Gilligan: Operator, listen to me, listen to me! We're shipwrecked, you see, and we found this telephone line, and we tapped into it. And we're on a deserted island, and there's no telephone booth or even a phone!
Operator: Why do I get all the nuts? (disconnects the line)A Prank Call is a prank call. Except when it isn't. Phone calls can often be quite tricky things. Because the person on the other end of the line can't see you, it is often necessary to explain who you are and in which situation you are right now. And because of the same reason, the person at the other end has to take your word for it. But what if your situation is a truly bizarre one? What if it is very hard to convince other people, that Ninja Pirate Zombie Robots really exist, and that a group of them is in your house right now? Or what if you are a celebrity, and the message you want to deliver is: "I want you for my next album/movie/whatever!"? Well, the persons called will simply refuse to believe you. They will think that you are just a prankster with a sick/unfunny sense of humour. They will either hang up without any further words, or will angrily snark at you, and then hang up. Can result in an Oh, Crap! moment if the called persons notice their mistake afterwards, fearing that they may have insulted someone important, or that they screwed up the opportunity to accept an unique offer. Though if they are lucky, the caller will realize what went wrong and try again. Related to Cassandra Truth; You Have to Believe Me, Your Costume Needs Work. May involve a person with an unfortunate Real Joke Name. May also involve an Evil Phone.
— Gilligan's Island, "You've Been Disconnected"
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- In the first story arc of A Certain Magical Index, Touma desperately calls a number of research facilities to try and get more info on Index's perfect memorization ability. He finally gets somebody on the line only to be yelled at for making a prank call about magic so late at night.
- There was once a Mickey Mouse comic wherein Mickey was terrorized by the villain via phone. At one point, when the phone rings again, Mickey has had enough, picks up the receiver, and angrily yells at the caller before the latter can say a word. Too bad it was Minnie calling this time...
- In The American President, Sydney (Annette Bening) gets a call just after talking to a male friend. The caller identifies himself as the president, and she tells him she doesn't believe him, then says some unflattering things about the president. Um... it's really the president.
Sydney Ellen Wade: Hello?President Andrew Shepherd: Yeah, hi, is this Sydney?Sydney: Leo?Shepherd: No, this is Andrew Shepherd.Sydney: Oh! It's Andrew Shepherd! Yeah, you're hilarious, Richard, you're just a regular riot!Shepherd: No, this isn't Richard, this is Andrew Shepherd.Sydney: Oh! Well, I'm so glad you called, because I forgot to tell you today what a nice ass you have. I'm also impressed that you were able to get my phone number given the fact that I don't have a phone. Good night, Richard.Shepherd: Uh, this isn't Richard- [Sydney hangs up] This used to be easier.
- This is directly followed by an Oh, Crap! moment. To resolve the issue, and verify his real identity, Shepherd calls her again, but tells her to immediately hang up and call the White House telephone operator to be put through to him.
- In Major League, Jake is sweating it out in the Mexican league when someone from the Cleveland Indians calls him to join their team this year. Jake doesn't believe the call is real.
Is that you, Tolbert?! This isn't very funny, you know. I'm hung over! My knees are killin' me and if you're going to pull this shit at least you could've said you were from the Yankees.
- In Air Force One, when the President calls the White House from a staffer's mobile phone, the White House operator naturally assumes it is a prank call...until the President tells her to trace the call and note it is a staffer's phone.
- In Eight Legged Freaks, Chris has this happening to him after he calls to report the town being overrun by the giant mutant spiders. Made all the more painful considering he had to fight past the spiders, climb on to the roof and ascend to the top of a radio tower in order to get a signal to make the call. Adding further insult to injury, at the end of the film the police finally arrive. They had not believed the reports of the spiders but believed Harlarn's theory that the assailants were extraterrestrial in nature.
- In Hot Fuzz, Angel thinks that a call from Peter Ian Staker (P.I.Staker, to explain why), is a prank call. He was ridiculed in a local newspaper and became a bit of a laughing stock. To be honest, reporting a missing swan that ran away from a swan castle sounds ridiculous. Moreover, Nicholas stays at a hotel called "Swan" and his room is called "Castle". When the caller introduces himself as P.I. Staker, Nicholas gets really angry and loses it ("Piss taker? Come on!"). Gilligan Cut to him interviewing one Mr Staker whose swan really did run away.
- In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Rooney gets a phone call from Sloane Peterson's father saying that her grandmother has died. Knowing that Sloane is Ferris Bueller's girlfriend, and that Ferris is skipping out on school, Rooney assumes that Ferris is pranking him. So he insults the "father", demanding that he bring the grandmother's body up to the school for confirmation. Then Ferris calls line two. Then, as Rooney stammers an apology to Sloane's father, a subversion occurs: we discover that it was Ferris' buddy Cameron who was making the phone call. So it's a prank call mistaken for Mistaken for Prank Call.
- Played straight when Jeannie calls 911 after she finds Dean Rooney snooping around her house. When the police arrive, Rooney is gone, so they assume Jeannie was prank calling and arrest her.
- In the film Small Soldiers, the protagonist's love interest is trying to call the police to help with the army of killer toys. At first she says that it isn't a prank call, and then says that it is a prank call, and asks if they'll come arrest her. They hang up.
- In Die Hard, John McClane uses the radio he steals from the villains to contact the police on an emergency frequency and call for help. The dispatcher doesn't believe him, especially after confirming that there had already been a "prank" fire alarm from the same location.
- In Vice Versa, when Judge Reinhold's character races to answer the pay phone that one of the kidnappers is calling to, he is breathing so hard on his end for about less than a minute that the female kidnapper thinks it's a pervert on the phone until Judge's character reveals who he is.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming: Mr. Delmar, witnessing Spidey fight a gang of robbers dressed in Avengers masks, calls the police saying "Spider-Man is fighting the Avengers in a bank on 21st Street."
Live Action TV
- In Modern Family, when Claire decides to bring back her and her husband's sexy roleplaying alter egos Clive and Juliana, she phones Phil as Juliana, and he tells her she has a wrong number and hangs up.
- That Mitchell and Webb Look has a sketch featuring a trio of billionaires who keep calling up random phone numbers, trying to give away their MASSIVE YACHTS. They can't understand why nobody wants them...
- Only Fools and Horses:
- Del Boy is on a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? style quiz show, while Mickey Pearce harasses Rodney with prank calls. When Del uses his "phone a friend" to call Rodney, he initially assumes it's Mickey, but then realises. Unfortunately, he gives the wrong answer. Later, Del gets a phone call from the producer saying the question was worded poorly, and he's won after all. Absolutely certain that this is Mickey, he says to give it all to charity.
- In the episode "Dates", Del has earlier pranked Albert with a policewoman/stripper and is expecting some kind of retaliation. When he is told at the end by a policewoman that he is under arrest for some fairly far-fetched sounding reasons, he automatically assumes that the prank is being repaid. When he tries to assist the 'stripper' to undress, a definite Oh, Crap! moment results...
- On All My Children, as Will tries to force himself on his wife Hayley, she barricades herself in the bedroom and frantically calls her ex-boyfriend Brian for help. Unfortunately, Brian's wife An-Li picks up. Already unconcerned, when Will picks up the extension sounding completely calm, An-Li is now certain that Hayley's actions are just some drunken attempt to get Brian back and hangs up.
- In Cheers, Sam and his friends are on the look out for a prank from a rival bar owner. When a slightly hammy and unlikely-looking 'fire safety inspector' appears, they send him packing covered in foam. Then Rebecca casually remembers to mention that she is expecting a fire safety inspector to call at some point later that day.
- On Friends, Phoebe reaches Emily's mother's cell at the Ross/Emily wedding. When she explains she can't be there because "I'm pregnant with my brother's triplets" the mother asks "Am I on the radio?"
- Gilligan's Island:
- A transoceanic telephone cable washes ashore onto the island. They tap into the cable and somehow manage to call a mainland US telephone operator. When they frantically yell things like "Help, we're stranded on a desert island!!" , the operator just bemusedly hangs up.
- The castaways also once play out a low-tech version of this trope involving a lost homing pigeon. They send it back to the mainland over and over again with pleas for help and keep getting replies from the owner, who thinks he's found a new pen pal with a great sense of humor.
- Not exactly a call, but in The Stinger for an episode of Hannah Montana, Jackson and Robbie Ray have undergone a prank war on each other and hear the doorbell ring, but they're so paranoid they think it's another prank. It turns out it was a group of guys giving them a giant $10,000 check, who decide to go next door.
- Challenge Anneka routinely had Anneka Rice phoning up tradespeople to help out with that week's project, and being met by suitably star-struck responses. In one out-take, the recipient of the call steadfastly refused to believe that the call was genuine, leaving Anneka to make increasingly desperate pleas that she was the real Anneka Rice.
- Subverted in Chuck, when Chuck has to call in to reported a stolen Delorean with the license plate "Demorgan". The guy on the other side of the line thought it was a prank call, but Chuck managed to talk him around.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Hitchhiker" has a woman being chased by a strange creep. Near the end, she finds a phone to call her mother, but the mother says she thinks it's a prank since her daughter died two weeks ago, and it is there she finds out who that creep was.
- In I'm Alan Partridge, the hotel receptionists have been taking phone messages for Alan from a prank caller giving joke names, and mistake Bill Oddie for one of them.
Alan: [Reading from a list] "Mr. G. String... Mr. Nick Hers... Y. Front... Mr. T. Osser"? That doesnít even work! "Mr. B. Oddie"? This is Bill Oddie! Itís not a prank call. Why have you put it on there?Susan: Well, we thought it looked like "body".Alan: Whatís rude about a body?[beat]Sophie: Tits?
- Get Smart
Smart: Operator, this is a matter of life and death!Operator: That's what they all say.
- A public phone booth turns out to be a Drowning Pit. Smart has to get the operator to put through a call to CONTROL because he doesn't have any coins, but can't get the operator to believe that he's drowning in a telephone booth.
- In another episode Smart has faked his death, and can't get Larrabee to believe it's really him when he calls for help. Larabee hangs up, but help arrives anyway after Larabee traced the call and discovered it came from a Shoe Phone.
- In one of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect end up upon Earth in the near past. Arthur suggests to warn their past selves about the impending destruction of the planet. Ford however doesn't consider this to be a very good idea. He proceeds to perform an improvised miniature sketch, in which he is Arthur calling himself. The past Arthur hangs up as soon as the future Arthur tells his name.
- The novel The Dorset Disaster has this-when people start making frantic phone calls that the nuclear reactor has exploded, the first couple are dismissed as pranks.
- When the crew of Cabin Pressure take a booking from the Princess of Liechtenstein, both Martin and Douglas are initially convinced that it's a hoax by the other.
- Christopher Titus mentions in one of his albums that, during a family ski trip, the Newark police called him to say his father had died. Titus first didn't believe him and then told the officer to poke his dad to check if he was faking.
- In Fast N Loud the secretary of the tuning shop gets numerous calls of someone who says he is Dale Earnhardt Jr. who wants a Chevrolet Nomad to be tuned. She thinks its a prank call and hangs up everytime being very annoyed. But somtime later the tuning shop gets a Package of Mountain Dew as a present. Guess what? The Caller WAS Dale Earnhardt Jr.!
- In ATOM GRRRL!!, this happens when Big E calls Jessica for help after murdering a cop.
- In the The Adventures of Dr. McNinja story Space Savers, Chuck Goodrich calls Doc's brother Sean "Dark Smoke Puncher" McNinja for help when Doc is attacked by a ghost manifesting as a cloud of dark smoke. Sean thinks they're making fun of his ninja name, and hangs up.
- Sequential Art had it several times.
- A variant in The Class Menagerie: When the gang is trapped in a dorm about to be overrun with ravenous tropical ants, the 911 operator mistakes it for a confused spring break drunk's call.
- In The Simpsons, Moe Szyslak receives prank calls so often (mostly by Bart), that he sometimes mistakes genuine calls for pranks, such as when an important book author wants to invite him to a literary conference.
Bart: Look mister, I'll level with you. This was a prank call that sort of backfired and I'd like to bail out now.
- Inverted in one episode when Bart makes a genuine prank call for a "Hugh Jass" on a busy night — only for a guy actually called Hugh Jass to be present to take the call.
Hugh Jass: [Genially] Alright; well, better luck next time! [Hangs up] What a nice young man.
Nurse: Look, we've already been down there tonight for a sisterectomy, severe case of butt rot and a leprechaun fight. How dumb do you think we are?
- In the episode where Homer has to go undercover with the FBI regarding Fat Tony's dealings, his "making bones" ceremony involves bringing Moe out for Fat Tony to exact revenge on because the latter mistook Fat Tony's requesting to speak with a Russian associate for a prank call. It's not completely Moe's fault, however, as aside from Moe being pranked call so often, the person Tony wanted to speak to also had the Unfortunate Name of "Yuri Nater".
- In "My Sister, My Sitter", Lisa tries calling the hospital to get an ambulance for an unconscious Bart, but they refuse to oblige because Bart had earlier make a prank call to them.
- In "Homer the Smithers", Mr. Burns tries to call Smithers but doesn't know how telephones work and mistakenly calls Moe's Tavern and Moe thinks Mr. Burns is pranking him.
- The Stinger for one episode of The Replacements had Principal Cuttler receive a phone call that he had just won a new car. However, he doesn't believe it, thinking that it's a prank call (earlier in the episode, he had been prank-called by Riley).
- The Archer episode "Vision Quest" has most of the main cast trapped in a stuck elevator. When Ray realizes that his phone has reception and calls 911, the operator assumes he's making either a prank or frivolous call and disconnects him. Then when he calls back she has the number blocked.
- People with Unfortunate Names, Punny Names, or with the same name as a celebrity, are Blessed with Suck regarding this here.
- For that matter, the celebrities themselves probably too.
- Various celebrities have been discussing examples of this on Late Night Talk Shows, having been called by X other celebrity to be in a film and thinking that it's one of their friends pranking them.
- Can of course also happen to you if the place you are calling from has a name with one of the above mentioned properties.
- One example was told in a news story regarding a town/neighborhood somewhere that was named South Park. It was considering changing its name after at least one genuine emergency call to 911 was ignored by the operator who thought that the call was a prank.
- If you're doing research on the seventh planet from the sun, it's probably better not done via phone calls, as they'll almost assuredly be mistaken for these.
- Some of the seat-mounted phones in commercial airlines have a short lag between when the user speaks and when the call recipient hears the words. It's possible to hang up on a "prank caller" during that lag time (and annoy the person calling tremendously, those phone calls are expensive).
- Happened in the case of the Travis the chimp attack-the 911 operator initially, for the first few moments, thought the call was a prank.
- Also a known problem with trained service animals calling 911-nowadays, many databases have an alert that pops up saying there's a trained service animal at the location, but it can still happen. Ditto with the 'accidental 911 call, animal really in trouble' scenarios that pop up every now and then.
- Has also happened in cases where a child has called 911. Operators know that children often do play on the phone, and will sometimes mistake a real call for one of those.
- Arnel Pineda, the current lead singer of Journey, initially believed he was being pranked when Neil Schon emailed him and invited him to audition after seeing his videos on Youtube.
- Eddie Van Halen admitted that he had initially thought that the request from Michael Jackson to contribute a guitar solo on one of his songs (Beat It) was a prank call.
- Many Nobel Prize winners have said that this was their reaction to the call from Stockholm.
- Not knowing he had the same name as an eminent scientist, California carpet cleaner Donald Cram was awakened by a phone call informing him of his Nobel Prize in chemistry. He initially believed it to be a prank.