Perhaps the most obvious example
who specializes in unstuffing stuffed shirts, deflating puffed-up egos, trivializing the self-important, and confusing know-it-alls. The Karmic Trickster is normally harmless, even friendly, if left unmolested. Once his dignity is dented or his person threatened, however, it's no holds barred — the target is in for humiliation, embarrassment and bewilderment. Any tactic is fair game as long as it does not cause actual physical harm to the target. Only when the target has surrendered does the Karmic Trickster conclude his vengeance.
Being completely self-centered, the Karmic Trickster normally acts only on his own behalf, but can be convinced to help others — he has a soft spot for babies, innocents, and those who are truly good, and when his sympathy is evoked will go to the ends of the earth for them. Sometimes he sows chaos for the sake of chaos, but only when he gets carried away in the midst of one of his campaigns. Most of the time he simply wants to be left alone
, and heaven help whoever messes with him!
Given all of their righteous retribution, sometimes these characters can exist somewhere between this, Screwy Squirrel
and borderline Neutral Evil
if their self-righteous attitudes end up attacking characters for little more than existing nearby them and can often just seem like Comedic Sociopathy
if our trickster operates as a Designated Hero
regardless of where they sit on the Trickster Archetype
scale and the only Karmic anything involved about them is being a Karma Houdini
Between them, Karmic Trickster and Screwy Squirrel
comprise two-thirds of the classic Trickster Archetype
. His actions are as much to teach as to gain revenge, where Screwy Squirrel
is the embodiment of mischief for mischief's sake.
See also: Karmic Protection
as The Fool
, or vice versa; whether silly or wise, he will always display Hidden Depths
(if only a knack for comedy
and Simpleminded Wisdom
) whom the audience may laugh at. This is not always true of other Tricksters
in general, who are sometimes cast as cloud cuckoolanders
, irrepressible agents of chaos
, lesser chaos-bringers
who are constantly being taught a lesson
themselves, or cosmic butt monkeys
. Such traits rarely apply here.
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Films — Live Action
- The Marx Brothers, making it Older Than They Think. Groucho's line "Then it's war!" from Duck Soup might be the inspiration for Bugs Bunny's similar line. In the film there was, in fact, a literal war. Complete with footage from World War One.
- Mahoney from Police Academy is given a choice between joining the police or facing jail for his Karmic Trickster actions. Note that becoming a police officer only curbed him slightly (or not at all where jerkass superiors are involved) but at least it gave him a badge to indulge in his true heroic tendencies.
- Eddie Murphy plays this role as Chandler Jarrell, The Hero and Chosen One of The Golden Child. Once he learns that Sardo Numspa is the Big Bad, he taunts him at every opportunity and takes a sort of childish glee in making him look foolish.
- The titular character played by Audrey Tautou in Amélie, who sets out to drive a Jerkass grocer insane by making barely noticeable changes in his apartment.
- Ferris Bueller and Parker Lewis sometimes perform Karmic Trickery as part of their escapades.
- The main protagonists of Brain Donors play this role against egotistical ballet dancer Roberto Volare.
- He tends not to get a trickster reputation due mostly to his temperament (soft-spoken rather than wacky), but after being imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, and extorted into laundering money for the warden, Andy Dufresne escapes from prison, steals the warden's dirty money, and exposes the corruption in the prison, resulting in the warden's suicide and the arrest of The Dragon. Bugs Bunny would be proud.
- In The Stormlight Archive, this is Wit's entire job. One can tell he greatly enjoys it, and more or less every single noble deserves it.
- Randall Patrick McMurphy of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is a somewhat more realistic version of this, with a touch of Messianic Archetype thrown in.
- Pumphutt in Krabat walks from mill to mill and punishes the masters who treat their apprentices like shit.
- El-Hrairah in Watership Down falls somewhere in these lines, along with being a Guile Hero. It makes sense, as he's supposed to represent the rabbits' gift for outrunning and outmaneuvering their enemies.
- Feste the jester embodies this role, appropriately enough for a play celebrating the Twelfth Night. The festivities are supposed to showcase the inversion of the social order and laugh at it all, which is precisely what Feste does. He points out the logical flaws in Olivia's mourning, sees through even Viola's clever wordplay, and cuts the pompous, Puritan Malvolio down to size... and then some.
- In the Fools Guild series the entire Guild works this way.
Live Action TV
- On Supernatural, this is the Trickster's MO: he seeks out people who he thinks are assholes or who annoy him, and punishes them in some manner he deems appropriate, generally killing them in the process.
- Tough to say whether this belongs under Live-Action TV or Western Animation, but part of the Farscape episode Revenging Angel depict Crichton in a coma using a series of Chuck Jones-inspired animated sequences in a Shout-Out to the classic Looney Tunes shorts. Crichton's role is variously the Road Runner or Bugs Bunny, depending on whether he's just trying to run away from D'Argo, or actively taking revenge for having put him in the coma in the first place (the latter placing him squarely in this trope).
- In the BBC Sitcom Waiting for God this would be Diana Trent, most often deflating Harvey "The Idiot" Baynes in the midst of one of his schemes to defraud or otherwise suppress the tenets of Bayview.
Myths & Religion
- Br'er Rabbit, moreso in the original stories than in the Disneyfied Song of the South. Bugs Bunny was partially based on this character.
- The Norse god Loki, although sometimes a Screwy Squirrel, brought Karmic Trickery to bear against the villains for the greater good on several occassions. Loki would often tart himself up in drag to trick his enemies - a classic Karmic Trickery ploy - and often teamed up with Thor for a mix of Brains and Brawn.
- In many North American Native traditions, the figure of Coyote, and Raven a bit further north.
- Anansi the Spider down in Africa and the Caribbean. He carries on this role in Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys.
- Till Eulenspiegel in German folklore: many of his "merry pranks" are aimed at exposing the hypocrisy and greed of others.
- Yiddish tales from the Ukraine feature Hershele Ostropolyer, who cheats rich misers out of their dinner, mocks well-dressed partygoers for only caring about looks, etc.
- Jesus Christ in the Gospels. He is responsible for giving the Pharisees a bad name and exposing the hypocrisy of temple priests.
- The character Eddie Guerrero portrayed in the late part of his WWE career was very much a Karmic Trickster; he'd jokingly use heelish tactics against heels, but because they were all bad guys, and he was so funny about it, the crowds ate it up. One of his favorite tactics would be to pound the mat with a steel chair, throw it into an opponent's hands, and collapse to the mat, so that when the Easily-Distracted Referee turned back around, he'd naturally assume that the heel hit Eddie with the chair. And then, when the ref turned around to chastise the heel (on the occasions where he didn't outright disqualify him), he'd mug for the crowd and pose for the heel, such as putting his hands behind his head, as if he were relaxing in a hammock.
- The G-Man from the Half-Life series is certainly an example of this trope.
- Definitely Beltane of the Whateley Universe, who's notorious on campus for playing pranks on deserving Jerk Ass classmates, particularly if said classmate is picking on one of Beltane's friends. Has the power of controlling ectoplasm, so can perform spectacular tricks.
- Also the recent character Thorn, who has the same power set. Thorn's also fond of just general silliness, using himself as the 'butt'. Yes, they have apparently met, and are currently engaged in a prank war.
- In a recent story, Bladedancer's girlfriend, Molly (AKA 'Gateway'), decided to summon up a trickster spirit to punish a notorious bully for messing with her friends. She was fortunate indeed to stipulate that it not cause him actual harm, else the karmic debt might have gotten loaded onto her in turn.
- Bugs Bunny is a famous Karmic Trickster and former trope namer. This characterization was a considered decision on the part of Bugs' creators: it was required that the antagonist strike first.
- Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog nudges Sonic into this direction, repeatedly foiling Robotnik's plans in the most Looney Tunes-eqsue ways imaginable.
- The Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister) in Animaniacs (although Wakko is closer to being a Screwy Squirrel) are somewhat offset by the fact that they can be cheerful and annoying to anybody, but are generally harmless until someone starts being a Jerk Ass. Then he gets labeled their "Special Friend", and all bets are off. In one episode, they're being driven crazy by a parody of the nanny from The Sound of Music... but can't bring themselves to clobber her, because she's not doing anything wrong. They hire Slappy.
- Most of the Tiny Toons from Tiny Toon Adventures fit into this category. Especially Babs and Buster. Makes sense, considering the entire show is an Affectionate Parody of old Looney Tunes cartoons, featuring Expies of old Looney Tunes characters being taught by said characters.
- Eric Cartman in the South Park episode "Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants". The visual style imitates Bugs Bunny wartime short films.
- Cartman also qualifies as a (very dark) Karmic Trickster in "Scott Tenorman Must Die!" — perhaps as a kind of one-upsmanship of Scott Tenorman, who himself is also a Trickster.
- Loud Kiddington from Histeria!!, particularly in a sketch featuring him as a Mountie in the episode "North America".
- Jerry generally waited until Tom victimized him before unleashing torment upon the cat... except when he occasionally didn't wait. These days it seems to be a very mutual rivalry, or even Jerry being the 'bad guy.'
- In most Donald Duck cartoons where Donald is the antagonist, this tends to be the case. Chip and Dale or Huey, Dewey, and Louie especially.
- Mickey Mouse even serves in this role to Donald as opposed to his usual one of the Straight Man in "Magician Mickey."
- Mickey again takes on this role in a House of Mouse cartoon where he's held hostage by Pete, and his even dumber backwoods cousin, Zeke, who had just robbed a bank. Mickey convinces both parties that one of them is trying to do the other one in and take the money for themselves, and then proceeds to add fuel to the fire as their paranoia (and stupidity) sets in.
- The titular character in Wander over Yonder tends to be a nice furry orange creature, and generally doesn't set out for taking antagonists down in return for a perceived slight — but a lot of his antics come out this way anyway.
- Jerry can also be this, although he's more of a Screwy Squirrel.