A running gag, or running joke, is a literary device that takes the form of an amusing joke or a comical reference and appears repeatedly throughout a work of literature or other form of storytelling.
Running gags can begin with an instance of unintentional humor that is repeated in variations as the joke grows familiar and audiences anticipate reappearances of the gag. The humor in a running gag may derive entirely from how often it is repeated, the (in)appropriateness of the situation in which the gag occurs, or setting up the audience to expect another occurrence of the joke and then substituting something else (bait and switch). Running gags are found mostly in television shows, but also appear in other places, such as video games, films, books, and comic strips.
A running gag can be verbal or visual and may "convey social values by echoing belligerent speakers with a barrage of caricatured threats." For example, a character may present others with a proposition that is so ridiculous or outrageous it is likely to be self-mocking to the point where the original request has little or no chance of actually being carried out and results in a humorous effect. Occasionally, the characters themselves may be aware of the running gag and make humorous mention of it.
- South Park - Kenny's frequent death.
- Pokémon - Team Rocket "blasting off again" and Brock falls for the pretty girls.
- Arrested Development - References to Tobias Fünke's possible closeted homosexuality
- Young Frankenstein - Horses whinnying in terror at the mention of Frau Blücher's name.
- 30 Rock - References to Kenneth Parcell being surprisingly old or immortal.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - Jazz being thrown out of the house by Uncle Phil, always using the same footage.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Cabbage Merchant gets his cabbages destroyed frequently.
- Community - Dean Pelton's cross-dressing in over-the-top costumes at inappropriate occasions.
- Garfield and Friends - All aliens are apparently from The planet Klarion (or Clarion), Any reference to the *Klopman diamond. Al Swindler. (A reoccurring character.), Any reference to "Kung-Fu Creatures on the Rampage". Garfield receiving a pie in the face. Floyd the mouse complaining about his part of the show.
- Doctor Who - "Doctor who"?
See also 
- "The running gag, a staple of broad comedy, depends on the watcher's reference to the passage of time".Byron, Mark S (2007). Samuel Beckett's Endgame. Editions Rodopi B.V. p. 82. ISBN 978-90-420-2288-1.
- "The running gag has long been recognised as a standard ingredient of slapstick comedy ..." Beaver, Frank Eugene (2007). Dictionary of film terms: the aesthetic companion to film art. Peter Lang Publishing Inc. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-8204-7298-0.
- "... the running gag and the catchphrase, both important staples in most situation comedies …" Neale and Krutnik. Popular film and television comedy., quoted in Morgan-Russell, Simon (2004). Jimmy Perry and David Croft. Manchester University Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-7190-6556-9.
- Brunvand, Jan Harold. American Folklore : An Encyclopedia Garland Reference Library of the Humanities ; Vol. 1551. New York Garland, 1998. p. 719. ISBN 978-0-8153-3350-0.
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