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Running Gag Stumbles

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"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.


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    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.
  • Phoenix's Tear: Reignition: Monster Rancher has a running gag about Golem tossing Suezo into the air so he can scout ahead, only to miss catching him, making Suezo understandably leery of using this maneuver. When it's first brought up in this series, Suezo immediately yells at Golem for suggesting it. Then he expects Golem to suggest it later and is bracing for it, only to be taken aback when Golem instead suggests that Holly try using the Magic Stone to find Tiger.
  • The MLP Loops: The running gag of "why are we x?" where "x" is something ridiculous that goes unexplained. Twilight and Rarity do it again in the Mega Pony Loop when things get very dark, but this time it's not done for laughs, besides Pinkie being upset over being left out the gag.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • In The Hateful Eight, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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]
  • 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, while he Knew It All Along.
  • A Running Gag in Robert Rankin's Armageddon 3: The Remake is that all the buildings in Presley City are shaped like jukeboxes, and every time a new location is featured, the exact type of jukebox it resembles is described in detail. Until page 159, after which both this running gag and the one where characters psychoanalyse themselves and each other are never mentioned again:
    The Butcher Building was, as has been mentioned, constructed after the style of a sixty-six storey jukebox. For those lovers of the nickelodeon, anxious to know exactly which model it was based upon, tough titty. I've only got the one book on jukeboxes and I've used up all the good ones. And let's face it, as a running gag, it really wasn't up to much. Like all that psychology nonsense. Dead pretentious.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Barney Miller: There was a running gag for years in which Inspector Luger, the goofy supervisor of the 12th, kept Accidentally Misnaming Officer Levitt, usually as "Levine". There was another running gag in which Levitt seethed about his lack of advancement in the NYPD, constantly complaining to Captain Miller and asking when he'd get moved up to plainclothes detective. In series finale "Landmark: Part 3", both running gags stumble at once. Luger calls Levitt "Levine" one last time and Levitt snaps, demanding that Luger address him correctly as "OFFICER CARL E. LEVITT!!" Luger grins and says "Correction, Sergeant Carl E. Levitt," telling Levitt that he finally got that promotion to plainclothes detective.
  • 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.
  • 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:
    • 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.
    • The Doctor 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 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.
  • Mako Mermaids: An H₂O Adventure: Sea-born mermaids have an Absurd Phobia of cats for unknown reasons. Each time a new mermaid joins the cast, she comes across Rita's pet cat and screams incoherently. Weilan, who has lived on land for long enough, does the exact opposite, going straight to cuddle and take selfies with the cat.
  • 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.

  • Dinner for One: Every time James walks from the table to the kitchen, he trips over the head of a tiger skin that is lying on the floor. This gag is repeated a total of 10 times in the skit, but 3 times it is subverted:
    • The first time (when he has just served the white wine) he narrowly misses the head, much to his own surprise. Instead, he trips over it on his way back to the table.
    • The second time (after serving the champagne), he steps over it Silly Walk-style.
    • The third time (after serving the port), he jumps with both feet over it.

    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). Not that you actually have a fridge, though

    Western Animation 
  • 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!
    • There are a few other instances of the gag being played with in such a fashion: in one episode, Pinky is made super-smart and replies to Brain's question with a simple "Yes, I am!" In one episode, Pinky stops himself from giving his response, thinking what he was about to say was too stupid even for him, only for it to turn out to have been exactly the right answer. In a couple of episodes, Pinky poses the question to Brain (one of them has Brain feed Pinky the usual non-sequitur, but the other just has Brain wonder aloud if he really just heard what he thought he heard.)
  • 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?"
  • 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.)
  • Spacecats had a running gag where the narrator would say the title characters were X adjective. Tom would then say "I'm X." followed by Sniff saying "X, I'll say." followed by Scratch saying "What can I say? I'm X." But in one episode:
    Narrator: The Spacecats were stupefied to find the world's largest pile of toxic waste.
    Tom: I'm stupefied.
    Scratch: Stupefied, I'll say.
    Sniff: Who's he calling stupid?