Newhart Phonecall

Simply put, a phone call in which only one half of the conversation is heard. This trope is sometimes used in conjunction with a Noodle Incident or Noodle Implements (see the Saturday Night Live example below).

It can involve Repeating so the Audience Can Hear, if the audience is intended to understand both sides of the conversation. Alternatively, the audience can be deliberately left in the dark and forced to imagine what the person on the other end is saying. This can lead either to drama and tension, or to hilarious misunderstanding.

Alternatively, both halves of the conversation may be heard, per se, but from the audience's perspective, the words being spoken by the person on the other end of the line come through as comically sped-up babbling or some other form of unintelligible gobbledygook (sometimes done to hide really vulgar language).

Named after Bob Newhart, who used it in his Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy routines in the 1960s as well as some of his works below.


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    Fan Fic 
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! fic "Loaded Bones", Bakura rings Marik to find out whether his Super-Powered Evil Side is having him on about having used their shared body to have sex with Marik. Marik's side of the conversation isn't given, but is implied by Bakura's (mainly flustered) responses.

  • In Dr. Strangelove, we hear President Muffley's side of his call to Soviet Premier Kisov explaining the situation. From the way Muffley has to keep explaining things in simple terms and nudging the conversation back on topic, it's clear that (as the Soviet ambassador warned) Kisov is thoroughly drunk.
  • Hell Is For Heroes is a 1962 film about WWII GIs who have to hold an outpost until their relief arrives. They occupy an abandoned German pillbox with a microphone linked back to enemy headquarters. Bob Newhart plays an army clerk who makes fake radio reports so the Germans will believe that the squad is bigger than it is. Many of them are quite funny.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Practically Once an Episode in The Bob Newhart Show, and a Running Gag in Newhart.
  • Saturday Night Live in the 1970s did this at the beginning of Weekend Update with Chevy Chase, in which Chase would be on the phone with a woman, talking about a bizarre medical condition, sexual act, or something that happened that isn't described in full detail before realizing he's on camera and hangs up.
  • Supernatural. While Dean is saying on the phone "It totally rocked my understanding of the word 'necrophilia'," a passing woman shoots him a look of disgust.
  • Referred to on Mystery Science Theater 3000 when Mike refers to an uneventful scene of a man talking on the phone as "the unfunny half of a Bob Newhart routine''.
  • A particularly hilarious one from Coupling:
    Steve: Jeff, calm down. Jeff, just listen, okay. Three things. One, you should not be using your mobile phone on an plane. Two, the name of the island is pronounced Lesbos. (beat) Yeah, well that was fairly optimistic of you, wasn't it. Three, the behaviour of breast implants at altitude isn't a subject I can claim great knowledge on. (beat) Yeah, I'm fairly sure you can't raise it with a complete stranger. (beat) No, whatever danger you think she's in. (beat) No Jeff, not even with the people in "shrapnel range"! Okay, look, I'm going to hang up now. (beat) Because I don't want to endanger a planeload of innocent passengers by prolonging a conversation about the hazards of breast inflation.

  • "Shriner's Convention by Ray Stevens consists of a one-sided dialogue, via hotel phone, between two members of the Hahira, Georgia, delegation: leader "Illustrious Potentate" (Bubba), and member "Noble Lumpkin" (Coy). Over the course of the conversation we hear from Bubba about Coy's various exploits which include getting his Harley-Davidson motorcycle into his hotel room and on the high diving board of the hotel swimming pool, and his girlfriend streaking through their banquet yelling out the "secret code," wearing nothing but Coy's fez.
  • Multiple songs have one-sided phone conversations with Black talking to his supervisor, White, on the other line. Forever Gone in particular is almost entirely a Newhart phonecall as Black reports his progress while tracing a target.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • One of the regular skits on GLOW were the Easy As KGB segments, featuring Col. Ninotchka (a typical anti-American Russian wrestler) on the phone with her very stupid subordinate, Vladimir.
  • Paul E. Dangerously (a young pre-ECW Paul Heyman) used to regularly carry a cell phone with him at all times in WCW, sometimes talking to someone while a match was in progress. Naturally, only his half of the conversation got shown on TV.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Bob Newhart had a lot of routines using this, perhaps the most memorable of which is his King Kong routine, in which a security guard at the Empire State Building's first night on the job is interrupted by the ape's ascent. Listen to it here.
  • Lily Tomlin's Ernestine character was a telephone operator. Audiences heard only her half of her conversations.
  • Shelly Berman was good at this sort of thing. His most famous bit was The Morning After The Night Before, where he calls his friend after a wild party, and hears about his unremembered drunken behavior.
  • Alan Bennett's 'Telegram' sketch, in which he attempts to dictate a telgram he wishes to send to the operator over the telephone and keeps being sidetracked.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Robot Chicken: In the Star Wars episode, Palpatine is on the phone with Vader when Vader tells him that the Death Star blew up. Palpatine is angry with Vader and makes Vader cry over losing Padmé.
    • Also used in a skit where The Claw learns that his cat is dying of cancer.

    Real Life 
  • Happens all the time when someone you're in the room with answers a phone.
  • In some online forums, you can block a particular person so that they cannot send you messages and you cannot see anything they post. When other people do not have them blocked, it can create surreal situations where you see people replying to posts you can't see, leaving you to guess what the blocked person is saying. If one of the other people are feeling particularly puckish, they might invoke this trope, replying to imagined comments instead of real ones because they know you can't tell the difference.