This trope covers any scenario where a character is: a celebrity, a Super Hero with a Secret Identity, a magical, non-human creature, or something to that effect. Said character gets mistaken as someone posing as (or performing something created by)himself, and furthermore, criticized or laughed at for his lame impersonation and costume.
Picture this: Elvis really is Not Quite Dead after all. He decides to surprise the world by showing up at one of those Elvis-impersonator conventions in full iconic Elvis regalia. What does he hear when he shows up? His outfit is the poorest recreation anyone has ever seen, his accent sounds totally fake, his hair style is all wrong, and he's much too tall. Nice try, newbie, but you would never pass as the real Elvis.
May be evoked in Clark Kenting. Can be a result of being Mistaken for an Imposter. Yes, this does happen in Real Life because Reality Is Unrealistic (also because actors who are going to work have cosmetics and costume people to get them ready to look good under the bright lights, unlike when they're going out grocery shopping, and some quite wealthy people perform tasks like that for themselves).
It helps that impersonations are usually not judged on how much they look and act like the real celebrity in general, but how faithfully they can recreate a small number of recorded performances that are all the onlookers know about how the celebrity should look and sound. Those same recordings are available for the impersonator to practice on again and again, whereas for the real Elvis the recording that made it to vinyl was only one out of hundreds of performances, practice takes and so forth he's ever done. Many of the small details in the canonical recording that the impersonators lovingly reproduce would be umimportant accidents to the real guy, or at best just one point on an entire scale of ways he can perform.
Not to be confused with Cheap Costume. Also see Recognition Failure.
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Anime & Manga
Played with in Slayers - When they temporarily join a company of traveling actors, Lina and Gourry are given a bit part as the dragon, while Amelia is asked to play the hero. The name of the play? "Bring Us Justice and Peace: The Death of the Abominable Fiend Lina Inverse."
This happens to Gohan in Dragon Ball Z when he interrupts filming in a movie about the Great Saiyaman. The director and actors mistake him for a meddling stunt double. They only realize it's the real deal when, after being rejected, he flies away - dragging a huge crane behind him no less.
In the InuYasha manga, chapter 520, Inuyasha shows up on a present-day Tokyo train as he usually appears, haori, sword, ears and hair and all. Some of the innocent bystanders think he is cosplaying, but say that he's not a very good cosplayer. This makes sense since not many manga exist inside their own worlds. So, even if it was Sesshoumaru in his brother's place, he could as well be given the same treatment (after all, some people do cosplays of their own Original Generation characters, which gives some bystanders the right to point flaws in them).
Digimon Tamers has Takato walking with Guilmon on the street at plain daylight. Nobody was alarmed because it was a real good life-size replica for a 10 year old. It's okay, a dinosaur that snorts, talks, walks and spits fireballs is just a basic project to do for your average 10 year old. We're in Japan, after all.
Kotetsu runs into this in the 20th episode of Tiger & Bunny when trying to convince an Apollon Media security guard that he's Wild Tiger. The security guard notes that hero look-alikes try to sneak into the premises all the time, and he has no reason to believe that Kotetsu isn't just a convincing Wild Tiger cosplayer.
In the dub of Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo, Don Patch says he once won third place in a "Don Patch Look-alike" contest.
In the movie Badlands Rumble, Vash attempts to use his reputation as an outlaw to avoid getting kicked out of a bar by Meryl. After a Beat, everyone in the bar bursts out laughing. It helps that the diminutive Meryl had just dragged him across the room by his ear, taking the impact away from anything he could've said. Vash greatly enjoys the mixup.
In the Sandman spinoff Death: At Death's Door, Death, a Perky GothAnthropomorphic Personification, announces her identity to a group of departed souls, only for an unimpressed guy to dismiss her with, "You, and every goth chick in here!" (To be fair, in another story line Death's little sister once mistook an actual goth chick for her.)
Y: The Last Man: Having grown a beard on a cross-country train-ride, Yorick is given advice by a "working girl" (who assumes Yorick is a woman with a fake beard) to make it look more natural.
"If you bind those breasts a little tighter, you'll almost be passable." "...Thanks?"
In one early Spider-Man comic, Spidey tries to save his then girlfriend, Betty Brant, from Doctor Octopus while suffering from the flu. He is easily defeated and unmasked... and his poor showing convinces Doc Ock, the hostage and the other witnesses that it's just Peter Parker making a brave but very foolish effort to save her.
In another issue, Spider-Man casually walks into a restaurant and takes a seat. An accompanying character questions him on this, and he responds that the waiter just assumes he's a crazy guy in a Spider-Man costume.
in a Barbie comic, the eponymous character (a Supermodel in her 'verse) used this as a running gag, usually with someone going "Is that Barbie, the famous model?" "Oh no she's too (tall/short/fat/skinny/whathaveyou) to be her!"
A Jose Carioca story has Jose assuming he's guaranteed to win a Jose Carioca look-alike contest. He loses to Donald Duck.
Speaking of Donald, this occasionally happens in Superduck-comics. (Superduck is Donald's Super Hero identity.)
In Scare Tactics, Slither (a lizard boy) is refused admitance to a nightclub because:
"Sorry kid, but there's a dress code here - and that green body paint is just too five minutes ago to cut it!"
An episode of the Polish comic Kajko I Kokosz has both heroes, medieval Slavic wrriors, transported to present day where they stumble into a movie set of a historical drama film about their adventures. The film's main characters are completely unlike them, and when someone proposes that the two strange-dressed arrivals might serve as stuntmen for the lead characters, the director laughs them off; after all, they look nothing like the "real" Kajko and Kokosz!
In a classic '70s era Batman story, "The Batman Nobody Knows", Bruce Wayne takes some inner-city kids on a camping trip, and around the campfire, the subject of Batman comes up. As Bruce listens, the kids describe what they think Batman's like (one calls him a demon, another claims that he's Shaft-meets-Superfly). Bruce then emerges from the woods in his Batman costume, and the kids reply, "Yeah, nice costume, Mr. Wayne, but you ain't no Batman!"
And in a late '70s Iron Man, Tony Stark goes "undercover" as Iron Man at the San Diego Comic Con. There are several other "Iron Men" there, and Tony takes some flak from fans of earlier revisions of the suit.
In Dork Tower, Carson the Muskrat gets this from a bunch of costumed furries at a convention.
In the 2008 DC Universe Halloween Special, when Superman beats Lois home and gives out candy to the night's first trick-or-treaters, one remarks "Wow... that has to be the worst Superman costume I've ever seen!"
In Empowered the title character finds that the only job she can get is with a group of superhero impersonators impersonating herself. Nobody realizes that it's really her until she ends up having to save the group from several supervillains who had kidnapped them in order to blackmail the REAL superhero team. In this case, she really is wearing a poor replica of her real costume.
In a semi-related example, Major Havok once wrote fanfiction about himself and posted it anonymously, figuring that nobody could get his character down better than the real deal. Cue several reader comments on how bad and unrealistic the characterization was, including one (which, on a reread, you realize is from Empowered's alter ego) claiming it completely misses the homo-erotic subtext that supposedly makes Havok such a compelling character.
In Guardians of the Globe, a man is offended to see someone dressed as El Chupacabra, a great hero, drinking himself blind at a bar. The drunk explains that he really is El Chupacabra... and the guy backs off, believing him entirely right away.
In Echo, the trope is inver...subver...I have no freakin' clue. The crew take a break at a rest stop and inform the staff that they are there on government work. However, thanks to the body-warping Phi-project, Ivy is too young and Julie is too beautiful to be taken as government employees and Vijay, the new tagalong member of the gang, is Indian. The staff is now convinced they are serving M. Night Shyamalan and a movie crew, despite all claims to the contrary.
Played with when The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers one day notice the fourth wall, discovering there's a comic strip starring them. They promptly decide on complete wardrobe makeovers to avoid association with the idiots on the printed page. That evening they find their local watering hole is holding a Freak Brothers lookalike contest with a cash prize, and can't find appropriate clothes.
"Why the hell is Batman masquerading as Bruce Wayne, anyway? I've met Wayne and you don't fool me."
In All-Star Superman, Superman reveals his secret identity to Lois Lane, but she says his Clark Kent impression is really bad and keeps asking where the real Clark is.
Superman: I wasn't impersonating Clark, I am Clark. Lois, why won't you believe me?
One Halloween comic had a girl mistake Michael for her boyfriend, and comment on how stupid his costume makes him look.
In thisSpider-Man fanfic, Otto Octavius finds himself at Harry Osborn's Halloween party and is asked by a guest what his costume's supposed to be. He replies with a smirk, "I'm Doctor Octopus," and gets criticized for his lack of tentacles (which are hidden under his coat).
In a couple of Buffy fics by Litmouse,Viva Los Xanders, and A Schism in Stars Hollow, Xander accidentally discovers that there is a Xander L. Harris Doppelganger society, and comes in fifth in their look-alike contest. (Faith does better in the associated Faith look-alike contest, coming in third.)
In the Power Rangers fanfic "Of Love And Bunnies", Rocky, the ex-Red Ranger, shows up to Power Rangers Day in a bad Red Ranger costume... and his real Red Ranger helmet (from the former display in the back of the Power Chamber). Jason, who still has his powers and the real costume, is first shocked and then impressed by the brilliance of it.
In The Last Spartan a good chunk of people don't believe Master Chief is the real Master Chief, and that the armored grunt who has been made the first human Spectre is just some random soldier they put in similar armor as a publicity stunt. Ethan Jeong is the only one to personally call him out on his alleged impersonation so far though.
In the final chapter of The Model Caretaker, Celestia is on the receiving end of a particularly ill thought out prank by Luna, after which she mentions that she once entered a contest for best Celestia look-alike, placing fifth out of an unspecified number of participants.
Films — Animated
In Shrek the Third, Shrek has to infiltrate Worcestershire high school to find Fiona's cousin Arthur Pendragon, and gets mistaken for a mascot at an assembly (he claims he was working on it all night). This gets spun into a Chekhov's Gun later on as Prince Charming invades Far Far Away and stages a play on the death of Shrek - and Shrek infiltrates it by passing as one of the leads.
In Megamind, the eponymous villain is about to blow up the Metro-Man museum in the middle of the night when he runs into snarky curator Bernard, who initially mistakes him for a guy in a cheap costume (didn't help Megamind was still in his pajamas), and gets dehydrated and impersonated for his troubles.
Films — Live-Action
This is the reason that Elvis is in the old age home in Bubba Ho Tep. After switching places with an Elvis impersonator, the impersonator died and no one would believe that he was the real Elvis.
Or he's just crazy.
Casper's Haunted Christmas: Casper's uncles get mistaken for actors auditioning for the roles of ghosts... and are told they desperately need to work on their act.
In Dave, a comedian who resembles the President and the real First Lady are caught in public. Dave passes them off as a husband-and-wife impersonation act; naturally, he is great in his role, but "she needs a lot of work."
However, he was only speaking about her ability to improvise, specifically her cringing (if passible) attempt at "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow"; when first found out, Dave had to work quick to actively make people believe they weren't real.
Stan Lee's cameo in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer consists of this, trying to get into Reed and Sue's wedding.
The ending of the French movie Grosse Fatigue, whose main plot revolved around impersonation.
In L.A. Confidential, Ed Exley and Jack Vincennes are investigating an escort service that provides prostitutes who look like celebrities. They meet Johnny Stompanato in a bar, accompanied by a woman. Exley, attempting to out-badass Vincennes, tells the woman that "A hooker who's cut to look like Lana Turner is still a hooker." To which Vincennes replies, "She is Lana Turner". Truth in Television, as the real-life Johnny Stompanato dated Lana Turner.
Though a few years later than the film is set; the Rule of Funny means it still works.
In Superhero Movie, there's a sequence where The Dragonfly ends up at a convention where people are all wearing costumes. He meets a random fan, who explains how the convention works, then says "by the way, your costume SUCKS!"
This may also be a nod to the real William Wallace, who was in fact estimated to be at least 6'8".
But only because some bozo looked at the sword traditionally said to have been his (though it almost certainly wasn't - it's from the wrong period) which is 66" long, compared it with the average knight's sword which is anything from 30" to 45", and concluded that you'd have to be at least 6' 8" to wield it. This is nonsense; the 'Wallace Sword' is a typical two-hand late medieval sword, widely used in 15th-century armies, which didn't include whole regiments of giants.
In the movie My Fellow Americans Douglas and Kramer pretend to be celebrity look-alikes of themselves. While some people are impressed by their resemblance the "real" ex-presidents, one man says that one of them has too big a nose to be convincing.
In Spider-Man 2, when Spider-Man is riding the elevator, a man comments "Cool Spidey outfit", though Spider-Man himself notes that it's "itchy" and "rides up in the crotch a little bit".
It's justified that the man doesn't believe he's the real Spiderman, because why would Spiderman need to use an elevator?
There is a 1946 Soviet movie called Springtime where an actress is taken for a role of the scientist Nikitina in a movie. She asks the real Nikitina to take her place while she's away on some urgent business (in secret). What does the producer say? "We'll make a real Nikitina out of you". And so it continues. Well, Nikitina does give some suggestions of her own about how to make the movie.
Inverted in Miracle on 34th Street: When Kris Kringle shows up for his first day of work as Macy's Santa Claus, manager Mr. Shellhammer makes a point of complimenting him on his "striking costume".
Test audiences thought "the actor playing McCarthy" in Good Night, and Good Luck. was "over-the-top". The film used actual historical footage of the real McCarthy.
In the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School, Dangerfield, playing a multimillionaire who enrolls in college to get closer to his son, hires Kurt Vonnegut to ghostwrite a paper on the works of Kurt Vonnegut for him. The professor who assigned the paper gives him an F, saying both that she knows it was plagiarized and that whoever wrote it "doesn't know the first thing about Vonnegut."
Combined with Celebrity Paradox in Cannonball Run, in which Roger Moore plays a rich playboy who impersonates Roger Moore to impress women. His deception works on one woman after another, until the final segment of the film ... at which point his latest conquest mistakes him for George Hamilton.
In How High, street pimp Baby Powder and his assistant crash Harvard's costume party looking for his women (the two main characters had hired them to spice things up), but Powder doesn't get quite the reaction he wanted:
Powder:*bursts into the room* Where my bitches at?!
Tuan: You got the voice down, but those outfits no good!
Powder: What's wrong with my shit?
Tuan: Homie, puh-lease! Your Halloween costume! If you pimp, you broke pimp! Ha-ha-ha-ha!
The film Vantage Point has President Ashton being placed in a bunker and replaced by a body double—both are played by the same actor. Hilarious in that the body double looks totally fake thanks to his mannerisms and overzealous acting, which the real President comments on.
A similar gag is played in ''The Emperor's New Clothes." Napoleon is being snuck out of exile, while a soldier is being brought in as a lookalike. Napoleon complains that the man doesn't look anything like him. Both men are played by Ian Holm.
The original 1942 version of To Be or Not to Be has an interesting inversion — the actor Bronski, cast as Hitler in a play just before the invasion of Poland, is told by the play's director that he cannot play a convincing Hitler. To prove it, he points to a portrait of Hitler on the set. He points out all the Hilter-like features of the painting contrasting them with Bronski's demeanor and looks, before Bronski points out that the portrait is actually himself dressed as Hitler. At that point, the director responds "well, then the portrait's wrong too."
Batman Returns has Batman ripping off his mask in the Penguin's lair. Max Shreck asks, "Why is Bruce Wayne dressed up as Batman?" To which Catwoman (who'd already discovered his secret identity) responds "Because he is Batman, you moron!"
In A Hard Day's Night, a woman bumps into John Lennon and changes her mind several times about how much he does or doesn't look like "him" (never mentioning his name).
Shortly afterwards, it happens to George Harrison, as he's brought before a fashion designer who says that "The phonies are easier to handle.".
In The American President, Sydney Ellen Wade receives a call from President Shepherd, whom she thinks is a co-worker impersonating the President. She then tells the President that he has a nice ass and hangs up. When he calls again and proves his identity, she is suitably mortified; "Y'know what, forget it, I'm moving to Canada!"
Inverted for comedy in Galaxy Quest. The Thermians generally do a terrible job of impersonating humans, with unnaturally pale skin, silver jumpsuits, and extreme Cloud Cuckoolander tendencies. But since they're hanging around a sci-fi convention, they blend in perfectly.
A bitchy reporter who runs into Three Finger at the beginning of Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines assumes he's just an obnoxious teenager wearing a crappy costume for the upcoming Mountain Man Festival.
In Hercules In The Maze Of The Minotaur, Hercules and Iolaus stop in a bar and introduce themselves. The incredibly jaded townspeople are not impressed, saying they get bothered by Hercules impostors five times a week. While Iolaus is offended, Hercules shrugs and tries to finish his drink. Some men say they've had enough of the impostors and attack them. In the ensuing Bar Brawl, Hercules and Iolaus prove to the stunned townspeople that they are the real deal with Hercules' Super Strength and their incredible fighting skills.
In Mostly Harmless, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect meet Elvis Presley in a greasy-spoon diner on another planet. Prefect recognizes him and gives The King a hefty tip to perform "Love Me Tender" on karaoke. Arthur doesn't recognize him, and thinks The King's performance is mediocre.
"Hefty" might be a bit of an understatement. When Arthur asks how much, Ford says that it would buy, roughly, Switzerland.
In Terry Pratchett's Moving Pictures, the Genre Savvy wizards decide to disguise themselves as wizards when they don't want to be seen attending a movie - they twist bits of wire into their beards to make them look like badly-made false beards, for instance. However, the trope is then played straight when they later need to be taken seriously and no-one believes they're real wizards.
Also in Discworld, the Sweet Polly Oliver platoon-members in Monstrous Regiment were denied permission to pass themselves off as women to infiltrate an enemy base by their clueless officer, who didn't think they could pull off this deception as well as himself. When they tried it anyway and got captured, the enemy officers likewise thought their costumes were laughably bad ... until one of the Pollys lifted her skirts.
When Death is summoned in one book, he was at a costume party, and says he was enjoying himself, but things might go downhill at midnight because "that's when they think I'll be taking my mask off."
In Something Rotten, Hamlet gets into an argument with a group of Shakespeare fans who challenge him to a contest of who can perform the best "To be or not to be" speech. Hamlet loses.
Maurice Baring (a friend of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc) loved this trope; his anthology Orpheus in Mayfair features it at least twice. One isn't quite this trope but it's definitely in the ballpark, the eponymous story: a Greek musician is hired to play "authentic Greek music" at a party, his first big break in a while, but then his son gets sick. He's desperate, and then Orpheus appears, and offers to cover for him. Of course, Orpheus' music — which could turn nymphs into trees with its beauty, mind — is too authentically Greek for them, and they don't like it. In another, a woman sells her soul to the devil to have Shakespeare attend one of her parties. He shows up, but, Shakespeare having been almost boringly normal, he just makes small talk with the guests, and nobody even realizes who he is.
Often happens to the heroine of the French Fantomette series, to the point that she doesn't worry much if her friends are involved in one of her adventures since they just never suspect she's the real thing. On the other hand, one of her friends is sometimes mistaken for her.
At one point in My Side of the Mountain, after he's been living in the woods for a while, Sam makes a foray into town, wearing one of his deerskin suits. He meets another boy, who assumes he's into the Davy Crockett/cowboys-and-Indians trend (the book was written in the late fifties) and tells him his outfit looks totally fake, sarcastically asking if he chewed the leather himself (Sam responds that he actually ended up softening most of it by hitting it against a rock, only chewing a little around the neck).
In Brecht's short story "The Monster," a destitute old man has a striking resemblance to the lead actor in a film about a notorious anti-Semite (because he is said notorious anti-Semite), so they let him play himself in a scene or two. They find his acting wooden and not dramatically sadistic enough. He's just happy the script calls for him to eat an apple.
In the first Star WarsLegacy of the Force novel, Luke and Mara sneak into the capital city of Corellia disguised, not as themselves, but as actors (with a Han and Leia to complete the troupe). They pass, but the guard says that no one would believe in a Luke Skywalker that short, despite Luke's whining insistence that he can "do backflips just like him." Once they're out of earshot, Luke asks Mara what her real hair color was before. Mara is not amused.
Tarzan experiences this at the end of Tarzan and the Lion Man, after being cast as the stupid white hunter and killing a trained Hollywood lion. Told that he's "not the type", he goes back to Africa.
In The Outlaw Demon Wails, Rachel inadvertently lines up for a costume contest and is told she was close, but "Rachel Morgan's hair isn't that frizzy." Despite that, she would probably have won had Trent not also been in line, looking like himself.
In Bel Air Bambi and the Mall Rats, one of Richard Peck's more obscure YA novels, there is a part near the end where the school delinquent/bully shows up to a casting call, to audition for the role of...you guessed it...the lead female delinquent/bully for an in universe movie based on the books plot; basically, she was auditioning to play herself. She is passed over for being way too-over-the-top for the role!
One of the Star Wreck novels by Leah Rewolinski involved the characters arriving at a Star Wreck convention. Commander Dacron was told his costume needed work.
Alex (a woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe) loses a Halloween drag queen contest to Max. in an episode of Happy Endings.
Buffy: Who are you? Dracula: I apologize. I assumed you knew. I am Dracula. Buffy: (skeptically) Get out!
Buffy: And you're sure this isn't just some fanboy thing? 'Cause I've fought more than a couple pimply, overweight vamps that called themselves Lestat.
"Actually, Billy Idol stole his look from...never mind"
Although he's not being himself specifically, one episode of Angel has Lorne being told that he got the forehead wrong on his costume.
Librarian: Although I suppose those horns are hard to do...
Lorne: (Laughing) You have no idea.
On Community, Jeff Winger got mistaken for a British actor by a fan and played along, telling her that he was practicing an American accent for an audition. Later, the fan angrily tells him that his American accent stinks.
In a Halloween episode of Dark Angel, several of the cast (who were transgenic supersoldiers with barcodes on their necks) tried to pass for people dressed as...transgenic supersoldiers with barcodes on their necks. The response to the costumes varied, some were considered cool, others unoriginal, and some normal humans were using the same costume. The transgenics were actually what they were cosplaying as, and using it as a cover, but some were still told it needed work.
Also played with where one transgenic, a lizard man bred to fight in the desert, doesn't quite get it, goes around with a football helmet on as his costume, saying he's Joe Namath.
One episode of The Drew Carey Show has Mr. Wick, who claims he can tell a crossdresser on sight, told to find the crossdresser in a crowded department of Winfred-Lauder. He walks up to one and claims, loudly, "Every crossdresser does Dionne Warwick!", adding that this one is a particularly poor example. He is then reduced to stammering when his victim proves she's the real Dionne Warwick.
The entire premise of the game show To Tell the Truth was for a semi-famous or notable person to be paired with two impostors, and the contestants had to figure out which was the real one. They often got it wrong. It usually used people who might be known by name or reputation, but not by appearance, to the panelists doing the guessing (the founder of a company or organization, an inventor, or a very minor author, for example.) The two impostors were also similar in age and appearance to the real person.
The show was famously pranked by professional prankster Joey Skaggs, who sent an impostor in his place. Skaggs pulls the impostor-as-him trick so often that the impostor knows pretty much everything about him, and what he makes up at least sounds plausible...
In something of a subversion, Welsh singer Charlotte Church's short-lived (and awful) TV show included one sequence in which she went undercover as a Charlotte Church lookalike. Her disguise? Deliberately singing horribly. The judges were shocked at her uncanny resemblance to the, er, real Charlotte.
A meta-example occurs in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where the real Isaac Hayes plays an Isaac-Hayes-impersonating Minister. Will, of course, says his Isaac Hayes impersonation is terrible.
The Nanny did a similar one with Marvin Hamlisch guest starring as Fran's old music teacher who looks remarkably like Marvin Hamlisch.
In another episode, Fran is in Atlantic City and runs into Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, who sing one of their songs until Fran stops them and starts telling them how their performance should be. Humorously, after Fran leaves them, Steve talks to Eydie about how Fran is correct about one of her pointers.
Hell, they used this trope...with Fran Drescher, playing herself.
In-Universe example: Some fans believe the actor portraying Maxwell Sheffield doesn't sound British and suggested him to learn from the actor portraying Niles. Sheffield is the one portrayed by an actual Brit.
Gilligan's Island: Ginger hears on the radio that Hollywood is making a movie about her life, "The Ginger Grant Story," and she wishes she were home so she could play herself in it. Mrs. Howell tells her, "You know if you tried that, they'd say you weren't right for the part."
The premise of the show I Get That A Lot is a celebrity doing a mundane task and laughing off people who recognize them, usually by saying the eponymous phrase.
I Love Lucy: In the episode "Don Juan Gets Shelved," Lucy wants to hire an actor to play a producer trying to steal Ricky to convince an MGM producer not to fire him. Unbeknownst to her, the very producer she wants to fool overhears her plight and volunteers himself as an actor. Lucy is reluctant to hire him because he doesn't look the part at all, corrects his wardrobe, and coaches him on how to sound important and act like a producer and never feels she makes any progress.
In another episode, Lucy spots Charles Boyer in a Paris cafe, but Ricky convinces him to tell her that he's just a look-a-like. She later persuades this "false"-Boyer to play the real one in an attempt to impress Ricky and the Mertzes, instructing him on how to be a more convincing Boyer as he doesn't quite have the same passion.
The Lucy Show had a similar episode where Lucy recruits what she thinks is an Ethel Merman look-alike to sing in a Boy Scout fund-raiser, in an effort to live up to her inflated promise about getting the famed star to participate. Needless to say, the real Ms. Merman decides to go along with the charade, considering it's for a worthy cause, and allows Lucy to "teach her to sing like Ethel Merman."
In an episode of The Lucy Show, Lucy convinces some neighbors to install a shower for her. Instead, they hire a professional plumber, introducing him as a handy friend. Lucy spends most of her conversation with the plumber commenting on professional plumbers, and how he looks nothing like a professional plumber, even when he says it point blank.
In Laura Kightlinger's episode of Pulp Comics, a Comedy Central show that interspersed stand-up with illustrative short film pieces, Laura expressed that she'd like to be so famous, that drag queens would dress up as her when she was dead. In the subsequent scene, two obvious Laura impersonators dress her down for her bad costuming, bad wig — and poor tucking job.
An episode of Saturday Night Live had Stevie Wonder posing as a Stevie Wonder impersonator and Eddie Murphy's character telling him how to look more like Stevie Wonder.
Cher made her first guest appearance on Will and Grace as herself. Jack assumed she was a drag queen Cher-alike and gave tips on how to do a better impersonation.
I recall him saying her look was flawless, his main insult being that he wasn't going to have a drag queen telling him he was pathetic for having a Cher doll.
In a Vegas-based episode of Roseanne, the Conners have to settle for seeing a Wayne Newton impersonator rather than the real deal, but Newton himself shows up partway through the show and takes over. Roseanne is out of the room for his entrance, and comes back (drunk) to heckle what she thinks is a bad impersonator ("He doesn't even have a mustache!")
There is a one-off British comedy charity special starring Sir Bob Geldof as himself. In short, he finds himself stranded at a pub where a celebrity impersonator karaoke competition is ongoing. Through a series of developments Geldof winds up singing the Boomtown Rats' breakout single "I Don't Like Mondays" live. The crowd is underwhelmed and first prize goes to the Elton John impersonator, much to Geldof's outrage. Basically it's Your Costume Needs Work expanded out to a thirty-minute show.
In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, London wasn't allowed back into her own party because she didn't have an invitation and tons of other girls had dressed up like her to get in the party.
When the school performs High School Musical Maddie (Ashley Tisdale, who played Sharpay in the film) auditions for the role of Sharpay... and fails. Later on, to cover up the poor singing voice of London, who was cast as Sharpay, Maddie fakes her voice Singin' in the Rain style.
An episode of Taking The Falls implied that Elvis was still alive, and hiding out at Elvis Impersonator conventions.
On 30 Rock, Jenna entered a Jenna Maroney impersonation contest. She came in fourth.
In the season 3 summer finale of Burn Notice, Fiona's brother tells Michael (an American undercover as an Irishman) that his American accent is "dodgy".
In the Supernatural episode "Hollywood Babylon", the Meddling Executive character assumes that the Deliberately Monochrome ghost he runs into on-set is an extra in body paint, and calls makeup because he thinks the noose marks on her neck would look better on camera if they were red.
Inverted in Charlie's Angels: Sammy Davis Jr. plays a liquor-store owner who wins a Sammy Davis Jr. look-alike contest. He accepts the award — from Davis himself, via split-screen — but insists that he doesn't 'really' look like Davis.
In an episode of Drake & Josh, Josh keeps getting attacked because he looks an awful lot like a criminal called the 'Theater Thug'. Later, Josh later comes face to face with the real deal and the police show up. Guess who they tackle.
An episode of Madeline Kahn's sitcom Oh, Madeline combined this with Celebrity Lie, where she told a friend that she could get Johnny Mathis to come to their class reunion. In trying to cover up her lie, she went through a few Johnny Mathis impersonators... then the real Mathis comes to the door and she gives him tips on being more authentic.
In the 1960s, one of Woody Allen's comedy routines was about him shooting a moose, which turns out to be unconscious rather than dead, and driving home with it. Realizing it's awake, he takes it to a costume party, claiming it's a couple in a moose suit ... which is precisely who wins the Best Costume award, for which the actual moose comes in second.
Played with in Forbidden Broadway Volume 3, where Carol Channing interrupts an actress impersonating her, asking for help on playing herself.
In a German cabaret sketch from between the wars, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe returns from the afterlife to come to the aid of a student by taking an oral exam on Goethe in his stead. In this exam he answers questions with things he actually said, such as: "What is Goethe's most important work?" - "The Theory of Colours, of course." Or he replies as Goethe probably would have: "What can you tell me about Goethe's relationship to Frau von Stein?" - "That's nobody's business!" So of course he fails the exam.
Jade Empire has an example of this Trope. At one point, the player character can appear in an ersatz Beijing Opera production of a famous battle... as a female character. If the player is female, the director will comment on how unrealistic they look as a woman.
In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the president of Luigi's fan club wants to meet the man in green personally. If you wear the L Emblem, changing Mario's shirt and cap to green, she'll be convinced that Mario is Luigi and offer him a present... just in time for the real Luigi to show up and get chased off as an impostor.
It's also a callback to the days where Luigi was nothing more than a color-swapped Mario. It was only later that he got his own design, becoming taller and thinner than Mario.
In Ultima VII, the Avatar can audition to understudy the lead role in a play... called "Tales of the Avatar". The director will then instruct you to buy an Avatar costume (which looks exactly like what the Avatar's already wearing), and no matter what you do in the audition, the director will politely decline to cast you.
In the Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series skit "Marik's Evil Council 3", the evil meeting takes place in Michingan during Youmacon, and Marik says they can pretend to be cosplayers, and says Bakura's costume could use some work.
Marik: I mean, I don't want to critized, but it looks like your mother made that for you!
Bakura: This isn't a costume, Marik. It's my clothes.
Played straight in the Half in the Bag review of The Dark Knight Rises, in which Mike uses his signature Plinkett voice to impersonate Fake Plinkett in a phone call. This is the first half of the exchange:
Mike:(normal voice) Hello?
Radio Guy on Phone: Hello there! Is this Mr. Harry S. Plinkett?
In a strip where Casey and Andy goes to a comic-con, some kid claims that his Wolverine-claws are much more realistic than Mary's—and while she might not actually BE Wolverine, her claws are actually razor-sharp, retractable claws implanted through mad science!
In Dork Tower, Sonya, a furry, believes that Carson, a genuine anthropomorphic muskrat, is "a guy in the worst dog suit ever. Or marmot suit, or sheep suit, or something."
Also deliberately invoked by Mama Gkika. Jagermonsters aren't allowed in Mechanicsburg, and she runs a club where the girls all make themselves up to look like Jagers. With all these fake Jager girls, nobody notices the real ones in their midst.
Later, the crowd in the street is at first not convinced that Gilgamesh Wulfenbach is exactly who he says he is. At least, until he puts on the Nice Hat.
In Schlock Mercenary Schlock tries to get a part in the circus demonstrating his various abilities but fails because his abilities aren't as impressive as the ones possessed by Sergeant Schlock in the TV show very loosely based on his adventures.
In Venus Envy, Chris, a cross-dresser, critiques Zoe (a transgendered woman)'s breasts and dress, upsetting her... and then starts critiquing Lisa, who is biologically and mentally female, as well. It doesn't end well for Chris.
We all learned what happens when one confuses a Marine in his uniform for a cosplayer...
In Exterminatus Now, Lothar uploads a video of Demon!Morth getting killed by a Greater Demon online as "Extreme Badger Baiting". Several comments list it as "fake" with one even claiming you can see a zipper.
Hey Arnold!: After faking his own death, singer Dino Spumoni changes his mind and decides to tell the public the truth by showing up at a concert hall... only to be told to get in line with a bunch of other Dino impersonators.
Aang tries to get his group free passage on the ferry to Ba Sing Se. The woman taking tickets doesn't find his Avatar costume any more believable than those in the nearby group of impersonators. For some reason, he never considered just airbending to prove who he was instead.
Naturally, in "The Ember Island Players," a kid tells Zuko his "Zuko costume" is great, but his scar's on the wrong side of his face.
The scar's not on the wrong side!
In American Dragon Jake Long: Jake finds himself out in the street in his dragon form. Luckily it was Halloween so no-one freaked out, but a passerby did call his "dragon costume" unconvincing. Likewise when Hans Rotwood offered a reward for photos of a real dragon Jake gave him some photos of himself that Rotwood decried as fakes, but this time because they were too good, as most other Cryptozoology photos (e.g. Big Foot◊, Nessie◊) are blurry and taken from distance.
Justified, actually. Would something mythical actually stay still long enough for you to photograph it except if it was used to people?
Darkwing Duck was told he was much too short and his costume could never be confused for the "real Darkwing Duck" when attending a costume party with his neighbors. It's always been established that they aren't too bright.
In reference to the Charlie Chaplin example, below, it was once noted in Danger Mouse that Penfold, Danger Mouse's sidekick, once came third in Penfold lookalike competition.
In one episode of South Park, Satan throws a Halloween party, and at one point starts to complain to what he thinks is a guy dressed as Steve Irwin, complete with a stingray embedded in his chest, telling him the costume is in bad taste so soon after Irwin's death. When the guy protests that he's actually the real Steve Irwin, Satan then throws him out of the party for not wearing a costume.
A very early episode features Mr. Garrison auditioning to play Mr. Garrison in an America's Most Wanted reenactment of a crime he witnessed. He didn't get the part.
In one of the Halloween episodes, Kenny wore an insanely elaborate BattleTech mecha costume and got frustrated every time someone immediately identified him through the costume.
A classic Bugs Bunny short called "Napoleon Bunny-Part" featured Bugs butting heads with a cartoon Napoleon Bonaparte. Bugs eventually escaped by getting Napoleon dragged off by insane asylum orderlies who thought he was suffering from the Napoleon Delusion and didn't believe that he was the real Napoleon.
Brain of Pinky and the Brain had quite some issues proving in court that he really was a mouse.
The PBS cartoon WordGirl features Becky, aka WordGirl, being told by her brother, the WordGirlfangirl, that her WordGirl impersonation is really bad.
"That's the worst SpongeBob costume I've ever seen!" — Passenger on a train ride that SpongeBob SquarePants is driving in SBSP episode "The Krusty Sponge"
An episode of DuckTales had Gizmo Duck go to a convention where everyone was dressed as him. No one's believes he's the real guy and he tries to prove he is by showing the mechanics of his suit, which other people have as well.
In Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins From Outer Space, the Missing Link is unable to scare people on Halloween because everyone just assumes he's a guy in a costume. The biggest insult comes from a kid dressed as Link:
Missing Link: Hey, genius. I see you're dressed as me. Kid: No, I'm dressed as the Missing Link. You're dressed as a fat mermaid.
Raphael of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles won a ticket for a costume party cruise and went as... himself. A pompous aristocrat dressed as one of the Turtles complained that Raph was trying to upstage his expensive high-quality costume with a cheap knock-off.
Another episode had all four Turtles attending a Channel 6 costume party as themselves and giving out pseudonyms. Some people compliment them on their lifelike costumes - except Vernon, who actually knows the Turtles and says these guys look nothing like them.
One episode of KaBlam! has June meeting a group of fans of hers that are so obsessed they they dress like her and have their hair like hers. So when she tries to interview them, they naturally don't believe she's the real June and proceed to get rather angry when she keeps insisting that she is.
On Futurama, Lrrr - RULER OF OMNICRON PERSEI 8! - tries to invade Earth, but he lands at a comic book convention right in the middle of a costume contest and is mistaken for just another contestant.
In The Spectacular Spider-Man Peter Parker gets this response from Flash Thompson on Halloween when he goes from patroling the city to showing up in front of his classmates in his costume ("Puny Parker?! He looks nothing like Spider-Man!"). Mary Jane Watson and Liz Allen on the other hand... feel that he fills out the costume quite nicely ("You can web me up anytime Petey.").
And then another version of this trope happens in Identity Crisis. When Eddie Brock is wheeled away screaming about how "WE ARE VENOM!!!", the onlooking Flash Thompson scoffs at this, saying, "Brock's lost it. Venom's, like, twice his size." Flash Thompson is the king of Your Costume Needs Work.
Meanwhile, in UltimateSpider-Man Peter's high school had a theatrical play about Spider-Man. Out of the students who tried for main the part, everyone was considered a better fit than Peter himself. As a Mythology Gag, the student right above him on the list was Miles Morales.
The Fairly Oddparents episode "Take and Fake" has Crocker saying this to Cosmo, Wanda and Poof at Trixie's costume party, somehow failing to recognize them as the fairies he's tried to capture several times already.
Justice League has a few examples, such as in one of the episodes in season 1 where Wonder Woman and The Flash are denied entry into a party, despite being super heros, because everyone else is 'in costume' too!
Played with in another episode, in which Bart is forced to find a last-minute replacement act for his treehouse casino, because "the Liza Minelli impersonator we hired turned out to be the real Liza Minelli."
The Secret Show: Victor Volt once entered a Victor Volt impersonator contest but got third place.
Freakazoid! once chased Cave Guy into a convention where he mistook a guy in a costume for the real Cave Guy. After ripping the costume's head, the man tried to rip Freakazoid's "mask".
El Kabong couldn't claim a reward because he was mistaken for one of the several imposters trying to claim it.
The Replacements: Dick Daring once got a makeover and his wife mistook him for an imposter because of this.
In the "Mayhem Night" episode of Motorcity, after briefly mistaking a trick-or-treater for one of the Terras, the trick-or-treater tells the main character "nice Mike Chilton costume."
George Harrison once won third place in a Beatles Lookalike competition.
Duran Duran have managed to subvert this by making a little cash by entering Duran Duran lookalike contests and winning them. So they look like themselves, but not so much that people think they are.
Dolly Parton once lost a Dolly Parton lookalike contest. Even better, the other competitors were Drag Queens, and her comment was that she looked like a midget next to them since most of them were around six foot.
According to his autobiography, Lewis Black had a friend who got a pilot, and wrote a character that was basically Lewis saying what Lewis would say. Lewis was considered for the part, but had to audition to play himself—and lost the part. As he said in a stand-up routine about the incident, "Unbeknownst to me, there was a better me!" (The show wasn't picked up.)
In a similar but less funny vein, Margaret Cho got her sitcom, All-American Girl, greenlighted, with herself in the starring role As Herself. Network executives then told her that she would need to lose weight. To play herself.
Tina Fey, impersonating Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, has been described as "more like Palin than the real Palin". To the point where a quote she said on SNL, specifically "I can see Russia from my house" has been attributed to Palin. (The actual quote is "You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.") The latter happens to actually be true, though it's a matter of seeing small, more or less uninhabitated islands from other such islands. Also note that a lot of map projections distort land near the poles (the same effect makes greenland look roughly the size of Africa).
Played with when Jesse Eisenberg hosted SNL in season 36. Eisenberg (who played Mark Zuckerberg in the movie The Social Network) was met by Andy Samberg (playing Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg) who criticized Eisenberg's impersonation of him...until the real Mark Zuckerberg — who points out that Jesse Eisenberg is his evil twin and Andy Samberg's impersonation is weak — comes out.
Ellen DeGeneres allegedly attended a look-a-like show or two in Vegas to fake being one of the performers. She apparently had received comments to the extent of her being "too pretty" to be the real Ellen. (Naturally, the best of these made her talk show.)
An advert once featuring Tony Hadley, lead singer of Spandau Ballet, performing "True" at a karaoke night—and being heckled by people accusing him of butchering the song...
British comedian Bill Bailey has also said that he has been accused of "trying to look like Bill Bailey" by random passers by. It's a play on this joke that led him to play a set of identical twin police officers with opposing personality but the same rank in Hot Fuzz.
Someone once told Al Gore in a restaurant "If you dyed your hair you would look just like Al Gore."
Dr Phil has admitted to occasionally being stopped in the street by passers-by who say "I know you're not, but you look almost like Dr Phil."
Inverted by Albert Einstein, of all people: Thanks to his infamous hair, when he went out, he would often get passers-by asking if he was indeed the famous physicist, but he'd tell them they were mistaken. "Always I be mistaken for Professor Einstein!" An Urban Legend sprang up that Einstein once pranked the media by switching places with his chauffeur, then fielded a question from them as the chauffeur. The chauffeur-as-Einstein supposedly passed off the question to Einstein-as-chauffeur by saying, "Why, that question is so elementary, my chauffeur could answer it."
Marilyn Monroe was walking down the street with an interviewer. No one was noticing her, and the reporter was confused by this. She then said, "Want to see her?". She changed the way she walked and gestured, and suddenly people started noticing her. This makes sense since body language and posture can make a huge difference in perception.
One interviewer accompanied Mel Gibson to the DMV, with only a baseball cap as a disguise. He then watched Gibson visibly "turn off the charm" and become so inconspicuous that only the ID photographer noticed a vague similarity.
Carl Reiner wrote a pilot based on his work as a writer for Your Show of Shows and played the character inspired by himself. When the pilot was rejected, he recast himself with an unknown comic named Dick Van Dyke ... and thus TV history was born.
Not exactly a lookalike contest, but there is a story about late great Kurt Vonnegut (who is, ahem, well known for having his way with words) helping his grandson to write an essay. The lad got D. This was referenced in the movie Back to School.
Russian writer Kataev once also got D for a school essay. And the topic was his own story. The teacher even made a helpful explanation to the effect that the essay completely missed the point of the story. The same also happened with a relative of Thomas Keneally.
Not a look-alike, but similar. Self-effacing author Quentin Crisp mentions in the introduction to the movie adaptation of his autobiography The Naked Civil Servant, that John Hurt plays his life "Far better than I ever could."
Willie Nelson once managed to slip into a town and enter the "Willie Nelson Look Alike Contest". He won third. The winner even appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show that the real Nelson was a guest on.
Grace Kelly several times had cab drivers telling her that she looks like Grace Kelly, according to a particular biography.
Keith Flint (of The Prodigy) relates in this interview how he was dissed by passersby: "Who do you think you are, the Firestarter?" and his awkwardness in knowing how to reply. ("But I AM the Firestarter....")
Inverted by Stanley Kubrick, who would tell visitors to his house that he wasn't Stanley Kubrick.
Dwayne Johnson told an anecdote on a talk show about him overhearing people who were trying to decide if he was The Rock and ultimately deciding he wasn't because he wasn't handsome enough.
Noah Antwiller ran around the 2009 Chicago Comic Con dressed as his character Dr. Insano, and had a fan compliment him as "the best Insano cosplayer she'd ever seen."
Adam Savage reported at Dragon* Con 2009 that a fan told him "Dude, you are doing him so well." Evidently people recognize him exponentially better when he's appearing with Jamie, rather than without. To wit, from the show:
Adam: I might be that guy from that show, but he is that guy from that show.
Jamie does have his rather distinct mustache as beacon of his identity, not to mention his beret, glasses, and dirt-shielded white shirt.
An inversion of the trope so weird it's actually true: Alan Conway, a travel agent from Muswell Hill, London, spent time in the 90's impersonating reclusive director Stanley Kubrick. Even though Conway looked nothing like Kubrick and knew nothing about any of his movies, he completely fooled interviewers and critics.
In an Australian TV interview, puppeteer Kevin Clash told an anecdote about how he performed Elmo's voice in a store... and other people there said they could do a better job.
Virtuoso concert violinist Joshua Bell in 2007 busked in a DC Metro station and made a grand total of $59. Possibly justified since a metro station is generally noisy, the acoustics are lousy for a violin and it was during rush hour, so many people probably couldn't stop. The low income generated may be less about mistaking him for a lesser performer, and more about completely not noticing him.
This was done as part of a study, and several people who had passed through the station were asked if they had seen anything unusual in the station. All but one didn't even remember there being any violinist. The one who did remember though, (a postal worker by trade) could not shut up about him.
There was a new translation into Swedish of Lord of the Rings. The translator says he signed up at a forum to discuss the translation, but he was quickly flamed by people who argued he had obviously no idea how the translator thought!
John Leeson, the voice of K-9 on Doctor Who, once placed second in a K-9 sound-alike contest he entered under an assumed name.
In the introduction to Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World, he tells a story of being picked up at an airport by a driver holding a cardboard "Carl Sagan" sign. The driver said, "You have the same name as that science guy." And it turns out the driver had the reverse problem. His name was William Buckley.
Dan Castellaneta, voice of Homer Simpson, once told of how he was told by a Simpson fan that they would love to meet the voice of Homer. When he told her that he did the voice of Homer, the woman laughed him off.
British comedy personality Harry Hill stated in an interview that he was asked by a man on the street who he was because the man recognized him from somewhere. The man started naming celebrities who he thinks he could be leading Hill to say: "How about Harry Hill?" The man said no stating that he looked nothing like him.
Alluding to a rising Broadway star whose name was on everyone's lips, a Hollywood director at a party (so the story goes) pointed to someone dancing and said "Forget Gene Tierney! Get me that girl!" It goes without saying who "that girl" was.
A story about the nineteenth-century chess champion Emmanuel Lasker holds that he once visited a chess club and played some games unrecognized by anyone there, including a man who called himself "the Lasker of this club".
Peyton Manning has stated that the best way to avoid being recognized is to wear a Peyton Manning jersey.
Inverted by Jewel, who went so far as to wear a fake nose and a wig to sing her own songs at a karaoke bar. Nobody recognized her at all (until The Reveal), and she got rave reviews on how well she did Jewel songs. She even sang the same song later the same night out of costume, under the auspices of making a "surprise appearance" as herself - before the full reveal, an audience member who hadn't caught on said she thought this other woman had done a better job than the "real" Jewel.
Japanese filmmaker and comedian Beat Takeshi told a story on an episode of Takeshi Art Beat about being accosted by a drunk in a bar out in the boonies for "trying to be Beat Takeshi".
Olympic skater Dorothy Hamill was at a White House party and someone told her she had "almost a Dorothy Hamill haircut."
When Disney decided that it would be a good idea to create a family sitcom based on the very R-rated indie comedy Clerks, the film's two leads, Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson, decided to audition for their respective parts from the film. However, Anderson's character of Randall had already been cast with Saturday Night Live star Jim Breuer, so instead the two auditioned for O'Halloran's Dante. Neither got the part, and a no-name actor who looked nothing like O'Halloran was instead cast as Dante for the failed pilot. O'Halloran and Anderson have both gone on record saying they don't regret losing the part.
Actress Joan Allen once told a story on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno of a woman approaching her in a gym locker room who remarked that she resembled a young Joan Allen. Which she took as a compliment.
Minecraft developer Jens Bergensten has tweeted an image showing him joining a server and being called "not the best fake I've ever seen".
Some critics and audiences criticized the "actor" who played Senator Joseph McCarthy in Good Night, and Good Luck. not knowing it was McCarthy himself (via archive footage).
For Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean hired Anthony Quinn to play the Arab leader Auda abu Tayi. Quinn did his own makeup and showed up on set in costume. As they were filming on location in Africa, Lean assumed Quinn was a local Arab and told his assistant to get on the phone and fire Quinn, as he wanted to hire the "Arab."
During San Diego Comic Con in 2013, Hugh Jackman wandered around San Diego in the full Wolverine garb.
Not one person stopped me. One person said "not bad". Another said "too tall".
Also at Comic Con 2013, Bryan Cranston went around dressed as Walter White... complete with plastic Walter White mask. While certainly amusing, it does make it hard to tell how to categorize this example.
Nathan Fillion has been told that his imitation of Malcolm Reynolds "needed work".
David Michael Bennett, who play The Spine in Steam Powered Giraffe, posted about the trip he took to Comic Con in full costume. Even when he dropped hints (or flat-out stated) that he was the actor behind the character, several fans still thought he was merely a very convincing cosplayer.