"It's a running gag... well, it's limping a bit by now."
—Paul Merton, Have I Got News for You
There we go. Anyhow, the use of a Running Gag is generally constrained over the course of one episode. But there are some jokes that the writers thought are just so funny that they should be used in another episode, and another, and another and another. Even if it isn't Once an Episode, it's still squeezed into the series wherever they see fit— fit— fit— fit— fit— *THUMP*
Okay. After a while, though, the writers will come to realize that the bit has started to peter out. Then one can be sure to start seeing plenty of Lampshade Hanging and heavy subversion in the effort to keep the joke fresh, or tolerated. Once that wears thin, one can expect the bit to be dropped like a Christmas ham— ham— ham— ham— ham— *SMACK*
Okay, that joke's really wearing thin. Before we continue, let's get that audio equipment fixed.
One hour later....
There, fixed. Anyhow, for this to be a trope, examples should not be subjective. They should be based on whether the writers have reacted to its overuse (lampshaded or used it less), rather than just a feeling that the gag has been used too much.
The inevitable fate of many a comedy Catch Phrase. Commonly confused with Overly Long Gag, which is when a single gag is stretched out for an irritatingly long time. That said, for any joke, good or bad, enough repetition can make people decide it's an Overused Running Gag.
Sigh. Okay, if it does that again, that audio equipment is gonna get a dose of C-4.
Anime and Manga
- In Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, during an episode explaining many of the series' jokes to newer audiences, the audience member asks about the background running gags. "It's like something we do Once an Episode." "What's funny about that?"
- In a meta example, Bakuman｡ featured the main characters working on a light-hearted comedy manga, but only a bit more than 10 chapters in, they're already making entire chapters based on the running gag of the main character saying "I dunno about that." This serves as one of the signs that this isn't the right sort of series for them.
- In Clannad, Okazaki attempts to make Kotomi more social by bringing her to new people and telling her to introduce herself, at which point she always turns around and introduces herself to Okazaki. The third time this occurs, Okazaki remarks that that particular gag is getting old.
- Brock flirting with any older female he sees in Pokémon, before being hauled away by Misty/Max (by the ear), Bonsly (using Double-Edge) and Croagunk (getting Poison Jabbed in the ass). It's acknowledged in-universe by his companions (and even antagonists Team Rocket) occasionally getting annoyed at his antics. It was funny the first three times, then it just became old. For Croagunk's bit, it's a minor Running Gag in of itself for Dawn to get caught completely surprised whenever Brock makes an instant recovery.
- Gintoki & Kagura picking their noses in Gintama, sometimes more than once an episode, and there are over 230 episodes.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima there was a running gag throughout the Mahorafest arc of Takane always getting stripped, four times in total, largely because she used magical clothing that stopped working if she was knocked unconscious. When she reappears in the Magic World arc she forces several girls to wear it as well because it increases defense, so when attacking the Cosmo Entelechia stronghold you can see the only one who knows about that and has to wear it herself nearly in tears. Contrary to all expectations, not one of them gets stripped this time.
- By the third Austin Powers movie, the running gag of several witnesses likening a flying object to a naughty body part was called out by Ozzy Osbourne, watching it on tv with his family.
- Dave Barry often has Overused Running Gags in books which aren't merely recycled columns:
- "No! Sorry! That's it for the Hawley-Smoot tariff, you have our word." (Dave Barry Slept Here, which continues to allude to it in three subsequent chapters).
- "Do you think we've had enough Winston Churchill jokes? Explain." (also Dave Barry Slept Here)
- "Do you think the author will eventually grow tired of the Buffalo Bob joke? Why not?" (Dave Barry Turns 50)
- "If you think we're getting tired of the zucchini joke, you had best think again." (Dave Barry Hits Below The Beltway)
- The Trolls has Aunt Sally reminding us about how Great-Uncle Louis, who came for two weeks and stayed for six years, came for two weeks and stayed for six years almost everytime she says his name.
- The Man Show had a "Museum of Annoying Guys", and one of them was the Real Life version of this trope. "It's the beat a Catch Phrase to death guy."
- The Rita Moreno episode (#5 of season 1) of The Muppet Show features an old-style phone backstage. When it rings, Fozzie answers it, and something comes out of the receiver related to who's calling. At the fifth call, Kermit gets fed up and asks, "Is there no end to this Running Gag?"; then Animal comes in and puts an end to it (as well as to incoming calls, unless someone thinks to call the number for the phone on the desk).
- In the 2000 The Invisible Man TV series, Darien Fawkes would greet each worsening situation with "Oh Crap" in a resigned manner. Eventually, the characters find it annoying. By the second season, there are lampshades; for instance, it's the only thing he remembers about himself when he gets Laser-Guided Amnesia, forcing him to use it to tell who his friends are.
- Parodied in The State. Under pressure to create more catchphrase-driven characters like Saturday Night Live, the writers created "Louie, the guy who says his catchphrase over and over again." The character would repeatedly ask for volunteers to present him with a substance and then loudly announce, "I wanna dip my balls in it!" while holding up two golf balls. The Only Sane Man in the sketch can't understand why the gag never gets old to any of the other characters. Ironically, the character proved popular and was brought back a few times.
- Hannah Montana's tendency towards zany schemes is noted, repeatedly, by Lilly, who eventually gets fed up at never being asked to just sit down and have breakfast but constantly being roped into Miley's schemes.
- iCarly: T-Bo's food on stick gag (capsicums, chicken, doughnuts, etc) is put up with a couple of times, and now every time it's brought up he is forcefully rejected by the other characters.
- Friends had Ross's running joke "We were on a break!" Despite being called out on it, this saw usage right up until the very last episode. Additionally, Joey's Catch Phrase "How you doin'?" saw a few lampshades.
- The IT Crowd has Roy answer the phone almost every time with the line, "Hello IT, have you tried turning it off and on again?" However, early in the second season he interrupts his signature line with, "I'm sick of saying that. What do you want?" From that point on he never again utters that catchphrase until he brings it back in the fourth.
- In the film Escape 2000, there is a scene at the beginning where the phrase "leave the Bronx" is repeated constantly. Mike and the Bots naturally turn this into a Running Gag, with Servo even singing the phrase repeatedly along to the music at the end credits. But when the movie is over and Mike tries to make the joke again, Crow tells him that it's not funny any more.
- Stargate SG-1 had a habit of making Who's on First? jokes using the Goa'uld System Lord Yu. When Elizabeth Weir tried to get in on it, she was stopped by Daniel.
Daniel: Don't. Every joke, every pun, done to death.
- Dan Shive explicitly said he cut down on the hammer and the demonic duck for El Goonish Shive because he already has done every possible gag with them.
- Up to and including making them actually relevant to the plot. Yes, he really meant "every possible gag".
- Aaaaand yet both the hammers and the demonic duck have shown up again. But, since it's been so long (and the hammers have become plot-central in the latest arc) that they're a bit funny again.
- It doesn't hurt that the Demonic Duck's dialog crosses into Better Than a Bare Bulb territory.
- Ctrl Alt Del had the Running Gag where Ethan gets hit by an arrow from off panel (as a homage to The Kentucky Fried Movie). The author decided to end the gag after it became overused and played with its end by having the last arrow fired by Ethan and into the author himself as punishment for all the times he was hit.
- A strip of The Order of the Stick has one person telling his teammates to stop screaming "SNEAK ATTACK"; after that, for the first time, someone reacts to them yelling and kills them before they can land the blow.
- For added strangeness, the one being criticized for calling his attacks is a fighter that shouts "Power Attack", while the dozens of rogues in the fight are shouting "Sneak Attack" with no commentary.
- PvP had a panda that would randomly attack Brent. The reasons behind these attacks were eventually explained in a rather long arc, and the gag died down considerably after that.
- For a while, almost all the male characters in Sluggy Freelance joked among themselves that "monkeys" was Gwynn's pet name for her breasts. Since Gwynn owns several real monkeys, this gag came up a lot when she made innocent remarks like "My monkeys! They're gone!" or "Be on the lookout for my monkeys and grab them if you see them. They could pop up anywhere." Eventually, Riff got tired enough of the joke to reprimand himself for using it again. And then The monkeys got killed off.
- At least one running gag in Bob and George (specifically, Wily getting overheard by someone standing just behind him) got this treatment. As early as the third iteration, it was acknowledged as an Overused Running Gag, and supposedly retired. And then it was brought out of retirement. And averted, inverted, inverted again, parodied (to the breaking point), double subverted, lampshaded, and...well, you get the idea.
- Nerf Now's fans are starting to get fed up with photo notes claiming "Mine!" or "Spy here".
- Schlock Mercenary: In-Universe, this is what Tagon considers Shodan's continuing to bring up the accident during the Mall Cop Command arc where Tagon got a fork stuck in his eye.
- Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff does this on purpose to go with the Stylistic Suck, outside the universe the fans reference SBAHJ endlessly and inside the Homestuck universe, where characters reference SBAHJ all too often.
- Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series has taken to mocking its own reliance on running gags.
- The Nostalgia Critic has M. Bison's "Of course!" that pops up every time someone wants to Take Over the World. When the Nostalgia Critic got sick of it, it showed up on its own and crushed him.
- Saying the word "Elephant" summons the Burger King who silences the characters in the movie who won't shut up. It didn't work on Twister. After the Top 11 Nostalgic Mindfucks, he recalls that it didn't come when he talked about the Pink Elephants from Dumbo; after some experimentation, the Burger King logo brained him out of irritation.
Nostalgia Critic: I had my fun.
- On his commentary for the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog review Doug spent some time discussing the need to alter running gags frequently and drop them before the audience gets sick of them. He also mentioned that people have asked to drop every running gag except "OF COURSE!".
- In conventions, at least one person will bring up a "Bat Credit Card". Eventually he went on record saying he's really tired of that (mostly because the raging does a number on his voice) but he still does it because it makes the people laugh.
- Like Critic's Sonic episode, Phelous's "Dawn of the Living Dead" episode has him declaring he'll never end his "I'VE GOT A SHOTGUN!" gag and that he's sick of it after using it again seconds later.
- In her "Top Eleven Animated Villainesses", The Nostalgia Chick had to be stared at by sad puppies for a while until she was forced to break out of deadpan mode and do her running gag:
Chick: Oh, fine... PUPPIES!"
- The MS Paint Adventures series Problem Sleuth featured Demonhead Mobster Kingpin, a Marathon Boss who kept revealing new One-Winged Angel modes and regenerating lost health. The contributors were getting sick of the guy, and Andrew Hussie knew it.
- The series is riddled with running gags, some of which are overused for comedic effect. Most notoriously, the "Retrieve arms from x" command has been done about 12 times in Problem Sleuth and Homestuck. So far.
- Subverted in Act 5. When the first new character of this act is introduced, it seems that, as usual, all the typical running gags will play out before he's introduced for real... but the narrator and the character are having none of it.
- "And that was the X time I died" used by Unskippable when some catastrophe seemingly killed the main character was eventually acknowledged with the words: "No, wait, I take it back. Semenoske got nuked, this guy's going to be fine."
- Richard of Looking for Group doesn't seem willing to acknowledge the "Fork of Truth" has had its day and needs to be retired. In the Fork's most recent appearance, the other cast members completely ignored his rant about it, except for Sooba.
- Newsgroup rec.humor was flooded with the two-strings-in-a-bar/frayed-knot jokes. This is to the point where some jokes began pointing out that the joke was killed.
- The Citation Needed podcast begins with a rundown of improbably named podcasts that supposedly failed to last as long as Citation Needed. By episode 8, these podcasts include "Running Gags To Start Your Podcast With That Are Becoming Increasingly Hard To Think Of".
- Wrestlecrap's induction of a wrestler named Man Mountain Rock featured a picture of said wrestler shrugging with the caption "Yeah, I don't know either dude." After using this picture in 6 straight updates, writer RD Reynolds threatened to end its use. Fan demand brought him into an additional 6 updates and possibly counting.
- South Park's "Oh My God, They Killed Kenny!" It gets old, gets lampshaded, subverted and eventually cut down severely in the later seasons.
- Drawn Together is yet another example of the "regurgitate the same jokes over and over, then acknowledge how they've stopped being funny and continue using the jokes over and over again" tactic.
- Find a Running Gag not lampshaded, inverted, or subverted on Phineas and Ferb.
- Family Guy
- The two vaudeville players Vern and Johnny, who appeared so often to fill the time before commercial breaks that Stewie killed them to assure the audience that they would never appear again. (They still came back... as ghosts).
- In the last season or so, Cleveland would get knocked out of his house on a regular basis. It was even used twice after Cleveland left for The Cleveland Show. Cleveland eventually lampshades it, saying "I fell out of that house way too many times than could possibly be funny." In fact, that's how Cleveland's first wife died.
- In The Simpsons, the clip where Homer falls down the Springfield Gorge (from the episode "Bart the Daredevil") was referenced several times. In the episode "The Blunder Years", when Homer flashes back to it, Lisa interrupts him, saying "Everyone's sick of that memory."
- In KaBlam! we've had scenes of Henry always getting injured. He got really sick of it, and of season four, June most likely did. It used to be pretty funny, but it made Henry a too predictable character, and made June kinda bitchy.
- On TV Tropes itself, there was a time where a ridiculous number of trope pages mentioned by way of example that they were one of The Oldest Ones in the Book. (This trend was referenced by Uncyclopedia.) This is because over 95% of recorded human history is older than the "book," which was apparently written in 1950 (when television gained popularity in the USA). It became common to see tropers avoid the repetition of that unwieldy trope name by putting it in a Pothole under some phrase like, "You know what that makes this..." Splitting The Oldest Ones in the Book into sub-indexes such as Older Than Dirt, Older Than Steam, and Older Than Radio has done a lot to reduce the annoyance, both because of the variety and because anything that isn't Older Than Dirt is newer than much of the book.
- Now Older Than Dirt itself has become way overused and misused, being frequently applied to pages that are nowhere near old enough to count (currently the cutoff is 800 BCE; previously it was 500 BCE). Doesn't help that despite being an index, it's often treated as a trope.
- I Am Not Making This Up and So Yeah ended up being discredited and finally dead. So Yeah (which met the same fate).
- Or So I Heard was completely reworked too.
- Any trope that is listed on Pothole Magnet tends to become this.
- The beautiful useful notes: Brazil page has a beautiful example of this with the beautiful word, "beautiful".