A person is coached through a conversation by someone else who feeds them with lines they need to repeat. The conversation is often with a romantic love interest, interviewer/interrogator, or authority figure, which will have serious implications that are dependent on the character precisely answering with the right phrases.
The lines are usually delivered over a hidden earpiece, connected to a cell phone or walkie-talkie. However, low-tech variations also exist.
Inevitably, the prompter is distracted by something on their end and says something not meant to be repeated, but the clueless person on the other end faithfully parrots it anyway. Even worse, the phrase will not only be nonsensical, but completely rude or offensive when paired with the context of the remote conversation. Alternatively, the connection may go bad, causing the message to become distorted or cut out intermittently, turning what would have been the correct thing to say into something rude or offensive; or the earpiece starts picking up signals from another source altogether, and the person starts reciting commercials from the local radio station.
The promptee never seems to consider even for a second that their friend may have been interfered with and that they should disregard their transmissions, as screaming out "OH GOD! NOT THE FACE!" might not be the best thing to do while you're trying to impress your dream date in a crowded restaurant. The prompter also never seems to catch on that they are worsening their helpless friend's situation and that they should mute their mic (though admittedly it can be rather difficult to remember such things when somebody is punching you in the face).
If the prompter manages to talk to his buddy on the airwaves and the people around him at the same time, it's a Multitasked Conversation. The verbal version of Miming the Cues. The person on the end of the headset is usually Mission Control or the Voice with an Internet Connection. See also Is This Thing Still On? and Funny Phone Misunderstanding.
- There is one Priceline commercial featuring William Shatner advising a husband speaking to his wife on travel deals. Taken literally by the husband, who starts speaking like Shatner.
- A Canadian credit union has an ad where a young girl applies for their unlimited savings account featuring unlimited withdrawals, deposits, transfers, inquiries, and sugar cubes in the bank's coffee. The teller asks if she's using this trope when she begins grilling him, and her dad says "Tell him 'no'" through her earpiece.
- In Now You See Me 2, the CEO of Octa, Owen Case, is hyponotized by Merritt to repeat whatever Merritt says to him through an earpiece and set up in front of a camera. The Horsemen's show begins, and Owen is placidly repeating everything Merritt says. Suddenly the show is interrupted by both a mysterious voice and the FBI and the Horsemen have to make a quick escape which involves sliding down a chute from the top of the building. The wild ride causes all the Horsemen, including Merritt to scream as they go. Owen, still hypnotized, stands in front of the camera, screaming.
- In the movie Roxanne (basically a remake of Cyrano De Bergerac), Charlie (Steve Martin) talks to Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) through the ditzy Chris, who is wearing a goofy hat to hide the earpiece. They're using a radio on the Fire Department network, so it ends up like this:
Charlie: (coaching Chris) Reach out your hand.
Chris: My hand, out reaching to — car three, car three! Proceed to the 279.
- Sneakers has a goofy example of this. When Martin gets surprised by the mistress of the man whose office he's breaking into, his backup team starts feeding him plausible excuses to use on her for his being there. And then some less plausible stuff...
Whistler: And give him head whenever he wants.
Martin: And give him he... help. Be a beacon in his sad and lonely life.
- Primer has a plot-central instance of this, where Aaron is being instructed on what to say by recordings made by himself in alternate timelines, in an attempt to keep divergence between the iterations to a minimum. It doesn't work.
- A variant occurs twice in Dave, with the title character mistaking his handlers' stage directions for the next line he should say. "Go, go go." "And Go! Go! Go!"
- Man of the House has a date where five girls navigate a man almost until the end. Almost. The girls even have vote about the romantic value of candles during the act.
- A variant in Casino Royale (2006) has two British Secret Service agents communicating over earpieces while on a mission. Bond has to remind the younger agent not to put his finger in his ear while using the earpiece, a nervous tic which of course gives the younger agent away and spooks the guy they're tailing.
- This spectacularly fails at the end of The Tuxedo, where Jimmy asks the secret agency to help him get the woman he's been pining for. Just as Jimmy prepares to talk to her, the James Bond Expy Clark Devlin starts trying to feed him suave lines, only for others on the line to start butting in with their own advice. With half a dozen voices in his earpiece, Jimmy ends up looking insane in front of the girl, unable to focus.
- Kingsman: The Golden Circle has Eggsy receiving a Twerp Sweating procedure from his girlfriend's parents. Said girlfriend is the Swedish princess, so the questions are about things like the stock trade. Having anticipated this, Eggsy is wearing his Kingsman-issued glasses and having his friend Roxxy aid him in fielding the questions. As though to hang a lampshade on it, the last question we're shown him answering is about Bluetooth technology. Midway through the meal, Eggsy's friend Brandon stumbles upon Eggsy's personal Kingsman armoury, puts on a spare pair of glasses, and activates a bomb, causing Eggsy to risk pissing off the king and queen to tell him how to stop it from detonating. Then the Golden Circle blasts his home.
- In The Mark and the Void, this backfires hilariously when Paul and Igor set up Claude with an earpiece so he can ask Ariadne on a date. Paul's suggestions are unhelpfully conversational, and Igor's are distractingly sexual, and Claude becomes so distracted and embarrassed that he bolts out of the interaction without asking her out.
- Another Playing Cyrano example from Will & Grace, where Jack was hitting on a man while working in a retail store where he wore an earpiece. Will feeds him lines so he can look smart. The guy isn't taken in, finds Will, and asks him out.
- The Late Show (1992) did a sketch of them attempting to feed answers to Jane Kennedy during her appearance on the celebrity edition of Sale of the Century.
- On one episode of Muppets Tonight with guest star Cindy Crawford, mumbling security guard Bobo the Bear develops a crush on her. Rizzo the Rat tries to help Bobo by hooking him up with an earpiece so he can feed him the lines to say to Cindy. Unfortunately, at that moment, Rizzo's niece and nephew walk in with balloons they got from the fair, leading Bobo to hear and repeat: "Hey, that's a nice set of balloons you got there. Maybe you'll let me play with them later.", followed by getting Punched Across the Room.
Bobo: (Head sticking through door) I wasn't supposed to say that one, was I?
- In Drake & Josh, this is done by having Josh feed information to Drake through an earpiece in a Quiz Bowl-esque contest to impress a smart girl. Just when he's about to win, the feed is intercepted by a hamburger restaurant's drive-thru.
- Since the Leverage gang literally wear earpieces all the time, this happens periodically.
- For example, in the pilot, Sophie is pretending to work for an African consortium that wants to buy a bunch of airplanes from the mark of the week:
Sophie: I represent a group of investors who are looking to start an airline for short tour flights in Africa.
Dubenich: Out of Johannesburg?
Nate: Okay, hes testing you. You want Bloemfontein.
Sophie: Keep away from the hubs. Revitalize the regional airports. In South Africa Bloemfontein for example. But really its Nigeria were focused on.
Nate: Yeah, perfect.
- See "The Stork Job" for one of many incidents of this leading to hilarity:
- For example, in the pilot, Sophie is pretending to work for an African consortium that wants to buy a bunch of airplanes from the mark of the week:
- M*A*S*H: The episode "The Moose" had Hawkeye playing poker against a soldier who had a Korean woman in subservience. Hawkeye had an earpiece into which Radar would relay what hand the soldier had so Hawkeye could play and wager accordingly.
- Captain Jack Harness wore a huge glowing not-Bluetooth earpiece all the time in Series One of Torchwood, which is kind of strange considering everyone else at Torchwood Three had the standard invisible earpieces. They got rid of the thing for Series Two, because, to quote Russell T. Davies, "it ruined Barrowman's excellent jawline."
- Parodied in Community episode "Modern Espionage" in which the various characters use obvious bluetooth headsets while talking. They also encounter the obvious problem of being overheard.
- Used in the Breaking Bad episode "Open House". Since Walt and Skyler aren't able to get Bogdan to sell his car wash to them at the price they want to buy at, they have Saul send his henchman Patrick Kuby posing as an environmental inspector, with Kuby naturally wearing an earpiece through which Skyler feeds him lines.
- Several instances in Person of Interest, given that Harold Finch usually communicates with John Reese via a hidden earpiece, often feeding him information while Reese is giving some cover story (including a Playing Cyrano scene in "Bury the Lede"). In "Prisoners Dilemma", Reese is being interrogated by Detective Carter, who is wearing an earpiece so FBI agent Donnelly can feed her the questions he wants answered. Finch secretly hacks into the earpiece so he can also talk to Carter whilst providing a fake background on the internet that matches Reese's answers.
- The Machine and Root pull off a couple of time-delayed versions in "Mors Praematura" thanks to Prescience by Analysis, providing Shaw with the correct responses before the relevant conversations have even begun.
- Parodied by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show:
- (holding one hand to an ear) I'm being told... I'm being told I'm not wearing an earpiece.
- In season 3 of Arrested Development, George Sr. (currently under house arrest) sends a proxy named Larry to attend events in his place, wearing a camera and an earpiece so that George can tell him what to say. It goes terribly wrong when George mutters something that's not meant to be said aloud, but Larry says it anyway.
- Real Life example: In the 2015 Broadway production of David Mamet's China Doll, star Al Pacino reportedly had difficulty remembering his lines; one solution used was to feed lines to him via Bluetooth on the headset he wore as a billionaire. On one night, Pacino's headset went out, and co-star Christopher Denham had to replace it. In the middle of the performance.
- This is how Dennis is given his lines in Peter Pan Goes Wrong (albeit with a large radio headset), as he can't remember them well enough on his own. Unfortunately, he ends up repeating everything that his headset plays back, including FM stations, police radios, and the prompter berating him for doing so.
- A side quest in Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong involves the Player Character being on the floor of a tech conference, guiding your team's very socially inept decker as she goes undercover through the hotel's facilities by feeding her lines across a really bad commlink connection that frequently blacks out. Hilarity Ensues. Inevitably, somebody will accost you wanting to use the booth you're utilizing while the decker is accosted by a ranking member of the hotel staff. This is usually the part the stealthy option goes sideways as the player tries to juggle two conversations, but a good face can do it, and let the mission finish smoothly.
- In episode 3 of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Strong Bad discovers Pom Pom and Homestar Runner are using this for their act in the Battle of the Bands, with Pom Pom using an earpiece to help Homestar remember the lyrics to their songs. Strong Bad proceeds to sabotage their act with interference from the Drive-Thru Whale.
- The Accidental Space Spy puts a twist on this. The human protagonist needs to give etiquette advice to an alien at a party, but electronics are forbidden at the party, so the protagonist hides inside the aliens ear and dispenses advice from there. Its possible because that species of alien is much larger than humans are.
- Six Teen: Catelyn did this once.
- On The Simpsons there was a gag where Kent Brockman was being fed lines this way even when he was socializing.
- In the Pinky and the Brain episode "The Pink Candidate," Brain coaches Pinky through his presidential campaign speeches this way. While Pinky is holding a press conference, the wireless earpiece fails and starts picking up other random transmissions (a bank intercom, a drive-thru, a sports announcer), but by coincidence the answers still please everybody.
- In SpongeBob SquarePants Patrick coaches SpongeBob through his boating test by a walkie-talkie hidden under a cowboy hat. Mrs. Puff compliments SpongeBob on his improvement, joking that it's as if someone were telling him all the answers. But when she mentions that that would be cheating, SpongeBob freaks out and confesses... and crashes the boat, failing the test once again.
- In the Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Spike", Lilo discovers that the reason for her rival Myrtle always getting the answers correct at a quiz show was because one of the members of her posse had been giving her the answers through an earpiece that she had been wearing the whole time, which is cheating. Fortunately, Lilo sends Experiment 319 aka "Spike" to lower that girl's IQ, causing Myrtle to lose the second round to Lilo.
- In an early episode of Miraculous Ladybug, Nino suddenly develops a crush on Marinette and, at Adrien's prompting, asks her out on a date to the zoo. However, Marinette doesn't realize it's a date and thinks Adrien (who she has a crush on) will be there too. The result is Marinette and Nino sitting on a bench wearing earpieces, while Alya and Adrien, respectively, hide in separate bushes and feed them lines through earpieces. Hilarity Ensues.
- Two Looney Tunes cartoons used a candlestick phone receiver in a scheme of manipulation, both by Friz Freleng. "Stooge For A Mouse" had the mouse turning the bulldog against Sylvester when up to then the two had been friends. "Bugsy And Muggsy" had Bugs making Rocky paranoid that Muggsy was out to off him.
- In one Histeria! sketch, it's revealed that the entire U.N uses these. Unfortunately, Hilarity Ensues when Big Fat Baby disrupts the prompters.
- Done in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Mandy is trying to help Jeff (a Giant Spider) to get some love and respect from his father (arachnophobic Billy), but he is too kind so she gives up and proceeds to drop her earpiece and instruct Grim to clean her room, Grim starts complaining to himself, which Jeff repeats and manages to get Billy's love (by force).
- In Phineas and Ferb episode For Your Ice Only, Stacy is feeding Candace hockey knowledge via an earpiece. Except when she's arguing with her younger sister, Ginger, and Candace is repeating it verbatim.