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Take a Number

You're in a waiting room with one of those "Take a Number" devices. You take your number, sit down, look at it... and find that it's something ridiculous, at least four digits long. Just then, an announcement: "Now Serving, Number Three."

This can end in one of two ways:
  • You fidget and fuss until every single number before yours is called, and when your number is about to be called... the place closes for the day.
  • Hilarity Ensues as you scramble to beg, borrow or steal a lower number.

A common variation or part of this gag is there being a bureaucratic number-system at all at that place (for example, in heaven).

Can also be used as a Stock Phrase to tell someone that they are far from the only one who has a particular request, such as punching a Jerkass in the mouth or giving a What the Hell, Hero? speech to someone who feels they had to make a hard choice and are tired of getting browbeat over it.

See also Right on Queue, for when a character is stuck in line for a location that doesn't use such a number system. A related trope is Ticket Line Campout, which is about showing up early to guarantee an early spot in the queue (numbered or otherwise.)


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    Comic Books 
  • An issue of Excalibur has Kitty Pryde getting 10^23 from the dispenser — which is probably a reference to Avogadro's Number.
  • In the Belgian comic Arkel, the eponymous angel is seen bringing a recently-departed soul to Purgatorium, where he has to take a number. He gets 800,144, while 309 is called. As Arkel points out, that's only 799,835 numbers to wait, it shouldn't take long.

    Fan Works 
  • This happens at the Torture Place in Retro Chill. The group gets number 5,849,596, and despite being the only people there they have to wait a full day for service.

  • In Sonic the Hedgehog in the Fourth Dimension Sonic and Co had to take one before meeting with the Science Council of the Organizers; with was up in the 4000's while the current number called was 24. Needless to say this didn't go down well with one impatient hedgehog.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Beetlejuice:
    • Early in the movie, a ghost couple get a a six- or seven-digit number in Heaven's waiting room. It's then revealed that they had to spend three months here before being served.
    • At the end, the eponymous ghost gets similarly long number... and is sitting next to the voodoo priest with the next number to be called (4). Betelgeuse tricks him and steals the voodoo priest's number... but gets his head shrunk in retalation.
  • In the TV movie High School USA, Beth (Nancy Mc Keon) is working in a bakery when JJ (Michael J. Fox) comes to talk to her. She doesn't want to talk with him and calls the next number. JJ has several "take a number" cards in his pocket and pulls out the correct number so he can talk to her.
  • The Tiger Makes Out - Eli Wallach's mad-at-the-world character goes to the housing authority with a grievance on his lunch hour, and gets number 110 when they're only up to 15. He pretends to be #15, but the representative won't talk with him until he's produced the number. He's then busted and booed out of the office for being a line-breaker.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mr. Bean has done the second variant. It is well executed, but pretty much as expected. It basically writes the book on this trope, as Bean explores virtually every possible method to cut his wait short, no matter how cruel. This includes ripping a stuffed animal out of a child's arms to get her out of the line, switching tickets with a woman in a full-body cast which also covers her mouth, drawing a zero on the end of someone else's number, and flipping the digital number readout sign upside down so that 6s appeared to be 9s and so forth. He gets his comeuppance in the end, so despite being one of his cruelest outings ever, it's still all in good fun.
  • Chuck: In "Chuck Versus the Imported Hard Salami", Chuck goes to Lou's deli in hope of making up with her. When his number comes up, she tells him that if he's not ordering food he'll have to take another number and wait. Finally, his number comes up at closing time... but he manages to make up with her anyway.
  • In the LOST episode "The Lie", Ben arrives at an empty butcher shop, not intending to buy anything, and takes a number. This number (342) has thus been heavily scrutinized by fans.
  • Oliver runs into this a couple of times on Green Acres. He draws a high number, while the by-the-book clerk is still in the single digits, and insists on systematically calling every intervening number, even though Oliver is the only customer in the room.
  • On The Dukes of Hazzard, Ms. Tisdale, the lady who ran the Hazzard Post Office, is a stickler that everyone has to take a number AND show proper ID for service.
  • In Supernatural, after assuming command of the place the demon Crowley turns Hell into a seemingly endless waiting line where the new arrivals quite literally have to pick a number from the adjacent machine and wait their turn. When they reach the front however, they go right back to the beginning.
  • In the Saturday Night Live sketch "Samurai Delicatessan", Buck Henry enters the empty (of customers) deli with John Belushi's Samurai behind the counter. When Henry tries to ask for something, the samurai shouts Japanese at him and point (with his katana) at the sign saying "Please take a number." After the samurai calls out three or four Japanese "numbers", Henry calls out that he's got that one and now the samurai waits on him.

  • A song by The Killers advises to "take a number where the blood's just barely dry..."

    Puppet Shows 
  • Naturally, Sesame Street does this with Grover and Mr. Johnson, one of the Fat Blue characters. Mr. Johnson, holding number 40, has to wait while bakery clerk Grover calls numbers 1 through 38 for non-existent clientele. Of course, at number 39, a woman shows up with an extremely long and complicated list which Grover proceeds to fill, leaving the hapless Mr. Johnson screaming in frustration.

    Video Games 
  • Played with in the point-and-click adventure game Space Quest 6. You take a number and get 3, however the current number being served is 4, and it counts up from there of course.
  • World of Warcraft: The first encounter with Nexus-Prince Haramad has him telling you that "If you are here to kill me, please take a number and wait for your turn."
  • In the demo of The Stanley Parable, you take a number and wait a minute or two before you meet the Narrator (if you do wait, that is). When you get to this room again in the demo, you can wait again until your number shows up again, if only to mess with the Narrator.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Happens to Garfield in an episode of Garfield and Friends, while waiting to get yogurt at a frozen yogurt stand. Despite the fact that he was the only customer there.
  • Spoofed in an episode of ReBoot. Bob needs to get "slow food" from Al's Wait-And-Eat, and is told to take a number. Bob's number is "1000000000000", but since it's in binary, Bob remarks, "4096? Must be the lunch rush..." Still, Al's waiter calls out, "Now serving number 3..."
  • In the South Park episode when the town loses all Internet service, Stan, his sister and his dad have to take numbers to get rationed Web access at a refugee camp. Features both versions of the trope: the fighting and the closing.
  • Happens in SpongeBob SquarePants. After many issues with trying to get a bus out of Rock Bottom, SpongeBob goes to ask for a schedule. However, there's a huge line, and SpongeBob has to wait all the way in the back. The person ahead of him, uh, lays on egg on top of his head stating his number in line. As soon as the line moves up one person, the egg hatches, and three more people jump in front of him waiting in line. And when he actually reaches the end of the line, the clerk simply says that the next bus to Bikini Bottom leaves in five seconds, then "Sorry, we're closed" ensues.
  • Wakfu episode "Miss Ugly": In the flashback showing the backstory of the Ugly Princesses, there is such a long line of princes waiting to woo them that they use a "Take a Number" device. Then comes the god Osamodas, who picks number 666 before laying a curse on the disrespectful princesses.
  • In the Teen Titans Go! episode "Legendary Sandwich", Robin has to wait in the bakery department of the supermarket and gets number 78 with them serving number 22. While played for laughs, it's clearly a more realistic take on the trope.
  • The stealing variant is done rather morbidly in the Dan Vs. episode "Dan Vs. the DMV": Dan is stuck with a four-digit number at the place while renewing his driver's license, so he "trades" with a man sitting next to him who has a lower number, and has apparently died waiting his turn. He struggles to take the number out of his fingers, so he rips his arm off instead. Of course, after filling out a ton of paperwork, the place closes before Dan can return it.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Lisa tricks Homer and Bart into thinking they have leprosy and Ned sends them to a Hawaiian rehab center. While Homer is receiving a painful operation, Bart looks at his ticket, a #2.
  • In one episode of Archer, Lana finds out that Cyril has been repeatedly cheating on her. In revenge, she publically announces that any ISIS employee hoping to have sex with her is welcome to show up outside Cyril's office with a number. Almost every male employee immediately converges on the office, but only Pam is smart enough to actually take a number, at least at first. After Lana refuses to have sex with Pam, they devise a scheme to charge the rest of the potential customers for the right to claim that they had sex with Lana.
  • In one Megas XLR episode, Coop has to wait in line at the DMV. When the number announced was 12, Coop looked at his number to see that he has 1271.
  • Played with in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. When Rainbow Dash enters a flying contest, instead of taking a number, she and her competitors are issued numbers to determine the order of who goes out and does their routine for the judges. Dash is nervous and reluctant to perform and buys time by trading her low number with contestants with higher numbers.

    Real Life 
  • Somewhat of a Discredited Trope in real life. Most take-a-number machines go to 99 and then return to 00. Usually the wait is no more than 10-15 minutes, but there are certainly exceptions. In some places, like the DMV in Virginia or California, just to make it harder to tell where you really are in line, you will get a letter and a number (like "B-59"); while the numbers in each letter-group are called in order, the groups themselves are interspersed, so you can't tell if there will be 5 or 500 people called between B-53 and B-59.
  • As a bit of humor, one can buy a paperweight featuring a novelty hand grenade (that is to say, no explosives in it) with a number tag hanging from the pin, complete with a sign reading "Please take a number".
  • The Danish government has a system in place to handle different kinds of services at city-halls and unemployment-centers. When you enter, you go over to a computer and pick the category you believe your business to fall under. Once you select the category, you get a random number between 0 and 9999. The numbers are called in a completely random order (out of all the "active" numbers), and there's no help to get when you need to find out what category your business falls under, until you've taken a number... When your number actually does get called, you can then only hope that you chose the right category, and if not, you can get hints as to what category you should pick... And then wait again until your number gets called!

Sequel Number SnarlNumber TropesTitle by Number
Split-Screen ReactionImageSource/Western AnimationWillie Whopper
Wild TakeComedy TropesTake Off Your Clothes

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