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Running Gag Stumbles

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"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 ½ Elsewhere Fic Boy Scouts ½, 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 ½ 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 when he visits Loki in prison.
    Thor: Loki, enough. No more illusions. [Loki drops the illusion, revealing he's in a very disheveled state and his cell is in shambles]
  • In The Hateful 8, the door to Minnie's Haberdashery is broken, so any time a character leaves or enters, the door has to be re-nailed shut to keep the cold from the blizzard out. What's more, every time, the character in question nails one board over the door, only to have it blown open by the wind and have to nail a second board over the first one. Eventually, John Ruth just stands in front of it and holds it closed while they wait for a pair of characters who left to return.
  • To Sleep with Anger: A Running Gag throughout the film involves the boy in the house across the street playing a trumpet very very very badly, irritating the whole neighborhood. But right at the end, after all the conflict has resolved and the family has come together and the younger brother has repaired his relationship with his brother and his wife, suddenly the boy starts playing his trumpet on key, beautifully, seemingly symbolizing the family conquering its demons. And the credits roll.


  • 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.
    • The Tenth Doctor's season finales always end with a really sad and heartfelt scene as he bids his companions farewell, only for a comical Mood Whiplash to completely ruin the moment (Nine's heartfelt goodbye followed by the newly regenerated Ten puzzling over his new teeth, Ten's farewell to Rose followed up by Donna in a wedding dress suddenly appearing in the TARDIS, and the Titanic crashing through the wall of the TARDIS after Martha leaves). However, after Donna's memories are wiped and everyone goes back home, the Doctor goes back into the TARDIS, staring morosely at the console... And the episode ends.
  • One of the main running gags in The Big Bang Theory is Sheldon's idiosyncratic way of knocking at Penny's door: [knock knock knock] "Penny!", [knock knock knock] "Penny!", [knock knock knock] "Penny!". As you can see in this compilation, writers subvert the pattern more often than they play it straight. Examples include (but are not limited to):
    • Sheldon using a vocal synthesizer to say "Penny!" when he has a sore throat;
    • Penny answering after only two knocks, after which Sheldon knocks a third time on the doorframe anyway;
    • Penny knocking back and crying "Sheldon!" from the other side, sending Sheldon in confusion.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had a running gag where Jazz would visit the Banks mansion and do something to irritate Uncle Phil. Cut to an establishing shot of the mansion with the front door opening and Jazz getting thrown through the air. In one episode, Will gets a car and Jazz does something to annoy Uncle Phil while they're outside looking at the car. Jazz then laughs that he can't get thrown out of the house because they're already outside. Cut to the establishing shot of the mansion and Jazz getting thrown into the house.

Video Games

  • Minecraft: Story Mode:
    • The game continues the Telltale Games tradition of displaying a "X will remember that." message whenever the player makes an important decision. However, a unique warning will pop up after Jesse creates a secret handshake:
      No one will remember that.
    • Successfully crafting an item usually nets you a simple "You made a [item]." message, but if you somehow create a lever during a segment where you're supposed to make a sword, even the pop-up will be surprised.
      You made a lever?!?!
  • In Undertale, there is a Running Gag about Sans' puns. However, if you have a certain "fun" value, he'll call you to ask if your fridge is running. Expecting a pun about running, you answer, but he actually answers normally (depending on what you said, he'll either say that this is good, or will promise to call someone to fix it).

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!
  • The Simpsons:
    • The show has a Running Gag where someone uses a turn of phrase and the audience sees an Imagine Spot from Homer where he's interpreting the words literally (such as a mayo clinic being staffed by jars of mayonnaise) or just has the wrong idea altogether (such as thinking "pistol whip" refers to whipped cream being eaten off a gun). In "E Pluribus Wiggum", he imagines a "think tank", gets it completely right, and finds the rest of his family staring in shock, acknowledging his subversion of the audience's expectations. "What, I'm not allowed to get one right?"
    • Bart made prank phone calls to Moe frequently in the early years of the show, with occasional stumbles such as when the bar becomes popular in "Flaming Moe's" and a patron by the name of "Hugh Jass" is actually there.
    • Nelson's "Ha Ha!" directed at other people's misfortune hits a block when all the students at school forget how to be rebellious thanks to the drab uniforms they're forced to wear. He tries to laugh at someone else, but remembers it as "Ha... Ho?"

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