Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud

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Joey: "I can't. Oh, I want to, long pause, but I can't."
Lennart: I'm sorry, sorry. You're not supposed to say "long pause"

Joey: Oh, oh, I thought that was your character's name, you know, I thought you were like an Indian or something.
Friends, "The One with the Mugging"

Read description. Wait; oh, sorry.

The script, as anyone who has taken a middle school drama class knows, is loaded with stage directions. This is because acting, rather than simply being the monotonous reading of lines, is loaded with on-stage cues which the actor must follow in order to progress the scene. When a character clearly uneducated on these finer points of the stage tries to read a script (or just doesn't like it), well, he starts, Wiki Word, Reading The Stage Directions Out Loud. New paragraph.

Can be justified in some cases by nervousness, although like most comedy tropes, the real important qualifier here is the, wik-oh, Rule of Funny. No matter how ludicrous the directions in question may sound, a character that doesn't know any better will read all of them. New—oh.

See Repeat After Me, Saying Sound Effects Out Loud and some examples of wi- Hello, Insert Name Here for tropes which use the same basic principle of humor open parenthesi- oh, wait. (saying stuff that clearly, the character is not supposed to be saying, close). A staple of Bad Bad Acting, end of description, insert line, open list of examples. Oh, cobblers.

Examples of Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud include:

General[edit | hide | hide all]

  • A staple of comedy shows set in the days where telegrams were the norm (especially in the present day) is the telegram reader reading the STOP that denoted the end of sentences (in lieu of the non-existent period in Morse code.) Now many people aren't even aware that this was a joke.


Films -- Live Action[edit | hide]

  • Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun 33 1/3 does this with an autoprompter.
  • In the film version of the musical Annie, Oliver Warbucks did this for his radio appearance, where he reads "drop page" and "Warbucks interrupts".
  • Willie Wonka (the Johnny Depp version) in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory greets the kids with an index card speech, then saying "I shake you warmly by the hand."
  • Ron Burgundy in Anchorman will read out whatever is put on a teleprompter and so does this at one point.
  • Happens in The Skydivers. No, a character didn't do it, it actually happened.
    • Actually a common mistake: the character Beth is with asks "Why doesn't he pull [the parachute cord]?" and she replies "Panic!" as in he's panicking and suddenly forgot how to use the parachute he's used many times prior. (A judgment call, really. The poor writing and the actress' odd delivery make it tough to be sure.)
  • Played with in Revenge of the Nerds. The jock Ogre is about to engage in a belching contest against the nerd Booger. The announcer reads off Ogre's real, upper crust, and completely nonthreatening name. Ogre leans in and whispers something in the announcer's ear. The announcer steps to the mike again. "Ogre U. Asshole." Another whisper. "Ogre."
  • A character in Black Dynamite does this a few times throughout the two scenes he's in. Being a parody that generally keeps the fourth wall intact (save a boom mike or two), it might take a moment for a viewer to realize what just happened.
  • Occurs in the Exploitation Film Video Violence 2. "You scared me, covering her breasts!" The Cinema Snob chastises the film for this, but concedes that if the regular dialogue read out the stage directions, it would be an improvement.
  • The line "I need a vacation" wasn't part of the dialogue in the script for Terminator 2, it was only written to describe that the T-800 in that particular scene "looks like he needs a vacation". Arnold instead decided to Throw It In as a line, and James Cameron liked it enough to keep it.
  • Happens in the Bewitched movie; when the Nicole Kidman character tries out for the Samantha role and reads the scene descriptions and character names.
  • In the 1975 Rollerball film, star player Jonathan E. is giving a TV interview. He reads from a prepared script, "Hello, pause, I'm Jonathan, smile."
  • A rather laughable incident in the beginning of a Puss In Boots film starring Christopher Walken: The ogre is introduced to the audience, and the ogre then says precisely this: "Laugh! HA HA HA!" This was not corrected for some reason.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Watchman's Oath in Discworld is taken by reading not only the directions, but each bit of punctuation. It begins "I comma square bracket recruit's name square bracket comma...". This started as Carrot's mistake, but has apparently become tradition—although, due to some fiddling with the timeline in Night Watch, Vimes said that version before Carrot ever did.
    • Vimes has used this to his advantage, however, in the line that says, essentially: "I will hold the [King/Queen] (Delete whichever is inappropriate) above the Law"—Ankh-Morpork hasn't had a regal ruler for some time now.
      • Incidentally, having Vimes say anything along the lines of "Delete the monarch" is hilarious considering people still hold it against him that his ancestor killed the king.
    • Almost anything official that the Watch reads will be a combination of this and severe warping of Canis Latinicus. One other example is the "Habby-Us Corpus" procedure from Making Money, in and around which Habby is used as a verb. Written fluency is not a common trait for Watchmen.
      • Subverted in I Shall Wear Midnight, where the use of "Happy-ass Corp-ass" on the part of the character is deliberate - the character in question is highly intelligent, but his sergeant considers that a dangerous thing, so he deliberately dumbs himself down.
    • Likewise, in Carpe Jugulum the infant princess is named Esmeralda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre, due to the Lancre tradition that whatever the priest says at the naming ceremony is your name, said priest's nervousness, and the fact that Magrat, who owed her own name to a combination of this tradition and her mother's inability to spell "Margaret", was determined it wouldn't happen again. Still better off than the former king My God He's Heavy the First or farmer James What the Hell's That Cow Doing In Here Poorchick, though.
    • And an earlier book mentioned the shortest reigning King of Ankh-Morpork, who was assassinated only 1.4 seconds after being crowned. Presumably at that point he was declaring his epithet, as he is recorded as King Loyala the Aargh.
  • The book and play Enter Laughing takes its title from this trope, and the example therein.
  • A rare possibly-inadvertent example, from the Doctor Who Television Tie in Novel The Year of Intelligent Tigers:

'I've got used to this planet,' said Besma. 'It's - thinks - my fifteenth world.'

  • In his humorous essay, Spring Bulletin, Woody Allen writes that before the invention of italic type, "great actors frequently found themselves saying, "John rises, crosses left."
  • Happens to the Prime Minister in Minidoka: 937th Earl of One Mile Series M by Edgar Rice Burroughs:

...introduced by the Prime Minister, who said in part, "Gents, I wish to inthrojuice this candidate for the foor hundredth and last mimbership in our orther applause --." This frustrated him a little as he hadn't meant to read the 'applause", that was for the reporters to copy in the evening papers.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • "Stage freeze!" in The Nightman Cometh, immediately rebuked with "You don't say stage freeze, you just do it!" on stage.
  • Joey Tribbiani of Friends has done this on some of the (very few) occasions that we actually get to see him do some acting. For example, the time he got to read a news report: "Good evening, I'm Name!"
  • Stephanie did this on Full House. She was in a cereal commercial and read as her lines, "Stephanie takes a spoonful of cereal."
  • Perry from Undeclared did this.
  • Stephen Colbert did this during one of his short transition segments between The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
  • Jerri Blank in Strangers with Candy does this occasionally, Breaking the Fourth Wall for no adequately explored reason. ("The two hug.") Nobody else ever notices.
  • Something similar to this happened in a Thirty Rock episode in which Jack Donaghy was put in a sketch. In rehearsal, he read Josh's line after walking on stage, even though that line was "What's up, Mr. Donaghy?"
    • Also used in the Christmas Episode where they are putting on a last-minute live special. Tracy reads "cross to piano" aloud while introducing Jenna.
    • And when Tracy is reciting a script to impress a member of Congress with NBC's rich diversity, he reads all the directions, including "Don't read this part, Tracy."
  • Lucy does it on I Love Lucy in the episode when she and Ricky sue the Mertzes for breaking their TV set—Ricky writes her testimony for her and includes directions such as "snarls at Mertzes" and "lifts skirt a little higher," which Lucy reads out loud when they're practicing.
    • Ethel also does it in another episode when rehearsing a play that Lucy wrote, although it wasn't technically a stage direction that she read out loud. Her character was giving Lucy's character compliments about her appearance, which ended with "and your nose is continued on the next page."
  • Newsman Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show would do this occasionally, saying out loud "Remove glasses and look at the camera".
    • Also inverted, when Mary handed him an urgent news bulletin and whispered "read it"—whereupon Ted read it silently to himself until Mary blurted "OUT LOUD!"
  • On cycle four of America's Next Top Model the girls were supposed to read from a prompter, pretending to be a red carpet announcer. Kahlen read the stage directions "looks to the left" out loud, followed by an "oops".
  • On a Taxi episode, Jim Ignatowski is moonlighting as a vacuum cleaner salesman:

Jim: How do you do, Mr. or Mrs. Fill in Name of Couple. I'm Your Name Here, but you can call me Nickname.

  • Happens during Spike Milligan's BBC series Q6 (1975) -- during a visit to Harrods, Milligan's character says "we pause here, the man backs out of shot and comes back with a new parcel three minutes later". The line preceding the Harrods visit is "Cut to Harrods beautiful salon room with thick carpets"!
  • Happened in the UK game show The Generation Game, where in one episode the contestants had to put on a short pantomime of 'Cinderella'. Due to various parts of the script being hidden to the audience behind pieces of scenery (because of time constraints), not only would the contestants sometimes read out the stage directions, there were also times where they had to be directed to the next piece of script.
    • There was another UK game show from the '80s where the contestants got to be movie stars for a day and reenact famous movie scenes. They almost always read the stage directions along with their lines—by accident of course.
  • When imitating former British Prime Minster Tony Blair, impressionist Jon Culshaw would have him reading his stage directions off the autocue, suggesting that everything he did was fake and calculating. Brief pause, caring expression, emotive hand gesture.
  • Apparently accidental version in Power Rangers SPD. "BATTLE CRY!"
  • Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy added the words "heavy sigh" to his lines to express Earthling emotion.
  • Seven of Nine did this on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager while reading a sample conversation the Doctor gave her to improve her interaction skills.
    • Also happens inThe Next Generation when the crew are stuck in the past and Picard is trying to distract the Landlady who wants to kick them out for not paying the rent. He gets her to read the part of Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream - she reads the stage directions along with the part.
  • The Monty Python's Flying Circus courtroom sketch where Graham Chapman walks in as Inspector Dim of Scotland Yard and everybody says together, "Consternation! Uproar!"
    • Also in the Lost World of Roiurama sketch:

Our Hero: Any news of Betty Bailey's expedition, Hargreaves?
Hargreaves: Er ... um ... er...
Our Hero: (through clenched teeth) Page 9...
Hargreaves: (thumbing over page of script beneath counter) The Lost World of Roiurama.
Our Hero: That's my line.
Hargreaves: Oh, sorry. Where were they going, sir?
Our Hero: The Lost World of Roiurama.
Hargreaves: Yes sir, we've got a telegram.
Our Hero: Oh?
Hargreaves: Reads it. "Expedition superb. Weather excellent. Everything wonderful."

  • Get Smart: One secret mission of Maxwell Smart's required that he pass as an actor in a stage play, and CONTROL hires a famous acting coach to teach him the basics. Much hilarity ensued as Max bungles every line and direction he is given—one of his mistakes was to read the script as "I beg your pardon, smiles and bows".
  • The eponymous heroine of Hannah Montana does this twice while reading off a teleprompter during an awards show.
  • Too many "Funniest Home Videos"-type shows to name get a cheap laugh out of bungled oath ceremonies caught on camera

Leader: "I, [state your name].."
Response: "I, state your name.."

    • A variation of this occurs where the original person says their actual name, and the response includes this name instead of the person or people's actual names.
  • Caroline in The City: When Caroline was reading Richard's memorial speech (which he had written himself) at his fake funeral

Caroline:”As the curtain descends far too early on this brilliant career, we remember the artist, Richard Karinsky. Indicate my body.”(she realises her mistake) “…of work.”(she indicates his paintings)

  • iCarly: In iBloop (A combination of Adam Westing and blooper reel Clip Show), Reed Alexander (Nevel's actor) messes up his line by doing this.

Nevel: THIS IS A MOCKERY! EAT POPCORN!

Dean-as-Jensen-as-Dean: Dean, grimly..."And yet somehow you got no problem with it!"

  • Slings and Arrows has a variant: the actors are reading through the script for the first time, and the clueless intern is given the job of reading the stage directions. She ends up tripping up the actors by trying to read all the stage directions, including little one-word tags like "angrily".
  • Hercules has an example where Kevin Sorbo accidentally does exactly this.
  • Claireparker does this when she is rehearsing for her cut scene in Pixelface. At the end of the episode, she still does it when recording the actual scene.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? has Wayne and Brad do it during a skit.

"Wayne. That's right, Brad! Dot dot dot..."


New Media[edit | hide]

Best Wishes Suzanne
Under Neat[h] That
We Will Miss You.

Professional Wrestling[edit | hide]

  • Used as a Running Gag on FCW's "The Aksana Show". One episode even had Aksana struggling to read the teleprompter and her guest had to read it out for her.
  • From the third season of NXT (where the commentators leaned heavily on the fourth wall), Michael Cole said out loud to his producers for feeding him a line meant for his broadcast partner.


Radio[edit | hide]

  • Bluebottle of The Goon Show does this. One of them became his Catch Phrase: "Enter Bluebottle stage left. Pause for audience applause... not a sausage."
    • Except when he got plenty of applause and said things like "Yay! Sausinges!"
  • New person enters; the Firesign Theatre sometimes does this, too.
  • Like most radio newscasters, Paul Harvey read the news stories from paper hardcopy. Early in his career as a radio news broadcaster, Harvey read all the stories from the first page, and then without pausing to think about it read the notation at the bottom of the page: "Now page two". Despite the fact that the notation was never originally intended to be read on the air, Harvey continued doing it, and reading off the page numbers became one of his trademarks.
  • Tony Blair in Dead Ringers. "PEOPLE... of Britain -- insincere smile, sweaty forehead -- I speak to you today on the matter of an abject cabinet betrayal -- angry eyebrows, pointy finger! -- ..."


Theater[edit | hide]

Marie: George begins to activate the Chromolume machine as...
George: Don't read that part, Grandmother.

  • Ellen Terry does this in the play The Actor's Nightmare.
  • Enter Laughing is named after an occurrence of this trope.
  • Annie does this in the radio station scene, where Warbucks accidently reads "drop page" when going to the next page.
  • In The Woman in Black, the old man is reading his part, where he plays his boss' secretary:

Man: How do you do today? He Sniffs.

  • In A Midsummer Night's Dream while rehearsing the Show Within a Show Francis Flute does this, leading to an angry outburst from the director, Peter Quince.
  • In Act IV, Scene 2 of As You Like It, there is a song that includes "The rest shall bear this burden." It's unclear whether this is part of the lyrics or a stage direction on the singing (i.e., "The rest of the cast on stage will sing the chorus") and professional troupes have performed it both ways.
  • Dog-ear by Sam Nolting, has Scriptreader, ( a narrator) who reads some of the stage directions. At the end of the play, the protagonists discover her, and promptly steal her script.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The English dub of Castle Shikigami 2 made this kind of mistake for real, in a cutscene from two-player mode with Roger and Kim. Yes, he actually says "changes voice" out loud.

Roger: First time to meet. Or long time. (changes voice) It's me, Yama.

Web Animation[edit | hide]

  • In the Red vs. Blue "Zombie Apocalypse Plan" episode, Caboose read the script as Moaning... mooooooaaaaaaning...
    • Caboose did this in the main series as well, when acting in Donut's play attempting to explain the Time Travel going on.

Caboose: You told me to read everything with my name in front of it!

  • When filming a cereal commercial in a sbemail easter egg, Strong Bad actually says "Wipe my brow" while simultaneously doing just that.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Penny does this in Penny and Aggie when rehearsing Macbeth: "Exzoont [sic] fighting." (At least she seems to have studied enough Latin to get the pronunciation right.)
  • In Schlock Mercenary, Tagon is forced to represent the Toughs in a trial, and has been given a script by the company lawyer to read. Because it's The Future, it's written on a PDA, which leads to this:

Tagon: Our actions, which we will describe in detail, will be shown to be both immaterial and blameless. Tagon, don't read this part, Ennesby and I will be adjusting your script on the fly.
Petey: Sorry. Do I need to let you check your notes?
Tagon: Will you let me body-check them?

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In Songs to Wear Pants To requests where the submitter includes lyrics, Andrew will occasionally sing parts of the message that were clearly just further instructions about the song. Some examples would be "Girl Behind the Window", where he sings "Refrain!" before every chorus, and the ending of "Head of a Radio": "Look at Ed's trousers/ The Ed line must be shouted, not sung/ Because he has horrid trousers".
    • One song even consisted of the words of the e-mail, which Andrew simply sings back to the listener. Hey, since they only gave him a suggestion, why not?
  • BriTANicK has a sketch where Brian is trying to remember the next line in his favorite Shakespearean monologue. Being the good friend he is, Nick starts throwing out random lines, including, "Exeunt, Malvolio."
  • In his internet responses on YouTube, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like reads the punctuation.
  • (The Customer is) Not Always Right had two employees "reading the script" for the lulz.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • During an episode of The Weekenders, Tish signs the group up to do a radio play. They're being forced to read the script when this trope occurs:

Lor: Don't fight, please, she screams.

Professor Farnsworth: I'm afraid I must reject your proposal of marriage, Ms. McNeal, for you see, I'm dying. Cough, then fall over dead. *Remains standing and smiles at the camera*
Zoidberg: My God, he's dead.
Professor Farnsworth: *Checks own pulse*

    • Bender plays with this in "That's Lobstertainment!":

Bender: That plot makes perfect sense, wink-wink.
Zoidberg: Bender, you said "wink-wink" out loud.
Bender: No, I didn't, raise middle finger.

  • Done in Rocko's Modern Life during a celebrity endorsement for a jackhammer outlet. ("Smile, point to name.")
  • An episode of The Simpsons had Homer hosting a late-night talk show, and he finished each Cue Card with the words "Next card".
    • When he introduced a new burger as a Krusty imitator, he said, "To audience: I now proclaim this new burger…for sale!"
  • Happens in WITCH when Taranee's Astral Drop (a form of magical clone) takes her place as narrator in a School Play, and begins, "Taranee reads dramatically."
  • Patrick does this in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Nature Pants", where he and Sandy act out a conversation to get SpongeBob to come back after he decides to live out in the wild.
  • In the Drawn Together episode "Little Orphan Hero", Foxxy Love runs a suicide hotline and greets a caller by reading directly from a script. "Suicide hotline. My name is 'line'. How can I help you? Remember to sound like you care."
  • Gazpacho does this at the beginning of the Chowder Christmas Knishmas special.
  • Happens in Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy when Ed is reading from cue cards in the episode "Dear Ed". "Sit down and say 'hello, Johnny'". Also inverted, when he interprets actual lines as questions.

Ed: Ask him how... he is!
Edd: (whispering) "How are you?", "How are you?"!
Ed: I'm fine thanks! Okay, a little hungry...

    • In another episode, Ed says, "End of first scene and fade to black."
  • In an episode of Rugrats, Grandpa Lou does this to his own family while selling candy bars door to door:

Lou: Hello, sir or madam. I am visiting your house, apartment, or hotel to ask you to help support my club, group, or organization...

  • In one of Peanuts's many Christmas storylines, Sally is playing the part of an angel in a Nativity play. She follows her line ("Hark!") by explaining to her brother, "Then herald Angel sings." The viewer is made to think that Sally is reading stage direction, until the end where Harold Angel introduces himself to Chuck.
  • Beavis and Butthead, working at a telemarketing office, read their script sheets verbatim: "Hello. My name is 'Your Name'."
  • The Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Snagglepuss always announces, "exit, stage right!" (or left) whenever he runs off somewhere.
  • Slappy Squirrel does it in an episode (the one all the characters were stuck in the wrong show) of Animaniacs.
  • One element of Team Chris Is Really Really Really Really Hot's So Bad It's Good commercial in an episode of Total Drama World Tour was Owen dressed as a monster shouting (the phrase) "Monster noises!"
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, when Beezy is reading a blatant lie off a cue card, he finishes by reading "The End".
  • From All Grown Up! Angelica has Harold publicly beg her to go to the dance with him so she can make another boy jealous, complete with cue cards. The cherry is Harold dramatically saying "get down on bended knee!".
  • The Creeper in Batman: The Animated Series speaks like this even though he has no script.

You're working for--dramatic pause--the Joker!


Real Life[edit | hide]

"Message: I care."

  • Also, his predecessor. During a 1987 testimony to the Tower Comission regarding the Iran-Contra affair, Ronald Reagan read aloud from the instructions written by his aides: "If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised."
  • Barack Obama used (and likely lampshaded) this trope at his speech on the White House correspondents dinner, most likely to mock people who claim he can't speak without one.

Obama: I had an entire speech prepared for this wonderful occasion, but now that I'm here I'd like to speak from the heart. Speak off the cuff. (two teleprompters rise noisily in front of him) Good evening! Pause for laughter.

  • Nicholas Parsons did this by accident while hosting Have I Got News for You. Made funnier/worse by the fact that Paul had been making jokes all episode about his supposed senility, so while everybody else was cracking up he just shook his head sadly.
  • An audience member Jimmy Carr had brought up on stage to ask a few scripted questions for him to react to and deliver a set of punchlines to did this when the last bullet-point on her list said 'Any other questions', which she simply read out bemusedly, instead of asking a question of her own as it was intended. Jimmy just ran with it.
  • CNN news anchor Rich Sanchez: Up next: Ad lib! A tease!
  • The drinking song "Feta fransyskor", popular among Swedish university students, ends with the ladies singing "Do you take us for drunkards?" and the gentlemen responding "Yes, although larger!" (freely translated). According to legend, the strange reply was originally intended to be simply "Yes!", although the text size of the word was to be somewhat larger when the song was printed. This instruction was misinterpreted as actual lyrics, however, and printed together with the rest. Since people liked the mistake, it was made a tradition to sing it this way—a rare case of singing the layout directions out loud.
  • Actress Tea Leoni once said she did this in an audition, early in her career. She thought "(Beat)" was some kind of street lingo.
  • A page that once was on the official Pokémon website seems to include a note and written directions by accident.
  • Done in one of the entries in an amateur script competition by the now-defunct Insomniak Theatre Company in Pennsylvania. The director read all of the stage directions out loud while the play was being performed. It was particularly egregious because the characters were performing the actions while they were being read.
  • John Waters says a lot of takes were ruined in his underground days due to Edith Massey's tendency to do this.
  • Hillary Clinton read a "sigh" out loud in a speech in a speach attempting to retort Donald Trump's scathing attack on her repeated corruption.

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