Watch the Evolution of the Mirror Routine, One of Hollywood’s Favorite Gags

Slate's Culture Blog
March 21 2014 1:10 PM

The Evolution of the Mirror Routine: A Supercut


The new Muppets movie centers around a showdown between Kermit and his evil doppelganger, and so of course there was one place the comedy was destined to go: the Mirror Routine. Muppets Most Wanted is only the latest in more than a century of movies to include the gag, in which two characters stand on opposite sides of an empty mirror frame and one pretends to be the other’s reflection. Almost every great comedian, from Charlie Chaplin to the Marx Brothers to Adam Sandler to Bugs Bunny, has at some point in their career performed their own variation of the bit.

In fact, it predates the movies. As joke historian Anthony Balducci has shown on his blog, it dates at least as far back as the 1894 play My Friend From India: A Farcical Comedy in Three Acts (which was also later turned into a movie). By 1911 Variety was already calling it “the old mirror business,” noting that the latest imitator “exemplif[ied] the amount of robbery that is going on in Europe.” Five years later, Chaplin was among the first (if not the first) to do the bit on the screen.

And we still haven’t tired of it. In the 100 years since Chaplin’s take, Hollywood has cranked out so many variations on the routine that we couldn’t include them all without turning this supercut into a Marclay-esque epic. (We decided on a selection of the most notable.) If the routine tells us anything, it’s that that the movies thrive on copying—it’s just a question of whether your imitation is convincing.


List of films included
Floorwalker (Charlie Chaplin), 1916
Duck Soup
(Marx Brothers), 1933

I Love Lucy (
episode: “Lucy and Harpo,” Season 4), 1955

Lonesome Ghosts
(Mickey Mouse), 1937

Hare Tonic
(Bugs Bunny), 1945

Gilligan’s Island
(episode: “Gilligan vs. Gilligan,” Season 3), 1966

The Pink Panther
, 1963

Sleeper
, 1973

Girls Just Want To Have Fun
, 1985

Big Business
, 1988

Johnny Stecchino
, 1991

Airheads
, 1994

The X-Files
(episode: Dreamland, season 6), 1998

Garfield 2: Tale of Two Kitties
, 2006

Muppets Most Wanted
, 2014

Andrew Bouvé is the co-executive producer for Slate video.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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