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Funny Phone Misunderstanding

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Roddy: I'm being attacked by a madwoman! She's got crayons!
Waiter: One chicken chow mein with... wonton?
Roddy: No, crayons!

Two characters are having a phone conversation. We may be hearing one or both of them. Then, one of them says something, causing the other one to misunderstand, with hilarious results, and that's what this trope is.

There are two basic variations that are the most common, though other variations exist. The first one is when one character says something to themselves or another person, and the person on the other side of the phone thinks they're talking to them. This can be embarrassing, especially if what they said was profanity or an insult.

The other way this can be played out is if the second character simply misheard, perhaps due to mumbling or a bad connection. If that's the case, expect to hear something like "What?! No, no, I said X!"

Compare I Can't Hear You, Out-of-Context Eavesdropping, Mistaken for Prank Call, Poor Communication Kills, One Dialogue, Two Conversations, and Lost in Transmission. Also compare Embarrassing Ringtone, Funny Answering Machine, Prank Call, The Operators Must Be Crazy, Smell Phone, and Video Call Fail for other comical phone tropes. Can happen if the person on one side of the phone is using an Ear Trumpet or otherwise hard of hearing. Common when someone is Playing Cyrano, Landline Eavesdropping, or having an Earpiece Conversation.


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  • A commercial for the Discover card has a caller asking the representative about various services. The representative says they offer fraud protection, but the caller hears this as "frog protection". The caller seems to be obsessed with frogs, making this a possible justified example.
  • A Sprint ad campaign (c. 2001) had the salesman showing up in the aftermath of misunderstandings (e.g., a farmer receiving dachshunds instead of oxen) saying they wouldn't happen on Sprint's network.
  • One of the more well-known State Farm ads involves a husband calling the company at night to learn about their insurance deals. His wife comes down and thinks he's talking to another woman. It didn't help that he actually did sound like he was doing dirty talk.
    Husband: Yeah, I'm married. Does it matter? Would you do that for me? Really? Yeah, I'd like that.
    Wife: [comes down and turns on the light] Who're you talking to?
    Husband: It's Jake from State Farm. [on the phone] It sounds like a really good deal.
    Wife: Jake from State Farm at 3 in the morning? [snatches phone] Who is this?!
    Husband: It's... Jake from State Farm.
    Wife: Well what are you wearing "Jake from State Farm"?
    Jake: [at a cubicle] Uhh, khakis?
    Wife: [to the husband] She sounds hideous.
    Husband: Well she's a guy, so...
  • A 2021 Superbowl ad from T-Mobile gives an explanation for why Tom Brady joined the Buccaneers. In the commercial, Rob Gronkowski was trying to convince him to retire by describing what he could do while relaxing in Florida. Due to a bad connection, however, Brady instead heard his words as a challenge to come and win another game, because retiring would make him weak.

    Asian Animation 
  • Lamput: In "Love Chat", Fat Doc is talking to his girlfriend on the phone, with Lamput being grabbed by him by accident. Fat Doc shouts at Lamput, but his girlfriend thinks he's shouting at her, creating unnecessary, comedic drama between them as Fat Doc struggles to convince her that yelling wasn't directed at her.
  • In an episode of Osomatsu-san, Karamatsu gets kidnapped and Chibita calls the remaining brothers for ransom. Jyuushimatsu thinks he's been turned into a demon instead of kidnapped ("yokai" instead of "yuukai"), then mishears "high tide" (manchou) and thinks Karamatsu's getting an enema (kanchou) in the ocean.
    • The English dub preserves the gag by first having Jyuushimatsu mishear "ransom" as Chibita calling his brother "handsome", then assuming "high tide" meant "Karamatsu is getting high" in the ocean.

  • The Ur-Example is the 1913 recording "Cohen on the Telephone", a monologue by comedian Joe Hayman about a Jewish fellow (with a heavy Yiddish accent) trying to explain to his landlord that he needs a repairman.
  • One prank from Mac King, from when phones were mostly analogue, was to hold the phone out and facing away from you to muffle your voice enough to seem like someone else from across the room, and to hold a conversation where it seems like some jerk is interrupting your phone call to talk crap about the other person on the line.

    Comic Books 
  • In an Archie Comics newspaper strip (republished in the comic book under "Gag Bag" as usual), Archie is a bit puzzled when he picks up Veronica dressed for a royal ball. When she says "Didn't you invite me to the 'Royal Society's Big Countess Affair'?", Archie replies that she should get her phone fixed. The final panel has Veronica slightly horrified as they drive up to "Rural Society's Pig Contest and Fair".
  • Tintin:
    • In The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin is on the phone with Haddock, trying to say that he's in Marlinspike Hall and to bring the police. Haddock, unfortunately, mishears "police" as "Greece", and "Marlinspike" as "Starlings bite" and "Martin's bike". Then, when Tintin tries to correct him, saying, "Marlinspike's the name!", Haddock replies, "What sort of game?"
    • In The Castafiore Emerald, several times Haddock would be on the phone, only to be interrupted by the parrot, and copiously insult it without remembering to cover the phone.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert has these strips in which the Pointy-Haired Boss asks Dilbert to go through his desk and office and find the billing codes, but Dilbert hears "throw... my... desk... off... building...", which he and Alice then do. They also lampshade it.
  • Garfield: In this strip, Jon is talking to a woman named Debbie on the phone. Garfield sneaks off with his steak and Jon angrily says " You fat greedy pig! I oughta shave you bald and put you out in the cold!". Debbie immediately hangs up, thinking he was talking to her.

    Films — Animation 
  • 101 Dalmatians:
    • When Cruella and Jasper are on the phone together, Horace is complaining and Jasper says to him "Ah, shut up you bloomin' idiot!" Cruella responds with a Big "WHAT?!", and Jasper says, "No, not you, miss, I mean Horace!"
    • When Cruella calls Anita and Roger to offer sympathy for their puppies being stolen, Roger, seeing through it and believing she was responsible, takes the phone from Anita and yells "Where are they?!" Anita takes the phone back from him saying "You idiot!", with Cruella offended for a second time.
  • Despicable Me:
    • In one scene, Gru tells Dr. Nefario over his cellphone that he wants him to make a dozen cookie robots. Nefario mishears him and makes boogie robots instead. Gru chalks this up to Nefario being hard of hearing due to his old age.
    • Likewise, mishearing Gru's words on the phone is why Dr. Nefario makes a Fart Gun instead of a Dart Gun.
  • In Flushed Away, Rita the rat is throwing crayons at Roddy, who is using a cell phone as a shield. This ends up dialing the number of a restaurant. Roddy tries to tell the waiter, "I'm being attacked by a madwoman! She's got crayons!", but he mishears it as an order for a chicken chow mien with wanton. Roddy tries to explain, but the waiter still doesn't get it and asks Roddy if he wants his rice fried or white. Roddy gets sidetracked and almost orders fried rice, but then says, "No, wait— uh, cancel that order."
  • Wallace & Gromit: In The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Wallace says to Lady Tottington that "We'll be with you in— AAHH!" due to being pulled upwards by one of his machines. Tottington mistakes this as him saying he'll be there in an hour (they're both British). She tells him that she can't wait an hour, but of course there's no reply.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein: In one scene, Mr. Talbot tries to call Wilbur when he starts turning into a werewolf. As Wilbur hears growling on the other end, Wilbur tells him to stop gargling and keep his dog away from the phone.
    Wilbur: You're awful silly to call me all the way from London just to have your dog talk to me. [barks into the phone]
  • Duck Soup: Whilst under attack from an invading army, leader Rufus T Firefly struggles to make himself understood over the phone:
    Firefly: Get me headquarters!...Not "hindquarters", headquarters!
  • Mary Poppins: During the "Let's Go Fly a Kite" number, Constable Jones says over the phone, "That's what I said sir: go fly a kite". Since the expression "go fly a kite" was once used as a polite way to say "Go fuck yourself", he then adds, "Oh, no, sir I didn't mean you personally."
  • True Romance: A conversation between producer Lee Donowitz and dogsbody Elliot Blitzer is complicated by their relatively early-generation cell phones and traffic in the background. Elliot tells Lee that protagonist Clarence is a friend of Dick Richie. Lee asks, "Who the fuck is Dick?" A bemused Elliot replies, "You want me to suck his dick?"
  • Pride (2014): When the activist at Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners try to find a chapter of the Miner's union to sponsor, most hang up after the first three words of their name. However, Dai, the chair of the Onllwyn chapter couldn't quite understand them due to bad reception, assuming the acronym stood for "London something". But having come all the way to meet the activists, and being impressed by their zeal, he agrees to accept their solidarity, and invites them over to his village.

  • Sometimes happens in Amelia Bedelia because the title character is Literal-Minded:
    • In "Amelia Bedelia and the Cat", Amelia ends up on the phone with a vegetarian zookeeper named Mr. Lyon. She thinks he's a lion, and when she says that he can't be a vegetarian as he's a lion, he thinks she's accusing him of lying.
    • Several in "Calling Doctor Amelia Bedelia" that eventually lead to the people getting offended and forming an angry mob:
      • One woman says over the phone that she has hives. Amelia naturally assumes she means beehives and says, "I bet you have honey." The woman responds with "Don't call me honey!"
      • One man complains of being "hoarse", "sick as a dog", and having "a frog in his throat", so Amelia suggests calling the vet.
      • One man says that his nose hurts on the bridge. Amelia replies that he must get off that bridge, then.
  • Stanley Bagshaw and the Twenty-Two-Ton Whale: At one point, one character phones up another to get them to come see the whale turning around at the canal. Unfortunately, the second character mistakenly thinks the canal is on fire, due to mishearing "amazing" as "a-blazing", "whale" as "bail", and "turning around" as "burning down".
  • One Encyclopedia Brown mini-mystery uses this trope as its solution. The neighborhood Romeo, Tyrone Taylor, leaves a romantic message for his latest sweetheart, only for her to furiously tell him off and beat the stuffing out of him. Encyclopedia investigates and realizes that her little sister, who took the message, inadvertently punctuated it wrong, making the compliments seem like insults: "I want to say you're amazing. I can't stop thinking that you're the most beautiful girl in town" becomes "I want to say you're amazing—I can't. Stop thinking that you're the most beautiful girl in town," for example.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Parodied in Blackadder Goes Forth. To pretend he hasn't received Captain Darling's orders to assault the opposing German trench, Captain Blackadder goes through a rather elaborate Fake Static routine, and then tells George and Baldrick the message was gibberish:
    Captain Darling: Can you hear me? There's a terrible line at my end. Um, you're to advance on the enemy at once.
    Captain Blackadder: It sounded like he said he has a lion up his end, so there's an advantage to an enema at once.
  • In an early-'70s episode of Captain Kangaroo, the Captain's sidekick, Mr. Green Jeans, is on the telephone. We hear him say, to whoever it was on the phone,
    Mr. Green Jeans: No, it's not "Mr. Cream Cheese", it's "Mr. Green Jeans"!
  • A variation occurs in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Lost City Part 1". Dr. Jackson walks in and addresses Dr. Weir, who is looking at the Stargate. Jackson says that the gate is amazing, and Weir responds with "I don't really care." This irks Jackson until Weir turns around and we see she is talking to someone on the phone, using a hands-free headset.
  • In an episode of MacGyver, a Jewish store owner is seen holding a large padlock which seems to have just been delivered, and he says into the phone, "Not locks, lox!"

  • Shucked: Gordy gets two calls, one from the muscle telling him the crime boss has died and he's off the hook, and one from the jewelers telling him they were mistaken about the blue rocks and the ones in Cob County are worthless. Due to poor cell signal, he misunderstands both, thinking that the crime boss is coming after him and the rocks are still valuable.

    Web Videos 
  • Some Jerk with a Camera: In the "10 Years of Disney's California Adventure" video, Jerk jokes that the idea to make a tractor an attraction was born of poor cell phone reception.
    Jerk (imitating an executive): We need something big that'll really attract people, some... huge attractor!
    Jerk (imitating another executive): [while writing] Huge... tractor. Got it.
  • StacheBros: In the Super Smash Bros. episode of "Luigi Time!!!", Luigi has one when he calls to get his Wii repaired after Mario breaks it:
    Luigi: I'm calling because my brother broke my Wii. No, my Nintendo Wii!

    Western Animation 
  • The Loud House:
    • In "Project Loud House", Lori is heard saying on her phone, "No, not puke, Bobby; puce. It's a color."
    • In "Missed Connection", Bobby wants to tell Lori a story, but then Lori says, "Not another one!" She quickly explains that she thought she saw a baby snake, but it was only a scrunchie. Bobby then says, "That was a dumb idea," offending Lori, but he was talking to himself about accidentally making his dog throw up.
    • In "Get the Message", Lori accidentally insults Lincoln while on the phone with Bobby.
  • Martha Speaks: In one episode, Martha tries to phone up Helen's school but gets a psychologist instead. Martha is a talking dog, but the psychologist mistakes her for a human woman who's just delusional.
    Psychologist: Since when did you think you were a dog?
    Martha: Since I was a puppy?
  • Phineas and Ferb: In the two-parter "Where's Perry?", Jeremy and Candace are talking over the phone while the latter is on vacation in Africa. The line experiences some interference, and Jeremy tries to tell Candace about the signal break-up. Candace completely misconstrues what Jeremy is trying to say and assumes Jeremy is breaking up with her.
  • Rocko's Modern Life: In the episode "Cabin Fever" while trapped in a cabin, Ed Bighead builds a makeshift radio and gets a response from a teenage-sounding voice.
    Ed: Listen carefully, this is Ed Bighead. I'm trapped in a cabin in the mountains with my wife and two guys. Do you read?
    Voice: Um... right, okay. You want a large burger and two fries.
  • In the Rugrats episode "Mommy's Little Assets", Charlotte's employee Jonathan thinks she's calling him sweetie when really she was talking to her daughter Angelica.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "Big Pink Loser", Patrick is working at a restaurant and people phone up saying, "Is this the Krusty Krab?". That's what the restaurant is called, but Patrick, due to his stupidity, has forgotten, and he replies, "No, this is Patrick! I'm not a crusty crab!".
      SpongeBob: Uhh, Patrick, that's the name of the restaurant.
      Patrick: Huh? [groans in frustration] FISHPASTE!
    • In "The Bully", SpongeBob is walking through the halls of Mrs. Puff's Boating School lamenting how Flats the bully is gonna kick his butt when he suddenly hears a nearby payphone ringing. It turns out to be Patrick, who thinks he's calling a pizza place.
      SpongeBob: Death row, next in line speaking.
      Patrick: Hi, I'd like to place an order for delivery.
      SpongeBob: Patrick?! Is that you?!
      Patrick: Yeah, hey, Mario. Let me get a large double olive, double—
      SpongeBob: Patrick! Listen! It's me, SpongeBob! I need your help!
      Patrick: You're working at Pizza Castle now?
  • In the TaleSpin episode "Save the Tiger", one of Baloo's kidnappers is telling their boss that they successfully kidnapped Baloo, then angrily snaps at Baloo to shut up. He then has to frantically reassure his boss that he wasn't talking to him.


Video Example(s):


Helping Cheesecake Alone

When Wolf is helping Cheesecake alone and he plans to tell him what to say to his boss, a police officer walks up to Wolf's van and tells him he can't park in a red zone and he has to move his vehicle. While talking with the officer, Cheesecake ends up repeating what Wolf said to his boss.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / FunnyPhoneMisunderstanding

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