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"Fetchez la vache!"
—Frenchman, Monty Python and The Holy Grail
Originally coined by the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus, on the subject of sketch comedy — if a scene is starting to go on too long, drop a cow on somebody. Used to mean any point where, if the comedy dialogue is wearing thin, you skip to silliness. Can also use explosions.
For other gratuitous uses of cows, see Everything's Better with Cows. Also, note that this trope is not Exactly What It Says on the Tin--that is to say, just because someone gets a cow dropped on them doesn't mean it's Drop the Cow. Also, you don't have to drop a female bovine for it to be Drop the Cow, either.
Anime and Manga
- The Omake of Ga-Rei manga employs this kind of humor. The author is prone to long rambling about inane things which may or may not be related to the story. Then he would realize it, pull a detonator out of nowhere and then push it.
- Probably as a direct reference to the Jim Henson quote below, The Muppet Show Comic Book's version of the Mahna Mahna sketch ends with Mahna getting hit by penguins flung from a catapult. Scooter observes "We never did figure out how to end that bit."
- Monty Python and The Holy Grail is, of course, the trope namer, and does this literally.
- Dramatic example (really!): Sergio Leone felt a scene near the end of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was too melodramatic, so he released a small dog onto the set without telling Eli Wallach and then left his reaction in the film; of course, it's followed by ten minutes of pure Melodrama.
- The Three Stooges films conformed to a strict two-reel time limit. Rather than cut out funny bits to resolve the plot, many shorts end with a threatening man chasing the Stooges away or something similarly abrupt.
- The film Rat Race parodies this — right when the novelty of the Bus of Lucy's should be wearing thin for Owen, he gets a windshield-full of literal cow.
- Used literally and ENDLESSLY in the comedies of Friedberg and Seltzer, especially Disaster Movie.
- A cow is literally dropped in Dog Soldiers; in a subversion of the comedic intention of the trope, it hits the ground just as one of the characters is warming up a joke, in order to take the edge off a (spooky and rather gruesome) story told by another character. It even serves the plot; just what was the cow running from so hard that it ran straight off a cliff and landed in a campfire? Werewolves, as it turns out.
Live Action TV
- Monty Python's Flying Circus was better known for its use of a falling 16-ton weight. A knight wielding a dead chicken was also kept around for this purpose, as was a giant hammer and a humorless Colonel (played by Graham Chapman).
- That humorless colonel could be seen as a Lampshade Hanging on their rationale for ending sketches like that; he would enter the skit and stop its participants on the grounds of no longer being funny because their scene has gone on too long.
- Python Lampshaded their own tendency to do this in the ending of the Argument Sketch, where a policeman enters to arrest all participants in the sketch for taking part in a "strange sketch" and causing distress. He is promptly arrested by another policeman for the crime of "ending every bleedin' sketch by just having a policeman come in"; that policeman then gets arrested for the same. In the final moment of the sketch, a hairy hand claps this last policeman on the shoulder.
- In the "Army Protection Racket" sketch, the Colonel stops the sketch because it's poorly written and he didn't get any funny lines. Someone else mutters that he was just too lazy to write a proper punchline, which he denies.
- Australian comedy show The Late Show poked fun at its own use of very thin premises for comedy with the phrase, "Champagne sketch comedy". Later, they would have show member Rob Sitch bring in a bottle of champagne to the actors in the middle of a sketch to let them know the joke was wearing thin.
- Used in the early episodes of Saturday Night Live; averted in recent episodes, resulting in fans and critics complaining that SNL's sketches are overly long gags with thin premises. That's true in some cases, but not all.
- At times, SNL castmembers and guest hosts have lampshaded overly long sketches; notable examples include the final appearance of the Greek diner sketch and the Incredible Hulk sketch with guest host George Foreman.
- On Whose Line Is It Anyway the "Cow" was the ending buzzer, which Clive Anderson used to great effect, and Drew Carey... less so.
- This gets spun into a Running Gag, with Ryan dragging Colin offstage to end his acts on several occasions.
- The unnamed Newsman on The Muppet Show once had a cow dropped on him as he read on a stock market report that beef was falling. Most of his other reports had similar results. Jim Henson once said that if he didn't know how to end a sketch, he would blow something up, have a monster eat everything, or throw penguins in the air.
- The entire point of The Gong Show (to the extent that it had one) was to see how long an act could go without one of the "celebrity" judges "dropping the cow" by gonging them off stage.
- The Red Faces segment of Australia's Hey Hey Its Saturday also used this technique. Most of the time the gonging was done by Red Symons, but occasionally an act was so terrible another of the judges would grab the mallet off him and do the gonging themselves.
- Similarly, the show 30 Seconds of Fame had an approval meter for each act that was controlled by the audience, and if it got too far into the red before the titular 30 seconds were up, the act would end abruptly and not be among the ones being voted on for the top three spots.
- Also of a similar nature: during the Amateur Night segments of Showtime At The Apollo acts that were bombing would, after air raid type siren sounded, get ushered off stage by Sandman Sims (a disheveled looking old black man, who was actually a legendary tap dancer), who would dance a quick jig before returning offstage for the next act.
- America's Got Talent (and its British version) have the three judges able to stop an act if all of their buzzers are pressed.
- Or, in at least one instance, if one judge dislikes the act so much that they (read: she) press all of the buttons, sometimes wrestling the other judges away from their buttons in order to press them.
- Or, in an especially hilarious one, two judges IMMEDIATELY hitting the button, while the third leans back and just smiles - the other two, after several seconds of uncomfortable pause jump on his button. (The act? The world's oldest champion male stripper.)
- On The X-Files, freak weather led a cow to crash into Agent Mulder's motel room, taunting shippers with the prospect of There Is Only One Bed.
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie parodied their own inability to end sketches in a similar manner to the Pythons: In one episode the now traditional shopkeeper sketch (in which Stephen is a very strange shopkeeper and Hugh a Straight Man customer) ends with Hugh accusing Stephen of ramping up the weirdness because he doesn't know how the sketch ends. Stephen assures him the sketch does have an ending, and he'll just go and get the script to prove it. It takes Hugh a while to realise he's not coming back.
- On Mystery Science Theater 3000, the Movie Sign is sometimes used in this capacity, cutting off a long-winded host segment with its trademark Star Trek Shake and dimmed lights, plus panic on the parts of the SoLers. The "Toobular Boobular" segment from Outlaw is a classic example.
- Stone Cold Steve Austin: Since Austin's active career with the WWE ended, any appearance he makes is just buildup until he inevitably Stone Cold Stunner(s) everyone in the ring, whether it makes any sense (from a heel/face standpoint) or not. The crowd always goes crazy for this. Walk in. Stunner. Walk out.
- Traditional vaudeville acts had "the hook", which would appear from offstage to pull off tired routines, or hams who didn't know when to give up the stage. Thus originated the phrase "get the hook", which was used for decades after films and television had supplanted vaudeville. The hook can nowadays be seen in cartoons, especially Looney Tunes (which often drew on vaudeville anyway).
- Earthworm Jim begins with launching a cow into the air and ends with it landing on the Princess in the finale.
- In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, this is how Taeko "Celestia Ludenberg" Yasuhiro meets her end, via Death by Materialism. Except rather than a cow, a firetruck ends up running her over during her burning at the stake.
- Homestar Runner: "Lappy, this is the Paper. He lets me know when I've stopped being funny."
- Many scenes in The Demented Cartoon Movie end with characters getting crushed by Mr. Big Shoe, characters getting crushed by a one-legged shoe-wearing giant (who himself gets crushed by Mr Big Shoe once), characters getting crushed by Mr. Weight, or Zeeky H. Bomb suddenly appearing to say "zeeky boogy doog," a phrase which reliably sets off nuclear explosions and sometimes an Earthshattering Kaboom.
- The Lazer Collection: DOCTOR OCTOGONAPUS BLAAAAHH!!!
- Girl Genius: "Well - we've found that none of the Heterodyne plays really suffer if Punch and Judy start throwing pies."
- An example from the subscriber section of Drowtales happened in a story where the users put in options, and the story naturally devolved into porn. The next page showed Ariel punching Liriel to get the story back on track, since the premise of the section is that it's the daydream of a character telling it to the audience.
- It could be argued that much of the humor of Eight Bit Theater consists of scenes in which the characters' dysfunctional bickering extends to Overlong Running Gag levels and gets cut short by one or more of them stabbing, kicking, or blowing up one or more of the others.
- Order of the Stick: The Empire of Blood's gladiator pit does this by releasing an Allosaurus into the ring when necessary.
- Discussed by the Genre Savvy General Tarquin, who points out that he can't use the Allosaurus too often or it will stop being interesting.
- In Dubious Company, the heroes needed to deal with their backstabbing crew once and for all. Sal warned them not to piss off Phred.
- The Earthworm Jim series had every episode end with a cow dropping on someone out of the blue.
- The "Robin Hoof" segment from Raw Toonage took this trope and added some Jay Ward throwbacks to the formula.
- Keyboard Cat.
- The Ig Nobel Prize award ceremony features a character by the name of Miss Sweety Poo, a cute girl of about eight who will cut off overly long speeches by repeating "Please stop. I'm bored" again and again until the speaker complies.