A performance or performer that evokes so much applause from the audience that the show is temporarily interrupted.
For obvious reasons, this is primarily a theater and live performance trope, as static audiences can't exactly rise up and give a standing ovation in a movie theater. It can still be parodied in that context, though, as pretty much everyone knows the basic idea behind a show stopper. Indeed, such meta-awareness dates to early 20th century film, if not earlier — it's an essential part of the live performance genre. Sometimes the script might actually call for the actors to nod toward the fourth wall in thanks.
A sillier variation, often enforced by a Laugh Track, is where a single character, simply by appearing on the stage, evokes such thunderous applause from the audience that everyone has to take a break before any lines can actually be said. Note that in original theater this was still part of the point. Back then it was called a clap trap — a part of a play or a musical performance designed to evoke applause, with a pause in the action to accommodate it. Since then, the phrase has been used to mean nonsense.
This is the supertrope to Epic Rocking.
- Parodied in a commercial for The Opie & Anthony Show, with Jim Norton making the big entrance.
- Austin Powers does it all the time. After doing or saying something cool, Austin turns to the audience and says, "Oh, thank you," in reply to the applause he expects.
- Lampshaded in Forever Amber when the actors pause to acknowledge the entrance of King Charles II.
- "The Parson's Bride" segment of 1936's Show Boat, in which all the actors acknowledge the audience at their entrances and exits.
- The Descendants song "Evil Like Me" by Kristin Chenoweth has Kristin unleashing all of the hamminess that she has in her body in a song that features tap-dancing, staff twirling and flying. Of course, everything that Kristin Chenoweth is in is probably a show stopper.
- Whose Line Is It Anyway?:
- Being performed in front of live audiences, often relies on at least one sketch being this in each performance. There's also a special game called "Show Stopping Number", which parodies this trope. Although the most epic one was probably Sid Caesar's guest appearance. Or Richard Simmons'.
- One game of "Superheroes" had Wayne Brady as "Show-Stopping Number Boy".
- Kramer on Seinfeld. They actually had to ask the audience to tone down the clapping, because it was ruining the show's pacing.
- Fonzie in later episodes of Happy Days was greeted like this, and had to stand in the doorway of Arnold's or the Cunninghams' house, waiting for it to stop.
- In Home Improvement, every time a funny is made, the Reaction Shot of (usually) a confused Tim lasts for several seconds before the laughter dies down.
- Steve Urkel from Family Matters would often evoke this response upon entering the scene.
- Jazz from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air also had this effect when he'd drop in to the Banks' house, ironically more so after he started appearing less.
- Red Dwarf has the line-delayed-by-laughter version: the Polymorph takes the form of Lister's boxer shorts, which start shrinking after he puts them on. Kryten (who has a vacuum cleaner attachment plugged into his groin socket) is desperately trying to remove them when Rimmer walks in. There's a very long pause before Rimmer makes a comment, because Chris Barrie had to wait for the audience's laughter to subside enough to be heard.
- Parodied in a sketch on The Carol Burnett Show where she and Harvey Korman played famous stage actors. They would enter the scene within the scene and get tons of applause, which would always stop as soon as they acknowledged it and started to bow, creating many uncomfortable pauses.
- In later seasons of Married... with Children, the entrance of nearly any major character was met with cheers and hoots from the studio audience, forcing the cast to pause for a second before continuing the scene.
- In a segment of The Chaser's War on Everything, Chas "tests" whether botox/fake-tans/dyed-hair will increase his attractiveness (or rather, make him hot like Daniel Craig). He does this to only one half of his body and face, leaving the other half untouched. The utter ridiculousness of his appearance leads to continued laughter from the studio audience even when Andrew attempts to move on to the next segment of the show, eventually causing Andrew to start laughing as well and have to restart the segment's introduction.
- The three-part Disney Channel Live-Action Universe crossover That's So Suite Life of Hannah Montana has applause play whenever a character entered another's show.
- During his Season 2 guest run on Friends, Tom Selleck garnered such an endless ovation every time on set that they wound up shooting his scenes without an audience just so they could actually finish filming the episodes.
- Family Matters: Steve Urkel started to evoke this reaction as the character became more popular. It's obvious that TPTB actually had to start allotting time for the audience reaction, as the actors in the scene would clearly freeze in place, waiting for the cheers to quiet down before beginning the scene.
- Halfway through the song "Kelvinside Man" by Victor and Barry (Alan Cumming and Forbes Masson) is the line "We're known as local thespians. Some of our best friends are less well known than us". In a performance recorded as part of an Edinburgh Fringe documentary, the audience completely collapse at this point. The performers (who were clearly expecting this, although their characters weren't) stop dead and after several minutes Victor glares at the audience and demands "You finished?"
- One time on WWE SmackDown, when Hulk Hogan returned to WWE, his applause lasted a TV segment (approximately 15 minutes). When they came back from commercial, the crowd was still applauding — but since it wasn't broadcast live, it could have been only a short time after they "went to break" that they stopped. (Or conversely, it could have gone on for even longer.)
- I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: "It's now time to play the game called Mornington Crescent."
- In stage musicals, a powerful enough song can generally be considered a showstopper — "Defying Gravity" from Wicked is one such example, and "One Day More" from ''Les Misérables" is another.
- In opera, in addition to songs, single notes can be showstoppers. One prime example is the second act of Tosca, which has one showstopping aria (Vissi d'arte) quickly followed by Cavaradossi's famous outcry of "Vittoria! Vittoria!". If done well, the audience will cry "Bravo!" at this point and interrupt the show.
- Two in 1776:
- "The Lees of Old Virginia" is deliberately written to be as big and hammy as possible to carry the audience through the next half-hour, which is devoid of songs.
- "Molasses to Rum" is a much darker version that has Edward Rutledge damning the North by acting out a slave auction, to which slaves have been brought by New England ships. He only stops when a Northern man begs for mercy, and the whole Congress is left stunned and silent.
- The Lion King musical has the songs "Circle Of Life" and "He Lives In You".
- During the 2016 Grammys Hamilton performance, they deliberately added in several extra lines of silence after Lin-Manuel Miranda first sings the line "Alexander Hamilton" to account for the applause, but the applause was so strong that the next line ("My name is Alexander Hamilton") was still drowned out anyway. Compare this to the first performance of the song, back in 2009 at the White House, where the same line also created a strong response from the audience — but of confused laughter. How things have changed!
- In the Heights. At the realization that Benny and Nina have consummated their relationship (she comes out to join him on his fire escape wearing his shirt, the audience claps and cheers—in one instance, the actors had to start their dialogue over, as they'd been drowned out.
- While a fairly common practice in Tony Awards shows, the opening number in the 2013 show, "Bigger", pulled out all the stops. Performed by Neil Patrick Harris with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, it featured performers from all the major shows of the season, a cameo by Mike Tyson, some stage illusion and enough grand spectacle to fill a whole Broadway show, let alone an opening number. The standing ovation at the end was nearly a minute long. Lampshaded at the end by NPH:
"Well, that's our budget, goodnight!"
- The Weekenders made fun of this trope:
Carver: Why can't we help you? I mean, sure, Tino is pretty clueless, but I stopped the show with my act last year.
Lor: You knocked over a light and set the stage on fire.
Carver: Which stopped the show.
- In "The Talent Show" on the PBS version of The Berenstain Bears, Brother Bear is assigned as the talent scout for the school talent show. He finds a number of good acts, but is desperate to find his "showstopper," the big act that will bring down the house. His showstopper turns out to be the local "gang" leader / bully bear Too Tall, who has a surprisingly tender and compelling singing voice.
- Parodied in two early episodes of Family Guy:
- In "A Hero Sits Next Door," Brian makes a joke about "Bill Clinton's integrity." Peter goes to respond...and an unseen studio audience laughs and applauds uproariously. Peter and Brian deliberately look uncomfortable as they wait, as if they were actors on a live show.
- In "Running Mates," Peter emerges from the house to ask if Lois knows where his pants are. The studio audience that just moved in across the street thinks that's hilarious. Later, when they give an "Ooooooooooh" upon hearing that Chris got into trouble at school, Peter decides to call the cops on them.