Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults
"You can hear everything if you're in there long enough."
Whether it's a school, office, courtroom or even space ship
, people love to Trash Talk
about co-workers, peers or "the plan
" in bathrooms. Of course, who else
should be sitting quietly in the stall nearby than the person being discussed
The usual set up for this goes like so:
Alex is doing his business in a stall, when who should walk in but Charlie and Bob. Both of them start trash-talking Alex. Their conversation might not even be mean spirited, but simply flaws they wouldn't bring up in person that burst Alex's bubble
. Or they assume that he's not out there and feel they can talk without consequences
. After an earful, Alex will likely do one of four things:
- Sit quietly, wait for Bob and Charlie to leave and cry in the stall, so that Dan can come to console him.
- Wait for Bob and Charlie to leave, then storm out angrily while plotting revenge, or,
- Storm out and accuse Bob and Charlie of being two-faced, or,
- If Alex is Alice. Yell at Bob and Charlie for being in the women's bathroom, then run out red-faced as she realizes she's in the men's bathroom.
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- In the UK, there was an ad for a financial planning service that showed two men in an office bathroom talking about a colleague's forthcoming redundancy (which he hadn't been informed about yet.) He comes out of an occupied bathroom stall, but because of his financial plan he remains unfazed, leading the other men to wonder if he has heard something about their jobs.
- In Digimon Adventure, Taichi and Agumon talk about Ogremon in the bathroom of a "hotel" they stay at. In this case, Ogremon merely suppresses giggles as he is about to ambush them.
- Played with in Slam Dunk. Hisashi Mitsui is just done taking a dump right before the Shoyo match and overhears one of the Shoyo players saying out loud that Mitsui will only score five points in the game. An upset Mitsui gets outta the stall to find out who unknowingly insulted his skills, but only sees the player's back (just enough to know he wears the #5 jersey). He still takes it in the It's Personal way, and when he finally remembers who is the guy who said crap about him (his old rival Kazushi Hasegawa, who unlike others knows Mitsui is an ex-delinquent), he engages in a sports duel with him.
- In Eden of the East, the main character Saki overhears two employees gossiping about the idiot that sat in the lunch room for two hours after a job interview, so the company had someone spill soup on her to get her to leave... while she is cleaning off the soup that someone spilled on her.
- Gash Bell: A delinquent threatening Gash tells him Kiyomaro won't save him because he thinks everyone else isn't worth spit, which is true enough to demoralize Kiyomaro. It then becomes an inversion when Gash forcefully declares his faith in Kiyo. But this doesn't happen in a bathroom but instead Kiyomaro is hiding behind the door to the school roof but he is supposed to be in bathroom instead of listening. He only makes his entrance when Gash gets imaginative explaining what could be taking him so long.
- Bunny Drop had Daikichi just about to enter the bathroom when he hears employees from the department he's about to transfer out of badmouth him and say he's abandoning them. Daikichi considers calling them out and knows he's well within his rights to but decides to just let it drop.
- Bitter Virgin had a variation of the concept - Yuzu overheard Kazuki bullying Aikawa from behind a bathroom stall.
- In Kimi ni Todoke, this is how rumours are found out about. Sawako's first appearance is in the girl's bathroom, even.
- In With The Light, Sachiko is in a bathroom stall when she overhears two parents complaining about a disruption caused by one of Hikaru's panics.
- While by a vending machine, Onodera Ritsu of Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi overhears his co-workers talking about him benefiting from nepotism which promptly leads him to quit.
Film — Animated
- In Monsters, Inc.. Randall almost catches Sulley and Mike with Boo hiding in the bathroom when his lackey Fungus shows him the newspaper story of the kid entering the monster world. From Randall and Fungus' dialogue, Sulley learns that Randall is working on some sort of machine. (Not an overheard insult really, but close enough to merit a mention.)
Film — Live Action
- It happens in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Well, it's a boat, and there's a kiss, but the gist of it is, Will sees Elizabeth kiss Jack and proceeds to act like a teenage girl afterwards.
- The third kind happens in She's The Man.
- Happens at the fan convention in Galaxy Quest.
- In Trading Places, the Duke Brothers conclude their bet in the executive washroom, revealing their ploy to Eddie Murphy, who is in a stall. One of the Dukes even drops an N-bomb, revealing the brothers to be not just scumbags, but racist scumbags.
- In the movie Scream (1996), Sidney goes to the bathroom and hears two classmates speculate in the stalls on how she may be the killer. Actually, it's one classmate — the other is against that idea and calls it "pathetic," a conclusion that Sidney draws when she leaves the bathroom.
- In the adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing in ShakespeaRe-Told, Beatrice, sitting on the toilet smoking a cigarette, overhears her friends gossiping about how she really can't afford to be so rude to men considering how unattractive she is.
- A Double Subversion appears in 9 to 5: early in the movie, Violet advises Judy to check the bathroom stalls before gossiping in the ladies' room, lest Roz, the boss' prime stooge, be listening in. Later in the film, Violet, Judy, and Doralee discuss Violet's accidental near-poisoning of their boss, after Violet assures the others that she's already checked the stalls for Roz's shoes. Cut to Roz in one of the stalls with her feet pulled up out of view, taking notes on a roll of toilet paper.
- Used in RoboCop (1987) when young corporate upstart Bob Morton mocks Corrupt Corporate Executive Dick Jones, claiming his reputation of being utterly ruthless is just "a smokescreen." Not only does Dick then confront him (after everyone else has fled the bathroom in fear), but he later has Morton brutally murdered in his home.
- Happens to Kate Bosworth's character in Blue Crush, where she overhears random women referring to her rich football-player boyfriend as a guy who likes to slum. The girl who looks embarrassed to be caught gossiping gets her shoes.
- In The Great Outdoors, Dan Akroyd's character claims to have overheard John Candy's character drunkenly insult in him in a bathroom, but the story is actually a lie used to guilt Candy into giving him money.
- At the end of The Emperor's Club, the grown-up Sedgewick Bell cheats at a rematch of a trivia contest he's already cheated at the first time around, when he was a kid at school. His old teacher, who thought he'd changed, confronts him about it in the bathroom afterwards and he starts babbling away about how no one cares about morals in the real world, nice guys finish last, etc. A toilet flushes and Sedgewick's young son emerges from the stall, thoroughly disillusioned.
- In a movie called Sorority Row two of the girls start talking about the dead friend no one was supposed to know about in the middle of the bathroom. Surprisingly, they weren't alone. All this led to the death of the unlucky eavesdropper.
- Odd Girl Out: In this Lifetime original movie, a large group of teens, after one has seen Vanessa in a bathroom stall, are insulting her while Vanessa is hiding in the stall.
- Lean on Me. The mayor and the fire code director discuss how to get the principal out of his position in the bathroom. A teacher (a nerdy white guy no less) manages to avoid being caught by keeping his feet off the floor and make it appear no one is in the bathroom but them.
- She's All That: Dean Sampson tells his friends of his plan to score with Laney, unaware that her best friend Jesse is in the stall listening.
- In S1m0ne, when Victor Taransky is in the cinema bathroom washing his face after the screening of Sunrise Sunset, he overhears three guys commenting that the film was "artificial", and he assumes they are talking about S1m0ne and leaves the bathroom. It's revealed they're talking about the period setting of the film, and did enjoy Simone's performance.
- Harry Potter
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has a case of "Bathroom Stall of Overheard Death". Moaning Myrtle overheard Tom Riddle open the way to the Chamber of Secrets in parseltongue, but when she opened the door to confront him over being in the girls bathroom she ended up killed by the basilisk's deadly gaze.
- Later in Half-Blood Prince, Hermione overhears Romilda Vane and others talking about slipping Harry a love potion in the girls bathroom.
- In one of Robin Jones Gunn's Christy Miller books, Christy is in the bathroom when she overhears the popular girls who've been trying to win her over discussing (between bathroom stalls) the fact that they've been lying about smuggling liquor on a high school ski trip, and are using Christy as their dupe.
- In The Clique, Dylan feels the need to gossip about the two stars of a movie at a TV talk show set. The only problem? The co-host's mic was on in the bathroom and everybody heard it.
- In one of the Baby Sitters Club books, Claudia is accused of cheating on a math test that she did well on. Later, while sitting in the bathroom, the girl she supposedly cheated off of comes in with her friends. Claudia over hears her bragging about cheating since she knew Claudia's genius sister had been helping her study.
- In the book katie.com, Katie hears two girls gossiping about her in the bathroom, one girl claiming that she saw a positive pregnancy test belonging to her, and another claiming Katie aborted the child with a coat-hanger. (Neither of which are true, of course.)
- What Happened to Lani Garver features the protagonist in a bathroom overhearing others non-malevolently referring to her as "that cancer girl".
- In little-known novel Lee's Vine the main character, Lee hangs out in the toilets during lesson times specifically to overhear this kind of stuff and put it on his blog.
- In Lois Duncan's Don't Look Behind You, April/Valerie ducks out of the movie the kids are seeing and visits the bathroom. While she's in there, two girls from the group come in gossiping about her, take the stalls on either side of the one she's in, and continue to talk. Despite the theater only showing one movie and having one set of restrooms, and despite a stall being occupied when they come in right after they saw April/Valerie leave the single theater, it never occurs to them that they might want to be discreet.
- In the book Middle School Blues, main character Cindy sees the principal making out with the English teacher, and immediately drags her best friend Becca into the bathroom to tell her about what she'd seen. Someone in the stalls overhears them and spreads the news throughout the school, causing both Cindy and Becca to get in trouble. This leads to Cindy creating her "Middle School Survival Rule #5: Don't tell secrets in the restroom."
- A variant in All The Weyrs Of Pern: Jaxom and Sebell get a drunk friend to the toilets just in time, and Jaxom stays with the now passed-out drunk while Sebell goes to get assistance. While in the stall, Jaxom overhears some men plotting his "accidental death".
- The titular character of Audrey, Wait! overhears her ex-boyfriend's band's manager trash-talking them in a bathroom stall just before she goes live on television. As Audrey comments in her narration, it's easy to ask why a character on TV or in a book that overhears something like this doesn't do anything about it, but it real life, you'd probably freeze up and be unable to do much about it, too.
- In a Sweet Valley Twins book, Alpha Bitch Lila Fowler and one of her co-conspirators discuss the underhanded lengths that they are going to to keep tomboy Amy Sutton off of the school's cheerleading squad, including sending her and her friend Ken Matthews (who's trying out for the basketball team) letters, supposedly from each other, that deride each person's plans and abilities. After they leave, an infuriated Elizabeth Wakefield, Amy's best friend, comes out of one of the stalls, obviously having overheard everything.
Live Action TV
- Ally McBeal. Just... Ally McBeal.
- And, even better, that was a unisex bathroom, so characters could overhear characters of the opposite sex as well (in nearly every freaking episode). With a unisex bathroom and a cluelessly misogynistic boss in an office full of mostly female lawyers, one expects they'd be drowning in sexual harassment suits.
- It gets to a point where characters automatically check the stalls when they go in there to have a private conversation. Once Ally did this to find the secretary had pulled her legs up.
- And co-owner of the firm had even built himself a secret room behind one of the stalls! Sure, he used it just to have a place to think about stuff by himself, but that still doesn't change the fact that the compartment would have been some serious lawsuit-material if a client or coworker ever sat in that stall while the guy got out...
- Twisted in the 2000s Battlestar Galactica; Laura Roslin asks Baltar to become her vice president upon a chance encounter in one of Cloud Nine's bathroom. After their conversation, it's revealed that one of Baltar's groupies was waiting for him in a stall. Did we mention that the Galactica has co-ed bathrooms?
- She wasn't "waiting". They were having sex when Roslin entered. Did we mention she is a reporter? Talk about a scoop.
- Later, in the final season Boomer, while escaping Galactica, knocks Athena out and dresses up as her, then leaves her bound and gagged in a bathroom stall. Helo shows up, wanting to give Athena a "gift" before she goes on a six-day recon. Athena wakes up just in time to watch the show.
- My So-Called Life: In the bathroom, two girls debate (well, one talks and the other tries to respond, but gets word stampeded) on whether to tell the main character something really shocking, when who should walk in on the debate but...the main character.
- Seinfeld does an odd variation with Jerry's deaf girlfriend.
- In the pilot of Slings and Arrows, Oliver overhears a gay couple in the next stall giggling about how old he is.
- Okay, it wasn't in a TV episode, but in the online comic of Heroes this happens to Candice during her backstory, back when she was in high school and less than pretty.
- Veronica Mars has the girls' bathroom at Neptune High being Veronica's "office" - unfortunately, this doesn't stop other girls from coming in and trash-talking her occasionally (as befits her status as the local outcast).
- In Plain Sight: a bit of an inversion. Marshall is guarding a witness who's using the bathroom. From inside the stall, the witness starts complaining about Mary. Unbeknownst to him, while he's ranting, Mary has quietly come up to the open bathroom door and heard everything.
- In Crossing Jordan, Nigel and Bug are caught gossiping about their coworkers on countless occasions, usually by the object of said gossip.
- Scrubs has an interesting variation. Elliot winds up in the men's room because the women's room is out of order. While in the stall she overhears Dr. Kelso talking on his cellphone and complaining about how her public revealing of his age has caused the hospital board to force him to retire. Elliot resolves to help him keep his job, but he claims he doesn't want her help. Later on she learns that cellphones can't get reception in that particular bathroom, and that the conversation was a ruse, Kelso's way of indirectly pleading for her help.
- He also informs her she shouldn't be proud of the 9.2 butt rating she had received in the stall. It was out of 100.
- In an episode of Full House, the entire family has a secret meeting in DJ's room to complain about Danny's neat freak sensibilities. Little did they know that Danny was in DJ's closet the whole time installing shelf paper.
- In the second season premiere of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles a T-1001 disguises herself as a urinal to eavesdrop on men's room gossip. The person who insults her doesn't live very long.
- Important Things With Demetri Martin takes this to the extreme, with two guys using urinals discussing their co-workers. As they bring up their names, the camera cuts to said co-worker (or boss!) in one of the stalls. The last stall has a pimp with two prostitutes, flashing lights and techno music. Another stall has the entirety of Cirque du Soleil in it.
- More than once on Cheers.
- In an episode of NewsRadio, Dave ducks under his desk for a moment to fix the phone line. One of his underlings sees the empty desk and assumes Dave to be out of the office. Before Dave has a chance to make his presence known, the entire staff has gathered in his office to let out some steam by mocking and criticizing him.
- In Hannah Montana, Miley Stewart defies this trope by checking for feet under the doors before talking about stuff pertaining to her life as Hannah.
- An amusing variant in the pilot of City Homicide: Detective Jen Mapplethorpe is reassigned to Homicide under a different superior, DSS Sparkes, who quickly reveals how much he respects her by assigning her to filing and getting him coffee. She walks into the bathroom complaining aloud about Sparkes, only to be overheard by his superior, Superintendant Waverley, in the bathroom stall. Waverley privately agrees with her, resulting in Jen returning to Stanley's squad.
- Happens on a semi-regular basis in Waterloo Road, as lampshaded in the page quote.
- Variation: In Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Simon and Tom leave the room to discuss how Simon is so good at handling reporters and mention everything they don't want Martha, the reporter in the room, to know. When they walk back in, she reveals Simon was still wearing his microphone, and asks for more information.
- Cra$h & Burn had a very deliberate aversion. Jimmy is Genre Savvy enough to know that in his office coworkers would gladly eavesdrop on bathroom conversations and backstab you with the information. When he has to talk to Papo in the bathroom he opens every bathroom stall to make sure that it does not happen. The topic of their conversation could not only get them fired and thrown in jail but also likely killed
- Used to good effect in Cagney & Lacey. As the only women in the precinct, they had private conversations in the Ladies' Room in every episode. On the day they were giving a famous actress a ride-along, naturally they're in the bathroom when discussing how annoying and phony she is. This was probably the first time in the show's history that their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a toilet flushing.
- The number of times where high-level political intrigue is discussed in the loo on The Thick of It would seem to make this a natural conclusion...but the only time it actually happens is in a deleted scene, where Malcolm invokes the trope (he says he sends junior press officers to "collect urinal intelligence" while "harnessing the power of the Third Eye").
- A Mad TV skit had two bitchy woman complaining about a co-worker. When they realize that she's in one of the stalls, they resolve to kill her because they can't bear the embarrassment. Again, they fail to realize that she can hear them. She quickly disguises herself with toilet paper (a literal Paper-Thin Disguise) and sneaks out.
- Inverted on ER. Although two people are musing about a coworker's erratic behavior, they are genuinely concerned, rather than being derisive. But when said coworker drops a syringe, thus revealing her presence in the bathroom, it's she who is embarrassed, realizing that it now looks like her behavior is the result of drug use. (it isn't)
- CSI NY: A girl hiding a bathroom stall who overhears two cheerleaders insulting her becomes a vital plot point in "Do or Die".
- House of Anubis: The bathrooms in this series tend to be used as places for drama, and so this trope came into play at least once. At one point, Amber was in the stall when Patricia and Mara were talking about her relationship with Mick, and she ended up overhearing that Mara, her best friend, had a crush on Mick- her boyfriend- and then Mara went on to say that Amber and Mick had nothing in common. It wasn't exactly an insult, but Amber did see it as a betrayal and was pretty hurt by it.
- Happened in the first of the Purple Moon games, and again in the books.
- In the Truth path of Misao, the title character overhears several girls talking about her, laughing about an embarrassing message that was posted up on the bulletin board. One of the girls defends her, and is nice to Misao after she comes out. However, Misao is still upset after they leave, because she's sure Saotome was the one who posted the text in the first place.
- A variation occurred in one episode of As Told by Ginger: Macie overheard two high school girls plotting to deface Courtney at a party.
- Played straight in another episode, wherein the titular Ginger overhears Courtney and Miranda gossiping about how Miranda wants to hook up with Ginger's friend Darren, and that "[Ginger] will be the first to go".
- The Simpsons seems to have at least one of these in each of its 20+ seasons.
- Hey Arnold! uses this one with Helga a few times (and Phoebe). The first one being School Play when Helga decides that she wants to be Juliet in School Play, then later done twice in April Fools Day between Helga, Phoebe and Gerald.
- In Archer, the bathroom is a common place for secrets to be overheard and Zany Schemes to be plotted.
- In the Arthur special Arthur, It's Only Rock and Roll, this is how Francine finds out that she's not popular since quitting the band.
- The scene in Galaxy Quest was supposedly based on something that actually happened to Shatner at a Star Trek convention.
- McGill University has a tradition of writing insults or other facts concerning the elusive and mysterious Sean Turner on bathroom walls.
- In general, this can become Truth in Television for you if you're not very, very careful...
- Especially in the age of cell phones. People seem to love chatting on them while doing their thing.