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12 Running Gags From Sitcoms That Just Never Get Old

Summary

  • Great running gags evolve and find new ways to be funny, just like catchphrases in sitcoms. Context is key.
  • Long-running sitcoms can make fans feel like they're part of an inside joke with callbacks to earlier episodes.
  • Running gags don't have to get old if they're done well. They can continue to bring laughs and keep audiences engaged.


Running gags in sitcoms often go stale after a while, but the best ones can stay fresh for years. The key to a great running gag is often finding new and interesting ways to build on the joke. Every joke loses its impact after a while, but brilliant innovative sitcoms can put the gag in a new context and make it just as funny as the first time. This is how the best catchphrases work too. Using the same punchline for different situations can flip traditional joke structures upside-down.

Long-running sitcoms have the opportunity to evolve their running gags over and over again, making hardcore fans feel like part of an inside joke. Great running gags have an extra layer of humor, because they call back to earlier episodes and situations. This can be very rewarding for long-time fans if it's done well, although only the best sitcoms manage to keep running gags from becoming predictable. When they are done well, running gags don't have to grow old.


12 Terrible Fake TV Shows

30 Rock

Jim Carrey in Leap Dave Williams, the fictional movie from 30 Rock

30 Rock satirizes the entertainment industry with hilarious fake movies and TV shows. Some of these are direct parodies of existing shows, like America's Kidz Got Singing gold Sports Shoutingwhile others spoof the endless stream of laughable ideas coming from cable TV networks. 30 Rock shows a few snippets of its terrible fake projectsbut some of the most interesting ones are only referred to by name, like Tracy Jordan's remake of An Affair to Remember, A Blaffair to Rememblack.

11 “That’s A Shame.”

Seinfeld

Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George sitting at Monks in Seinfeld

Seinfeld emphasized its famous “no hugging, no learning” rule with an apathetic catchphrase that can be used in just about any situation to express mild disinterest. All four of the main characters use it at some point or another, often to pile misery onto one of the others. Elaine misses out on a fortune on the stock market? “That’s a shame.” George jeopardizes his job with the Yankees by insisting on terrible uniforms for the players? “That’s a shame.” Kramer crashes a fire truck? “That’s a shame.”

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10 The Chicken Dance

Arrested Development

The Bluths doing their chicken dance in Arrested Development

The chicken dance works so well because it underlines how out-of-sync and out-of-touch Arrested Development's Bluth family is.

Arrested Development is the gold standard for running gags, building up reliable old jokes over multiple seasons, and even weaving the punchlines into important plot points. Lucille's gleeful shriek at Gene Parmesan's disguises, the family's bemused reaction to Anne, and Gob repeatedly realizing that he's made a “huge mistake” all stand out. The chicken dance works so well because it underlines how out-of-sync and out-of-touch Arrested Development's Bluth family is. Not only do none of them know what a chicken sounds like, but they all have completely different notions.

9 Winston's Pranks

New Girl

Screenshot Winston New Girl Season 7

Winston Bishop, known sometimes to himself as Prank Sinatra, is notoriously terrible at pranks. He either goes way too big and causes severe distress, or he goes way too small and nobody notices they were being pranked in the first place. Nevertheless, he finds each one hilarious. To Winston, putting Nick on a sex offender's registry and putting a single blueberry in Schmidt's cereal are both comedy gold. Winston's funniest moments we New Girl often come when he's off in his own world.

8 “Pretty Good.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David quotes

Things don't often go well for Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, so he needs a fun catchphrase for whenever he scores a rare win. “Pretty, pretty, pretty good,” spoken with enough smarmy self-satisfaction to ensure that Larry is the only person enjoying his moment, is versatile and non-committal enough to be used in a variety of situations. Larry sometimes uses it to try and convince himself that everything will work out for him. Curb Your Enthusiasm season 12 will be the show's last, giving Larry a final chance to go out on a high.

7 Gunther's Love For Rachel

Friends

Chandler;  Jennifer Anniston;  and James Michael Tyler in Friends

Rachel is a notoriously useless waitress, and she doesn't seem to realize that the only reason she keeps her job at Central Perk for so long is that her boss is deeply in love with her. Gunther prefers to pine for her in secret. His feelings for her are first revealed in an inner monologue, and he always acts envious of her boyfriends, but it takes him a long time to declare his love out loud. HAS scrapped Friends storyline would have had Rachel and Gunther moving in together, but he never got this opportunity to be close to her.

6 Jez & Super Hans' Band Names

Peep Show

Super Hans looks stoic standing in front of a blank wall in Peep Show

Jez and Super Hans fancy themselves as rock stars, although they're more concerned with attitude than musical talent. Rather than questioning their music, the duo believe that choosing a great band name is a more important step on their journey to stardom. They change names so often that they can't even remember what they're called most of the time. In any given episode, they could be “Curse These Metal Hands,” “Man Feelings,” “Various Artists,” or “Danny Dyer's Chocolate Homunculus.”

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5 The Gang Reusing The Same Camcorder

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Some of the gang's money-making schemes in It's Always Sunny require the use of a camcorder, even though they could have moved on to digital media years earlier. Each time the gang reuses the same tape, snippets of old projects also show up, playing like a condensed best-hits reel of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's funniest episodes. Mac and Charlie's Fight Milk commercial, Dee being set on fire, and Dennis' political campaign all show up as throwbacks in later seasons, even if they only appear for a second.

4 “Title Of Your Sex Tape.”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Amy and Jake Brooklyn Nine Nine

Part of the joke is how terrible and unappealing any of these sex tapes would actually be, giving the gag more longevity and nuance than a simple “that’s what she said”.

Jake Peralta puts a new spin on the old classic “that's what she said” gag with his own catchphrase. It shows off Jake's immaturity and his need for attention, even in situations that aren't the most appropriate. It's most often directed at Amy, aiming a jab at how uptight she is. Part of the joke is how terrible and unappealing any of these sex tapes would actually be, giving the gag more longevity and nuance than a simple “that’s what she said”.

3 Julian's Rum & Coke

Trailer Park Boys

Ricky talking to Julian in Trailer Park Boys

No matter what situation Julian is in, he always has a nearly-full rum and coke on ice, held close to his chest with his elbow jutting out to the side. This character quirk rarely draws attention to itself, it's just a constant part of Julian's costume, like a cartoon character who never changes clothes. Coming out of prison or exiting a car crash, Julian has his rum and coke in hand. It's a great running gag because it's always there, and it comes down to each individual viewer how often they notice it.

2 Every New Character Is Roger

American Dad

Roger's endless characters are a great feature in American Dad, and the show pokes fun at its own absurdity. Practically every new episode sees Roger dressing up in some new disguise, and the rest of the characters have begun to realize that any eccentric person with a strange name they hear about is likely to be just another one of Roger's personas. Roger's commitment to his characters is what makes them so funny. Even when nobody else is around except the Smiths, and he can drop the charade, he instead chooses to believe in his own lie.

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1 Couch Gags

The Simpsons

The opening credits for every episode of The Simpsons end with the family sitting down on their couch to watch TV. From this simple premise, the show has made hundreds of different jokes. Some last a couple of seconds, but other couch gags have been used as a platform to bring the familiar format into strange and unusual places, changing the art style and telling entire stories before the episode even starts. Not every Simpsons couch gag is meant to be funny, but they are always interesting in some way.

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