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"Touch-tone menu systems are expressly designed to obstruct genuine assistance; it's really sort of the point. It isn't hard to believe that there is a scheming, disembodied intellect responsible for your pain. In fact, it's superior to the alternative, which is that another human being designed it, made it like a cage to catch you."
Tycho, "Attack of the Bacon Robots!" Penny Arcade

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(Eight minutes, thirty point two seconds of on-hold music, interspersed with "Your call is important to us, please continue to hold...")

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>For Inconvenience, Press "1".<

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If you would like to speak to an actual person who just so happens to be as inconvenient as this recording, press The Operators Must Be Crazy.

A character tries calling a number for some important information. Unfortunately, said number has an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. Hilarity Ensues.

While sometimes this is a string of awkward waits, pauses and irrelevances, sometimes this is inverted by one of the options (usually the third) being exactly what the caller wants to find out about, with a ridiculous degree of accuracy. On the other hand, sometimes it's taken to the extreme with a string of "You have chosen [X]. If this is correct, press [Y]," options (with each subsequent one asking you to confirm that your last confirmation was correct).

Frequently, a caller may be placed on a Ridiculously Long Phone Hold before reaching an operator.

For examples, Press Open/Close All Folders:

    open/close all folders 

    Press 1 for Advertising 
  • One commercial in Ally Bank's series of "Even kids know it's wrong to..." commercials parodies this.
    "For broccoli, say 1. For toys, say 2."
  • Discover cards has an ad campaign depicting a Ruritanian man who calls himself "Peggy" as a customer service employee in some backwoods call center, who gives callers absolutely no help whatsoever.
  • Allstate's "Mayhem" campaign has gotten in on the act.
  • A commercial for Chase banks had a man pressing a button on his phone thinking it was a recording. He is relieved to know that there is an actual teller on the other line.
  • A radio ad for Hewlett-Packard computers, touting their tech support lines, featured a parody phone tree that ended with "Your call is very important to us. If you believe that, please stay on the line, or press one if you think we don't give a— (beep!)"
  • A radio ad promoting Washington Mutual's "no fee" banking services depicted the telephone tree of a fictional competitor called "Disregard National Bank." The customer who dialed Disregard's phone tree listened to a lengthy list of options, all of which involved paying fees in some way. "To set up a fee payment schedule, press 2," "To pay a late fee on fees past due, press 3," and so on. The customer was eventually given the option to speak to a live person by pressing 5, only to have the IVR add as a postscript, "Please note that a fee will be charged for pressing 5."
  • A 2018 T-Mobile commercial features a man calling his old cell provider's customer service line. He immediately gets a menu and tries pressing "0" only to be told it's not a valid option. He is also given a Ridiculously Long Phone Hold.
  • A 2018 radio commercial for Ohio's Huntington National Bank features a woman calling her local branch and being immediately greeted by a real person to ask some questions, but she is confused at having gotten a real person after expecting a prompt system. When she asks if other banks do the same thing the teller calls another bank. Even though the teller is greeted by a real person, once she says she has some questions the other teller pretends to be a voice prompt system, losing character at one point when the teller tries to talk to him. At the end he remarks "For all other questions, please wait for the beep" followed by shouting "BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!"

    Please Hold for Anime and Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Not played for laughs. At all. Hughes discovers evidence of Father's plot and rushes to inform Roy. However, he decides to use a phone box instead of the military lines. As per military regulations, the operator tells him he can't make the call prompting some desperate yelling until they tell Hughes to give them the passcode which causes him to waste time reciting it. By the time Roy is finally reached, Envy has already killed Hughes and hung up the phone.

    Press 2 for Comic Books 
  • When Too Much Coffee Man travels to the future, he discovers that trials are now conducted through Interactive Voice Responders
    "For a plea of innocence, press one. For a plea of guilty, press two."
    "Innocent plea entered. Processing... Due to a preponderance of evidence, you are found guilty of everything. You're sentenced to life in prison. For appeal, press one."
    "Appealing... Appeal denied."
  • Blue Beetle once needed to reach Max Lord in an emergency but had to suffer through the Superbuddies answering machine service.
    "Thank you for calling the Superbuddies hotline! To report a crisis situation, press one now! To report a super-villain sighting, press two now! For a listing of local retail outlets carrying licensed Superbuddies merchandise — or to order by phone — press three n—"
    (hangs up)
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) Twilight's attempt to reach Celestria only to get a letter back, which reads like an automated message, explaining she's away.
    Twilight: I've been...form lettered!
  • The Flintstones: Joe, a war veteran, calls a suicide prevention line and is immediately put on hold.
    Joe: Okay, but this hold music better be pretty damn good.

    Press 3 for Comic Strips 
  • One Dilbert strip shows Dilbert stuck on one of these lines. By the final panel he's gotten a hammer and is about to smash the receiver.
  • A Sally Forth (Howard) strip features her husband recording an answering machine message with a set of "Press X" options, finishing with the statement, approximately: "Press any button you like. The whole point of Voicemail is that we don't want to talk to you." He'd started off by asking Sally if his voice sounded unfriendly enough.
  • Garfield — "If you'd like pepperoni, press one."
    • This strip features Jon trying to call Liz only to receive the following message: "You have reached the veterinary clinic of Doctor Liz Wilson. If this call is an emergency, press six. If you wish to make an appointment, press two. For billing, press three. For office hours, press four. For directions, press five. To speak with the receptionist, press one. Para Espanol, presione siete.note  To leave a voicemail for Doctor Wilson, begin speaking after the beep. Please leave your name, the date and time you called, a number you can be reached at and a brief message." Jon ends up leaving a snore as voicemail.
    • This strip has Jon trying to reach customer service, only to receive the following message, much to Jon's annoyance: "Thank you for calling customer service. Press one to leave a message that will never be returned. Or press two to speak to a representative who will never answer."
  • This happened once in the Finnish newspaper comic Viivi & Wagner. In one strip, Wagner calls the insurance company, only to hear this:
    "You have reached voicemail. If you want music, press one. If you're pissed, press two. If you want service, forget it."
  • Curtis has the title character's father attempt to contact some organization via phone. After getting increasingly frustrated, he screams into the phone "If you'd like to come over with a can of gasoline and burn us to the ground, please press...!" only to have the automated response parrot it back to him.
  • Sherman in Sherman's Lagoon has gotten stuck on phone technical support services before. In one Sunday he works as the technical support for a company, but has no idea what they do or what they make. Callers have to navigate hundreds of automated menus, and most get caught in an infinite loop. The few that do make it to Sherman all say the same thing;
  • In one FoxTrot strip, a certain someone re-programmed the answering machine to say, "If you are calling for Paige, press 666." Cue this exchange in the end panel:
    Roger: I figured out the reason behind our minister's weird phone message.
    Andy: You mean that whole "fire and brimstone" thing?

    Press 4 for Fan Works 
  • The Good Omens Fan Fic Great are the Myths puts a case of this in Heaven's waiting room when the demon Crowley pays a visit:
    "... Konnichiwa. Bonjour."
    In the corridors of Heaven, Crowley stared. "Bloody hell," he muttered, "I thought we came up with this."
    "Welcome to Heaven," said the voice. "If you are a terrestrial agent, please press one. If you are recently deceased, please press two. If you are an invading demon army, please press three. If you have had your fingers cut off, please bash your head or other appendage against the keypad, and someone will be along to help you momentarily."
  • In Shadowjack Watches Sailor Moon Episode 99 has a frustrated Rei trying to get clarity on her dreams from the sacred flames. Instead what she gets is this.
    Fire: <<You have reached Heaven's Help Line. If you know which of the eight million you wish to speak to, please chant their extension, followed by the word, 'amen', now. If you have a dying prayer, please chant, 'one', now. If you are a god, please chant, 'two', now. If you are following up on a previous prayer, please chant, 'three', now. Para servicios en español>>
  • Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space. Captain Proton tries to contact the Space Rangers during a robot uprising, and finds himself stuck on hold because everyone else is doing the same.

    Press 5 for Film Animated 
  • Brave plays the gag with a witch's cauldron, using vials of potions instead of numbers.
    "If you'd like to inquire about portraits or wedding cake toppers, pour vial 1 into the cauldron. If you'd like the menu in Gaelic, vial 2. If you're that red-haired lass, vial 3. To speak with a live homonculus—"

    Press 6 for Film Live-Action 
  • Ave Maria: One of the ride services Moshe manages to call has the standard "For X, Press 1" option menu. The only problem is that Moshe is using the nuns' old rotary telephone. He slams the phone down in frustration.
  • Twice in Burn After Reading does Linda have some trouble with the computer voice on the phone not understanding her instructions.
  • Cop (1988) opens with an unseen burglar trying to report a murdered woman in a house he'd broken into. After a comic sequence of him trying to get past this trope (including foreign language versions) he gives up and calls the operator, offering to pay for his call with some stolen credit cards. The operator decides to connect him to the detective protagonist instead.
  • Played around with in Demolition Man, where the following line is said by an actual person:
    Policeman: Greetings and salutations. Welcome to the San Angeles Emergency Line. If you would like an automated response, please press "1" now.
  • In Fear, Inc., a woman is desperately phoning the title company to call off the psycho who is stalking her with a spiked baseball bat. The operator who takes her call places her on hold—complete with inappropriately jaunty hold music—as the psycho advances.
  • Get Smart has a scene where the Big Bad calls the White House to extort a few billion dollars from the US government in exchange for not releasing nuclear weapons' arming codes to several crazy dictators. He gets caught by one of these.
    Phone system: You have reached the United States Department of Homeland Security. For threats against the continental United States, press 1. For threats against Hawaii, press 2. For threats against Puerto Rico...
    Shtarker: (snores)
    Siegfried: You know, you're the only person I know who snores when he's awake.
    Phone system: If you're calling from a rotary...
  • In How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, when the Grinch returns to his cave, he checks his answering machine, which has this outgoing message, "If you utter so much as one syllable I'll hunt you down and GUT YOU LIKE A FISH! If you'd like to fax me press the star key." Needless to say, he doesn't get many voicemails.
  • Mixed Nuts: Philip tries to call the Los Angeles Times editorial desk, but has trouble getting past the automated greeting.
    "Thank you for calling the Los Angeles Times. If you would like to order a subscription, please press 1. If your newspaper did not arrive this morning, press 2. To place a classified ad, press 3. To speak to the editorial desk, city desk, national desk, international desk, sports desk, metro, view, or calendar sections, press the first three letters of the desk you desire, followed by the star key in the case of the first three or the pound key in the case of the latter five."
  • In Paddington (2014), when Mr Brown tries to call The Authorities.
    Female voice: Thank you for holding. Your call is...
    Male voice: MODERATELY
    Female voice: ...important to us.
  • Please Hold: This is the central conceit of a Black Comedy short film. Mateo is arrested by a drone and taken to an automated prison cell without ever laying eyes on a human being. He is trapped in a hell where he has to deal with awful automated phone trees, except it's not to find out about a charge on his credit card bill or make a hotel reservation, it's the justice system and he's trying to find out why he's in jail. As he is screaming at the video phone to find out why he has been arrested, the AI on the other end says "I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Please try again."
  • The Sixth Day has 911 calls routed to an automated system. Not that it would have helped the main character, but you'd think reporting an in-progress kidnapping would be easier.
  • Subverted in Small Soldiers: Alan tries to tell the phone operator about the rampaging toys but she can only spout out rehearsed responses (she also calls him a "ma'am"). Eventually an exasperated Alan says, "Is there a machine I can talk to? Just patch me over to a machine, please."
  • The Terminator. Played for Drama when Sarah Connor is trying to call the police from Tech Noir. When she finally gets through to Detective Traxler, she begs him not to put her on hold or transfer her to another department.

    Remain on the line to hear Jokes 
  • Hello, welcome to the Mental Health Hotline.
    • If you are Obsessive Compulsive, press 1 repeatedly.
    • If you are Co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2 for you.
    • If you have Multiple Personalities, press 3, 4, 5, and 6.
    • If you are Paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line so we can trace your call.
    • If you are Delusional, press 7, your call will be transfered to the Mothership.
    • If you are Schizophrenic, listen carefully, and a small voice will tell you which number to press.
    • If you are Depressive, it doesn't matter which button you press. No one will answer anyway.
    • If you are Dyslexic, press 96969696969696.
    • If you have a Nervous Disorder, please fidget with the Pound Button until a representative comes on the line.
      • Alternatively: "...Please fidget with the Pound Button until the beep. After the beep, please wait for the beep."
    • If you have Amnesia, press 8 and state your name, address, phone number, date of birth, social security number, and your mother's and grandmother's maiden names.
    • If you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, slowly and carefully press 911.
    • If you have Bi-Polar Disorder, please leave a message after the beep. Or before the beep. Or after the beep. Please wait for the beep.
    • If you have short-term memory loss, please try your call again later.
      • Alternatively: "If you have short-term memory loss, press 9. If you have short-term memory loss, press 9. If you have short-term memory loss, press 9. If you have short-term memory loss, press 9. If you have short-term memory loss, press 9."
    • If you have low self-esteem, please hang up. All our representatives are too busy to talk to you.
    • If you are agoraphobic, please stay on the line to make an in-person appointment at our national office in New York City.
    • If you have a drug addiction, press the hash key.note 

    Press 7 for Literature 
  • In Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends Jody gets one of these after she gets attacked by a vampire and tries to contact the police.
  • The Bastard Operator from Hell seems to have some experience making these. He and the PFY have discussed making recursive ones in at least one story.
  • The Cathedral of Life has a very unhelpful phone system in The Visitation.
  • The heroes of Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes try to warn a concert venue that their patrons are in danger of being murdered. This fails terribly due to a frustrating phone system.

    Press 8 for Live-Action TV 
  • Alan Partridge Mid Morning Matters had us overhear a one-sided conversation between Alan and a voice-recognizing cinema booking service:
    One. (Beat.) Adult. (Beat.) Inception. (Beat.) No. Inception. (Beat.) No. Inception. (Beat.) No. Inception...
  • In Angel, the Wolfram and Hart intercom seems to frequently misdirect people. Given that the options on their tree range from "I need legal representation" to "I'd like to sacrifice my first-born son to a demon", this has caused some uncomfortable moments.
    You have reached ritual sacrifice. For goats, press one, or say "goat".
    To sacrifice a loved one or pet, press the pound button.
  • French-Canadian comedy series Les Bougons has Uncle Fred try and find honest work only to realize he's once again stumbled into a corrupt and crooked workplace as he lands a job at a government call center for tax refunds. He is introduced to his job: to redirect increasingly irate callers deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of phone options and prevent them from ever reaching a live operator while everyone else at the center wastes time and slacks off. He demonstrates by showing one caller's path through the menu on his monitor.
    See this guy here? He's almost reached a real person. And now... (punches on keyboard and laughs) he's right back at the start!
  • Poor Brenda comes across a particularly absurd example of this in Le cur a ses raisons when trying to call Becky Walters... It has everything, from the incredibly ridiculous number presses...
    Press 3 if you're satisfied for pressing 1 because you're satisfied with your message or press 4 if you pressed 1 because you pressed 2 because you were not satisfied with your message. the bad voice recognition...
Say the name of the person you want to contact.
You said Ludmilla.
...and malfunctioning name pad.
Spell the name of the person you want to contact.
You just spelled WQT. The WQT is an aquatic nocturnal animal.

  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Invasion" has the Second Doctor have to do this with an automated receptionist and not enjoy it. Which Zoe later drops a Logic Bomb on.
    • "Planet of the Dead": The Doctor calls UNIT for assistance and gets stuck in this ("If you want to report a UFO sighting, press one."). One of the people trapped in the bus tells the Doctor that he can get to a live person by holding 0 when he calls.
    • In "Resolution" the Thirteenth Doctor tries to call UNIT to warn of an alien who wants to Take Over the World, only to get an operator on the UK Security Helpline. Turns out UNIT has been shut down due to lack of government funding.
      Doctor: What? No, it can't have been. UNIT is a fundamentally vital protection for planet Earth against alien invasion!
      Polly: (scoffing) Yes, but when did that last happen?
  • Fonejacker: "Hello and welcome to the Flat Line. Is it a... HOUSE or a... FLAT you are interested in?"
  • One Frasier episode has a frustrated Martin attempt to navigate one of these, made even worse by the fact that the options were voice-activated ("PER-SON-AL."). Frasier attempts to enter a code that he heard will get you straight to an operator. It doesn't succeed, but he does manage to qualify for a small-business loan. If he's remembering his high-school Spanish correctly.
  • Full House: In "Day of the Rhino", Michelle and Denise order an Action Rigby figure based on Rigby the Rhino, a Barney-like orange rhinoceros, only to feel ripped off when they are sent a tiny figurine. When Michelle shows her figure to Joey, they call the Rigby hotline to complain, only to get a recorded message from it. Specific complaints the hotline addresses include "Press 1 if your Rigby pen is leaking" and "Press 2 if your Rigby sticker turned everything in the washing machine orange". The appalled Joey notes, "Remind me to cross those off my Christmas list!" As for disappointment with the size of the Rigby toy the girls have called about, pressing 3 gets the automated response: "It's not the size of your Rigby that's important, it's the fun you bring to it!"
  • The King of Queens: One episode featured Kevin James' character winding up on one of these. Then he wound up in "voice-prompt hell".
  • One episode of Married... with Children subjected Al Bundy to this trope when he called an auto parts dealer to find an alternator for the Dodge. As just one example of what he had to sit through, after six hours on the phone:
    "If your car is a Pacer, press 61. If your car is a Studebaker, press 62. If your car is a Hudson Hornet, press 63..."
    • About halfway through the call, the automated voice chirpily greets Al by name, as it's apparently asked so many questions about his car that it's now narrowed the potential callers down to just him. And then to make matters worse, when Al finally got through to a live operator, he had to go get his credit card... and Kelly comes in and hangs up the phone while he's away, forcing him to start all over again. Is it any wonder Al dies of bleeding stomach ulcers by the time he's sixty? (Since the rest of the episode was a Field of Dreams parody, the episode ends with the line, "If you build it they will come. If you want them to build it for you, press 1.")
  • This turns out to be the punchline of a scene in The Munsters episode 'Don't Bank On Herman'. Herman and Grandpa get locked in a bank vault and can't contact the police using the emergency line because of what seems to be a case of The Operators Must Be Crazy. Eventually, Grandpa gets fed up and tries to explain the seriousness of the situation to the operator. The following exchange happens:
    Grandpa: Listen, Lady, this is an emergency! My friend and I are here and we're locked in a bank vault together, and the walls are two feet thick, and we're running out of air! If you don't get somebody down here immediately, we'll both be DEAD! Listen, Lady, PLEASE! DO SOMETHING!!!
    Voice: I'd love to help you, Sir, but this is a recording!
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode The Starfighters, Crow gets stuck in one of these because he can't get on the Internet. When he is finally able to get someone to answer his call, he can't respond because he's in the middle of "refueling" (i.e., his beak is stuck up Servo's hoverskirt).
    • Parodied when they watch "Space Travelers". After one of the astronauts dies, his wife is led to a phone and Joel quips "If you have a husband in space, press one. If you have a dead husband in space, press two."
  • One episode of The Nanny has Fran calling the NYPD to try to report a lost child. The first menu she gets says, "To report a murder, press 1. For mugging, press 2. For bomb threats below 34th Street, press 3. 34th Street to 72nd, press 4."
  • QI once had a gag of this nature. Alan's buzzer in Infantile went:
    For sales inquiries, press 1. For customer service, press 2. For two hours of irritating music, press 3. For more options, press 4. For fewer options, press 5. To speak to one of our operatives, emigrate to Mumbai.
  • Quark. In "May The Source Be With You", while trapped on an enemy Gorgon warship the Bridge Bunnies are trying to send a message, but get stuck on hold with a long line of complaining Gorgons forming up behind them.
  • Saturday Night Live has a sketch in the episode hosted by Kieran Culkin where he plays an increasingly frustrated customer wanting to cancel his cable subscription, only for the incompetent customer service transferring him from one rep to another, not even helping him canceling his service. At one point they transfer him to Domino's Pizza of all places. Apparently it's such a common occurrence that the Domino's employee knows how to transfer the customers back to the company and get them to their cancellations reps.
  • Scream Queens (2015): In the episode "Mommy Dearest", when Dean Munsch tries to call 911 to report an attack by the Red Devil, she gets a recently implemented one of these, much to her annoyance. Though to be fair, an earlier episode had proved that even when the cops had an actual operator, they weren't all that useful either.
  • On an episode of Seinfeld, George calls a number thinking it's the Mr. Moviefone directory, but really it's just Kramer imitating the voice. After George pushes some buttons to select a movie, Kramer realizes that he has no idea what it is and just replies (in Moviefone voice), "Why don't you just tell me the name of the movie you want to see!" At the end of the episode, the Moviefone guy arrives to take revenge for the stolen business.
  • The sketch comedy series Studio C uses this in "Background Check".
  • Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear once did a news segment on the phone parking services (replacing the cities parking meters). He tried to order a parking space using this service on the show, requiring him to put all sorts of numbers (car registration number, credit car number, number for the parking place, etc.) only for it to tell him to try again.
  • Robin Williams, in his HBO special Weapons of Self Destruction, had a whole bit devoted to this, additionally mocking imperfect speech-recognition systems:
    "List city and state please." Washington, DC.
    "What would you like?" Constitution Hall.
    "Did you say, 'Kennedy Center'?" Nooo.... Constitution Hall.
    "Did you say, 'Congressional Balls'?" No...!
    ...And it's such, you become like the Miracle Worker: (heavily enunciated) Constitutiooon Haaaaaaalllll...
    "Did you say, 'Cocksucker'?" NO I DIDN'T SAY COCKSUCKER!
    "Would you like to talk to a person?" Fuck yes!
    "If you'd like to talk to a person, press 1." >1<
    "If you'd like to talk to someone in English, press 2." >2<
    (Mexican accent) "Are you sure you don't want to talk to someone in Spanish? Press 3." >3<
    "Press 4 if you'd like to move to the next menu." >4<
    "Press 5 if you're getting somewhat irritated." >5<
    "Press 6 if you're my bitch." >6<
    "Press 7. You know you want to." >7<
    "Press 8, daddy, do it!" >8<
    "Press 9!" >9<
    "What are the chances of talking to a real person? ZERO! Press it!"
    (Indian accent) "Hullo! Did you want to talk to a real person?"

    Press 9 for Music 
  • "Dr. Online" by Zeromancer has one for suicide center, ending "If you do not wish to die, please hang up now."
  • The song "LAMC" by tool, the entire song being a recording of one man's desperate struggle against the automated telephone response system of the Los Angeles Municipal Court. The song only increases in bizarreness as the song goes on; the selections get increasingly outlandish and the man's obvious frustration mounts (we never hear him talk, but the sounds of the button presses tell us all we need to know).
  • Gotye dedicated an entire song to phone-answering robots called "Thanks for Your Time".
  • From The Capitol Steps' album Four More Years in the Bush Leagues:
    "Hello. You have reached the cell phone of Saddam Hussein. I'm not here right now, but your call is very important to me. If you wish to declare a fatwa, press 1 now. If you are a former body-double looking for work, press 7-11. If you are an imperialist infidel, press 666! All other calls, please stay on the line."
  • "A Skit About Robots" from MC Frontalot's Secrets from the Future album ends with Frontalot threatening to stab the phone computer in the EPROM, prompting it to apologize for its misbehavior.
  • The track introductions from the P.D.Q. Bach album Two Pianos Are Better than One:
    If you wish to hear this work as the composer wrote it, press 1.
    If you wish to hear it sung by Spanish monks who live in an isolated monastery called Our Lady of How to Package and Market Recordings, press 2.
    If you wish to hear it performed by members of the Bolshoi Capitalist Ensemble, press 3.
    If you wish to hear it played by caffeine addicts who bring it a good two minutes under the next longest performance, press 4.
  • The "T-Bagging'" skit on Ludacris' album Chicken-n-Beer is all about this:
    If you woke up with a hangover and a pair of hairy balls on your forehead, press 7.
    You've just pressed 7. You've been victimized and introduced to a moral crime called teabagging. We suggest you probably hang up the phone, beat the ass of any white guys you hung out with last night, and find and destroy all photos before they appear on the Internet.
  • Ray Stevens Come to the USA. Has this at the beginning. "For Spanish press 1, Portuguese 2, Arabic 3, Farsi 4, French 5 Swahili 6, German 7, Italian 8, and if you insist on English please stand by."
  • German singer Annett Louisan guides her former lover through some numbered excuses in Drück die 1. In the end, she tells him, that if he really cares about her, he'll just press the button with the little red phone.note 

    Press 0 for Print Media 
  • GAMES Magazine once had an indirect dialing maze puzzle where you had to follow the instructions exactly or get disconnected. The goal, 0, brings the news that the operator has just left.
  • Linwood Barclay subverts this in one of his Toronto Star columns. He needs to call Revenue Canada and ask if he owes interim tax payments. He fully expects to be put on hold for a long time, encounter a frustrating voicemail menu, and get transferred between several employees before he finds one who can actually answer his question. Instead, a polite human operator picks up the phone promptly, answers his questions right away, and tells him he doesn't need to make interim payments. He is utterly shocked that a government agency could be so efficient without even demanding his money. At the end of the column, he quips that he's going to tell his Alien Abduction story next, because that story at least has a ring of truth to it.

     Press ? for Puppet Shows 
  • In The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss episode "Almost There", Fox in Socks and Mr Knox have won a free vacation. However, they have to claim it at the travel centre where they're confronted by a screen with a cheerful, computerised "Travel Poobah", who gives them 100 options to press, none of which are claiming free tickets. The last option is "If you would like to speak to a real person, press 0". Knox does, and she says "Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?" The entire screen then rises up to reveal that the real, decidedly uncheerful Travel Poobah has been standing behind it the entire time.

    Use a rotary dial for Radio 
  • The News Quiz:
    • One of Jeremy Hardy's rants:
      If you ring up HMRC, or indeed anything, you get a range of options. "If you would like to spend more money, listen to the numbers we're about to say out loud. If this call is of a random nature and connected to nothing, press 1. If you don't know the answer to what we're asking you press 2. If you're worried that life is pointless and at some time you'll probably want to kill yourself, press 3. If you like listening to Vivaldi's Four Seasons for five hours, press 5. If you can't count properly, press 8."
    • Fred Macauley:
      "Welcome to NHS Direct. If you're bleeding from the waist or down below, press 1. If you have something wrong in the head department, press 2. If you have a drug problem, press hash."
  • Old Harry's Game: In the New Year special, Satan ends up having to borrow Welsh Death's phone (it's a long story) to contact the real Death. He gets an answerphone, but is distracted when the service he wants comes up, and has to go around again.

    Press # for Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia. Ah, Paranoia...
    User Desmond-O-NTY is not available. This call has been forwarded to an automated voice system. (...) To confess to treason, please press 1. To accuse the citizen you are calling of treason, please press 2. (...) To answer the survey on the new Bouncy Bubble Beverage, please press 4. For global thermonuclear war, please press 5. If you know the number of the extension you are trying to reach, press octothorpe and star simultaneously, then 3 several times quickly and follow the voice instructions. For more options. For more options, please press eleventeen. Eleventeen. For more oprionts. Options. General protection fault. This device will self destruct in ten seconds. Have a nice daycycle!

    Please Hold for Theater 
  • In Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the Green Goblin trying to leave a message for Jameson is interrupted when the receptionist puts him on hold, he has to navigate the recorded menu options, and finally gets the answering machine.

    Press "Start" for Video Games 
  • A puzzle in Zork: Grand Inquisitor involves figuring out the automated service on the "Hades Shuttle Courtesy Phone" to summon Charon's boat, which features instructions like "To press 3, please press 7." One can figure out how to navigate it normally (which takes a while), or use the Simplify Instructions spell "Kendall".
    "Press the * Key for 'What is all this? I just want to call the damn shuttle. Is that so much to ask?'"
    • There's even a key you can press to make the entire instruction list be recited backwards. And it works. Subtitles and all.
  • A puzzle in Syberia involves using a canal mechanism to allow a boat to tow the spring-loaded train to the winding mechanism. Unfortunately, it requires a numeric password and the only apparent help is a phone that leads to one of these... that serves as no help whatsoever. The way to know the code is to remember what the last two buttons you had pushed during the call were, and use them as the code. (Humorously, it turns out to be 42).
  • Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People:
    • In "Homestar Ruiner", attempting to call Bubs using Homestar's phone results in a phone tree. Strong Bad quickly hangs up because "You can't prank a phone tree. Besides, the last time I navigated Bubs' TeleStand, I wound up with a crate full of rhino horns... and not even the endangered kind!"
    • The fifth episode, "8-Bit is Enough", features the Videlectrix Guys, a couple of very-low-tech computer programmers, pretending to be an automated phone service. Their options for "one," "two," and "three" aren't helpful, so you have to say "four" in order to get anywhere, even though they didn't even have an option four.
  • In Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, Ratchet attempts to gain entrance to Captain Qwark's HQ while being pursued by robots intent on destroying him, ultimately failing due to the intercom in the main entrance having one of these.
  • Bob Bell from the Sam & Max: Freelance Police games by Telltale Games talks like this at times, being a sentient telephone who talks like a smarmy phone-tree announcer.
  • In Destroy All Humans! 2, you can use the phone not only to increase or decrease your infamy, but to simply prank call the police.
  • Portal 2: "If you have questions or concerns regarding this policy, or require a Spanish version of this message, feel free to take a complimentary piece of stationery, and write us a letter."
  • One of the collectible phone numbers you can get in The Darkness game:
    Operator: "If someone is currently stabbing you, press 4."
  • Late in Space Quest V: The Next Mutation, if you tell Flo to hail Starcon, a jingle plays while a text box appears that says "You have reached Starcon Central Command. All our wavelengths are busy now, but if you stay on this frequency, an operator will answer your call in the order it was received. Currently you are 2,856,875,333."
  • In PAYDAY 2, Guest Fighter Jacket communicates through pre-recorded messages. When he answers a pager, he uses one of these. It does not rouse Pager Guy's suspicions any more than the rest of the crew's responses.
  • World Wide Weather has its own "Automated Response System" in Pajama Sam 2: Thunder and Lightning Aren't So Frightening. Granted, the phone itself talks. Humorously, the Complaints department is actually complaining, and the operator can't understand what you're saying.

    Press the green button on your touch screen for Visual Novels 
  • Parodied by Dennis at one point in Double Homework if the protagonist calls him hoping to gain information. He answers the phone pretending to be an automated system for a support hotline to assist with exactly the kind of problems the protagonist is experiencing at the time, including the ones caused by Dennis himself.

    Press * for Webcomics 

    Press 11 for Web Original 
  • In Brazilian website, there was one animation where President Dilma Rousseff phoned the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) and she got a message that, translated, means: "To criticize the Brazilian team, press one. To speak to the President (of CBF), press two. To report irregularities, turn off the phone".
  • SCP Foundation has SCP-361, a device used for divining using animal organs. If a fresh sheep's liver is placed on the device, it gives increasingly complex instructions, shutting down for twenty-four hours if one is not completed. It also speaks in a language and tone tailored to the user, so to a speaker of modern English it sounds like a phone tree. ("Welcome to HarusCo! Your sacrifice is very important to us! For Tinia the Thunderer, please perform a horizontal incision on the offering. For Aita of the Underworld, please perform a vertical incision. For Maris, lightly cover your offering with the ash of a dead warrior related to you by blood.") When they had SCP-1510 (the cursed spirit of a Roman soldier who is trapped in his old helmet and possesses the wearer) use the device because he is from the same general area and time period, the instructions were in Latin, and sounded like what you might expect from such a device. ("Son of Romulus, speak the words thy father taught you, and your watcher will speak, his words carried by our spirit.")
  • Episode 60 of Welcome to Night Vale has Cecil being put through to one of these after calling to fix the water.
  • Penumbra has a computer terminal near the end of the game that contains a questionnaire to activate the "Emergency Security Protocol" designed to create the last line of defense in the event of a crisis situation. But if you get all of the proper criteria filled, the program says, "Sorry, the facility is currently in a state of emergency, so the Emergency Security Protocol cannot be engaged."
  • At one point in The Mysterious Mr. Enter's review of the Teen Titans Go! episode, "The Return of Slade", Mr. Enter decides to call Cartoon Network to talk to them about cancelling Teen Tians Go! due to the writers being under the delusion that their questionable morals are the kind that can save modern cartoons. On the other line, an automated message tells him to buy five new Teen Titans Go! toys to continue the conversation.
  • The comedy sketch The Expert: IT Support is about an office worker struggling with the helpdesk hotline to get his printer working.
  • The Jolly Roger Telephone Company is a company that provides bots which are designed to waste the time of telemarketers and other unwanted callers. The bots are designed to detect if they are themselves speaking with a screener bot or some sort of automated system and push through in order to get through to a live human.
  • Plonqmas: Plonqs 911 phone call unhelpfully devolves into a labyrinth of Button Mashing in A Plonqmas Tale — 1999. It's especially inconvenient given that he's on fire at the time.

    Press 12 for Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons
    • In the episode "Bart of Darkness," a "Rear Window" Homage, Bart thinks Ned Flanders killed his wife and sees Ned arrive while Lisa is investigating. Bart tries calling the police...
      Voice: Hello, and welcome to the Springfield Police Department Rescue Phone. If you know the name of the felony being committed, press 1. To choose from a list of felonies, press 2. If you are being murdered or calling from a rotary phone, please stay on the line.
      (Bart growls and punches some numbers at random)
      Voice: You have selected regicide. If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press 1.
      (Bart slams the phone)
      • Given the tone of voice used, it's possible the "Rescue Phone" was supposed to be a parody of the now-defunct Moviefone service.
    • In "King-Size Homer," when Homer attempts to call the nuclear plant to warn them of an impending disaster (listen here):
      Voice: The fingers you have used to dial are too fat. To obtain a special dialing wand, please mash the keypad with your palm now."
    • And in "Home Sweet Home-Diddly-Dum-Doodly," Homer and Marge try to call their kids while in foster care, only to get an automated message stating that the Flanders' phone number can't be reached and ends with, "You negligent monster!"
    • Another gag is that whenever a family member is put on hold, the music that plays relates to whatever problem they have, causing them to break down in tears. Examples include Marge calling the mental institution to which Homer has been committed in "Stark Raving Dad" and having to listen to an easy-listening version of Patsy Cline's "Crazy", or Homer calling the missing child hotline after Maggie runs away in "Homer Alone" and being subjected to Player's "Baby Come Back".
    • In "The City of New York Vs Homer Simpson".
      Operator 1: Thank you for calling the parking regulations bureau. To plead not guilty, press '1' now.
      (Homer presses 1)
      Operator 1: Thank you. Your plea has been:
      Operator 2: REJECTED.
      Operator 1: You will be assessed the full fine plus a small:
      Operator 1: Please wait by your vehicle between 9am and 5pm for Parking Officer Steve:
      Operator 2: GRABOWSKI.
      (Homer hangs up)
  • South Park: Kenny dying (as usual) and being embalmed with Worcester sauce in a freak accident creates a Zombie Apocalypse. When the boys call the helpline on the sauce bottle, the third option is "If your town is being overrun by zombies..."
  • Happened in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Krab Borg", where SpongeBob and Squidward thought Mr. Krabs was a robot. Spongebob tries to call the Navy for help, triggering the following dialogue:
    Voice Message: Hello, you've reached the Navy's automated phone service.
    SpongeBob: Squidward, the robots are running the Navy!
    Squidward: Not the Navy!
  • House of Mouse
    • One episode has Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy attempting to deal with an automated greeting service in front of the phone company. Mickey follows the instructions given to him to the letter but gets nowhere. Donald tries to mess with the system and it decides that Donald wants to pay his bill, followed by a mechanized arm trying to take Donald's beak. When they take it off the wall and try to destroy it, it says "If you really want to smash me, stomp harder!"
    • In the short "computer.don," Donald tries to buy and install a computer after Daisy accuses him of being old-fashioned and calls him a dweeb. He calls the computer company and receives this message:
    Automated answering service: To order a computer, press 1. If you can't press 1 because you're still using one of those old rotary phones... you're a dweeb.
  • In the Rugrats episode "Naked Tommy," Didi tried to call Lipschitz's hotline for advice on how to deal with Tommy running around nude only to have her wait until "press 9" which only gave her a recorded message what has already been written on his books and charged Didi for every minute she waited on his hotline.
  • In an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Carl loses both of his arms, and attempts to call the hospital using only his tongue. The automated message refers him to a ridiculously long number.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar, "An Elephant Never Forgets." A man is confronted by Burt the elephant and calls Animal Control:
    Voice: You have reached the Animal Control Hotline. If you know the name of the animal trying to eat you, please say it now.
    Man: Elephant! El-e-phant! Elephant!!
    Voice: You said Everglades pygmy sunfish. First, step out of the bayou and onto dry land.
And later, when the penguins arrive...
Man: Now it's penguins?
Voice: You said Peruvian milk snake.
  • On American Dad!, Roger and Steve call a company to complain about a shoddy novelty product they bought. They are left on hold for what is implied to be days when they finally reach voice mail. But when Steve asks for billing, the machine reroutes them to Barbara Billingsley (of June Cleaver and Jive-talking Lady fame).
  • Infinity Train: In the "The Tech Support Car" short, there's this incredible line:
    Randall: Thank you for calling Randall's, home of the train-famous Donut Holer. Press 1 for support. Press... oh, well, that's actually the only service we offer, so... so please press 1.
  • Taz-Mania: Taz gets caught in a loop of these in "Taz in Keeweeland" when calling a hotline for help catching the Keewee bird. The complex process of navigation always ends with him being instructed to press the 'pound' key, at which point the Keewee pops out of the handset and pounds him on the head with a mallet.
  • Cartoon Network aired a commercial for Dexter's Laboratory in The '90s that revolved around this gag.
    • The episode "Voice Over", involving Dexter having no patience for his computer fixing her own voice chip, makes one alteration after another with his wrench, and one of the resulting voices is an entirely useless loud male voice that is this trope, keypad and all.
  • There's an entire episode of The Garfield Show dedicated to this joke.
  • Undergrads: A character attempting to reach his school's Financial Aid office ends up enrolling in Ancient Roman History 101 and buying two tickets to Annie Get Your Gun instead.
  • The Regular Show episode "K.I.L.I.T. Radio" has Muscle Man attempt to get the song he wrote for his girlfriend on the radio. He calls the station and he gets what he thinks is the automatic service. He presses the number 0—which normally lets you talk to an operator—but the automatic service continues to be on the line. He keeps pressing the number 0 in hope that he'll talk to someone but to no avail, resulting in him smashing the phone towards the table. This is the first hint that there's something wrong at the station.
  • An unusual example from one episode of Dilbert — the Trope Namer for Pointy-Haired Boss attempts to check how his IBM stock is performing, but calls Moviefone and purchases tickets for a movie at the local mall. He gives up, stating "that thing never works anyway", then decides to go out and see a movie— the exact one he just got tickets for. He ends up doing everything you're not supposed to do at the movies (talk through it, switch theaters, and spoil the endings for people in line), which gets him chased by a horde of angry theater ushers.

    Throw the phone against a wall for Real Life 
  • Verizon customer support. Even if you get to talk to an actual person, they'll just redirect your call back to the menu, which competes with House of Leaves in labyrinthine magnitude. A lot of Verizon support vendor operators actually don't have access to billing information for security reasons. If you ask them to, they'll usually stay conferenced on the line with you to walk you through whatever automated system you need to navigate to complete your transaction.
  • Writer Veronica Belmont posted an 8-minute-long clip of her husband wrestling with a Comcast customer service rep while trying to cancel their cable subscription. Apparently Time Warner is just as bad.
    Michael K.: I was expecting the rep to go full Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction by screaming, 'I won't allow you treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple of times and throw in the garbage!!!'
  • A medical center on Staten Island has a particularly bad example. They ask you to press one to speak English, so you do — and then they switch you to the Spanish menu!
  • metroPCS has one better. The computer voice sarcastically confirms every selection you make. Never you mind the fact that it always makes you pay your balance, even if it is not due.
  • UPS is almost like a Sierra game. If you call their customer service and state that you do, in fact, have a tracking number, it's into the labyrinth with you!
  • A former menu item in the National Discount Brokers phone service:
  • Thankfully, most menu systems have a shortcut to skip the system and go straight to a live operator. Those include pressing a key several times (usually 0, * or #), saying "operator" or "customer service" at every recording (which may or may not work depending on your accent), staying on the line after the system recites every option (which can take a while, especially if it insists on repeating the options again and/or urging you to pick an option several times before letting you speak to an human, which can be very annoying to the very few still using a pulse-dial phone which can't work the touch-tone menu) or even sighing in exasperation in at least one system. Unfortunately, dealing with a live operator can be just as frustrating as with a menu system, since they often have to stick to a script and flowchart and/or may not even be able to help you for some nonsensical reason, and that's assuming you get a competent and compassionate operator.
  • Xcel Energy only has phone tree options that lead to inputting your account number, even though you need to go through this tree to set up an account. Eventually, you must yell at it until it produces an operator. This operator will entirely fill out your new account, then is required to transfer you back to a different phone tree to set up the last couple things. This phone tree wants you to tell it your last name.
  • British bank First Direct (part of HSBC) market themselves as an aversion of this — people calling through to their main telephone banking line are put through to the first available operator immediately, with no IVR in between (HSBC themselves use an IVR, however.)
  • Bank of America's phone network gives a nod to Red vs. Blue and asks those who would like to discuss their mortgages to press eleven.
    • Many automated services nowadays do use numbers higher than 9 for their options. You just need to press the buttons in a sequence in order to give the number it asks—so, in the example above, if you want to press eleven you press 1 twice.
  • Odeon, a cinema chain in the UK, used to have an atrocious one of these for bookings in the 90s and early 00s. It was all voice activated, and not very good. It was particularly bad at picking up place names, so often somewhere like "Hemel Hempstead" would come out as "Huntingdon" or "Hatfield" (both places, just nowhere near either Hemel Hempstead or each other) or the dreaded "I'm Sorry, I did not understand your request." Fortunately online bookings pretty much killed the service.
  • The UK's somewhat ironically-named Department of Work and Pensions has a particularly annoying subversion set up if you want to claim unemployment insurance; once you've got through the surprisingly brief automated bit and spent upwards of a quarter of an hour listening to the same ninety-second segment from one of Vivaldi's Four Seasons rendered with an early 90s MIDI synthesiser and played in an endless loop, you then have to answer a long series of questions and be interrogated about your eligibility to receive Jobseeker's Allowance. The depressing part of this is that these questions are all read out by a human operator, who is forbidden from doing anything to speed the process up by skipping over some of the more unlikely items (income from property you're renting out, for example) you have to confirm that you do not in fact have, or otherwise make the process more pleasant than talking to a computer. One suspects that the DWP uses live operators because they are paid less than it would cost to operate a machine to replace them.
  • The Westboro Baptist Church has an automated answering system that goes "If you're the media or calling for an interview press 1. If you're wanting more info about our church, press 2. If you're gay press 3, if you're Muslim/Jewish/any other religion press 4, if you're in the military press 5," and so on and so forth. No matter which one you choose, they deem you a "fag-enabler" and hang up.
  • All three big Canadian ISPs and phone service providers (Bell, Rogers and Cogeco) are notorious about this. There are people in Cogeco's phone system whose entire job appears to be to transfer you to someone else, and you can't get anywhere in the Bell system if your address isn't in their system, and sometimes up to half a town isn't in their system. This is a big contributor to all three companies' reputations failing.
  • Chile's VTR. "Press three if you have questions about the internet service". Automated recording following: "You can also go to our online service at...". And the actual operators do not understand why it doesn't make sense.
  • When a woman rang Telecom New Zealand in 2008 and the IVR asked why she was calling, she replied "Greedy Telecom". The system recognised it and put her through to the debt collection department!
  • Government phone numbers in America run the table. Some will give you the runaround and supply circular instructions; others lead to unattended voice mail boxes. The Social Security Administration is better. If you're on hold for a while, they'll let you leave your number, and call you when they've reached your place in the queue.
    • The USPS system also offers the option to have it call you back when it reaches your place in the queue. Unfortunately it calls back far too quickly, will call back after 20 minutes but still leave you on hold for another hour.
    • The line for the IRS is akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Pick the wrong branch, and it hangs up on you. And if you are lucky enough to get to where you want to be, your trials do not end there: you will be made to wait AT LEAST an hour before you speak to anyone.
    • Even the one American government phone number that should connect you with a human being instantly and 100% of the time, namely 9-1-1, will route you to an automated hold message in places with understaffed call centers, as shown here on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
  • It is sometimes possible to subvert the system entirely by ringing the bank/insurance company's/utilities company's sales number. The same company that will make you go through the numbers and still have to wait ten minutes to get customer service will unnaccountably have its dedicated sales team answer the phone immediately using a real person. you can then have an immediate conversation as follows:
    Them: BarcloydsSantanNatBank of Scotland, how can I help you/can you answer a few security questions?
    You: Good. You can obviously access my details or you wouldn't have been able to confirm my identity.
    Them: Can I interest you in our—
    You: No. To save me hanging around on your other line, can you tell me my current balance?
  • During the Japanese invasion of Malaysia in WW2, British commanders using the telephone to communicate would find themselves cut off at the three minute mark by the telephone operators.

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Video Example(s):


Calling the DVLA

GradeAUnderA demonstrates what happens when you call the DVLA in the United Kingdom.

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Main / ForInconveniencePressOne

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