Irritation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

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"Um Scoot, don't you think you're taking this just a little too far?"

A common plot in kid's shows, when a character (usually lacking in self-confidence) begins to imitate someone they look up to, down to what clothes they wear and what foods they eat. For the one being imitated, this usually gets old very, very fast after the novelty of having a lookalike wears off, and the rest of the episode is usually dedicated to getting the imitator to stop and rely on himself or herself instead. However, sometimes this backfires, and rather than learn anything the imitator will just switch to a new target.

May overlap with Hero Worshipper and Heroic Wannabe. Also a common cause (and effect) of Poser Hating. If this continues for too long it can turn into I Just Want to Be You, with the difference being that this trope is usually a temporary state of affairs and generally Played for Laughs.

See also Sincerest Form of Flattery, which is a meta-trope about Word of God admitting to copying from an earlier influence on their work.

Examples of Irritation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery include:

Anime and Manga

  • One character in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX used a variation by copying someone's deck and then acting like them while playing it.
    • The same character later stole Yugi's deck when it was up on display. And started imitating Jaden after the inevitable loss.
      • A bit of a subversion in that case, as Jaden doesn't seem to have a problem with being imitated, but is annoyed at not being copied properly.
    • The character may be a Take That on the real-life practice of "netdecking", ie. going online and copying a tournament-winning deck card-for-card in the misguided belief that dueling with a tourney-winning deck will help them win more often. True to this trope, the more creative duelists have begged for or tried methods of stopping the practice be put in place, but considering how well the practice actually does work, it's not going away any time soon.
  • One episode of Sailor Moon SuperS had a young girl named Nanako who becomes infatuated with Rei, and becomes a Miko like her and copies everything she does. At first Rei thinks it's funny, but then she gets really annoyed. It turns out Nanako is a severe Fragile Flower and doesn't take Rei's disapproval well at all, making her a good target for the Monster of the Week.
  • One episode of Pokémon has Ash and Max being asked to take care of some young starter Pokémon, so May and Brock leave behind their own starters with Ash's to take care of the younger charges. The Treecko, apparently female, instantly crushed on Ash's own Treecko, and started following the latter around, imitating him by carrying around a twig (with a flower) in her mouth.
  • In the Pokemon episode "Ditto's Mysterious Mansion", Ash, Brock, Misty, and Duplicia troll James and Jesse by dressing like them and doing their own version of the Team Rocket motto. Needless to say, James and Jesse aren't amused.

Film - Live-Action

  • "You're all individuals!" "Yes, Yes, We are all individuals!" "I'm not..."
  • The second live-action Scooby Doo Monsters Unleashed film, Monsters Unleashed, had Shaggy and Scooby dress up as Freddie and Velma, respectively, when it's pointed out to them that they never do anything. The others think this is stupid from the get-go.
  • Made down right frightening in the movie Single White Female.
  • In the early part of the Apocalypse film series movie Tribulation, young Calvin Canboro imitates young Tom Canboro up until when Tom says that Calvin has to go to the bathroom, which gets Calvin to stop imitating when he finds himself repeating what Tom said.


  • Not, for once, in a children's show: in Making Money Cosmo Lavish tries to usurp Vetinari by becoming Vetinari, to the point of stealing his hats, boots, ring, and swordstick (only the hat actually were Vetinari's; he doesn't even have a swordstick). He ends up in the hospital - it turns out there's a whole ward full of people who think they are Havelock Vetinari.
    • What if Havelock Vetinari isn't the real Havelock Vetinari? What if he's just better at it than the guys on the ward?
    • That would explain the rather horrific Characterization Marches On Vetinari suffered before Pratchet got his act together.
  • Occurs in the Baby-sitter's Little Sister novel Karen's Twin. Karen's schoolmate eats her lunch in the same order and even gives Karen new clothes so they can wear the same thing more often.
  • Played for laughs in The Wheel of Time, when Mat can't figure out who's teaching his kid to flirt.

Live-Action TV

  • An episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch had Valerie copying Sabrina.
  • In Scrubs, pretty early on in season one, JD was emulating Dr. Cox to the point of missing a date to be in surgery with him, and when Cox realized this, he mentioned that he only barely likes himself. JD took this to heart, and in a later episode described himself as wanting to be "a more successful version of Cox."
    • In a later episode he tried dressing like him, but Cox put an end to this one pretty quickly.
  • In all places, it gets used in Barney and Friends, where one of the kids assigned as the librarian's assistant ends up gradually copying him until he learns a surprisingly quick Aesop about being yourself. In a later season, someone copied Barney himself. As you might expect, Hilarity Ensues.
  • In one episode of Sesame Street, Telly and a group of children became the "Bobketeers", dressing like Bob, following him around and doing everything he did.
  • In an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, a child believes himself to be responsible for the deaths of all aboard his ship, and when rescued by Data, he starts imitating him. It turns out to be more of a coping method to deal with his guilt and depression, as androids don't have emotions and are never scared or sad.
  • This trope was played as straight as the arrow in your head in Lizzie McGuire...right down to the imitator switching to the Alpha Bitch at the end of the ep.
  • One episode of The Office starts with Jim dressing and acting exactly like Dwight; however, though in this case, it actually is explicitly meant to irritate him, and obviously succeeds. Dwight tries to return the favor at the end of the episode, but since Jim doesn't take himself nearly as seriously, that attempt utterly fails.

Dwight (as Jim): "Ah, Karen, my girlfriend. Do you want to have sex later?"
Jim (to Karen): "DO you?"
Karen: "No thanks"

Video Games

  • A Running Gag in the Katamari Damacy series is that several of the more oddly-shaped cousins wear the exact same colors as the Prince. Each new installment of the series usually adds at least one new lookalike cousin: there was Johnson in the original, Slip, Can-Can and Odeon in We ♥ Katamari, Kenta in Me & My Katamari, Pu in Beautiful Katamari, and most recently Dangle in Katamari Forever.
  • Conrad Verner of Mass Effect takes to dressing like Shepard in the sequel, much to Shepard's annoyance. The Renegade option lets you punch him, and depending on how you acted towards him in the first game, for the second time. By the third game, he's supporting Cerberus—a terrorist organization—just because Shepard did in the second game, unaware that Shepard left between games. Shepard responds appropriately.

Web Comics

  • A case that is a little different from normal played seriously and not found in a children's story or show: After completing the first Dungeon Crawl in Order of the Stick, Elan abruptly decided that he wanted to be a wizard, in large part because of his respect for V. V is not pleased by Elan dressing like a stereotypical mage and clowning around because he takes that as Elan insulting wizards and the effort V puts into magic, and promptly blows up at Elan. The two then have to have a heart to heart in order to reconcile.

Western Animation

  • In one episode of Recess, Mikey begins imitating Vince, the jock, due to seeing Vince as a "cool kid", but eventually admits that the persona doesn't fit him and goes back.
    • One kid gets a crush on Gretchen and pretty much says this word for word at one point.
  • D.W. in Arthur once imitated the titular character down to his clothes and use of his old glasses frames, but she too was eventually talked out of it.
    • Another episode had Muffy writing the school's advice section but being upstaged by Molly (one of Binky's friends) as the latter was better at giving advice. In an attempt to rectify this, Muffy dresses like Molly and tries to do the things Molly normally does (skateboard, listen to rock music etc). Say the least it didn't last.
    • Another one has Arthur & Muffy teaming up on a school project, and he starts picking up her mannerisms. Lampshaded by the other characters to Arthur, who didn't see it.
    • And another one where for some reason Buster & Arthur decided the other had the better life and started imitating him - Arthur reading joke books and Buster complaining about D.W. all the time.
  • The animated version of Sabrina has the title character cast a spell to help out a nerdy classmate named Norma become more well liked. It backfires however when the town soon start to dress like her...then subverts it when they considered Norma to not "be Norma enough" and tie her and Sabrina up before Sabrina manages to break the spell.
  • Subverted in Teen Titans. Robin leaves for a bit to go train with "The True Master", and the rest of the team takes to dressing up as him. By the end of the episode, the entire team and Silkie, Starfire's pet mutant moth larva, are sitting around in Robin costumes, eating pizza and calling each other Robin. Even Raven's wearing Robin's clothes; she says, "You know Robins, the mask makes me" And Robin walks in just then, and everyone expects their normally high-strung leader to be annoyed at them...but he just takes a slice of pizza and says "The mask makes me feel cool too." (It helps that part of the lesson was "don't take yourself so damn seriously".)
  • Kim Possible also used this. The imitator, instead of learning her lesson after the episode, moved on to idolizing her sidekick, Ron.
  • In an episode of Rugrats, Dil started imitating Angelica, much to her annoyance.
    • This wasn't the first time it was used—Phil and Lil imitated Chuckie and Angelica (respectively) because their parents couldn't tell them apart.
  • Stacy once did this to Quinn on Daria while the latter was staying at the former's house while the rest of her family was out of town. This weirds out Quinn, who opts to make a break for it soon after and ends up staying with Jane, of all people.
  • Patrick once tried being just like SpongeBob SquarePants after deciding he was a failure since he never got an award. It's somewhat subverted in that he actually became moderately successful by doing it, and really was a failure whose only award was for doing nothing (though that was good enough for him to stop).
    • It also counts even more subverted (or something) if you consider that they (whoever gave those awards) had been tracking Patrick's progress all along, and were just waiting until he stopped so they could give him the award.
  • In an episode of The Cramp Twins the entire school started imitating Wayne when a famous photographer praised his style. Wayne originally liked it because he could mock Lucien with it, but became gradually more annoyed until it turned out that the combined number of everyone imitating him completely cleared out the junk yard he frequents. Wayne fixed it by dressing up as a girl.
  • The Replacements had an episode where Riley is sick of every girl in town copying the latest big fashion model, so she replaces said model with herself, thinking that nobody would want to copy someone as average as her. Of course, everybody does, and at the end of the episode, Riley's "Be Yourself" speech backfires on her when someone points out that it's their choice as an individual if they want to follow the trends or not.

Real Life


  • In Colorful Palate a stylish college student gives a plain girl makeup lessons. Plain girl then gets equally stylish clothes, then a similar hair style, notices the novel written by her "teacher's" boyfriend, who she "happened" to see at a bar....