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Poor Man's Substitute

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Mr. Burns: Get me Steven Spielberg!
Smithers: He's unavailable.
Mr. Burns: Then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!

Often, when you've got a pretty good and recognizable actor or actress, there will be another actor/actress who is awfully similar except that he/she is not quite as good, famous, busy, expensive, or whatever.

This can be very handy when you've been asked to cast a TV series based on a movie, since the actors from the movie often won't be willing to do a weekly series, at least not for what you're willing to pay.

Such pairings can also be used to effect The Other Darrin, but when the former actor is much more famous than the replacement, this is a recipe for disappointment.

The good news for the actors is that by the end of the show's run, if its a hit, they're sometimes more famous than the film actor they replace.

The Trope Maker for the Poor Man's Substitute was Jayne Mansfield for Marilyn Monroe. In fact, 20th Century Fox hired Mansfield for just that purpose after Monroe famously walked out on her contract in 1955.

On Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel and the Bots call this the "Wayne Rogers Effect", after the actor who replaced Elliott Gould in the TV adaptation of M*A*S*H.

Often goes hand-in-hand with Not Quite Starring. There are scripts that acknowledge this as Hypothetical Casting (only to somehow get the real deal!).

PLEASE NOTE: This trope is about actors who can pass for each other in bad light and/or can fill the same type of roles. For actors who have played the same character, you want The Other Darrin instead. If the Poor Man's Substitute is a different character in-universe, they're a Suspiciously Similar Substitute. If you're looking for objects that are inferior versions of brand names, see Shoddy Knockoff Product.

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Real-Life Examples:

    Live Action 





    Voice Acting 

  • The Ur-Example could be the many imitators of Rudy Vallée that recorded for the many dime-store labels of the early 1930s. Standouts were Smith Ballew and Ozzie Nelson, who had bigger success in ensuing years as actors. Nelson even looked a bit like Vallée and made a big deal out of being a Rutgers alum the same way Vallée played up his connections to Yale.
  • The band Journey hired Filipino singer Arnel Pineda as a replacement for former lead Steve Perry. Obviously, being Filipino, Pineda looks nothing like Perry— but his voice is incredibly similar.
  • It can be hard to tell Tim McGraw and Rodney Atkins apart.
  • Phil Collins, already the drummer for the band Genesis, became the lead singer after Peter Gabriel left, and was described as being a better Gabriel sound-alike than Gabriel himself (though without the eccentric theatrical flair). So, possibly an inversion.
  • Also applies to the soundtracks of movies too. Can't get Elton John? Get Barry Manilow instead.
  • Long before his death, Jerry Goldsmith was often the poor man's substitute to John Williams. If you can't get the more expensive John Williams (who is often picky about the films he wanted to score) you could get the equally awesome and extremely prolific Jerry Goldsmith to score your films. In fact, it used to be said that Williams is a white-collar composer, whereas Goldsmith was a blue-collar composer, because he was willing to score any kind of films, regardless of content.
  • During the 1980s, Paddy Kingsland, Giorgio Moroder, Jan Hammer, Harold Faltermeyer or Vince DiCola filled in nicely when Tangerine Dream or Vangelis wasn't available.
  • Worried that we'll never get another voice like Michael Jackson ever again? Don't worry, Bruno Mars (himself a giant MJ fan) comes to the rescue!
    • An R&B singer named Jason Malachi also comes to mind. Malachi's voice is so similar to Jackson's that some of his songs are often misattributed to Jackson and vice-versanote .
    • The Weeknd has also been compared to Michael Jackson, in particular his song "I Feel It Coming".
    • During Michael's peak, within the R&B community El DeBarge was often compared to Jackson.
  • Canadian R&B singer Deborah Cox has become this for Whitney Houston. Due to rights issues, she re-recorded Houston's vocals for the songs used in the 2015 Made-for-TV Movie about her, and she even plays Houston's part in the Screen-to-Stage Adaptation of The Bodyguard.
  • Regina Richards of "Baby Love" fame was a poor man's Madonna in the mid-1980s.
  • Hoyt Curtin was in high demand throughout the 1950s and 1960s as a poor man's Nelson Riddle. It's just a matter of listening to the theme songs he composed for Hanna-Barbera's prime-time cartoons.
  • The opera world has a tendency of this. Can't get Sir John Tomlinson? Go and hire Peter Rose. Then again, years ago, a young Tomlinson was this when James Morris refused to sing Wotan in the futuristic Kupfer Ring.
  • Mike Piccirillo was frequently used by DiC in the 90s and 2000s as a poor man's Haim Saban and Shuki Levy after the duo's firm Saban Productions parted ways with DiC to produce their own shows.
    • Noam Kaniel (himself a collaborator of Haim and Shuki) also was frequently used in the 90s as a poor man's Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, even by Saban themselves.
  • Worried that we'll never get a voice like Freddie Mercury's ever again? Don't worry, call Marc Martel!
  • Orbital wanted a "Missy Elliot-type" rapper to do vocals for their song "Wonky". Ultimately they went with female UK rapper Lady Leshurr.
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg was able to draw on a pool of big name collaborators for her comeback album 5:55, like Jarvis Cocker, Neil Hannon, Air, and frequent Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. For most of those names, she was the nearest they were going to be able to get to working with her (deceased) father.
  • Santana recorded "Why Don't You and I" with its writer, Chad Kroeger. When Nickelback's label vetoed using the singer in a single, Kroeger himself recommended Alex Band as a replacement - and while The Calling was deemed a poor man's substitute to other Yarling-heavy groups, Band's throaty voice certainly makes him a fitting substitute.
  • Ral Donner sustained a modest career based on the fact that he sounded almost exactly like Elvis Presley. No less than Robert Plant has cited Donner as an influence. Donner even did first-person narration in the voice of Elvis for the documentary This is Elvis in 1981. Related to this was a few cases of singers having hits with a Cover Version of Elvis album tracks that he didn't release as a single himself, in which they tried to copy his vocal style ("Wooden Heart" by Joe Dowell, "Suspicion" by Terry Stafford).
  • After the success of A Hard Day's Night and Help!, TV producers wanted to create a sitcom based on The Beatles. Of course, the band was far too busy touring, and later recording full-time, to commit to a weekly show. Out of this idea came The Monkees, a foursome who looked quite a bit like the Beatles, from the appearances to the songs. The group, dismissively referred to as the "pre-fab(ricated) Four" in an era where the real Beatles were leading a musical revolution, had an uphill battle to be recognized as a legitimate band, not helped by the fact that they didn't play their own instruments or write their own songs early in their career.
  • Worried that we'll never get a voice like Frank Sinatra's again? Don't worry, Seth MacFarlane (himself a huge fan of the Rat Pack) will do in a pinch.

  • According to Bryan Danielson, Michael Cole is a poor man's Jim Ross.
  • Doing a dinosaur documentary and the Tyrannosaurus rex hasn't evolved yet? Well, Allosaurus is nearly as big! The poor thing's name even means 'other lizard.'
  • The Atari ST got this reputation in the U.S. as one to the Apple Macintosh as it was also a Motorola 68000-based computer with a graphical interface similar to the Mac while retailing for significantly cheaper. It was even nicknamed the "Jackintosh", after former Commodore head Jack Tramiel, who bought Atari after The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. The ST had a couple of technical edges over the original Mac: it had color two years before the release of the Macintosh II in 1987, and the built-in MIDI interface made it popular with musicians. The Atari ST also had the reputation of being the poor man's Commodore Amiga, also considered a poor man's Mac, due to their similarities (ranging from more technical similarities such as both being 68000-based computers, to external factors such as Jack Tramiel being both the founder of Commodore and the head of Atari Corporation at the time).
  • Latin Spanish dubbing has this for countries/cities - Miami started out as the Poor Man's Los Angeles for producers who wanted their Latin Spanish dubs recorded "close to home" but didn't want to deal with unions and such, Argentina has become the Poor Man's Venezuela for obvious reasons, Chile is the Poor Man's Argentina (DINT Doblajes Internacionales, for a period, was Disney's go-to Poor Man's Media Pro Com), Cuernavaca (or, formerly, Monterrey for Disney) is the Poor Man's Mexico City, and Colombia, Peru, and El Salvador are Poor Man's Substitutes for the other "big" dubbing countries.
  • For Brazilian Portuguese dubbing, the go-to city for something cheaper than the studios of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo seems to be Campinas, which is in the latter's state (96 km/60 mi away, and the biggest city in the SP state outside the capital's metropolitan region) - tellingly the more cheaper São Paulo dub studios either trained Campinas dubbers or employ them extensively. Other cities in the country itself with a dubbing studio or two are Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Brasília, and then there's Miami (and in a few cases, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires), where the dubbers don't even need to be voice actors, as people who can speak Portuguese are accepted.
  • Developing a racing game and Porsche won't license their models to you? Don't worry, Ruf Automobile is awaiting your call! Ruf models often filled in for their Porsche counterparts in games like the Gran Turismo series and Driver: San Francisco during the period in which Porsche had an exclusive licensing deal with Electronic Arts.

  • There's a moment in the Skins series 4 finale where - prompted by a drunk Naomi - Cook realises that his latest random squeeze (Arcia) is a Poor Man's Substitute for Effy. He ditches her as soon as he twigs what he's doing.
  • Played for laughs in Friends when Rachel breaks up with nerdy paleontologist Ross (played by David Schwimmer) and hooks up with nerdy periodontist Russ (played by David Schwimmer).
    Monica: See? They're as different as night and...later that night.
  • Rare fictional example - in the Marvel Universe, USAgent is treated by everyone as a poor man's substitute for Captain America. This was lampshaded in an issue of Mighty Avengers, by Loki of all people. Disguised as the Scarlet Witch (long story), he attempts to recruit Captain America for his new Avengers team and on discovering that Cap is dead goes to USAgent and effectively says "You'll have to do".
  • Similarly, in the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Greatest Story Never Told", Booster Gold spends the beginning of the episode teamed with the Elongated Man, who complains about being the League's poor man's Plastic Man. He is indeed used for that purpose by the end of the episode.
  • Armored Core 2 gives us Eight Ball/Hustler Two, poor man's substitute and claimed descendant of the series' Nine Ball/Hustler One. He's very low ranked and pilots a vastly inferior mech. Nine Ball was also an AI.
  • According to the The Nostalgia Critic, Jean-Claude Van Damme is this to Chuck Norris.
    Nostalgia Critic: So what's the main problem with this piece of shit movie? Four syllables: Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme is like the poor man's Chuck Norris. The guy you get if you think Steven Seagal is too classy for your movie.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Parodied in "A Star Is Burns". When Mr. Burns requests for Steven Spielberg to direct his movie. Upon being told that he was unavailable, Burns then requested Señor Spielbergo, his non-union Mexican equivalent.
      Mr. Burns: Get me Steven Spielberg!
      Smithers: He's unavailable.
      Mr. Burns: Then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!
    • Also, when Bart opened a casino, he hired a Liza Minnelli impersonator but needed another kind of show when he found out the "impersonator" was Liza Minnelli.
    • Also occurred in The Simpsons when they told the story of how Krustyland came to be. Krusty the Clown wanted to hire the cast of The Poseidon Adventure to make celebrity appearances at the park's opening, but attorney Lionel Hutz was able to sign only impersonators of those celebrities, including a Shelley Winters imitator who was obviously a man and hadn't even bothered to shave. When Krusty sees the faux celebrities, he tries to strangle Hutz.
  • South Park: When pee-wee football team South Park Cows played against Middle Park Cowboys, the entertainment hired for the halftime was John Stamos' brother Richard Stamos.
  • Ultimate X-Men has Colonel Wraith refer to Sabertooth as "the poor man's Wolverine".
  • Given a weird twist in Girl Genius, when Agatha, who's on the run from the Baron's forces, joins a traveling show, and in one performance of a "Heterodyne play", fills in for actress Pix. The twist? The character she's playing is her own real-life mother.
  • One of many running gags in CinemaSins, where the poor man's substitute is referred to as "discount [A-list actor]". They'll also refer to an actor as a discount themselves if they're spotted in cheap pre-fame roles, such as a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone in Death Race 2000, or if it's a currently famous actor they think are in a bad movie, like Channing Tatum in Jupiter Ascending.
  • CollegeHumor: Parodied—if you need help but can't afford The A-Team, perhaps you can hire the B-Team, C-Team, or F-Team. They all include a guy who's The Strategist (Hannibal), The Charmer (Face), The Crazy One (Murdock), and The Tough Black Guy (Baracus). However, the substitute teams get increasingly less impressive on these fronts:
    • The A-Team:
      Narrator: One year ago, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you have a ton of money, maybe you can hire the A-Team.
    • A-Team out of your price range? Then how about this?
      Narrator: A different Commando unit was also sent to prison for a crime they might have committed. These men eventually escaped from a medium security facility, to a motel in Fresno. Today, still more or less acknowledged by the government, they survive as soldiers for hire. If you have a problem, if it's sort of urgent, but you don't need anything fancy, you can probably just hire the B-Team.
    • You're really broke, huh?
      Narrator: I'm not sure I should tell you this, but one year ago, a group of drug addicts were sent to a prison for crime they openly confessed to (they, uh, shot the mayor's dog). These men were released after their case was thrown out on a technicality. Today, pretty much forgotten by the government, they get by with odd jobs here and there. If you have a problem, if you're totally spaced, and you just need someone, literally anyone, and if you can offer a hot meal in exchange, you can always hire the C-Team.
    • Wow, really? You can't even're killing me here!
      Narrator: OK, I don't usually mention these guys, year ago, four idiots started fighting over half a steak left in a dumpster behind a TGI Friday's. These men—-look, you don't really want to hire these men. They just-oh come on! Oh and that crazy guy? He has mild OCD! And he's clearly not black, what is he, Indian? Not even close. Look, I'm gonna level with you here. You're probably just better off taking care of it yourself. Really. Why would you ever hire anyone named the F-Teem?
    • CollegeHumor Goes to Hell: it's revealed that Hell has the second best of everything, just to frustrate sinners.
      Katie: [Do you have] Backstreet Boys?
      The Devil: 98 Degrees. They come preloaded on your Zune.
  • Spider-Man: Parodied. In The Amazing Spider-Man (Lee & Ditko) #14, Stan Lee is credited as "the poor man's Shakespeare"; Steve Ditko is "the poor man's Da Vinci"; and letterer Artie Simek is "the poor man's rich man".
  • In The Venture Bros., Rusty refers to Baron Underbite as a "dime store Doctor Doom".
  • Downplayed in the pilot of DuckTales (2017) where Flintheart Glomgold is described as "the poor man's Scrooge McDuck... which to be fair, still makes him insanely rich."
  • Beavis and Butt-Head, when watching an angry-sounding Henry Rollins video:
    Butt-Head: "Uhh, Jim Rockford is pissed!"
  • Played for Laughs in the Family Guy episode "E. Peterbus Unum". Adam West wants to invite Jesse Jackson to open peace negotiations with the micro-state of Petoria with a prayer, but because he can't make it, he hires LaToya Jackson (sister of Michael).
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: Joel and the Bots have a discussion about this trope at the end of Hercules Against the Moon Men. Joel calls it the "Wayne Rogers Effect", after the actor who replaced Elliott Gould in the TV adaptation of M*A*S*H. The conversation gets a bit awkward when Crow points out that Gypsy's Celeb Crush Richard Basehart (from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) was really the replacement for Walter Pidgeon from the original film. Ironically the replacement that prompted all this discussion in the first place—Steve Reeves from Hercules Unchained getting replaced by Alan Steel for Hercules Against the Moon Men—was actually an example of Dub Name Change and Dolled-Up Installment, not this trope. Against the Moon Men was originally a Maciste film; it was the American distributors who changed Alan Steel's character to Hercules and tried to pass the film off as a sequel to the Steve Reeves films.
  • Daria once referred to her teacher, Mr. O'Neil, as "the poor man's Kathy Lee Gifford".
  • An episode of The Big Bang Theory had Sheldon and Leonard playing a trivia game where each guessed the name of a famous person based on clues given by the other player. For every clue Leonard gave Sheldon about Nikola Tesla, Sheldon assumed Leonard was talking about him, until finally Leonard got annoyed enough to play along with Sheldon's hubris and describe Tesla as "the poor man's Sheldon Cooper", whereupon Sheldon got it immediately.
  • Milana Vayntrub's similarities to Zooey Deschanel have become a Running Gag in AT&T's commercials, where Vayntrub's Lily character interviews Deschanel for a job and they have the exact same mannerisms, then Deschanel poses as Lily herself.
  • The spider in the Merrie Melodies cartoon "Meatless Flyday" calls the fly he's trying to catch and eat "A poor man's Bugs Bunny".
  • In Turning Red, Mei shows up to Tyler's birthday party not in her giant red panda form but in her cardboard red panda costume meaning she manages to be her own Poor Man's Substitute. Tyler is not impressed.
    Tyler: I'm paying for the red panda, not this garbage!

Alternative Title(s): The Poor Mans Substitute