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One-Line Anxiety

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Sometimes the peaceful atmosphere of our favourite TV show will get disrupted when a film crew runs into town. It turns out they're shooting some scenes in the area. And what do you know? One of the characters gets to have a small part. Nine times out of ten, they'll get a line or two. Despite having just one line, they'll angst over it quite a bit — determined to get it right. This is almost always Played for Laughs — and half the time the line will end up cut (either due to time or the character's comical overacting). Sometimes will result in Small Name, Big Ego if the character acts like a celebrity afterwards. Another variation involves characters with small parts in school plays or community theatre productions.

Occasionally overlaps with Classically-Trained Extra. It's also Truth in Television for a lot of actors with small parts. Sometimes happens to actors with larger parts if they only have one or two lines in the scene itself. A sister trope to Performance Anxiety.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Asterix and the Cauldron, Asterix and Obelix are hired by a "New Drama Director" named Laurensolivius in order to be actors in a Drama Play "with a message". Asterix and Obelix are to stand still while the actors prance around and mock the audience (with an actor named Alecguinus acting as a heckler among the theatregoers to provoke a reaction) and at the end of the play, Obelix is to step at the center of the stage and deliver an improvised line. Obelix stresses too much about the "message" he is supposed to convey (even having an outburst at Asterix) and can't think of anything to say. When the time finally comes he defaults into his catchphrase:"These Romans are crazy!". The end result: the Roman Prefect who watches the play gets angry and orders every actor and the director to be arrested. The actual audience is impressed by the play's high production values as everybody but Asterix and Obelix gets detained. Asterix later offers to bust Laurensolivius out of prison but he is all too happy that he is going to be fed to the lions in the Colloseum, thinking that this is the highest production he was ever a part of.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's class puts on a play about the food groups. Calvin's role is to enter dressed as an onion and deliver an Expospeak line about the nutritional value of vegetables. Despite only having one line, Calvin, lazy as always, drags his feet memorizing it and plays it off as being a temperamental actor. On the night of the play, Calvin is supposed to go on stage, but he's stuck in the bathroom changing his costume due to a snagged pants zipper. Realizing he's going to miss his cue, Calvin passionately cries his line at the top of his lungs, loud enough for all to hear. After it's all over he recounts to Hobbes that yes, he missed his cue, yes, they had to stop the play, and yes, it took three people to free him from his costume, but he did not forget his line.
  • Peanuts:
    • In an arc, Sally is nervous about her one line in the Christmas pageant: "I say 'Hark!' and then Harold Angel starts to sing." The others don't think she has the line quite right. Finally, stricken with Performance Anxiety, she blurts out, "Hockey Stick!" The kicker: the next day, a kid named Harold Angel shows up to complain.
    • Her big brother Charlie Brown suffers it too. On Violet's birthday, gift in hand as he walks toward her house, he practices his line over and over. "This is for you, Violet. Happy birthday." When the moment comes, he blurts out, "This is for you, Violet. Merry Christmas." Last panel, he's banging his head on a tree.

    Films — Animation 
  • Cats Don't Dance: Danny gets cast as part of the animal chorus in Darla Dimple's new movie Li'l Ark Angel, and he's dumbfounded that his one line is a "Meow". When his part comes, he repeatedly delivers his line like a ham and ends up interrupting Darla's song, ruining the scene and leading the furious Darla to have Max deal with him.
    Max: How does the kitty cat go?
    Danny: ...Meow?
    Max: Very good.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Magical Movie Night, the protagonists get to be extras in the Daring Do movie. Rainbow Dash keeps messing up her one part of throwing the rope to Daring Do because she's too busy Squeeing over how fun the scene is.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 2007 BBC version of Ballet Shoes:
    • One sequence shows Petrova getting annoyed by a director nitpicking her one line in A Midsummer Night's Dream. She's playing Mustard Seed and just has to say "and I".
    • Pauline has a role in a film later and has to go through multiple takes because she won't deliver the line "I will" the way the director wants. One could call this a Reconstruction, as the director stresses that every line is important and this conveys her character's I Will Wait for You (resulting in a Tear Jerker in the film, and Pauline getting offered a contract in Los Angeles).
  • Captain Marvel: In his cameo, Stan Lee reads a script for Mallrats and tries different deliveries for his one line.
  • Hail, Caesar! has singing cowboy star Hobie Doyle being cast in a romantic drama, causing a lot of hassle for the director when he tries to say the line "would that it were so simple?" although it's partly because he actually wears dentures. When we see the finished scene, the line is just changed to "it's complicated".
  • I Could Never Be Your Woman uses this as a revenge subplot. Rosie's assistant Jeannie gets a line on her sitcom but, due to nerves, the line is seen as too suggestive by the censors and ends up cut. Jeannie tries to get revenge on Rosie by sabotaging her budding relationship with Adam.
  • Shakespeare in Love has the financier being given the small role of the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet. He spends ages memorising his brief bit of dialogue. At the debut performance, the financier's nerves get the better of him and he becomes a Motor Mouth in an attempt to get all of his lines out before he forgets them—but it actually ends up working well, as it forces Shakespeare (playing Romeo) to respond in kind and generates real tension in the scene.
  • Sunshine Cleaning has a back story where the girls' mother was a featured extra in a movie of the week. She played a waitress who recommended the pecan pie, and it's a Running Gag of the girls scanning the TV any time a diner scene comes on in the hopes that it's hers.

  • Exaggerated in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Rodney James is supposed to play a bush that does absolutely nothing in a school play. He still gets stage fright and has to be taken home.
  • In There Was No Secret Evil Fighting Organization, Sago (who has never acted before) gets nervous about whether he'll remember his scripted dialogue, and hurries to make cue cards. It's only revealed a chapter later that this dialogue was three words.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mary from 227 gets a part in a movie where she tells a cop "Officer, he went that way!" But the stress of delivering this one line causes her back to stiffen to the point where she can't stand straight up. She eventually manages to straighten up, but now she can't bend over. Unfortunately, she has to lean over the victim when the shot begins and she's forced back into being bent over. After she delivers the line, the stress disappears and her back issue is resolved.
  • 8 Simple Rules: An episode involving a school play has supporting character Lacey grumbling that Bridget got the lead in The Diary of Anne Frank over her. She's in the small role of Miep Gies and has just two lines (which she grumbles about). Bridget pushes her Berserk Button in rehearsal by giving her a sarcastic thumbs-up after she says one of the lines.
  • On The Brady Bunch Jan and Peter were cast as palace guards in "Romeo and Juliet" and had one line each.
    Alice: Romeo and Juliet's such a sad play.
    Carol Brady: Yeah.
    Mike Brady: It's no musical comedy.
    Carol Brady: Alice, which part did you think was the saddest?
    Alice Nelson: Well, the part where Romeo dies is sad. But where Juliet died is sad too. But I think the saddest part of all is when Jan said "Who goes there" before Peter said "Hark".
  • The Brothers García has an episode where Lorena wins a contest to have a walk-in part on her favourite telenovella. The show's star decides to ad-lib a lengthy hammy monologue, preventing Lorena from saying her line. She's not pleased when Lorena finally interrupts her, and throws a tantrum.
  • The Frasier episode "Ham Radio" features the titular character directing a classic episode of a radio theatre mystery program. It's a comedy of errors, not the least of which is Bulldog insisting that his latest girlfriend get to participate. Frasier relents and gives her a single line as the first victim—only to discover too late that she's dyslexic: "Look out! He's got a nug!"
  • Friends:
    • Joey stars in a porn film as a man who tells the couple having sex that they're going to ruin the photocopier. Despite just having one line, it's something of an Old Shame for him to be in porn at all.
    • He also gets fired from his job as Al Pacino's "butt-double" in a shower scene for overacting in a simple shot.
    • When he's reading for a bit part as a cab driver, he doesn't get it because he's trying to put too much into a brief scene. Plus he keeps misreading "50 bucks" as "so bucks". note 
    • Even when Phoebe has no lines as an extra on Days of Our Lives, she keeps messing up a scene due to being too nervous to carry a tray across the room.
    • When Joey is playing a Motaba victim in Outbreak II: The Virus Takes Manhattan, his increasingly over-the-top reactions to Jean-Claude Van Damme's line "Can't you see what is happening? This man is dying!" in successive takes result in Van Damme's line being changed to "Can't you see what is happening? This man is dead!"
  • Hope & Faith's Season 1 finale features Faith making a return to her Soap Within a Show, and Charlie is given a line telling another character he's needed in the boardroom. After two takes of Charlie overacting, the actor says the line himself before Charlie gets a chance.
  • How I Met Your Mother: A variation in "The Stinsons". Barney has Lily pretend to be his wife to scare away one night stands he doesn't want to break up with. On her first try at this, Lily is supposed to walk into the kitchen after Barney asks his date to "pass the arts and leisure" section of the newspaper. He has to say it three times before Lily comes in.
  • Lizzie McGuire:
    • The show has an episode where Frankie Muniz guest stars As Himself and it ends with Lizzie getting a small role in his film as a girl telling him he forgot his keys. She's mortified when she sees the finished film.
    • In another episode where Gordo is trying to shoot a sci-fi film, Kate is the lead and they go through all the available film because she keeps getting her line wrong.
    • Matt is cast in a small role in the school play and lets fame go to his head because of it. His one line is "ah, the doorbell, I'll get that". Laser-Guided Karma catches him and he loses his voice before the performance.
  • Miami 7 has a sci-fi film being shot at Howard's hotel, with the group all playing extras. Hannah is given the line "look out" and a jealous Rachel tries to throw her off when they come to film it. It ends up cut.
    Hannah: But the film won't make sense without "look out"!
  • On an episode of M*A*S*H, a USO comedian enlists Klinger's help putting on a skit for the patients in Post-op. Klinger's one line is "It hurts when I do this."note  Unfortunately, he's so overwhelmed by stage fright come performance time that all he can manage is "My arm hurts," completely blowing the joke.
  • Lampshaded in a few episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus by having Terry Gilliam or Carol Cleveland saying some variation of "This is my only line."
  • In an early episode of My Three Sons, an educational film is being shot in Robbie's chemistry class, and he is given one line he can't stop worrying over: "Please pass the Bunsen burner."
  • In a late episode of Night Court a crew shoots a TV pilot in the courthouse. To get Judge Harry Stone to agree to their using his courtroom, they give him a bit part as a bailiff. Unfortunately he can’t manage to say the line “All rise” in a remotely natural way.
  • Doubly done in the Klugman/Randall The Odd Couple. Sportswriter Oscar is given a brief movie role as a sports reporter, whose only line is "Tell us about your career, Slugger." He flubs take after take, to the point where the director is ready to call in a real actor. If that weren't embarrassing enough, Felix jumps in to take over the part. But he overacts mightily with elaborate improvisations until *he* is fired too. But it's a subversion: He only did it to waste time, so that the director would be forced to use Oscar instead calling in the other actor. But it backfires: the director gives the role to the guy who'd been operating the clapboard, who nails the line in one take.
  • One episode of Roseanne, "Communicable Theatre", has Jackie getting to appear in a single scene of a community theatre production of Cyrano de Bergerac. Despite her literally having one line — "TUH-REEEEN OF BEEF!", she acts like she's the star of the show. Things get messy when the actress for Roxanne gets sick and understudy Jackie has to fill in, despite never reading the whole text or even watching the scenes that she wasn't in (as in, the entire rest of the play). Roseanne ends up saving the day by hiding backstage and feeding her the lines.
  • In the Saved by the Bell: The New Class episode "Highs and Lows", Liz obsessively frets about getting her one line in the stage production right, to the point that she rambles on to Ryan for hours about how best to do it (including the idea of trying out with various accents), until Ryan shows that he has had enough by snapping at her with: "It's only one line. Eight words. Just do it!" While Liz is initially affronted at Ryan's expression, she nevertheless takes it to heart by dropping any attempt to "polish" her line, and her performance ends up better as a result.
  • One episode of Seinfeld sees Kramer wrangling an appearance in a new Woody Allen movie. He even gets a single line — "These pretzels are makin' me thirsty." Naturally, he completely botches it.
  • Starsky & Hutch: In the episode "Murder on Stage 17", Starsky and Hutch are undercover as stuntmen in a studio shooting a Western. Director Harry Markham (Jeff Goldblum) decides to give Hutch a bit part. Even though it's a simple line ("Here comes McCoy now..."), Hutch is quite nervous and his stifled delivery forces multiple takes. At the end, once the movie is finished, Hutch discovers his line was dubbed over, to his dismay.
  • In one episode of Toast of London, the titular Toast has a bit part as a butler whose only line is offering the lead actor a drink. Toast is unable to get the character's name right, and in fact says a different, increasingly bizarre variation of the name with every single flubbed take.

  • There's a joke about one man who, seeking his big break, manages to get a small role in a play. The only thing he has to do is enter the scene and yell "Good heavens, a corpse!". He spends every day counting down to his big day repeating the line "Good heavens, a corpse!" When the big day finally comes, he is taken backstage and then enters the scene. When he sees an actor in the floor with a bloody knife he yells "Holy shit, a dead guy!"

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: In "A Decemberween Pageant", Strong Sad spends the whole short freaking out that he's forgotten his lines, fearing that he'll ruin the whole play if he messes up. He locks himself in the bathroom to throw up, and the rest of the cast have to improvise new material while they wait for Strong Sad to come back out. Turns out his entire role is to walk on stage in the final scene and say "What?"

    Western Animation 
  • Minor character Charlton "Baynarts" Woodchucks from Animaniacs was the center of a short wherein he left his rural home for stardom in Hollywood. After a bumpy start, he manages to land an audition for a new nature show, only to become so intimidated by actually having to perform, he can't manage the single line of dialogue he's been rehearsing throughout the short without literal butterflies in his stomach. Fortunately the director, tired of fake "acting" woodchucks, took this as a sign of Charlton's inherent "realness" and gave him the part. This being Animaniacs, you can guess how well that went for the guy.
  • Carl is shooting a home horror movie in As Told by Ginger and at the end of the episode, he's seen nitpicking Lois over her hammy delivery of "What do you want? Get away from me!"
  • Camp Lazlo: In "7 Deadly Sandwiches", Scoutmaster Lumpus tries to impress Jane Doe by signing up to appear in Lazlo's play. However, he's gets cast as a rock with one line ("Did somebody order a pizza?"), which he ends up delivering in a furious rage. Not wanting to be upstaged, Lumpus resorts to loudly parroting everyone else's lines in order to get noticed.
  • In Nina Needs to Go!, the episode "Play" has Nina cast as a talking rock in a play. She apparently has only one line but is nervous and doesn't know what she's meant to say. At the end of the episode, she just says her catchphrase instead, so we never find out her line.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "I Love Lisa", Milhouse is nervous about his part in the President's Day school play, where he plays Lincoln. Ms. Hoover is not remotely sympathetic to him.
    Ms. Hoover: Milhouse, you have one line and then you're shot. Now get out there!
    • In "Bart Gets Famous" Bart gets one line in Krusty's sketch (he is filling in for Sideshow Mel at the last minute) which goes, "I am waiting for a bus." As he begins to say the line, he accidentally knocks over the set and nervously blurts out, "I didn't do it." It becomes a catchphrase of his and trying to remember it becomes a little intimidating after a while, but luckily, it eventually grows stale.
  • The Weekenders:
    • In the episode "Celebrity", the in-universe Teen Drama shoots in Bahia Bay and Tish is given a minor speaking part. She has to be dubbed over due to nerves, but that doesn't stop locals from fawning over her for it, and she starts acting like a diva.
    • Played with in "To Be or Not to Be", where Tish gets a minor role in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. She spends a huge amount of time rehearsing her one line (that's eventually cut to one word) and hanging with the cast, not because she thought the line was important, but because she wanted to make friends with the acting troupe after Tino, Carver, and Lor mocked her interest in theater. Eventually, Tish accepts the rest of the cast couldn't care less about a bit player a least a decade younger than any of them. After her friends apologize and show their support, Tish decides to be proud of her one line anyway.
    • An episode with a talent show has Lor constantly bumbling singing "Home on the Range" — specifically because she keeps getting the lyric "where the deer and the antelope play" as "deer and cantaloupe" (which Tish kicks off at her for eventually).

    Real Life 
  • For Some Like It Hot, Marilyn Monroe did eighty takes before she was happy with one scene. It was a brief shot of her saying "Where's that bourbon?"
  • Marilyn experienced something similar in All About Eve. Gary Merrill recalls a dinner party hosted by Bette Davis the night before the two actresses had to shoot a scene together. Marilyn excused herself and went home early because she had to work the next day, despite only having a handful of lines. Bette had the majority of dialogue and had no trouble, whereas Marilyn required ten takes because she kept forgetting the lines.
  • Olivia Hussey in her autobiography recalls filming the miniseries The Bastard and, on her first day, she was jet-lagged and kept forgetting the two lines she had. After multiple failed takes, they had to get it on a pick-up.
  • Olivia was on the other end when acting in a scene alongside Laurence Olivier for The Last Days of Pompeii. He kept flubbing his line by saying "Olivia" instead of her character's name Ione.
  • Irene Bedard recalls having to be brought in for an additional recording session for Pocahontas because they just wanted to change one word, deciding Pocahontas had said "path" too many times in the film (they changed it to "way").
  • John Carpenter has just two lines in The Fog but he was so appalled by his delivery that he never acted in his films again.
  • John Green had his cameo cut from The Fault in Our Stars just because he felt he was awful delivering his handful of lines.
  • In a famous example from The Godfather, Lenny Montana, a professional wrestler and real-life member of the Mob, showed up on set one day as the bodyguard for one of the mafiosi who, per agreement with Francis Ford Coppola, got to occasionally watch shooting and make sure nothing too offensive was being put into the movie. Coppola hired Montana on the spot to play gangster Luca Brasi, who ends up "sleeping with the fishes." Luca only speaks a few lines in his first scene, where he meets Don Vito Corleone, but Montana was so nervous about being in the same room as Marlon Brando that he endlessly practiced his dialogue for fear of messing it up. Coppola decided to add this into the film — when you see Luca muttering to himself in preparation for meeting Vito, it's actually Montana rehearsing his speech. Similarly, Montana did screw up his lines, but his genuinely flustered reaction was so perfect that Coppola didn't bother with a retake.
  • While filming The Room (2003), Tommy Wiseau took ages to do a scene where Johnny walks down two steps. Greg Sestero in The Disaster Artist puts him in comparison to Carolyn Minnot who nailed a scene in a matter of minutes after fainting from heat stroke.
  • Tallulah Bankhead was brought in for an ADR session for her final film Die! Die! My Darling! to dub the line that would provide the film's Title Drop. Not only did she show up four hours late, but she was so drunk it took her the rest of the day to give them a usable take of the one line.
  • Bonnie Wright's audition for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone ran into a problem with the character of Ginny, who becomes important later, but has only one line in the first film. As a result, they had her read Hermione's dialogue from another scene.