my tastes."
- In the Community episode Contemporary Impressionists the crowd thinks that Jeff's angry onstage outburst (complete with him ripping his shirt) is him doing an impression of The Hulk.
- Curb Your Enthusiasm: Larry David's performance in Mel Brooks' production of The Producers, when he forgets his lines and proceeds to perform an off-the-cuff standup routine and break the fourth wall
- Inverted in an episode of Blackadder, where Prince George believes that everything that happens on stage is real, and attempts to have the actors arrested for murder whenever a character is stabbed on stage. Played straight when Prince George finally grasps the nature of theatrical illusion... only to believe that a bomb thrown at him by an interrupting anarchist is part of the show.
- In the Supernatural episode "The Real Ghostbusters", a LARP ghosthunt turns bad when real ghosts show up — but the players don't realize straight away that the proceedings have gone off-script, with one of them even going so far as to mock the ghosts for being unrealistic.
- Inverted in an episode of The Golden Girls, where the girls are attending a murder mystery weekend. As Dorothy attempts to solve the case, Sophia makes numerous snide remarks. When the fed-up Dorothy promptly grabs her and puts a knife to her throat, ostensibly to demonstrate how the murder would have taken place, a frightened Sophie yelps to the other diners, "Not part of the show, people! Not part of the show!"
- Maya's murder mystery party in Just Shoot Me!. Her neighbour, Professor Gladstone, suddenly dies, and everyone, thinking it's part of the show, stays in character, even after the police arrive.
- On the subject of Pagliacci, that itself is an example of this trope: The second scene is devoted to the actor playing Pagliaccio (a clown) confronting his wife about her lover in the middle of a performance of the show within a show, while the audience praises the play. It culminates in him murdering them both, and ends just as the audience starts to realise what happened with perhaps one of the most famous lines in opera: "La commedia è finita!" ("The comedy is over"). Leoncavallo even claimed it was based on a true story, no less.
- There's also various stories based on this sort of thing happening during an opera - one of Agatha Christie's involves Tosca, with the actor playing Scarpia getting Killed for Real (and it turning out the soprano was so good at Tosca because her life had parallels to it).
- In this version of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, the battle between the pirates and the policemen spills onto the stage of a production of H.M.S. Pinafore. Some audience members perk up, others frown and check their playbills.
- One guy getting beat down by 2, 3, or 8 other guys? People using trash cans, steel chairs, and sledgehammers on each other? All part of the show. Someone's bleeding profusely ("the crimson mask")? Probably part of the show, unless it's late-2000's onward WWE, then it's an accident.
- Averted whenever a referee makes a certain signal indicating to medical personnel and other officials that an injury suffered in the match is legit and not part of the act. Often, when fans see wrestlers behaving in certain ways — such as the opposing wrestler seeming upset when the opponent he just trash-talked in an interview a few minutes earlier is in real pain or has stopped moving for real — they'll realize that what's going on in the ring is real. If the incident happens during a live televised event, the announcers will emphasize clearly that the incident was not part of the night's planned events; such happened when Owen Hart was fatally injured during a live pay-per-view event (after a failed stunt) and when Jerry Lawler suffered a heart attack while doing play-by-play commentary on live television.
- One possible explanation for Buddy Rogers' health playing into his losing the WWWF World Championship to Bruno Sammartino in a May 1963 match that famously lasted 48 seconds. The story has always been that Rogers suffered a mild heart attack not long before his scheduled match with Sammartino. Sammartino, in latter-day interviews, claimed that Rogers was in excellent health and that he was simply unwilling to cooperate with promoters who had booked Sammartino to win the match. The lack of existing records from that time, plus the strict maintenance of kayfabe from that era and the fact that many of the other key players including Rogers are either deceased (Rogers died in 1992) or in poor health, has made unclear whether Rogers' health was all show or if he legitimately had suffered a heart attack.
- This is one of the stranger methods suggested for getting people to believe in your magic in Mage: The Ascension: set up cameras and make it look like you're filming, and it'll all be attributed to special effects.
- In Mage: The Awakening, this is actually a special power of the Legacy known as The Blank Badges. Their third Attainment allows them to literally explain away Paradox, with explanations ranging from "We're filming a movie" to "We're doing a pyrotechnics demo" to the utterly blatant "We're calling down magic from the Supernal Realms."
- Dragon Blooded Exalted possess Charms that allow them to force people to interpret local violence as just a form of elaborate performance.
- In the Ironclaw adventure "The Wages of Envy" it's stated that any fighting the PC's do in an opera house will be taken by the wealthy, somewhat sheltered nobles in the audience as part of the show. Even the villain firing an organ gun on stage will be seen as mere "opera grotesque."
- Vaclav Havel's Temptation, an adaptation of the Faust story set in Communist Czechoslovakia, subverts this trope. It ends with one of the actors catching fire following what appears to be a special effects accident, at which point firefighters run up onto the stage and put it out.
- Real life example and possible inversion: Warner Le Roy's play Between Two Thieves concerns a small traveling company of Jewish and Christian actors who "improvise" a trial debating the life, works, and existence of Christ. At several points in the play the discussion onstage becomes so heated that members of the audience stand up and join in the argument. Of course, all of these audience members are plants, actors who are part of the play (and the whole thing is completely scripted), but during productions it's not uncommon for actual audience members to stand up and begin making comments as well, requiring the actors to, in turn, actually begin improvising in order to address the real audience member's point in such a way as to get him or her to sit back down, then steer things back the the script. Ironically, the better the actors are the more likely unscripted audience participation is, because they're more like to think it's not All Part of the Show and feel free to break in as well.
- Invoked in the "ride" Stitch's Great Escape, wherein the conceit is that the audience is going to a presentation of a dangerous alien creature who "escapes" after the audience is securely strapped into their seats. Said creature then bounces around the auditorium in absolute darkness, menacing the guests as the security team tries frantically to corral it, all the while assuring the trapped audience that everything is fine, it's all part of the show, please don't panic.
- In the first scene of Show Boat, when a jealous Steve assaults Pete in full view of the town's finest, Captain Andy tells them it's just another preview of the melodrama he's presenting (having already introduced Steve as the leading man).
- Played with in a stage show by Rob Newman and David Baddiel which ends with the two comedians coming back on stage, sitting down and telling the audience that the show's over and they can leave. Obviously nobody knows what to do at this point.
- Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time: Sarah Connor warns the audience multiple times to leave before the building is destroyed. Take a guess how many audience members actually leave.
- In the intro to Brütal Legend, a giant fire monster attacks in the middle of a concert. The crowd seems to think a Heavy Metal Physical God bearing the likeness of a stage prop showing up, killing the Linkin Park-like band, and threatening a roadie is all part of the act. The crowd goes absolutely wild with joy, jumping, screaming and throwing Devil Horns in approval as he roars and spews flame everywhere. It's the game's first Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- The opera scene in Final Fantasy VI culminates in an on-stage battle that begins when the heroes and the monster, Ultros, fall out of the rafters and onto the stage. Having previously promised not to ruin the show, Locke attempts to play the battle as part of the performance (although he turns out to be a hilariously bad actor). And for his part, the conductor plays along and leads the orchestra for a special Boss Theme. At the culmination of the fight, Setzer shows up out of nowhere and abducts Celes, and the entire main cast pursues — leaving the opera house director, whose show has been completely derailed, with no option but to promise the audience the plot will be resolved in "Part Two".
- At the beginning of Final Fantasy IX, the Tantalus theatre troupe stages a production of "I Want to Be Your Canary", as part of a plan to kidnap Princess Garnet. Four of the game's eight player characters accidentally end up on-stage (which is actually the deck of an airship) in the middle of the performance. Although the characters play along at first, the performance eventually falls apart, with Steiner attempting to thwart the "kidnapping", Tantalus attempting to fly the ship away, and Queen Brahne ordering weapons fired at the ship.
- In Final Fantasy VIII, the crowd present for the parade in Sorceress Edea's honor continues to cheer and celebrate while Edea delivers a scathing New Era Speech, murders the president right at the podium and assumes control of the country, is attacked by a team of assassins at the end of the parade and defeats them by impaling their leader with a spike of ice through the chest. It's hinted, although never actually stated, that Edea's magic is influencing the crowd's behavior.
- In a flashback in the same game, Laguna and his friends Kiros and Ward are shown taking roles in a movie because they've run out of money. Kiros and Ward are supposed to operate a Ruby Dragon costume for Laguna, playing the hero, to fight; a real dragon wanders onto the set instead, forcing Laguna to fend it off with his prop gunblade while his co-star runs for it.
- In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Klavier Gavin is holding the concert when the guitar he's using - a gift from the guest star he's performing with - suddenly bursts into flame. However, the words sung at that moment were "Burn my life away, all away", so everyone in the audience thought it was part of the show. Klavier, meanwhile, was pretty ticked off over it.
- A different version from usual: in the first game, a young boy witnesses a murder, believing what he's seeing is a hero and a villain of a TV show fighting. This fact is reflected on the suspect and the victim being the actors who play the hero and the villain. In addition, the murder weapon was at first thought to be the weapon the hero always uses in the show.
- In Hitman: Blood Money, there is a mission set at the Paris Opera House where some actors are rehearsing Tosca. You have the option of replacing the prop pistol with a real pistol so that your target, the lead singer, is killed for real during the execution scene. Naturally, it takes a while for the audience watching the rehearsal to realize it wasn't part of the show.
- A mission to Club Hell in Las Vegas features one of your targets dancing on a small balcony rigged with flame projects, hanging just above a massive shark tank. You have the option of rigging the pyrotechnics to set her ablaze: after wasting precious time rolling about on the floor, she hurls herself off the balcony and into the tank, where she becomes a barbecued meal for a hungry White Pointer. All throughout this, the partygoers are applauding.
- The second mission in The 3rd Birthday has a massive Twisted (a weird monster from beyond time and space) warping into existence above a rock concert, right from the stage. It grabs a few audience members and nobody reacts until they realize the blood spurting from the portal is real.
- In Final Fantasy XIII, the heroes and their eidolons make a dramatic entrance in the middle of a parade. It's initially viewed by the crowd as a stunt, like the re-enactment battle seen earlier in the game...until they see Snow's Pulse l'Cie brand and start panicking.
- The In Medias Res concert opening of Final Fantasy X-2 has Rikku and Paine crash the performance and provoke LeBlanc — using Yuna's Songstress Dressphere to take on her appearance — to battle them. The audience's continued cheering and waving indicates that they think it's all a part of the act.
- In Star-Crossed Myth, the planetarium where the Player Character works puts on an event for the Star Festival When a group of fabulously handsome, strangely-dressed men approach the protagonist and one of them makes it rain stardust, onlookers take it as a performance being staged for the event - even the protagonist's coworker Hiyori, who as an employee of the planetarium should know that no such thing was planned.
- In this Sluggy Freelance strip, a Russian mobster shoots someone in the middle of a nightclub, then goes, "Zat shot was part of ze song you vere dancing to! Look how your violent American music has made a man your parents' age faint!" Cue resounding cheers from the club patrons.
- In this Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures strip, Dan picks up an Incubus bear that Aaryanna tried to give him to make him behave himself. He asks it, rhetorically, what he should do with it—whereupon a loud, creepy-sounding voice answers, "YOU SHALL SURRENDER TO THE DARKNESS!" It turns out that the rats are playing a video game, and they have it hooked up to surround sound. (Interestingly enough, Potophie comments that Dan's screams "sound almost real!")
- The punchline of several strips worth of fighting a cage-clank (along with Zeetha being stripped down to her underwear, again) in Girl Genius has Gilgamesh attempt to explain to the locals... who toss a bunch of coins at him, clearly thinking that this was all just an act. Notably, Gil actually seems to be willing to play along to get the crowd to come with him.
- In The End, when an improperly cloaked alien spaceship parks in the middle of a city, it's taken for a sideshow at the Sci Fi/Fantasy convention it just happened to have landed next to.
- In The Wotch, during the school dance party, Ming is announcing the big surprise she planned. Meanwhile, Anne and Ms. West are arguing in the bathroom. Also meanwhile, Cassie is struggling to summon magic in the woods nearby. Simultaneously, Cassie's power peaks, Anne snaps her fingers, and Ming yells "Surprise!" Things don't go as planned.
- While Ming is yelling "Nobody panic", s/he is clearly the only one panicking. The rest of the students love it, and one pair goes and makes out under the bleachers.
- In Survival of the Fittest, unable to admit that they could not catch the terrorists behind the tragedy, the US government convinces the American public that the show they watched, where teenagers murdered each other, was just that: a show, designed for shock value and drama. This works, until V2 of Survival Of The Fittest starts, and the public realize they were lied to.
- A positive version occurs in the backstory of Curveball. Liberty and Curveball are having a little disagreement, and wind up falling through a skylight and into a Bar Mitzvah. Thanks to some quick improvising on the part of both Liberty and the father of the boy, nobody else even realizes that it was an accident.
- See Fatal Method Acting for real life incidents involving death on stage.
- Redd Foxx died of a heart attack while at rehearsals for his then new sitcom, The Royal Family. Infamously, everyone thought Foxx was reprising his "I'm coming, 'Lizabeth" comedy routine from Sanford and Son and didn't realize anything was amiss until after he had lost consciousness for some time and didn't respond to requests to get up.
- Health food enthusiast Jerome Rodale died onstage during a taping of The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. Rodale had been Cavett's first guest, and he remained on the guest couch when newspaper columnist Pete Hamill came on as the second guest. Rodale made a loud snoring sound and his head fell back. Hamill said "This looks bad", and the audience laughed. Legend has it that Cavett said “Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?”, but Cavett denies this. The episode was being taped, and thus never aired.
- A particularly grim example: when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, some astronauts' family members watching on TV thought it was a second-stage rocket ignition and cheered. Probably a lot of therapy time devoted to that topic.
- In one tragic incident, an accident with pyrotechnics lit the ceiling of a Rhode Island club on fire during a performance by the band Great White. The performers didn't notice for a while, and the audience thought it was all part of the show. Eventually, the band noticed and fled, the crowd panicked, and the club collapsed, resulting in the deaths of over 100 people.
- In 1987, comedian Dick Shawn was playing a politician reciting cliches. One of them was "If elected, I will not lie down on the job." He then fell down and didn't get up. The audience thought it was part of his act. When he didn't get up, there were actually catcalls from people who thought he was dragging it out too long. Finally someone went on stage, examined him and said "Is There a Doctor in the House?"? Another audience member performed CPR on him, but it was to no avail. The audience didn't know if the people coming on stage to examine him were part of the act or not. They weren't: he died of a massive heart attack on stage. There is sad irony in the fact that he had played Lorenzo St. DuBois (the actor playing Hitler) in the scene in The Producers described above.
- This story is about a Viennese actor who nearly died onstage after stabbing himself in the throat with a knife that he thought had been blunted. The audience, thinking the spraying blood was just really good special effects, began to applaud. It was only after he collapsed and wouldn't get up that they began to suspect something was wrong.
- A lot of Andy Kaufman's work was based on making his audiences wonder if what he was doing was for real or not; when people learned he was dying of cancer, more than a few simply thought it was an act. He died in 1984, but some still think He's Just Hiding.
- An actor playing Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar" was supposed to have fake hung himself, and everyone clapped when he actually had his windpipe crushed, and didn't realize what was going on until the actors all dropped their roles and ran to try to untie the ropes.
- At Burning Man in 2007, a man hanged himself inside a two-story tent. His friends thought that it was performance art.
- Stage magician Chung Ling Soo (actually an American in yellowface) was famous for the trick where he would appear to stop a bullet with his teeth. In his last show, the act went wrong and a real bullet got fired into his chest, and he expired with the line: "Oh my God. Something's happened. Lower the curtain", the first and last time he spoke English on stage in his Chinese persona.
- Former AC/DC singer Bon Scott said he saw current lead singer Brian Johnson perform with his band once. Bon Scott enjoyed the performance because at the end, Johnson started rolling around and screaming. "And to top it all - you couldn't get a better ending - they wheeled the guy off!", said Bon Scott. He thought it was all part of the show, but what really happened was that Brian had appendicitis.
- British comedian Tommy Cooper died of a heart attack during a performance on live television. The audience thought his falling down was part of the act and laughed, until they realized he was seriously ill.
- Part of the reason Per Yngve "Dead" Ohlin's suicidal behavior went untreated was that most Mayhem shows featured gore and self-mutilation routinely. When Dead slashed his wrists and almost bled to death in one show, the audience assumed that once again he had meant to simply draw blood from elsewhere. It also didn't help that fellow bandmate Euronymous wanted Dead's self-mutilation to go to even more ridiculous lengths to build Mayhem's reputation and infamy, and he lied frequently about the state of Dead's mental health to prevent intervention as well as frequently egging him on.
- The military uses the phrase "Real world" in order to avert this during drills. Anything that is not part of the drill will be declared "Real world".
- If there is a real emergency (like an injured soldier) during a training exercise with the Canadian Forces, they'll immediately call out "No Duff No Duff No Duff" which tells everyone that said emergency is not part of the exercise and that real assistance is needed.
- During the Century 16 massacre in Aurora, Colorado, where a man shot up a movie theater during the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, many moviegoers initially thought it was a stunt pulled by the theater to promote the film. It didn't help that the shooting took place in the middle of a battle scene.
- In order to avoid this, many Renaissance Festivals give their employees/in-character actors a code word to say if something is really wrong, so the security people (many of whom are in costume themselves) know what is an act and what isn't.
- A very major reason that assassin John Wilkes Booth escaped the night he killed Abraham Lincoln. After the gunshot fired, muffled by the sound of laughter from the play, John jumped of the balcony they were on and broke his foot. The audience thought it was part of the production. Probably the only reason he managed to escape, because it was a play.
- A Moroccan filmmaker making a movie about illegal immigration hired some locals to serve as extras. The actors were supposed to be playing young Moroccans who illegally cross the Strait of Gibraltar in rickety boats in the hope of starting a better life in Europe. Unfortunately, filming had to be canceled after all 70 of them fled across the Strait for real only a few days before filming was supposed to start.