Running gags

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In Search of Humor: The Classic Running Gag

What I’m currently reading:

mammoth book of jokes

Why am I reading this book?

I’m not funny. Ask my kids, I lack any sense of humor. But kids love humor, gags, slapstick, jokes, puns, funny things happening in a story or a novel.

I’m near the end of my WIP novel and while I revise on the last chapters, I’m also going back to do minor revisions on the early chapters. Knowing my weakness, my inability to be spontaneously funny, one thing I’m adding in this revision is small touches of humor via the classic running gag.

Think about the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the two comic-relief pirates, especially the one with the false eye. That false eye is a running joke. We laugh at it the first time we see it. But running gags need to make the gag funnier as the story progresses. So, when our heroes load cannons with any available metal, the pirate ends up with a fork stuck into the false eyeball. Funny! When the battle is raging on deck, the pirate’s eye is knocked out and he’s on hands and knees chasing the eyeball through the fighting figures. Incongruous, therefore, funny.

How do you find a running gag or joke for your story. For inspiration, I looked at this website about running gags in novels, movies and TV shows.

A couple examples:

  • First, we’ll finish up with the humor in the Pirates:

    # Pirates Of The Caribbean: Women seem to have a tendency to slap Jack Sparrow… or pretty much anyone representing him.
    Captain Jack Sparrow

    • Why is the rum always gone?
    • He got away with sea turtles, mate. A pair of them strapped to the bottle.
    • Were they eunuchs?
    • Well, they did have a Nice Hat. A really big one.
    • They also tried to Parley with me.
    • But that doesn’t matter since the Pirate’s Code is more like a guideline than actual rules.
  • From the Harry Potter novels, this humorous running gag:

    If Professor McGonagall walks onto a scene in Harry Potter, expect her to drop those books in shock or horror at some point.

  • From House, M.D.TV show, various running gags:

    On House MD, almost every time they begin a diagnosis, someone invariably suggests lupus, House casually comments, “It’s not lupus.” This becomes a Running Gag of “it’s never lupus” that finally culminates in a Lampshade Hanging:
    Foreman: You hid your drug stash in a lupus handbook?!
    House: It’s never lupus.

    • This went on so long that House MD was recognized by a lupus advocacy group for raising awareness of the disease.
    • They went so far as to have a janitor (House had no assistants at the moment) suggest lupus. He only knows about the disease because his grandma has it.

My WIP novel has some serious moments and I knew that humor would help relieve the tense moments. I’ve woven in several humorous running gags and think it’s working to make this a stronger revision, a stronger draft of my novel.

1 Comment
  • Danny Stroud
    March 31, 2009

    “Incongruous”, really Darci, Everyone that reads your page may not be as educated as you are. Look at me for instance. I had to look it up. Great web site by the way. I may even take up writing one day. I will probably just say “funny” though. See you soon, Danny.