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Lightswitch Surprise

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After a long night with the guys, Bob comes home at 3 a.m., and walks into the room. He reaches for the light switch, until he hears a familiar voice saying nearby, "Hello Bob." It is his wife, Alice, perhaps in curlers and carrying a rolling pin. Bob is in for it now.

This is a trope most commonly found in Western Animation and sitcoms, where a married man is out later than usual and upon returning is suddenly surprised to see his wife, despite it being late at night, or just not expecting her at all. The room is usually dark. It can be expanded in all areas, like children coming home late at night with their parents waiting.

See also Matchlight Danger Revelation.



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     Film - Animation 
  • In The Incredibles, Bob returns home, eats a slice of cake, and discovers Helen waiting up for him. Cue kung-fu pose with cake in hand.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In House Party, Kid has returned from the eponymous party, sneaking into the house through the window. He's just taken off his pants and is crawling into bed. Cue the voice of his father in the doorway.
    Father: "I wouldn't do that just yet." *belt snap* "'Cause your ass is mine."
    This is followed by an absolutely hilarious conversation during the credits as Kid's father monologues punctuated by cracks of the belt and Kid's cries of pain.
  • In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of Lolita, Humbert Humbert comes home and turns on the lights to reveal Claire Quilty (known to the audience but not Humbert) in the guise of the college psychiatrist, Dr. Zempf. "I sat in ze dark to save you ze expense of ze electricity." Given his general behavior, it's likely this is a deliberate attempt to screw with Humbert's head.

  • Played for absolute drama in Peeps. She uses the darkness to test his reflexes, proving her suspicions he's a Peep.
  • The Fredric Brown short story "Nightmare in Yellow": The main character is coming home from work on his birthday and decides to start a new life, starting with killing his wife. He does so on the front porch when she comes out to greet him, then steps inside propping up her body, turns on the light and... all the birthday guests shout, "SURPRISE!"
  • From The Highlands reverses the usual parent-child version of this trope. At the end of the story, Anton sneaks back into his cabin to find his teenage daughter waiting up for him.
  • Early into The Outsiders 14-year old Ponyboy accidentally falls asleep with a friend and stays up past his curfew (which is 12 AM). When he arrives home at 3 AM his Promoted to Parent brothers give him a scolding.

     Live-Action TV  
  • White Collar does it with The Reveal.
  • Psych also had an episode with this.
  • Mad Men, naturally. Always played for drama.
  • On the show Titus, Christopher Titus describes a surprise party they threw for his uncle. When he walks in the door and the lights go on and people start yelling, he draws a revolver and starts shooting, injuring at least one guest. He then realizes what's happening and says "You guys."
  • On the show Teen Wolf Scott came home, closed the window, turned on the lights and BAM! There was Derek, sitting in a chair expectantly. Stiles went to Scott's house, went to his room, closed the door, turned on the lights and saw Scott sitting in a chair.
  • In Seinfeld, in the episode "The Bizarro Jerry", Kramer returns home to Jerry's apartment after a day at "work", when he turns on the light and finds Jerry sitting in the dark. Jerry is sitting at the table and they argue about Kramer being late.
  • The George Lopez Show: The Stinger for "George Goes to Disneyland" has George coming home late and being greeted by Max, who reminds him that he called into work sick with a tummy ache. He then turns on the light to reveal George covered in Disneyland merchandise, and he yells "I knew it! You went to Disneyland without me!".
  • In Stranger Things, when Nancy returns home late from Steve's party, her mother is waiting in the corridor to berate her.
  • The Defenders (2017): When Matt drops by the Bulletin to grab Karen and move her into police protection, he announces his presence by turning on a desk lamp at the cubicle outside her office door, getting her to look up from her work.
  • Played for laughs in Black Books, when Manny comes home from an evening out with friends to find Bernard sitting in a chair waiting up for him, with Bernard proceeding to yell at him like a parent who's been waiting for an errant child all night. For context, Manny is a middle-aged man and Bernard is merely his employer/landlord.
    Bernard: Maybe all those other little boys who work in bookshops can do whatever they want, but you're under my roof! You'll follow my rules! This isn't Waterstones!

  • The Stephen Foster song "My Wife Is a Most Knowing Woman" has these lines:
    Not often I go out to dinner
    And come home a little "so so,"
    I try to creep up through the hall-way,
    As still as a mouse, on tip-toe,
    She's sure to be waiting up for me
    And then comes a nice little scene...
  • Happens in the music video for "Love of My Life" by Erykah Badu: she comes home late (and presumably drunk, given the way the music is "screwed" and the scene is blurry) with her date (actually Li'l Flip), to find her mother waiting on the couch and asking where she's been.
  • Country singer Colin Raye has a song called "That's My Story" in which he insists that he fell asleep in the back yardnote  only to find out that his wife put the hammock in storage a week ago.

     Newspaper Comics 
  • Happens in Zits with Jeremy sneaking home after his curfew and thinking he's got away with it, but his parents are laying inside his bedroom door in a sleeping bag. He faints.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • This is the subject of a few Jeff Foxworthy bits:
    • There is, of course, every guy who stays out way too late drinking with his buddies.
      "We always say something like, "Baby, I'll be back by 5:30, quarter 'till six at the latest." Then we come rolling in, like...February."
    • And then there's teenage Jeff trying to sneak back into his house after curfew, only to meet "The Creature from the Bathrobe Lagoon".
      Mom: I don't wanna know where you've been, what you've been doing, or who you've been doing it with.
      Jeff: Thank goodness, Mom, 'cause the details are a little fuzzy to me at this point.
      Mom: You march your fuzzy butt in here, mister. Now where were you tonight?
      Jeff: Well, Mom, I was in a hot tub with ten naked women.
      Mom: That is sick. I don't wanna hear about it.
      Dad: Hold on, baby, I'd like to hear a few details. Ten of 'em, huh? That's my boy!

     Web Original 
  • The short Switch is built around this trope. A young man is dropped into a small darkened room and all he can find is the switch for a unseen overhead light. Whenever he turns on the light, the room might be empty... or there might be a huge monster growling at him. Or there might be a mass of tentacles there. Or a pretty girl in a bikini. Or...eyes.. The empty room is boring and the pretty girl keeps turning the light off, if you're wondering why he doesn't stay on one of those two.
  • In Marvel Rising Ultimate Comics, Dante tries to sneak home after being out too late, but his parents are there waiting for him.

     Western Animation 
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • One episode has Harold walking in with his wife there waiting, unknowingly to him, with wonderful news.
    • This is played straight and inverted in an episode where the Professor begins dating a disguised Sedusa. The first time it's used, she scolds the girls for being out at night despite them being superheroes. Later on, the roles get reversed when the girls sit in the living room waiting for her to come home after a crime-spree.
  • The Boondocks, with Granddad and another one of his insane girlfriends.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants had an amusing example: Patrick came home from a party to a waiting SpongeBob.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Brother from the Same Planet", Bart comes home from spending time with his "bigger brother" Tom. He opens the door to find Homer sitting on the stairs in the shadows. Homer confronts him about where he was.
    "You've been out gallivanting around with that floozy of a bigger brother of yours, haven't you? Haven't you?!
  • A recurring sketch on Black Comedy Monkey Dust: A sad looking man arrived home late at night to find his wife waiting up for him. He explains his lateness with an elaborate, detailed and dubious story. Skeptical wife asks him what he's really been doing. Man confesses to something disturbingly degrading. Funnier than it sounds.
  • The American Dad! episode "All About Steve" has a three-fer. Stan comes home and walks into the living room, where Steve confronts him over having a black man else pose as him at a CIA softball game because he's ashamed that his son is a weak nerd. Then he enters the kitchen, where Francine chews him out about the same. Finally, he goes to the bathroom and is greeted by a bruised-up Roger, who tells him "I got beat up by a taco".
  • BoJack Horseman attempts to pull this on Hollyhock in Season 4, sitting in the dark for five hours to invoke it. Unfortunately for him, he realizes only after trying to turn the light on that the bulb had burned out, prompting him to run out of the room to replace it, and then pull the trope off.

     Real Life 


Example of: