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A subtrope of the Running Gag, this is about a gag that gets use in the vast majority of a work's installments. Distinct from a Running Gag in that the joke is exactly the same (allowing for very minor differences in phrasing) every time. Can overlap with a Catch Phrase or a Tagline. Depending on the author, the joke may even leap from one series to the next, or even one medium to the next. In rare cases, it'll seem as though the author was contractually obligated to lump the joke in.

Note that in order to qualify, it really has to be the same joke used in exactly the same way and funny (or not) for the same reason each time. If (for instance), a character speaks a certain line, then repeats that line later in a different context which makes it funny, that is not an example of this trope.

Like conventional Running Gag, the success of this methodology depends on whether the joke was funny in the first place. Unlike the Running Gag, however, the joke must be able to stand on its own in each use in addition to after multiple other uses. This isn't a bad thing, if the author can keep the joke from going into Overused Running Gag range or getting too tedious.

The Super-Trope to this is Author Catchphrase.

Examples of If It Was Funny the First Time include:


  • Pokémon. 97% of the episodes feature Team Rocket introducing themselves by way of reciting their motto and being 'blasted off' at the end of the episode. The other 3% feature variations of the same jokes. No longer done as of "Best Wishes" season.
  • Clannad: The "Akio insults Sanae's bread, Sanae accidentally hears him, runs away crying and Akio runs after her eating it and yelling "I LOVE YOU!" gag" is used in exactly the above described fashion every time it crops up. And it appears eight times, the last two in the same episode. To a lesser extent, nearly every appearance of Kotomi in the second season has her either wanting to play her violin, mentioning someone is a "bully", or both, and both are things she already did in the first season. Fortunately, most other gags are more original and funny, so this is forgivable.

Newspaper Comics

  • Garfield: Garfield likes lasagna and hates Mondays.
  • Zits: Jeremy was trying to cook something. Every single strip for the week followed this format, with the only variation being the steps Jeremy's Mom is showing:

 Jeremy's Mom shows him how to do something.

Jeremy's Mom starts to show him something else, and he says he's not a baby and can do it himself.

Beat Panel

Jeremy yells for his mom to ask her what to do next.

  • Calvin and Hobbes: An in-comic example, Calvin has the philosophy that if a novelty Christmas song is funny the first time, it's funny every time. His parents disagreed.
  • Pearls Before Swine occasionally has the following joke set up:

 Rat introduces his [object] o' [insert category of idiot here].

The three people in the [object] introduce themselves, and explain why they're in the [object].

Another character lectures Rat on being tolerant of other people's shortcomings.

Rat puts this character in the [object], as the other three demonstrate their idiotic traits in reaction to this.


 Panel 1: Character A describes something.

Panel 2: Character A describes a negative side-effect or result of whatever they're talking about.

Panel 3: Character B asks why they don't stop/why they're watching it/whatever; Character A responds "I just told you" or something similar.

Panel 4: Character C remarks on Character B looking ticked off, as Character A continues with what they were describing.

    • This was lampshaded once. "I always forget to skip the obvious line of reasoning."
  • Beetle Bailey:

 1. The officers, and Sarge, receives a written order from the general, with one obvious spelling error that changes the meaning completely.

2. Someone points out what the general probably meant to say (tanks, not tacks, tooth check, not toot check, guns, not buns, etc.)

3. Someone else asks: “But who dares to tell the general that he did a mistake?” Rhetorically, of course, since nobody ever dares to tell the general this.

4. The officers carry out the order, exactly the way it's written, even though they know that it makes no sense.



  • Terry Pratchett is fanatical about repeating jokes about characterization or environmental details.
    • On Civic Foundation : "What Ankh-Morpork was built on was, mostly, Ankh-Morpork."
    • On Death: There is no justice. There's just me.
    • On Puns: "That was a pune, or a play on words."
    • On Rincewind: "He's got scars all over him. Mostly on his back."
    • On Scumble: "Apples. Well, mostly apples." Do not let it touch metal.
    • On "the light at the end of the tunnel": "It often turns out to be an oncoming train." Or is on fire.
    • On "getting on like a house on fire": "There are flames, and screaming, and people dying."
    • On All Roads Leading To Ankh-Morpork: Actually, they all lead away.
    • "A leopard can't change his shorts," (and variants) has become very common.
    • Multiple exclamation points are a sure sign of insanity.
  • Discussed in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Manny tries to explain humor to a sentient computer. He explains that some jokes are "funny one time," some jokes are "funny many times," and some jokes are "funny always."


  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The second and third movies had several of Jack's lines from the first movie restated, for seemingly no reason other than the Rule of Funny.
  • Mystery Team In-universe example: Charlie compares a comatose old man to a corpse in explaining in why he couldn't be a murder suspect... then makes the same joke when discussing a seven-year old kid.

Live Action TV

  • Monty Python's Flying Circus Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Or the Marriage Counselor sketch.
  • Saturday Night Live: Skits live on this trope. Typically, a character is built around one single joke, becomes a recurring character and can run for years and even get a movie with nothing but variations on the original joke (see: It's Pat and MacGruber.)
    • "Bedelia", Nasim Pedrad's clingy, awkward teenage girl who was originally cooked up so they could use that week's musical friggin' guest (Justin Bieber) as the punch line is starting down that road...
    • The "What's Up With That" sketch with Keenan Thompson as the host who will always end up dancing and singing the theme song instead of interviewing his guests and never gets around to interviewing recurring guest Lindsey Buckingham(Bill Hader) who never gets a chance to say anything. Funny and original the first time. The Fifth time....
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway?: The cast (usually Colin) will take a hilarious moment from early in the episode and use it in everything from then on out. Usually this works out in their favor, as repeating it over and over tends to genuinely be funny (see: MEOW!). Subverted in one episode: during the infamous "TAPIOOOOCA!" fiasco during a game of Greatest Hits that left Ryan in stitches, Colin later tried to repeat the magic to try to crack Ryan up again, but Ryan signals that he doesn't find it that funny anymore and they continue without missing a beat.

Western Animation

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