I Can't Hear You

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Sesame Street pair Bert and Ernie show us one of the variations.


Mrs. Thimble: Mr. Mouseling, you said I'll let you know if the music is too loud! Well, it is!

Mr. Mouseling: What? I can't hear you. The music's too loud.
Angelina Ballerina: The Next Steps, "Angelina and the New Music Store"

A conversation is impeded by either a lot of ambient noise, the hearing problems of one or more of the conversants, or an unusual obstruction in the ear of one of the conversants.

So one person yells something. And the other person, auditorially impeded, yells back, resulting in:

  1. I can't hear you! (Repeats the first person's statement back verbatim)
  2. I can't hear you, I've got an unusual obstruction in my ear!
  3. (Response to a question that was not asked, but may rhyme)
  4. ...the din stops just as the other person gets fed up with trying to shout above the noise and yells something inappropriate/embarrassing.

A common variation is to invoke the trope. One of the people in the conversation really doesn't want to have the conversation and is grateful for the noise making it impossible to talk and understand each other

  • or is calling out the other person in the conversation...
  • or is pretending there's noise making it impossible to converse.

Related to Fake Static for transmitted conversations.

Examples of I Can't Hear You include:


Comic Books[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Tintin is full of jokes like these when Professor Tournesol/Calculus appears.
    • Also much earlier in Cigars of the Pharaoh, when Tintin awakes on a drifting sarcophagus and sees the Egyptologist in another, too far away to understand each other.
  • At the end of BPRD: 1946, Sgt. Maes and Trevor Bruttenholm try to shout over the din of a launching rocket. Neither can hear the other.
  • Invoked in Wolverine and the X-Men:

Logan: Kitty's in charge until I get back.
Bobby: Nobody's seen kitty in two days!
Logan: Then you're in charge.
Bobby: [alarmed] Me?! No. I didn't agree to that.
Logan: I can't hear you, headmaster Iceman!

Fan Works[edit | hide]

Kaiba: Now, Yugi, prepare to suffer defeat at the hands of my--
Yugi: (faraway) I can't hear you!
Kabia: What?
Yugi: (faraway) I said I can't hear you! Come back down, you look really silly up there!
Kaiba: I don't understand what you're saying! I think I might be too high up!

    • The situation is remedied when the two start talking over a Split Screen.

Film (Animated)[edit | hide]

Naveen: Ray! Get me out of this box!
Ray: I can't hear you! I'mma get you outta this box!

Bumpity: It's getting so windy, I can hardly hear you!
Tweazle: What? I can't hear you, it's too windy!

  • In the first Tinker Bell movie, Bobble tries to ask Clank if he's seen Tink, unaware that Clank has put in earplugs. After a few tries with Clank mishearing a word that rhymes with 'tink,' he takes out his earplugs and asks "Hey, have you seen Tink?"
  • In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po delivers an epic speech to Lord Shen, the Big Bad of the film, while on a rooftop half a mile away, without even noticing that no one (including the audience) can make out what he's saying.

Po: Shen! A panda stands between you and your--
(cut to Shen, who can barely hear Po say "destiny")
Shen: (shouting) WHAT?!
(cut back to Po)
Po: Prepare yourself for a hot--
(cut again to Shen, who can still barely hear anything)
Shen: (softer) What?

Film (Live-Action)[edit | hide]

  • D.E.B.S.. Amy and Janet are driving in an open-top car, so there's a lot of noise making it difficult to talk.

Amy: I'm just not in love.
Janet: What?
[The car stops, as does the noise]
Amy: I said, I want to be in love!
Janet: Why are you yelling?

"Doesn't it make you nervous when you're dealing with all those evil forces?"
"Horses?"
"No, the evil forces."
"Evil?! Nah, man. It's not evil. It's an illusion!"
"Yeah! It's confusin'!"

  • The film Abbott and Costello in Hollywood contains a classic sequence (mislabeled on the site) in which Lou offers Bud earplugs so that he won't hear a sleep-inducing record Lou's using. Unfortunately, whoever's wearing them can't hear a thing.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Sisters Grimm: The elder sister and the grandmother have a conversation of the second type because of how loud the rattletrap of a car is.
  • The Dresden Files: Harry's elderly landlady is hard of hearing so they have a conversation of the second type in Changes.
  • The old music hall routine, beloved of P. G. Wodehouse:

Pat (on the train): Pardon me, is this Wembley?
Mike: No, it's Thursday!
Pat: Yes, so am I!

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Sesame Street has used the vaudeville routine listed below with Bert and Ernie.
  • The Cone of Silence on Get Smart is a classic example. It's hard to predict exactly how the Cone of Silence will fail at any given moment, but you can practically guarantee it will involve this trope.
  • Crank Yankers does this one. Elmer (old man character) tries to make an appointment to get hearing aids. Over the phone. You can see how this could go wrong, can't you?
  • Munster, Go Home! has this exchange between Herman and Lily at the race:

Lily: They're trying to get rid of you!
Herman: What?
Lily: I said, they're trying to get rid of you!
Herman: I love you, too!

  • In The Adventure Game, one of the Argonds was very hard of hearing, and the contestants' first reaction was to suggest that he use his ear trumpet. This turned out to be useless, and it was only when he was wearing his glasses that he could hear well.
  • Parodied in one episode of Radio Active: George is trying to tell Kevin something, but Kevin is listening to loud music on his headphones. George waves his hands wildly and mouths something; Kevin takes off his headphones and says, "Sorry, music, I couldn't hear you?", and George replies, "Oh, I know, that's why I didn't say anything.", before commencing with what he actually wanted to tell Kevin.
  • Leverage: Nate calls Sophie asking her to come back to the team, but she's on a plane that's taking off and can't hear him.
  • The Monkees episode "The Wild Monkees":

Mickey: Gentlemen, the meeting will come to order!
Mike: Mick, will you shut off your engine? We can't hear a word you're saying.
Mickey: What, Mike?
Mike: Mick, I said would you shut off your engine? We can't hear you!
Mickey: I can't hear you. My engine's running!

  • Dads Army. Captain Mainwaring and his men are on parade wearing gas masks. After muttering incoherently for some time, Mainwaring eventually removes his mask.

Mainwaring: And that concludes my lecture on gas warfare. Are there any questions?
Jones says something incomprehensible from under his gasmask.
Mainwaring: What was that? I can't hear a word you're saying.
Sgt Wilson leans close to Jones. Jones mutters again.
Wilson: He said he couldn't hear a word you were saying, sir.

  • An old sketch show had "the world's oldest joke" delivered by two guys dressed as cavemen. They speak only in nonsense "oooga booga!" language but it is translated as this:

First Caveman: I have no ears!
Second Caveman: How can you hear then?
First Caveman, looks at a small sundial attached to his wrist: Half past two.

Theater[edit | hide]

  • This is the basis of the old vaudeville joke:

Mr. Interlocutor: Pardon me, you have a banana in your ear.
Mr. Bones: Pardon me?
Mr. Interlocutor: You have a banana in your ear!
Mr. Bones: Pardon me?
Mr. Interlocutor: YOU HAVE A BANANA IN YOUR EAR!
Mr. Bones: I'm sorry; I can't hear you. I have a banana in my ear.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Whenever you visit Jezebel at her night club in Vampire Bloodlines, she'll say it's too loud and ask you to her office.
    • That's a bit of Genre Savvy; it's not too loud for her to serve drinks or make small talk with customers, but she'll invite you somewhere private to discuss 'business' she doesn't want exposed to a Seven Minute Lull.
  • In World in Conflict: Soviet Assault, Major Lebedjev secretly switches radio channels, when he orders general retreat, so that the Knight Templar Malashenko, who has moved too far ahead, doesn't come after the "traitors".
  • The Paragon choice in the final dialogue with the Illusive Man in Mass Effect 2 has Shepard quipping "Sorry, I can't hear you. I'm getting a lot of bullshit on this line." in his face.
  • One of Mad King Thorn's jokes from Guild Wars Halloween events follows the Vaudeville "Banana in My Ear" joke, only with a pumpkin on his head.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Snake: Who are you? And why do you sound like Master Miller with an awful British accent?
Liquid: WHAT?
Snake: I SAID-
Liquid: WHAT? I'M SORRY, I CAN'T HEAR YOU, THERE'S A HELICOPTER HERE!

  • Questionable Content 2114: The Artificial Intelligence running the space station is annoyed at the government presence requiring a security check after the AI has already cleared Hannelore, Marten, and Marigold.

Lieutenant Potter: [furiously] God Damn it, Station!
Station: I'm sorry. I can't hear you. Lots of solar interference all of a sudden.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

Aang: Just like old times, eh, Bumi?
Bumi: Aang! I need to talk to you!
Aang: It's good to see you too!

    • Season 3: Katara attempts to get Aang to talk about taking on the Fire Lord while the latter is on his glider.

Aang: What? I...can't...hear...you! The wind is too loud in my ears! Check out this loop!

Spongebob: We want to keep our voices down so we don't cause an avalanche.
Patrick: What?
Spongebob: We should keep our voices down so we don't cause an avalanche!
Patrick: What should we keep down?
Spongebob: [shouting] OUR VOICES!
[avalanche sounds plus Spongebob and Patrick screaming in terror emit from their cardboard box]

Pig: These earplugs are great!
Otis: What?
Pig: These earplugs are GREAT!
Otis: No, I won't marry your grandmother!
Abby: What?
Otis: I said I won't marry Pig's grandmother!
Abby: Thanks, I used a new shampoo!

  • There's a scene in an episode of Invader Zim where Dib and Zim are yelling at each other across a street, but the animators didn't put in any traffic, so it really comes off more as Zim being hard of hearing. So...um...PlayedWith, I guess. Yeah.
  • Comes up twice in the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Applebuck Season." Due to overworking, Applejack bonks her head on a tree branch, leaving her ears ringing, so when Twilight Sparkle comes over talk to her, it takes a few tries before she actually hears what the other pony says:

Twilight Sparkle: Applejack, can we talk?
Applejack: Can bees squawk? I don't think so.
Twilight Sparkle: No, "can we talk."
Applejack: Twenty stalks? Bean or celery?
Twilight Sparkle: NO! I need to talk to you!
Applejack: You need to walk to the zoo? Well, who's stopping you?
Twilight Sparkle: *louder* I need to talk to you!
Applejack: Oh. Well, why didn't you say so? Whatchoo wanna talk about?

    • A few scenes later, she and Pinkie Pie attempt to bake some muffins, but her sleep-deprivation muddles what Pinkie says in a similar fashion, and what they end up with gives half the town food poisoning.
  • In an episode of Angelina Ballerina: The Next Steps, Angelina's neighbor comes over to complain to her father that she can't sleep because the music that's being played for a party is too loud. Her father replies that he can't hear her - the music is too loud.
  • In an episode of My Life as a Teenage Robot ("Speak No Evil"), Jenny loses her English language software disc and defaults to Japanese. She tries talking/playing charades with Dr. Wakeman to explain the problem.

Dr. Wakeman: How am I supposed to understand you if you won't speak a word of English?

  • From the Hey Arnold! episode "The Cool Jerk", Arnold can't hear local greaser Frankie G. over the sound of Frankie's motorcycle.

Frankie: I said I like you, kid! You got potential!
Arnold: You want my pencil?!