Follow TV Tropes


Badge Gag

Go To
"I WANT TO BELIEVE... that I look good in a black speedo."
There are many circumstances where a character may need to present a badge or other official credentials. They may be entering secured premises, performing a Flashed-Badge Hijack, or presenting a permit that authorizes them to perform a restricted activity. But if the character is the The Klutz, an Unfortunate Item Swap in the heat of the moment will leave them mistakenly flashing a similar, but irrelevant, object they might also be carrying in their wallet or on their person— such as a gym membership card or personal photo.

If the character doesn't actually have the necessary ID, they will present a very crude fake document of laughable quality. For example, an ID drawn in crayon, or a plastic police badge from the toy store.

Even if the document isn't blatantly fake, the character is likely to anti-climatically hold it upside down. Other variations include making a funny face in the ID photo, or the card text containing humorous or non-sensical details (usually a Freeze-Frame Bonus).

While the token of identification can consist of plastic ID cards, metal badges or shields, or paper-based certificates, the physical medium is not relevant to this trope. This trope applies to how the item appears, or how it is presented.

If the inadequate credentials actually pass muster and the bearer is granted entry, then The Guards Must Be Crazy.

If the person presents cash as a means of getting their way, see Screw the Rules, I Have Money!.


    open/close all folders 

     Displaying the wrong item by accident 
Comic Books
  • One Donald Duck comic has a "doctor" get Donald out of a difficult situation with Daisy by flashing his card. As Daisy points out in the very same panel he shows it, it's a subway ticket, but by then the man is already gone, taking Donald with him.


  • In Maskerade, where Andre tries to show Granny Weatherwax his watch badge to confirm that he's an undercover officer, he winds up dramatically pulling out his Musicians' Guild card instead.

Live-Action TV

  • Doctor Who
    • A common variation in the new series: the Doctor and his friends flash psychic paper, which causes the reader to see any falsified documents imaginable, around as credentials. It doesn't always work as intended, though; those that are too smart for it will wonder why they've been handed a blank piece of paper, and if the user lets their mind wander, it might instead read something else entirely. Jack's introduction had him hand Rose a sheet of psychic paper reading "I'm single and I work out" instead of his military credentials. It can also end up showing something other than what the user intended, if there's something far more pertinent it could display, as seen in The Power of the Doctor: when Graham tries to pass himself off as a "volcano inspector", the paper instead tells Ace that he's a friend of the Doctor.
    • A more traditional usage in The Vampires of Venice. The Eleventh Doctor goes to show his psychic paper credentials. Instead he pulls out his library card (which is so out of date that it has a picture of the First Doctor on it, along with his old London address).


  • In Reader's Digest's "Humor In Uniform" section, a group of officers had a discussion about how the guards were on duty for long periods of time and usually didn't pay attention to security passes when presented. The officers decided to have a challenge to see who could get past security with the weakest form of identification. The winner got in with a piece of toast.

Western Animation

  • In Meet the Robinsons, Wilbur attempts a badge flash, but Lewis takes his "badge" and reveals that it's a coupon for a tanning salon.

     Holding the badge upside down 
  • In the 1990s, a series of TV advertisements parodied Inspector Morse, with Mel Smith playing the Inspector. In the accompanying print adverts, he was flashing an ID badge (with the name "E Morose") upside down.


  • When Lucy first meets Gru and asks him to come with her in Despicable Me 2, she shows her Anti-Villain Group ID badge upside down. She corrects it immediately upon noticing.

Western Animation

     Displaying badge with funny photo or text 
  • One Microsoft ad has Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfield shopping for shoes together. When Bill presents his shoe store membership card, the photo on it is his Real Life mugshot from 1977 after being arrested for a traffic violation.
  • In the Red Rock Cider adds, Leslie Nielsen discovers the cider being served is not the genuine (advertised) article, whips out a badge and shouts "Fraud Squad!". The badge actually reads Fried Squid.


  • In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Sissy hears about an immigrant family starving their pregnant daughter in the hopes that she and the baby will die in childbirth and thus avoid the shame of her illegitimate pregnancy. Sissy pins a badge to her coat and angrily demands to be let in. The frightened mother lets her in, assuming that she's from immigration, but because she's illiterate, she doesn't realize that the badge actually reads "Chicken Inspector".

Video Games

  • In one level from Poptropica, you get a fake PDC badge from Bert Shell, a crazed conspiracist. Dr. Lange sees through your badge, but lets you in anyways because she couldn't find any other willing volunteers. The reason she knows your badge is fake? It's written in crayon.
  • Psychonauts 2: Hollis' ID card lists her as the Lesser Head of the Psychonauts, but she crossed out "Lesser" and wrote "Second!" in its place. Exclamation mark included.

Web Animation

  • In Turnabout Storm, Phoenix is given a special attorney's badge that is the pinkest, most girly thing possible. And yes, that's the official attorney badge in Equestria.
  • In the Turnabout Storm fan sequel Elements of Justice, Phoenix is provided the exact same badge.

Western Animation

     Displaying obviously fake badge 
  • In The Blues Brothers when Jake fakes flashing a badge, it's actually an empty, flattened pack of cigarettes.
  • Downplayed in Jingle All the Way. Howard goes to a warehouse to get a Turbo Man action figure for his son for Christmas, but gets into a fight with an army of Mall Santas when he realizes he was sold an imitation product. When the police arrive to arrest the Mall Santas, Howard picks up a toy badge and impersonates an undercover cop to avoid arrest. This manages to fool the police.
  • Zootopia: As the ZPD are arresting Mayor Lionheart and rescuing the missing mammals from the Cliffside Sanitarium, Nick Wilde is seen wearing aviator glasses and sipping a beverage. He thumbs his "badge" for the officers, despite it being a mere gold sticker on his shirt. This bluff fools no one, but since Nick isn't a suspect, there's no reason to detain him.
  • In the spoof film, The Silence of the Hams, agent Joe Dee Fostar flashes a waffle to the prison security.
  • Rock and Rule has Omar, Dizzy and Stretch abscond Sheriff Quadhole's vehicle to drive to Nuke York City. When they arrive, the whole place is in lockdown during a black-out, and police have posted checkpoints at major arteries. Omar attempts to bluff their way in, posing as the Ohmtown sheriff bringing two scientists to alleviate the problem. Omar's credentials get examined by the Lantern Jaw of Justice officer, who quickly recognizes a tuna fishing license in his hand and arrests all three imposters on the spot.


  • An Agatha Christie short story has the hero accosted by a detective who flashes his badge while investigating a stolen diamond. As he later tells the diamond's rightful owner, he knew the detective was fake as he recognized the badge from his cycling club.
  • In Men at Arms, the City Watch is still so poorly-thought of at this time that showing his entirely genuine badge wouldn't have got Nobby access to the city armory. Waving Sgt Colon's grocery bill around and claiming to be doing an audit, on the other hand...
  • Hit Man by Lawrence Block. Professional Killer Keller is approached by a man wanting his services for the US Government who shows him a badge from a No Such Agency. Turns out there really is no such agency, because Keller finds the same badge being sold in a magazine and realises he's being conned.
  • Riley McDaniels: In Fear's Return, the lazy Sheriff South deputizes Abner Dawson to do some of his work for him. When Abner shows off his new badge, he is chagrined to learn that South mistakenly gave him a dogcatcher's badge.
Live-Action TV
  • In one episode of Burn Notice, Sam Axe stalls for time by putting together a fake badge using a wallet and a cut up beer can. Pointedly Justified in that he says it only has to look good enough to keep the bad-guys at a distance of some 50-100 feet.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor and companions frequently use psychic paper to fake whatever documents they need, but it doesn't always work as intended. Such as when Jack Harkness accidentally showed Rose papers that said he was single and worked out.
  • When Ron is stopped by police for attempting to slaughter a pig in a public park in Parks and Recreation, he claims to have a permit. The permit he produces is actually a piece of paper with the typed words "I can do what I want — Ron."note 
  • The Games: In "Dead Man", Bryan explains to Jasmine how you can get past security just by being in a hurry, flashing any kind of ID, and brusquely stating the name of an agency, which they then put into practice as they barge through a secure area of the airport:
    Bryan: [Brandishing wallet as official badge] Federal Police.
    Jasmine: [Brandishing wallet as official badge] Mittagong Regional Library.
  • The X-Files. In "Pusher", the Villain of the Week has Psychic Powers that give him a Compelling Voice. We discover his powers work nonverbally as well when he strolls into FBI headquarters wearing a piece of paper pinned to his chest with BADGE written on it.

Newspaper Comics

  • On two separate occasions, Dogbert of Dilbert has pulled this.
    • One was bluffing an incompetent security guard to the tune of, "Look fast!! There it is!! Not a pack of matches!!"
    • The second was Dogbert seeing if he could "get away with crimes" by doing them with his ears up, making him look cuter, going out in a car, being pulled over for passing an ambulance on the right, and, we're told:
    Policeman: And your license is a blank piece of cardboard. I have to give you a verbal warning.
    Dogbert: I'll cry if you do.

Video Games

  • Papers, Please is all about detecting visitors with falsified documents. But most egregious is Jorgi Costava's repeated attempts to finesse his way through the checkpoint, on one occasion presenting a passport from "Cobrastan" (a country that doesn't exist, even in-universe) that is crudely drawn with crayon.
  • Psychonauts 2: Coach Oleander's height is erroneously listed as 6'2 on his Psychonauts ID card.

Visual Novel

Web Original

  • In the Papers, Please crossover video Ponies Please, Pinky Pie follows Jorji's example with a ridiculously bad forgery.
    Gatekeeper: What is your name?
    Pinky Pie: Pinky Pie!
    Gatekeeper: That's not what's on your passport.
    Pinky Pie: Oh, my passport isn't very good at spelling.
  • In Freefall the arctic base commander shows Florence his badge over videochat. Unfortunately, the line he was using belongs to Dr. Bowman, a supergenius who doesn't like him very much.
    Florence: I'm sorry, but being a superior methane producer in the Natural Gas Rocket Rangers does not give you direct order authority over me.
    Commander: You're seeing what? Man, I hate redaction software!

Western Animation

  • Gravity Falls: In "Headhunters", Dipper and Mabel manage to get into a local Bad Guy Bar to interrogate Manly Dan by presenting fake IDs. These consists of pictures of themselves on white card with glitter, googly eyes, and the transparent pseudonyms "Lord Dippingsauce" and "Lady Mabelton". Also, Dipper's ID claims he's forty-five.
  • Kamp Koral: In "Pat's A Li'l Sinker", Patrick shows Mrs. Puff an obviously fake swim badge that shows a drawing of him flailing in water.
  • In Undergrads, Rocko gets into a bar using a fake ID that is just a photo of him stapled to a piece of card with "I am 21 so drinking is yes" written on it.

Real Life

  • An audacious escape across the Berlin Wall was carried out by a car-load of East Germans, who rolled up in a (stolen) black car, and showed what looked like diplomatic passes to the guards. They were waved through to the American side. The "diplomatic credentials" they showed were in fact membership badges to the Playboy Club in West Berlin - which were designed to look like official credentials.
  • The Chaser's infamous APEC prank involved them showing passes that: declared them to be from the "Chaser's War"; declared their role as "Insecurity", twice; had the word "joke" next to their photos; and in one spot read "It's pretty obvious this isn't a real pass". Somehow, however, they got all the way to the doors!

     Multiple categories apply or other 
  • At the start of Hot Fuzz when Constable Nicholas Angel walks in and shows his badge to the audience, CGI is used to make his scowling face be the same one displayed as his ID photo.
  • In Rush Hour, Jackie Chan's character shows up halfway through a scene to cause a distraction, by flashing the American cop's badge. The American cop is black, and his picture has a big ol' afro. Then Chan drops the badge.
    Chan: This won't work. I'm not 6'1".
    • In the second film, a female Secret Service agent shows her (valid) badge which is attached to her bra strap) by basically flashing the 2 main characters. Carter tells her to "show me your badge again".
  • A case of Jurisdiction Friction in Muppets Most Wanted has two characters pulling out increasingly larger badges, each bigger than the other's.
  • This is Played Straight in Once Upon a Time in Mexico. A former FBI agent goes on a mission of revenge against the druglord who killed his partner but the problem is, his badge has been invalidated due to his retirement. He paints over the invalidation stamp and practices flashing it in the mirror in such a way that people can recognize he's FBI without taking a closer look. The bad guys do catch on eventually, however.
  • A recurring gag in The Three Stooges. Whenever the trio need to gain free entry to certain events, they'd pose as reporters by flashing buttons with "PRESS" printed on them... aside from Curley, whose button says "PULL".
  • When Colt and Luger display their badges at the Wilderness Girls cookie factory in Loaded Weapon 1, Colt's badge is sent flying and pins a hapless bystander to the wall.
  • When Frank Drebin flashes his badge in The Naked Gun, about twenty credit cards drop out of the wallet he keeps it in.
  • Are You Being Served?. Mrs. Slocombe produces a photograph for her passport that unfortunately quite match the Elderly Blue-Haired Lady she is now (she's sticking her head through a hole in a life-sized photo of a buxom bathing beauty). Unfortunately a randy revolutionary gets hold of the photograph and Hilarity Ensues.

Live-Action TV

  • Supernatural
    • The main characters pretend to be the FBI or police very often. Sometimes it happens that someone holds their badge upside down, or the picture shows somebody else.
    • Played for Laughs in an episode where live action role players point out every flaw in their fake badges but just assume that the Winchesters are also role playing.
  • Get Smart. Secret agent Maxwell Smart shows his CONTROL badge to a woman he wants to interview.
    Woman: That doesn't look like you!
    Max: That's because it's my thumbprint! (Reveal Shot of badge displaying a thumbprint instead of a picture)
  • Friends: In one episode Phoebe finds a genuine police badge in the couch cushions at Central Perk and starts using it to scold people for minor offenses she doesn't approve of, such as a woman who puts her cigarette out on a nearby tree. This backfires on Phoebe when she tries to scold a man for parking on a curb only to discover he's the cop whose badge she's been flashing around.


Video Example(s):


Jake Bullet

When Kryten gets a bit too into bragging about how Jake Bullet of the Cybernautics unit must be, Rimmer brings him back to earth by pointing out, for all they know, Cybernautics could simply handle traffic control and Bullet just happens to have "a rather stupid macho name". When confronted by the secret policeman, Kryten tries to talk his way out of it by flashing his badge and announcing himself as Bullet from Cybernautics. He's promptly informed that Cybernautics handles traffic control.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / BrickJoke

Media sources: