Memetic Bystander

All shows need to have extras. Whether they're the Faceless Masses or a Cast of Snowflakes, everything needs to have some way to show the main characters are not the only people existing in the world (unless, of course, that's the point). But every now and then, someone will stand out... and all of a sudden they become incredibly popular for whatever reason. They may be endowed with a Fan Nickname, and a whole backstory and personality may be extrapolated... from just one character, with few or no lines and highly limited appearances.

The fandom may latch onto these characters because they are either a Recurring Extra or a One-Scene Wonder. If the creators of the work get wind of this phenomenon, the character may become an Ascended Extra. Compare the Ensemble Darkhorse, who is a popular minor character instead of a background character. Can overlap with Memetic Badass, but not all the time.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The reporter in Death Note who, knowing full well what the consequences were, gave out his name and face after denouncing Kira.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, as Rossiu announces Simon's execution, a man can be seen in the crowd giving a Bicep-Polishing Gesture. However, due to cultural differences the Western audience interpreted as the man giving an "up-yours" gesture. Dubbed Bruce Ironstaunch, this man became the vent of viewer's hate to Rossiu.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has Poorfag-chan, a girl in the protagonists' class taking notes in a notebook. This was only picked up because everyone else in this particularly fancy school was using laptops. After many threads on a certain Image Board, she became an incredibly optimistic young girl despite her horrendous living circumstances. She is somewhat ditzy and takes whatever the world throws at her with good grace.
    • A lesser example is Clip Girl, another random student that some fans picked up on because she was looking at Homura. Fans decided that Clip Girl had a crush.
    • Let's not forget "Failurefag", a boy who sits in the seat right before Madoka's, who is seen leaning on his desk in apparent despair.
      • Note that they're only Memetic Bystanders to the American audience. The Japanese fanbase is (mostly) unaware of them.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has the "Aquarium Lady", who, despite having less than two minutes of screen time and doing nothing of real relevance to the plot, is widely shipped with Mako Tsunami (when he's not being shipped with Ocean, that is.)
  • Inazuma Eleven has Masaru Gojou, midfielder for Teikoku, who has never gotten a single line, never even referred to by name (the only reason his name is even known is because the games have individual data for each and every one of the 1000+ characters, including a name and short bio), and his face seems to be permanently frozen in one facial expression best described as "you might wanna draw your curtains." The Memetic Mutation seems to have stemmed from said face.
    • And he won a popularity contest thanks to the meddling of 2ch. It's a long story really.
  • A random farmer in Dragon Ball Z, who appeared trying to fight Raditz and horribly failed (and later a lookalike whose job is a hunter, trashed by Dr. Gero/Android no. 20). This person became so phenomenal this character is later known as "Farmer With Shotgun" and is sometimes considered a Memetic Badass.
  • Tiger & Bunny gives us a young girl with a pink scarf who shows up every single episode, and has been nicknamed "Scarf-tan".
  • The fans of One Piece regularly make memes out of random background characters, probably because even the background characters are affected by Cast of Snowflakes and thus often look unique, awesome or funny. There are a good recent examples from the Fishman Island arc: A muscular octopus-like fishman with a seaman's cap who was seen standing next to Jinbe in one single panel of the fishman flashback. He has yet to appear or be mentioned outside of that one panel, but still has become hugely popular among lots of fans. Aladdin from the same flashback partially counts, as he was rather popular during his first few background appearances, but he was introduced and given an actual role in the story before he could really become a fan meme.
    • Pandaman is a more widely known one, showing up in the background all over the place. Oda himself confirmed that Pandaman is the same person in every appearance, and likes to detail his adventures whenever the fans bring him up.
    • It should be pointed out that Pandaman was a character Oda created for Kinnikuman (which accepted character designs from fans) when he was 8.
  • Attack on Titan is full of giant humanoid monstrosities from Uncanny Valley. One of these giant humanoid monstrosities had giant, shimmering schoolgirl eyes. Finding this to be bizarrely adorable, the internet anime community has dubbed it Kawaii Titan (or Moe Titan) and treated it as a supporting character whose life was tragically cut short in episode 8.

    Comic Books 
  • If you pick up a comic book, you might notice two recurring characters in the form of a ginger man with glasses and a goatee and his stockier, black-haired friend. They’re usually cops, but they’ve also be seen as everything from civilians, party-goers and common crooks), and are always seen together. The kicker? They’re found in Marvel, DC and Transformers comics, completely transcending both companies and writers. No one knows where they come from or who created them. They are known to fans simply as the “Mystery Hipster Cops”.

  • The Red-Shirt Asian Extra from Crank, who manages to stick himself into the background of nearly every shot of the Chinatown scene, and chews a fair amount of scenery through facial expression and body language alone. Word of God states that he was invited back for Crank: High Voltage, but declined due to school.
  • The Lord of the Rings fans spotted a handsome, dark-haired elf as an extra in the Council of Elrond scene, said "Frodo Is Gre— WHO IS THAT?!", and dubbed the nameless elf "Figwit". So popular was Figwit (played by Bret MacKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame) that he was brought back with a couple of lines in "Return of the King", and finally canonized completely when he appeared in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and was officially named Lindir.
  • The belching frog thing in one of the scene transitions in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
    • A few ewoks. One ewok that's staring blankly, as if he's stoned. There's another ewok carrying one of his wounded brethren out of the fray during the Endor ambush.
    • Nearly every single background character appearing for more than a few seconds has, at the very least, a name and a backstory. The Expanded Universe anthologies Tales of the Bounty Hunters, Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and Tales from Jabba's Palace are based solely on this trope, consisting of short stories featuring characters that often didn't have a single line (and Boba Fett).
    • The entire devaronian race was based on a single guy in a devil costume, who appeared in two shots.
    • Corpsey and One-Arm are a few of the more primitive bystanders that became popular.
    • In The Empire Strikes Back, during the evacuation of Cloud City, you can see a guy in an orange jumpsuit carrying what looks like an ice cream maker. Since then, he's been dubbed "Ice Cream Maker Guy" and has attracted a huge fanbase, to the point where, when the Expanded Universe stated that he was actually carrying a computer memory core, people cried They Changed It, Now It Sucks. He even got an official action figure!
  • "Propeller Guy" from Titanic 1997. During the climactic scene when the stern of the ship is pulled out of the water, one CGI character falls and smacks off the exposed propeller with a loud CLANG. He gets a lot of sympathy for this.
  • Mean Girls: "Four for you Glen Coco! You go Glen Coco!"
  • Suspicious Onlooker from Jack Reacher. He's listed before the title character on the IMDB page.
  • Spider-Man 2 has the "PIZZA" guy, as portrayed by Chappelle's Show regular Donnell Rawlings.
  • A much more low-key example, but Mothra Vs. Godzilla has a giant turtle skeleton during the landing on Infant Island's beach. The turtle has gone on to appear in several fanfics.
  • In Iron Man 3, we have the giant plush bunny amidst Stuff Blowing Up when the Ten Rings attack Tony's Malibu home.
  • The guy drinking wine in The Spy Who Loved Me, then stops when the Lotus-sub surfaces at a public beach. So much so that he appears in Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only in doing the same thing.


    Live Action Television 
  • Morn from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a regular at Quark's bar and is seen in the background in almost every episode in which the location is featured. He's played by the same man throughout the series, though he's not visible beneath the costume. The mask includes a jointed mouth so that the character can speak if necessary, but he never gets any lines. He eventually began getting acknowledgement within the show, as characters would supply all sorts of Informed Attributes about him, including the fact that he's a big talker. Morn eventually gets an entire episode devoted to him, but he still manages to stay off camera for most of it, does very little while on camera, and is even prevented from speaking when he attempts to do so.
  • Balding Asian Guy from Stargate Universe had some popularity from appearing in crowd scenes in one episode.
  • The extremely hot guy standing behind Carrie when she gets splashed in the Sex and the City opening had quite a following in certain circles.
  • The Observer in Fringe is an in-universe example — though he is significant to the plot, he and his kind have an oath of non-interference (which is only mostly adhered to), but were noticed by the characters because of their habit of turning up at significant events throughout history.
  • The Glee fandom loves Brad the accompanist, despite him having never spoken. Not to mention he doesn't do anything other than accompany the kids on the piano—at one point, a character actually referred to him as "furniture."
  • Degrassi The Next Generation gives us Towerz, a tall black guy who never says anything.
  • Battlestar Galactica has a number of reoccurring background characters that are popular amongst fans, one of the more easily recognizable ones is the "tattooed pilot".
  • In Highlander, the two part "Comes a Horseman/Revelation 6:8" ep had a flashback scene with the Horsemen pillaging a Bronze Age village. The fans quickly started liking a character seen running from the horses with a bundle of sticks in his arms. They called him "Stickboy".
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show gave us the irritated-looking, bespectacled matron looking at Mary as she tossed her hat into the air in the show’s iconic opening credits.
  • On Are You Being Served?, the lift girls and sales assistants were nearly always present. Many were also professional dancers, so they were able to take part in some of the dance sequences. Two of the Long Runners were Belinda Lee (lift girl) and Sue Bishop (sales assistant), who both got speaking parts in one episode.

  • In Rebecca Black's Friday video, a girl in pink dancing awkwardly next to Black in one scene exploded in popularity from an already highly memetic song.
  • In Sound Horizon's Märchen, there is a character called Idolfried Ehrenberg (aka. "Ido") who is only heard faintly in the background of a single song and has all of two lines, neither of which have anything to do with either the album or the song proper. Naturally, fans have created a detailed backstory for himnote  (which, given Revo's MO, may have been exactly what was intended) and draw nearly as much fanart for him as they do for the title character.

    Video Games 
  • In Street Fighter II, there's a background character in the Las Vegas stage (Balrog's) that always loses a bet no matter who wins. He sobs on his forearm once a round is over.
    • Right next to him there's another BG chara who has a top hat. Once the round is over, he takes off his top hat to celebrate.
    • In Ken's stage from II (a yacht docked at what is believed to be the San Francisco Bay), there's a mysterious man on the boat who heavily resembles Q from Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Cue fan rumors. Notably, the guy thought to be Q is absent in HD Remix, which raised more than a few eyebrows from fans.
  • While several NPCs in Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days just kind of stand and stare blankly at the protagonists (despite how many guns they're packing and/or how many bullet wounds they're covered in), one middle-aged man in the chapter "Laying Low" has received some attention for getting up off of his stoop and staring fearlessly at Lynch when he's walked past.
  • The Turian Groundskeeper's cut lines and the Alliance Drill Instructor's awesome speech in Mass Effect 2 have elevated both to this state.
    • Not to mention Techno Turian in Thane's loyalty mission. Many a mission was failed by watching him bust a move.
  • Mega Man X2 has the Green Biker Dude, a Reploid who appears at the beginning of the intro stage and whose only purpose is to pop a wheelie and die.
  • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn has the 3-13 Archer.
  • Final Fantasy IV The After Years has Monk C (known by many in the fandom as "Monk Coleman", though that's of course not an official name). In the PSP remake, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, Monk C even has a slightly different color scheme from Monks A and B.
  • Pokémon Gold and Silver has the Rattata-obsessed Youngster Joey, the very first trainer the player battles after the rival.
  • The first Pidget in level 1-2 of Super Mario Bros. 2 was dubbed "Bill the Extra Guy" by Neglected Mario Characters and given his own bio and backstory. It seems to have caught on within some parts of the Mario fandom.
  • Occurs so often in Touhou fandom that they could form their own independent cast. Daiyousei, Koakuma (not even having names originally until ZUN caught on), Lily White, Momiji, Shizuha, Kisume (more dialogue-less midbosses), Youki (mentioned only) and probably others.
  • One of the stages of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift contains a big fluffy dog that barks repeatedly. Hype Dog swiftly became beloved by the fans.
  • Mortal Kombat 9 features the "Lady in Purple", a random slave girl in a purple skirt who appears in a story mode cutscene briefly and never comes up again. She was raised to this status after a topic sprung up on a fansite message board written by someone who wanted her to be playable because they liked her design. To a lesser extent, there's also "Steam", a grey Palette Swap of the Mortal Kombat 3 female ninja model who appears in a lineup of fighters entering the tournament who fans have declared to be the Distaff Counterpart of Smoke, and the "Lady in Green", a mysterious goddess who possesses Jade in her ending.
  • In Katawa Shoujo, a number of the background characters from Hisao's overview of the class have gone on to become very popular, particularly Molly, an Ambiguously Brown girl with dark brown plaits. One of them, Miki, went on to become an actual, if minor, character.
  • Japan-only variant in the Disgaea series. The character Pleinair started out as a mascot for the character designer, appearing as a distinctive NPC in the original game and hosting the On the Next chapter sequences in the second game. Somehow she became very popular in Japan; subsequent games and remakes include her as an optional or DLC party member. This is acknowledged in Disgaea 4, which explicitly states she has a fan club. She's not nearly as popular in America (though she has a reputation of being a Memetic Badass Game Breaker).
  • Running Kid from Persona 4, who runs across the screen right before the Iris In transition out of walking-to-school scenes.
  • In various splash arts or promotions of a League of Legends champion, there's usually one poor knight schmuck that is either obliterated or devoured by the champion in question, leaving behind just his helmet. This particular knight was later known by fans as "Helmet Bro", and became something of a minor fan favorite.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick gives us That Guy With A Halberd, a nameless Azurite soldier armed with (you guessed it) a halberd who appeared briefly during the battle for Azure City. A thread devoted to him on the OOTS forums reached 28 pages.
  • Homestuck has Ms. Paint, a Prospitian woman who carries a bucket of paint and seems to be a part of the White Queen's retinue. Fan reaction lead to a cameo in one of the comic's many fourth wall breaking segments, during which she became Andrew Hussie's love interest.
    • There's also Fedorafreak, who is a Memetic Badass despite only communicating in text.
    • And in an out-of-universe example: Lemy Telya (short for "Let Me Tell You About Homestuck"), a nameless security guard who can be seen in the background of this photograph apparently scowling at a group of cosplayers at a convention being incredibly silly. It goes deeper, he's inspired fanart, cosplay, and fanart OF the cosplay. It's safe to say that, knowing Homestuck, it's only a matter of time before it hits full recursion and the guard appears in the comic itself. And to top it all off? He's not the only Memetic Bystander to have arisen from the background of a cosplay photo, though he was the first. Another is a similarly unnamed waitress at an IHOP seen in the background of a photo openly mocking some cosplayers.
  • Adventurers has that guy who says "There are many guards in the castle", while RPG World had The "Times are Tough" Guy.
  • Collar 6 has "Epic Hat and Moustache Guy", an exceedingly manly man in Victorian (or as close as the Rule Of Fetish setting can get to it) attire who appears in a mere single frame as part of a crowd, giving a thumbs up to the reader.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! does not believe in Faceless Masses, and these background extras tend to reappear later with actual personalities. Floyd Fitznewski, Heywood J. Lookathat, Ms. Hatbrim, and Herb Gardner all first appeared as background extras in crowd shots. The strip's character page even lists "Random Woman From Crowd Scene on Aug. 14, 2007: The only figure in that scene who has never reappeared."
  • El Goonish Shive has "Shy Girl". Originally an extra she quickly became popular with the fans and was eventually merged with a supporting character.

    Web Original 
  • The Epic Beard Man viral video, featuring a fistfight on a bus between two men, mysteriously spawned a popular sub-meme around a disinterested bystander who was listening to music. She became known as "Amber Lamps", after one of the men's mangled cry for an ambulance.
  • Tiribomba, an exceptionally generic-looking Ta-Matoran lava farmer who does nothing in the BIONICLE Flash game, Mata Nui Online Game II, but has a memorably funky name.
  • The SCP Foundation has Fred, a harmless sentient SCP who inserts himself into works of fiction as a bystander for a line or two... and Fred was there.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has Foaming Mouth Guy. His first appearance was only for a few seconds in Season 1 as a background character, but he became such a fan favourite he reappeared again in Season 2 (still in the background, but with a lot more screen time). And then was featured as one of the possible shipped characters at a panel held by the creators. Apparently, he once dated Suki, and she's embarrassed about the whole thing.
    • Also, Aunt Wu's male assistant from the episode "The Fortuneteller", who never gets any lines but still managed to leave an impression due to his striking appearance.
    • How can we forget the Cabbage Merchant?
    • From the Sequel Series, The Legend of Korra, we also have a specific member of the Order of the White Lotus who, despite appearing on-screen for roughly ten seconds or less, is quite popular with the fans. He's been dubbed "Howl" note  and apparently gets shipped with Korra pretty often.
  • Daria had a large number of recurring background characters (generally referred to as "backgrounders"), many of whom were based on MTV staffers or had interesting, cliquey looks. Over time a large number of them have become Ensemble Darkhorses with Fanon names and personalities. Behold an entire webpage dedicated to analyzing them.
  • Out of the consistent Recurring Extras at Kim Possible's school, fans latched onto a freckled brunette who always wore shades of blue, and so was dubbed the "Girl in Blue". But the really memetic one was a tall, short-haired girl in a red top and cargo pants, who fit the stereotypical image of a Butch Lesbian and was named "Alex Sapphic" by a fanartist. This identity became fanon, and she still appears in fanfiction with this name.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has an unbelievable amount of these:
    • Derpy Hooves, a bluish grey, cock-eyed pony spotted in episode one, is just as popular as the mane cast (if not more so), and the one with the most solidified fan-made traits (No Sense of Direction, a master of Achievements in Ignorance, loves muffins, et cetera), to the point where Lauren Faust herself said "She can be Derpy if everyone likes." One of her fanon traits (works as a deliverypony) was canonized in the episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen", which also showed she's not that good at it. Fanon has also given her a unicorn daughter named Dinky (as well as a speech impediment known as logorrhea, though this was quickly dropped after her first speaking role).
      • She has been hidden in nearly every episode to date, almost challenging viewers to find her in a way similar to the Where's Waldo? game.
      • Considered even more awesome when considering that the moment in the episode that "created" Derpy was an illustrator mistake or intentional goof to give her "derp" eyes (for all of one scene). Though she's seen through the first half of the first season with regular eyes, all subsequent appearances after the fandom notice include her with derp eyes.
      • The episode "The Last Roundup" officially canonized the name "Derpy" and gave her lines, fully promoting her from "background pony" to "actual character". Sadly, this ended up causing controversy when her voice and klutzy mannerisms made some fans think they were making fun of the mentally handicapped. This got bad enough that her name-drop was removed from the iTunes and Netflix versions of the episode. This, of course, ended up causing even more arguments.
      • She was "officially" brought back with as much fanfare as one could expect by being a unnamed but principle part of the 4th season episode "Rainbow Falls" (a moment that Word of God says they were keeping her otherwise hidden to make her reappearance all that much more surprising), and would continue to appear with high frequency.
    • A brown pony with hair resembling the Tenth Doctor and an hourglass cutie mark was swiftly branded Doctor Whoof/Whooves. Cue hundreds of crossovers.
    • Lyra (the go to Pony for a Funny Background Event) and Bon-Bon (who is often seen with her, and made her own fame with a ridiculous voice) are about equal in popularity, and loop on each other's popularity by being romantically paired together more consistently than any other pairing.
      • The pairing part is because they are often seen together, which was originally due to a fluke in the background animating process where background ponies were selected to stand next to each other based on their color pallets. They have pallets that go well with one another.
    • Octavia, a cello-playing pony from "The Best Night Ever" with an incredible resemblance to Pinkie Pie's sister, who generally smolders gracefully whenever she's on screen.
    • Vinyl Scratch/DJ PON-3, a white DJ pony with purple glasses and a blue/cyan mane appeared for all of six seconds in "Suited For Success" and has gained a lot of popularity, appearing in fanfics, fan art and tons of fan music. Later she appeared at the very end of the season 2 finale. She's even been given an official toy from Hasbro, as part of the "Fan Favorites" set.
    • A background pony seen in a few episodes set in Canterlot is known as Bruce Mane.
    • A white pegasus pony with huge muscles, very tiny wings and No Indoor Voice that fans dubbed "Snowflake" first appeared in the "Hurricane Fluttershy" episode. He showed up again later as one of the recruits in "Wonderbolts Academy" before finally getting a canon name (Bulk Biceps) and a major speaking role as part of Dash's relay team in "Rainbow Falls".
  • Several from Spongebob Squarepants: the "MY LEG!" (or, if you're going by The Movie, "MY EYES!") guy from several episodes, the "he kept us waiting for a bubble!?" guy from "Bubble Buddy", and the "DEUUEAUGH" fish from "Something Smells". All three have gained significant popularity, mostly through YouTube Poop.
  • The "Unidentified Rodian with Jacket" from an episode of Star Wars: Clone Wars.
  • The "Fionna and Cake" episode of Adventure Time gender-flipped the usual cast, creating a host of Ensemble Darkhorses. The most extreme example was probably Marshall Lee, the Spear Counterpart of Marceline, who showed up for about sixteen seconds and didn't say a word (he was going to get a line, but it was cut for time), but has swarms of fangirls and gets shipped with just about everyone. He eventually got an episode dedicated to him.
  • Actor variant: Any time there's a disaster scene and you hear a woman's voice in the crowd yell "My baby!" It's probably Tress Macneille.
  • Arthur has two noticeable classmates of Arthur that never get interacted with or have lines but have been around since the original books. They're named Maria and Alex and fans have taken quite a shine to them, especially since they're often seen together. The writers noticed and giving Maria a Lower Deck Episode.

    Real Life 
  • The exceptionally interesting background character in an otherwise normal photograph makes rich fodders for memes. Some outstanding examples below.
  • Cigar Guy from a famous Tiger Woods photo is a man wearing a strange wig and fake moustache, smoking a rather large cigar.
  • Frowning Flower Girl appeared at the Royal Wedding, looking rather disgruntled and covering her ears right next to the happy couple about to kiss.
  • Time-Traveling Hipster, a man in surprisingly modern clothing who was spotted in a photograph taken in 1940.
  • Kilroy, who apparently showed up all over the place in World War II according to widespread graffiti.
  • A Ridiculously Photogenic Guy who appeared in the background of a marathon photo. Notorious for not only his dashing good looks, but for his chipper smile and pristine appearance during a sports event defined by its exhaustive and withering effects on the human physique and spirit.
  • Major Sherrif Hussein, aka the guy behind Omar Soliman.
  • NASA Mohawk Guy
  • The lady who forms the basis of the "wat" meme.
  • Known as Moustache Guy or The Observer, some random guy between two football club coaches who got in a fight]] became famous overnight, for some reason. A common meme is photoshoped photos of historical moments with him standing in the background.