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Recognition Failure

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Random Pirate: Yarr! It's Purple Arrow! And Ninja Spider-Man!
Hawkeye: Seriously?
Deadpool: Our respective new series haven't been out long. It's understandable.
A+X Issue #8

When a character fails to recognize a famous person that everyone else knows, played for comic effect. This is a popular stock gag in Sitcoms; typically, a celebrity or Special Guest visits the cast, whereupon The Ditz or the Butt-Monkey is wondering why everyone else is going crazy over the newcomer.

Of course, for the gag to work, the identification subject must be someone who everyone in the work should immediately recognize, for whatever reason. This is usually done with a renowned Real Life person, though it's also possible to use a fictional celebrity whose fame has been established in the story. When the celebrity is confused with another celebrity you have a case of Celebrity Resemblance or Wrongfully Attributed.

May overlap with Failed a Spot Check, Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure or No Fame, No Wealth, No Service. Also see Your Costume Needs Work. For deliberate attempts to invoke this, see King Incognito. Contrast Clark Kenting.



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  • In one commercial for Coors beer, a cowboy is strumming a guitar on stage at a bar when an old man hears him and asks to see his guitar. The cowboy sneers, "You play?", but hands it over, and the man immediately launches into an intricate blues solo. Impressed, the cowboy asks for his name. The old man smiles and says, "It's on your guitar." The cowboy glances down at his guitar, a Les Paul model, and then back up at the man in shock.
  • A Chanel N° 5 commercial has a man fall in love with Nicole Kidman, of whom his character didn't know she was famous.
  • A Kellogg's Frosted Flakes commercial in the early '70s had Tony the Tiger on an airplane wearing sunglasses so he wouldn't be recognized. Another passenger chides him for what he believes is a kids' cereal, but Tony tells him that many adults like Frosted Flakes. When Tony does his "Grrrrrrrrreat!" tagline, the passenger finally recognizes him—as Leo the Lion. Tony slinks into his seat, pissed.
  • In the 1960s, Snagglepuss appears as the mystery guest on "What's My Lion?" in a Cocoa Krispies commercial. The panel is stumped, and the announcer reveals who he is. The panel has never heard of him.
  • In the late 1970s, there were a series of commercials for the American Express credit card, in which a famous person would say "Do you know me?". Though the gag was that the person was usually someone who was well known for something other than their face, like Robert Ludlum or Anthony Daniels.
  • A 2017 Heineken commercial featuring Benicio del Toro zig-zags this trope as he sits in a restaurant and other patrons glance over and seemingly recognize him. Then a couple of tourists take a (far away) selfie with him and then squeal with delight over meeting Antonio Banderas. Cue Del Toro giving an Aside Glance and the subtitle of "This is NOT Antonio Banderas" appearing on the screen.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In A Certain Magical Index, no one recognizes Roberto Katze, the President of the United States of America, much to his annoyance.
  • In A Certain Scientific Railgun, Mikoto Misaka is the 3rd most powerful esper in Academy City, as well as the unofficial face of the city, due to being the only level 5 who is not obviously and dangerously insane. Random delinquents on the street still attack her, thinking she's just some cute middle-schooler they can have their way with. Worse is when they recognize her uniform as coming from Tokiwadai. It's a rich girl school, so sure they could get some money from her... but the school only accepts espers of level 3 or above, and the average delinquent is level 0.
  • In Date A Live, Shido annoys his classmates when he doesn't know the singer Miku Izayoi since everyone else is a mega-fan of hers. Tohka didn't know who she was either, but she can be forgiven because she is a newcomer to Earth.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • It doesn't take long for the public to completely forget the amazing feats of the heroes. Goku and Tien have both won the World Martial Arts Tournament, which is broadcast on national television, yet no one treats them like celebrities. Also, nobody recognizes Piccolo or Vegeta, even though they've terrorized the world and killed many people on national television and should logically be wanted for murder and terrorism. The only real person the people recognize is Mr. Satan, who is a Fake Ultimate Hero by all accounts.
    • Videl is famous for being Mr. Satan's daughter and for being a crime fighter. Since Gohan's family lived in the wilderness, they have never heard of her, but there are occasional criminals who have never heard of her and underestimate her as a result.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Al is addressed by Fuhrer King Bradley outside of the library and does not recognize him, to the horror of Lt. Hawkeye.
    • Also, Al finds himself faced with a famous serial killer named Barry the Chopper whose soul is bonded to a suit of armor like his and brags about how terrifying he was... but since Al's from out in the country he hasn't heard of any murderers in Central, much to Barry's displeasure.
  • Early on in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, Einhart was seemingly unaware that her new friend Vivio's mothers were both highly decorated military officers famed for their part in taking down the Saint's Cradle four years prior (something the 12-year-old Einhart should be old enough to remember), and a movie about them having come out a year or two after that. Also crosses over into Underestimating Badassery, much to Nove's amusement.
  • As a Running Gag on Rurouni Kenshin, whenever a politician (often a Historical Domain Character) appears, Yahiko has no idea who they are.
  • Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs:
    • Leon's stepmother Zola doesn't recognize Angelica Redgrave and looks down on her, thinking she is a commoner, only to backtrack when she learns her name and realizes the Redgrave family outranks her.
    • Stephanie looks down on everyone and insults Queen Mylene, thinking she is a commoner, then gets scared and retreats when she learns who she was messing with.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Battle City arc had a few civilians who don't know about Duel Monsters and don't know who Yugi Muto and Seto Kaiba are. The Grand Championship arc has Joey Wheeler get increasingly annoyed that no one recognizes him.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Inverted in Airplane!, in which the little boy seems to be the only one on board who realizes the copilot is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
  • In Apollo 13, the grandma character doesn't recognize Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they arrive to give support. After being introduced to them by the name she asks, "Are you boys in the space program too?" Justified, and possibly Truth in Television (since she was a real person), as it's mentioned she's recovering from a stroke.
  • In Batman Returns, the Ice Princess doesn't know who The Penguin is when he walked inside her dressing tent, despite the recent publicity he's had for "rescuing" the Mayor's baby and his mayoral campaign, and falsely believed that he's a "talent scout". When Batman tried to rescue her, she referred to The Penguin as an "ugly birdman with fish breath".
  • In Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, one of the main characters recognizes Napoléon Bonaparte, to which the other replies: "Who?"
  • Birds of Prey (2020): When Harley Quinn takes Cassandra Cain to her apartment, Cain sees a picture of the Joker and much to Harley's surprise, has no idea who he is.
  • Borat: When Borat notices an Oliver Hardy impersonator, he thinks he is "dressed up like Hitler".
  • In Captain America: Civil War, a postman walks into Avengers Tower with a package addressed to Tony Stark, approaches Tony and says:
    Stan: Are you... [squints at the address] Tony Stank?
  • John Lennon in A Hard Day's Night is recognized by a fan, yet he convinces her that he doesn't exactly look like him at all, to which she agrees and assumes it's not really him! (This was apparently Truth in Television; David Bowie once recalled being very impressed by this technique when in New York with Lennon and later using it himself.)
  • Kickin' It Old School: When David Hasselhoff shows up, Justin is starstruck, but Jennifer doesn't know who he is.
  • In A Knight's Tale, the writer and poet Geoffrey Chaucer gets annoyed when he introduces himself and the main characters don't recognize his name. In their defense, the main characters are peasants and likely don't know how to read (which is seemingly confirmed when Chaucer writes a letter to Jocelyn on behalf of William), much less own a book.
  • Justified in L.A. Confidential when Lt. Exley doesn't recognize Lana Turner because the Conspirator has had his prostitutes undergo plastic surgery to look like Hollywood starlets, so he thinks she's just a hooker cut to look like Lana Turner.
  • In Live Free or Die Hard, John McClane fails spectacularly to pass himself off as a member of the nerd culture. Most notably is when he fails to recognize a cutout of Boba Fett and tries to cover it by saying he's only familiar with Star Wars. Though his smirk suggests that he's just screwing with them.
  • Used in-universe in the birthday party scene in Notting Hill, when everyone is trying to suppress their excitement at having film star Anna Scott at the party... until a flustered Martin comes in, plops down, and starts talking to her without recognizing her. His reaction when he finally figures it out is priceless.
  • Homer Hickam in October Sky is a big fan of Wernher von Braun, reading his books on rocketry, and one of his most prized possessions is an autographed photo of him. When he wins the national science fair with his rocketry exhibit, one of the people to congratulate him is von Braun, but Homer doesn't recognize him.
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Sharon Tate shows up at a screening of the movie she was in (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and so asks if she can watch it for free, but the cashier doesn't recognize her at all (the doorman does, however). She takes it in stride, and even allows the cashier to take her picture (next to the poster so people will know who she is).
  • In Space Jam, when Bill Murray shows up to help out the Looney Tunes, Big Bad Swackhammer remarks "I didn't know Dan Akroyd was gonna be in this picture!"
  • The Professional: In one scene the little girl plays a celebrity impression game with Léon, yet he fails to recognize anyone she impersonates, despite most of them being iconic celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. The only one he gets is Gene Kelly, since Singin' in the Rain seems to be his favorite film. For her part, Mathilda is unable to identify a pretty decent John Wayne impression from Leon.
  • Goes two ways in The Muppets. Celebrities Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, and Rico Rodriguez approach Kermit the Frog to support the Muppet Telethon. Kermit and Goldberg express vague mutual recognition. Kermit also recognizes Gomez, somewhat oddly, as an earlier scene depicted him as far too out-of-touch to recognize a public figure as young as her; she in turn freely admits that she's never heard of Kermit in her life. Finally, Kermit blanks on Rodriguez's name, and Rodriguez wonders if he is a Ninja Turtle.

  • In the Discworld novels:
    • In Moving Pictures, the wizards have mostly avoided the "clicks", so when Holy Wood stars Victor Marachino and Delores DeSyne are given the red-carpet treatment, they're totally perplexed by the whole thing. Some of the wizards find Victor familiar when they see him in person (because he was a former student at Unseen University as "Victor Tugelbend"), but fail to make the connection because they're unfamiliar with his stage name. Also, one clicks fan refers to the Patrician — the supreme ruler of the city — as "some local bigwig" trying to get reflected fame.
    • The Borogravian main characters in Monstrous Regiment ignore the Living Legend Sam Vimes when they first encounter him, because in a room full of lavishly decorated officers and nobility, he's slouching by the door in plain clothes with a half-cigar.
  • Fate/Requiem: Chitose Manazuru is famous for winning a Holy Grail War and using the wish to shape society to how it is today, and for being one of the town of Akihabara's defenders. Koharu is starstruck to meet her, but Karin gets confused and has no idea who Chitose is.
  • This is how Queen Elizabeth III and her consort met in the Honor Harrington stories - when she was still the Crown Princess, she wandered into a restricted part of his lab and he yelled at her to get out, not knowing who she was.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Arrested Development, Lindsay is trying to meet men. She is enticed by a bearded homeless fellow described as having the rugged, unkempt appearance of a movie star. When she finds out he's just homeless, she leaves. However, it turns out that the homeless man is actually Real Life actor Thomas Jane, doing some Method Acting character research for a couple upcoming movies by posing as homeless. When Lindsay finds this out, she is enticed again. Tom Jane is confused that she doesn't know who he is, but seems pleased that she thinks he's gross.
  • In an episode of CSI, the main suspect is a popular Hollywood actor. When Grissom comes to see him in his hotel room, the actor assumes that he wants his autograph. This confuses Grissom, who knows nothing about this guy and just wants a DNA sample.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Played With regarding Harriet Jones. In her first appearance, she was a member of parliament of a relatively small and unknown constituency, so she'd taken to greeting new people by flashing her ID at them and stating "Harriet Jones, MP, Flydale North". She retains this habit even when she becomes the Prime Minister (and later ex-Prime Minister), leading many sighing people to reply, "Yes, I know who you are". This includes the Daleks.
    • Donna Noble had no idea aliens existed when she first met the Doctor. By this point in the new series, the Earth had been invaded twice.
  • The ending of an episode of Extras has Maggie tell Samuel L. Jackson that she enjoyed his role in The Matrix. A clearly irritated Jackson explains as patiently as he can that she's confusing him with Laurence Fishburne, and then Andy's attempt to bail her out just causes things to go From Bad to Worse, getting them both fired on the spot.
  • There was an episode of Fantasy Island where the (fictional) famous person had the fantasy of being somewhere where nobody knew who she was. She was sent to the wilds of [Africa/South America], where she fell in love with an explorer who didn't know who she was. Subverted though in that it turns out he did know, he just didn't care about her celebrity.
  • Full House:
    • In "Air Jesse", Jesse has no idea who Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is when the basketball star shows up in person.
    • In "Beach Boy Bingo", The Beach Boys show up in person. Danny's daughters don't know who they are.
  • In The George Lopez Show, Carmen runs away and becomes one of the rapper Chingy's groupies. George ends up being the only person who doesn't know who that is.
  • This is inverted in one episode of Hello Cheeky, in which Tim, Barry, and Denis all confuse fellow cast member John Junkin for Doris Day. Particularly surreal as John is middle-aged, male, and bald.
  • In the iCarly episode "iLost My Mind", the main security guard of the mental institution has never heard of the web show iCarly, so he's not impressed when Carly and Freddie try to use the fact they are the stars of it as credentials.
  • Little Britain: In one sketch the wheelchair patient is watching a documentary about World War II featuring Adolf Hitler, yet says: "I love Charlie Chaplin".
  • On an episode of Married... with Children with Gary Coleman, Al hilariously refers to him as Webster, Urkel, and even Rerun.
  • Mimpi Metropolitan:
    • Pipin, being a bumpkin, is really bad at recognizing the name or face of celebrities. She only vaguely remembers Maudy Koesnaedi from Bambang's photo of her and doesn't recognize Yayan Ruhian at all.
    • When talkshow host Alexi moves to the dorm, he expects old tenant Topan would be asking for a photo, but Topan asks who is he instead. For contrast, Juna and Susan in the same episode recognize Alexi in their first meeting and in a single glance, respectively.
    • Alexi, despite being a celebrity himself, has a hard time recognizing Yayan Ruhian upon meeting him and mistakes his role in The Raid (Mad Dog) for Matt Damon.
  • During a 1964 episode of the Morecambe And Wise show, The Beatles were a guest on the show; Eric Morecambe pretended not knowing who they are and jokingly confused them with The Gay Sisters.
  • The Muppet Show: Sam the Eagle makes a huge fuss over Rudolf Nureyev being that week's guest but when Nureyev arrives Sam fails to recognise him in his street clothes and throws him out of the theatre.
  • Some Power Rangers episodes have people who have never heard of the Power Rangers and are completely unaware of the various alien races and monsters that try to invade Earth once a week. These people must have been living under a rock because each series is established to be in the same continuity, the various Ranger teams get treated as celebrities for constantly saving the day, and the various invasions became such a fact of life that some schools even have courses on the aliens and monsters.
  • One episode of Spitting Image had Ronald Reagan meeting Mikhail Gorbachev, but failing to recognize him, causing him to wonder what kept Leonid Brezhnev so long?
    • Another sketch has Prince Charles meeting Mark Knopfler and asking him what he does for a living? Knopfler says: "I'm in Dire Straits", to which the crown prince replies: "Oh, I'm so sorry for you, but we'll try to help you out."
    • A sketch featuring a parody of a 1980s drug prevention advert with rock star Pete Townshend also plays with this trope. Townshend meets some teenagers in the park and tells them he understands that they are curious about drugs and that he's been "down that that road" too, but that they shouldn't try it. The teenagers, however, haven't got any idea who he is? He tells them: "I'm from The Who." To which they answer: "Who?" He: "Exactly."
  • Stargate Atlantis: In "Brain Storm", Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson play themselves at a meeting of renowned scientists. The latter introduces himself as being "from TV"; Dr. Keller has no idea who he is. Presumably they don't get PBS in the Pegasus Galaxy.
  • Step by Step: Frank claims he does know something about opera: "I've heard of that Luciano Pepperoni guy!"
  • Young Sheldon: In "Babies, Lies and a Resplendent Cannoli", Sheldon and Dr. Linkletter are upset that no one they've talked to about Asimov knew who he was. Sturgis and Connie at least know who he is, but he has never read his work, while she once tried to after being convinced by Pop-Pop but found it boring.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • After Silas Young and The Beer City Bruiser were rejected from the Ring of Honor Six Man Tag Team Championship Tournament for not having a third partner, Silas Young bought a smartphone for the sole purpose of finding one. Five days to the deadline, Young found clips of a man who he was willing to team with and showed them to the Bruiser, only to learn he was looking at videos of The Beer City Bruiser.

  • In The Bible, Jesus was able to do this at times. The most well-known incident happened shortly after his crucifixion and resurrection, where he met up with two of his former followers who were walking down the road to another town. He spent the whole journey discussing recent events with them and pointing out various things the scriptures said about himself, but it was only at the end of the trip when they sat down for a meal together that they finally realized who he was. There may have been elements of A Wizard Did It involved, or at least Weirdness Censor as they certainly weren't expecting a casual chat with a guy who was recently deceased.

  • A SportsBet sketch lampooning State of Origin in 2018, Brett Finch was sitting next to a Queensland fan, who didn't know who he was.
    Queensland Fan: You fly Origin Air, much?
    Brett Finch: Yeah. All the time.
    Queensland Fan: That's weird. I don't really remember ya.
    Brett Finch: I kicked the winning field goal in '06.
    Queensland Fan: Ah, you're Shaun Timmins!
    Brett Finch: [sighs annoyingly]


    Video Games 
  • In the Citadel DLC of Mass Effect 3, during the charity ball at the casino, two Asari socialites mistake Commander Shepard for just another refugee from Earth, living homeless on the Citadel.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, the heroes can't enter two high-class shops in the Mushroom Mall until they've proved that they're the right sort of clientele... even though most inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom recognize Mario on sight.
    • And as for the other brother, about half the cast of Mario & Luigi games has difficulty recognizing him or remembering his name, including Bowser. At the end of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Bowser finally says Luigi's name.
  • This is a Running Gag in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door; whenever Mario meets a village elder, they're behind the times and don't recognize him (to the annoyance of their younger relatives).
    • Pennington quickly uses his detective skills to deduce that Mario is in fact, Luigi.
  • In Seymour Goes to Hollywood, the first puzzle is realizing that the security guard at Seymour's movie studio will not recognize Seymour unless he wears sunglasses. Everyone else in the game recognizes Seymour regardless.
  • In Splatoon 2, the player character (Agent 4) has no idea who Marie is, despite Marie and her cousin Callie being celebrities whose popularity has only grown since the first game. Not even Marie doing her iconic "Stay Fresh" pose rings a bell. The idol is rather disappointed, saying that Agent 4 not "very cultured." The official relationship chart explains that this is because Agent 4 doesn't keep up with pop culture.
    Agent 4: She's apparently famous, but you'd have to watch TV to know that.

    Visual Novels 
  • Sweet Fuse: At Your Side with Wakasa, who's a singer in a pop group. When first introducing himself to the group, he asks if he really needs to introduce himself, because he's sure everyone knows him already.
    Wakasa: But do I really have to introduce myself? I mean, you've all seen me on TV, right?
    Shidou: ...No.
    Urabe: My apologies, but I have little knowledge of the secular world.
    Meoshi: I don't care about TV.
    Shirabe: You look kind of familiar but... I've got to be honest, if you were important I'm sure I'd recognize you.
    Wakasa: Really?! None of you?!

    Web Animation 
  • Rooster Teeth released a webisode of the creator of Arby 'n' the Chief, Jon Graham, visiting the office. Initially, he's mistaken for Gary Busey and is worshiped in almost mythic undertones, to his chagrin. Then when the guys of Rooster Teeth realise that it's not Gary Busey, they mistake him for Nick Nolte, and immediately kick him out.
  • A Running Gag in the annual Halloween cartoons on Homestar Runner is Homestar's inability to recognize other characters' costumes, even more obvious ones. This dates all the way back to "Homestarloween Party", where Homestar mistakes Strong Bad for the Chiquita Banana Lady and he has to remind him "I'm Carmen freakin' Miranda!" Homestar has even failed to recognize his own costumes more than once, mistaking his Yahoo Serious(ly) costume from "Most in the Graveyard" for Carrot Top and Crocodile Dundee. This is lampshaded in Halloween Hide & Seek, where Homestar claims that failing to recognize the Halloween costumes of his friends and neighbors is "like half my whole deal."
  • In RWBY, Jaune Arc didn't know who Pyrrha Nikos is, even though she's a world-famous athlete who won four fighting tournaments in a row (a world record) and endorses products. She later reveals this was why she fell for him. Since he didn't know who she was, he approached and talked to her like an equal. Everybody else was intimidated and kept their distance.
  • In Hazbin Hotel, Angel Dust has no idea who Alastor the Radio Demon is, which Vaggie is surprised since he's been in Hell almost as long as Alastor. He says he doesn't follow politics.

    Web Comics 
  • In Leif & Thorn, Rowan unknowingly becomes internet friends with the head writer of his favorite TV show. Knowing that Rowan is a fan of the show, said writer is little surprised when they video chat for the first time and Rowan doesn't recognize him.

    Web Videos 
  • 80's Dan: In one episode Dolly was dressed up as Sailor Moon for Halloween. To her irritation 80s Dan thought that she was wearing the best Donald Duck costume he ever saw.
  • The Cinema Snob: Brad enjoys addressing actors and actresses in his films by names of other lookalike celebrities.
  • Critical Role: Campaign Two: Sunbreaker Olomon is both a paragon of the Kryn Dynasty throughout his many Reincarnations and a highly recognizable figure in his current life as a huge minotaur. As outsiders, the player characters know none of this, leaving him a bit bemused when they ask him for his name.
  • The Spoony Experiment: A recurring gag in Spoony's reviews of the Ultima games is his annoyance at characters failing to recognise the Avatar, who in addition to being the Christ-figure of their religion, has entire museums devoted to their deeds that stretch through hundreds of years of their recorded history.
    Spoony Avatar: Read a book people?! I know humility is supposed to be one of the Eight Virtues, but I'm the Goddamn Avatar!
  • A Running Gag with the Third Rate Gamer, which goes to particularly audacious heights. For example, he notices that the title character of Little Nemo: The Dream Master wears pajamas and wonders if he's sleeping over at Michael Jackson's house; he shows a picture of Jesse Jackson instead. Other examples include conflating Sonny Bono with Cheech Marin and Shaquille O'Neal with Tiger Woods.

    Western Animation 
  • In American Dad!, Greg and Stan are at a party talking to Nelson Mandela. Stan however thinks he's Morgan Freeman and Mr. Mandela was one of his nicknames.
  • At the end of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Cry Freedom Fighters!", then-president Barack Obama congratulates the heroes on their victory. Plastic Man has no idea who he is, even with the Presidential Seal behind him which clearly says "PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES".
  • The Boondocks:
    • Grandpa Freeman doesn't know who Usher is, and thinks everyone is talking about a theater usher, wondering what the big deal is.
    • In another episode involving Martin Luther King Juniornote , Huey and MLKJ try to get past a bouncer to MLKJ's own benefit, only for the bouncer to demand a cash payment.
  • In Dan Vs. "High School Reunion", nobody at the reunion recognizes Chris. This is despite Chris apparently participating in every activity and club in high school. He was overshadowed by Dan, whose antics during high school actually made Dan something of a celebrity at their school since said antics made high school bearable for everyone. This irritates Chris so much that he ends up activating the revenge scheme Dan had planned for the reunion (Dan already having given up on it after finding out his former classmates actually liked him).
  • Darkwing Duck: When Darkwing Duck appears at Dizzy Studios in "A Star Is Scorned", everyone comments about him not wearing his "sailor suit".
  • In the Dexter's Laboratory crossover with Dynomutt, Dog Wonder, while Dexter is a fan of the Blue Falcon, Dexter's dad mistakes him for the mascot of a football team called The Falcons. When the superhero tries to correct him, Dexter's dad doesn't get it.
  • The Donald Duck cartoon "The Autograph Hound" has Donald traveling to Hollywood trying to get an autograph of various famous movie stars. Eventually Shirley Temple gives him one. When a police officer tries to arrest Donald for trespassing, Shirley shouts "Leave him alone, that's Donald Duck!" Only then does the policeman recognize him and wants an autograph. Even more astounding: everybody in Hollywood, even actors that previously tormented Donald when he bugged them, now all recognize him and also want his signature!
  • DuckTales (2017): Scrooge McDuck is incapable of recognizing Darkwing Duck despite meeting several times before.
  • In the Filmation The Flash segment "The Chemo-Creature", two farmers clearly have no idea who the Flash is and are completely shocked when he uses his Super Speed, even though he's a famous superhero who is adored by the public.
  • The Flintstones episode "The Rock Quarry Story" involves the eponymous actor wanting a break from Hollyrock life and visiting Bedrock, whereupon he bumps into Fred and Barney. Despite being a popular actor in-universe (one of Wilma and Betty's favorites, in fact), Fred and Barney fail to recognize him and mistake him for a lookalike (which Rock helps with by introducing himself using his little-known real name: Gus Gravel). Wilma and Betty, on the other hand, recognize him instantly until they are told by Fred and Barney that Rock is just a lookalike named Gus. Later, Rock is ready to return to Hollyrock and confesses to the Flintstones and the Rubbles who he really is, but by this point, he cannot even convince Wilma and Betty of who he actually is (all four of them think he's either just being funny or that he's just outright crazy). It isn't until Rock is swarmed by loony fans and paparazzi the minute he steps out of the Flintstones' yard that they realize he was telling the truth.
  • Similarly, in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, there are occasionally people who have never heard of G.I. Joe or Cobra. For example, in "My Brother's Keeper", a meddling cop tries to arrest Sgt. Slaughter and his teammates, thinking they're troublemakers. Slaughter explains that they're members of G.I. Joe chasing some Cobra agents, but this info is meaningless to the cop, forcing them to escape.
  • In the Gravity Falls episode "Headhunters", Grunkle Stan shows off his collection of wax figures, and mistakes Larry King for "some kind of goblin-man".
  • King of the Hill:
    • "The Father, The Son, and J.C.", Bobby mistakes the visiting Jimmy Carter for the Second Coming of Jesus. At the end of the episode, when the others correct this mistake, Bobby has no idea who Jimmy Carter is.
    • In "Hank's Unmentionable Problem", Hank walks in on Peggy watching a programme about constipation by former Surgeon General C. Everett Coop. Hank immediately exclaims "Who the hell is that? Howard Stern?"
  • In an episode of Johnny Bravo guest-starring Luke Perry, the former briefly mistakes the latter for Fidel Castro.
  • Kim Possible:
    • Playing to his occasional Butt-Monkey status, there's a Running Gag that no matter how many times Kim and Ron defeat Dr. Drakken, Drakken can't remember Ron's name. Finally comes to a head in Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama, when an enraged Ron confronts a defeated Drakken:
      Ron: Say my name! SAY IT!
      Drakken: Ooh... Ron Stoppable!
      Ron: [quietly] Boo-yah.
    • Drakken's own attempts to make an impressive entrance occasionally fall flat when the people he's intruding upon don't recognize him or, worse, mistake him for Professor Dementor.
  • In an episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies guest-starring Jonathan Winters as himself, Winters and Mystery INC try to convince Vernon, Maude Frickert's farmhand, to let them stay the night. This exchange happens:
    Winters: Look, fella, we don't know anything about a secret formula. I'm Jonathan Winters, the famous comedian.
    Vernon: Jonathan who? The what?
    Winters: Jonathan Winters, the not-so-famous comedian.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: In the episode "Burglar Alarmed", a burglar had somehow never heard of the girls despite them being superheroes and tries to rob their house, leading to a Freak Out when he sees a framed photograph of Bubbles shooting lasers out of her eyes and then sees them flying. At the end of the episode, he decides to try to rob the house of famous supervillain Mojo Jojo, again thinking he is ordinary.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", Homer meets George Harrison. At first, he appears to recognize him, but then he cries out, "Where did you get that brownie?!" It's not entirely clear whether Homer failed to recognise Harrison or knew exactly who he was but just thought the brownie was more important.
    • Homer also confused Stephen Hawking with Larry Flynt in "They Saved Lisa's Brain".
    • In "The Regina Monologues", Homer mistook then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair for Mr. Bean.
    • In "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" Homer mistook Emperor Akihito for a sumo wrestler nicknamed The Emperor and threw him into a bin of used Mawashis.
    • In "Stark Raving Dad" Homer apparently never heard of Michael Jackson, something that especially in 1991 during Michael's heyday was outrageously impossible. Even Jackson self says to Homer: "I can't believe you've never heard of me? I'm a very popular entertainer" and names several things that made him famous ("Motown", "Thriller", MTV, "Beat It"), even singing "Billie Jean" while performing his Moonwalk Dance, but none of these rings a bell with Homer. A twist on this is vital to the episode's plot — since Homer doesn't know who Michael Jackson is, he has no problem believing the story of an enormous, white mental patient who claims to be him (and does have the moves and the voice). Everyone else in Springfield knows who Jackson is though, so when Bart is told over the phone that Michael Jackson is coming to his house for dinner, and he spreads the word, Hilarity Ensues.
    • In "The Last Temptation of Homer", Homer's guardian angel appears to him in the guise of Newton, assuming that Homer would recognize him. Homer does not, so he transforms himself to Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes. Similarly, "Hungry Hungry Homer" has Homer visited by the ghost of Cesar Chavez, but this time Chavez knew in advance that Homer would not recognize him, so he instead took the form of Cesar Romero.
    • And this trope is not just relegated to Homer. One of the funniest recognition failures goes to Mayor Quimby in "Marge vs. The Monorail" for not recognizing Leonard Nimoy:
      Quimby: And let me say, "May the force be with you!"
      Nimoy: (Clearly annoyed) Don't you know who I am?
      Quimby: I think I do. Weren't you one of The Little Rascals?
    • In "Two Bad Neighbors" none of the Springfieldians have any clue who George H. W. Bush is until Bush specifies himself as "former president George Bush".
    • In "She of Little Faith" Lenny, despite being a Buddhist, has never heard of the Dalai Lama, nor Buddha!
    • Mr. Burns fails to recognize The Ramones in "Rosebud"— he is an old man — and is genuinely shocked by their performance. He then orders to have The Rolling Stones killed.
    • In "Special Edna", Homer mistakes Little Richard for both Prince and Michael Jackson.
    • A truly odd and hilarious example happens in "Deep Space Homer" when after Astronaut Homer and his crew are having trouble in space, mission control brings in James Taylor to calm the men down. An impressed Homer believes that he used to be the president.note 
  • Sonic Boom: In "Planes, Trains, and Dude-mobiles", while on a road trip trying to get to their next performance, Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails get pulled over for speeding twice. Both times, they say they are the band Dude-itude, but the cop says that he doesn't listen to music. Incredibly annoyed, Sonic introduces himself as the famous hero who has saved the island several times, but the cop doesn't know of him and doesn't give them any leniency.
  • South Park: In "Fishsticks", Cartman and Jimmy are held tied up by Kanye West who plans to kill them in retaliation for the "fish dicks" joke. Jimmy has no idea who he is and Cartman misidentifies him as "Puff Daddy".
  • Superman: The Animated Series
  • In Teen Titans, when Cyborg helps rescue Elasti-Girl, she says, "Thanks, whoever you are." and walks away. Annoyed, he complains, "Lady, I've helped save the world, several times!"
  • Occasionally in The Transformers, even though the Transformers are public knowledge and the Autobots were declared national heroes all the way back in episode 3, there is a person who has somehow never heard of them.

    Real Life 
  • As strange as it might seem, even in real life people may fail to recognize celebrities. There are several logical reasons behind this:
    • The very idea of meeting a celebrity in the street is something most regular people would find highly unlikely. So when it does happen they might assume it's just an imitator or a look-alike.
    • Certain actors and musicians are difficult to recognize without their make-up or Iconic Item. Also, they may appear a lot smaller or thinner in person, compared with how they appear in photos and videos (there's a lot of truth to the saying "the camera adds ten pounds"). This can be further compounded by the way their faces may be distorted by 2D images on TV screens or photographs, as well as things like makeup, lighting, and Photoshop, without which, celebrities often look more like normal people.
    • Some celebrities are more famous for their name than their face. This is especially true for authors, for instance, but also to some iconic, internationally known celebrities like Neil Armstrong. And all but the most die-hard fans of animation and video games will fail to recognize voice actors, especially if those voice actors don't often use their natural speaking voices for characters they portray. In a similar fashion, most comic book creators (the notable exception being Stan Lee) tend to be unknown outside of the comics fandom, and at best tend to be known for their fictional creations than their actual faces and personalities.
    • People who suffer from amnesia, prosopagnosia (an illness that makes it difficult to recognize faces), went through a coma or don't keep up with modern times anymore may also have trouble recognizing celebrities.
    • When you're not interested in certain professions you won't recognize or care for celebrities in that niche either. For instance, someone who doesn't read novels or comic books will not recognize authors or comic book creators, while someone who doesn't care for sports will not recognize members of the national team. And since the majority of people don't care about politics at all they will fail to recognize or know most politicians either, especially if the politicians are not known outside of their respective constituencies.
    • Age is also a factor. You can hardly blame a child or a teenager for not recognizing certain celebrities when the children or teenagers at an age when they are still learning a lot about the world. This is especially true of most people who were famous before they were born. Also, certain topics, like politics or history, may not interest them that much. In the same way older people may also be unaware of more recent celebrities because it's not always easy to keep up with all the trends and their interest in certain subjects may fade away. For instance, most people may lose interest in current pop music once they start settling an adult life and focus on their family.
    • Lack of access to modern media can also play a role. If you don't own a radio, TV or Internet you will be unfamiliar with many media celebrities.
    • Then there is the matter of nationality. Local celebrities will not be recognized outside their town, region or country. Some celebrities of the West may not be known in the East or the Third World, and vice versa.
      • Certain isolated countries, where censorship of foreign media is rampant, can also play a vital role in this.
    • The passage of time can also play a role. People who were famous in their time may fall into obscurity after a few years, decades or centuries. For instance, does anyone know any famous Roman gladiator or Ancient Greek Olympic champion? How many vaudeville stars of the 19th century would you be able to recognize? Or movie stars from the silent era? Even popular media stars may be more famous to people who grew up with them than the generation who followed behind them. A good example would be Shirley Temple, the most recognizable child star of all time. Yet she was mostly in the media during her heyday in the 1930s and 1940s. After that, she left show business and thus remained out of the public picture. Even when she did appear in public the once adorable little girl had now become a grown-up woman and wouldn't be recognized that easily, even by people who knew her as a child star, unless someone told them so.
    • Yet another factor is Germans Love David Hasselhoff. A celebrity may be not quite famous, popular or past his prime in his home country, but a huge star elsewhere!
  • Soccer is popular in every single country across the world, but not in the USA. Therefore many international soccer icons will not be recognized in the United States. On the same token, most baseball players will not be famous outside the USA, cricketers will only be known in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations, sumo wrestlers will only be famous in Japan, cyclists in Europe and toreadors only in Spain. And returning to the United States, many Formula One drivers can pass by unrecognized given it's not as popular there as NASCAR or Indy Car.
  • David Lee Roth tells stories of coming off of Van Halen's wildly successful first tour and not being able to get into Studio 54.
  • Apparently, Bryan Danielson was often not recognized by security guards when he showed up at the arena for his wrestling matches.
  • A security guard denied CM Punk, who was WWE Champion at the time, entry into Madison Square Garden on the Dec. 30, 2011 edition of WWE SmackDown as he "didn't buy that he was a wrestler." It wasn't until a second security recognized Punk and got him into the building.
  • Mickey Mantle was once in upstate New York when he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Anticipating that the other visitors there would request his autograph, he brought along a couple hundred autographed photos of himself to hand out to people. But despite spending all day at the baseball mecca, the Yankee great was recognized by absolutely no for one guy who looked at him and said, "Hey, aren't you—?...Nah, you couldn't be."
  • Jimmy Page was refused entry to an event for Led Zeppelin after he shaved his beard earlier that day and nobody recognized him. Which is pretty weird since he spent much of his fame being clean-shaven as well.
  • Charlie Chaplin once lost a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest and only came in third place. Then again, he entered the contest without the proper costume or the age of 86.
  • Groucho Marx was far less distinctive-looking without his painted-on eyebrows and mustache (part of the reason he grew a mustache later in life for You Bet Your Life). Reportedly led to this exchange:
    Enthusiastic but mistaken fan: Are you Harpo Marx?!
    Groucho: (irked) No, are you?
  • Naomi Watts has noted that people hardly ever notice her when she goes out in public. Some people will even brush her aside to get to her husband Liev Schreiber or ask her to take their picture. She likes this, as this means people don't bother her like they do most celebrities.
  • Author Clive Barker once showed up early at a horror convention where he was a featured guest and was not only unrecognized by the convention-goers, but by security and was told that he had to pay admission. Being the prankster that he is, he paid the admission fee and had a grand time mixing with the convention goers.
  • The Cardigans singer Nina Persson enjoys singing in karaoke bars occasionally. In a recent interview with Billboard, she told a story about an outing where she sang "We Are the World" at a karaoke bar in New York and got a bunch of smack from one of the other customers for, "Trying to sound like the girl from The Cardigans." Persson found the whole thing very funny.
  • Former WWE Diva Amy Zidian was incredibly rude to several people, including Vickie Guerrero and Stephanie McMahon. It turned out that she had no idea who the latter two were and assumed they were stupid hired help. Refusing to apologize after they explained who they were led to her being fired.
  • Nathan Fillion and Wil Wheaton both told attendees at Ottawa ComicCon 2013 how they had been to a local restaurant the previous evening when an enthusiastic fan approached their table for a photograph with Wheaton and, not having any idea who Fillion was, asked him to take the photo. Fillion's and Wheaton's versions of the tale were self-deprecating but remarkably similar in emphasizing how much fun it was for Wheaton.
  • Randy Taraborrelli's biography about Michael Jackson tells an anecdote from the mid-1970s when the pop star was interviewed by a journalist and to his amazement had no idea who (then-current U.S.) president Gerald Ford was!!
    • It happened with Jackson too. Belgian children's book illustrator Marcel Marlier, of the "Martine" book series, was approached by the pop star to make some drawings for him. The old artist felt flattered, but had no clue who Jackson was?
    • Marilyn Manson was once confused with Michael Jackson in public.
  • Queen Elizabeth II met rock stars Brian May, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck in 2005 and asked them: "And what do you do?"
  • In 1983 American teenager Samantha Smith wrote a letter to Soviet President Yuri Andropov asking him whether Russia wanted to go to war with the U.S.A.? The Soviet leader assured her this wasn't the case and invited her and her parents for an official state visit to Russia. While Samantha was there she received a phone call from cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova - the first woman in space. Unfortunately, the little girl had no idea who Tereshkova was and simply hung up again.
  • Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar met George Harrison in 1966, but didn't know much about the man, having only vaguely heard that he was part of "a very popular band in the West."
  • Big conventions, such as the San Diego Comic Con and similar can also lead to this happening, where people from various different mediums and fandoms are coming together. As not everyone is going to follow every nerdy genre being celebrated at the con, they're likely to not know who every single attendee is, no matter how big or famous they are with their specific genre.
    • In a similar case at conventions, there's also cases where people cosplaying as certain characters will be completely unrecognised by many attendees. Thanks to the popularity of recent superhero films, this can lead to cosplayers dressing in grouped outfits for some of them (the ones who're dressed as characters with movies) to be identified easily, while others in the same group (whose characters don't have films) to be completely invisible to some people. A tumblr post commenting on this notes how a duo dressed as Hawkeye (from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Mockingbird (from Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series) had to put up with people excited to take pictures with the Hawkeye, but completely ignoring the Mockingbird cosplayer due to the latter's lack of a film appearance.
  • In 2009 a seventy-year-old man was arrested for loitering in New Jersey. Who you might ask? Bob Dylan! At the time he wasn't carrying ID and the officers that accosted him had never heard his name before!
  • In the early 2000s, Gregg Allman saw Christina Aguilera at a club and went over to introduce himself. She and her friends had no idea who he was. When he mentioned that he used to be married to Cher, they accused him of lying, saying that her husband (meaning Sonny Bono) was dead.
  • In the 1970s quite some people outside the punk scene had troubling telling Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious apart. While the resemblance is loose, the two did look,dress, and style their hair similarly enough that even modern punk fans can have trouble telling which tousle-haired icon a given vintage photo depicts. The fact that today Johnny Rotten arguably looks more like Sid Vicious than his own past self doesn't help matters any.
  • Tex Avery quit animation in the 1950s and went to work in the advertising industry. Because of his cartooning experience, he was often asked to help along with the creation of cartoons for TV commercials. One of these featuring Bugs Bunny. Avery naturally had a lot of great ideas to put in the commercial, but one of the skeptical executives- who had no idea who Avery was- doubted whether this man could even draw the character?!?
  • Matt Groening once tried to explain to a woman in Thailand who he was by drawing Bart Simpson. The woman seemed to recognize the character but then said: "Ah! Mickey Mouse!"
  • Shawn Michaels once attended an NBA game and participated in a skit where he superkicked a team's mascot character. Many people in the audience were confused and wondering who he was.
  • Elijah Wood and Daniel Radcliffe, of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter fame respectively, have on several occasions been mistaken for each other, this having become a bit of a Memetic Mutation on the internet.
  • Marilyn Monroe apparently loved to invoke this trope intentionally. She claimed that, despite her great fame, she never needed to disguise herself in public (beyond casual clothing) because she simply had to turn on/off her "Marilyn" personae/presence/body-language and then she could pass unnoticed as just another girl on the street.
  • When the Nobel peace prizewinner Rigoberta Menchu arrived at a conference at the invitation of the President of Mexico, the five-star hotel's staff assumed from her Mayan dress that she was a street vendor and threw her out before other guests intervened.
  • Queen Elizabeth II was once walking near Balmoral, in her usual Balmoral outfit of practical country clothes and headscarf, when a group of tourists asked if she lived in the area and, on being told yes, whether she'd ever met the queen. She replied she hadn't, and, pointing to the plain-clothes policeman behind her, added: "But he has."
    • Early in her reign the queen was at a teashop in Norfolk, accompanied by another woman and both wearing headscarves. Another customer at a nearby table leaned across their table to say, "Excuse me, but you do look awfully like the queen." The queen smiled and said, "How very reassuring."
  • Before his inauguration, Thomas Jefferson was refused a hotel room at an upscale Washington DC hotel because the hotel's owner thought he was just some random, dust-covered farmer (Truth in Television here, as Jefferson actually did prefer wearing farmer's clothes whenever he could). After Jefferson left, the hotel owner was told he'd just refused a room to the president-elect. The owner quickly sent a messenger apologizing and offering Jefferson a room. While Jefferson accepted the apology, he declined to accept the room, telling the messenger to tell the owner "If he has no room for a dusty farmer, he has no room for me."
  • When he was US President, Ulysses S. Grant was stopped by a police officer for driving his horse-drawn wagon too fast. The officer didn't recognize the President and issued a citation and fine. Grant not only paid the fine but also sent the officer a commendation letter, praising him for doing his job and not letting the fact that he was the President stop him from doing so.
    • And in 1932, a German police officer called Patrolman Pabst stopped a chauffered car for speeding. He spoke sternly to the occupants, ascertained the driver had been speeding at the demand of the passenger and vehicle owner, who was impatient to arrive in Munich for a meeting. After lecturing the occupants for breaking the law, he inquired their names, and wrote a speeding citation to the responsible owner, methodically recording the passenger's occupation as "politician" and his name as Herr Adolf Hitler. Hitler paid his speeding fine promptly. History is silent as to what became of Officer Pabst.
  • Canadian comedian Steve Smith, co-creator and star of The Red Green Show, has said in interviews that he gets mobbed in public when he wears the character's Iconic Outfit of a plaid shirt, suspenders and a fishing hat. However, when he's in public in any other kind of clothes, nobody recognizes him.
  • A man wearing a t-shirt featuring Ham Porter from The Sandlot was stopped by two guys, who asked to take a picture with him. The man didn't realize the two guys in question were Patrick Renna (who played Ham) and Tom Guiry (Smalls).
  • In February 2016, at a Grammy afterparty, a bouncer particularly bad with faces managed to turn away a group composed of Paul McCartney, Beck, Taylor Hawkins and Woody Harrelson. As Sir Paul put it, "How VIP do we gotta get?"
  • Hugo Weaving was once mistaken for a homeless man. He talks about it here.
  • According to Ilene Woods, the voice actress for the eponymous Cinderella, when she took her three-year-old daughter to the premiere, during the screening, her daughter shouted "My mommy's Cinderella!" when she heard Cinderella speak, after which two women sitting behind them said "Isn't that sweet? She thinks her mother is Cinderella."
  • A large part of Tony Hawk's Twitter feed is him recounting stories about almost being recognized as professional skateboarder Tony Hawk.
  • In an infamous video interview in February 2014, KTLA reporter Sam Rubin asked Samuel L. Jackson in passing about his Super Bowl ad. Except... that wasn't Jackson, that was Laurence Fishburne. Jackson was less than pleased. Rubin apologized during the interview and made a formal apology later that night.
    Jackson: I'm not Laurence Fishburne. We don't all look alike!
  • As he coached Georgetown at the 2021 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, Patrick Ewing was frequently stopped by security, which made the retired New York Knicks legend angry - "I thought this was my building! I'm going to have to call [Knicks owner James Dolan] and say, 'Geez, is my number in the rafters or what?'"
  • Adam Savage says that he often doesn't get recognized or gets strange looks as people try to remember where they know him from, as he doesn't wear his iconic black v-neck and jeans in his private life. However, he gets recognized immediately if he's ever out and about with Jamie Hyneman (who wears his own iconic outfit all the time) because while Adam might be the guy from Mythbusters, Jamie definitely is that guy.
  • When Colin Baker was filming the Doctor Who episode "The Mark of the Rani", one scene was in a forest and he was tied up for a Tribal Carry. When it started raining, the crew packed up and left, but accidentally left him behind and it took an hour for someone to come get him. According to him, a couple and their dog found him after about ten minutes, but because the couple had never heard of Doctor Who and didn't recognize him, the absurdity of the situation led them to just leave him there.


Video Example(s):


Sam Doesn't Requize Guest

After Sam gets worried that the show's guest, Rudolph Nureyev, saw an uncultured act that was just on the show, Kermit informs him that the guest hasn't arrived yet. At that moment, Rudolph Nureyev comes in the back door to the theater dressed in his street close. Sam, thinking Rudolph is some random punk, chases him out of the theater.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / RecognitionFailure

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