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If It Was Funny the First Time...

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A Sister Trope to Running Gag, this is about a gag that gets used in the vast majority of a work's installments. Distinct from a Running Gag in that the humor isn't dependent on the repetition — it's a standalone joke which just happens to be re-used. Can overlap with a Catchphrase or a Tagline. Depending on the author, the joke may even leap from one series to the next, or even one medium to the next. In rare cases, it'll seem as though the author was contractually obligated to lump the joke in.

Note that in order to qualify, it really has to be the same joke used in exactly the same way and funny (or not) for the same reason each time. If (for instance), a character speaks a certain line, then repeats that line later in a different context which makes it funny, that is not an example of this trope.

Like a conventional Running Gag, the success of this methodology depends on whether the joke was funny in the first place. Unlike the Running Gag, however, the joke must be able to stand on its own in each use in addition to after multiple other uses. This isn't a bad thing, if the author can keep the joke from going into Overused Running Gag range or getting too tedious. For non-comedic repetitions, see Dark Reprise and Book Ends

Author Catchphrase is the Super-Trope.


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  • Pokémon: The Series: 97% of the episodes feature Team Rocket introducing themselves by way of reciting their motto and being 'blasted off' at the end of the episode. The other 3% feature variations of the same jokes. It was discarded during the "Best Wishes" season, but made a comeback as of Kalos.
  • CLANNAD: The "Akio insults Sanae's bread, Sanae accidentally hears him, runs away crying and Akio runs after her eating it and yelling "I LOVE YOU!" gag" is used in exactly the above described fashion every time it crops up. And it appears eight times, the last two in the same episode. To a lesser extent, nearly every appearance of Kotomi in the second season has her either wanting to play her violin, mentioning someone is a "bully", or both, and both are things she already did in the first season. Fortunately, most other gags are more original and funny, so this is forgivable.

  • All of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have characters restating lines and jokes from the first film, for seemingly no reason other than the Rule of Funny.
  • Mystery Team In-universe example: Charlie compares a comatose old man to a corpse in explaining in why he couldn't be a murder suspect... then makes the same joke when discussing a seven-year old kid.

  • Terry Pratchett is fanatical about repeating jokes about characterization or environmental details.
    • On Civic Foundation: "What Ankh-Morpork was built on was, mostly, Ankh-Morpork."
    • On Death: There is no justice. There's just me.
    • On Puns: "That was a pune, or a play on words."
    • On Rincewind: "He's got scars all over him. Mostly on his back."
    • On Scumble: "Apples. Well, mostly apples." Do not let it touch metal.
    • On "the light at the end of the tunnel": "It often turns out to be an oncoming train." Or is on fire.
    • On "getting on like a house on fire": "There are flames, and screaming, and people dying."
    • On All Roads Leading To Ankh-Morpork: Actually, they all lead away.
    • "A leopard can't change his shorts," (and variants) has become very common.
    • Multiple exclamation points are a sure sign of insanity.
  • Discussed in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Mannie tries to explain humor to a sentient computer. He explains that some jokes are "funny one time," some jokes are "funny many times," and some jokes are "funny always."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Or the Marriage Counselor sketch.
  • Saturday Night Live: Skits live on this trope. Typically, a character is built around one single joke, becomes a recurring character and can run for years and even get a movie with nothing but variations on the original joke (see: It's Pat! and MacGruber.)
    • In the first "Matt Foley" skit, Chris Farley tripping and breaking the family's coffee table when he landed was unplanned and a complete accident, as indicated by David Spade and Christina Applegate's shocked reactions. The audience response was so big that every skit thereafter was written to include the character breaking things, turning him into The Klutz in addition to a Straw Loser.
    • "Bedelia", Nasim Pedrad's clingy, awkward teenage girl who was originally cooked up so they could use that week's musical friggin' guest (Justin Bieber) as the punch line is starting down that road...
    • The "What's Up With That" sketch with Keenan Thompson as the host who will always end up dancing and singing the theme song instead of interviewing his guests and never gets around to interviewing recurring guest Lindsey Buckingham (Bill Hader) who never gets a chance to say anything. Funny and original the first time. The fifth time....
    • Emily Litella will always do an editorial complaining about something she misheard, and Chevy Chase or Jane Curtain will end up correcting her, with the usual response: "That's very different. Nevermind." In one sketch, in an attempt to do something a little different, the scene ends with Curtain complaining about how Emily always gets things wrong, to which Emily remarks "bitch".
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway?: The cast (usually Colin) will take a hilarious moment from early in the episode and use it in everything from then on out. Usually this works out in their favor, as repeating it over and over tends to genuinely be funny (see: MEOW!). Subverted in one episode: during the infamous "TAPIOOOOCA!" fiasco during a game of Greatest Hits that left Ryan in stitches, Colin later tried to repeat the magic to try to crack Ryan up again, but Ryan signals that he doesn't find it that funny anymore and they continue without missing a beat.
  • Pee-wee's Playhouse: The appearances by the salesman are usually the same basic set-up (the doorbell rings, Pee-Wee answers, the Salesman starts his sales pitch, Pee-Wee screams and slams the door on him). Sometimes there might be a variation (like when Roger the monster answered the door instead and the salesman screamed along with him), and at times the gag was used as a punchline or set-up to another gag (like when Pee-Wee's wish for the day was for somebody to come over and it was the salesman, or when right after Pee-Wee slammed the door on him Captain Carl showed up and rang the doorbell, making Pee-Wee immediately think it was the salesman again), but usually it'll be the same basic scene.
  • In Get Smart, Max would often use a joke that went like this:
    Smart: (Insert an impressive sounding, but very absurd claim.)
    Listener: I find that hard to believe.
    Smart: Would you believe (insert a less impressive, but still absurd claim)?
    Listener: No.
    Smart: How about (insert a claim that sounds pathetic)?

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Garfield: Garfield likes lasagna and hates Mondays.
  • Zits: Jeremy was trying to cook something. Every single strip for the week followed this format, with the only variation being the steps Jeremy's Mom is showing:
    Jeremy's Mom shows him how to do something.
    Jeremy's Mom starts to show him something else, and he says he's not a baby and can do it himself.
    Beat Panel
    Jeremy yells for his mom to ask her what to do next.
  • Calvin and Hobbes: An in-universe example, Calvin has the philosophy that if a novelty Christmas song is funny the first time, it's funny every time. His mom disagrees.
  • Pearls Before Swine occasionally has the following joke set up:
    Rat introduces his [object] o' [insert category of idiot here].
    The three people in the [object] introduce themselves and explain why they're in the [object].
    Another character lectures Rat on being tolerant of other people's shortcomings.
    Rat puts this character in the [object], as the other three demonstrate their idiotic traits in reaction to this.
  • FoxTrot can do it occasionally:
    Panel 1: Character A describes something.
    Panel 2: Character A describes a negative side-effect or result of whatever they're talking about.
    Panel 3: Character B asks why they don't stop/why they're watching it/whatever; Character A responds "I just told you" or something similar.
    Panel 4: Character C remarks on Character B looking ticked off, as Character A continues with what they were describing.
    • This was lampshaded once. "I always forget to skip the obvious line of reasoning."
  • Beetle Bailey: This gag has been repeated about once a year since the sixties, at least:
    1. The officers, and Sarge, receives a written order from the general, with one obvious spelling error that changes the meaning completely.
    2. Someone points out what the general probably meant to say (tanks, not tacks, tooth check, not toot check, guns, not buns, etc.)
    3. Someone else asks: "But who dares to tell the general that he did a mistake?" Rhetorically, of course, since nobody ever dares to tell the general this.
    4. The officers carry out the order, exactly the way it's written, even though they know that it makes no sense. The general is still upset, but at least he's not upset because anybody told him he did a mistake, which is...better?

    Web Comics 
  • Hark! A Vagrant's Great Gatsby comic has two different strips about Tom and Daisy neglecting their child, and the second one is called "Just As Good the Second Time."

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Inspector Gadget: Every time Gadget receives his next assignment on a self-destructive piece of paper, he reads it, then crumbles the paper and tosses it into whatever compartment his chief is hiding in this time, where it explodes right in the chief's face. There was one time when the chief was hiding in a trash can and Inspector Gadget just tossed it on the ground. So someone else picked it up and threw it in the trash can. Cue explosion.
  • Biker Mice from Mars: The Biker Mice destroying Limburger's tower in the end of every episode.
  • In-Universe: in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, The Flash says "Are We There Yet?" and a surly Green Lantern tells him it wasn't funny the first fifty times.
  • Kenny dying in every episode in South Park. The creators quickly got bored of the joke themselves and started playing around with it, then eventually dropped it as a once-an-episode Running Gag. In the "Coon" series of episodes, they actually deconstruct it.
  • Another In-Universe example: the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Ripped Pants." SpongeBob rips his pants, and everyone laughs. At first, he's embarrassed and upset, but when he sees that Sandy thought it was funny, he starts doing it on purpose. It begins to annoy everyone in Bikini Bottom, especially when his stunt involves pretending to drown.
  • There was a gag in Animaniacs first used in "Hooked on a Ceiling" that was so clever, it was used in several other shorts. It went like this: Somebody gets angry at the three Warner siblings, tells them to get out then picks them up and tries to throw them out. Then the scene shifts to the outside of the building, and somehow, it's not them, but the guy who was about to throw them who is thrown out. He sits up with an expression that seems to say "How did they do that?" And then goes back inside.
  • Looney Tunes: Bugs Bunny is obliged to say "What's up, doc?" in every appearance. Originally, this was a joke; then, it became a catchphrase.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: Most of Bullwinkle's attempts to pull a rabbit out of his hat end with him pulling out a dangerous animal that roars, with only one of them real different in that he instead pulls out Rocky (which can appear to be a payoff to the running gag if played after all the others). Only five of these were done on the series but were repeated frequently.