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Embarrassing Voicemail

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Jones: People who leave voicemails?
Kensi: Oh, God, no, I hate it. Write a text like everybody else.
NCIS: Los Angeles, "Can I Get a Witness?"
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Oh no! You just left the most embarrassing voicemail ever! But it's not that big of a deal, right?

The voicemail is usually left by someone to a person they feel easily humiliated around (a love interest, a boss, or a parent). Maybe they accidentally made a Pocket Dial while revealing a secret. Either way, the person who receives the voicemail is usually away from home (or their mobile phone if you can believe it) and won't hear it until they get back to the machine. So, rather than admitting their true feelings or owning their embarrassment, the person would rather get to the answering machine first and delete it. This could be by Wall Crawling an apartment complex, visiting the person's house to feign interest (and erase the message behind their back), or secretly fumbling around on the person's phone to delete it. This usually results in the message-recorder being caught, and Cringe Comedy ensues. In this respect, there's a lot of cross-over with Irrevocable Message.

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Other uses of the trope is when someone leaves an embarrassing voicemail, but is so unaware that they make no effort to amend it. They could be the typical love fool who desperately asks someone out on the phone. In general, the person is so uncomfortable with sharing their feelings to the person that they'd rather do it over the phone and avoid the physical interactions.

In some cases, it's someone else's voicemail that causes the embarrassment. They could be about doctor's results, unpaid bills, or messages from your loved ones. In a house full of other people, it's understanding why someone might want to delete those before anyone else listens to it.

Although the trope has been modernised in recent years (now that everyone practically carries around their own answering machine of some kind), the height of its popularity was in the '90s and early 2000s when answering machines were being used the most. Lightweight, affordable, and uncomplicated answering machines with large capacities started really hitting the market in the '80s, but perhaps the resurgence of the studio Sitcom genre in the '90s (with shows such as Seinfeld, Friends and Frasier hitting screens) made the simple answering machine such an easy Stock Shtick.

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Compare with Irrevocable Message, What Did I Do Last Night?, Love Letter Lunacy.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In volume nine of The Case Files of Jeweler Richard, when Saul meets up with Seigi, he plays four increasingly panicked voicemails from Richard worrying about what trouble Seigi, a fully grown adult man, could get into in the six hours it would take Richard to fly there from Australia. Saul ignored all of them, despite Richard's desperate pleading for an immediate response and the fact that he was already looking up plane tickets.

    Comic Strips 

    Films — Animation 
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: When King Neptune interrogates Mr. Krabs about the disappearance of his crown, the answering machine receives a call and plays the message aloud. It is Plankton pretending to be someone else, thanking Mr. Krabs for stealing and selling him Neptune's crown. Neptune believes it and is furious despite Mr. Krabs' attempts to silence the voicemail.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Blades of Glory: Jeff tries to make it up to Jimmy by repeatedly leaving messages. Each voicemail he leaves is more desperate until eventually he is practically grovelling for Jimmy's forgiveness.
  • The Campaign: Senator Cam Brady, who is in the middle of a presidential campaign, accidentally leaves a rather explicit voicemail meant for his secret lover on the answering machine of a conservative Christian family. It obviously is leaked to the public and his polling numbers tank.
  • He's Just Not That into You:
    • Gigi tries to defy the stereotype that guys should call first by calling him first. However, her voicemail exudes desperation. Naturally, he doesn't call her back.
      Gigi: Hey, Conor, it's Gigi. I just thought, I hadn't heard from you... and how stupid is it that a gal has to wait for a guy's call anyway, right? Because we're all equal, right? More than equal. More women are accepted into law school now than men. And, I mean, I don't know if you saw that Dateline... but women practically have penises now, right? So... Call me. Oh, this is Gigi. Call me.
    • Mary is on the receiving end of one of these after she goes on a date with a guy who leaves her two. The first one is him singing a song with her name in it and asking for a follow-up date. Cute. The second one is him singing the exact same song, this time using the name Jenny and ending with him realizing he accidentally called the wrong number. Yikes.
  • I Love You, Man: In the bromance comedy, Peter leaves voicemails for Sydney asking to hang out. However, his awkwardness and poor social skills make it come across as pathetic.
  • Swingers: Mike calls back a girl he just met in a bar. He continuously fumbles on his words and has to keep re-dialing to leave new messages. While leaving the sixth message, she finally picks up.
    Nikki: Mike?
    Mike: Nikki! Great! Did you just walk in, or were you listening all along?
    Nikki: Don't call me ever again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Big Bang Theory: In season 7, Sheldon gets drunk and leaves a voice message for Stephen Hawking about his feelings of inadequacy in the field.
  • Community: In "Communication Studies", Britta leaves an embarrassing drunk dial message on Jeff's phone. Jeff tries to instill her confidence by getting drunk himself (in the hope of leaving her an equally embarrassing message). However, in his inebriated state, he calls Michelle instead. Jeff is terrified he offended Michelle and tries to avoid her, but the trope is subverted when it's revealed his voicemail was actually about how much he appreciated her.
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Rebecca plays the spirit of the trope straight, if not the letter, when she accidentally sends a text intended for Paula (about her feelings for Josh) to Josh. Fortunately, she knows that he leaves his phone at home while he's at his martial arts practise, giving her time to break in and delete the message. Her entire office meeting agrees that this is the highest possible priority, and a judge gets her a police escort to Josh's building so that she can speed, while the other lawyers sing a glam rock song about this "Textmergency".
  • In the investigative documentary series For Heaven's Sake, Mike leaves a voicemail for someone so they can meet up and discuss their family history. He fumbles on his words and stutters briefly. Although the message itself isn't that embarrassing, he's worried it sounded unprofessional and desperate.
  • Friends:
    • A comedic subversion of the trope. In "The One Where No One's Ready", Monica hears a voicemail from her ex Richard asking her to call him back but she can't tell if it's old or new. Monica breaks into his voicemail and hears a message she assumes to be from a new lover, but is really from his daughter Michelle; she only finds this out by failing to discreetly prank call her. In an attempt to clear everything up, she breaks into his voicemail one last time, erases all of the messages, and leaves a new one where she apologizes and asks for forgiveness, blaming her period for making her act crazy. Except she unintentionally re-records Richard's outgoing voicemail message, humiliating herself.
    • In "The One Where Ross Finds Out", Rachel gets drunk one night on a date and leaves a message meant for her date apologizing, in which she states that she is over Ross. Unlucky for her, she accidentally leaves that message on Ross's answering machine, unintentionally confessing that she had feelings for him for the first time. She doesn't fully remember this in the morning and is in the same room when Ross checks his voicemail, causing her to panic. It works out however since this leads to Ross breaking up with his current girlfriend Julie and kissing Rachel.
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • "Return of the Shirt" has Ted trying to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend Natalie. Initially bewildered on why she angrily hung up on him, he then realizes that he broke up with her over the phone, recorded on her answering machine, on her birthday, with her friends listening to it while they set up a surprise party for her. Lily calls Ted out over this immature method.
    • In the episode "How Lily Stole Christmas", Lily hears a voicemail from Marshall's answering machine where Ted calls her a "grinch" for breaking up with Marshall over the past summer. She feels insulted and takes down all the Christmas decorations.
  • Jane the Virgin: In "Chapter Thirty-Nine" Jane recruits her ex-stepsisters to steal a professor's phone and delete an angry voicemail her mother had left on it.
  • The Kenan & Kel episode "Dial O for Oops" revolves around the titular duo repeating all the insulting things Kenan's father said about his boss, only to realize everything they just said was recorded onto said boss's answering machine (Kenan had been trying to call the boss's daughter to ask her out on a date, only to get a voicemail). Hilarity ensues when the pair try to sneak into the boss's house to erase the tape before it gets heard and Kenan's father potentially loses his job.
  • Mom: In one episode Christy leaves a particularly awkward voicemail for her daughter Violet.
    Christy: It's me, your mom. Uh... so, doot-dah-doo... That's the weird thing. So, heard your podcast. Would love to chitty-chat about that. Or anything. I haven't talked to you in such a long time. Of course, I'm not the one who changed her number. But not pointing fingers. Doot-dah-doo. Hey, good news. I'm in law school now. Yep. Learnin' about torts. Turns out they're not just dessert. Okay, well, uh... it's me, your mom, Christy.
  • The Office (US): One scene in "Women's Appreciation" epitomises Cringe Comedy; Michael breaks up with Jan over voicemail, unaware that she is on her way to the office. When she comes in, Michael hangs up and pretends everything is fine. She tells him she wants to get back together, unaware of the voicemail. She sees she has a missed call from Michael and listens to it in front of him.
  • Parks and Recreation: In the episode "Kaboom", Leslie tries to find out why Andy is suing by calling him. He doesn't answer, so she leaves a very awkward voicemail.
    Leslie: Hey, Andy, it's your aunt. Your mom or dad's sister. I don't know how to tell you this, but... your uncle has passed. He's with Jesus now. So we're having a memorial in 30 minutes at city hall. Because of a local disaster, you... Andy Dwyer... must go to the evacuation center at Pawnee city hall...
  • Seinfeld: In the aptly named episode "The Phone Message", after accidentally turning down sex on a date thinking it was just an invitation for coffee, George tries to rectify the situation by leaving a voicemail. Unfortunately, it is long, rambling, and embarrassing and he's afraid it makes him seem like an idiot. Against the advice from Jerry, George calls several times trying to clear up the matter, only to leave increasingly angry and hostile messages. Deciding she can never hear them, he and Jerry break into her apartment to erase them. They succeed only for George to learn that she had already heard them and thought they were a cute, funny joke.
  • Workaholics: In the episode "Real Time", the boys must get to work to erase drunk and angry messages they left the night before on Alice's answering machine.

    Web Animation 
  • In one of Homestar Runner's "Marzipan's Answering Machine" videos, Homestar completely misunderstands a message Marzipan left with Pom-Pom for him as some kind of insult and sends her an angry breakup message in turn. After Pom-Pom clears things up, Homestar tries to erase his message by talking backward, then goes to Marzipan's house and steals the tape, replacing it with one of his own where he badly impersonates the other characters leaving the kind of messages they usually leave (including a bad impersonation of himself).
  • In his animated video "Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep", Pera discusses how he enjoys listening to voicemails from loved ones. He plays them to the audience, and they include messages from his father, his mother, and a friend. Finally, a message begins to play from a possible romantic interest. Joe immediately scrambles for the answering machine and shuts it off, sending it flying off the table.
    Alysse: Hey Joe it's Alysse. Um, it was nice going out with you again last night but, I've gotta be straightforward.
  • RWBY Chibi: In one skit, Jaune leaves Weiss a series of voicemails trying to ask her out on a study date. They become increasingly desperate and angry as she fails to return his calls, concluding in an angry rant about how much he hates her selfish, arrogant behavior. Right after he finishes that one, Weiss walks up to him and asks if he's seen her phone because she lost it somewhere and has been searching for it all afternoon.

    Web Comics 
  • Ellen in Leftover Soup leaves her ex-boyfriend and roommate such a voicemail when she finds out he's cheating on her. He promptly turns it into a Stupid Statement Dance Mix titled "Answering Machine Bitch."

    Web Videos 
  • Kevin James Thornton of TikTok fame shared a story about being outed to his frat house of fundamentalist Christians. After coming home, one of his housemates pressed play on the answering machine for it to be played aloud to everyone in the room.
    Kevin: "Hi Kevin. This is Sandy from the Christian bookstore and your book Coming Out of Homosexuality has arrived and you can pick that up anytime." And everyone in the kitchen just sort of froze, 'cause we all knew if we made eye contact, we were going to have to talk about it, and no-one wanted that.

    Western Animation 
  • Hey Arnold!: In "Helga Blabs It All", Helga goes to the dentist's office and while she's still delirious from laughing gas, she tries to call Arnold, whom she secretly has a crush on despite picking on him, to say she loves him, but it turns out she was actually speaking into his answering machine. When she realizes what she's done, she tries to get to the answering machine to take the message back before he gets to hear it.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In "I, Brobot", Doofenshmirtz plans to hover over his girlfriend's house with a huge magnet so he can erase embarrassing messages he left on her voicemail.
  • Regular Show: Mordecai accidentally leaves a Pocket Dial message expressing his fondness for Margaret. After he realises, he and Rigby must find Margaret's phone to delete it before she listens to it.
  • The Simpsons: In "Marge Be Not Proud", Bart is caught shoplifting. The store manager leaves a stern message on the Simpsons' answering machine warning them of Bart's behaviour. Bart races home to get to the machine before the rest of the family, and replaces the tape with the Allan Sherman single "Hello Muddah, Hello Fuddah."

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