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Recognition Failure is the trope when a character fails to recognize a famous person that everyone else knows, played for comic effect. This is a popular stock gag in Sitcoms; typically, a celebrity or Special Guest visits the cast, whereupon The Ditz or the Butt Monkey is wondering why everyone else is going crazy over the newcomer.

Of course, for the gag to work, the identification subject must be someone who everyone in the work should immediately recognize, for whatever reason. This is usually done with a renowned Real Life person, though it's also possible to use a fictional celebrity whose fame has been established in the story.

May overlap with Pop Cultural Osmosis Failure or No Fame, No Wealth, No Service. Also see Your Costume Needs Work.

Examples of Recognition Failure include:



  • In Live Free or Die Hard, John McClane fails spectacularly to pass himself off as a member of the culture. Most notably is when McClane fails to recognize a cutout of Boba Fett and tries to cover it by saying he's only familiar with Star Wars.
  • October Sky: Homer Hickam is a big fan of Wernher von Braun, reading his books on rocketry, and one of his most prized possessions is an autographed photo of him. When he wins the national science fair with his rocketry exhibit, one of the people to congratulate him is von Braun, but Homer doesn't recognize him.
  • In Apollo 13, the grandma character doesn't recognize Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they arrive to give support.
    • More than just not recognizing them, after being introduced to them by name she asks, "Are you boys in the space program too?"


  • In the Discworld novel Moving Pictures, the wizards have mostly avoided the "clicks", so when Holy Wood stars Victor Marachino and Delores DeSyne are given the red-carpet treatment, they're totally perplexed by the whole thing.
    • Also, one clicks fan refers to the Patrician as "some local bigwig" trying to get reflected fame.

Live Action TV

  • In Arrested Development, Lindsay is trying to meet men. She is enticed by a bearded homeless fellow described as having the rugged, unkempt appearance of a movie star. When she finds out he's just homeless, she leaves. However, it turns out that the homeless man is actually Real Life actor Thomas Jane, doing some Method Acting character research for a couple upcoming movies by posing as homeless. When Lindsay finds this out, she is enticed again. Tom Jane is confused that she doesn't know who he is, but seems pleased that she thinks he's gross.
  • There was an episode of Fantasy Island where the (fictional) famous person had the fantasy of being somewhere where nobody knew who she was. She was sent to the wilds of [Africa/South America], where she fell in love with an explorer who didn't know who she was. Subverted though in that it turns out he did know, he just didn't care about her celebrity.
  • In The George Lopez Show, Carmen runs away and becomes one of the rapper Chingy's groupies. George ends up being the only person who doesn't know who that is.
  • In the ICarly episode "iLost My Mind", the main security guard of the mental institution has never heard of the web show iCarly, so he's not impressed when Carly and Freddie try to use the fact they are the stars of it as credentials.
  • This is inverted in one episode of Hello Cheeky, in which Tim, Barry and Denis all confuse fellow cast member John Junkin for Doris Day. Particularly surreal as John is middle-aged, male, and bald.


  • In Of Thee I Sing, it's a Running Gag that hardly anyone in Wintergreen's party can recognize Throttlebottom as their vice-presidental candidate, or remember his name for more than a few seconds. Throttlebottom's name is omitted or obscured on most of the campaign banners, and in the election-night newsreel, one picture of him is labeled "An Unidentified Man." He is not invited to Wintergreen's inauguration, and only gets into the White House as a tourist.

Video Games

Western Animation


 Winters: Hi, I'm Jonathan Winters, the famous comedian.

Farmer: The who? The what?

Winters: OK, I'm Jonathan Winters, the not-so famous comedian.

  • In an episode of The Boondocks, Grandpa Freeman doesn't know who Usher is, and thinks everyone is talking about a theater usher, wondering what the big deal is.
    • In another episode involving Martin Luther King Junior[1], Huey and MLKJ try to get past a bouncer to MLKJ's own benefit, only for the bouncer to demand a cash payment.
  • In the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Warrior Queen", an old woman witnesses Superman and Maxima's battle, and from her commentary has no idea who Superman is.
  • There was an episode of The Powerpuff Girls where a burglar had somehow never heard of the girls, leading to a Freak-Out when he sees their powers.

Real Life

  • David Lee Roth tells stories of coming off of Van Halen's wildly successful first tour and not being able to get into Studio 54.
  • Apparently, Daniel Bryan was often not recognized by security guards when he showed up at the arena for his wrestling matches.
  • A security guard denied CM Punk entry into Madison Square Garden on the Dec. 30, 2011 edition of WWE Smackdown as he “didn’t buy that he was a wrestler.” It wasn’t until a second security recognized Punk and got him into the building.
  • Mickey Mantle was once in upstate New York when he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Anticipating that the other visitors there would request his autograph, he brought along a couple hundred autographed photos of himself to hand out to people. But despite spending all day at the baseball mecca, the Yankee great was recognized by absolutely no for one guy who looked at him and said, "Hey, aren't you--?...Nah, you couldn't be."
  • Jimmy Page was refused entry to a event for Led Zepplin after he shaved his beard earlier that day and nobody recognised him.
  1. In this universe the assassination attempt was a failure, but put him into a decades-long coma