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Newhart Phonecall

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"Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue", from The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart
"Hello? Royal Chutney Supply? Yes, Royal Falooda speaking. Yes, yes, Royal Falooda. Your mayor! Do you know there is no chutney coming in the dam? Do something! I've done my job, now you do yours! What? No chutney anywhere? [screams]"
Mayor Royal Falooda, Simple Samosa

Simply put, a phone call in which only one half of the conversation is heard, though this trope isn't limited to just phone calls. This trope is sometimes used in conjunction with a Noodle Incident or Noodle Implements (see the Saturday Night Live example below).

It can involve Repeating So the Audience Can Hear, if the audience is intended to understand both sides of the conversation. It becomes quite funny when the speaker repeats the exact words from the other side of the line, for no other reason other than this. Alternatively, the audience can be deliberately left in the dark and forced to imagine what the person on the other end is saying. This can lead either to drama and tension, or be played for laughs.

Alternatively, both halves of the conversation may be heard, per se, but from the audience's perspective, the words being spoken by the person on the other end of the line come through as comically sped-up babbling or some other form of unintelligible gobbledygook (sometimes done to imply really vulgar language). If the audience eventually gets to hear both headlines of the phone call, it may lead to Once More, with Clarity!.


Named after Bob Newhart, who used it in his Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy routines in the 1960s as well as some of his works below.


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    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: In Season 2 episode 31, when Headmaster Tele takes a call on the phone, the person on the other end of the line cannot be heard speaking.
  • Motu Patlu: In "John Banega Don", John gets a call informing him that the person who was supposed to receive a suitcase full of money as payment for some diamonds is still waiting for Number 1 and Number 2 to give them the suitcase. The person calling John cannot be heard over the phone at all.
  • The page quote is from the Simple Samosa episode "Chutney Dam", where Mayor Royal Falooda has a phone conversation while in the bathroom. Only Falooda can be heard speaking coherently; the person on the other end is only heard as sped-up gibberish.

    Comic Books 
  • Tintin: Played usually straight. If you could actually hear both sides of the conversation it would be a very tedious affair. "The Captain went out for a stroll in the garden, and should be back by 2:00." "The Captain went out for a stroll in the garden, and should be back by 2:00?" Late in Cigars of the Pharaoh, at the reunion of the drug cartel, The Dragon initially averts it in his phone call with the leader, but lapses back into it when he learns there is an impostor. In the animated version, it's inverted.
  • Superman:
    • In the beginning of New Krypton, Lana Lang receives a call from Perry White. Although Perry's side of the conversation is not given, it is clear he is trying -and failing- to talk Lana into returning to her job in the Daily Planet.
    • In contrast, in "Death & the Family", we hear Lana's side of her call to Perry explaining why she must take a leave of absence... and yes, she would like keeping her job.
      Lana Lang: Perry, I understand... No, I told you, I had a doctor's appointment.... Yes, I know it's the third one this week. Look, can I talk to you about this when I get there? No, I know my attendance has been spotty... Yes, Perry, I like my job...

    Fan Works 
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! fic "Loaded Bones," Bakura rings Marik to find out whether his Superpowered Evil Side is having him on about having used their shared body to have sex with Marik. Marik's side of the conversation isn't given, but is implied by Bakura's (mainly flustered) responses.
  • The premise of No More Phones in the Grocery Store is that the unnamed viewpoint character was doing some shopping and overheard one side of a very odd phone call.
  • In A Gem of a Day, Sunset Shimmer has one with Applejack when the latter calls to say she and Rarity are in jail.
  • In Aki-chan's Life, Shinji and Kensuke are talking on the phone. It is unknown what Kensuke is asking Shinji, but his request is giving him a headache.
    Shinji: Hello? Ah, Kensuke? If I have what? So what was... You want what?! No! How do you even know about that? No, wait, I don't want to know...

  • In Dr. Strangelove, we hear President Muffley's side of his call to Soviet Premier Kisov explaining the situation. From the way Muffley has to keep explaining things in simple terms and nudging the conversation back on topic, it's clear that (as the Soviet ambassador warned) Kisov is thoroughly drunk.
  • Hell Is for Heroes is a 1962 film about WWII GIs who have to hold an outpost until their relief arrives. They occupy an abandoned German pillbox with a microphone linked back to enemy headquarters. Bob Newhart plays an army clerk who makes fake radio reports so the Germans will believe that the squad is bigger than it is. Many of them are quite funny.
  • Early on in My Cousin Vinny, one of the defendants calls his mother to let her know that, first, they've been arrested and second they're being charged with murder. Judging by his dialogue, she reacts exactly as you'd expect.
  • A Special Day: How we learn Gabriele is gay. His long talk with the person on the other end of the phone, obviously his lover, ends with him addressing the other person as "Marco".
  • Air Bud: After Norman Snively reclaims Buddy from Josh, he can be heard talking on his telephone when Josh sneaks on his lawn. Before noticing that Josh is there, Snively can be heard trying to get Buddy on a talk show.
  • Done twice in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy involving station manager Ed Harken (played by Fred Willard) having trouble with his son.
    I have no idea where he could've gotten a hold of German pornography.
  • This happens in The Trial of the Chicago 7 in a conversation between Bernadine and a cruel caller.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Practically Once an Episode in The Bob Newhart Show, and a Running Gag in Newhart.
  • Saturday Night Live in the 1970s did this at the beginning of Weekend Update with Chevy Chase, in which Chase would be on the phone with a woman, talking about a bizarre medical condition, sexual act, or something that happened that isn't described in full detail before realizing he's on camera and hanging up.
  • Supernatural. While Dean is saying on the phone "It totally rocked my understanding of the word 'necrophilia'," a passing woman shoots him a look of disgust.
  • Referred to on Mystery Science Theater 3000 when Mike refers to an uneventful scene of a man talking on the phone as "the unfunny half of a Bob Newhart routine''.
  • A particularly hilarious one from Coupling:
    Steve: Jeff, calm down. Jeff, just listen, okay. Three things. One, you should not be using your mobile phone on a plane. Two, the name of the island is pronounced Lesbos. [beat] Yeah, well that was fairly optimistic of you, wasn't it. Three, the behaviour of breast implants at altitude isn't a subject I can claim great knowledge on. [beat] Yeah, I'm fairly sure you can't raise it with a complete stranger. [beat] No, whatever danger you think she's in. [beat] No Jeff, not even with the people in "shrapnel range"! Okay, look, I'm going to hang up now. [beat] Because I don't want to endanger a planeload of innocent passengers by prolonging a conversation about the hazards of breast inflation.
  • In an episode of Roseanne, she gets a call at work reporting on something DJ did:
    Roseanne: Hi, Darlene... I can't hear you, tell Becky to stop screaming... How could he do that? He's not even home... okay, put it in a trash bag and I'll bury it when I get home.
  • Done semi-regularly on Monty Python's Flying Circus. On several occasions the person on the phone is apparently asked their shoe size for no apparent reason.
  • A recurring gag on Barney Miller. One episode in which New York is experiencing a severe drought:
    Barney: No, sir, I'm not aware of any ordinances against ship-building within city limits... Sorry, but for animals you'd have to contact the Central Park Zoo... No, I don't know how many feet are in a cubit...
  • Shaun Micallef is fond of the gag. Commonly the call will come after/in the middle of the joke to "correct" Shaun on something. For example, Shaun starting a segment talking about Jimeoinnote  being accused of being a war criminal, only to have the caller apparently correct him and explain that it's Jim Molannote . Perhaps the most noteworthy use was on "Micallef Tonight" when he called up the Channel 9 switchboard live on air to complain about the quality of his own programme (shortly before it was cancelled).
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel references Newhart's routine in the pilot when Joel (without Midge's knowledge) steals his act while performing at a local club. Midge catches on when she sees Newhart himself doing it on television, while Joel dismisses her concerns by telling her everyone starting out does it. In a Brick Joke later in the series, another up-and-comer can be seen performing the same routine.
    • Season 2 sees Midge and Benjamin attend a club where Lenny Bruce is performing, and Lenny's routine that night includes a segment on this.
  • Any time anyone in Dekh Bhai Dekh makes a phone call, the person being called cannot be heard speaking. For example, in episode 1, Sanju calls Sunita, but Sunita's voice cannot be heard.
  • Doctor Who: In "Blink", there's a mystery Easter Egg on 17 DVDs all owned by Sally Sparrow, in which the Doctor makes random remarks that are clearly one-half of a conversation. Them of course being cryptic instructions to Sally on how to return the phone box to the Doctor, who's trapped in 1969.
  • An episode of Becker has a running gag where Linda's soon-to-be-divorced parents keep calling the office, with Linda, Margaret and eventually Becker blowing various secrets that the other parent was keeping, each time adding "Okay, I did not know you didn't know about that."
  • In "Control" from Tales from the Loop, Ed's wife Kate takes their daughter Beth and leaves home to go stay with her brother Henry after Ed gets out of control with the Scrapper, a giant robot that he purchased to try to protect his family following break-ins in the local area. Later, Ed calls Henry to try to talk with Kate, but ends up only talking with Henry and we only hear Ed's side of the conversation, and his pain at having alienated his wife and daughter.
  • Used on occasion in Le Cœur a ses Raisons, always with some kind of twist. One in particular has Criquette exaggerating the Repeating So the Audience Can Hear trop to its most extreme before revealing the receiver she used was a shoe, while another one has Brett repeatedly thanking Lewis over the phone when he was in fact talking to Ashley.

  • "Shriner's Convention" by Ray Stevens consists of a one-sided dialogue, via hotel phone, between two members of the Hahira, Georgia, delegation: leader "Illustrious Potentate" (Bubba), and member "Noble Lumpkin" (Coy). Over the course of the conversation we hear from Bubba about Coy's various exploits which include getting his Harley-Davidson motorcycle into his hotel room and on the high diving board of the hotel swimming pool, and his girlfriend streaking through their banquet yelling out the "secret code," wearing nothing but Coy's fez.
  • Multiple songs have one-sided phone conversations with Black talking to his supervisor, White, on the other line. Forever Gone in particular is almost entirely a Newhart phonecall as Black reports his progress while tracing a target.
  • A classic early '60s hit, "Chantilly Lace" by The Big Bopper, is mostly a guy talking on the phone with his girlfriend.
    "Do I what?...Will I what?...Oh, baby, you know what I like!"

    Professional Wrestling 
  • One of the regular skits on GLOW were the Easy As KGB segments, featuring Col. Ninotchka (a typical anti-American Russian wrestler) on the phone with her very stupid subordinate, Vladimir.
  • Paul E. Dangerously used to regularly carry a cell phone with him at all times in WCW, sometimes talking to someone while a match was in progress. Naturally, only his half of the conversation got shown on TV.

    Puppet Shows 
  • A Bert and Ernie sketch on Sesame Street has Ernie alone in the apartment while Bert's away visiting his brother. Ernie makes two calls of this type, first to say he's thirsty and then — after getting a drink of water per Bert's suggestion — to tell him he can't sleep. An unheard Bert suggests counting sheep, which Ernie proceeds to do... out loud, with Bert still on the line.
    Ernie: One sheep... Two sheep... What's that, Bert? No, I didn't forget to hang up the phone, Bert... Three sheep... What do you mean, 'Why you', Bert?... Four sheep...

  • A Running Gag on Fibber McGee and Molly. Whenever Fibber would make a telephone call, he would get sidetracked by a conversation with the operator ("Is that you, Myrt? How's every little thing, Myrt?") and would never get connected to whomever he was calling. Myrt's half of the conversation was left to the listener's imagination.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Bob Newhart had a lot of routines using this, perhaps the most memorable of which is his King Kong routine, in which a security guard at the Empire State Building's first night on the job is interrupted by the ape's ascent. Listen to it here. Interestingly, when he was first starting out Newhart was actually part of a more standard double act with a coworker at the advertising agency where he worked who would play the person on the other side of call, with the routine being a more traditional back-and-forth. When this person eventually decided to not to pursue comedy, instead of finding a replacement Newhart simply decided to keep his side of the conversations and let the audience imagine the other side.
  • Lily Tomlin's Ernestine character was a telephone operator. Audiences heard only her half of her conversations.
  • Shelly Berman was good at this sort of thing. His most famous bit was The Morning After The Night Before, where he calls his friend after a wild party, and hears about his unremembered drunken behavior.
  • Alan Bennett's 'Telegram' sketch, in which he attempts to dictate a telgram he wishes to send to the operator over the telephone and keeps being sidetracked.
  • The Two Ronnies well-known "crossed-lines" sketch, where we hear only half the conversation of two people standing next to each other. Each half, on its own, would be innocent enough but hearing them together produces...hilarity!
  • Georgie Jessel often did a routine where he talked to his mother on the telephone this way.
  • One of the earliest hit comedy recordings, from 1913, was called "Cohen on the Telephone". A man with a thick Yiddish accent tried to call someone and among other things, was constantly having to repeat things because the person on the other end kept misunderstanding him.
  • One of Ellen DeGeneres' early routines was her acting out a phone call to God. She got her big break performing it on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
  • A favorite routine of Spanish stand-up comedian Miguel Gila (1919-2001). Most of his skits in this vein were war satires, picking up a phone in full soldier gear to talk to the enemy.

  • Black Friday: Exaggerated to the point of hilarity with Linda, who's on the phone with her husband Gerald the entire show. At first it's believable, since he's keeping the car warm while she gets in line and expects to be out in ten minutes, but then she keeps right on blathering at him even as an all-out riot breaks out, a Hate Plague infects everyone — herself included — and she ends up becoming the leader of a cult.
    Linda: I dislike that word, Gerald, cult. No, it's an exciting new religion that I started!

    Video Games 

  • In We Are The Wyrecats, K.A. walks in on a tense phone conversation her dad is having. The audience can only hear his side of the conversation, but it's easy to see what the discussion was.

    Web Original 
  • The premise of Jonathan Pie is that Pie is a TV journalist talking to his director between takes. The director talks through his earpiece, giving this effect.
  • Deciding to reference and poke fun at his own lack of knowledge about (association) football, Chris Denker starts off the sixth episode of his FIFA17 series with one of these in response to getting loaned out from Manchester United to Oldham Athletic, a team two leagues down from where he started.
    Chris: ...the only reason we won the Champion's Trophy is because of me so, honestly, what is this bullshit about?! ... W-What's that mean, how many times did I go offside? That's... not relevant to this conversation! ... Okay, I called it "soccer" a couple times. ... No, I can't name five players on our team but I don't think that this is pertinent!
  • Played very much for tension in Petscop, where Paul has often called the original intended recipient of his videos. We never hear their voice, and all we know for sure about them is that they are not "part of 'The Family'", and as such, do not have a room in the Child Library.
  • In the Strong Bad Email "50 emails", Strong Bad is interrupted by a phone call while in the middle of trying to answer fifty emails in a row. From what we hear, he appears to be trying to sell his little brother Strong Sad's legs on the black market.
    Strong Bad: No, they're more like elephant feet. Yeah. So what do you think, like, 50 bucks? Sounds good. [whispers] I'll leave the key under the at-may.
  • In episode 6 "Present" from Salad Fingers, Salad Fingers has one of this, except it's a toilet, not a phone. The next scene seems the be the conversation from the other side.
  • World War II: The introductory phone calls that start every episode take this format, usually employed as a method of foreshadowing.
  • Twitch streamers responding to chat messages can come across like this when watching recorded streams without a chat overlay, or if the chat is moving too fast to keep up. Assuming they don't get into the habit of reading the entire message out before replying.

    Western Animation 
  • Robot Chicken:
    • In a Star Wars sketch, Palpatine is on the phone with Vader when Vader tells him that the Death Star blew up. Palpatine gets angry with Vader, making him cry over losing Padmé.
    • Also used in a skit where Dr. Claw learns that his cat is dying of cancer.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Used humorously when Bart finds himself trapped in Knoxville, Tennessee with no money to fly home. He calls Lisa for help:
      Lisa: Alright, alright, what about a courier? They travel for free, too.
      Lisa: No, that's a terrier. They're dogs.
    • It happens again later in the same episode, when Marge has to answer phone calls stemming from Bart's misadventures.
      [phone rings]
      Marge: Hello? Oh, hello, Principal Skinner. No, Bart has never been to Hong Kong. Goodnight.
      [phone rings]
      Marge: Hello? Tennessee State Police! No, my son's car is not crushed in Knoxville. I don't know where to begin telling you what's wrong with that. Goodnight.
      [phone rings]
      Marge: Hello? No, Bart is not available tomorrow to deliver a human kidney to Amsterdam. [slams phone down] Homer, are you laughing at me?
    • A hilarious one happens in the episode where politicians descend on Springfield to sway voters:
      Bill Clinton: (places a "Vote Hillary Clinton" yard sign then calls her) Alright honey that's the last one! What's next?
      Bill: Twenty-five more?! What the hell did I do to you?!
      Bill: Ugh, you're never gonna let that go, are you?
  • The pilot episode of Phineas and Ferb features one of these while Candace is talking with her (as yet unseen) best friend, Stacey:
    Candace: "What are they doing right now? Why do you ask? What do you mean you can see it from your house? SEE WHAT?!"
  • Dexter's Laboratory: Dexter's Dad gets a couple of these at the end of "Average Joe".
  • Futurama uses this in one episode:
    Farnsworth: Oh, how awful. Did he at least die peacefully? [pause] To shreds, you say. Tsk tsk tsk. Well, how's his wife holding up? [pause] To shreds, you say.
  • Kaeloo:
    • Whenever Ursula is talking on the phone with Stumpy, this happens so that the audience doesn't see her.
    • In "Let's Play Time Travel", when Mr. Cat calls the time machine company so that he can order a time machine, only he can be heard speaking coherently while the person on the other end of the line can only be heard as sped-up gibberish.
  • In "Arthur's First Sleepover" from Arthur, Arthur asks his mother, Mrs. Read, to call Buster's mother, Bitzi Baxter, after finding out she told Buster he couldn't come to Arthur's sleepover because she's worried he'll be scared due to the recent talk of alien spaceships. We don't hear what Bitzi says other than her answering "Hello?" and a sped-up babble and Mrs. Read barely gets a word in edgewise, but the upshot is that Buster can come.
  • Similarly, in "Franklin Has a Sleepover" from Franklin, Franklin places a call to Bear after his parents agree to allow him to invite Bear over for a sleepover. After Mrs. Bear picks up, Franklin asks to speak to Bear. We hear Bear's side of the conversation, which consists of "You did? ... They did? ... We can? I'll ask. (stops to asks his parents if it's okay) Franklin, I can! Okay, see you later."

    Real Life 
  • In some online forums, you can block a particular person so that they cannot send you messages and you cannot see anything they post. When other people do not have them blocked, it can create surreal situations where you see people replying to posts you can't see, leaving you to guess what the blocked person is saying. If one of the other people are feeling particularly puckish, they might invoke this trope, replying to imagined comments instead of real ones because they know you can't tell the difference.
    • This may also happen when the other person has canceled their account, or "unfriended" you, even if there was no blocking involved.


Video Example(s):


Palpatine's Phone Call

The iconic Robot Chicken Skit where Emperor Palpatine gets a bad phone call from Darth Vader.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / NewhartPhonecall

Media sources:

Main / NewhartPhonecall