The Boss: I'm The Boss.
Slevin: I thought he was The Boss.
The Boss: Why? Do we look alike?
When characters mistake a more distinguished or qualified-looking individual for that person's boss. For whatever reason, the assistant looks more like the boss should look than the boss himself, at least in some people's eyes.
Sometimes age, race, gender or other preconceptions of authority figures cause characters to make the error. This often results when people are Expecting Someone Taller. Sometimes the boss has an Improbable Age, or an eccentric style that causes him to look unlike other members of his field. Or maybe the assistant is such a Hyper-Competent Sidekick that he's clearly the real heavyweight of the relationship.
This situation is sometimes cultivated intentionally, with the assistant being a decoy for the real deal, in order to protect their boss from their enemies, such as a Decoy Leader or Body Double. This is The Man in Front of the Man.
Related tropes include Mistaken for Servant, when an important figure is mistaken for a servant or assistant, and Actually, I Am Him, another situation when a character fails to identify the person he's seeking upon meeting him.
Compare Mistaken Age.
- In an ad for Kenco, a man and woman arrive at a coffee plantation, and the owner greets the man enthusiastically. The woman says they'll take all the best beans for instant coffee, because Kenco uses the same beans for instant and roast. The owner says he'll have to clear that with the boss, to which the woman replies "You just have."
- Ageha 100% tells the story of the mysterious beautician Ageha, alter ego to the plain Ordinary High-School Student Rin, who will use her make-up magic to help girls who want to be prettier. She is usually accompanied by Riku, who tags along because he finds her work interesting, and wears a female disguise so that their identities won't be discovered by the school. Since he's taller and more naturally good-looking than Ageha/Rin herself, the girls who "summoned" her always assume that Riku is Ageha. Every. Single. Time.
- In the manga Anonymous, a character is assigned to be the bodyguard of the brilliant and accomplished scientist Dr. Elie Wendell. He's shown a photo of a grown man and a teenage girl; he assumes the man is Dr. Wendell. He's wrong. Granted, the Tomboyish Name probably didn't help with the confusion, nor the Improbable Age issue.
- Subverted in Beelzebub: upon being introduced to the demon doctor (who happens to have taken on a form not unlike a Pacman ghost in the human world), the protagonist is disbelieving, and barges in on the patient being treated by a (apparently human) young girl in a lab coat. He therefore assumes that she is the doctor and that he was mistaken about the other one (especially as she confirms that she is the doctor)... until the original catches her by the ear and scolds her for trying to assume the identity of her boss. She's actually the assistant.
- In Dance in the Vampire Bund, Vera is mistakenly assumed to be the school's chairwoman. It's then taken a step further, as Mina turns out to also be the school's founder. (This is the anime: in the manga Mina's had unidentified men playing those roles up to that point, so the students have been quite reasonably assuming the man in the chair's office every day doing the work has been the chairman, and the Japanese man's name and picture on the school's paperwork belonged to the founder.)
- In the manwha Demon Diary, Eclipse (Raenef's mentor) is mistaken for the local demon lord, at which point, and with much exasperation, he introduces Raenef as the real demon lord. Received a Lampshade Hanging by two "hostages" that it was an official record that no has guessed Raenef correctly.
- Doraemon: Nobita and The Space Heroes have the gang (and their Robot Buddy sidekick, the Burger Director) meeting a friendly alien named Aron, who then says he's honoured to meet the leader... while talking to the Burger-shaped robot who's just a random gadget Doraemon pulled out. Meanwhile, Doraemon, the real (self-proclaimed) leader, gets totally ignored, causing Doraemon to go through a hilarious Colour Failure.
- Dragon Ball:
- Played for laughs in Dragon Ball Z when Goku starts training with whom he believes to be King Kai. When the real Kai shows up, he is rather amused at the stranger imitating his pet monkey.
- In Dragon Ball Super, Future Trunks meets Beerus and Whis and is told that he's in the presence of the God of Destruction. Trunks immediately bows to Whis...who awkwardly explains that he's just the assistant and Beerus is the God. Needless to say, between this and the fact that time travel is regarded as a major sin by the gods, Beerus starts off with a pretty poor impression of Trunks.
- Goku also mistakes Whis for Beerus, before seeing King Kai talking to Beerus.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward Elric becomes a State Alchemist, a position of authority in the military that comes with a compulsory title. Due to his stubbornness and determined personality, Ed is given the title "Fullmetal". His younger brother Alphonse, who has lost his body in a failed alchemy experiment and has his soul bound to a large metal suit of armor, is often mistaken for him due to the nickname. That, and no-one expects a fifteen-year-old boy to be a famous alchemist and soldier, nor for the suit of armor accompanying him to be hosting the soul of his younger brother. Expecting Someone Taller also comes into play here in these situations, and serves as Ed's Berserk Button.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex the agents greet a man with a quadruped robot by his side who they assume is the CEO of the company they're visiting. The man responds "No, I'm just an android" and it turns out that the robot is the CEO's body (since he likes the look).
- One Piece: Early on in the story, Number Two Roronoa Zoro is occasionally mistaken for the captain of the Straw Hat pirates, due to his more serious nature and rather extreme fighting ability(which rivals the actual captain, though which of the two is stronger is a major debate among fans). As the crew continues their adventures in the Grand Line and they (and Luffy in particular) become more infamous in their exploits, this mistake stops occurring.
- Happens constantly in Shina Dark. Satan is an affable, likeable kind of guy, while people tremble in fear before his butler. His butler wears suits and black capes, whereas Satan prefers loose T-shirts.
- Ryuu and Shirayuki run into people confusing him for her assistant rather often in Snow White with the Red Hair due to the fact that she became his assistant when he was still twelve. Even after she's no longer his assistant on paper and is a pharmacist in her own right they still get this reaction since no-one expects a young teenager to be a pharmacist and it doesn't help that he usually is content to fade into the background since he doesn't really like attention.
- GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class has a chapter where the main girls visit their school's equestrian club. They first run into Claire, the very picture of a European horseback rider (graceful looks, beautiful horse, fireign features)...only to find out that she's not the president, but the vice president. The real deal is rather plain looking and more obviously Japanese.
- The Tintin comic Flight 714 had Captain Haddock suffer this when the millionaire they are to meet turns out to be the sickly, worn-down looking fellow he'd just mistaken for a vagrant.
- When Nightwing first moves to Bludhaven, he notes that his landlady has a sexy Irish accent, but he hasn't seen her face because it was always blocked by something when they spoke previously. Later on he's outside and overhears the accent again when passing a redheaded Caucasian woman talking to an Asian woman. He tells the redhead that he's finally glad to be able to meet her face to face, and she starts laughing. Turns out the Asian—Chinese—woman is his landlady. She was adopted and raised in Ireland. The ladies get a good laugh out of the mistake.
- In Camelot 3000, Tom interrupts a wedding to awaken the memories of the reborn Sir Tristan. He assumes, and insists, that the knight is the burly and belligerent groom, but it turns out the sweet bride is the real Tristan (who stops being feminine right away after being awakened).
- Batman: In the original comics, there is the pairing of The Ventriloquist and his dummy Scarface, who is a wooden puppet named and slightly modeled after Al Capone, who behaves as a classic mob boss. One of the many Scarface's Berserk Button is when people rudely insists to talk to the Ventriloquist instead of him, who is the one really in control. Of course, maybe this trope is justified if you prefer to believe Scarface is a Demonic Dummy.
- In Mass Effect: End of Days, Saren (assigned to work on the Normandy) addresses who he believes to be Shepard... actually, it's Shepard's empty, AI driven Power Armor. The real Shepard is walking alongside it.
- And the Giant Awoke: After the First Battle of Kasta, General Presteri is brought to Tyrion... and assumes Tyrion's Braavosi bodyguard Ranulf is "The Giant", dismissing "the dwarf sitting in the corner". Oops.
- The Evabon Saga: A variation, if not a very amusing one. The kittens at first assume a four-legged beast called a Tolac is Gard. As it turns out, it is not Gard but rather his pet tolac Calaban.
- Brave: A humorous example occurs with Wee Dingwall and a buff Dingwall clansman when Lord Dingwall is introducing his son.
- Played For Drama in Ben 10: Secret of the Omnitrix: The Omnitrix is in its Self-Destruct sequence and the only one that can abort it is the devices' creator Azmuth. However due to their secretive nature, Azmuth is elusive and unknown without anyone knowing what species they even are. Tracking the DNA Signature printed onto the Omnitrix leads them to a female Chimera Sui Generis (Vilgax's Species) who has a connection with the Omnitrix. Assuming that she might be Azmuth, she then points out that she's actually Myaxx, Azmuths' bitter former assistant: who in a moment of rage at how Azmuth kept treating her like crap erased Azmuths' DNA Signature and replaced it with her own. Though she does offer them the location of where Azmuth really is.
- In Treasure Planet, Dr. Doppler greets Mr. Arrow, a large man made of stone, and calls him captain. Arrow then informs him that the real captain is the Cat Girl doing acrobatics on the ship's rigging.
- In Zootopia, when Nick and Judy are taken to Mr. Big's place, Judy first mistakes the (increasingly taller) polar bears that enter the room for the boss. The largest one brings in his hands the tiny chair bearing Mr. Big himself, who's actually an Arctic shrew.
- Air America. Senator Davenport mistakes General Soong in his Bling of War for a bellhop. He is not amused and can't resist snarking about it later.
Senator: Why do I feel like I'm being kept out of the loop?
General: (sarcastically) What do I know? I'm only boy for carrying luggage bags!
- In Ali, Muhammad Ali, travelling by plane to Zaire, is invited to the cockpit. He finds two men, a white and a black one, and addresses the first one as the pilot. The man retorts "I'm just the copilot, he's the pilot!"
- When Mozart first meets the Emperor and the rest of the court in Amadeus, he bursts in enthusiastically and bows ... to Baron von Swieten. Von Swieten has to point to the actual Emperor playing Salieri's "Welcome March" at the piano, much to Mozart's confusion.
- In Clue, in the third alternate ending (called the true ending in modern airings), Wadsworth the butler reveals he was the blackmailing Mr. Boddy all along, while the man who was murdered at the start of the film was his butler.
- In Das Boot, U-96 arrives in Spain to resupply. The officers are invited aboard a freighter, where they are greeted by several Nazi officers. The 1WO, who is the only crewman that bothers shaving and maintaining his uniform through the film, is mistaken for the captain, who has an untamed beard and is in civilian wear. Truth in Television, though later in the war most U-Boat captains would look like the 1WO: young and in a fresh uniform.
- In Citizen Kane, when Kane is buying the Inquirer, the editor of the paper mistakes Joseph Cotten's character for Kane.
- Doctor Strange (2016): When Dr. Strange meets the Ancient One, this happens. Interestingly, it's not a natural slip-up and doesn't really seem to indicate any prejudice on Strange's part— the real Ancient One in her fancy robe is not remotely less impressive than the false one, but the scene is very clearly staged to put the decoy front-and-center. (She then immediately dismisses him, too, so presumably he wasn't there for any other reason.) It seems to be done strictly for the purpose of starting Strange off on the wrong foot, the better to keep him there for the majority of his education.
- In Elizabeth, when Queen Elizabeth's court is assembled to welcome the arrival of the Duke of Anjou and his entourage, they see a richly attired man with an air of nobility approaching and they prepare to honor him. Meanwhile a shabbily dressed piper tootles his way right up to the queen, and when the guards start to grab him, he reveals his goofy jokeó"No! BecauseóI am Anjou! Yes! I am Anjou!"
- In Guess Who, the father assumes the taxi driver is his daughter's boyfriend, because he assumes her boyfriend will also be black.
- In Iron Eagle II, the central plot element is that a joint task force consisting of U.S. and Soviet Union troops has been assembled to perform a surgical strike on a nuclear missile silo in the Middle East. When the Soviet team arrives, their commander, Colonel Vardovsky, meets a sharp-looking officer whom he believes to be the Americans' commander, General Sinclair, and introduces himself with a crisp salute. The man informs the Colonel that he's actually just a lieutenant, at which point the real Charles "Chappy" Sinclair (played by the very black Louis Gossett Jr.) makes his own introduction.
- In Kingdom of Heaven, Balian is forced to kill a Saracen knight in a fight over a horse, but spares the life of another man who appears to be the first man's servant and lets him go free once they reach Jerusalem. Some time later, Balian encounters the "servant" again — leading the advance guard of the Saracen army.
Balian: You were not that man's servant.
Imad: No. He was my servant.
- King Kong (2005) has Ann Darrow mistake another character for Jack Driscoll, a writer she admires greatly. As she's describing how the man in front of her fits none of the stereotypes she had associated with him, Jack snaps his book shut, revealing he's exactly who she'd been expecting.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, English government representative Sanderson Reed gets sent to South Africa to recruit Allan Quatermain. Sanderson addresses an elderly man, who starts to share his stories, until the actual Quatermain stands up and identifies himself. He hired the impersonator because he'd gotten weary of all the people asking about his adventures. Soon afterwards, when the League of Shadows arrives and also asks for Quatermain, the impersonator starts over again and he's immediately killed by them.
- In Lover Come Back, Doris Day is constantly thwarted by competitor Rock Hudson in her quest to sign new advertising accounts. Rock is trying to land a new client, an eccentric misanthropic scientist. The scientist briefly leaves the lab to get some supplies. Enter Doris Day, who immediately mistakes Rock for the scientist. He does not correct her. Hilarity ensues.
- In the live-action Madeline movie, there's a Running Gag of ambassadors and their wives from different countries being brought in to tour Madeline's school in hopes that they'll buy the building as a new embassy. At the end, there's one last couple taking the tour while the girls are trying to save the school, and another character says something like "What about the Ukrainian ambassador?" The husband then admits that he isn't the ambassador; his wife steps forward and says that she is, and lets the school stay open.
- In The Man Who Knew Too Little, when Wallace arrives at his brother's house, he mistakes the maid for his sister-in-law.
Wallace: Sis? Give me a hug!
- In Mean Girls, the two teachers read from some card that they have a new student, named Cady Heron, from Africa. At which point everyone in the class turns to the new black student, who replies that she's from Michigan. The actual Cady then speaks up.
- In Men in Black, K and J are sent to pick up an alien consultant, and meet a pasty-faced man with a dog:
J: Now that's the worst disguise ever. That guy's gotta be an alien.
Frank the Pug: You don't like it, you can kiss my furry little butt!
- In one of the most dramatic moments in Muppet history, when Captain Smollet is about to be introduced in Muppet Treasure Island, a horse carriage hurdles through the streets, and out steps a tall aggressive figure in a billowing trench coat. He then steps aside to reveal Kermit the Frog. Hi-Ho, everyone!
- In Murder by Death, the butler announces the arrival of "Miss Jessica Marbles and nurse". The already arrived guests assume that the old woman in the wheelchair is Miss Jessica Marbles, when actually the younger woman is Jessica Marbles, who is now taking care of her old nurse, who is by this point, completely gaga.
- In The Sound of Music, on arriving at the von Trapp mansion, Maria mistakes the butler for the Captain. According to the real Maria von Trapp's autobiography, this actually happened, making it a Real Life example as well.
- In True Believer, Robert Downey Jr. plays a recent law-school grad who is thrilled to be hired by his role model, a famous defense attorney, whom he has never met. He is so excited he goes to the courtroom where his new boss is working without even unpacking his bags. There are two men at the defense's table, a well-dressed man with short hair in an expensive suit, and a scruffy man with a ponytail. Guess which one is the drug dealer, and which one is the attorney.
- In Wayne's World 2, Wayne and Garth go to the local radio station to be interviewed by disc jockey Handsome Dan. The good-looking guy they first greet turns out to be Mr. Scream (the wacky voice guy), while Handsome Dan is... well, Harry Shearer.
- In What's Up, Doc?, the constantly befuddled Howard (Ryan O'Neal) is practicing his introduction to a very important sponsor. He approaches a well-dressed man...
Howard: Mr. Larrabee, it's a privilege to meet you. I'm Doctor Howard Bannister.
Headwaiter: And I'm your headwaiter, Rudy.
- A joke that works well with just about any prominent figure, but will be told with the Pope because religious leaders have an obvious candidate for someone higher up the pecking order. For reasons that are up to the joke-teller's discretion, the Pope and his driver have no choice but to switch places while driving somewhere. Their destination is through a checkpoint, so their vehicle is stopped by guards. One of them checks the vehicle's occupants, goes pale and lets the vehicle through. The guard turns to their partner:
Guard: I don't know who that guy is, but the Pope is his driver.
- Alfred Bester's short story, "Time is the Traitor" has John Strapp, who is known as a brilliant man who can solve multi-planetary corporation problems. The reader is first shown a tall, powerful, distinguished looking man, accompanied by a short, balding, harried man with huge bags under his eyes, obviously his accountant. No, the tall guy is just the decoy.
- The Scandal of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton uses this trope; there's a beautiful rich American woman in a small town in Mexico. She is married to a respectable businessman named Potter, but had been linked to a fiery poet named Rudel Romanes. She is constantly in the company of a short, stooped hairy man with a bushy beard, and is constantly being followed by a tall, darkly handsome man. There is also a journalist, who determines to write an exposé of the whole mess, assuming that the short man is Potter and the tall man is Romanes. After she flees the hotel with the tall man, Father Brown explains that in fact, it was the other way 'round. The tall handsome man is her husband, and the old man is the poet. As he explains to the journalist, "You see, you are so incurably romantic that your whole case was founded on the idea that a man looking like a young god couldn't be called Potter."
- In Unseen Academicals, the protagonist catches a glimpse of a tall, haughty and quite skinny looking lady who she takes to be Lady Margolotta, a famous vampire, who is accompanied by a shorter, and less imposing woman she takes to be her librarian. The protagonist only figures it out after she delivers a rant about Lady Margolotta to the 'librarian'. The next time they meet, the protagonist pointedly refuses to apologize, on the basis that Lady Margolotta Invoked the trope and has no right to be offended for it working.
- At the end of Monstrous Regiment, Polly demands to see the head of the Ankh-Morpork detachment, Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh. Before she and her squad are ushered into a room full of men in military uniforms, Polly notices a grubby sergeant smoking on the couch.
- In the Retrievers books by Laura Anne Gilman, the Retrievers are Wren, a short, nondescript woman who is an accomplished thief and powerful magic-user, and Sergei, a tall, muscular man who handles the financial end of things. People usually assume their roles are the other way around.
- The Dark Side of the Sun by Terry Pratchett features several quotes from and descriptions of the works of Charles Sub-Lunar, who amongst his many accomplishments translated the Joker language—or co-deciphered, the work traditionally being attributed to "a poet and a mad computer". The main character, Dom, keeps running into (but not speaking to) "a thickset Earthman with a face crisscrossed with dueling scars and a small battered Class One robot", and is told this is Sub-Lunar. Much later, when he mentions the "poet and mad computer" line, he's told "Yes, although he's not really mad. I don't know who the poet was. His servant is quite fascinating too, with all those scars."
- Louis L'Amour: In "The Shadow Riders" when Ashford and three of his men ride to the ranch house of Martin Connery (whose smuggling contacts they hope to use) Connery mistakes Ashford's aide Cushing for Ashford (or maybe just pretends to in order to annoy the pompous colonel) and extends the greeting to him.
- This happens occasionally in L. M. Montgomery novels or short stories: a very famous person (usually a celebrated author) makes an appearance at the humble abode of the heroine, along with her friend. The heroine at first thinks that the tall, graceful, well-dressed woman is the famous writer, and is perplexed by the short, plump woman who seems utterly diminished next to her. However, thanks to proper introductions, the issue is sorted out straightaway.
- Played with in Old Tin Sorrows, when Garrett must secretly bring a doctor to examine a wealthy client who thinks he's there to track down some stolen property. Morley escorts both a doctor and a fence to the estate, and Garrett mentally mistakes each for the other ... because Morley deliberately sought out a doctor who looked sleazy enough to be passed off as a fence's assistant.
- In I Am a Cat, Sneaze/Kushami is called on by a policeman bringing the recently-captured thief who robbed his (Sneaze's) house. Sneaze assumes the thief is the policeman because he's more smartly dressed.
- In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, Harry first mistakes Kincaid (the hired driver/babysitter) for the mediator, the Archive, a 7-year-old child.
Harry: You can't be bringing a child into this.
Kincaid: Sure I can.
Harry: What, couldn't you find a babysitter?
- Early in The First Law, Barbarian Hero Logen is called to meet with the famous magus Bayaz. Trying to figure out which person in the room is Bayaz, he notices a scholarly, bearded old man in a white robe surrounded by several servants, including a bald, stout man in late middle age who Logen takes for a butcher. Turns out that the scholarly man is an assistant librarian, and the butcher is Bayaz.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Jon Snow's meeting with Wildling king Mance Rayder plays out this way. Jon is taken into a tent to meet him and ponders which man standing by the hearth is Mance: the stocky, ferocious-looking warrior or the lanky, dour-looking warrior. It turns out that he's neither. Mance is the nondescript bard who Jon had immediately dismissed after entering the tent.
- When Jon Snow becomes Lord Commander and has to meet a queen well known for her superior attitude, he makes sure to be accompanied by several underlings, otherwise she might "mistake him for the stableboy and hand him the reins of her horse." Admittedly Jon is rather young to be a Lord Commander. It works, too. Instead of mistaking him for the stableboy, she mistakes him for a junior officer sent to escort her to the Lord Commander.
- Stannis Baratheon recalls a time when he and his older brother Robert went to court as children and watched a man sit the Iron Throne, agreeing that the King was as noble as the dragons. Years later, their father told them that the man that impressed them so much was Tywin Lannister, King Aerys' Hand of the King and Hypercompetent Sidekick; Aerys had cut himself on the throne that morning and Tywin took his place that day.
- In the prequel Tales of Dunk and Egg novella "The Sworn Sword", Dunk is sent to meet Lady Rohanne Webber, who he knows to be widowed multiple times (and rumored to have murdered her husbands) and who has a terrible reputation for cruelty. As a prank, Dunk is introduced to one of Lady Webber's attendants and is told that she is Lady Webber, and he believes it, because the elderly and unpleasant looking woman jibes with his assumptions about what Lady Webber would look like. He then learns that a pretty young redheaded woman practicing archery nearby is Lady Webber, and that she is not nearly as bad as her reputation suggests.
- In Inda everyone meeting Inda on his ships for the first time assumes that tall, black-clothed, lean and nasty-looking Fox is the legendary Elgar the Fox, when it's actually short, plain-faced, plain-clothed Inda. It's especially amusing because Fox spends a significant portion of the series desperately trying to figure out how to be as good a commander as Inda. People mistake Fox for Inda so often that they start using it to trick people.
- Will in Scarlet: When Guy of Gisbourne and a crony arrive at the Shackley estate, Will is unimpressed, mocking how Guy is bossing people around like a complete Upper-Class Twit and Fat Idiot while letting his imposing bodyguard glare at people. Will's dismissive feelings quickly change when he's told that Guy is the man he took for a brooding bodyguard and the Upper-Class Twit (a man known as the master of bribes) is the lackey.
- Xandri Corelel: When the Xeno-Liaisons team first lands on Cochinga, one of the diplomats sent to greet them looks at Xandri's assistant Christa Baranka and says "So this is the young Ms. Corelel I've been told about?"
- Penric and Dubro get this a lot in The Physicians of Vilnoc. Both are sorcerers, which in this world, means they both possess a symbiotic demon who supplies them with magic powers, magic perceptions, and advice. Penric's two-hundred-year-old demon has over ninety years of medical experience. Dubro's demon is much younger and, until joining Dubro, had spent its entire existence in animals. As a result, Penric is a very skilled physician, and everything Dubro knows about magical medicine he learned from Penric...but Dubro is about twice Penric's age, and so quite a few people trust him more.
- Star Wars Legends: Princess Leia's aide Winter would often be mistaken as the Princess by people due to her bearing making her seem more like a Princess of Alderaan than Leia did.
- In The 100 episode "Fog of War", a large, intimidating Grounder warrior locks peace-seeking Kane and Jaha in a cell with a slave woman. Jaha and Kane debate how they can convince the warrior, who they think is the Grounder Commander, that their desire for peace is genuine, unaware that the slave woman is the actual Commander and the warrior is actually her trusted lieutenant.
- Played with in the Absolute Power (BBC) episode "Spinning America", in which Charles is greeted at the American embassy by a young black woman, and tells her how impressed he is; he was expecting the American Ambassador to be an overweight middle-aged white guy. He is.
- In the Allegiance episode "Strangers in a Strange Land", the operative charged with carrying out Black Dagger intentionally invokes this by driving his cut-out man around Rome. Alex assumes the cut-out man is the operative and the operative is just a chauffeur. He doesn't realize his mistake until he finds the cut-out man, who has Outlived His Usefulness.
- On The Andy Griffith Show, strangers have assumed that Barney was the sheriff on more than one occasion, because Barney always wears his tie, cap, and sidearm, whereas Andy prefers to dress (and behave) more casually and never wears a gun.
- Angel. In "Through the Looking Glass" Cordelia becomes princess of the demon planet Pylea, but is told she must com-shuck with the Groosalugg, recently summoned from the scum pits of Ur. After an abortive escape attempt she resigns herself to mating with the hideous Horned Humanoid who slouches into her throne room with a sack over his shoulder, only for the real Groosalugg — a handsome blue-eyed hero — to stride inside and tell the demon to just leave his stuff anywhere.
- Blake's 7 had a similar version in "Assassin", with the supposed Sex Slave of the man the heroes captured being the Professional Killer they were seeking.
- There's a Cheers where Rebecca marches into her new boss's office and takes an older gentleman for the boss. Turns out that's his assistant, and her new boss is the many-years-her-junior executive who hit on her in the elevator on the way up.
- In one episode of Criminal Minds, Rossi, Reid, and Blake enter the local field office of the week. The agent they're working with approaches the group, shakes Rossi's hand, and says "You must be Dr. Reid." He quickly corrects the mistake, and the entire incident is forgotten.
- Doctor Who:
- Happens in "Robot", where Sarah Jane, despite being a self-professed feminist, doesn't recognize a female director as the person in charge.
- In "Utopia", Professor Yana comes upon the trio (the Doctor, Martha and Jack). He knows the Doctor is male, but that's it, so for a brief moment, he stands between Jack and the Doctor, trying to decide which one is the Doctor until he gives up and simply asks Jack. The Doctor immediately corrects him, prompting an overexcited Yana to grab him and drag him away, much to the Doctor's amusement.
- In "Spyfall, Part 1", MI6 has Thirteen and her "fam" in custody and agency head C mistakes Graham for the Doctor until Thirteen pipes up and admits she's "had an upgrade." Of course, with Thirteen being the first female incarnation that the Doctor remembers having, Brexit shuttering UNIT and Torchwood, and the Master back at it, posing as one of their top informants, it's not a surprise they had bad intel.
- Firefly did this with one of Inara's clients (who was, to the surprise of everyone and the delight of some, a woman). The reaction from one character is the Trope Namer for I'll Be in My Bunk.
- On Frasier, Niles goes to see Maris's plastic surgeon, Mel Karnovsky. The man he thinks is the doctor turns out to be the assistant, and Mel is a young woman.
- Done in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when the family meet Janice's new fiancee. A rather handsome black guy comes in and the family instantly take a liking to him. He followed by a white man who they assume to be the taxi driver bringing in his luggage. Janice comes into the room and goes...over to the white man kissing him much to the family's shock. The black guy was the taxi driver.
- Game of Thrones did this when Jon mistakes Tormund Giantsbane for Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall. Tormund and Mance are quite amused.
Tormund: 'Your Grace?' (to others) Did you hear that? From now on, you better kneel every time I fart!
- Get Smart:
- In one episode Dr. T was a 10-year-old boy.
- In another episode, Max is teamed up with a British agent to guard a scientist - at show's end it was revealed the scientist was actually the guy who looked like a secret agent, and vice-versa.
- H₂O: Just Add Water: When Zane hears there is a marine biologist doing a study in the area, he initially assumes Dr. Zenman's older male assistant to be the biologist.
- On Home Improvement, Tim is usually mistaken for the Comedy Relief Bumbling Sidekick to Al. This is because Tim is remarkably accident prone, whereas Al is the model of careful professionalism. In fact, most viewers think that Tim's accidents are All Part of the Show. The misunderstanding is common enough that Tim's declarations of "Al is my assistant. He assists me," is practically a catchphrase.
- On Judging Amy, as a woman comes into Amy's office, looking for her, she introduces herself to her law clerk. They all have a good laugh once the mistake is corrected, and the woman sheepishly admits, "It was either look like a racist (by assuming—correctly, ironically—that the white woman was the judge rather than the African-American law clerk), or look like a sexist, and I figured looking like a racist was worse."
- The Last Kingdom: Uhtred is mistaken for the promised king when he and Guthred (the actual king) enter Cumbraland; this applies even to Father Eothred who dreamed of Guthred's coming as the rightful king; his mistaking Uhtred for Guthred merely serves to expose him as the self-serving liar he is.
- In the pilot for Mad Men, Don introduces himself to a nondescript glasses-wearing man, thinking he was the client for Jewish-owned Menken's department store. As it turns out, it was the glamorous woman (Rachel) standing next to him who was the client—the man was the lone Jewish employee at Sterling Cooper, brought in to make Rachel feel more "comfortable." He was so low on the totem pole that Don didn't recognize him. Rachel awesomely calls Don out on it.
- In one Midnight Caller episode, a detective asks Devon if her boss, Mr. Killian, knows she's using his office, even though Devon is actually Killian's boss.
- On The Muppet Show when Vincent Price guess starred, there was a skit in which Fozzie and Gonzo are staying at a "summer cottage" castle and are visited by Price, who is traveling with his beautiful assistant and a hideous beast. A hideous looking character (Uncle Deadly) appears and Fozzie assumes he's the beast. "Watch it! I'm the beautiful assistant."
- One episode of One Day at a Time (1975) involved a former tutor of Barbara's named Ted. Ted recently got his MBA but was having difficulty getting a job because he was only a teenager. For an interview, they inverted this by having Schneider go with him, establish a rapport with the interviewer, then tell him the guy applying for the job is the teenager standing next to him.
- In the Shoestring episode "The Farmer Had a Wife," Eddie is visiting a doctor's practice. When he asks a woman gardening out front where Dr. Wilson is, she introduces herself to him as Dr. Claire Wilson.
- Sister, Sister turns this one on its head in the SAT episode (well, the second SAT episode). The girls hire a tutor, and the man that arrives is older than they expected. He says as much, as he's just the district coordinator, then introduces the actual tutor...who's much younger than they expected.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation. In "The Perfect Mate", a metamorph who can change herself to become the perfect partner of any man mistakes Captain Picard for the alien ruler she's supposed to marry, due to Picard's natural air of authority. The matter is soon cleared up, but unfortunately this error causes her to start imprinting on Picard instead of her intended. The trope is inverted earlier when a Ferengi merchant mistakes Picard for the man who arranges the ambassador's appointments.
- Storage Wars has a pair of bidders finding some beauty pageant tiaras and so they went to a beauty queen expert. They greeted a tall blond woman who stated that she's the expert's coach and then she pointed down to a nine-year-old girl beauty queen. The bidders even had to kneel down just to speak to her face to face.
- In The West Wing, a badly hungover Josh had trouble telling Joey Lucas (Marlee Matlin) - who he expected to be a man - from her assistant Kenny. Josh gets a bit of slack, not just because he was hungover, but also because Kenny was doing all the talking, including the introduction "I'm Joey Lucas!". (Joey, it happens, is deaf, and Kenny was interpreting her sign language.)
- Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "Golden Age of Ballooning": After stealing the plans from the Montgolfier Brothers, Louie sees George III who is being read to by his reader. Louie walks up to reader and starts to introduce himself. The reader points to George III which Louie exclaims "Oh, Christ", turns to George III and restarts his spiel.
- In Ekaterina, when Catherine's carriage is knocked over and Prince Saltykov opens the door to check if she is okay, Princess is sure that the handsome man is her bethroted, Pyotr Fedorovitch, and tries her best eyelash batting. She is very disappointed to learn that the actual Pyotr is nothing like Saltykov.
- Odd Squad: In the Season 2 episode "The Creature Whisperer", Otis and Oprah are set to meet the Big O for the first time, as he is coming to Precinct 13579 to examine the premises. The Big O that arrives is a tall boy who looks to be around Otis' age and is very dignified in stature, being flanked by two assistants. However, at the same time, Ocean and Olympia are attempting to catch a Hopinbob that got loose, forcing Otis and Oprah to stall in order to not let the Big O find out that there's a loose odd creature in Headquarters. Their efforts to stall eventually fall flat, however, and they are forced to begin the examination in Oprah's office while the creature is still loose. Eventually Ocean manages to round up the creature after much effort, but it's in full view of the Big O, who begins to question the entire ordeal as well as the efforts to stall. However, he believes that they're all trying to get him to crack and admit that he's not the real Big O. He then motions to the actual Big O, standing in the doorway — a child who's younger than any of the main characters, carries toy trains around with him, and can't count higher than 5, who reveals that he sent a decoy as a test to prove Oprah's intelligence and allows her to keep running Precinct 13579.
- In Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, Almaz Von Almandine Adamant, a wannabe hero with an awesome name, has just arrived in the netherworld, when he encounters a young boy with unruly hair, and a towering, bone-thin man dressed like Dracula (sans cape). He immediately assume that the man is a dangerous demon, and the child an innocent victim - and leaps to the rescue. The child, however, is Really 700 Years Old, and more important, is YOU - Mao, the protagonist, son of the local Overlord, and as bad as they come. The man is his butler. Amusingly enough, his initial judgement was completely correct - the 'Butler' is actually an evil villain, who has been raising and manipulating Mao for the last 200 years. But you don't learn that 'till MUCH later.
- Played deliberately in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. Throughout the game, you're assisted by QA, who appears as a hot woman computer programmer. At the end, Matt is shown the real QA, and she looks exactly the same. Until a male voice tells her to move out of the way, revealing he is QA, and he used his assistant's likeness because he knew Matt would listen to a hot woman a lot more readily than to him.
- In the first two games of Golden Sun, the summon Cybele appears as a tree-haired frog who spits seeds to enemies. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn reveals that said frog is merely Cybele's pet or underling, since the goddess herself shows up in her summon sequence.
- In the Knights of the Old Republic Game Mod Brotherhood of Shadow, you and Shadow can take a job helping a dance company audition for Czerka. A human greets you and does much of the talking, but Czerka's "leisure officer" is actually a Gammorean!
- In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the elderly Impa tasks Link with visiting the Hateno Ancient Tech Lab to unlock further abilities for the Sheikah Slate. Upon reaching the Lab, a young girl named Purah directs him to a man named Symin in the back. But when Link show Symin the Sheikah Slate, he's quickly informed that Purah, who is Impa's sister, is the real director of the Hateno Ancient Tech Lab. This whole situation occurs because of Purah's embarrassment; thanks to a botched experiment, she had been regressed into a 6-year-old, and she decided to pass off the average visitors to Symin so no one would know what state she was in. She only revealed herself to Link because the Sheikah Slate demonstrated that he was the ancient Hylian Champion. However, he can read the diary of Paya, Impa's granddaughter, and discover that she has an "Auntie Purah," tipping him off to the ruse well beforehand, or relight the blue flame before entering the Tech Lab, causing Purah to drop the act in shock.
- Early on the first Galaxy Angel, Shiva assumes that the more professional-looking Lester Coolduras is the new appointed commander of the Elsior, Tact Mayers. Tact immediately has to introduce himself and clear up that Lester is actually his adjutant.
- Subverted in S.S.D.D. in the 'Anarchist Future' setting. The fox-guy is meeting his new boss, a big-name diplomat, and his bodyguard. The people who enter are a short, sharp-looking kangaroo, and a huge, hulking bulldog. He greets the bulldog with a handshake, and has it returned with delight - the diplomat states that "You're the first one who hasn't tried to shake hands with my bodyguard!"
- Happens very early in Arthur, King of Time and Space.
- In Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name, Toni greets Zombie and then Conrad as the paranormal investigator she hired. She thought Hanna was "their little brother or something."
- Played with a bit in Digger. One of the characters in the cast is a sentient statue of the god Ganesh, who is nothing more or less than a sentient talking statue. However, as an avatar of the god Ganesh, the statue also is a way for the god to incarnate and address his followers directly. Main character Digger, who is blind to the finer points of godly incarnation, just treats it as a talking statue all the time and thus ends up being (inadvertently) rude to said deity.
- The Water Phoenix King: Multiple persons mistake the astro-quantum-quasi-religious-physicist-slash-transport-mogul-slash-mega-city-mayor Anthem for her plucky midget assistant. She doesn't have the temper to humor these unintended insults.
- In Girl Genius Andronicus sees Agatha wearing her trilobite brooch and assumes she's the servant of the Heterodyne's rather than 'The' Heterodyne.
- Inverted in The Order of the Stick #149, when Redcloak assumes the hobgoblin who's subjecting him to rituals he must endure to become a tribe member is the hobgoblins' Supreme Leader. Told he can skip the trials if he vanquishes the Supreme Leader in a Klingon Promotion, he immediately kills the ritual-director with a deadly spell. The actual Supreme Leader, not wanting to be the next target, promptly declares that yes, the hobgoblin whom Redcloak killed was the tribe's commander.
- In Futurama, but subverted in that their assessment is rather spot on in regards to Kif and Zapp's respective competence levels.
Leela: You know, this might actually work. The Omicronians seem to have trouble telling one person from another.
Zapp Brannigan: True. At the negotiations, they thought Kif here was the statesman and I was a jabbering mental patient.
- The Jetsons: One episode features a company named Contempo Computers. Spacely and his rival Cogswell want to do business with that company and all they know about their CEO is that he's a young and innovative man. At the company's headquarters, they meet a young man and a boy. The boy is the CEO of Contempo Computers.
- A doubleshot in the Kim Possible episode "Grudge Match": One of Dr. Possible's colleagues, Dr. Fen, claims that his robot prototype was stolen by his assistant... or possibly by her boyfriend. Turns out that Fen had stolen his assistant's robot and, on top of that, her "boyfriend" is another robot, who she also built.
- An episode of Mary Shelley's Frankenhole, in a decidedly more racist example, does something similar when Thomas Jefferson (who wants the doctor to give him a... certain operation) goes looking for a suitable black man. He seems to think the name is important and wants a very African-sounding black man. The man Frankenstein suggests is Barack Obama. Jefferson says he's perfect based on his name alone ("That one probably can't even speak English!"), and doesn't listen when Victor tries to explain who he is. When they get to the White House and Victor introduces the 44th president, Jefferson immediately shakes the hand of Obama's white bodyguard. He had moments before confused the real president with "the poop slave", saying he's out of a job thanks to the flush toilets.
- In "The Fry Cook Games" of SpongeBob SquarePants, Plankton introduces a huge and threatening monster as his replacement in the Fry Cook Games, but it's revealed the big guy was just carrying the real contestant, Patrick.
- This is the purpose for the character of Leopold in The Simpsons: a gruff, angry man who comes in to Springfield Elementary School on at least two occasions to yell and rant about how the fun stops now and this is one principal/teacher you're not gonna SCREW with! Everyone's scared that he will be the new, no-nonsense authority figure... until he steps aside, gently and politely introducing the more innocuous person (like Ned Flanders in "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song" or Marge Simpson in "The PTA Disbands") who will really be taking over. (Of course, for Bart, his mother being the replacement was even worse.)
- In "Girls Just Wanna Have Sums", Springfield Elementary gets segregated by gender. When Lisa first sneaks into the boy's school, she finds that Principal Skinner has been demoted to Groundskeeper, before Groundskeeper Willie walks over and points out how Skinner is only Assistant Groundskeeper.
- The Venture Brothers: On more than one occasion, Brock Samson had been mistaken for Dr. Venture. This probably has to do with the real Dr. Venture not looking like he would live up to his father's prodigious legacy, while Brock might seemingly fit the bill better.
- In Batman: The Animated Series, Arnold Wesker was a Ventriloquist who had Dissociative Identity Disorder. Unwittingly, Wesker developed a criminal mastermind personality which was vented through the dummy named Scarface. One of the many Scarface's Berserk Button is when people rudely insists to talk to the Ventriloquist instead of him, who is the one really in control. Of course, maybe this trope is justified if you prefer to believe Scarface is an outlet for the Ventriloquist's criminal desires,
- In an episode of Count Duckula, Duckula has a film production company come to make a movie about him. When the crew arrives, they mistake Igor for him, and are disappointed to find that the real Count Duckula is so puny. They end up casting Igor in the role and force Count Duckula to play the servants.
- King of the Hill: In "Westie Side Story", Hank and his friends see a moving van pull into the house next door to Hank's, so he goes to introduce himself to the people in the van, but they explain that they're the movers who were hired by the people who are actually moving in: the Souphanousinphones, a Laotian-American family.
- Sasha Baron Cohen, playing Ali G, has been known to deliberately set up this trope to prevent interviewees from walking out on him:
With Ali G, the interview requests come from a fake British production company (United World Productions). And until just before the cameras roll, the interviewee is under the impression that the clean-cut, well-dressed director is going to do the interview and the baggy-clothed, wraparound-shades-wearing character carrying equipment is just part of the crew.
- According to Arrianus, this happened to Alexander the Great, as he met with Darius's mother Stateira, who began to address Alexander's companion Hephaistion as Alexander. One of her subordinates corrected her. It seems they were Expecting Someone Taller. (Don't feel too bad, though; he too is Alexander.)
- In Norbert Wiener's biography, he says that when he first met Bertrand Russell, he was talking to someone that he presumed was an undergraduate. He later found out that it was in fact G. H. Hardy, one of Britain's foremost mathematicians.
- When future Boise State University starting quarterback Kellen Moore first visited the school, BSU's Coach Peterson initially thought his younger but larger brother Kirby was the quarterback. Now Kirby is a wide receiver for BSU.
- Around 500BC, the Etruscan King Porsena besieged Rome. Gaius Mucius snuck out of the city to assassinate Porsena while he was paying his soldiers. There was one problem: he had no idea what the king looked like and there were two men in fancy clothes handing out the money. Asking which one was the king would have exposed him as a foreigner, so Mucius took a guess and stabbed one at random. It turned out to be Porsena's secretary. The king sentenced him to be burned to death, but Mucius made a Badass Boast and stuck his right hand into the fire, earning himself the name Scaevola ("Lefty") and inspiring the king to let him go.
- At the 2010 FIFA World Cup draw, Netherlands manager Bert Van Marwijk asked a JFA representative if he had seen Japan's manager Takeshi Okada. The JFA representative was Takeshi Okada.
- After the Battle of Yorktown during the American Revolution, British General Charles O'Hara made the formal offer of surrender in the name of his commander, Lord Cornwallis (who declined to participate, claiming bad health). He handed his sword to the French Comte de Rochambeau, only to be informed that "the man on the right is our Commander in Chief".
- This may have been another deliberate snub; losing to their traditional French rivals was preferable to losing to a bunch of colonial hicks. If it was, Washington repaid it along with Cornwallis' snub by directing O'Hara in turn to surrender to his own second-in-command, Benjamin Lincoln.
- Just before The World Cup, Germany played Argentina in a friendly. Thomas Müller made his debut in this match and was also invited to the press conference after the game. Argentina's coach Diego Maradona thought he was a ballboy or something like that and asked him to leave. Later he explained sheepishly that he didn't know that this guy was a player of the German squad. A few months later, Müller got his revenge, scoring one goal against Argentina in the quarterfinals of the World Cup and creating another, thereby ending Maradona's career as a manager.
- When a new accountant entered Standard Oil he told one of the lowly workers to move an exercise machine from his office. He was talking to John Davison Rockefeller.
- Sir James Murray, compiler of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, made use of volunteer contributors. His most prolific contributor was one Doctor W.C. Minor. After several years of correspondence Murray finally finagled an in-person meeting with Dr. Minor, coming out to the hospital that Minor listed as his residence. It turned out that Dr. Minor was not an employee at this establishment, but a patientnote : he'd been institutionalized for years after killing a man during a paranoia-induced breakdown. Murray's first meeting with Minor played out almost exactly like this trope: he was greeted by a doctor and a patient in the lobby of the asylum, and introduced himself to the doctor, thinking it was Minor.
- Robert Benchley is said to have been leaving a swanky hotel when he instructed a man in a fancy uniform to call him a taxi. The man replied, "Sir, I am an admiral in the United States Navy." Benchley didn't miss a beat and said, "Fine, call me a battleship."
- A well-known story about Joan of Arc involves the Dauphin attempting to pull the intentional version of this when he meets Joan, having one of the nobles present himself as Dauphin instead, and Joan seeing through the deception.
- During the siege of Malaga in 1487, an old Moor named Ibrahim al-Garbi went to the Christian camp and asked to be brought before King Ferdinand II, claiming that he was defecting and wanted to share information on the defenses of the city. Since Ferdinand was asleep, he was brought to a different tent to wait for an audience, where he found Queen Isabella's handmaiden Beatriz de Bobadilla, playing chess with a distant relative of the monarchs, Alvaro of Portugal. Mistaking the couple for the royals, al-Garbi produced a knife from his robes that the guards had missed and stabbed Alvaro and Bobadilla, before he was killed by guards alerted by Bobadilla's screams (Alvaro was wounded on the head and Bobadilla was stabbed in the chest, but her thick clothing saved her from injury). Al-Garbi's body was later butchered and thrown back into the city with a catapult.
- This tended to happen a lot to Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was a Frontline General and very ambivalent to the pomp and circumstance that usually accompanied a soldier of his rank, and he would often meet with politicians and other officers caked in mud. After Grant's triumph at the Battle Of Vicksburg, the Secretary Of War Edwin Stanton met with him to offer congratulations. Once allowed into Grant's train car, Stanon rushed forward and shook the hand of a tall, bearded man, crying, "How do you do, General Grant? I recognize you from your pictures!" only to find out he was shaking hands with Grant's doctor. Stanton, embarrassed, later said that the actual Grant looked "much too ordinary" to be a war hero.
- There's an anecdote about a third century Chinese politician and warlord Cao Cao, who, during a meeting with a Xiongnu embassy, told his secretary Cui Yan to be his stand-in while Cao Cao himself stood at his side pretending to be his swordbearer because he felt that he doesn't look imposing enough.
- During the Egyptian campaign, one of Napoleon's generals was Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (father of Alexandre Dumas), a very large and half-black man who was thought to be the one in charge by the locals, both because of the size difference and the fact that it wasn't unusual to see dark-skinned people in charge there. According to some accounts Napoleon was visibly fuming at this, and this might be part of why later in life he did virtually everything in his power to screw over Dumas.