"Where is that pass? It must be somewhere. Key to the city of Skaro, no? Pilot's licence for the Mars-Venus rocket run. Galactic passport? Do you travel much? Honorary member of the Alpha-Centauri Table Tennis Club."
The standard comedy bit for any character with a magic hat, Bag of Holding, or other large collection of stuff in an impossibly small space is that he can never find the thing he needs when he needs it.
He'll reach in, rummage about a bit, and triumphantly pull out... an old boot. Or a pink beach umbrella. Or a rubber chicken. Or something else equally useless or even embarrassing.
If he perseveres, he may find the thing he's after on the third attempt. Or it may take much longer. Or time may run out before he finds it, leaving him to improvise with what he did find. May also be voiced over.
This can cross over with Extended Disarming, if the other items pulled out are increasingly-ridiculous weapons, or Pull a Rabbit out of My Hat. It can also be seen in more mundane contexts, such as when a character is trying to find something in a cupboard.
Compare Exploding Closet. If your backpack, purse, or bookbag is sufficiently unorganized, this may well be Truth in Television.
Crossed with Yuppie Couple in one episode of Trigun: Wolfwood, searching for a book in his satchel, reaches in, rummages... and pulls out Kuroneko-sama.
Mousse from Ranma ˝ has a Hyperspace Arsenal in his sleeves. He isn't very susceptible to Rummage Fail in the manga, but much more in the anime where his clothes can contain anything, including the kitchen sink. Not to mention the training potties and the hens that lay explosive eggs.
Happens less often then you would think in Pokémon, given that trainers always carry multiple Pokéballs, don't even look at them when they pick them out, and they (nearly) all look exactly the same.
There is an episode late in the first season where Team Rocket had successfully stolen upwards of a hundred different Pokéballs, Ash's included, and in trying to break out of their van, Ash couldn't figure out which were his until Pikachu sniffed them out.
The trainers probably keep their Pokéballs in a specific order so they don't have to look. After all, they are in a straight line and there are only six of them. Also implied by the games.
Though rare, sometimes special Pokéballs pop in the anime. This trope wouldn't be invoked by the games (if you try to pretend to be the trainer) because of the sheer amount of different kinds of Pokéballs, plus the fact that you can put stickers on them.
If you read the Pokémon Special, when close-ups of the Pokéballs are given, the top half is translucent at the least, allowing someone to tell which Pokémon is in which ball.
There was a running gag for a while (moreso in the newspaper comics) where, no matter what Pokémon Misty would try to pull out, it would end up being Psyduck. One comic even had her pulling out Psyduck just to eliminate him, then tossing another Pokéball...which was also Psyduck. Though in Misty's defense, half the time it wasn't Rummage Fail; she did have the correct Pokéball, but before she could throw it Psyduck's ball somehow opened up first.
This did come up in one episode, though. Ash came up against a trainer who specialized in Grass types, so he decided to use Charizard (who had just started obeying him). Out came...Squirtle. Trying again, he managed to get...Snorlax.
They manage to subvert it somehow, too. In the Breather Episode before the Sinnoh League, Ash calls up some of his old team members from Professor Oak's lab; after the five Pokémon turn up missing thanks to Team Rocket, Ash and friends set off to find them. After finding one of the Pokéballs, Ash somehow managed to figure out that one Pokémon sent to him was not what he asked for, even though that Pokéball was empty.
In the Ah! My Goddess OVA, Keiichi tries to find something in his things to warm Belldandy up so she doesn't get sick. He rummages through and pulls out various assortment of objects (including a traditional fan that earned an extra gag in the dub). He finally pulls out a hairdryer, which proves useless. Understandable in the fact that Keiichi had been thrown out of his dorm room and had his things packed by someone else, so he didn't know where to start. But then he simply pulls out a blanket which had been sitting at the top of a box all along! Aaagh!
In Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA 3rei, Gilgamesh attempts to withdraw Vimana from the Gate of Babylon, but is unable to find it (his treasury having been split in two and divided between himself and Angelica). He casually tosses out a number of legendary treasures while rummaging around for something that might be useful in the situation.
In his original act, Jerry Seinfeld had a bit where he says that women can never find anything in their purses except for their checkbooks. "That thing comes out of a holster."
The character Drywall in Scud The Disposable Assassin is essentially an animated bag of holding, with all the stuff he collects organized into labelled cubicles of drywall inside himself. This has no effect on his inability to pull out an item he needs, though. His brother Mess is similar, basically a giant stack of cabinets stuck together, while his other brother System becomes obsessed with organizing all of creation and becomes lord of Hell in the process. Drywall gets much better at it after the ten-year Time Skip.
Harley Quinn does this in an issue of Harley & Ivy. Contains a minor instance of Getting Crap Past the Radar, as among the items she tosses out of the purse are a tampon and a condom.
Eega Beeva, Mickey Mouse's futuristic buddy in the comics, has hyperspace pockets, and is obviously very prone to this. Interestingly, as created by Floyd Gottfredson (1947), Eega was generally able to find whatever he wanted in his "magic pocket". It's more the modern Italian stories with Eega that show him failing in the search.
The Fourth Doctor often did this in the ''Doctor Who Magazine'' comics. Sometimes it worked out all right for him: once, he was able to get his captors onto his side by producing a medal for defeating The Cybermen.
In Big Nate, whenever he actually does it, Nate has trouble finding his homework in the landfill of assorted garbage that piles out whenever he opens his locker. Also averted in that Nate can reach into the pile and pull out any other obscure object you care to name, as he has proven to Francis upon occasion.
Stoffer Briggs frantically goes through one of these while the others fight a giant poodle. Luckily, they manage to drive it off without his input.
In a bit of a variation, George has forgotten exactly what's in his closet. He starts keeping a list, but he knows there are some items that are basically lost because he can't recall what they are and thus cannot summon them.
Averted in the pre-Internet Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover fanfic "The Doctor and the Enterprise", in which Spock scans the Fourth Doctor, detects how many, many things he's got in his coat pockets, and concludes that it'd be easier to simply confiscate the entire coat than unload them.
Mr. Potato Head proceeds to pull out an extra pair of feet, attaches them to his face, and begins to viciously attack a wall.
Films — Live-Action
The main character in The Mask accidentally pulls a condom out of his pocket. This was an actual mistake made by the actor, but they decided it was funny enough to Throw It In.
In Beverly Hills Cop III, Axel hurriedly obtains a gigantic "urban survival weapon" before heading into the film's showdown. His attempts to use the overdesigned contraption result in everything from popcorn to rockets randomly firing out of it at the bad guys.
Harpo Marx practically started this gag with his magical trenchcoat. While he could often as not pull anything out of it from a swordfish to a lit candle (burning at both ends), there's still the classic moment in Animal Crackers when Chico requests "The flash" (light), and gets a flask, flush, fish, and flute. Since it's too dark to properly find anything, Harpo eventually pulls out a flashlight to try and find his flashlight.
Mary Poppins has a moment of this when she hunts through her magical carpetbag for her tape measure.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Hagrid searching his overcoat pockets for Harry's birthday cake (and later in Gringotts searching the same coat pockets for Harry's vault key) turns up moldy dog biscuits and live mice among other things before finding what he's looking for.
It echoed like a cargo hold as a number of heavy objects rolled around inside it. "Oh, damn, that'll be the books," she said, peering into it, "and I had them all stacked by subject..."
There's a variation a bit later... Harry really needs to get something out of the bag, so when rummaging is too slow, he just uses a summoning charm.
Happens in Keys to the Kingdom series of books with Doctor Scamandros. The first time is in Sir Thursday when he "started rummaging around inside his yellow greatcoat and pulled out a peacock feather fan, several enamelled snuff boxes, a scrimshaw letter opener and a brass piccolo" before finding the item he was searching for, a ring. Then in Superior Saturday, a small smoking grenade falls out of a pocket in mid bow (which he shoves up his sleeve), and when confronted by an enemy soldier later on he "reached into his sleeve and came out with a tiny cocktail fork with a pickled onion on it, which he didn't expect and hurriedly replaced."
The Luggage from Discworld is an animatedBag of Holding, which seems able to invoke this trope at will. At least, anyone looking inside it will only find what they're looking for if its owner approves; non-owners will find nothing but clean underwear if they're lucky, or a mouthful of huge wooden teeth if they aren't.
In Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, Mrs. Hubbard empties her purse of two handkerchiefs, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, a bottle of aspirin, a packet of laxative salts, a tube of peppermints, a bunch of keys, scissors, a checkbook, a photograph, some letters, and five strings of beads, all before finding the clue (a button) she's looking for.
In Rick Riordan's The Heroes of Olympus, when facing off against Lycaon, a nervous Leo reaches into his tool belt for a weapon and initially grabs breath mints before hastily swapping them for a hammer. He hopes no one noticed. This is turned into a Brick Jokeseconds later when the perspective switches to Jason, and while evaluating his assets, he thinks about "Leo, who apparently thought he could defeat the armies of darkness with breath mints."
The Fourth and Tenth Doctors have done this from time to time. One memorable scene from the Fourth Doctor's first appearance ("Robot") has the Doctor searched by a security guard. We are then shown the foot-high pile of items taken from the Doctor's pockets, which completely covers the poor security guard's desk. The new series explains this by revealing that his pockets are bigger on the inside than the outside. It implies that Time Lord technology uses these pocket dimensions everywhere.
Lampshaded in "Genesis of the Daleks", in which the Doctor is ordered to turn out his pockets. He begins to do so, noting that "This might take some time..."
The Doctor: [...] for you it would be the first time, but I'm not going through the endless emptying-the-pockets routine with its plethora of whimsical surprises again. I'm just not. The first several dozen times are fine, but after that it gets old. I mean, finally, in the long run, I don't care how many yo-yos I have.
Another one, in a short story collection, had a character switched into the Doctor's body actually depend on the aforementioned plethora — she goes rummaging through the Doctor's multifarious pockets and attempts to devise an escape plan from what she finds, ranging from library cards to a firework. She fails and has to ad-lib something else involving plants in the area, although the firework does come in handy later.
In one episode of Friends, Ross asks if anyone has any gum. Phoebe claims that she does and reaches into her bag, pulling out a purse, a scarf, some sweets, silly string, a single shoe, a goldfish in a bag — at which point Ross says that he's actually fine.
An episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has Pearl, Observer, and Bobo imprisoned in Ancient Rome (with Observer denied his usual omnipotence due to his brain being taken away). Bobo offers to regurgitate a key so they can escape, and Pearl is thrilled that he apparently swallowed one in a rare moment of competence. Turns out that no, he didn't. He's just swallowed so many things over the years that there's bound to be a key in there somewhere. Cue Bobo throwing up random items.
The Banana Man on Captain Kangaroo. But he was a vaudeville performer. And this form of comedy probably goes back further than that.
Loonette in The Big Comfy Couch usually looks for something in the couch at least twice an episode... which leads to the big mess and the Ten-Second Tidy.
One episode of The Golden Girls involves an attourney who changes career to that of a clown, who then has to temporarily go back to his old job to help the girls out of a lawsuit, being dragged to the courthouse by Sophia while still dressed in his clown suit. When the judge asks for his identification, he proceeds to pull out all sorts of clown or magic related items before the judge decides to let things slide and just proceed with the case.
In one episode of General Hospital, Lucky Spencer ran away with his girlfriend and Luke and Laura Spencer are preparing to chase after them. While giving the usual worried mother/worried father speaches, the two are "cleaning out" their "emergency expedition kits" (they live that sort of life), and during their discussion about how the running away might just be normal teenage rebellion, Laura removes a pistol, several packages of MREs, a flashlight, a handful of maps, a folding ladder, a pipe wrench, a box of randomly sized electrical fuses, a comb, and a copy of "Love Story" by Erich Segal. Luke likewise removes a hand grenade, a four-socket lug wrench (the "plus sign" wrenches found in many cars), a can of aerosol cheese, a solar-powered calculator, and a hairbrush from his kit. They then begin reassembling the kits.
One of the standard ways Columbo would exasperate his perps: by making them wait an interminably long time for him to fish out the evidence or notes he wanted them to look at, all the while apologizing for wasting their time.
Muppet Treasure Island has Gonzo, Rizzo, and Jim do one of these while looking through a chest for a treasure map, pulling out such objects as an oar, a pair of novelty glasses, and a book by Henry Kissinger.
This is as old as radio. The old time radio series Fibber McGee and Molly had a character named Horatio K. Boomer, a con man and suspicious character, but still a friend to Fibber and Molly. At each of his appearances, he would claim to have the very thing that Fibber (or someone else) needed and rummage through his pockets, producing various items, but never the one required. After that, he'd state, "What do ya know, no <item>", and be on his way.
A joke article published in Dragon Magazine, titled "Flaws for Commoners", had the flaw "Chicken Infested"; the effect is that whenever the character attempts to withdraw something from a bag, they have a 50% chance of getting a live chicken instead.
Similarly, a Bag of Tricks produces a selection animals depending on bag color. The animal produced is random, which means you'll occasionally reach in hoping for a tiger and get a horse instead. For added hilarity, give a bag of tricks to a chicken-infested commoner.
Heward's Handy Haversack avoids this problem. It has a smaller carrying capacity than the Bags of Holding, but it has an additional enchantment causing the exact item the character is looking for to be right on top.
D&D players themselves are prone to Rummage Fail, especially at higher levels when everyone has a laundry list of class features and magical equipment. Many an epic showdown has come to a grinding halt as every player scours his splatbooks for an ability that might counter whatever threat the Big Bad just chucked at the party.
Also happens with their gear. Players can have things like "Bag of Holding containing two of every mundane item in the PHB", "Quiver containing at least three arrows of every special material and DR-overcoming property" and, just to add to the confusion, a collection of "One potion from every first and second level spell in the PHB".
The original Dragonlance setting required this of Kender characters, where they had to actually list the 100+ mostly useless items in their respective pockets, occasionally subjecting it to a roll in times of stress.
Toon, a game based on western comedy animation tropes, features a character option that's essentially a bag of holding with this as a flaw. When reaching in the character declares what they want to pull out, if they succeed the roll they get it. If not, the DM rolls a random table to find what they pull out instead. Options include foodstuffs, wild animals, doodads, whatsits, and one of your fellow characters.
In Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins, Sarah Jane Moore attempts to show off her gun while singing these memorable lyrics: "I got this really great gun — s*** where is it?" She pulls out many objects, including a shoe, before finding it.
In The Solid Gold Cadillac, Mrs. Partridge cleans out her office after getting fired, withdrawing some very unlikely objects from a bookcase and from the filing cabinet.
Quiffy of the old Bullfrog platform gameFlood would sometimes get an awesomely destructive flame-thrower. Every few times you switch to it, he pulls out a squawking rubber chicken instead (much to his wide-eyed surprise).
Weaponized in Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice by the Panic Laser magichange attack, with the user pulling out a flower vase, washtub, fish, and a Mystic Beast puppy and throwing them on top of the target's head before finding their raygun and blowing it all up with a laser.
Throughout the fight with him, the genie boss Al-Khemi in Ni No Kuni will rummage through his cauldron to pull out a Flaming Sword. Sometimes, however, he'll pull out a parasol instead, reducing his attack power and leaving him relatively vulnerable. Better yet, the attack is named "Alakaz... um..." with punctuation exactly as written.
In the DS version, this happens in the battle before him instead, and ends with him charging into battle with a pair of striped boxers over his head instead.
Used in the backstory of the game Wild9 with the character of Pokkit who is supposed to be able to pull anything from the bottomless pockets on his jacket. However, that never happens and it is said produced from his pockets "over 37 different items before grabbing a weapon, and that was a slingshot". The manual further says that if the team were in a tight situation he would produce a doughnut, but if they were starving in a desert he would produce a bazooka. In game he manages to actually produce a machine gun when it is useful.
This was played with in the first Icewind Dale. In Shattered Hand, you could find a dirty old sack in the hands of one of the goblins, which turns out to be a completely malfunctioning Bag of Holding. Instead of using it to store things, you could open it up, once a day, and try to shake something out. Results range from mildly magical weapons and arrows to jewelry of varying value and dead cats.
The ending of the BIONICLE Mata Nui Online Game has the main character pulling the various items he has acquired out of his Bag of Holding and tossing them aside during the final level, including flutes, letters, and magical light-giving rocks. Granted, though, his attitude is less "Now where did I put that thing?" and more "OH CRAP GIANT BUG THINGS COMING FOR ME PLEASE SPIRITS LET THERE BE SOMETHING USEFUL IN HERE."
Near the end of the first world of Secret of Evermore, an alchemist plays this one straight by producing a key, a crystal, a still-beating heart, and finally the Mud Pepper you'd sought him out for.
Very likely to happen in Garry's Mod if you have a lot of additional weapons installed, which due to the nature of the game is very likely.
In the Pokémon games, Delibird's signature move Present, where Delibird reaches into its grab bag and hands out a mysterious gift to the target, has random chances of inflicting some damage or restoring some health instead. Rummage Fail can happen when your attempts to use the move to finish off something/heal a Doubles/Triples Partner backfires.
In LEGO Harry Potter 2, Hermione has the Bag of Holding, and whenever she uses it she pulls out two wrong items first, usually funny ones like an anchor.
Ace Attorney Investigations 2 features one in its third case, by witness Delisha Scone. Of course, given the nature of the series, one of the "wrong" objects she pulls out turns out to be a Chekhov's Gun.
Roy's Bag of Tricks from The Order of the Stick, as described above in the D&D entry. It's been used during three battles and in each comes up with an inappropriate animal. Used against a random encounter, it produced a small critter one monster simply ate. Used in the bandit camp, it crushed Roy with a rhinoceros. And used to try and save Roy from falling to his death in Azure City, it failed to produce anything large enough to cushion him or winged enough to carry him.
It was useful on two occasions, however. While sneaking into the bandit camp, he used a cat to provide distractions for the guards, allowing him to sneak up on some of them. And he also summoned two rats and a beaver to gnaw the ropes his friends were tied up with.
A certain character in Charby the Vampirate has a magic hat that tends to randomly drop jackalopes on his head. Their was also a story arc in which the hat was mad at him, so he experienced many Rummage Fails in quick succession.
In The Legend of Neil, Neil initially doesn't even realize he has a magic inventory, and is simply carrying his ever-growing list of items awkwardly around with him and trying not to drop anything. Luckily, since he's in a video-game, someone eventually explains to him that he has a special inventory in which he can store everything he carries with him... unfortunately, the first time he tries to use it in battle, he realizes he doesn't know how to control what item comes out. He hasn't accessed his inventory since (it's only been a few episodes since he learned), so there's no way of telling if he's figured it out or will need further instruction.
Presto's wizard hat in the Dungeons & Dragons animated series. He almost never managed to pull out what he was after, but the thing he pulled out instead usually worked just as well towards solving the problem, with a bit of creative thinking.
Done a few times with Wakko Warner's "gaggy bag" on Animaniacs. On at least one occassion he manages to pull out Elvis. In the sketch where Yakko recites the famous speech from Hamlet, Wakko is seen behind him digging a hole and discovering several odd things including a giant squid, a United States nuclear missile, and a sexy lady.
In the episode of Shaun the Sheep where the sheeps are playing football (association, not American) with a cabbage, the cabbage hits the Gentle Giant sheep on the side, and disappears into the sheep's thick wool. Shaun reaches in to retrieve it, and finds two other items before the cabbage.
In the "Arabian Desert Danger" episode of The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, the Ant Hill Mob needed to enter a pyramid, but Pockets produced everything except a battering ram.
One episode of Johnny Bravo ends with Johnny pulling out various things (elephant, people) out of his toilet while looking for his dropped cereal prize.
Whenever Inspector Gadget calls out "Go go gadget [item]," there is only about a 50% chance that the gadget produced will be the one that he asked for. On most failures, the Gadget Mallet would come out, as if his equipment has a "when all else fails, hit things" directive. Occasionally he would make a remark like, "One of these days, I've got to get these gadgets fixed."
Possible subversion on the episode "Garbage In, Garbage Out": Wreck-Gar is a garbage truck Transformer whose garbage-carrying trailer becomes a sort of Backpack of Holding when he transforms into robot mode. During the course of the episode, he pulls out a great many items from this "backpack" that are not appropriate to the situation. The twist (and possible subversion) is that, in most cases, the item he produces actually is the item he wanted to find; he simply misunderstood what he was asked for. He manages to produces an incredible array of items, including a burnt-out cash register, a set of income tax forms, an uprooted kitchen sink, and even the original Wreck-Gar's motorcycle form!
Bumblebee has this played straight when he starts digging out various electronic entertainment devices he brought for Sari's camping trip. When asked where exactly he was keeping them (being as he is a robot with no pockets) he awkwardly says "Don't ask".
All the time in Gerry Anderson's Dick Spanner.
In the French animated series Once Upon a Time... Man and its sequels, the character Maestro sports a full-body beard of holding. Pulling out the wrong item (sometimes anachronistic) out of it is a Running Gag for him.
Used semi-regularly in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy with Grim's chest. Though the chest is large enough that it could logically hold every item taken from it in each individual appearance, various episodes shows that it is linked to another dimension and thus infinitely spacious.
The Simpsons. Marge Simpson often uses her beehive hairdo for this very purpose.
This stuff would always happen in Courage the Cowardly Dog. In many episodes, Courage would start looking for something in the pockets that he didn't even have, either as a weapon or an item to trade or something to solve a problem with. In fact, there were episodes where he would pull out boats, other animals such as ducks or WHALES, and even a full-size anchor (which was one of his favorite possessions).
Futurama. In order to make room in his compartment, Bender disposes of three goldfish bowls (complete with goldfish) and the jarred, floating head of Luciano Pavarotti.
Family Guy. Peter finds a number of things in Quagmire's anus, including a live fish. Also George Takei.
Another example is when Peter wins a month of maidservice from Wheel of Fortune. He tells her to clean out his belly button...and pulls out several objects, namely a carton of Parliament cigarettes and a Colecovision (with controllers!)
Similar to the example above, Drawn Together has Xandir pulling a group of strange objects out of Wooldor's ass (including a traumatized leprechaun!) before getting the Magic Lamp he was looking for.
In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Lawn Gnome Beach Party of Terror", Dr. Doofensmirtz tries to capture Perry the Platypus, explain his evil plot, and set it into motion, but keeps getting the various remotes mixed up (including accidentally using a garage door opener at one point).
Simon Belmont's backpack occasionally demonstrated this trope in Captain N: The Game Master, with Simon deploying a golf club and then a bazooka, among other things. Possibly a reference to and a parody of Simon's frequently extensive in-game inventory.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Owl's Well that Ends Well", Pinkie Pie does a variant where she keeps producing from her house other items that begin with "qu-" when Spike is asking for a quill — a quince, a quail, a quilt, a quesadilla, and a quiche. Naturally, it turns out she's out of quills.
In Xiaolin Showdown, pint-size monk Omi gets into a high-altitude sparring match with another capable fighter. Showdown rules let each of them bring one Shen Gong Wu into battle, and the other guy chooses shoes of super speed. Omi's pockets yield many items, including a basketball, a hockey stick, and a sandwich before he finds a collar that lets him breathe water instead of air. Even for him, it proves less than helpful.