A "Shaggy Dog" Story is a plot with a high level of build-up and complicating action, only to be resolved with an anti-climax or ironic reversal, usually one that makes the entire story meaningless. The term comes from a type of joke (called "gildersome" in The Meaning of Liff) that worked the same way—a basic premise, a long amount of buildup, and a deliberately underwhelming punchline. The best and most famous of these jokes is the Cheerio joke, which is a potentially hours-long story ending in the main character going to get some punch, and finding that "There is no punchline."
The classic example is a man who finds a shaggy dog similar to one in a "Lost Dog" poster from a rich family, and bankrupts himself trying to return it to them in England for reward money—when he finally makes it there, he's told that the dog "wasn't that shaggy" before the door's slammed in his face. The End.
For television, these stories tend to be found in two varieties: serious and comedic.
Serious shaggy dog stories generally put the protagonist on a quest or goal, only to undermine the purpose at the last minute. For instance, a cop spends all episode trying to convict a criminal, only to watch the perp be hit by a car and die before he's brought to justice; or a doctor searches all episode for the cure to a mysterious illness, which seems to miraculously cure itself. Or the characters spend all their time on a quest, only for it to come about that someone Accidentally Broke the MacGuffin, which means No MacGuffin, No Winner. This plot highlights the futility of characters' jobs, or the cruel ironies of life. Where the ending is not just absurd, but actively tragic, you have to Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
Comedic shaggy dog stories are often parodies, undercutting typical plot structures by offering a ridiculous coincidence or unforeseen twist, or even just making the entire episode irrelevant. The Simpsons enjoys these. Comedic shaggy dog stories can be frustrating in their randomness, but often succeed in execution.
See also Gainax Ending. Can compare to All Just a Dream and Overly Long Gag, and overlap with Happy Ending Override and "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot. A reveal that It Was with You All Along may feel like this to the protagonist. For short stories which build up to an unbelievably wretched pun, see Feghoot. Compare with Non-Protagonist Resolver which may or may not involve this trope note . Contrast with "Shaggy Frog" Story, where a familiar story is mangled for comedic purposes. It can also lead to a "What Now?" Ending, should the protagonist himself realize that his adventure is all for nothing.
Not to be confused with Scooby-Doo, which is a cartoon featuring Shaggy's dog (when a Scooby-Doo style mystery actually turns out to be this trope, it is Mockstery Tale). Also not to be confused with Disney's The Shaggy Dog, or the web series Shaggy Dog Stories. And also unrelated to Shaggy God Story, an alternate name for Earth All Along.
Spoilers Ahoy! Since this trope is about stories' endings, spoilers are inherent and will be unmarked.
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- Happens in the Alka Seltzer commercial with the commercial for Mama's Meat Sauce. The actor has one line ("Mama Mia, that's a spicy meatball!"), but repeatedly fails to deliver it to satisfaction. They go through so many takes with the actor eating spicy meatballs, he has to take Alka Seltzer to calm his stomach. As the commercial ends, he finally delivers the line to perfection...only for the oven door to fall open and ruin the shot.
- Norm MacDonald every time he's interviewed so the guy says to me he says to me the guy says...
- The spoken-word piece "Moose Turd Pie", the most famous version being done by folksinger/historian Bruce "Utah" Phillips. A guy joins a work-crew of some sort (logging, railroading, etc) where the person that complains the most about the food is forced to become the Camp Cook. He gets assigned this duty, and decides to get out of it by making the eponymous dish. He serves it up for dessert, the biggest, meanest guy on the crew takes a single bite, throws down his fork, and loudly declares: "That's moose turd pie!!" ...and hastily adds "It's good, though!"
- Nipsey Russell once delivered a great example on Conan O'Brien's original late show. He tells a long fable about a delusional turtle who believes it's actually a corn muffin, leaves home, and finds what it believes to be its real family in a New York bakery. Just then, a policeman (played by Russell) comes in and orders a corn muffin, only to have the lady behind the counter insist on selling him the turtle:
And the moral of the fable is: When you go into a bakery, make sure it is not run by... A STUPID BITCH!
- Chapter 18 of Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness. Hans Belsen, basically an Expy of Josef Mengele, shows up to the school because he wants to torture children. When Neville and Jack Sloper insult him later that chapter, he immediately leaves the school instead of, you know, torturing them.
"BAM! Other side of his face goes, and Alecto was so furious, she kicked him out of the class. Said he had lost the privilege of learning from Belsen. So that's when I raised my hand and asked if I could lose the privilege too, and Belsen just gave the whole class this long look, looked back at Alecto, and told her that he had been under the impression the teachers controlled Hogwarts, not the students, and he left." — Jack Sloper describing the surprisingly quick defeat of Nazi torturers.
- Not the Same, a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic, is one. It tells the story of Spike and Rarity's relationship, and the way everypony tries to separate them because a dragon can't date a pony. Throughout the fic, hints are dropped that Rarity's behavior has been unusual, which culminate when, after Spike manages to get everypony to accept the love he and Rarity had, it turns out she was a changeling, and the real Rarity had been away for a while. Spike then is tempted into continuing his relationship with changeling!Rarity, but he chooses to free the real Rarity instead, but since the whole thing had been part of the changeling's spell, he's not in with Rarity anymore. The fic ends with Twilight trying to comfort Spike as he wonders what was the point of all the suffering he went through, unable to answer his question.
- In Being Dead Ain't Easy, after spending two and a half hours moving Kaiba's chair across the room and spinning it to where he can sit down, Joey realizes that not only could he have sat on the bed and not wasted so much energy, he'll have to move the chair back before Kaiba wakes up in three hours.
- Amazing Man, a short story by Eneasz Brodski, is about a Superman expy who finally got fed up with all those puny earthlings, especially the reporters who insisted on slandering him, and decided that the only way to make the world a better place was to rule it himself. "It's about ethics in superhero journalism!"
- In This Bites!, for all the crew's efforts, Merry's keel still snapped, meaning she's still doomed.
- But... in the end, Cross found a way to save her, though she'll no longer be the ship of the Straw-Hats.
- The ending of The Story To End All Stories is somewhat anticlimactic as it turns out that the Nothing isn't as much of a threat as it's made out to be.
- In The New Adventures of Invader Zim, Dib spends all of Episode 5 trying to retrieve the journal of Abraham Van Helsing, hoping that it'll contain information he can use against Norlock. After fighting his way through various death traps, he ultimately finds out that the journal is useless, just containing random ramblings.
- After several convoluted plans involving multiple fidelius charms, polyjuice, and learning the lost art of scrying to steal the Philosopher's Stone in Dodging Prison and Stealing Witches, Harry learns it's a fake from a prerecorded message triggered by the stone moving too far from the Mirror of Erised.
- Queen Cersei still found a way to kill King Robert in the fanfic No One's Pawn, despite Lancel Lannister refusing to be the triggerman.
- Legacy Of The Red Sun: Small one. In a bit of dialogue, Han tells how he let a Wookie named Chewbacca free when he was told to skin him, but didn't go on the run with him. He later found Chewbacca had been killed in the street.
- In Old Man Henderson, the eponymous character starts a crusade of revenge against the Cult of Hastur that results in the destruction of the Cult and the deaths of many of many cult members, Henderson's allies, other player characters, Hastur and Old Man Henderson himself, all because he thought the cult stole his lawn gnomes. At the end, however, as Hastur and Old Man Henderson lay dying, Hastur informs him that his cult never stole his gnomes and instead Old Man Henderson had gotten high and sold them for charity, forgetting about the event.
- Class 1-A spends the entire Sports Festival trying to guess what Izuku's Quirk was. At the very end, he straight up tells everyone.
- After spending years trying to groom Mirio into the perfect successor for One For All, Sir Nighteye ultimately agrees with Toshinori's decision to name Izuku his successor after seeing him restore the value All Might placed in "Toshinori Yagi" and opening a path for All Might to peacefully retire.
- This Dilbert comic.
- When the extended flashback in the strip 9 Chickweed Lane began, it was promoted as being the story of how Gran fell in love with her husband; it finished as being how marrying O'Malley was a consolation prize because her true love and Juliette's birth father had to return to Austria.
- The Luann story with her latest Love Interest Quill seems to be ending up as one of these. After constant Will They or Won't They?, they finally decide to get romantic... and just then his phone rings with news that he has to move back to Australia. He leaves to pack, and decides not to even see her again to say goodbye. Averted as Luann and Quill continue their relationship online. Quill even visits again in June 2013.
- ...and he moves back even later in 2013. As of now, it seems the story isn't over yet.
- There was a very long series of strips involving Peppermint Patty training for an ice skating tournament that ran over a whole winter. First, she hired Snoopy as a coach. Then she convinced Marcie to make her a skating dress; Marcie tried her best, but she couldn't sew, and made an awful dress. It almost ruined their friendship, until Marcie's mother made Patty a beautiful dress. Then Patty needed to get a new hairdo to go with it; Marcie was no good at that, so Patty went to Charlie Brown's dad - who's a barber. Unfortunately, he mistook her for a boy, and gave her a boy's haircut. Patty averted another disaster by buying a wig... But in the end, it all turned out to be pointless, because the tournament was actually a roller skating competition.
- In another long arc, Linus' teacher Ms. Othmar asked him to bring eggshells to school so that his class could make model igloos, but again and again, Linus either kept forgetting or something would happen to foil his plans. (One time he remembered to bring them - on Saturday.) Finally, he remembered, and brought them to school, only to find that Ms. Othmar had quit her job and was getting married. (As Linus said, "I knew the eggshells were only a manifestation of a deeper problem!") The story did end on a high note: Linus sent her a box of eggshells as a wedding present.
- In another story, the gang has a baseball game, but Charlie Brown isn't available. He has to push around his sister, Sally (only a toddler at the time and officially making her debut in this storyline), in a stroller. Everyone is upset including Charlie Brown himself. Linus informs him they're at the bottom of the 9th and still have a chance to win. Charlie Brown ends up leaving Sally to finish up the game. Naturally, strikes out and is chewed out by everyone, and on top of that, his mother is now angry with him for ditching his sister. He tries to complain to Lucy who gave him the hardest time about everything, and how he's in trouble at home, and she just ignores him. In the end, all he can do is apologize to Sally and promise to be there for her when she needs him.
- In the German series Nick Knatterton most cases turn out to be such, often by the culprit and the intended victim forming an alliance, marrying or similar. For example, a spy attempts to smuggle out secrets in a pivot tooth put into a singers mouth- which ends up being ejected by the sound waves and thrown into the Mediterranean Sea, where it is promptly swallowed by a fish.
- In The Wacky Adventures of Pedro, Pedro's roughly two-year search for fruit that could make his homemade ice cream blue and flavorful becomes this when upon returning from outer space, a friend offers him some blue and flavorful indigo plum ice cream.
- In a bizarre invocation of the Fleeting Demographic Rule, WCW's Halloween Havoc 2000 pay-per-view featured a Sting vs. Jeff Jarrett match, with Jarrett dressed up in Sting face paint. Throughout the match, several fake versions of Sting interfered in the match (reminiscent of 1990's Halloween Havoc, when Sid Vicious fought Sting and was later attacked by a fake), and the real Sting easily handled all of them. One would expect there to be a big payoff from all the fake Sting madness, but the match ended with Jarrett whacking the real Sting with his guitar to win the match.
- WWE one - John Cena made a shocking comeback to win the 2008 Royal Rumble just four months after an injury that was said to put him down for at least seven months to a year. He invoked his title match against Randy Orton (who was awarded the WWE Championship upon Cena's injury) at No Way Out instead of WrestleMania... and then won by DQ, which meant he didn't get the title. Then he got another two title shots, and lost both of them before moving into another feud without ever getting any revenge on Orton.
- During a TNA JAPW crossover, Knockouts Champion Madison Rayne agreed to give Angelina Love a title shot if Love could beat her old rival, the undefeated Jersey All Pro Women's Champion Sara Del Rey. When Love did what no one though possible and beat Del Rey Rayne immediately ran out and hit Love with the belt, a literal title shot. But Angelina Love wasn't knocked unconscious, the referee, Earl Hebner, had the match get officially underway and despite Rayne's huge early advantage Love started to make a comeback...only for Hebner to kiss her, causing enough of a distraction for Rayne to retain.
- The 1/21/13 episode of RAW held a "Beat the Clock Challenge," the winner of which would choose their own entry number in the upcoming Royal Rumble match. The winner was Dolph Ziggler, however when he goes to turn in his victory and choose his place as the last guy to enter, Vickie Guerrero informs him that he would only have his choice of entering the Rumble first or second, which function exactly the same except for how it goes into the record books. So it turns out that after three matches to determine the winner, the winner's prize is literally being given the worst possible entry in the Rumble. Vickie Guerrero hated Dolph Ziggler for dumping her the month before, which is probably why she did that to begin with.
- The rules of the Royal Rumble state that a competitor is eliminated when both feet hit the floor. In 2012 Kofi Kingston walked on his hands to the steel steps and was able to reenter the match. In 2013 he leapt onto the back of another competitor and ended up on the announcers' table. He struggled to think how to get back to the ring and finally figured he could use a rolling chair. Only this time, Cody Rhodes eliminated him before he could get back in.
- In 2014 former Vendetta Pro Wrestling Tag Team champions the Ballard Brothers told an inspiring story about a man named Sunami who spent all year clawing his way towards a title shot against them, persevered through their under handed attacks and mind games, ultimately winning the belts only to have to vacate them because his partner no showed during a defense, making his entire year a big waste of time. They told this story to Sunami himself, who indeed was waiting in vain for his partner, leading him to give up on tag team wrestling and take on an It's All About Me attitude.
- While Mercedes Martinez was largely to blame for Las Sicarias being mollywhopped by rival SHINE Power Stable C4, Martinez legitimately positioned herself for a shot at the championship belt Ivelisse Vélez was forced to vacate and should have won it. She had Allysin Kay beat in the three way dance and LuFisto was too slow to stop her, except LuFisto was given the winning pin on a one count. Furthermore, Martinez was put in another match with the woman she by rights beat, rather than the one who was basically given her win. Kay proceeded hit Martinez with a shame motivated flurry...that nonetheless only got Kay to a time limit draw. If Martinez was champion as she logically should have been, she would have retained, and the trap C4 laid on the returning Velez and Rosa Negra wouldn't have set Las Sicarias back so far.
- Every "Bebop-a-reebop Rhubarb Pie" sketch on A Prairie Home Companion is one of these.
- Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
- The entire play Waiting for Godot consists of two guys waiting for a guy named Godot, who never shows up.
- Gyorgy Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre: Death (called Necrotzar) announces the end of the world. People prepare for the final moment. At the end: nothing happens, except Death dies. Cue Epileptic Tree justifications.
- In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, if the Safe ending hasn't been cleared beforehand, then the True ending (which is otherwise the Golden Ending) ends with several of the group, including the main character, forced to hopelessly try and work out a passcode for which they lack the necessary clue.
- The Story Guy videos from LoadingReadyRun are based almost entirely around this trope. Installments such as Gilled Cheese and Rare Book have the Story Guy go on at great length for what is eventually revealed to be no point at all.
- This story is the best and most perfect incarnation of this trope. Be warned, it's a very long read.
- In Survival of the Fittest, this occurs more often than not, due to the brutal nature of the game. Entire arcs can be left either unresolved or rendered entirely meaningless when someone integral simply dies.
- This video about World of Warcraft.
- Charlie the Unicorn always ends up on quests like this.
Charlie: Aw, they took my freakin' kidney!
- In his review of Taylor Swift's Fifteen, Todd in the Shadows tells the story of a heart wrenching break up from his past. He then destroys the mood of the story by revealing that it never happened to him but was instead the plot of an episode of Saved by the Bell.
- "Why are you gay?" "Well, a long time ago, I was sitting at home on the computer..."
- The Nostalgia Chick's Dark Nella Saga didn't change the show's Black and Gray Morality at all. The Chick's still a jerkass, Nella's still the abused friend, and Dr. Tease is still evil. Tropes Are Not Bad however; the Dysfunction Junction they have going is just too fun to die.
- The last sentence of "How David Weber Orders A Pizza," after several thousand words exhaustively describing the ordering and delivery of a pizza, is:
Then a nuclear weapon detonated in midair above them, vaporizing the city.
- The Saga of Biorn ends with the noble, aging Death Seeker Viking, seeking entry to Valhall, succeeding at dying in battle by saving a convent of nuns from a giant... Except the nuns end up burying his corpse in consecrated ground and sending him to Christian heaven at the last moment instead.
- Chapter 2 of "Axe Cop" (the Moon Brothers arc) is this. The Moon Brothers find their family turned into bats, travels to Earth to defeat the villain who did it, meets up with Axe Cop's party, gains a bunch of utterly random power-ups, defeat the villain... and finally realize that they had a magic potion all along that could have turned their family back into humans, making the entire story-arc mostly pointless.
- Shortly after the release of Grand Theft Auto V, a YouTube user known as TheJimmyJ57 put together a series of videos in which he would customize the various vehicles in the game. Episode 27 of this series features the Canis Crusader. After six unsuccessful attempts to steal one from the army base, he discovers that one can be purchased online. So, he does...and discovers the vehicle cannot be modified.
- The first half of Episode 24 of Critical Role. Tiberius is attempting to access a teleportation sigil that will take him and his team to Kraghammer to retrieve some reward money. After muddling around in the Lyceum bureaucracy, flying back to the keep to pick up a bribe, then flying back to the Lyceum with the rest of the party, he finally gets access to the sigil... only to realize that he's burnt through all his spells for the day, and needs to sleep for another eight hours before he can actually cast the teleportation ritual.
- This satirical video from the YouTube channel "Circlejerk" (devoted to parodying Reddit) starts out like a typical rant about "social justice warriors." The punch line (based on a popular meme of 2015) is that one of the SJW Reddit moderators is actually John Cena.
- Twitter chains, which the longer they get, more pissed people who followed them will be.
- In Red vs. Blue, Project Freelancers was created as a means to fight aliens and find a way to bring back Allison. To do so, the Director tortured the A.I. Alpha into fragmenting itself so it could provide A.I.s for experimental purposes. However, the Project practically failed in its objectives, with all its Freelancers becoming crazy, going rogue, abandoning the project or dying and Allison/Tex staying dead.
- In the Achievement Hunter Let's Play Minecraft mini-series "YDYD" (short for "Ya Dead, Ya Dead"), bit by bit, each of the Achievement Hunters are Killed Off for Real, leaving Michael Jones the Sole Survivor. In the final episode, he moves on, lives fifty years later and dies of old age in a castle he built. He ends up arriving in Hell, where the other Hunters are waiting for him. As it turns out, they've remained young and will always will be and Michael will remain old and decrepit. Even worse, his wife Lindsay gave up on waiting for him and hooked up with a demon named Gary.
- PeanutButterGamer did videos about Goodwill games. In the sixth installment, the final game he plays is a Call-Back to the second installment, in which he plays the first game from the Mias Big Adventure Collection, Mia's Reading Adventure: The Search for Grandma's Remedy. At long last, PBG had come prepared with everything that prevented him from completing a single Mia game; he never encountered a single Game-Breaking Bug, and he had the second disc, and he is excited to see what finally happens after all these years...only to discover that it went to nothing. All that happens is that Mia simply hops on a bird, thanks the player for helping her before saying farewell to the player, and it just cues an Iris Out with Mia giggling. PBG is not pleased.
PeanutButterGamer: THAT'S IT?! After all this time, we finally beat a Mia game, and that's it?! Nothing happens?!
- This commercial for Bridgestone tires. It even has dogs. The ad starts with a dog finding its lover having sex with another dog. The dog is so shocked it starts running away and arrives at a road with lots of cars passing. The dog jumps in front of a car, which stops almost instantly thanks to its Bridgestone brand tires. The end.
- The Great White Sheet Game: Typically played at co-ed college parties with some amount of alcohol, often on road trips where the participants have multiple hotel rooms. One person who has never played before is chosen as the Player, while all those who have played before take on the roles of "Master" (for the leader of the game) and "Others". The Player sits on a bed, and has a sheet tented over him. The Master then explains that this is a test, and that the Player must follow the instructions that the Master or the Others give, to the letter. The game then proceeds, first with the Master describing a scene: "You are walking through the desert. It is hot, and you are thirsty. You realize you don't need to be wearing as much as you are. Take something off, and pass it to me." Usually, the Player removes something inconsequential—jewelry or shoes. The Others then continue in the same vein—embellishing and otherwise confounding the statement, but always with the admonition to remove something the Player is wearing needlessly. As time goes on, articles of clothing start coming off and getting passed out. The game ends when the Player figures out he's supposed to take off the damn sheet. If he's already naked underneath, well, then the Master and Others won the game.
- Boy Scouts of America has a version where a number of newer scouts stands before a crowd and all place blindfolds on themselves. They are ordered not to make a sound for the duration of the game and are told to take an article of clothing off. The ones who take the blindfold off are quietly told to remain silent and the game is ended when the boys all have their blindfolds off or there are any boys reduced to their undergarments.
- There are cards in Munchkin that can make a battle this: say you've encountered a Plutonium Dragon and its Evil Twin, facing painful death should you fail to beat them or run away. After numerous bonuses and anti-bonuses have been played on the monsters, the dragon's Baby Clone, and its Mommy, have been introduced to the fight, multiple one-shot items have been used to help or hinder you, several different methods of backstabbing have been employed, lengthy negotiations of teaming up have been had, and you're ready to reap your whopping eight levels and twenty-five treasures... Some asshat plays a few cards, making the dragon and its twin, clone, and the clone's mommy already dead (and dead broke), or something to the effect, leaving you without any levels or treasure, and everyone many cards poorer. Which is, of course, very munchkinly indeed, and highly recommendable in the spirit of the game.
- This GIF is an extremely abridged version of the Lord of the Rings movies, except the characters forgot the Ring at home and find out only at the end.