"I must be the only gullible husband who ever overheard snippets of surprise-party planning, and believed his wife was having an affair!"
— Homer Simpson
, The Simpsons
, "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind" (the other married men all hastily grab the collars)
An episode based on a misheard conversation, often involving Innocent Innuendo
A result of a principal character misinterpreting something. In comedy, this often leads to further and further misunderstandings, each more comical than the last, until things get straightened out at the end of the episode. In dramas, the principal character usually exerts much effort trying to prepare for a "showdown," only to discover at the last second it was "all a huge mistake."
This trope is one of the basic elements of Farce
, but can lead to an Idiot Plot
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Mahou Sensei Negima!! has a couple of these, most obviously when a bunch of the girls overhear Friendly Neighborhood Vampire Evangeline requesting that Negi pay for that day's training session, which goes something along these lines:
Evangeline: Hurry and whip it out, boy!
Negi: But Evangeline-san, we already did it, it's too much!
Evangeline: I told you, call me master.
- By the way, the payment was sucking blood from his arm.
- Later on, Chachamaru nearly causes Chisame's head to explode with this poorly worded statement about Negi's martial arts training.:
Chachamaru: I have been serving as Negi's partner every night and he seems to be happy about it.
- Used in an infamous storyline in the Popeye comic strip; A woman overhears Olive Oyl talking about getting rid of a baby robot a home shopping channel had mistakenly sent her and assumes she's talking about getting rid of her (unborn) baby and quickly assembles a crew of her cohorts to talk her out of it. Although there was little negative feedback from readers or newspapers, the artist behind this strip was soon fired (The official reason being that the artist had gone too far in trying to include modern elements into such a legacy strip. The "abortion" strip was merely the last straw).
Films — Live Action
- In the 1947 comedy Copacabana, Lionel and Carmen have made up a fake stage persona, Mlle. Fifi. When they decide to dump the persona, an old woman hears them joking about it and misinterprets them as saying that they murdered Fifi (who no-one else knows was just Carmen in a veil with a French accent). Hilarity Ensues.
- A scene from Look Who's Talking! has James pulling out a splinter from Molly's finger. Her mother overhears and assume they're having sex. When James comes out, he zips his fly.
- In Flying Down to Rio Roger is mistaken for a male prostitute and Belinha's aunt pays him and tells him "his services won't be needed". He quickly picks up on the misunderstanding but doesn't correct her, and instead uses the money to buy Belinha a flower (which she insults and refuses).
- Literary example where a mis-heard conversation made a major difference in the story: in David Weber's short story "Nightfall" in Changer of Worlds, two characters are preparing evidence so that, if it becomes necessary to remove another character (Esther McQueen), they'll have backup. They spend some considerable time talking about the necessity of hiding this action, since they need McQueen and will for some time yet. The final comment of the conversation (approximately, "We'll need this when we pull the trigger on McQueen") is overheard and passed to McQueen — where it triggers a full revolt. McQueen repeatedly complains that if she'd been given even six more weeks she would really have been ready. The revolt fails, McQueen dies, in the aftermath the government falls — and the entire premise of the first 8-9 books in the series (good monarchy against evil socialist republic) is fundamentally altered. The series is up to 12 books now.
- It should be noted the series was to this point Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE! with Esther McQueen being the expy of Napoleon. This is the story that goes off the plot rails.
Live Action TV
- PvP, which calls back to seventies shows often, does this quite a bit. Subverted in that Cole hears Brent and Jade having sex in their office, realizes he's probably making assumptions like he has lots of time before, and comes to the conclusion that they're just moving furniture.
- One of the page quotes alludes to the brief, one-sided relationship that tried to take root while Elan was separated from Haley in The Order of the Stick. Although he's aware of the trope (Vaarsuvius notes early on that Elan's training as a bard makes him very Genre Savvy), he's generally compelled to let tropes rule in the name of narrative even if acting on his insight would save a lot of headaches later (he once delayed Roy during an escape from a self-destructing dungeon because they escaped with several seconds to spare, and had to wait for the dramatic fireball to catch up).
- Kim Possible: Ron Stoppable breaks into his girlfriend's house, then her closet, steals her super battle suit, joins the football team as star quarterback, gets caught with the suit and controlled by a villain, ends up in a physical and emotional fight with Kim, then ends up on the team anyway (and is still a star player just in a different position), all because he thought Kim was going to take Bonnie's advice about "trading up" to a socially acceptable jock boyfriend. Ron then overheard Kim talking with Monique about trading up and agreeing with Bonnie. Turns out they were talking about a new mobile phone.
- The Thomas the Tank Engine episode Percy's Big Mistake had Percy overhearing The Fat Controller say something about scrap and thought it meant he was to be scrapped (he's a steam engine). The Fat Controller actually said that Percy was working to hard recently and so after taking some scrap metal to the smelters he would be given the somewhat easier job of carrying the mail for a week.