Running Gag Stumbles

"Who's there?"
"Banana who?"
"Who's there?"
"Banana who?"
"Who's there?"
"Banana who?"
"Who's there?"
"Orange who?"
"Orange you glad I didn't say 'banana' again?"

Sometimes, when writers feel a Running Gag has gone on long enough, they decide to mix things up by subverting it. We see the gag coming, we expect it to play out the same way it has every other time, but this time, there's a twist. The outcome is different from what we've been led to expect, and (if it's played right) we laugh in surprise.

The difference between this and Running Gagged is that Running Gagged is about putting an end to a Running Gag. It is not concerned with how the gag is ended, so long as it stops. This trope is about subverting a Running Gag. Such a subversion may lead to the end of the gag, or the gag may continue to be played straight afterwards. What matters is that the audience is expecting the gag, and is surprised when it turns out differently.


Anime and Manga

Fan Works
  • In the Ranma Elsewhere Fic Boy Scouts , there is a running gag that the original work's Ryoga (a chronically lost character) keeps showing up about once a story line, asking, "Where is Furinkan High School?" or demanding to know how to get to Japan. Come the first story line in the retooled Boy Scouts in Japan, and Ryoga does show up, and demands once again to know where Furinkan High School is, only to recognize the people he is accosting. He assumes he is once again in Western Massachusetts and wander away dejectedly, not to be seen again. What Ryoga did not realize is that this particular confrontation occurred right outside of his intended destination.

  • In The Philadelphia Story, Margaret Lord keeps forgetting who Mike is. First she forgets his name, then she calls him "Mr. O'Connor" (instead of Mr. Connor), and then she mistakes him for one of the musicians. At the end of the movie, she turns to him and cries, "Dr. Parsons!" Mike, thinking she means him, is about to explain that she is mistaken. Then he realises that Dr. Parsons is actually standing right behind him, and that it's to him that Mrs. Lord is speaking.
  • In Charade, every time Cary Grant's character takes on a new name, Reggie asks him, "Is there a Mrs. So-and-So?", to which he invariably replies, "Yes, but we're divorced." At the very end of the movie, she asks him again, and he says, "Yes." "But we're divorced," she supplies, but he says, "No." She looks crestfallen for a moment, before he pulls out his wallet and shows her a picture of his mother.
  • In Double Indemnity, Keys is forever wanting a light for his cigar, and it always falls to Walter to strike a match for him. At the end of the movie, gesture is reciprocated, with Keys lighting the cigarette of the mortally wounded Walter.
  • Don Jon explains items of new technology to his family and friends, incredulous that they haven't heard of them yet. Then, half-way through the movie, the tables are turned on him when his girlfriend has to explain that his browser has a "history".
  • In The Dark Knight, the Joker is fond of telling (differing stories) about how he got his scars. In his climactic fight with Batman, he asks, rhetorically, "You know how I got these scars?" Instead of waiting to hear the answer, Batman says, "No, but I know how you got these." and smacks him in the face.
  • Thor: The Dark World: For once, Thor doesn't fall for Loki's tricks.
    Thor: Loki, enough. No more illusions.

  • One Animorphs story has this exchange after an expectant pause.
    Marco: Rachel! What's keeping you?
    Rachel: Oh, sorry, I forgot. Let's do it!
    • In another, Marco quickly slips in "Bet you ten bucks she says "Let's do it!"" before Rachel says it, so she counters with "Let's... go for it!" Marco complains that she cheated.
  • Everworld (by the same author) has Christopher repeatedly complain that after whatever latest craziness he's expecting leprechauns. The others humor him, until at last they run into Niddhoggr, whose treasure has been stolen by, you guessed it, leprechauns. The others just slowly turn to him in silence, and he goes I Knew It.

Live Action Television
  • As The Stinger to every episode of The Vicar of Dibley Geraldine tells Alice a joke, and the latter doesn't get it. In the series finale, Geraldine's new husband tells the joke instead, and Alice gets it.
  • In the final episode of Blackadder I as Edmund is dying, his father (who never gets his name right) finally calls him by the right name, only for it to be resubverted moments later
    Edmund: Father, you called me "Edmund."
    Richard IV: What? Oh, sorry Edgar.
  • Doctor Who is used by now to the amazement with which his companions gasp, "It's bigger on the inside!" the first time they enter the Tardis. In "The Snowmen", Clara knocks him for a loop by going back outside, walking around the box, then sticking her head in and saying, "It's smaller on the outside!"
    • River has a thing for slapping the Doctor. In "The Name of the Doctor" she tries doing it to get his attention, even though she's just a mental projection he shouldn't be able to see. To her surprise, he catches her hand mid slap.

Western Animation
  • There are episodes of South Park where Kenny appears and survives. (The first time this happened, Kenny noticed his survival and cheered when "The End" came on screen.
  • Pinky and the Brain had Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?, a Once an Episode Running Gag that named its own trope. Brain would ask the question, and Cloudcuckoolander Pinky would give some bizarre non-sequitur reply. ("I think so Brain, but if they called them Sad Meals, kids wouldn't buy them.") On third-season finale "Brain Food", however, they did this:
    Brain: Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?
    Pinky: Whoof, oh, I'd have to say the odds of that are terribly slim Brain.
    Brain: True.
    Pinky: I mean, really, when have I ever been pondering what you've been pondering?
    Brain: To my knowledge, never.
    Pinky: Exactly. So, what are the chances that this time, I'm pondering what you're pondering?
    Brain: Next to nil.
    Pinky: Well, that's exactly what I'm thinking, too.
    Brain: Therefore, you are pondering what I'm pondering.
    Pinky: Poit, I guess I am!