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Phoney Call
Bob wants to trick Alice into thinking that he is talking over the phone to Charlie when he really isn't. Very, very often a Comedy Trope, and as such it almost never succeeds, Alice usually finds out the truth almost immediately and tends to misinterpret it.

Occurs in three varieties.

  • Bob isn't actually talking to anybody (Bob hasn't dialed anyone but pretends he's talking to Charlie). This can fail if:
    • the phone isn't working
    • the phone rings while he is talking
    • Alice is a cable girl who came to connect Bob's previously unplugged and non-functional telephone to the network.
  • Bob is actually talking to Carol, but he pretends it's Charlie. The comedy here is built on the fact Carol initially can't understand what's going on. It rarely fails, but in cases where it does, it can fail several ways:
    • Carol screws everything up by walking into the room and asking "Why did you just call me Charlie?"
    • Carol says something so surprising or infuriating on the phone that Bob can't help but respond, calling her Carol.
  • Bob is talking to an automated system, such as:
    • a time service
    • his automated banking system (hilarity may ensue if it uses voice recognition)

Regardless of variety, all three attempts can fail if:
  • Charlie walks into the room, clearly not on the phone, while Bob is still 'talking' to him and asks "who are you talking to, Bob?"
  • Alice just knows that Charlie can't be talking at the moment (he's in a coma, dead, on vacation in a remote location with no phones, etc.).
  • Alice later asks Charlie about some details of that phone conversation of which he can't possibly know.

Do not confuse with a Prank Call

Examples of Type A:

Advertising
  • At one time there was a series of advertisements for a building society, starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. In one, Laurie calls their telephone banking service. Fry, whose character always has to go one better, claims his bank has one too, calls it, and requests his balance — though we see at the other end of the line there is only a telephone ringing in an empty office.

Comics
  • Happened to Josť Carioca when he tried to use a mobile phone he found on the streets to impress a girl by pretending to be holding an important conversation... and then the phone started ringing.

Film
  • In The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, Toto has declared himself to be Dorothy's agent, and is apparently calling someone about a gig. Dorothy's reaction: "That isn't even a real phone!"
  • Done dramatically in Obsessed. Lisa tricks the Charles' babysitter into letting her into the house by pretending to hold a phone conversation with Sharon. Justified a bit when Lisa pretends that Sharon is upset with the babysitter, causing her to decide against taking the phone herself.

Jokes
  • There's a well-known lawyer joke along these lines:
    • A young man is just starting up his own law firm. On the morning of his very first day in business, a man comes to the door. Just before he enters the office, the lawyer (wanting to impress this client) picks up the phone and shouts into it: "$100,000 is my final offer! I'm a very busy man, you know, and my time doesn't come cheap. You don't like it? Fine, then, you can just go find yourself another lawyer!" He slams down the phone and turns to the other man. "Now, what can I do for you?" he asks. The other man replies, "Uh, I was just here to hook up the phone."

Literature

Live-Action TV
  • In The IT Crowd, Jen is pretending to be busy, so she makes Moss wait till she finishes her phone call. When she asks him what he wants, he replies that he came to connect her telephone. She didn't really learn her lesson, since later in the same episode she pretends to use a computer and then Moss plugs it in for her.
  • In an episode of Scrubs Eliot overhears Dr Kelso talking about his enforced retirement on his cellphone. She later learns that the bathroom doesn't have cellphone reception - this was his way of asking her for help.
  • A couple of times in Quantum Leap, Sam picks up a phone without calling anybody, so that he can have a conversation with the Invisible to Normals Al in front of other people.
  • On Just Shoot Me!, Maya is at Nina's birthday party when she sees Nina have a conversation on a pay phone that was out of order. Turns out Nina was upset about many of her former colleages not coming and was faking a phone call to save face.
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Dewey pretends to be talking on the phone to their mother in order to get Reese and Malcolm to do what he wants, which they think are orders from their mother. Fails when the phone rings as he is talking.
  • Happens frequently on Frasier — in one episode, Frasier attempts to get out of a date by pretending he's getting an emergency call from his brother, in another, he and his ex-wife simultaneously make non-calls to "cancel" other dates that they don't actually have.
  • Ghost Whisperer: Melinda is on a road trip with Jim, who for plot reasons doesn't know at the moment that she's a psychic. When a ghost shows up in the car, Melinda pretends to take a phone call so she can talk to him.
  • On Saturday Night Live, the impoverished Woodrow tries to impress a woman by taking a business call, but he promptly confesses it was fake. She doesn't have the heart to tell him how obviously his "phone" was a block of wood.
  • This scene from 30 Rock.
  • Used in Torchwood: Miracle Day by Esther as an excuse for following Maloney. He instantly knows she's lying since Esther claims to be talking to Vera on the phone, but Maloney had just killed her and Esther quickly figures out he's up to no good.

Newspaper Comics
  • In Dilbert, Wally once gets a hands-free and goes around PHB, shouting insults in his face, pretending that he actually talks to his mother. Personal calls have been forbidden in the Path-E-Tech Management ever since.

Western Animation
  • In one of The Simpsons Christmas episodes, Bart and Lisa have to sneak past security guard Gary Coleman who is having an animated phone conversation. Lisa notices that the phone isn't even plugged in.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: In "Menace of the Conquerer Caveman!", Booster Gold pretends to take a call from Batman during a meeting with a toy company. No one buys it.

Real Life

Examples of Type B:

Film
  • Shock Treatment: Judge Oliver Wright and Betty Hapschatt at adjacent pay phones to cover up the fact that they're actually talking to each other while listening in on a conversation between some nearby bad guys.
  • One scene of Speed Zone has Jack pretend that he cleared his team's entry into the race by pretending to phone his boss. The little old lady he actually calls hangs up in confusion.

Literature
  • In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the murderer does this to help set up his alibi.
  • A variant on Type B: In the Tommy and Tuppence short story collection Partners in Crime, Tommy has a hidden button on his desk at the International Detective Agency. If he wants to impress a client or end an interview early, he presses it, and Alfred the office boy phones him. He then answers the phone and pretends to be speaking to an important government minister or something.

Live-Action TV
  • In an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Grissom is taken off a case and Nick covertly calls him to discuss the investigation; when caught, he pretends he's talking to his girlfriend, leaving Grissom somewhat puzzled on the other end.
  • Breaking Bad makes particular use of this whenever Walt talks to Jessie in the first two seasons.
  • Leverage, "The Ice Man Job": Hardison, in over his head on a con, tells a mark he has to call his girlfriend, then calls Sophie and manages to signal to her that he's in trouble.
  • Hustle. In "Father of the Jewels", Sean is with the mark when he calls Mickey and starts acting like he is talking to nursing home. Mickey is initially confused but quickly figures out that Sean is letting him know that they urgently need to set up a nursing home for the next stage of the con.
  • On Continuum, Keira constantly pretends to be calling her (nonexistent) colleagues in Section 6 when she's actually talking to Alec. In a twist, she doesn't even talk to him on her phone — they talk using an implant in her head, and she just holds the phone up to her ear so it doesn't look like she's talking to herself.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: In "Death on the Vine", Phryne makes a call to Inspector Jack Robinson and pretends to be talking to her mechanic so the people eavesdropping on her call won't know who she is really talking to.

Newspaper Comics
  • In the January 23, 1989 Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin momentarily pretends to be calling Susie about homework as his mom passes through when he's actually trying to purchase power tools.

Western Animation
  • The Looney Tunes Show: Bugs does this is "Semper Lie", calling up Speedy and pretending to be speaking to his (non-existent) sister Viola. Speedy is Genre Savvy enough to work out what is going on and play along.

Examples of Type C:

Newspaper Comics
  • Garfield: Jon once talks about a date with the automated time service.
  • In another Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin lies to his babysitter, Rosalyn, about feeling sick. Rosalyn sees through this and calls the automatic time service, pretending that she's speaking with Calvin's doctor. She then tells Calvin that Doc wants Calvin to take a teaspoon of castor oil and lie down all evening.


Phone-Trace RacePhone TropesPrank Call
PhlegmingsJust for PunPin-Pulling Teeth
Phlebotinum Induced StupidityComedy TropesPiano Drop

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