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Cue Card

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A character holds up a cue card for another character to read, usually while hidden. Expect the reader to be Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud.

Also included are Teleprompters. See also Cue Card Pause, Throwing Out the Script.

In-Universe Examples:

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    Comic Strips 
  • Garfield: Jon is using cue cards at a restaurant to sound romantic for Liz while Garfield holds them behind her. Not realizing the last card was Garfield telling him what he wants in exchange for it, Jon says "and I want a big, fat doggie bag for this".

    Films — Animation 
  • In Chicken Little, Turkey Lurkey's aides hold up cue cards to inform him on how to act, including one telling him his fly is open.
  • In The Great Mouse Detective, Mr. Flaversham is forced to read off cue cards while operating the Mouse Queen robot.
  • In Meet the Robinsons, Bowler Hat Guy is presenting Lewis' invention as his own to the board of a corporation. Doris flies outside the window with cue cards, but then the CEO lowers the blinds, forcing an unprepared Bowler Hat Guy to wing it. Hilarity Ensues in an Epic Fail where the Bowler Hat Guy runs the headphone set of the memory scanner across the long boardroom table to the Inventco CEO. When time runs out, the memory scanner falls over, and the CEO is pulled all the way down the table to get tangled in the cord with the Bowler Hat Guy:
    Bowler Hat Guy: So, where do I sign? [cuts to him being thrown out of the building, followed by the memory scanner]
  • Occurs at the end of Shrek, with Thelonious giving audience reaction cue cards for the wedding guests. Then he writes "Aawww" on the back of one during The Big Damn Kiss.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has the main character relying on teleprompters to the point of not knowing what he's actually saying.
  • Fatal Instinct: as Ned Ravine is reading a captured bank robber his Miranda rights, his partner holds up cue cards with the words written on them.
  • In Idiocracy, President Camacho starts his speech by declaring "Shit!" followed by a long pause. Cut to the teleprompter which reads "Shit!" and is still slowly scrolling to the next line.
  • A blooper reel shows two of the main cast of Star Trek Into Darkness being pranked this way.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, Cap uses cue cards (taped on the back of his shield so he can read them easily) during his first USO show, but as the montage progresses he gains enough confidence that he no longer needs them.
  • In Bruce Almighty, Bruce first screws with Evan by using his powers to put gibberish on the teleprompter. Then he progresses to messing with Evan directly.
  • Tootsie sees soap opera star John Van Horn still requiring the teleprompter years into his work on the show, with his eyes constantly drifting over to it in unsubtle fashion during taping.


    Live-Action TV 
  • The Sarcasm Sign on The Big Bang Theory.
  • In the made-for-TV-movie The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space, Ty Farrel, the actor who plays the hero on a 1950's children's TV show is actually such an incompetent actor that he reads all his lines from cue cards.
  • When Andy Kaufman guested on Fridays he went (Kayfabe) off script, saying "I can't do this;" cast member Michael Richards went off camera, grabbed the cue cards, and tossed them at Kaufman. Link.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Under the Lake", Clara has cue cards for the Doctor in case he says something insensitive because of his Lack of Empathy. It doesn't work, as the Doctor reads all of the dialogue options without inflection.
    The Doctor: [completely deadpan] I'm very sorry for your loss. I'll do all I can to solve the death of your friend slash family member slash pet.
  • Several episodes of You Can't Do That on Television featured production assistant Ross holding up cue cards for the kids to read on the link set. In some scenes, the kids would also be shown holding cue cards containing Ross' lines, usually while trying to make a point about the series' spontaneity.
  • Angel: In "That Old Gang of Mine", Angel is apologising to Merle for torturing him for information the previous year. Merle has his doubts that Angel really means it, as he's reading his apology from cue cards.
  • In the 2015 incarnation of The Odd Couple, Felix creates cue cards to help Dani out on her first date in a while. They range from conversation starters to admonishments like "No Porky Pig!"
  • Late Show with David Letterman. "Cue Card Boy" (the guy who holds up Cue Cards for Dave to read) is named Tony "Inky" Mendez.
  • In a sketch of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Jay's crew complains about not being appreciated for their hard work, including the cue card lady, who's shown following Jay around and popping up with useful phrases for when he struggles to make small talk with people he meets on the street.
  • After flubbing a line on Late Night, Seth Meyers walked off camera to grab the cue cards to show how the writing was messy and hard to read, with Wally, the cue card guy, walking up to indignantly grab them back and moving into position for the taping to continue.
    • In another bit, Wally complained about the length of Seth's "A Closer Look" segments and how many cue cards they require.
      Wally: I wish they could be a little shorter.
      Seth: Now now, Wally.
      Wally: It's really heavy to hold!
      Seth: Not now!
    • Wally, with his cue cards, eventually became a recurring on-screen presence who Seth could play off of. He became so popular that viewers reacted positively when he stepped in to become a featured guest on the couch after A$AP Rocky cancelled at the last minute. During the interview, Seth and Wally discussed how Saturday Night Live alums like Seth, Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Fallon use cue cards rather than teleprompters because of their time on SNL. Wally also promoted his own business where he creates custom cue cards for special occasions like greeting cards.
  • In the first episode of The Newsroom, the News Night crew hastily puts together a show about the Deep Water Horizon explosion as the event is unfolding. Because they don't have time to put together a script, Will's teleprompter just says "[VAMP]"note  for the whole hour.
  • While he hosted The Late Late Show, Craig Ferguson had a habit of reaching forward to slap the camera as if he were physically interacting with the home audience. Once, he did it hard enough to knock the teleprompter's very expensive reflector off its mount, causing it to shatter on the floor. He had to do the rest of his monologue from memory as well as to sweep up the glass.
  • Monk has several stacks of these for phone conversations. The one labeled "Trudy" is easily three times the size of any of the others.
  • Parker Lewis Can't Lose: In one episode, Parker uses these to help his younger sister Shelley get through a conversation with a boy that she's crushing on.
  • In the Murder, She Wrote episode "Murder of the Month Club", the infomercial for said club is done as a fake talk show, with the supposed interview and questions from the fake audience pre-scripted and written on cue cards. One of the writers is so drunk he stumbles his way through his lines, and then continues with interviewer's response before he gets interrupted. And an audience member goes completely off-script, in what turns out to be a clue to the murder.
  • In the Zoey 101 episode "Webcam", when the girls find out about Logan's titular webcam hidden in the giant PCA teddy bear he gave them, having used it to spy on the girls and reveal all their secrets on the campus (blowing off his job at PCA's Sushi Rox during this time), they employ cue cards for a prank to get back at Logan for what he did. Chase and Kazu go off-script, however, but the prank goes as planned and Logan eventually gets punished by Dean Rivers and loses his job.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • From Scott Keith's review of CZW Best of the Best (May 19, 2001):
    "In one case, the guy is obviously reading off cue-cards, which you can tell because his eyes move to the right every other word."

    Puppet Shows 
  • A Spitting Image American special had a send up of Bob Hope who is so dependent on cue cards that he needs a cue card guy to feed the question, "Where are my cue cards?"

    Video Games 
  • Kingdom Hearts II: This trope is probably the reason for Demyx's popularity. One has to wonder who wrote the cards for him, since half the words don't sound like natural parts of his vocabulary. Observe:
    Demyx: "If the subject fails to respond, use aggression to liberate his true disposition." Right. Did they ever pick the wrong guy for this one.

    Western Animation 
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: Edd holds up cue cards for Ed to read while he talks with Johnny. Despite screwing up, he manages to find Johnny's problem.
    Ed: Sit down and say hello, Johnny!
    Johnny: Uh... hello?
    Ed: Ask him how he is!
    [Johnny is confused, Edd holds up a sign saying "How are you?"]
    Ed: I'm fine. A little hungry.
  • Johnny Test: During the end of a school play, Dukey holds large cards for Johnny to read on stage.
  • Kim Possible: In "Clean Slate", Drakken writes down every stage of his Evil Plan on 3x5 cards, much to Shego's chagrin. There's even a moment when Drakken stops mid Evil Gloating to read the rest off a card. However, he becomes so dependent on following them strictly that as soon as a card is out of order or he forgets to write one, he has difficulty adapting and improvising.
  • The Patrick Star Show: In "Bummer Jobs", when SpongeBob and Patrick wants to know how to get their paper delivery money from Cecil, Squidina shows them a cue card for Patrick's response.
    SpongeBob: What do we do?
    Patrick: Uhh...
    [Squidina clears her throat and shows them a cue card that says "We Gotta Be Like Those Tough Guys On TV"]
    Patrick: Oh, we gotta be like those tough guys on TV!
  • The Simpsons naturally have had their go at this trope. From Krusty pausing during sentences to Homer yelling "NEXT CARD!"

Real-Life Examples

  • Marlon Brando developed a habit of reading his lines off of cue cards. On the set of The Godfather, cue cards were affixed to his co-stars torsos when the camera was on him. For Apocalypse Now, he'd either read cards held just off camera or repeat lines fed to him by Francis Ford Coppola. On Superman: The Movie his lines were written on baby Kal-El's diaper. Brando was notorious for not bothering to memorize his lines or often even to read the script, and then turning in amazing performances anyway while reading his lines from a cue card.
  • Saturday Night Live's sketches and rundown are rewritten and reshuffled right up until the show has to go live. Because of this, cast members and hosts all have to rely on cue cards to get through the night, with some being better at concealing their reading than othersnote . Often for humor purposes, the cue cards are deliberately shown or otherwise used humorously. One sketch depicts a morning talk show where the teleprompter suddenly break down. The hosts, without anything telling them what to say for the first time, panic and go completely insane.
  • Terry Jones had difficulty remembering his lines for Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go and was clearly reading off of screens positioned off set. This turned out to be the early signs of primary progressive aphasia, which gradually robbed him of the ability to communicate through speech and text.
  • Tony Hancock suffered a head injury in a car accident just prior to recording "The Blood Donor" for the television version of Hancock's Half Hour. To help him, the lines were written on boards that were held in his eyeline. Hancock took a liking to this practice and stopped bothering to learn his lines from then on.
  • For "Chain of Command", from Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 6, David Warner was cast at the very last minute and didn't have time to memorize his lines so he relied on cue cards throughout filming. The fact that he created such an intense and memorable performance without proper preparation in one of the franchise's best-regarded episodes is a testament to his skills as an actor.
  • Bob Hope was very notorious for his use of cue cards. It was often parodied on Animaniacs.
  • In The Good Place episode "Leap to Faith", during the roast sequence Ted Danson actually used cue cards (not shown onscreen) to give off the feel of the old Dean Martin roasts.


Video Example(s):


Sit down and say Hello Johnny

When Johnny and Plank have a falling out, Eddy decides to open a friend store to sell Johnny an new companion. Now if Ed can just read his lines correctly.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / ReadingTheStageDirectionsOutLoud

Media sources: