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Mistaken for Special Guest
Roy: I'm so confused. I try to figure out where that king guy is from, and now they think I'm the king of someplace else.
Hotel staff member: Oh no, sir, not at all. Someplace Else has a democracy.

The cast is expecting a special guest of some kind, be it a long lost relative, a critic who's come to review the restaurant/hotel/nightclub/what have you everyone works at, or even a celebrity. The thing is, the cast isn't sure what they look like or who to expect, and end up mistaking someone else for this guest. Whether intentional or not, the impostor wastes no time in taking advantage of the situation, demanding preferential treatment and leaving the other characters hopping to please them. Sometimes the fraud is exposed and sent packing, while the real guest shows up just in time. More often, however, there are some consequences for the cast, whether it's the real guest showing up after getting mistreated, or the fraud not leaving until he's milked the cast dry.

An inverted form is also sometimes seen, particularly in series where the hero is Walking the Earth: it is the hero who is mistaken for special guest by the Townsfolk of the Week. Sometimes, this will lead to the hero using his assumed authority in his efforts to solve the town's problem, and then moving on just as the real guest arrives. Other times, the real guest will arrive partway through the episode, leaving the hero with a lot of 'splainin' to do — especially if (as is often the case) a dead body has turned up in the mean time. In yet other cases, someone may not have the guest's best interests in mind, meaning the hero will then have to deal with attempts by the mistaken thief/killer/seducer(/all of the above?) on their person.

If the mistaken guest is The Fool, that's Seemingly Profound Fool.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  
  • In one Sgt. Frog story, Keroro and the Hinatas pander to a pair of alien TV show hosts who take advantage of them at every turn, even beating up Giroro (dropping him down a hole in the manga, and landing their space ship on him in the anime). Fortunately, they turn out to be frauds and are hauled away by the space police. Unfortunately, the real hosts show up only to be mistaken for the impostors by Giroro and chased off.
  • Cyborg 009 did this once. 006 mistook a random woman for a restaurant critic. The twist was that she was a con artist who pretended to be a critic to get free food.
  • An early story arc in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle has shades of this. Our realm-hopping group of heroes lands in a city being oppressed by an evil governor. The townspeople have applied to the higher government for help, but nothing's arrived yet. Our heroes neatly solve the town's problem and move on, just as the government's investigators arrive.

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • Elizabeth for Calypso in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, turning her into a Living Macguffin for a brief round of pirate negotiations.
  • In Waiting for Guffman, the "theatre critic" turns out to be just a man who is in town to visit his niece, who has just had a baby. In the closing credits, he is listed as "Not Guffman".
  • The Blues Brothers end up playing a country & western venue, having turned up and claimed to be the "Good Ol' Boys" who were billed. The concert done, the real Good Ol' Boys turn up and Hilarity Ensues.
    • But before that, the Blues Brothers had a huge beer bill to pay. The house didn't pay for the band's drinks, after all. So they tried to pass the bill to the real Good Ol' Boys...
    • One has to wonder just where the Good Ol' Boys had been. It was past closing time when they finally showed up.
      • It is implied by the band's leader that they had trouble with the RV they ride in. As he is being stopped by Jake and Elwood, he mentions how late the band is.
  • Stargate (the movie) and early Stargate SG-1 featured this frequently. As only "the gods" came through the Gate, it wasn't uncommon for the heroes to be mistaken for them. This led to much kneeling and praying whenever they came through... until the real "gods," who were the Big Bads, came along. They were seldom amused. It also led to some weapons pointed in our heroes' faces when they arrived on a world where the locals knew what the "gods" were all about.
  • A really weird example shows up in Ocean's Twelve, where the cast invokes this trope; Julia Roberts' character supposed looks exactly like Julia Roberts (In-Universe), and so they camouflage their museum heist as special guest star Julia Roberts visiting the museum. They are exposed by Bruce Willis (As Himself), who figures out that while she looks like Julia Roberts, she does not act like her.
    • In Ocean's Thirteen, they pull the fake critic stunt by getting one of their group to act like the hotel inspector so as to get the hotel management to focus attention on him, rather than the actual hotel reviewer. Then, to ensure a negative review, they proceed to treat the reviewer like crud. This involves dirtying his room, filling his room with a god-awful stench and giving him food poisoning. At the end of the movie, they rig a slot machine for him, without his knowledge, as a form of recompense.
  • In the classic The 39 Steps, Robert Donat's character is fleeing the police and enters a political rally to lose them. One problem - he runs onstage, and they mistake him for the speaker. He gives a stirring speech completely impromptu while consistently hiding his handcuffs, and he gets a standing ovation after he's done. Crowning Moment Of Awesome?
  • Zelig gets by in life by being mistaken for important figures due to Involuntary Shapeshifting brought on by a childhood need to fit in. Being a Woody Allen movie, Hilarity Ensues.
  • Dunston Checks In features a hotel owner mistaking the movie's villain for an undercover agent from a Zagats-esque organization after seeing him leaning into an air vent (he's actually looking for his monkey, who steals jewelry for him). This causes her to constantly ignore and degrade another man who naturally turns out to be the real agent.
  • In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the main characters being mistaken first for black people (at a Klan rally), then there's an inversion where they get recognized as now-famous musicians in an important part of the climax.
  • It's Enrico Pallazzo!!
  • In Moulin Rouge!, Satine mistakes Christian as the investor of the nigthclub that she is supposed to seduce. The couple falls in love making a perfect Triang Relations when the real investor, The Duke, steps into the picture.
  • The 1990 environmental/business training film Grime Goes Green features a workplace whose owner (played by John Cleese) is expecting a visit from Prince Charles. He mistakes an environmental inspector for the Prince and is devastated by his negative review. Also inverted, when Grime mistakes Prince Charles for an environmental inspector and shows off his environmental improvements.
  • Fermat in Fermats Room was assumed to be the host of the game, while in fact he was merely another pawn in the scheme.
  • In Carry On Regardless, Bert Handy (Sid James) is hired to hold a rich man's place in the waiting room queue at a hospital and is mistaken for a visiting dignitary.
  • The Bad-Guy Bar scene in ¡Three Amigos! is this. A German arms dealer comes in, shoots a man for making fun of him, and warns the bar that some of his friends are due to arrive soon. The titular amigos (really just actors) soon enter the bar and are mistaken for the dangerous Germans, even after doing a song-and-dance routine to try to "cheer everyone up" since they're all deathly afraid of being killed. After the amigos leave, the real Germans come in, get made fun of, and open fire on several patrons.

    Literature 
  • Happens in the generally dream-like and mind-screwy The Unconsoled by Kauo Ishiguro.
  • In Graham Greene's The Third Man, the main character, an author of pulp westerns is mistaken for a far more literary writer whose name is similar to the protagonist's pen-name. The protagonist speaks at an event organised for the other writer without anyone working it out. Indeed his adoring readers are impressed by his daring disregard for writers like James Joyce. In fact, the protagonist hasn't even heard of them.
  • The Baroque Cycle: Jack Shaftoe, AKA "King of the Vagabonds", accidentally crashes a masquerade party that King Louis of France is expected to attend dressed as...King of the Vagabonds.
  • In The Pale King, David Foster Wallace is mistaken for another David F. Wallace who was scheduled to show up at the same time. He gets an expedited entry into the Peoria REC, a promotion, and a consultation with the Iranian Crisis. It takes a few days for the IRS to figure it out, and he faces impersonation charges for months.
  • Played straight in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck stumbles into the Phelp's farm and gets mistaken for none other than Tom Sawyer, their nephew who's due for a visit. As expected he has to rely on a number of idiotic lies to save his skin when the real Tom pops up. The mild twist here is that Tom thinks it's a hoot and enthusiastically cooperates by pretending to be "Tom's" half-brother Sid.
  • A variation occurs in the science fiction story "The Spectre General"; the variation being that the "special guest" can never show up because he doesn't exist (though only the commanding officers know this; they use the fiction to maintain their authority).

     Live Action TV  
  • Fawlty Towers, "The Hotel Inspectors" plays with this, as several characters in turn are possible candidates for the hotel inspector, and are disproven at various times, until the real ones arrive right at the very end, at the worst possible time, leading to possibly one of the best closing moments of any sitcom episode. A similar situation occurs in "A Touch of Class", but in that instance the "Special Guest" is a con-man deliberately pretending to be a Lord to get preferential treatment.
  • Six examples of the inverted form from Doctor Who:
    • "The Romans": The Doctor is mistaken for the famous lyre player Maximus Pettulian after he finds Pettlian's body and picks up the murdered man's lyre.
    • "The Daleks' Master Plan": While in a movie studio in 1920s Hollywood, Steven is mistaken for one of the Keystone Kops and the Doctor is mistaken for Professor Webster, an expert on Arabian culture.
      • Played with in the Loose Cannon reconstruction. As there were no available stills of the actor who ACTUALLY played Professor Webster, Loose Cannon substituted a photo of a bespectacled William Hartnell from the film "This Sporting Life."
    • "Power of the Daleks": The Doctor stumbles across the body of the freshly murdered Examiner: an official sent from earth to investigate strange goings-on in the colony on Vulcan. Taking the Examiner's badge, he is mistaken for the Examiner by the colonists.
    • "The Curse of Peladon": The Doctor visits the planet Peladon, where he is taken for the expected Ambassador from Earth. He foils an attempt to prevent Peladon from taking its place in interstellar society and then makes a discreet exit just in time to avoid meeting the real Ambassador.
    • "Black Orchid": A particularly bare-faced instance, in which the fifth Doctor (the one who's so keen on cricket that he wears a Edwardian-period cricket outfit all the time) arrives in an Edwardian-period country village and is assumed to be one of the players for a charity cricket match that's about to start — they're expecting a substitute about whom they know nothing except that he's a doctor. The Doctor leads his team to victory, but this doesn't do him much good when guests start dying at the after-match nosh-up and the real substitute player sends a message to apologise for not being able to make it.
    • In "Paradise Towers", the chief caretaker of a rather disastrous colony believes the Doctor is the Great Architect who designed the place. Unfortunately he's insecure about his position, and orders his underlings to kill the Doctor. Things don't improve after the mistaken identity is settled.
    • Used to excess in the new series, abetted by the Doctor's "psychic paper" - a blank piece of paper which the viewer perceives as credentials for whatever position the Doctor needs to pose as. In the episode "The Idiot's Lantern," he even manages to pass for the king of Belgium. Subverted in the third series, where the psychic paper doesn't fool Shakespeare or specially trained Torchwood employees.
      • Also happened for real when The BBC mistook Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan (there to be interviewed for a political programme) for an extra and started having him made up to be one of the tree aliens from "The End of the World"...
  • Stargate (the movie) and early Stargate SG-1 featured this frequently. As only "the gods" came through the Gate, it wasn't uncommon for the heroes to be mistaken for them. This led to much kneeling and praying whenever they came through... until the real "gods," who were the Big Bads, came along. They were seldom amused. It also led to some weapons pointed in our heroes' faces when they arrived on a world where the locals knew what the "gods" were all about.
  • Seinfeld:
    • In one episode, George impersonates a man named O'Brien so he and Jerry can get a limo ride and free tickets to a basketball game at Madison Square Garden. This backfires spectacularly, since O'Brien is a secretive white supremacist and leader of the "Aryan Union", and he is making his first public appearance. Oops.
    • In another episode, the head of a charity runs into Kramer on the street. As Kramer just came from a dentist appointment (and as a result is slurring his speech) and is wearing special shoes (intended to improve his basketball skills), the man mistakenly believes that Kramer is mentally challenged and invites him to a charity banquet as the guest of honor.
  • I Love Lucy used this plot. Lucy expected an actor from a radio station to pose as her fictional "first husband" in front of Ricky as part of a contest. If Lucy could keep up the charade until midnight, then she would receive a generous cash reward. However, she mistakes a vagrant asking for money to be the actor, and Hilarity Ensues when the bum quickly takes advantage of the situation.
  • An episode of Hey Dude used this. The very end of the episode has Mr. Ernst telling the staff to be on the lookout for a reviewer from a very famous resort guidebook, that he may be in disguise as any one of the guests. Just as he finishes saying this, a guest checks out and remarks that he had a wonderful stay. As he walks away everybody sees him wearing a jacket with the name of the guidebook in huge letters on the back.
  • In an episode of NewsRadio, Dave intentionally sets this up, introducing a man to a recently-quit Matthew as Dilbert creator Scott Adams, who convinces him to return to his job at the radio station. It turns out to just be some guy Dave met on the subway. Of course, the actual Scott Adams has a cameo as the guy standing behind them. It's that kind of show.
  • Druing the Vacation Episode of The Steve Harvey Show, Cedric and Lovita are mistaken for African royalty and are given special treatment from the time their plane lands in Orlando, leaving the rest of the gang to suffer in the motel from hell. Lovita thinks that Cedric went all out for their honeymoon, while he knew from the beginning that a picture taken of them in African garb during the school's Black History Month celebration is what caused the mixup and he takes full advantage of it. Of course, they are discovered to be impostors by the real king and queen and are thrown out of their fancy accommodations. They end up bunking with Steve, Romeo, and Bullethead at the same bad motel with no TV, no minibar, no ocean view, and a gator in the toilet.
  • It happens in one episode of Reno 911!, when two of the deputies pick up a crazy man at the airport after mistaking him for an ambassador from Africa.
  • On one episode of Friends, at Monica and Chandler's wedding rehearsal dinner, Monica tasks Rachel with keeping Chandler's transgender dad away from his mom, since they are divorced and hate each other. Rachel unfortunately mistakes another woman for his dad.
  • An episode of Saved by the Bell had the characters eager to impress a prospective new student who was said to be a Child Prodigy. Unfortunately, they had heard conflicting stories about whether she's "eight and speaks four languages" or "four and speaks eight languages". They end up leading a perfectly normal four year old around the school, thinking she's smarter than they are (though considering their mistake, they might have a point there).
  • Variation in season 2 episode 7 of Young Kindaichi. Kindaichi's childhood friend Miyuki is mistaken for Kindaichi, who is called in as a detective because of death threats. The murders happen. The real Kindaichi finishes solving the crime but not until after Miykui has made several important deductions.

     New Media  

    Radio 
  • The Big Finish audio play Bing-Bang-a-Boom involves the Doctor being mistaken for Commander John Ballard, the new (and newly murdered) commander of Dark Space 8, and presumable Expy of Benjamin Sisko. He's rescued by transmat from the exploding shuttle- he doesn't tell anyone he's not really Ballard until the end of the story.

    Theater 
  • In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Con Man Pseudolus tries to pull this with Miles Gloriosus, by impersonating his neighbor, a slave dealer. This also has a film adaptation.
  • Older Than Radio: In Nikolai Gogol's 1836 play The Inspector General ("The Government Inspector" in some translations) (and the Danny Kaye film adaptation), a clerk in Tsarist Russia exploits a group of corrupt, bumbling town officials when they mistake him for a government inspector.
  • The play Moon Over Buffalo featured a variation of this, where a theater couple was expecting Frank Capra to show up, but their daughter also had her fiance (who was also a weatherman) showing up for the first time. Which leads to a situation where the fiance is mistaken for Frank Capra without him knowing it, creating lines like
    Theater Wife: remembering Capra movies It Happened One Night
    Fiance: thinking that she is referring to the weather broadcast Well, actually, it happens every night at 6 and 11.
  • In Accidental Death of an Anarchist, the police are expecting the arrival of a judge, that none of them have ever met, to investigate the death of the anarchist. The Maniac takes advantage of this to pose as the judge and wreak havoc.

     Video Games  
  • In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, your new town's new mayor was set to arrive that day. You arrive first and the townsfolk can't be convinced it's a misunderstanding. The intended mayor lets you keep the job.

     Web Comics  

     Western Animation  

  • One episode of House of Mouse had the gang mistaking Mortimer for a restaurant critic. Fortunately, the real critic, Lumiere, manages to have a good time, and even offers to help them get even with Mortimer for the deception.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants has a Mistaken for Mistaken for Special Guest. A food inspector arrives at the Krusty Krab, and Spongebob and Mr. Krabs must cater to his every whim. Then a news report comes on that a fake food inspector has been going around trying to get free food from restaurants, so they come up with a plan to get even, by making an incredibly grotesque Krabby Patty that they serve him. Unfortunately, after they've carried out the plan, another news report comes on saying that the fake food inspector has been captured and that any other food inspector you see is real.
    "Yes, they are all idiots aren't they?"
  • Chowder: Mung Daal and Chowder leave on a delivery, providing the first half of one episode. The second half is some random, Mr. Magoo-type character walking into the store and being mistaken for the customer. Truffles orders Schnitzel to entertain him until Mung and Chowder get back. Hilarity Ensues. It only gets worse when the hilariously inept police arrive and inform Schnitzel, by megaphone, that the "customer" is a wanted criminal. This is almost the farthest this trope has ever been taken, because the customer ends up destroying the restaurant. Thank goodness for the Reset Button.
    • Taken even further when Truffles is then mistaken for the destructive customer by the police and arrested. Schnitzel is left in the wreckage of the restaurant while the customer wanders away.
  • One episode of Taz-Mania featured a hotel staff going out of their way to satisfy famed hotel reviewer "F.H. Leghorn". Foghorn Leghorn stumbles into the hotel that day and rattles off a huge list of demands; the staff goes well out of their way to accommodate him, walking all over a small, quiet, mild-mannered man in the process. Naturally, the victim was the real F.H. Leghorn, and Foghorn was just freeloading.
  • An episode of Top Cat had Bennie being convinced to impersonate a wealthy visiting maharajah, with the aid of some old towels and a bag of fake rubies. Amusingly enough, when the real maharajah's retinue shows up, Top Cat ends up mistaking the real deal for another impostor.
  • In an episode of Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures, the girls are trying to break a world record and are expecting the judge to arrive any minute. However, since they kept their efforts a secret, their strange behavior makes Berrykin Bloom think they're all sick and he calls a doctor, whom the girls naturally assume is the judge. The actual judge turned out to be a friend of theirs, though, so it all worked out in the end.
  • Stoked: A good part of one episode has been spent trying to make it up for the hotel critic.
  • The New Woody Woodpecker Show: Winnie Woodpecker once opened a "Big City" style Bistro and was told a critic who uses two names was expected to show up. When Wally Walrus showed up, she assumed him to be the critic (two names). The critic turned out to be Ms. Meany, who was constantly ignored in favor of Wally. Despite Wally never even knowing he was being mistaken for a critic, Winnie accused him. Meany actually liked being mistreated as she expected at an actual Big City restaurant.
  • Camp Lazlo: In "The Weakest Link", the three Jelly Beans are mistaken for three eccentric Finnish princes.
  • In an episode of The Flintstones, Barney is mistaken for a long-lost prince. Just as he is about to be crowned king, the real prince shows up, wearing a medallion that shows proof. When the servants offer to "dispose of" the imposter (Barney, who had repeatedly tried to tell them that they had the wrong guy) the prince says "Nah, let him go. He's got a kind face."
  • Pinky and the Brain: In "The Third Mouse" (a Whole Plot Reference to The Third Man), Pinky is mistaken for an international expert on plumbing and has to answer questions on Vienna's plumbing system.
  • A Terrytoons Deputy Dawg short had Deputy Dawg and his friends determined to give a good showing to the Governor to ensure the completion of a dam. Unfortunately, they accidentally show a photographer around the dam instead of the Governor, who is angry enough at the snub to cancel the dam project. Fortunately, the photographer works for a major magazine and he repays the gang for the great photo opportunity to persuade the Governor to change his mind.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Games Ponies Play": Twilight Sparkle and her friends are tasked with helping to roll out the welcome wagon for an inspector visiting the Crystal Empire, which is bidding to host the Equestria Games. They accidentally end up showing around an ordinary tourist instead of Ms. Harshwinny, the real inspector. Thankfully, the tourist has such a good time she vouches for the Empire to Ms. Harshwinny, despite the latter's bad first impression, and the Empire is chosen to host the Games.
  • An episode of The Powerpuff Girls saw the girls mistaking a hairy, taffy-loving sasquatch for their hairy, taffy-loving uncle.
  • Men In Black: In the episode "The Fmall, Fmall, Fmall World Syndrome", the Worm Guys break into Zed's office after a meeting with an alien scientist to partake Zed's special coffee. While drinking, one of the Worm Guys toasts another, saying "Here's to you, Professor...". The Fmecks, who intended to abduct the scientist because he'd developed a growth formula, freeze the worms, taking the one referred to as "professor". Hilarity Ensues as the worm guy erroneously leads them though a discussion about coffee.
  • In Barbie The Pearl Princess, Lumina is mistaken for the salon's new stylist.

     Real Life  

  • On May 8, 2006, the staff of a BBC show, News 24, was expecting to interview IT commentator Guy Kewney about the legal dispute between Apple Computer (Inc.) and Apple Corps (the record company created by The Beatles) - but the studio employee sent to get him from the waiting room found Guy Goma, who was there for a job interview in their IT department. According to Guy Goma, he (Goma) was sitting in a room waiting to be called for an interview when a man appeared and asked, "Are you Guy Kewney?" Mr. Goma misheard and replied, "Yes," at which point he was whisked away to be prepared for the live interview. After a (hilarious) dawning moment of realization, Goma went along with it, doing his best to answer Karen Bowman's questions. Here's a video of the interview. Guy's expression at 0:07 is priceless.
    • This presumably inspired similar events in The IT Crowd when Moss, appearing on Dragon's Den under a pseudonym, is mistaken for an MP and taken into an interview about the Iraq war.
      • This is exactly where the inspiration for that scene came from as confirmed by the writer, Graham Linehan in an interview with Charlie Brooker on an episode of Screenwipe.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt, the legendary "Captain of Kopenick". In 1906, he bought a German military uniform at a second-hand shop and noted the almost-instinctive German deference to uniformed authority. So he commanded some real soldiers to accompany him, and did an "inspection" of the town of Köpenick. He fined them over 4,000 marks (and signed a receipt) and almost made a clean getaway.
  • Real Life culture jammers The Yes Men actively seek to get invited to speak at functions by people who believe them to represent large organizations such as McDonald's, usually making speeches designed to embarrass or discredit the organization.


Miraculous MalfunctionOlder Than RadioMust Have Caffeine
Masquerade BallParty at My IndexNasty Party
Mistaken for ServantMistaken for IndexMistaken for Spies

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