Created By: HeartOfAnAstronaut on February 28, 2012 Last Edited By: HeartOfAnAstronaut on April 15, 2012

Stock Sitcom Jobs

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I'm a big fan of sitcoms, but I've noticed that there aren't a lot of sitcoms with supermodels, religious leaders, accountants, doctors, postmen or astronomers in the main cast. What's up with that?

If a sitcom isn't set within the world of work, the list of jobs that the characters are likely to hold is greatly reduced, i.e. Scrubs and Father Ted are filled with doctors and priests respectively, but a show like How I Met Your Mother or Friends would never feature a doctor or a priest because these vocations are so time consuming and these shows need to allow their characters a certain amount of time to hang out with each other. Also, the sitcom character's primary social group can't be their "work friends" unless it's a show set in that place of work, e.g. the show Fresh Meat is based around a group of university students. When you're at university, almost all your friends are other students because you spend most of your time on campus.

A sitcom character is also unlikely to be a model, a war journalist or a travelling salesperson because they need to be kept in the same city for most of the time. They also can't hold jobs that would risk them getting too successful or too unsuccessful because they need to keep their fixed friendship groups and recognisable apartments.

They also need jobs that tell us something about their personalities, even if all we know is that they hate their jobs, or haven't found the right career yet. In The IT Crowd Renholm Denholm and his son were powerful men who abused their power horribly because of eccentricity and lechery respectively. Phoebe on Friends is a masseuse, which fits her new-agey Granola Girl characterisation. Not every example of any one job will fit a shared character type, I just think it's significant that the same list of jobs is returned to over and over again.

Teaching

When we're kids we watch TV shows like Saved by the Bell or Grange Hill where the teachers are mostly kept to the sidelines and we only see how they react with the child protagonists. When we grow up we start watching sitcoms where the teachers are the characters and they even hang out with their friends outside the school! A teacher in a sitcom may not be as ambitious as their friends but they're bright and have a sense of fair play. That, or they like to punish anyone who they disagree with.

Working For A Big Company

A lot of sitcom characters do rather vague jobs in the offices of big companies. This allows for jokes about generic office life (bad bosses! Christmas parties! watercoolers! Awkward coworker relationships!) as well as what the company actually does - usually something nefarious because big faceless corporations are Acceptable Targets and because of the Rule of Funny. This category also covers cases where we know what the company does, but not what the character does because they're generic office drones.

  • Barney on How I Met Your Mother. In the first few series there was a Running Gag of people asking him what he did for a living, to which Barney would reply ' ... please!' (is it me or does this look dumb written down?)
  • Jane and Brad on Happy Endings. Jane does generic tasks like organising fundraisers and giving presentations and receiving mail. Brad's job doesn't come up much, but he wears a suit.
  • Chandler on Friends. Like Barney, there was a Running Gag about no one knowing what he actually does, all we know is that he's not a 'transpondster'. He eventually left because he hated it.
  • Sharon from Two Guys and a Girl.
  • The IT Crowd liked to exaggerate how big and powerful the Denholm company was.
  • Leave It to Beaver: Mr. Cleaver's job was never established, he just went to and came home from "the office."

Beat Cop

It's very rare for a character in a sitcom to be a detective or other senior police officer but a ordinary blue collar cop seems a pretty frequent role. Such characters tend to be comedically incompetent and lazy in a good natured sort of way, though there are exceptions.

Chefs and Caterers

Jobs in the food industry are convenient! They show that a character is creative, but not too creative; ambitious but not so ambitious that they're going to get too successful and ditch their friends. They're also not dependent on any particular geographical location, but a lot of sitcoms are set in big cities which will have a lot of restaurants. This kind of character is also easily cast as a nurturer, which is useful as one element of a larger friendship group.

Working In A Shop

If they own the shop, this shows that the character is enterprising and gives you a suggestion of their interests (books, clothes, etc). If they work for someone else it could say any number of things but they probably don't enjoy their jobs and they probably enjoy the opportunity to provide their friends with free or discounted stuff.

Also gives you an excuse to introduce new people, and it gives everyone a nice set where they can all meet and hang out.

  • Jane runs a shop in Happy Endings
  • Black Books is named after Bernard Black's shop. His friend Fran also runs a shop for the first series.
  • Lois on Malcolm in the Middle worked at a supermarket.
  • For a little bit on Friends Joey worked as a cologne dispenser in a department store. Rachel also worked for various department stores but never worked on the shop floor as a lot of these characters do.
  • Ellen. Ellen Morgan (Ellen De Generes) worked in a bookstore in the first season. In the second season she bought the bookstore but continued working in it.

The Lawyer

In any sitcom, some characters discuss their professional lives way more than others, and the lawyer character usually gets the most career-based plot lines.

The 'What The Hell Is My Job Again?'

Some people have trouble holding down a job. They don't know what they want to do, or the writers would rather see them try new things every episode, with wacky results.

Journalism

For some reason this one is more popular with younger characters as a career to aspire to, or something they work towards.

Advertising/Public Relations

This is a popular one because it's fairly easy to skip over the boring details. If a character is sufficiently extroverted and maybe a little conniving, they'll be a credible ad- or PR-person. It's also a useful way for characters to encounter new places or products.

Realtor

[I haven't seen Cougar Town or Two and a Half Men, or enough Modern Family to know Phil's job, so if someone else could write a blurb, that'd be great.]

This is Up for Grabs because I haven't the first clue about launching pages. Also, team work, etc. I'd love it if you can think of more jobs you've seen over and over again! Penny from Happy Endings and Samantha from Sex and the City both worked in PR but I don't think that's worth mentioning without more examples.
Community Feedback Replies: 19
  • February 28, 2012
    RossN
    Beat Cop

    It's very rare for a character in a sitcom to be a detective or other senior police officer but a ordinary blue collar cop seems a pretty frequent role. Such characters tend to be comedically incompetent and lazy in a good natured sort of way, though there are exceptions.

  • February 28, 2012
    randomsurfer
    The Office is "set in the world of work" so it shouldn't count.

    • Leave It To Beaver: Mr. Cleaver's job was never established, he just went to and came home from "the office."
  • February 28, 2012
    animeg3282
    I think we should add waitresses...
  • February 29, 2012
    Chabal2
    Burger Fool and mowing lawns for teen characters.

    Peter Fox has a recurring job at a movie theater. As bottom man on the totem pole, he appears to combine janitor, ticket seller and snack bar duties.
  • February 29, 2012
    Arivne
    Beat Cop

    • Robert Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond was a police officer, though he's almost never shown doing any actual police work.

    Journalism

    • Everybody Loves Raymond. The title character Ray Barone was a newspaper sportswriter.
    • The Mary Tyler Moore Show. All of the characters who worked on the "Six O'Clock News" show, including Mary Richards (Associate Producer/Producer), Lou Grant (Producer/Executive Producer), Murray Slaughter (newswriter) and Ted Baxter (anchorman).
    • Les Nessman, a reporter for WKRP In Cincinnati.

    Working In A Shop

    • Ellen. Ellen Morgan (Ellen DeGeneres) worked in a bookstore in the first season. In the second season she bought the bookstore but continued working in it.
  • February 29, 2012
    nielas
    I think the 'Chefs and Caterers' category could also included waiters and bartenders.

    Architect

    Freelance comedian, artist or musician
  • February 29, 2012
    TrustBen
    Advertising/Public relations

    This is a popular one because it's fairly easy to skip over the boring details. If a character is sufficiently extroverted and maybe a little conniving, they'll be a credible ad- or Pr-person.

  • February 29, 2012
    nielas
    ^
  • February 29, 2012
    TonyG
    Realtor

  • February 29, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Journalism: Oscar Madison is a sportswriter in The Odd Couple.
  • March 1, 2012
    MorganWick
    Stand-up comedian is popular among shows starring stand-up comedians, especially if they're The Danza. Besides Seinfeld, I think Everybody Loves Raymond did it as well.
  • March 1, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^^^^ @Trust Ben: Herb Tarlek.
  • March 1, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    Samantha from Sex And The City is also a PR person, which was also a useful plot device because it gave the central cast lots of events to attend.

    So many great ideas here. Should part time jobs held by teens be included, or is that another trope that exists, or should exist?
  • March 1, 2012
    animeg3282
    They are Burger Fool
  • March 2, 2012
    TrustBen
    ^^ Thanks, Arivne.

    I'll be keeping an eye on this proposal. It's starting to look hat-worthy.
  • March 2, 2012
    DaibhidC
    The vague "Working In A Big Company" subtrope has its own long abandoned YKTTW as The Generic White-Collar Office Job. Although there's only one specific sitcom example there that hasn't been mentioned here yet:

    • Played For Laughs in That 70s Show. It's 'take your child to work' day, and everyone has to spend a day at their parent's workplace and write a report on their job. Kelso spends most of the day trying to understand what his father actually does, and after listening to one vague and confusing explanation after another, decides to just pretend his dad's a farmer for the report.
  • March 3, 2012
    TrustBen
    bump
  • March 3, 2012
    arromdee
    Tabithat in Tabitha was also a journalist.
  • April 15, 2012
    RossN
    Bump
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