There is a long history of offensive and/or inappropriate comments spoken in private by people not knowing they’ve been picked up by a live microphone. It happens in real life and is an oft-used dramatic trope in movies and TV. It often ends up getting the individual into a world of trouble, to both hilarious and devastating ends.
So, let us pretend that none of us have ever spoken even a touch inappropriately since we gained the ability to conjugate coherently, and enjoy the best on-mic gaffs from television, film, and documentary.
Gabbo’s Gaffe is overshadowed by Kent Brockman
The Simpsons: ‘Krusty Gets Cancelled’ ep 4x22 (1993)
Bart hoped that catching Gabbo calling Springfieldian kids a bunch of “S.O.B’s” would tear down the puppet that killed Krusty’s career and restore order to the town’s entertainment industry.
Unfortunately Gabbo’s gaffe is overshadowed by news reporter Kent Brockman’s coverage of the gaffe, who happened to post script the report with a more newsworthy gaffe of his own.
Frank Drebin’s Symphony of Urine
The Naked Gun (1988)
Back in the day, I used to believe that gag-per-millisecond films in the vein of Airplane were as brilliant as comedy gets.
While this childish delusion has fallen by the wayside, Lt. Frank Drebin’s (Leslie Nielsen) pee marathon, replete with a cacophony of splashes, groans and hums, that plays for the entire police department to enjoy, is still a thing of juvenile splendor.
President Bartlett talks smack about his opponent
The West Wing: ‘The U.S. Poet Laureate’ ep 3x17 (2002)
After recording a light-hearted message to the public, President Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen) casts a brutal disparagement on his political opponent Governor Ritchie (James Brolin), thinking the mic is cold, when it was very much the opposite.
While this comment is a gun metaphor (“[Ritchie is] a .22 caliber mind in a .357 Magnum world") untypical of the hyper-liberal Democrat, and gets Bartlett into a degree of strife, we eventually learn that the blunder was intentional, in an effort to subtlety counter his liberal elitism.
Ellen finally admits she’s gay to Susan
Ellen, ‘The Puppy Episode’ ep 4x22&23 (1997)
Watching this scene now is a tad cringe-worthy, if only because the gaffe is poorly choreographed, but it’s not enough to take away from this groundbreaking bit of situation comedy.
The fictionalised and real-life versions of Ellen blend together in this historic ‘coming out’ scene, where DeGeneres struggles to say to Susan the three little words she’s been dying to say.
After umm’ing and ahh’ing while pacing around the airport, “I am gay” finally reaches Susan’s ears, and thanks to the building’s PA, everyone else’s too.
Seattle’s favourite radio psychiatrist trashes Seattle
Frasier: ‘The Botched Language of the Cranes’ ep 2x06 (1994)
From 9:00 onwards. Enjoy Kelsey Grammar’s voice playing even lower than usual - thanks YouTube uploader.
Ending that day’s radio show with typical velvety empathy, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammar) quicky drops his guise and launches into a rant, unaware that the red light is still on.
“Good grief. Never in my life have I heard from such a bunch of whiny, provincial crybabies. I swear to God, this entire city has lost its tiny, rain-addled mind!”
The entire city of Seattle then turns against Frasier, and for a man with an ego made of stage-glass, this obviously leads to 20-something minutes of side-splitting hilarity.
Rachel Goldberg stages a private moment with a contestant
UnReal: ‘Return’ 1x01 (2015)
Gleefully accepting the ‘bitch’ role for the new season of Everlasting, contestant Britney (Arielle Kebbel) thought she’d be in it for the long haul.
So when she’s the first booted off the season, naturally, she’s briefly tantrums, but producer Quinn King (Constance Zimmer) and her right-hand-gal Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby) know they need more dynamic footage.
Pretending to take Britney aside for a heart-to-heart, Rachel spills her guts about her own trauma, creating a climate where the girl can also spill her guts, claiming she just wants to be loved.
Of course, Rachel has two cameramen on the moment, and will recontextualise the footage in whichever way she and Quinn see fit.
Louis Theroux wins a cat and mouse with Simon Cowell’s publicist
When Louis Met… Max Clifford (2002)
Tabloid publicist Max Clifford allowed Louis to shadow him as he did his thing, but from very early on it seemed Clifford had plans to turn the tables on the unobjectionable documentarian.
After Theroux was drawn out to a night club where strippers were in attendance, Clifford had paps ready to snap photos of the event, so that the following day a scandalous article on Theroux’s (in no way) debauched behavior could hit the newsstands.
Luckily for Louis, the slippery Clifford finally reveals his true self, not knowing that his lapel mic is still recording.
Robert Durst admits to the bathroom that he’s a murderer
The Jinx ‘Chapter 6: What the hell did I do?’ e1x06 (2015)
The elderly black-eyed trust fund baby almost seemed possessed by the devil when cracks began to form in his alibi during the final act of the final episode of The Jinx.
After Durst was presented with evidence that was difficult to refute, he maintains his innocence while fighting off some kind of monstrous force bubbling up inside. A force that almost seemed evil.
In a moment that seems to good to be true, Durst then heads to the bathroom, where he all-but admits to being a murderer. It’s jaw-locking, spine-shattering stuff.
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While we all have Trump on the brain, revisit You've Been Trumped, a documentary showcasing the community outcry over Trump building a golf course in Scotland: