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Bare-Handed Puppetry

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It's a hand... poof... it's a person.

Splitting the difference between puppet shows and mime, this performance technique paints and/or costumes a human body part, usually the hand, to resemble an independent character. The performer then manipulates their decorated body part to create the semblance of life, often accompanying its movements with dialogue or sound effects via ventriloquism.

Methods of converting body parts into characters vary widely, from undecorated skin to rough-sketched facial features to hyper-realistic Body Paint to glued-on eyes, hair and costumes. Filmed examples sometimes enhance this with CGI.

The hand is probably the most common body part employed for Bare Handed Puppetry, often by forming a loose fist, turning it sideways, and rocking the thumb up and down so that the gap between thumb and the palm's edge resembles a "mouth". Individual fingers are also a common choice, allowing multiple characters to be portrayed by a single performer. In filmed media, an actor's upside-down chin may be adorned with facial features so that the performer's real mouth is incorporated into the character. Pornographic variants featuring dressed-up genitalia also exist.

Related to Organ Autonomy, but invoked for entertainment purposes. Also see Impossible Shadow Puppets.


    open/close all folders 

  • Animal hand painting is a specialized form of Body Paint art.
  • One of the earliest documented examples of ventriloquism as a performing art is an engraving from 1753, which depicts Sir John Parnell speaking via his hand.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Thumb Wars! is a Star Wars parody in which the characters are portrayed as human thumbs in costumes, with CGI faces on their anterior sides.
    • Also Bat Thumb by the same guys, that parodies Batman.
    • Done again with The Blair Thumb
  • In Fun and Fancy Free, Edgar Bergen entertains party guests by making his hand into a puppet of an old lady.
  • The Helping Hands that grab Sarah in Labyrinth, which form faces to talk to her, are real puppeteer hands painted to look like they're made of stone.

  • Repairman Jack. In The Tomb, Jack amuses Vicky by drawing a face on his hand and turning it into "Mooney", a silly puppet-like character with a chirpy voice.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Señor Wences, who appeared regularly on The Ed Sullivan Show, is possibly the Trope Maker (in the TV world, at least) since he was the first mainstream ventriloquist to extensively use this artform. "'Salright?" "'Salright."
  • One alien character constructed on Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge had a puppeteer's fingers for "teeth", painted and with false nails to make them pointed.
  • Laverne & Shirley: Shirley does this to entertain Laverne when the latter is sick. It's Mr. Getwell!
  • The Nanny and Gracie do this at a talent show in the Season 1 finale.
  • Pee-wee's Playhouse had Mr. Knucklehead in the first season, a fist with googly eyes and mouth painted along the line of the index finger and thumb.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" has our leads doing the "chin puppet" technique to pass themselves as an alien race called Vindaloovians. It doesn't work.
  • The parody sports show Thumb Wrestling Federation, which stars thumbs topped with Mexican-style wrestling masks. The "referee" and "commentators" wear wigs and googly eyes.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Land O'Hands: To go with the whole "Land of Hands" theme, all the wildlife in the show (sans the cavepeople) were made by covering peoples' arms/hands in makeup in prosthetics to make them look like a combination of a prehistoric animal and a hand.
  • The Muppet Show: In the episode starring Señor Wences, the Swedish Chef uses his hand as a puppet, with pieces of dough on two of his fingertips for shoes, while singing "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'".
  • Oobi is almost certainly the Trope Codifier. All of the characters on this Nickelodeon show are the puppeteers' own hands, with eyes attached to a finger like rings. More often than not, each character has some kind of additional accessory — such as Uma's barrette, or Kako's toboggan cap. The program once had a strong following of Muppet fanatics, since its cast is made up of Muppeteers and it began as a co-production of Nick and Sesame Workshop. Frieda, a recurring character, is actually a foot with eyes attached to a toe. Frieda's puppeteer, Cheryl Blaylock, needed to train herself to perform with her feet after getting the role.
    Cheryl Blaylock: I had to actually go back to Puppetry 101 to train my foot to lip sync. Oh yes, I was determined to do some kind of toe wiggle that could be convincing.

    Web Original 
  •, a former online catalogue of unofficial Oobi puppets that closed in 2013, had a YouTube "partnership offer" that gave customers free Oobi eyes if they created web videos with their products. The result was a wide variety of Oobi tributes and spoofs appearing on YouTube, including entire series about bare hand puppet characters. Due to the former popularity of such videos, a wiki exists for cataloging homemade films starring Oobi puppets.

    Western Animation 
  • Sussie and her parents from The Amazing World of Gumball are live-action chin puppets. Their personalities match their bizarre appearance.
  • In the episode "Toy Whorey" of American Dad!, Stan tries to get Steve laid by a sex worker in Mexico. They are welcomed by a pimp in the second brothel they enter and he tells them to take their pick of the ladies before raising his hands to reveal that the ladies are his hands with lipstick and wigs. The pimp proves to be an excellent ventriloquist, although it's not explained how the right hand puppet can have teeth and a functional tongue.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Christmas with the Joker", the Joker draws "Laffy the little elf" on his hand to use as a comic foil in his broadcast.
  • In the episode "Brian Wallows and Peter's Swallows" of Family Guy, Mayor Adam West falls in love with his right hand at the movie theater. He later marries it, with the hand wearing a veil. Adam has to tell his left hand that they're done and that it shouldn't even try to stop the wedding.
  • In one episode of My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Jake becomes a big hit around school by making a face out of his butt and making it speak with a funny voice.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In "Dude, We're Getting the Band Back Together", Bobbi Fabulous tells Phineas and Ferb to "talk to the hand". Then he makes a hand-puppet that says "Secretly, I'm very lonely."
  • South Park: In "Fat Butt and Pancake-Head", Cartman turns one of his hands into a bare-handed puppet of Jennifer Lopez. The puppet (remaining in-character in the whole episode) becomes a celebrity, and a rival for the real Jennifer Lopez. Said hand-puppet later becomes something of a Go-to Alias for Cartman under the name "Mitch Conner" and even serves as the villain of South Park: The Fractured but Whole (with only the kids knowing that it's just Cartman up to his shenanigans).
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In the episode "Survival of the Idiots", Patrick makes a face from the rolls of his back. "My name is Patback."
    • After breaking up with Patrick in "Naughty Nautical Neighbors", SpongeBob tries to think of three other friends. When he can't think of any, he draws smiley faces on the three fingers he's holding up and sadly intones "The gang's all here."
  • Tamagotchi Video Adventures has a segment near the end that teaches the viewers how to draw a few Tamagotchi characters. One of the hosts of this segment is a puppet named Handy Warhol who is a hand with a painted face and a head of fake hair.


Video Example(s):


Red Dwarf: Vindaloovians

Lister and the Cat improvise disguises with Kryten's eyes and an upside-down camera. But rogue simulants are nowhere near stupid.

How well does it match the trope?

4.89 (9 votes)

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Main / BareHandedPuppetry

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