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Video Call Fail

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In the future, we'll have video calls... but apparently not ringtones.

So you need to talk to someone over a teleconference app for whatever reason. You set up the software, go to talk, and...

What's this?

What is up with that background? Why can't you hear them? What is that they're wearing? Wha-...

...And they've accidentally ended the chat.

With the advent and normalisation of video call technology in The New '10s, a plethora of fun mistakes people will do arose in a teleconference call too. The recipient will typically put themselves on mute by mistake (either that, or they'll accidentally put everyone else on mute), put on an embarrassing or ridiculous background, remove themselves from the chat by mistake, dress inappropriately (or not at all) for the event, or put on an inappropriate filter, among other things. This is generally used in several ways:

Although this trope usually applies to video call software (like Skype, Zoom, Discord, and Microsoft Teams), this can apply to anything with a video chat function as well. Although this trope has logically existed since humanity made video call software, it saw a massive boost in popularity following the COVID-19 Pandemic, which saw the majority of people become reliant on teleconferencing software to continue their day-to-day work by working from home, regardless of their actual familiarity with said technology and strength of their Wi-Fi connection.

Usually played as a form of Cringe Comedy, and can often be an Overly Long Gag as a result. Compare Funny Phone Misunderstanding and Auto-Incorrect for other instances of mistakes that can be made using technology. Contrast Hollywood Web Cam for when a video call goes unrealistically well. If the failure happens when the character thinks they're no longer on, that's Is This Thing Still On?.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • A series of Folgers commercials dealt with people messing up on video meetings, like a guy standing up when he forgets he's not wearing pants or a woman who can't figure out how to turn off a wacky camera filter. They get through the embarrassment thanks to their coffee.
  • An ad showed a woman in lingerie casually walking past her boyfriend who's working on his laptop. We then see he's videoconferencing with an entire boardroom of stuffy executive types.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Variations occur in the Gundam metaseries:
    • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, where a person's face appears way too large and has to be corrected.
    • A similar incident occurs in ∀ Gundam where Gym Ghingnham and Aggrippa Maintainer are calling one another and Ghingnham's screen appears too large for Agrippa's liking, so he tries to minimize it, only for Ghingnham's image to get bigger again. Though given how much of a megalomaniac Ghingnham is, one has to wonder if he wasn't doing it on purpose somehow.
  • Photon: Papacharino Nanandan is at home, screwing one of his concubines (or wives, since he has 16 or 19, according to the story) when a video call comes in from Princess Lashara of the Imperial Palace. Papacharino hurriedly puts on a shirt and kicks his lady love off the bed. His servants, the dwarfish Pochis, set up the video phone to receive the call. He conducts the video call with the Princess while only dressed to the waist. His dangly bits, knobby knees, and hairy ass are below the camera frame.
  • Often happens on Pokémon: The Series, such as in the second episode "Pokemon Emergency!". Ash calls Professor Oak but shows Oak from the back before he fixes it.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert: This provides a good source of humour during the strips released during Lockdown. One notable example is this strip, where a fellow employee shows Dilbert his screen, only to get the wrong screen (which is not shown to the reader) and ends up quitting in embarrassment. Despite this, Dilbert thought it was the "best one ever".
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, Viz did a one-off strip which had a Diabolical Mastermind type attempt to hold the world to ransom via a broadcast hijack only to fall prey to various teleconferencing mishaps.

    Fan Works 
  • Create Your Own Fate has a Running Gag about people making video calls to other people at inopportune moments. K'Ragh calls Eleya when she's in the bathroom, and Eleya pulls her ship's JAG officer into a conference call while the latter is in the middle of a bowl of spaghetti. Eleya remarks in her Internal Monologue that her late mentor Admiral Alcott used to joke that Starfleet's communications people probably get a bonus for calling you in the middle of "a nice bath, about to have a romantic dinner, or otherwise at the worst, and most inconvenient time".
  • Lost to Dust: Yang, Gilgamesh, Kintoki, and Kairi contact Minamoto no Raikou, but the camera is focused on her breasts until an embarrassed Kintoki tells her to angle her camera up.

    Films — Animation 
  • Madagascar: In Penguins of Madagascar, when Dave calls the Penguins and North Wind about the Medusa Serum the Penguins stole, no audio comes from the call, so they tell Dave to turn on his audio. As he does so, he accidentally turns off his video, so they tell him to turn it back on. Dave also has a little trouble ending the call, so he asks his henchmen for help.
  • My Little Pony: The Movie (2017): Early on, The Storm King talks to Tempest Shadow through a Crystal Ball-like device, which is treated like a video call. He has some difficulty focusing the display and direction of the spell onto Tempest Shadow before he can put forward his plan. And that's before the spell ends because of, as Grubber put it, "bad spell service".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Casino Royale (1967). James Bond calls Vesper Lynd on the videophone hidden in her compact. Vesper is getting dressed, so she indignantly covers the camera until she hears Bond signing off, only to remove her hand to see Bond looking downwards expectantly.
  • Demolition Man: As he discovers the futuristic amenities of his new apartment in 2032, John Spartan, to his surprise, receives a video call from a naked woman coming out of the shower and who got a wrong number.
  • Dumb Money: During his Congressional testimony, Gabe Plotkin gets embarrassed by his audio glitching out: his opening remarks go completely unheard, and he can't seem to hear the Congressman trying to tell him that he's on mute.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Happy Hogan is hopelessly incompetent with video calls. At one point in Iron Man 3, he contacts Tony but is almost entirely out of frame, prompting Tony to call him "the forehead of security" to Happy's confusion.
  • Spaceballs: President Skroob has a tendency to receive video calls at inopportune times, like when he's romancing twins in his bedroom or taking a leak at the toilet.
    Skroob: I told you to never call me on this wall! This is an unlisted wall!

    Literature 
  • Infinite Jest: In the world of the novel, the prospect of this when video phones become popular causes people to use elaborate masks when making video calls. The annoyance of this practice means that people simply abandon the video phone and go back to regular voice calls.
  • Roys Bedoys: In "Distance Learning Has Rules, Roys Bedoys!", Ms. H tries to teach her class through video chat, but then the wi-fi drops out. The girls speculate on what could have caused it, Roys suggests maybe it was aliens, and Maker does a Big "NO!" at the prospect of not learning anything.
  • The Patchwork Girl. As Luna's culture doesn't have a nudity taboo, Gil Hamilton has to always check that his videophone is audio only if he's in the bath before answering. Once he's pleasantly surprised to get a call from a stark-naked Luna Fair Cop who messed up the 'audio only' command, but he decides it would be polite not to mention it. Until she mentions it, explaining that it wasn't an accident.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Friends: Monica shows up to confront Pete Becker about him leaving her an enormous cheque with his phone number on it while he's in a video conference with some of his employees. He turns off most of the screens so they can talk, but misses one guy who has to awkwardly point out that he can still hear them.
    • Once they start dating, Monica brings the rest of the gang to Pete's aprtment while he's out of town so they can look around. He happens to call to check up on her via his home videophone. The gang dive for cover as Monica answers, but Pete reveals he can still see them all.
  • Galavant: Using a crystal ball, Galavant is able to "call" Isabella. The bad connection only allows her to hear every other word he says, transforming his words into insults. Devastated, she spends the majority of the season believing him to have dumped her; he only learns of this misunderstanding much later and is only able to clear it up once they reunite in-person.
  • The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: In one of the cold opens from December 2021, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin meet over Zoom, and do things like accidentally leaving themselves on mute or activating filters.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: At the end of the "Ninja Quest" storyline, the Rangers contact their new ally Ninjor via the Viewing Globe. Ninjor initially appears with his back to them, having no idea which direction he should be facing in.
  • A pandemic-themed Monk special for Peacock features Tony Shalhoub and the rest of the cast reprising their roles on a Zoom call. Monk's germaphobia and issues with technology combine to create a characteristically awkward meeting and when Randy sneezes into the camera, he slams his laptop shut with a broom.
  • Not Going Out: This is the punchline for the episode "Text", where Lee, who has become involved in a "Fawlty Towers" Plot involving a text message sent to the wrong person, accidentally strips off his pants trying to create a dick picture in front of Anna's virtual meeting.
  • The Office (US): In the episode "Launch Party," Ryan hosts a high-tech party to celebrate the launch of Dunder Mifflin Infinity. This involves video conferencing with the various branch managers. One of them doesn't realize he's online, and despite Ryan's claim of "crystal clear images," the videos are heavily pixelated. In fairness, it's clear that Ryan's ego is blinding him to the fact that the party is not the success he was hoping for.
  • Parks and Recreation: In the 2020 special, every time Garry (who is now mayor) is on a video call, he accidentally activates a face filter, making him look ridiculous.
  • Saturday Night Live: The "Zoom Church" sketch made in the beginning months of the pandemic is about a pastor doing his best to hold worship over Zoom. It's incredibly difficult because his hundreds of constituents don't know how to hit the mute button, resulting in inappropriate interjections throughout the sketch.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In the episode "Drone", B'Elanna Torres has a Video Phone in her sonic shower for no logical reason, and is understandably annoyed when the Emergency Medical Hologram calls her there
    EMH: I'm a doctor, not a peeping Tom. It's nothing I haven't seen before.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street: In Elmo's Playdate, the characters have a video call together. However, Grover can't seem to get the hang of his new phone, leading to stuff like the screen turning upside down, muting the volume, and changing his background to outer space.
  • Puppet comedian Randy Feltface tells a story in which a designer giving a presentation far from home decides to dial his home computer to retrieve a document... unaware that his wife left the Photo Booth app open, and it's currently witnessing her having an affair. A boardroom full of executives sees this.

    Video Games 
  • Fate/Grand Order: During the "GUDAGUDA 3" event, Chaldea's connection with the Singularity is being blocked, so whenever Da Vinci and Mash try to video call the protagonist, the call is always cut short just as Mash tries relay an important message to the protagonist. Over the course of several calls, Guest-Star Party Member Okita Alter gets the impression that Mash is overprotective and dislikes her... And when Mash finally gets to say what she was trying to without the call getting cut short, she says that she's glad Okita is there and trusts her to take care of the protagonist.
  • Late in LEGO City Undercover, Chase spies on Rex Fury talking with his boss. The image of the boss only shows his torso and lower jaw and his voice is distorted. At first, it seems like he's trying to obscure his identity, but Rex tells him that he has his camera set at the wrong angle and the system is making his voice sound weird. The boss complains about working with the device and manages to correct it, revealing himself to be Forrest Blackwell.
  • Star Ocean: The Last Hope: In one of the later cutscenes, an error with Welch's holo-projector causes her form to distort into a variety of shapes like a 3d funhouse mirror, making Edge crack up each time it happens. All the while, things seem to be perfectly fine on Welch's end, as she reacts to Edges mad laughter with confusion. Thankfully, once Remi gets involved, the error is seemingly fixed, bringing everything back to normal.

    Web Comics 
  • Lore Olympus: During the Olympian teleconference call in Episode 135, Artemis claims her mic is broken. Zeus, Aphrodite, and Hermes try to help troubleshooting, before Zeus impatiently interrupts.

    Web Videos 
  • The Warp Zone parody video "Harry Potter: Hogwarts in 2020" has the Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons being held in video-conference because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The expected antics ensue: Harry is late because his Wi-Fi connection is bad under the stairs of 4 Privet Drive; Draco goes into an anti-Muggleborn rant and Professor Snape mutes him thanks to his admin privileges; later Harry is caught sending a shirtless pic of himself to Ginny and it gets screen-shared with the whole class. Then, Voldemort crashes the conference to inflict an Ear Worm on Harry and co., except he proves Hopeless with Tech and hasn't hidden his IP address, leading to Harry finding out he's hiding at Malfoy Manor, and Snape siccing the Aurors on him.
  • Weird school rules in Hong Kong: Episode 21 covers many of the hijinks occurring in schools under the COVID-19 Pandemic, one of them being teachers giving lectures during online classes with their microphones accidentally muted. In one of the skits, two of the students remark through the subtitles that it wasn't the first time this has happened, and that they should just let the teacher talk and not let him know he was muted.note 
    Teacher: (after lecturing about the geographical position of Hong Kong) Students, I just said that Hong Kong is located on the north shore of what?
    (Beat)
    Teacher: Located on the north shore of what?
    (Beat)
    Teacher: No one's answering? (in English) Anybody home? Anybody home? Huh?
    (The teacher's phone makes a notification sound)
    Teacher: Ey, my phone's ringing?
    WhatsApp message: 阿Sir你一直無開MIC Translation
    Teacher: Are you kidding me?! Then why didn't you tell me just now?
    (Beat)
    Teacher: (muttering to himself) Ding lei go faai ah, no one's responding.
    Random student: (in the subtitles) I've finished copying the entire horse-racing form [for gambling] and the teacher still hasn't turned on [his] mic

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy: In "Unzipped Code", during a Zoom meeting with the guys, Cleveland's internet connection is so bad that he keeps freezing every couple of seconds. He goes into the living room for a better connection and asks Donna to unplug everything to make the connection stronger, but she unplugs the wrong thing and Cleveland's screen goes black. Then Cleveland climbs onto the roof of his house to re-establish the connection, only for a bird to steal his laptop.
  • The Loud House: In the Hangin' at Home Special Crossover with The Casagrandes, Lincoln has a video call with Ronnie Annie. At the start, he accidentally mutes himself, which Ronnie Annie points out. Later, as he's showing Ronnie about changing backgrounds, it goes out of control, leading to him cycling through many backgrounds before going offline. Luckily, Lisa is able to repair the laptop for him.
  • Molly of Denali: In "That's Snow Fun," Randall is on a video call with Molly and Trini, showing them how to use a yuuyuuk (an Alaska yo-yo). Just when he's showing them the tricky part, the blizzard causes the screen to freeze.
  • The Octonauts: At the end of "The Great Swamp Search", Ranger Marsh attempts to video call Tweak on an Octo-Tablet. Because he's more used to doing things the old-fashioned way, he ends up turning the whole tablet upside down.
  • Phineas and Ferb "Run Away Runway": Perry arrives in his lair when Monogram is testing the video-call system, and not wearing pants.
  • The Simpsons:
  • South Park: Cartman invokes this during "The Pandemic Special" by pretending to have internet connectivity issues during the remote school day so he can just goof off all day instead of having to learn.
  • Steven Universe: In the short "Video Chat", Peridot has a video call with Steven to brag about being able to get Internet access at the old barn. First, she forgets to turn the volume up so she can hear Steven. Next, while Peridot is explaining how she got the connection working, the feed starts glitching, leading to a Jackhammered Conversation where all we get is that Peridot got chased and bitten by a wild animal of some kind. Of course, the connection clears up in time for Peridot to obliviously brag "And now the wi-fi works perfectly!"
  • In Tex Avery's The TV of Tomorrow, one of the television sets presented offers a solution to this issue: when you turn the dial around, it does the same to your caller.

    Real Life 
  • During the COVID-19 Pandemic a number of courts switched to using video conferencing for routine hearings and trials in order to reduce risk of infection for all the parties. This led to a number of video call fails.
    • There was an incident in 2021 which had Texan attorney Rod Ponton accidentally go on to Zoom during a hearing with a cat filter that he didn't know how to take off, leading him to appear as a giant cat for the hearing. His insistence that "I'm not a cat" actually became Memetic Mutation for a while.
    • In Michigan, Judge Jeffrey Middleton's 3B District Court became infamous for the notable screw ups that parties made while participating in zoom conference calls, many of which were posted to YouTube by the Judge (as they were public record).
      • One hearing involved a man who was under a no-contact order being in the same room as the person he was supposed to stay away from. Both Middleton and the prosecutor picked up on the fact and police were sent to the home, where he was arrested on screen. The man told Middleton he and his accuser wanted the whole thing dropped before Middleton advised him to take the cigarette out of his mouth and shut up. At a later hearing the man had a meltdown, tried to fire his defense attorney, and represent himself. Becoming concerned about the man's mental state Middleton called for a competency evaluation to be done.
      • A more humorous example involved a man showing up for a routine hearing without having checked what he had his name set as prior to joining the zoom call. Needless to say, Middleton was pissed when "Buttfucker3000" joined the call, and told the guy he barely escaped a contempt charge.
      • Several defendants who had their driving licenses suspended showed up for hearings seated behind the steering wheels of their vehicles, which was duly noted by Middleton.
      • For a time Middleton left the live chat running during his zoom court hearings, which he eventually turned off after people repeatedly posted inappropriate things in the chat.
      • Even after the pandemic emergency came to an end Michigan courts continued to offer zoom hearings or trials in some cases, with parties screwing up and YouTube there to catch their screw ups, which are in turn captured by a fair number of YouTube streamers.
    • A surgeon in California called in to a zoom court hearing during an operation he was performing on a patient. While the doctor tried to talk the judge into going forward with the hearing the judge decided to reschedule for a time where the surgeon wasn't in an operation. The doctor later found himself under investigation by the Medical Board of California for trying to attend a hearing while performing surgery.
  • Aside from courts, other government bodies have taken to holding meetings and hearings online.
    • In Iowa, legislators implemented Zoom as a way of allowing constituents to connect with legislators without without needing to travel to Des Moines. However, inappropriate behavior, such as people joining Zoom meetings naked, yelling racial slurs, or wearing swastikas to online meetings has caused Iowa officials to consider ending such meetings.
  • In early 2020, Rachele Clegg shared a tweet mentioning that her boss Lizet Ocampo accidentally turned on a filter during a Microsoft Teams meeting that made her look like a potato. Since Ocampo couldn't figure out how to turn off the filter, she was stuck like that for the entire meeting.
  • With the rise in popularity of video conferencing and Zoom, more than one person has taken their device into the bathroom with them while participating in such a call, and forgotten to turn off the camera prior to answering the call of nature.
  • As news reporters had to deliver the news from their own homes during the lockdowns, there are various compilations of them being interrupted by pets and/or children now on YouTube.
  • This 2017 BBC News clip shows political analyst Robert Kelly having an interview where he was discussing the situation around the impeachment of Park Geun-hye the President of South Korea via video link from his home in South Korea interrupted by his children and panicking wife who rushes in to collect them.

 
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Video Example(s):

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Mom, It's A Picture Phone

When Lisa calls Marge to tell her she's getting married, she asks her to make sure Homer doesn't do anything embarrassing. Marge assures her Homer will be on his best behavior, crossing her fingers while doing so...forgetting that she's on a picture call with Lisa.

How well does it match the trope?

4.94 (17 votes)

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Main / VideoPhone

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