Follow TV Tropes


Impersonation Paradox

Go To

An Impersonation Paradox is a noted curiosity in doing impressions. It basically states that the more often a person attempts to imitate a celebrity, character, etc., the worse he will be at it, and the less a person tends to attempt it, the better he will be at it. This might be explained by the fact that one who can do the imitation perfectly will be satisfied in knowing that he can, and won't need to attempt it at every chance.


This is directly related to Flanderization and Character Exaggeration. If someone has Flanderized his mental picture of the celeb, then the actual celeb, untouched by Adaptation Decay, will no longer match the mental picture.

This is also a huge problem for people writing Real-Person Fic.

Compare Your Costume Needs Work, in which the real thing is mistaken for a fake. Also see Bad Impressionists.


  • Jon Stewart doing an impression of anything will usually be followed by his apologizing for how terrible the impression was.
    • "Oh, Bush impression. I'll miss you most of all."
  • Dana Carvey's impression of George H. W. Bush started out somewhat accurate but ended up such an exaggeration of an exaggeration that it didn't resemble Bush at all. This came full circle when Bush appeared on Saturday Night Live to chew Dana out: "I have never said 'nah gah dah!'"
    • Dana Carvey himself said his Bush was more like a spastic Paul Lynde.
  • Darrell Hammond has stated in interviews that he CAN do a fairly good Sean Connery, but that the crazed, perverse characterization that eventually evolved on the Celebrity Jeopardy series of sketches was just funnier, so he and the writers ran with it.
    • Hammond's Donald Trump impression was fairly accurate for Trump's persona on The Apprentice, but after Trump adopted a more fiery, bombastic style for his presidential campaign, Hammond's Trump seemed way too sedate and unenergetic. Taran Killam's Trump also had the same issue. Ultimately Alec Baldwin was able to nail the newer Trump mannerisms.
  • Rich Little based his entire career on vocal impersonations. Fridge Logic reveals that most of them were terrible.
    Stewart: I feel terrible!
    Little: How do you think we feel? We've been watching you for 40 years!
    • His Richard Nixon impression helped him gain prominence. After a while, a lot of his other impressions started sounding like Nixon doing impressions of celebrities.
  • Played with in the Saturday Night Live sketch "The Mimic," which starred Alec Baldwin as the Mimic. He had the Informed Ability of being a perfect vocal mimic, but his actual voices were crude stereotypes – and the other characters recognized his badness within the skit.
    • Subverted at the end of "The Mimic" sketch when, while being shown out the door by the butler James (played by that night's musical guest Paul McCartney), Alec Baldwin does a perfect Paul McCartney impression.
  • Towards the end of George W. Bush's last term in office, the main stage cast at the Second City Toronto collectively lost the ability (or perhaps the will) to do a passingly accurate Bush impersonation. The end result? An entire revue where Bush was portrayed as a manic leprechaun.
  • Billy West's impersonation of Richard Nixon's Head on Futurama, which really sounds nothing like Nixon did in real life. In one DVD commentary, West admits that he did so deliberately; he didn't think that a spot-on impersonation would be funny enough.
  • Advertisement:
  • Played with by Andy Kaufman's "Foreign Man" character, who would naively present terrible celebrity impressions ("Hi, I am the president Jeemy Carter. Tank you veddy much") until the audience was embarrassed for him. At that point he would reveal that his costume was a disguised Elvis costume, and swing into the best Elvis impersonation anyone had ever seen – concluding the act with the same "Tank you veddy much." Elvis himself is said to have loved it.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: