Originally coined by Monty Python, on the subject of sketch comedy — if a scene is starting to go on too long, drop a cow on somebody. Used to mean any point where, if the comedy dialogue is wearing thin, you skip to silliness. Can also use explosions.
This usually works because of the Rule of Funny. If humour isn't your thing, see Chandler's Law for the Rule of Drama version.
Note that this trope is not Exactly What It Says on the Tin — that is to say, just because someone gets a cow dropped on them doesn't mean it's Drop the Cow. You don't have to drop a farm animal for it to be Drop the Cow, either.
If instead of a cow, you want to drop a Dead Horse, you might use a Vaudeville Hook. For lousy Game Show contestants, you might want to Eject the Loser.
Not related to Dropped a Bridge on Him — using that to end a comedic scene would cause serious Mood Whiplash.
For the less zany versions of punctuation via vertical impact, see Flower-Pot Drop and Anvil on Head (which incorporates items like the 16-ton weight). For the anime equivalent of these, see Drop the Washtub.
- The Omake of Ga-Rei manga employs this kind of humor. The author is prone to long rambling about inane things which may or may not be related to the story. Then he would realize it, pull a detonator out of nowhere and then push it.
- Probably as a direct reference to the Jim Henson quote below, The Muppet Show Comic Book's version of the Mahna Mahna sketch ends with Mahna getting hit by penguins flung from a catapult. Scooter observes "We never did figure out how to end that bit."
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail is, of course, the trope namer, and does this literally. It also did it without cows, such as with the "Get on with it!" chanters.
- Dramatic example (really!): Sergio Leone felt a scene near the end of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was too melodramatic, so he released a small dog onto the set without telling Eli Wallach and then left his reaction in the film; of course, it's followed by ten minutes of pure Melodrama.
- The Three Stooges films conformed to a strict two-reel time limit. Rather than cut out funny bits to resolve the plot, many shorts end with a threatening man chasing the Stooges away or something similarly abrupt.
- Used literally and liberally in the comedies of Seltzer and Friedberg, especially Disaster Movie.
- The unfinished novel by Chuck Klosterman included in his collection Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas ends with its hedonistic protagonist driving along a country road when a dead woman falls from the sky onto his car.
- Inverted in Discworld, where theater managers have found it a lot easier to simply insert a pie-throwing scene into any piece no matter how dramatic it is than to get the Librarian (a three-hundred-pound orangutan) to stop throwing peanuts at the stage out of boredom. The general cultural level of Ankh-Morpork being what it is, this is generally seen as a positive change.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus was better known for its use of a falling 16-ton weight. An armor-clad knight wielding a dead chicken was also kept around for this purpose, as was a giant hammer, a boxer (Terry Gilliam), and a humorless Colonel (played by Graham Chapman).
- That humorless colonel could be seen as a Lampshade Hanging on their rationale for ending sketches like that; he would enter the skit and stop its participants on the grounds it was getting silly, or going on too long.
- Python Lampshaded their own tendency to do this in the ending of the Argument Sketch, where a policeman enters to arrest all participants in the sketch for taking part in a "strange sketch" and causing distress. He is promptly arrested by another policeman for the crime of "ending every bleedin' sketch by just having a policeman come in"; that policeman then gets arrested for the same, only for the second officer to realize the quandary mid-sentence. In the final moment of the sketch, a hairy hand claps this last policeman on the shoulder.
- In the "Army Protection Racket" sketch, the Colonel stops the sketch because it's poorly written and he didn't get any funny lines. A Mafioso character (Michael Palin) mutters that he was just too lazy to write a proper punchline, which he denies.
- "It's The Arts" has a more subtle example: an interviewer is interviewing the last known relative of mostly-unknown German baroque composer Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-dangle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelterwasser-kurstlich-himbleeisen-bahnwagen-gutenabend-bitte-eine-nurnburger-bratwustle-gerspurten-mit-zweimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-shönedanker-kalbsfleisch-mittler-raucher von Hautkopft of Ulm. Said relative literally dies of old age partway through answering the interviwer's first question due to one too many repetitions of the composer's Overly Long Name.
- Australian comedy show The Late Show (1992) poked fun at its own use of very thin premises for comedy with the phrase, "Champagne sketch comedy". Later, they would have show member Rob Sitch bring in a bottle of champagne to the actors in the middle of a sketch to let them know the joke was wearing thin.
- Used in the early episodes of Saturday Night Live; averted in recent episodes, resulting in fans and critics complaining that SNL's sketches are Overly Long Gags with thin premises. That's true in some cases, but not all.
- At times, SNL castmembers and guest hosts have lampshaded overly long sketches; notable examples include the final appearance of the Greek diner sketch and the Incredible Hulk sketch with guest host George Foreman.
- Invoked in one sketch during the Dave Chapell hosted episode in 2016 where the bad sketch cuts early to a faux-news conference where the actors in the initial sketch are asked about their performance as if they were a Football team that just lost a big game.
- On Whose Line Is It Anyway? the "Cow" was the ending buzzer, which Clive Anderson used to great effect, and Drew Carey... less so.
- This gets spun into a Running Gag, with Ryan dragging Colin offstage to end his acts on several occasions.
- The unnamed Newsman on The Muppet Show once had a cow dropped on him as he read on a stock market report that beef was falling. Most of his other reports had similar results. Jim Henson once said that if he didn't know how to end a sketch, he would blow something up, have a monster eat everything, or throw penguins in the air.
- On The Gong Show, the celebrity judges could end an act they hated by banging a gong to force the performer off the stage.
- The Univision long-runner Sábado Gigante featured El chacal de la trompeta ("The Jackal of the Trumpet"), a hooded figure who was featured in a contest very similar to Gong and would blow a beat-up trumpet to stop and eliminate the bad singers.
- The Red Faces segment of Australia's Hey Hey It's Saturday also used this technique. Most of the time the gonging was done by Red Symons, but occasionally an act was so terrible another of the judges would grab the mallet off him and do the gonging themselves.
- Similarly, the show 30 Seconds of Fame had an approval meter for each act that was controlled by the audience, and if it got too far into the red before the titular 30 seconds were up, the act would end abruptly and not be among the ones being voted on for the top three spots.
- Also of a similar nature: during the Amateur Night segments of Showtime At The Apollo, acts that were bombing would, after an air raid type siren sounded, get ushered off stage by Sandman Sims (a disheveled-looking old black man, who was actually a legendary tap dancer), who would dance a quick jig before heading offstage for the next act.
- America's Got Talent (and its British version) have the three judges able to stop an act if all of their buzzers are pressed.
- Or, in at least one instance, if one judge dislikes the act so much that they (read: she) press all of the buttons, sometimes wrestling the other judges away from their buttons in order to press them.
- Or, in an especially hilarious one, two judges immediately hitting the button, while the third leans back and just smiles - the other two, after several seconds of uncomfortable pause jump on his button. (The act? The world's oldest champion male stripper.)
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie parodied their own inability to end sketches in a similar manner to the Pythons: In one episode the now traditional shopkeeper sketch (in which Stephen is a very strange shopkeeper and Hugh a Straight Man customer) ends with Hugh accusing Stephen of ramping up the weirdness because he doesn't know how the sketch ends. Stephen assures him the sketch does have an ending, and he'll just go and get the script to prove it. It takes Hugh a while to realise he's not coming back.
- On Mystery Science Theater 3000, the Movie Sign is sometimes used in this capacity, cutting off a long-winded host segment with its trademark Star Trek Shake and dimmed lights, plus panic on the parts of the SoLers. The "Toobular Boobular" segment from Outlaw is a classic example.
- Taken literally, sort of, by Abbott and Costello during one of their live TV performances in the 1950s. In the middle of performing one of their many army skits, what appeared to be a cow (or a cow costume, to be more precise) suddenly fell from the rafters onto Costello, knocking him to the floor and causing Abbott and the rest of the cast to have a WTF? moment as Costello tossed the costume aside and the skit continued (all the while the audience is in hysterics). Since A&C occasionally incorporated faked flubs into their performances, it's unclear whether this was an actual mishap, or was intentional. It can be seen on a rare 1980s VHS release of A&C bloopers.
- Subverted in one The Whitest Kids U' Know sketch. The sketch mainly consists of listing increasingly weird strip-club names, before finally being interrupted by the producer (the actual producer), who apologizes and says that the sketch has no point. And then his explanation of why the sketch has no point develops into him listing weird strip-club names, continuing into the credits...
- Referenced in an episode of Northern Exposure, when Chris plans to hurl a cow from his homemade catapult as performance art, but changes his mind after being told the Pythons did this in their film; he wanted to create original art, not imitate a movie. He flings a piano instead.
- Many segments in The Eric Andre Show typically cut to the "We'll Be Right Back" commercial bumper just as something really absurd, disturbing or dangerous happens. One famous case of this is when Eric was about to end his interview with Joey Fatone, only for a stunt motorcyclist to suddenly drive in and break Eric's desk.
- Probably as a reference to Monty Python, one of the things you can fire out of the catapult in Medieval Madness is a cow.
- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin: Since Austin's active career with the WWE ended, any appearance he makes is just buildup until he inevitably Stone Cold Stunner(s) everyone in the ring, whether it makes any sense (from a heel/face standpoint) or not. The crowd always goes crazy for this. Arrive. Stunner. Leave.
- John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme: A backstage sketch in series 5 has Simon Kane getting increasingly irate at John, pointing out how the sketches, being as they are written by John, are making the cast, and Simon in particular, look like bullies and how it's massively, massively self-indulgent, and demands he stop it. John nervously admits he has no idea how to end the sketch. Suddenly Carrie Quinlan comes in and says some complete gibberish. Simon asks John if that's the best he could manage. John says he didn't write it, and Carrie admits she'd just gotten bored. Sketch over.
- Traditional vaudeville acts had "the hook", which would appear from offstage to pull off tired routines, or hams who didn't know when to give up the stage. Thus originated the phrase "get the hook", which was used for decades after films and television had supplanted vaudeville. The hook can nowadays be seen in cartoons, especially Looney Tunes (which often drew on vaudeville anyway).
- Spamalot: When the show went through its test run at Chicago's Schubert Theater, the Cow (played by Sara Ramirez) got her own number, "My Final Moo." Monty Python used the trope to end an Overly-Long Gag; "My Final Moo" was an Overly Long Gag, and director Mike Nichols cut it for the Broadway version.
- Version 5.1 of World of Warcraft adds Brawlpub, which allows individual players to go up against very tough AI opponents. If a fight drags on too long without one side reducing the other side's HP to zero, the arbiter will drop fire into the ring, quickly killing the player. Note that the player always loses to the fire, not the AI and that quite a few fights are literally only difficult because of this fire.
- One possible side effect of using Wild Magic in Baldur's Gate II is for the game to drop a cow on your intended target instead of casting a spell. The impact duplicates the effect of the Meteor spell (an epic-level spell), making it a very good roll to get on an offensive spell misfire but a very poor one if you were trying to buff yourself.
- The first game actually had a spell (available only via cheat code) called Summon Cow that would drop a cow on the target's head for decent (but not nearly as much as the Wild Surge version) damage.
- A well-known way to die in The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time results in two knights guarding Chateau Gaillard dropping a cow on Agent 5 if he doesn't ascend a tower in time. The death screen even lampshades it.
"Having taken too long to begin his ascent of the keep, Agent 5 found himself an unwilling participant in a re-enactment of a silly Monty Python skit. Silly and fatal. The next of kin have been notified."
- The first Persona game has the spell Sweet Trap, which can drop an array of objects onto the targetís head, including (but not limited to) fire extinguishers, paintings, pianos, and a roughly eight-foot-tall rabbit.
- The ending of Earthworm Jim combines this with a Brick Joke. In the first level, you launch a cow into the air to progress. After defeating the final boss, Jim finds Princess What's-Her-Name, she puckers up to give him a Smooch of Victory...and that same cow lands on her.
- And then the second game managed to upp the bovine deification meter even further by metaphorically throwing cows at the audience's and players faces at the end.
- This appeared in another Shiny's game as a Mythology Gag. In the first MDK if you collect a powerup in the shape of Earthworm Jim's face a bunch of cows is dropped on enemies closest to you.
- This was passed to his appearance as Guest Fighter in ClayFighter 63⅓, in which one of his claytalities is to drop a cow over the opponent, literally.◊
- In the Strong Hold series, catapults and trebuchets can use cows from dairy farms as ammunition to spread disease clouds. Lampshaded by the engineers manning the siege engines.
Engineer: Here comes the cow!
- Total War: Warhammer II has the faction Bretonnia, which is a pastiche of medieval France. During The Siege type battles, their wall towers can fire dead cows at enemies.
- The sixth stage of Xena: Warrior Princess has Xena attempting to infiltrate King Valerian's fortress while avoiding catapults. Take too long to complete said level, and Valerian's men will start catapulting cows at Xena (which can deal a One-Hit Kill, far deadlier than boulders).
- Many scenes in The Demented Cartoon Movie end with characters getting crushed by Mr. Big Shoe, characters getting crushed by a one-legged shoe-wearing giant (who himself gets crushed by Mr Big Shoe once), characters getting crushed by Mr. Weight, or Zeeky H. Bomb suddenly appearing to say "zeeky boogy doog," a phrase which reliably sets off nuclear explosions and sometimes an Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
- One Strong Bad Email lampshades this when Strong Bad introduces the Paper (which ends each episode) by saying "He lets me know when I've stopped being funny."
- ASDF Movie occasionally uses the "I like trains" gag (where a boy says the line and subsequently summons a train to run over someone) to end sketches like this.
- The Misadventures of R2 and Miku:
- "R2 and Miku Stuck in a Treehouse" ends with a rapid-fire series of explosions killing the pair - starting with a thermal detonator, followed by other Star Wars ships like an X-Wing crashing onto the treehouse, and finally concluding with the Death Star dropping.
- "Disease" similarly ends with the two being shot to death off-screen by a cow wielding a gun.
- An example from the subscriber section of Drowtales happened in a story where the users put in options, and the story naturally devolved into porn. The next page showed Ariel punching Liriel to get the story back on track, since the premise of the section is that it's the daydream of a character telling it to the audience. Other stories in the same section have had other types of cow droppings including the story itself getting canned if it's derailed too far.
- In Dubious Company, the heroes needed to deal with their backstabbing crew once and for all. Sal warned them not to piss off Phred.
- Girl Genius: "Well - we've found that none of the Heterodyne plays really suffer if Punch and Judy start throwing pies."
- The Order of the Stick:
- The Empire of Blood's gladiator pit does this by releasing an Allosaurus into the ring when necessary.
- Discussed by the Genre Savvy General Tarquin, who points out that he can't use the Allosaurus too often or it will stop being interesting.
- The author of The Whiteboard confessed that when he cannot come with a satisfactory punchline, he makes something explode, and quoted Chandler's Law. Note that 2 main characters routinely play with explosives and everything is Played for Laughs.
- The Earthworm Jim series had every episode end with a cow dropping on someone out of the blue. This refers to the ending of the first video game, where this is a Brick Joke and not this trope.
Psy-Crow: Oh well, Here We Go Again!! (screen starts irising to black, when...)
- "Hyper Psy-Crow" nearly averts it:
Jim: HOLD IT! You are not doing a "Here We Go Again!" ending on my show!
Psy-Crow: Well, what kind of ending did you want, Mr. "Too-Good-for-Standard-Cheesy-Cartoon-Endings"?
Jim: ...What do you think?
Psy-Crow: (fearful) ...The cow thing?
Jim: And... Cue the cow! (it gets dropped right on top of Psy-Crow who pulls out a tiny umbrella) Guh-roovy! (episode ends)
- The "Robin Hoof" segment from Raw Toonage took this trope and added some Jay Ward throwbacks to the formula.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force used this with explosions in situations where the fifteen minute time limit was up and they needed to add a bit more Mind Screw to it. For example, at the end of "Kidney Car" Carl's head explodes out of sheer rage after hearing one of Master Shake's inane excuses.
Meatwad: Why'd he do that?Shake: Why wouldn't he?
- A running joke on Animaniacs was that if one of the main characters was fed up with a sketch or thoroughly annoyed by somebody, he/she would just drop an anvil on that person's head or stuff dynamite in their pants.
- Jimmy Vulmer's comedy shtick on South Park is, if he can't come up with an ending to one of his jokes, he just mutters "Goddammit Goddammit Goddammit!" (his Cartman impression) to the uproarious laughter of the audience.
- Keyboard Cat.
- The Ig Nobel Prize award ceremony features a character by the name of Miss Sweety Poo, a cute girl of about eight who will cut off overly long speeches by repeating "Please stop. I'm bored." again and again until the speaker complies.
- ITV's flagship news programme, News At Ten, always liked to end the half-hour on an off-beat or ridiculous news item, largely to fill any odd space at the end. For a long time there was no official term for this until one day they covered a frankly bizarre cultural/religious ceremony from Spain that honoured the local patron saint; this involved, for time-honoured reasons, getting a donkey up a church tower and then gently lowering it on ropes to ground level. NoT became interested when the people lowering the donkey lost their grip on the ropes, and... from that moment on, the bizarre story that ended the night's news broadcast to Great Britain became known as Dropping the Dead Donkey. It became such a recognised piece of broadcast news jargon that it became the name of a satirical comedy show set in a TV newsroom.
- Encouraged for NaNoWriMo in the case of Writer's Block: "If all else fails, have a band of ninjas attack somebody." It's something of a blend between this and Chandler's Law, but since it's official advice given regardless of genre, setting, or situation, and ninjas are not always thematically appropriate, it can trend toward this trope when taken literally depending on the writer and contents.