Running gag

The running gag is a popular hallmark of comedy television shows and movies. A running gag is an amusing situation or line that constantly reappears through the course of a movie or television series. Frequently, the humor in a running gag derives entirely from how often it is repeated.


Examples of running gags


  • In Airplane!, Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) responds to sentences containing the word "surely" with "Don't call me Shirley". Many of the characters are extremely literal: "Cigarette?" "Yes, it is". Common throughout Airplane! (and Spy Hard) are the "what is it/but that's not important right now" gags, where one character defines a term the other has just said, when an explanation relevant to the situation is desired ("We've got to get them to the hospital..." "A hospital? What is it?" "It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now."). Capt. Clarence Oveur repeatedly mistakes the radio sign-off "Over" as his name.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail includes regular lamentations on the air speed velocity of swallows, beginning with the first scene in the movie. King Arthur (Graham Chapman) always says "five" instead of "three" and has to be corrected. Also, in some scenes someone believes a person is dead when the "dead" or "mortally wounded" person says he is fine and getting better. (This can be especially seen in the "Tale of Sir Launcelot", where it happens not once, not twice, but a full three times!)
  • Every Star Wars movie has the line "I have a bad feeling about this" at least once.


  • In Match Game, a question frequently has the phrase "he was so ______", and the audience replies "How ________ was he???", and the host finishes reading the question.
  • In Monty Python's Flying Circus, a variety of running gags occur within certain episodes, or spanning several episodes. In episode 15, members of the Spanish Inquisition burst into several scenes, proclaiming "No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!". Gags running throughout the series include an armoured knight carrying a rubber chicken, the "It's" man, and an announcer in a dinner jacket.
  • The comedy series The Fast Show consists almost entirely of running gags. Examples include:
    • mentioning the name of English footballer Chris Waddle in a foreign news show
    • a TV weather forecast in the same show, in which a lady sticks sunshine markers all over the map proclaiming scorchio, because it is always hot in that country. The one time this gag deviated (by the instance of a single cloud, or nimbocumulus), the show ran a special emergency report and declared it a tragedy.
    • an advertisement for a fictional food called Cheesy Peas, a combination of cheese and peas. This was advertised several times throughout the series in increasingly novel forms (Strawberry Flavoured Squeezy Cheesy Peas, for example)
    • a raggedly dressed man getting out of his house and stating this week, I have been mostly eating <some random food>.
    • a man preparing a meal in a kitchen relating his extraordinarily fortunate circumstances as if they were nothing special, and ending with the gross understatement catchphrase ...which was nice.
  • In Get Smart, a common running joke is "Don't tell me there's a (gun/knife/spy/whatever)!" to which the reply is always "There's a (gun/knife/spy/whatever)!" followed by "I asked you not to tell me that."; another is to respond to every colossal error ("you just pushed the red button and started World War III, Agent 86") with "sorry about that, chief" or to constantly mention "the old ____ in the ____ trick" (in trivial forms such as "the old gun in the hand trick"). "Agent 13" is always given the worst assignments, such as being a spy concealed in a dustbin or some equally awkward and undesirable place.
  • In Pinky and the Brain, the Brain tries to take over the world in every episode, but always fails in some humorous way. The Brain, when inspiration strikes, frequently asks Pinky "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?"; Pinky always responds with an amusing non-sequitur beginning with "I think so Brain, but . . . ".
  • In Pokémon, the Pokémon Wobbuffet, Skitty and Psyduck will sometimes pop out of their Poké Balls at the wrong time, much to the amusement of viewers (but not the Pokémon's trainers).
  • In Police Squad!, a shoe-shiner would furtively give information to Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) about the case he was investigating, and then proceed to give detailed professional advice to his next customer who would be e.g. a surgeon, or other unlikely customer. At the end of each show, a parody of the freeze-frame common at the end of 70s TV series was created by the actors trying to stand completely still with a rigid expression, while something else in the scene carried on moving (e.g. coffee being poured overflows).
  • In the first five seasons of South Park, Kenny suffers a gruesome death in nearly every episode, to which Stan and Kyle exclaim "Oh my God, they killed Kenny. You bastards!"
  • In Dangermouse, DM telling Penfold to "shush".
  • The later series of Red Dwarf have a few running gags:
    • Rimmer quotes references to the Space Corps Directives in an attempt to get his own way, but always gets the wrong one. Kryten (who apparently has all the Directives in memory) then states the directive in full, and asks how it is relevant to the situation.
    • The Cat makes a quick suggestion (e.g. We laser our way through!), to which Kryten replies An excellent suggestion, sir, with just two minor drawbacks and lists the drawbacks (e.g. one, there's no power source for the lasers, and two, we don't have any lasers.)
  • In Animaniacs, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot would often interrupt sketches whose plots did not involve them by running through the frame, chased by a studio security guard. This is a rare example of a running gag that plays on the meanings of "running".
  • A similar gag in Histeria involving a horde of Vikings, in which the Vikings plunder the entire set, leaving it devoid of props and the characters often in their underwear. A similar gag involves a character, usually in the role of a talk-show host, calling for security, and the offending character is carried off by a horde of security guards screaming just like the vikings.
  • In the Super Chicken series of cartoons produced by Jay Ward, SC would propose that his sidekick Fred, do something or handle something which was extremely hazardous or possibly fatal. When Fred would inevitably complain about the possibility of injury (to himself), SC would respond, "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred."
  • In the Inspector Gadget cartoon Gadget's boss, Chief Quimby, always contacts Gadget with his latest mission in a strange disguise. The mission is written in self-destructing note paper which Gadget will invariably toss away after reading, only to blow up in Quimby's face. This is in reference to the self-destructing tapes used in Mission: Impossible.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, the recipe for the Krabby Patty, a fast food burger, is never revealed. Extensive security protocols to protect the formula are the subject of several episodes. One episode takes the form of a training video for the Krusty Krab, home of the Krabby Patty. Throughout, SpongeBob begs the narrator for the opportunity to make a Krabby Patty, but is severely punished for not being ready. Just as the narrator is about to explain the recipe, the episode ends.
  • In Azumanga Daioh, Sakaki usually ends up getting bit by a cat when trying to pet it.
  • In the "Weekend Update" sketches on Saturday Night Live featuring Norm MacDonald, Norm would frequently insert a random mention of Frank Stallone into news stories.
  • Joey saying "How you doin'?" in the popular sitcom Friends.
  • The British sitcom 'Allo 'Allo! is mostly based on running gags throughout the series. Examples are: "You stupid woman!", "Ohhh... Rene!", "Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once.", "Ohhh.... my dicky ticker!", "It is I, Leclerc!".
  • On "Sanford and Son," when Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) was not getting his way, he would often clutch his chest and fake a heart attack, looking upward and ostensibly speaking to his deceased wife, with improvised lines such as "Oh no, this is the big one! I'm comin' to see ya, 'Lizabeth!"
  • In Tsukuyoki, when a situation goes awkward, a metal object crashes onto a character's head (usually from out of nowhere). Typical items used are pots, pans, tea kettles, soda cans, and pottery.
  • On MAD TV, Bobby Lee's character 'Bae Sung' speaks random gibberish and then ends his phrases with making a noise and yell "Halla!" or exclaim "Uh oh, hot dog!". Recently the gag is also accompanied by a cartoon hot dog that dances around the screen with a parody version of the Hamtaro's theme song.
  • In Mr. Bean, when Mr. Bean is driving his Mini, he often runs a blue Reliant Robin off the road and causing it to crash, sometimes deliberately.
  • In Mai-HiME, Haruka has a bad habit of mispronouncing words and phrases and Yukariko occasionally mistakens quotes from famous philosophers as Bible quotes while Yukino has to correct both of them.

Video games

  • In the You Don't Know Jack multiple-choice trivia computer games, "Tootie" is occasionally presented as one of the choices, but is never the right answer.
  • In the Monkey Island series, people often distract each other with "Look behind you! A three-headed monkey!"
    • In games after the first, the nonsequitur "How appropriate. You fight like a cow" is a common noncombat insult.
  • Many games in the Final Fantasy series will have two minor characters named after Biggs Darklighter and Wedge Antilles from Star Wars as well as a character named Cid.
  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog series, Knuckles the Echidna will very easily be tricked by the main villain Doctor Eggman everytime into believing that Sonic and/or the other good guys are are actually the bad guys out to get the Chaos Emeralds that Knuckles is in charge of guarding. Ironic, considering Knuckles is somewhat of an antisocial, distrusting loner.
  • In many Star Wars games there are places where you can hear a disco version of the the star wars theme song. This pokes fun at the fact that after the first movie a disco star wars theme was released.


  • In Groo the Wanderer there are a lot of them. For instance, every ship Groo enters will sink soon. Also, frequent references to "cheese dip" and, later, "mulch." Another example was a character calling Groo "slow of mind" early on the story, and almost on the end Groo thinking "what did he mean, 'slow of mind'"? Also, in early editions there is a hidden message in every story -- it usually spells "hidden message" or "this is the hidden message." These were later dropped.
  • In many of the Asterix adventures, a band of pirates meets with disaster at the hands of -- or simply while trying to avoid -- the protagonists.
  • In the webcomic called 1/0, the running gag manifested itself as an actual character. It took the form of the word "gag," with arms and legs. Not only a running gag but also a pun, it would occasionally appear during a lull in the main action, running by and shouting meaningless training-related phrases, which were the limit of its intelligence.
  • In the webcomic, Bob and George, many running gags occur. Primary ones are the character Dr. Wily announcing his evil plans out loud in the form of a monologue while another character hears him from behind, and the Robot Masters in parodies of the Mega Man Classic games all having strange personalities appropriate for their character. (For example, the submarine robot Dive Man talks like a pirate.)
  • MAD Magazine was known for several running gags and in-jokes; for instance, axolotl, Arthur, potrzebie, Cowznofski, etc.

Unplanned running gags

Some running gags were not meant as such, but are errors or plot holes that keep repeating themselves, such as the Redshirt problem from Star Trek: The Original Series. Basically, security officers wore bright red shirts. Every time the main cast brought the frequently unnamed red shirts with them on an away mission, all or all but one of the red shirts would die. Other unplanned running gags for Star Trek include William Shatner's stunt double looking nothing like him, and being rarely hidden from the camera; and all aliens simply being humans with a little make-up and bizarre clothing (see Klingons).

Similarly, since Star Trek many television science fiction series share an unconsciously common factor which has become a running gag and in-joke to those "in the know", i.e. the inclusion of a large muscular African-American man with a penchant for fighting, from Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation, to Teal'c in Stargate SG-1, to Tyr Anasazi in Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda.

See also

nl:Running gag


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools