A "running gag," according to Sameul Beckett's Endgame, can be defined as "a staple technique of broad comedy, depends upon the watcher's reference to the progress of time."


In short, a joke that pops up again and again and again within a show's shared history. Sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background, but always with the intent to pop the viewer and make them laugh at a joke making a comeback.
While not something as easily found as, per say, a catchphrase (D'oh!), it'll stay make you laugh just the same so long as you're paying attention.

Reddit user, djc8, wanted to know what to pay attention to in the background of shows when they asked:

"What's your favorite running gag in a TV show?"

What makes a running gag good is its reliability. How often is it used? What's the situation? And, most importantly, is the character wearing the same shirt to set up the joke?​

Look Like You Eat Here Often

"Uncle Phil throwing Jazz out of the house." ~ JugOfVoodoo

"Little known fact."

"They would use the same tape of Jazz being thrown out each time. You can tell when he's about to be thrown out because he is wearing the same shirt." ~ zacurtis3

You'd Never Be Able To Cast Her

"never seeing Maris (Niles' wife) on Frasier but getting hilarious descriptions of her" ~ DaisyJaneAM

"Do you see Maris?"

"All I see is a coatrack."

"Look closer. Is the coatrack moving?"

"Oh my God!!" ~ puckit

"If I recall correctly, the writers had always intended to eventually have Maris come on the show. The problem with it was that they had written so many jokes about her appearance there were no actresses that could possibly fit the description." ~ Laughing_with_myself

"My favorite quote of Niles talking about Maris: "She ran. I tried to follow her tracks in the snow, but alas, she made none." ~ Bigtomhead

Jerry Is A Wonderful Man

"Jerry's beautiful wife in Parks and Rec" ~ jpie999

"Ben's theories getting more and more outlandish as the show goes on." ~ DrReginoldSaunders

"I also loved when Leslie visited him at home for breakfast and he was somehow super coordinated and suave, like he KNEW his role in the office and was intentionally playing along the whole time for his own amusement."

"At least, that is what I want to think." ~ QueenShnoogleberry

Got A Problem? Cocktail It.

"Jason Mendoza and his molotov cocktails in The Good Place." ~ Appropriate_Olive909

"He has a line that I think he says more than once. "Every time I had a problem, I threw a Molotov cocktail, and then boom, I had a different problem." It's one of my all time favorite lines from a tv show. It's stupid. Throwing a Molotov cocktail is a stupid thing to do in any situation, but the actor just sells it so well. There was a split second after the delivery where I though I had found the secret to life, and it happened to be Molotov cocktails." ~ TapewormNinja

I Just Don't Want To Disgrace The Peacock

"Kenneth being very old, and potentially immortal, in 30 Rock." ~ litsto

"Kenneth, do you want to be a page forever?"

"Who says I've been alive forever?" ~ darkbreak

Turns out if your name is Matt Groening, you like developing shows that keep gags running in the background.

Lining Up Perfectly

"They used to do this thing on the simpsons where every time they were put on hold while calling somewhere the hold music was related to wherever they were calling. Some examples were the song crazy when marge calls the insane asylum or the song baby come back when homer calls the department of missing babies. Not sure why they stopped doing this. It always made me laugh." ~ paulrenaud

"Another one was when Homer calls the National Fatherhood Institute and starts crying because the hold music is "Cat's in the cradle."" ~ Serpent_of_Rehoboam

Good News, Everyone!

"In Futurama, a lot of times when something really bizarre or shocking happened everyone would react appropriately, except for Bender, who would take out a camera and snap a picture. Going, "Neat!" ~ Brotherbeam

"My favorite recurring joke form Futurama is actually a series of jokes. The show often makes jokes that seem like one-off jokes for just one episode, but then they weave it into the rest of the show. A few examples:"

  • "Everyone in the future says "ax" instead of "ask", originally a joke in I want to say season 1"
  • "Owls being vermin that effectively replaced rats in NYC"
  • "Bender's middle name being "Bending", after what seems like a throwaway line: "Bending's my middle name!" the same way someone might say "Are we going to have fun today? Of course we are, fun is my middle name!"

"A lot of shows would make jokes like that then let them disappear. Futurama kept track of their seemingly-throwaway jokes about their world and adhered to them" ~ AntiGravityTurtle

These ones are tops, the cream of the crop when it comes to keeping a joke alive in the background of a TV show. Just keep your eyes peeled and be ready for the laughs.

A Show Not Talked About Nearly Enough

"the password always being "guest" in archer" ~ Forikorder

"Or bret getting shot." ~ Catshannon

"This whole thread could be Archer for me. Phrasing, the finger up drinking, Brett getting shot, Ray getting delimbed, basically the whole characters of Barry and Carol/Cheryl (another one) I could go on" ~ kodiakbear_

Just Look It Up

"Paul Rudd playing that same clip from Mac and Me every time he goes on Conan's show." ~ JPMoney81

"My favorite one ever was when he came on Conan's last show and showed it, and then said he had another clip he always considered using for the gag so he was going to show that. And it was the same damn one again!" ~ Mushy_Monster

A Show BUILT On Running Gags

"Arrested Development is a masterclass is running jokes, but my favorite are either the Chicken dance, or the Bluth's families reaction to Ann whenever she is brought up." ~ 50-6f-72-6e-0a

"I gotta go with Lucille's reaction whenever Gene Parmesan unmasks himself." ~ Frigguggi

"My favorite is the gag that the company's houses are built like garbage so things are constantly just falling apart in the model home. For example, the entertainment center frame falling, the corner of the kitchen counter snapping off, the bannister breaking, the fridge falling back into an open space behind it…" ~ ALasagnaForOne

"The random blue hand prints around the house" ~ hookhands

"I've made a terrible mistake."

"Also, when someone tells a lie: "Footage unavailable". ~ AMerrickanGirl

As if most of us are not doing it enough, we all have some more TV to get caught up on. Pick your favorite and pay attention.

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