Breaking the Forth Wall

There’s something about actors addressing the audience, either in or out of character, that gets me. Sure, it’s often used as a cheap gag, but sometimes it just clicks perfectly. From the Marx Brothers to Bugs Bunny to On the Road movies, it’s been used by the best and worst. It’s been used in movies, TV, radio, books, comics, you name it.

Some that stick in my mind are the many great uses in the On The Road series mainly by Bob Hope, David Attison on Moonlighting had some really great bits (“Cue the chase music”), and I even liked the way Alan Moore used it in the She-Hulk comic. But my favorites are the many Groucho Marx moments.

So, what are your favorite versions?

I like it when a character often shifts back and forth between a character in the story, and narrator, like in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

There’s one scene in Family Guy where they’ve signed onto a Reality Show. Meg, IIRC, starts addressing the camera (“Turn it off! Turn it OFF!”) and Chris freaks out and yells “You’re breaking the FOURTH WALL!” Kills me every time.

And who can forget the fabulous use of it in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?

There’s this British movie called “Human Traffic” that just tears down the fourth wall. Funny as hell, at least, in my opinion

Thought of another, John Cusak in High Fidelity does a great job of talking very converstationally to the audience.

There’s this British movie called “Human Traffic” that just tears down the fourth wall. Funny as hell, at least, in my opinion
Oh, and Ferris Buller, of course

What’s really fun is trying to break the fourth wall in real life. People give you REALLY interesting looks when you talk to the camera.

I’ll say, Marley23. Actually, I did this once with my friend in an elevator. When referring to it later on, I called it an “aside” and then we had a conversation as to how Shakesperian (and other) characters use them often, and wouldn’t it be great if we got those in real life?

I used to watch old George Burns and Gracie Allen TV shows and George was pretty funny when he addressed the audience.

Speaking of seeing it in the best and the worst I was surprised to see this in Pokemon (OK, the truth is I kind of like Pokemon, especially the first season, but nevermind). At one point Meowth starts panicking because “the animators forgot to draw me a nose!” I don’t know what it said in the original Japanese though.

Wayne’s World also used this to great effect. Great, great movie.

“I’ll take the creamofsomeyounguy”.

Oh, Wayne’s World. Strange how that movie influenced my life. Had a lot to do with the wiseass I became.

I love their sponsorship-spoofing. “It’s also the choice of a New Generation.” :smiley:

There is a moment in the film Harold and Maude where Harold slowly cuts his eyes toward the camera at a particularly meaninful moment. That is the only recognition of the audience during the entire movie and it really takes the viewer by surprise. Very effective.


Wasn’t that John Byrne?

Re: She-Hulk

I believe so, at least from this instance that I still recall to this day:

The second issue of the comic’s cover had She-Hulk chuckling over the second issue of the Hulk, in which the recently-grey goliath battled the Mole Men, while actual Mole Men were attacking her over her shoulder. So we get into the story inside, and She-Hulk finally meets her nemesis for the issue. When she does, she turns over her shoulder and yells:

“Mole Men, Byrne? Mole Men?!? I thought the cover was a gag!”

She then goes over a list of lame-o villains and monsters she could’ve handled okay. But MOLE MEN?


One I love is from Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. When the old traders condescendingly explain pork bellies as something “you might find in a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich,” Murphy’s deadpan look into the camera is perfect.

Later than Shakespeare but earlier than Pokemon, Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” has the Stage Manager breaking the fourth wall almost constantly, but still jumping into scenes with the other characters.

I played the Stage Manager a year or two ago (while stage managing the show at the same time) and whenever the other actors would get forgetful and break character to address our director, I deadpanned, “Dude, only me and Garth are allowed to talk to the camera.”

Good show.

The character Karen on “Will & Grace” also seems to play to an invisible audience beyond the fourth wall whenever she cracks a joke, but wherever her imaginary audience is, it’s not in the same place as the cameras are.

George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service after the girl runs off when he saves her: “This never happened to the other fella.”

Groucho made great use of this to poke fun of himself and Chico at times:

“Well, all the jokes can’t be good, you’ve got to expect that once in a while.”

“I’ve got to stay, but there’s no reason you folks can’t go out into the lobby until this thing blows over.” - during a dull song played by Chico.

Didn’t Buster Keaton work in some fourth wall humor in Sherlock Jr.?

How can we get this far and not mention the various classic uses in It’s Garry Shandling’s Show:
The vacuum cleaner that causes static on the viewer’s TV.

The episode spoofing The Fugitive.
“Come out! We have the place surrounded!”
“That’s what he thinks, this is only a three wall set! Let’s go!”

Garry walking home after a party, to the home set right next door.

Cars being golf carts, because that’s all they needed in the studio.

And he talked to the audience almost as much as he had dialog with the other characters.

Classic series.

I think my favorite is “Pardon me while I have a ‘strange interlude’” during Animal Crackers. He then spoofs some O’Neill weirdness, including a classic sight gag after “as a smile played around his lips.” How the smile plays across Groucho’s lips cannot be described. “why, you couple of baboons!..what makes you think I’d marry either one of you!..strange how the wind blows tonight…it has a tintity voice, reminds me of poor old Moslin…how happy I could be with either of these two if both of them just went away…”
And then he does it again a minute later. Except he gives a stock report.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once More With Feeling:

Anya: It felt like there was a wall missing from our apartment and people were watching us!

A couple of Warner Brothers cartoons spring to mind.

“Zip, Zip, Hooray!”, starts with a typical Coyote/Roadrunner chase sequence, but then the scene pulls back and we see two young boys watching the chase on television (and sitting about four inches from the screen). When they start to discuss why he wants to catch the Roadrunner, the Coyote breaks character and explains it to them.

“Duck Amuck” has Daffy Duck breaking the fourth wall to wage an ongoing battle with his animator. Daffy loses. At the end he screams at the animator to reveal himself, and the camera pulls back to show Bugs Bunny at a drafting table. Bugs looks over his shoulder and addresses the audience (“Ain’t I a stinker.”) and breaks the fifth wall!