"Oh, hello. I didn't see you there."
May 29, 2015 9:16 AM   Subscribe

What is the origin of this comic trope? A person turns to the camera and says something like, "Oh, hello. I didn't see you there." What was the earliest example, and is anything real being parodied?

This is satirizing someone with little imagination that acts fake surprised in order to make a personal connection with the audience.
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Here's a recent example.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:19 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

TV Tropes has a good page about it: Fourth Wall Greeting
posted by richb at 9:42 AM on May 29, 2015

I'm pretty sure that if went and looked into the various scenarios of Commedia Dell'Arte troupes you'd find instructions for one of the Zannis to come out on stage and be completely surprised to find an audience waiting for him.
posted by brookeb at 10:23 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Talking to the audience in the middle of a show is a very old trope. It's common in Shakespeare both in soliloquies as well as short "asides" to the audience, and probably goes back all the way to the beginning of theatre. In movies I can't think of anything earlier than the Bob Hope / Bing Crosby "Road" pictures, but still there are probably much earlier movies that do it.
posted by w0mbat at 11:36 AM on May 29, 2015

Early movies borrowed heavily from vaudeville, where direct engagement with the audience was a defining feature. Here's an example, mentioned in the book Breaking the Fourth Wall: Direct Address in the Cinema.

Somebody in vaudeville, familiar with the Commedia Dell'Arte or not, must have come up with the fake surprise at some point.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:43 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

If I'm understanding you, you're not asking about just breaking the fourth wall, but satirizing someone who thinks it's original to break the fourth wall.

My read was this is particularly something done by a lot of amateur video people on Youtube etc. For example a couple years ago there was this Kickstarter collection of people using this supposedly-original device in their Kickstarter video. (Warning, it is kind of agonizing to watch.) Seems likely that amateur fitness video makers do the same; I figured he was making fun of that general phenomenon.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:35 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: If I'm understanding you, you're not asking about just breaking the fourth wall, but satirizing someone who thinks it's original to break the fourth wall.

Yes, exactly.

I've seen it much earlier than the advent of YouTube. I was wondering if there was an ur-example or if there was some famous video where someone did it, and we're all making fun of that guy without knowing it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:47 PM on May 29, 2015

I want to say Masterpiece Theater, even though I don't quite know what that is and am probably crossing my lines with the Sesame Street "Monsterpiece Theater" bit.
posted by Iteki at 2:54 PM on May 29, 2015

I associate the basically extinct non-satire version of this trope with the kind of instructional and promotional videos that begin with a very staged "real life" scene and then transition smoothly into pitching you on the product that made it possible.

I've seen it a lot in giveaway VHS tapes about cleaning products, your new furniture, etc., because one of my coworkers collects them, but they rarely come right out and say "I didn't see you there"—that seems like it's partially an interpolation, in the same way that Dana Carvey doing an impression is half George Bush or Johnny Carson and half a repetitive catchphrase that encapsulates George Bush or Johnny Carson because he said it once, or because it sounds like something he would say.

Here's a slightly mutated version—in the 90s and early aughts Buick's "Product Master" videos were hosted by people who looked like the dealership's target customer, whether that was an handsomely gray upper-middle-class husband with sweaters and adult children or a smart young wife with growing kids. They start in media res with the host and his/her family using the car to do fun aspirational things, and then after a minute the family leaves and the host gets down to business. And they ALWAYS make me want an old Buick, so one point to them.
posted by Polycarp at 3:26 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think it is a few decades old, at least. I associate it with a 1950s television presenter setup, when (nominally) it still might have been fresh and charming to viewers. "What the... That fellow on the TV just spoke to me! That's the craziest thing I have ever seen!"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:55 AM on May 30, 2015

One early example is the end of "Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House" (1948) where one of the characters addresses the camera at the end, inviting the viewer to visit.

I think in at least one of the Marx Brothers films Groucho talks to the camera saying something like "We have to put up with this but you can go out to the foyer", but I can't remember the specifics.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:15 AM on May 31, 2015

« Older Should I paint my hardwood floor?   |   What kind of intriguing questions can I ask my... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.