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. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.