Running Gagged

"Okay, they're dead, all right?! We're not gonna be seeing them again!"
Stewie Griffin after shooting Vern and Johnny, Family Guy

A Running Gag is a recurring event that becomes more humorous or meaningful each time it is used, depending on its subject. However, it can only happen so many times before fans will call out the writers for being unoriginal. What to do? This is the payoff of a Running Gag, where all the humor or drama caused by this builds up to an ending. Ending the gag is hard to pull off successfully whether the gag was popular among the fanbase or not. If it's popular, that means the gag won't be used anymore. If it isn't, it's wasting time when there are bigger fish to fry.

How do you handle it? Send it off in grand style, of course. Give it a conclusion, or maybe tell the audience and end it there.

Compared to Overused Running Gag, where the writers acknowledge the joke's tiredness but don't retire it. If the Running Gag makes a reappearance after a while, it would be a Call-Back or a Continuity Nod, depending on the example. Has nothing to do with jogging with your mouth stuffed.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Part 1 of Naruto, viewers would sometimes see how Sakura feels through Inner Sakura whenever she felt differently than how she responded. In Part 2, Sakura has learned how to express her true feelings and Inner Sakura only appears once in what could be considered a Call-Back (seen in Episode 8 of Shippuden and Chapter 250 of the manga). The last time the gag is used in Part 1 is when Inner Sakura is implied to be a full-on 2nd personality and foils Ino's attempt at Grand Theft Me.
  • Usopp's lies in One Piece. His fighting style used to heavily rely on flat-out lying to his opponents to scare them and gave him the upper edge. This is a variation because instead of entirely dropping them at a certain point, he used them less and less and utilized more of his inventions. He still lies, but only occasionally, and he will usually have a plan instead of improvising a lie, such as the Usopp Golden Pound in his Thriller Bark fight against Perona. Not to mention, many of his early lies (such as being eaten by a giant goldfish) have since come true providing a nice Brick Joke for people paying attention.
  • In the Funimation dub of Crayon Shin-chan, Penny has a very abusive dad that stems most of her humor. Near the end of Season 2, her dad goes to therapy, but because Penny is used to the ideal that Love Hurts, she has trouble coping for an episode before finally accepting it. After the show was brought back after 2+ years on hiatus, the writers seemed to have kept this element.

    Comic Books 
  • Ultimate Spider-Man:
    • Spider-Man following every single denial he was a mutant with "Not that there's anything wrong with that" before ultimately stopping whilst thrown into a Hunting the Most Dangerous Game situation alongside the X-Men.
    • In a meta-sense, J. Jonah Jameson twisting every single heroic deed Spider-Man made and Spider-Man's general status as a Hero with Bad Publicity. After over 4 decades of it in the mainstream Marvel universe and 9 years in the Ultimate universe, Jameson stopped slandering Spider-Man after the events of Ultimatum, when he witnessed Spider-Man doing everything he could possibly do to save people in the midst of New York being flooded whilst the other superheroes were nowhere to be seen, and subsequently this led to Spider-Man having the best PR out of any of the heroes when Jameson proceeded to admit he was wrong and the Bugle became Spider-Man's biggest supporters. He did restart the slandering when Miles Morales started on his path as Spider-Man, but in an interesting twist, this was because Jameson (like many people) thought that Miles was desecrating Peter's memory.

    Fan Works 
  • In Season 1 of Script Fic Calvin and Hobbes: The Series, the titular duo would often have meaningless arguments over stupid things. This was quietly dropped in the second season.
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged:
    • The "Kaio-what?" gagnote  ended with Freeza No Selling it (though it did return in the Goku vs. Superman episode of Death Battle).
      Freeza: No, seriously, Kaio-what?
      Goku: Kaio-crap!
    • It comes back for one last hurrah in The World's Strongest Abridged.
    • In an odd way, the running gag of a freeze frame Squicky Fan Disservice picture appearing whenever someone uses Solar Flare endednote  by undergoing a mini-Cerebus Syndrome, as when Cell shows up they go from being humorously squicky (such as Freeza's head photoshopped onto a guy showering, or Lanipator dressed as Dr. Frank-N-Furter) to two real cicadas mating, until finally a (mercifully cropped) picture of Semi-Perfect Cell raping Android 18 appears in the episode where he absorbs her and becomes perfect.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series:
    • In Bandit Keith's final appearance in the main series, his Eagle Land characterization was officially dropped when it was revealed that he was only pretending to be American and he was actually from Canada. In the episode that wrote out Bonz, he reveals that he actually can talk normally and his constantly saying "Braiiins..." was just an act. Both characters' subsequent appearances in all future side videos have dropped these gags. It's lampshaded in one anniversary special where Bakura and Marik try to do a drinking game off some of the gags from the series, they end disappointed when both Bandit Keith and Bonz explain that they don't do those anymore.
    • One of the earliest running gags in the series was Weevil and Rex being obvious expies of Beavis and Butt-Head. This officially ended after Episode 73 when the Seal of Orichalcos allowed them to Retcon this behavior away and act more like their canon counterparts.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Spy Kids 3D, everybody constantly refers to "The Guy", and it becomes Arc Words and a minor plot thread. Once the kids reach the entrance to Level 5, "The Guy" appears, opens the way, then gets killed immediately after. Nobody brings it up again.
  • After two movies of being a Found Footage Film series, REC 3 goes through a Genre Shift to more traditional horror... and the way it does this is by filming its first act in the regular Found Footage style and then one of the characters ending up pissed at the cameraman because he is eager to continue recording everything instead of helping (the cameraman even justifies himself by repeating a line that the characters on the other films use to encourage their cameramen into continuing his recording), so he wrestles the camera away from the cameraman and slams it into the ground.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Maeby in Arrested Development often says "Marry me!" to her coworkers as a means of allaying suspicion whenever they point out how young she looks. But one time when she uses it, the proposal is taken a little too seriously and she quickly stops.
  • A rare example of a Running Gag ending dramatically instead of comically happened on Hill Street Blues. Every few episodes, Belker would arrest the same petty criminal. Whenever Belker asked him for his name, he would always give an obviously fake one. Belker would often be on the phone with his mother while booking the criminal, who smirked at the incongruity of a tough detective being nagged by his mom. This went on for years, until the criminal was accidentally caught in the crossfire of a shootout. He had nothing to do with the gang shooting it out with the police; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Belker ran up to him where he lay dying, he finally told Belker his real name and asked Belker to tell his (the criminal's) mother what had happened.
  • Friends had a Running Gag going since the beginning involving "Ugly Naked Guy", a never-seen, um, Exactly What It Says on the Tin character who lived in the next apartment building over, who would occasionally get mentioned with lines such as "Oooh, Ugly Naked Guy's doing X!" By Season 5, the writers decided it was time to retire the gag, and at that point Ross was also in need of a new place to live. So they killed two birds with one stone by having him move out, and Ross get his apartment.
  • How I Met Your Mother brings back Barney's fireball magic trick, but everyone snaps at him that it isn't funny anymore, the barmaid reminds him he's been banned from doing it by the fire marshal, and Lily tells him to go stand in the corner. A flashback in a later episode shows that the gang at some point held an intervention to try to persuade him to stop doing it.
  • In Kamen Rider Drive, Lt. Otta had two major running gags:
    • First, he only got bits and pieces of information about the Kamen Riders and therefore had a wildly inaccurate image of them - for instance, he saw only parts of Drive's body at times when he was in different forms, so his mental image of Drive was a mashup of all of them; and then when he realized there was more than one Kamen Rider running around he thought that all of Drive's forms were actually different people. This ended when Drive's identity went public and Otta could get his facts straight from the source.
    • Otta also displayed a comical inability to say the word "Roidmude" no matter how many times he's corrected; what he does say instead gets translated into things like "Hemmoroido" and "Pork Roasto". In one episode, he even acknowledges this while under the effects of a Hate Plague, raging that his co-workers think he's an idiot because of it. The gag gets put to rest about 3/4 of the way through the show, where it's revealed to be part of an actual mental block placed on Otta by the incredibly powerful Freeze Roidmude, in order to keep the police ineffectual. A cure is developed, and once it's used on Otta he's able to say the word properly, much to his teammates' relief.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway?: To end the game "Scenes from a Hat", Drew Carey would fling the hat offstage. He stopped doing it when he accidentally hit a camera, knocking it off its crane.
  • Stargate SG-1: Fun with Homophones jokes regarding the Goa'uld Lord Yu were abandoned in the eighth season, as even the characters in-universe were getting tired of them. Weir, a newcomer to the series, hears his name and is immediately told that every single joke and pun has been done to death, so please don't. Yu himself dies near the end of the season as well, putting the final nail in the proverbial coffin.
  • The Muppet Show's Rita Moreno episode has the telephone gag, wherein Fozzie answers the telephone, and something comes out of the microphone. Eventually, Kermit gets annoyed at the gag and orders Fozzie to not answer the phone, providing the page quote for the parent trope. When he disparagingly cries "is there no end to this running gag?!" Cue Animal ripping the phone from the wall and running off with it.
  • German comedy "Klimbim" had the unknown drinker at the bar, who never said a word and fell from his stool. When they got bored with it, in a series finale he shoots everyone and says "Finally I can talk!". (Too bad Morn didn't get the chance...)

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Quest VIII had Yangus's catch phrase "Cor Blimey!" which happens as a funny background event any time Trode appears from nowhere. By Tyran Gully, it had happened three times, and instead we got:
    Yangus: Cor Bli—Nah, fed up of that line.
Given a callback as the very last line of the ending before the credits roll, though not by Yangus this time.

    Web Animation 
  • Parodied in Homestar Runner: In a Strong Bad Email, Homestar tells Strong Bad he's incorporating a new Catch Phrase, "That's bupkis", which he never says in any other cartoon.

     Web Comics 
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • There was a Running Gag involving women hitting men with a Hyperspace Mallet whenever they said something sexist. The Hammers were eventually deconstructed as their true purpose was revealed: They were not designed to prevent sexist comments, but rather encourage them, as the hammers gave women an opportunity to get back at the men in a harmless manner, meaning the men didn't have to feel bad about upsetting them. The hammers became permanently unusable when the immortal who controlled them was preparing for his death and rebirth.
    • References to Tedd being androgynous also stopped for a while, probably because in the newer art style he didn't really look all that androgynous. They later made a return, along with Tedd getting a new (and much more androgynous) look in-universe.
    • Later, an arc titled Bringing Silly Back seemed to be mainly using this as a chance to call a capper on the overly silly running gags, and reconstruct them to fit the new tone of the comic.
  • A short-lived example in Bob and George: The third time the Right Behind Me gag was used with Dr. Wily, Dave Anez retired the joke. (The name of that particular strip even lampshades this: "This Is The Last Time, I Swear".) The "retirement" only lasted one year before it was brought back, at which point Wily rages about the author's broken promise. The gag would continue to be used on occasion right up to the final story arc.
  • Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content frequently used Yelling Bird, a foul-mouthed avian, as filler material when he needed a break. In August of 2015, he officially retired Yelling Bird, after letting the bird verbally abuse the readers one last time.
    Jeph: I am tired of Yelling Bird comics so there will be NO MORE OF THEM, goodbye you shitty bird.

    Web Original 
  • In Dragon Ball Z Uncensored (a comparison of the original Dragon Ball Z TV show and its English dub), some time after the episode which introduced Hell, Chris Psaros started using the exclamation "What the HFIL?" (in reference to Hell's Dub Name Change), which he kept using until near the end of the Frieza Saga, at which point he retires the phrase, but not before admiring the meme that resulted from it.
  • Noob has a case of this trope meeting Real Life Writes the Plot. One of the running gags was a situation in which a Player Killer was in a Mistaken for Badass situation with The Fool of the cast. The actor playing one of the two could no longer participate so the Player Killer's higher-ups suddenly got frustrated with the situation that has been lasting for years and expelled him from his guild. That is followed by The Fool managing to beat him up in the middle of trying to give him a little consolation. That results in him quitting the game out of spite.
  • The Nostalgia Critic has had various jokes that he used at the beginning of his run, only to cycle them out and exchange them for new ones.
    • With one — his showing of a clip M. Bison saying "Of course!" when a character expresses a desire to rule the world — he refuses to show it because it's been overdone, only for the clip to force its way onto the screen despite his protests. In the commentary for the review, Doug Walker mentions that he tries to be mindful of if he's overusing a joke to the point where it isn't funny, at which point he tries to mix things up a little and keep it fresh.
    • On that point, one of his reviews did end with its respective Running Gag (a Flanderized-to-the-point-of-uselessness Patch Adams called "Bitch Spasms") being blown away (and the cadaver being left on the ground as a Brick Joke for a future episode), the review for Jurassic Park III finishing (at least apparently for now) the "Motherfucking T-Rex" gag (on the moment that the T-Rex gets its neck snapped by another dinosaur. It do, however, gets a glorious resurrection as a Crowning Music of Awesome for the Rexy-vs.-Indominus fight on the Jurassic World review), the review for The Lost World kills the newsreel-style Long List of how humans screw up nature that had pervaded several nature-related film reviews with the critic belting out a Big "SHUT UP!" and rambling about how annoyingly Anvilicious films get when they try to (continuously) hammer this point.
    • "Bat credit card" was killed by Linkara when the critic made a cameo in his review of a tie-in comic. Linkara reconstructed the meme by explaining Batman is filthy rich, uses secret methods to spend that money on crimefighting in ways that cannot be traced back to Bruce Wayne, is known to purchase items while fighting crime if he needs them, and is obsessed with putting his bat brand on everything he uses. With all those traits to him, a Bat credit card is actually rather logical and practical for him to have, so what's so anger-inducing about it? The Critic is speechless.
  • raocow has done this in a few LP's, such as in Mushroom Kingdom Meltdown, where he would often abruptly cut away to a fast-forwarded clip of him farming infinite lives whenever he ran out, usually while singing badly. After a few occasions, he said "Okay, this has stopped being funny now", and retired the gag (though he did still farm infinite lives offscreen). He's also said he reads his own trope page and checks under "Catchphrase" and "Running Gag" to see what he's overdoing and making an effort to stop doing that.
  • Somecallmejohnny had a runningGag in his Metroid videos where, anytime he mentioned the Screw Attack powerup, a disembodied voice would suddenly shout "SCREW ATTACK!" much to Johnny's confusion, and later, annoyance. By Metroid Prime 3, Johnny finally calls it off and guns down the "SCREW ATTACK" guy, ending the gag. It got one last oblique mention in his video of Federation Force where he mentions the Screw Attack, and then immediately says "I shot that bastard dead."
  • history of the entire world, i guess has "you could make a religion out of this" repeated after the founding of various world religions. The line starts to repeat after the French Revolution and the death of Maximillien Robespierre, but is interrupted by "no, don't"note .

    Western Animation 
  • Early on in The Boondocks, Tom was deathly afraid of being raped by Bubba, despite happily sending members of his own race to the exact same fate. In A Date With The Booty Warrior, he faces his greatest fear: The Booty Warrior. He easily defeats the Booty Warrior, and he doesn't get a single rape joke in Season 4.
  • From Family Guy, the evil monkey living in Chris' closet. In season 8, he finally came out of the closet, turned out to not be that bad of a monkey, helped Peter and Chris amend their relationship, and moves out to live in Jake Tucker's closet. He has been Out of Focus in Family Guy, but he makes a complete Heel–Face Turn in The Cleveland Show, where he is renamed Monkey, and he saves Cleveland from the guys from Deliverance.
    • Another example is Vern and Johnny, the Vaudeville players whose killing off provides the page quote. They started making appearances after the show's revival, and were killed by Stewie in the next season. They end up making one more appearance after this, with Vern as a ghost and Johnny in Hell (he liked little boys).
    • Possibly Quagmire's hatred for Brian, which was last seen in an Escalating War in "Tiegs For Two" where Brian suggested the two making amends. Granted, it culminated in Quagmire running him over with his car, but the feud has not been brought up since, save for Quagmire being seen apathetically playing on his phone during Brian's funeral.
      • It has occasionally been brought up again in a few episodes like "Brian the Closer" and "Quagmire's Mom," although now it seems that Quagmire's hatred of Brian isn't one-sided anymore, with Brian directly antagonizing Quagmire in return in both episodes.
    • Subverted with the running gag of Peter's shenanigans destroying the front of Cleveland's house while he's taking a bath, causing his tub to fall to the ground. At first, it seemed like the first episode of The Cleveland Show was this, as it was The Last Straw that convinced Cleveland to move out of Quahog. Even after that, however, the gag still makes a few sparse appearances.
  • The Simpsons, with a combination of Aborted Arc. Pre-season 8, Skinner was a Non-Giving-Up School Guy and Krabappel was a Christmas Cake. In season 8, Skinner and Krabappel hooked up, ending the jokes about the two individually (particularly Krabappel), and became more notable as a couple with A Day in the Limelight together occasionally. In season 14, the two got engaged, and since this show loves Status Quo Is God, this would put a stalemate to any future development. Surprisingly, season 15 showed their marriage, where Krabappel left Skinner at the altar. Since then, they reverted back to their original characters, Skinner was received opposite Flanderization (which is very notable considering The Simpsons is the Trope Namer), and Krabappel received regular Flanderization, though Krabappel's case seemed like it might change since in the season 22 finale, she and Flanders hooked up in a Cliffhanger. However, the death of her voice-actress and with it, apparently, the character, leaves whatever plans for the character there were derailed.
  • "Oh, my God! They Killed Kenny!" In its early seasons, Kenny McCormick's death Once per Episode was one of the defining traits of South Park. Many a fan eagerly awaited to see how Kenny would bite it this week. Soon, however, the writers felt that it was becoming an Overused Running Gag, and decided to end it before it got too much. And so, Kenny was Killed Off for Real in the aptly titled episode "Kenny Dies", and stayed dead for the better part of the following season. Eventually, Kenny was brought back from the dead, only now he wasn't killed off... at least not as often. The whole thing got a good Deconstruction in the "Coon and Friends" arc, where we learn that Kenny's parents were part of a Lovecraftian cult and his immortality was a curse from the Dark Ones.
    • The boys trying to find a replacement fourth friend in the sixth season. For the majority of the first half they took in Butters, who Got Volunteered into all sorts of Zany Schemes Once per Episode, before finally getting thrown out with Tweek being placed in the role instead. However, Tweek was eventually phased out before Kenny himself finally reappeared at the end of the season.
  • A recurring gag of Butt-Monkey Brett accidentally getting shot on Archer ends in the Season 5 premiere when FBI agents storm ISIS headquarters and accidentally shoot him in the head.
    "He died doing what he loved... getting shot."
  • In the first season of American Dad!, Stan would often want to make Steve, his geeky son, popular at school because he was very unpopular when he was his age and doesn't want him to live through what he had to. In the last episode that aired before most Stan/Steve episodes were stripped of this plot thread, Stan gives Steve steroids to make him strong, but instead because of his genes he grows boobs, becomes popular at school because the boys are using him for a cheap grope, and resists Stan when he tells him the boys are only using him. Stan had to resort to giving himself a larger dosage of steroids so he would grow bigger boobs to prove his point to Steve. At the end, Steve gets a chance to tell him he's happy with his real friends, and Stan seemingly accepts it.
    • In the early seasons of American Dad, Klaus' entire character (aside from being a man's brain in a goldfish) was his crush on Francine, doing things like trying to look up her dress or rolling around in her underwear, culminating in an episode where he gets a human body and tries to steal her away from Stan. As the show started Growing the Beard, this aspect of his character quietly disappeared without explanationnote 
    • One ongoing plot point in the first season was Hayley being an enemy and foil for Stan's uber-conservative personality who was often at odds with him. When the show started to become more original, Hayley's Soapbox Sadie tendencies were downplayed and she has since gotten married and doesn't appear that much.
  • For four and a half seasons of Daria, Quinn refuses to admit that Daria is her sister, insisting that she is her "cousin" instead. She is especially nervous that her friends in the Fashion Club not find out her real relationship with Daria. But thanks to Character Development, by the fifth season Quinn's relationship with Daria has improved and she starts sticking up for herself more in the Fashion Club. This led to the following exchange in the episode "Lucky Strike":
    Quinn: Besides, why shouldn't I act sisterly towards her? After all... she's my sister.
    Sandi: [fake gasps] Did you hear that? Oh, my gosh! Quinn just admitted that weird girl is her sister!
    Stacey: Well, um, of *course* she is, Sandi! We knew that.
    Tiffany: We were just being polite about it.
  • Kim Possible had the popular gag where Sidekick Ron would lose his pants. Eventually, the gag ended in "Clean Slate" where Kim gave him a titanium belt. However, it got a good sendoff with a montage of Ron's best pants losing moments, which helped an amnesia-recovering Kim remember that they were dating.
    • A gag that surfaced in the Post-Script Season was Kim and Ron Almost Kissing, only to be interrupted by various people (usually Wade), which could've been seen as frustrating to K/R fans. Fortunately, the gag ended in the Grand Finale where we see Kim and Ron kiss onscreen twice.
  • Adventure Time had some jokes in early seasons which implied that Gunter, despite being to all indications an ordinary penguin, was in fact the ultimate evil in the Land of Ooo, surpassing even Hunson Abadeer and The Lich in threat level. This seemed to just be Rule of Funny until "Orgalorg", which revealed that Gunter is actually a Mad God named Orgalorg who is older than the Universe and can destroy planets on a whim when at full power. The only reason he's seemingly not a threat is because the King of Mars wiped his memory when he was banished to Earth, reducing him to primal animal instincts. Only when his brain is exposed can he remember his past.