Top 20 South Park Running Gags
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 South Park Running Gags
For this list, we’ll be looking at recurring jokes from this hit animated series. Gags that have spanned the entire show, as well as ones which repeated for a specific set of time will be included.
What’s your favorite running gag on South Park? Let us know in the comments.
#20: Pranks Pulled on Butters
Poor Butters. Ever since this character was introduced to the show, he has been the butt of many practical jokes, especially from Cartman. From intentionally getting trapped in a bunker to being made to look like a pet cat, the list goes on. Cartman even had him convinced for an entire episode that he was befriending a robot. Butters' complete and total cluelessness about the world has been taken advantage of repeatedly over the course of the series. We can’t help but feel a little sorry for him, but these antics often end up being the funniest parts of any episode he’s featured in.
#19: Satan and Hell
Going back as far as the first season, Satan—and eventually Hell itself—has been an on-again/off-again joke within the series’ continuity. Often portrayed opposite Saddam Hussein and other various noteworthy characters, Satan’s been responsible for a lot of chaos in the small mountain town of South Park. The entire plot of the South Park movie is centered around his desire to take over the world. He’s also been involved in a boxing match with Jesus, a wicked Halloween party, and even tried to take over Heaven at one point. Satan, and Hell itself, both appear on the show periodically to remind us that evil is always lurking just below the surface—often to darkly hilarious results.
#18: Garrison as Trump
One of the more recent running gags on this show has been the portrayal of Garrison as a proxy for a very well known, orange-faced politician. Starting in the 19th season, Garrison’s persona began to shift more and more towards that of the former US president. It isn’t long before Garrison eventually becomes Commander in Chief, where their over-the-top antics and wild behavior serve as a scathing parody of the 45th president of the United States. This ongoing joke came to its natural (so far) conclusion when Garrison lost the 2020 election and tried to return to South Park as their old self. Only time will tell if we'll see the“stank face” again.
#17: Stan Pukes Around Wendy
It started all the way back in the very first episode of the show. Wendy goes to give Stan a note and he pukes. Time and time again, Wendy has tried to talk to him, only for Stan to lose his cool (and his lunch) in front of her. The joke has been going on for many years without ever getting old. Admittedly, it hasn’t seen much life in the later seasons, but given how long and often it’s been used in the show, Stan’s vomit has more than earned itself a spot on our list. Who would have thought puke could be a running gag?
#16: The Old Farmer
Unless you’re familiar with Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary”, this is one that may have gone over your head. It sits just under the surface of the show, and only a specific subset of fans would pick up on it. Credited simply as “Old Farmer:”, this elderly character is clearly South Park’s own version of Jud Crandall from the Stephen King story. When he appears, it’s usually to warn the characters about some supernatural event that could occur should they proceed with whatever ridiculous plan they have or didn’t even have in mind in the first place. This includes warning Butters’ father not to dig up his “remains” and put them in an Indian Burial ground to telling Butters about a cursed road leading to South Park. It’s super random, but perfect for the world of South Park.
#15: Cartman’s “Authoritah”
If there’s one thing that Cartman is obsessed about, it’s being in control of everyone and everything around him. So, when in a position of power, he makes it clear that he is not to be trifled with, and this often involves uttering a particular word in a very funny way. His pronunciation of the word authority is just flat out hilarious, and it’s only funnier since Cartman is fully serious whenever he utters the word. Whether he’s a police officer, the department of interior person, the hall monitor or functioning in any type of other role, the MO remains the same. And considering what he’s capable of, it’s probably in any person’s best interest to respect his authoritah.
#14: I Am Lorde, Ya Ya Ya
For a short window of time in the show, we got a chance to see Randy’s alter-ego: pop singer Lorde. Through the events of season 18, we come to learn that the popular real-life singer, Lorde, is actually Randy Marsh in disguise. It all began with him dressing up to use the woman’s washroom, where he also discovered his voice. The “ya ya ya” joke is heard many times over the course of Randy’s Lorde episodes. Not only is it memorable for just being plain silly, but also because the real-life singer Lorde did her own impression of Randy pretending to be her. Now that’s what you call going full circle.
#13: Cartman's Mom Is Promiscuous
Liane Cartman is certainly the most soft-spoken of all of the South Park parents, and, in keeping with her demure nature, generally seems incapable of controlling her son. However, despite her outwardly conservative personality, she is in fact sexually voracious and apparently gets it whenever from whoever she can. Since the beginning of the show, her libido has been a running joke, with her exploits including banging it out with most of the town, celebrities, politicians, and the entire Denver Broncos team, as well as stints in online adult entertainment and prostitution.
#12: Butters Always Being Grounded
Oh, hamburgers. After being upgraded to a more central role during Kenny’s “permanent” death in season 6, Leopold "Butters" Stotch has become more-or-less a regular member of the group. While Kyle, Stan, Cartman, and Kenny are either genuinely up to no-good or just cooking up some half-baked idea to have fun, Butters is a naïve go-along-to-get-along sort of kid. Despite the hijinks of the other four, and even if the results of a failed plan are not his fault, it is generally the innocent Butters who must face the wrath of his strict parents and other adults. Gee, fellers, that doesn’t seem very fair now, does it?
#11: Chef Singing
Before the character of Chef was brutally killed off, he was a main character and seemingly the only reasonable adult in South Park. When the boys had a problem or questions about life, he usually bid them a friendly hello before proceeding to teach them a lesson, try to help them, or offer to sing an educational little song. Of course, these songs usually had to do with love, playing it cool, and other topics a little too mature for boys in the fourth grade. For us home viewers however, they were always pure comedic gold.
#10: Kick the Baby
While this gag has seemingly been retired, or is at least in a long period of hibernation, earlier on in the series Kyle had an unusual hobby. When in the presence of his little brother, Ike, he liked to “kick the baby,” to which Ike would usually respond, “don’t kick the baby.” The gag usually ended up with Ike destroying property in some capacity. While it has not been featured on the show much in recent years, it was included as one of Kyle’s special attacks in the 2014 game “South Park: The Stick of Truth.”
#9: Randy's Antics
During the early years of the show, the episodes primarily revolved around Stan, the boys, and whatever misadventures they were getting into. As the series has progressed and evolved, however, we’ve seen a lot more focus put on the various adults in the town, especially Randy. Whether it’s picking fights at little league games, causing the COVID-19 outbreak, or working security at the mall, Stan’s dad never seems short on weird ways to get himself into trouble. You never know what he’s going to do next, but it’s only a matter of time before he steals the spotlight with one of his crazy antics.
You never know where extraterrestrials are going to pop up—and that includes your favorite animated series. In the pilot episode of South Park, the “visitors” are responsible for Cartman’s titular pain in the butt. Those visitors then became a bit of a running joke within the show for many years. Much like the Seinfeld Superman myth, people swear there’s a visitor in every episode. Despite this not being factually correct, there have been countless sightings of these little aliens throughout the show’s run. Even as recently as the “South ParQ Vaccination Special”, the visitors can be in line at Walgreens and chasing after the boys amongst a crowd of people.
#7: Cartman's Weight
Of all the gags on this list, Cartman’s size is the one that’s perhaps been going on the longest and most consistently. Not that we’re condoning such mocking, but it’d be difficult to omit this one considering Cartman’s been the subject of ridicule about his weight since before the pilot episode of the show even aired. [“Don’t oppress me fat boy”] . The other boys have never hesitated to counter Cartman’s claims of being “festively plump”. One could argue that the kids’ consistent fat shaming of Cartman’s size could be detrimental to his character, since such behavior isn’t a laughing matter. Then again, this is Cartman. And most would agree that his own mistreatment of others, not to mention his various schemes—some of which are downright psychotic, have far more to do with his attitude than body image issues.
Reportedly inspired by South Park creator Trey Parker’s actual school guidance counsellor, Mr. Mackey has been giving us a memorable gag for years. Like a number of other iconic tv characters, Mackey comes packaged with his own catchphrase. Time and time again, this meek man would try to share his wisdom with the boys, but seemingly can’t help but end every sentence with this little vocal tic. The boys themselves would often poke fun at Mackey's odd voice, and audiences never fail to get a chuckle at the peculiar behavior. 23 seasons and 2 specials in, it’s a gag that’s still going strong.
#5: Canada & Canadians
While all of the characters in the South Park universe are arguably strange and have their own little idiosyncrasies, there is arguably no group quite as odd as their version of Canadians. Many American television shows portray Canadians and Canada within a narrow spectrum of stereotypes, both flattering (nice, skilled at hockey, welcoming) and not so flattering (unintelligent, drunk, mediocre). But with flapping heads and jerky, hectic movements, the South Park Canadians are like another species altogether. It’s so over-the-top that it’s hard to imagine anyone taking offense, but it sure is good for a laugh.
#4: They Took Our Jobs
When all else fails, blame someone else, right? First cropping up in the season eight episode Goobacks, when time-traveling immigrants show up in South Park, it became the rallying cry of anguish for the local population of working class White Americans. Roared repeatedly throughout the episode (and devolving into almost nonsensical crowing) the gag satirizes complaints about immigration, and how one-note those protestations tend to become. The gag has itself become a meme of its own, with They Took Our Jobs (Dey Terk Er Jerbs!) becoming a catch-all jab at xenophobic remarks.
#3: Screw You Guys, I'm Going Home
Of the four main characters, Cartman is the most likely to not only get himself into trouble, but the others too. And if there’s one thing that can be counted on, it’s that when the going gets tough … he’s bailing. Whether a task is too difficult, he’s too bored, or he feels like others are having too much fun, he’s out. While it’s true that he would like us all to respect his “authoritah”, it’s this phrase that really sums up Cartman’s personality. He doesn’t care what happens to anyone else, as long as he can get home to his junk food and video games.
#2: I Learned Something Today
Once upon a time, TV shows – especially family sitcoms – couldn’t just be entertaining; they typically wrapped up with a moralistic theme. When done right, it worked, but more often than not these summaries came across as hammy and more than a little preachy. Apparently riffing off that cheesy sentimentality, early South Park episodes would get a similar little wrap-up, generally with Kyle announcing to his friends that he learned something and then sharing it. These lessons could be basic pontifications on friendship, or a means of dealing with an existential crisis. The gag is so prominent that by later seasons, his friends had started to grow a little sick of them.
#1: Kenny Always Dies
From the very beginning, the most iconic running joke of the show has been the death of the boys’ mumbling little buddy Kenny, and their anguished cries of “you bastard!” The gag has taken on a couple different iterations, with Kenny’s soul getting accidentally sucked up by Cartman, and of course the most recent reveal that Kenny is actually immortal, and that to die painfully only to respawn but with none of his friends remembering his past deaths is a cursed superpower of his. Not only is the death of Kenny a running joke, but a joke that runs with itself, growing bigger and more dramatic over time.