Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
It takes a butler like Alfred to snark at the Batman. Regularly.
Bertie Wooster: Do you think I should play this song for the Glossops tonight, Jeeves? Jeeves: I could not advise it, sir. I have not heard that Sir Roderick is musical. Bertie Wooster: Oh, but Lady Glossop is. Jeeves:There is also that to be considered, sir.
You wouldn't like taking orders from some pompous rich higher up for an occupation. In turn, neither do the characters written this way. This trope espouses that the only way to tolerate their occupation of servitude is to snark at your employer for all it's worth. After all, they Can't Live Without You. Also, some employers genuinely enjoy the banter or value the valet's second opinion. Some might even consider them a member of the family, and know that there's genuine love behind the mocking.
The Servile Snarker is a combination of a Deadpan Snarker and The Jeeves (although the original Jeeves, as the above quote shows, can be pretty snarky). A butler, maid, slave, servant, whatever, who is heavily sarcastic to their master and/or their master's guests and yet still manages to keep their job. Often a master of the Stealth Insult.
See Sassy Secretary for another variation of this character. You might also want to see Sarcastic Devotee, No Hero to His Valet and Honest Advisor.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
Matsurika from Maria†Holic is a particularly harsh example: she's beyond snarky with her master, she's flat out abrasive with everyone.
Linith from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. She has very little respect for her creator Precia, and is not above talking back or using sarcasm even during her Famous Last Words ("my never kind master, Precia"). Has a better relationship with Fate, but is not above teasing her a little over her being sleepy in her Lotus-Eater Machine dream.
Kyon from Haruhi Suzumiya fits this to the T, being snarky in general, especially towards SOS-Brigade-leader Haruhi Suzumiya, who treats him as essentially nothing more than a slave and toy for her amusement.
Riza Hawkeye, in Fullmetal Alchemist, is Roy Mustang's adjutant. Her job duties have her mixing this up with Sassy Secretary, but whichever way you look at it, she's the only person who gets away with sassing him — sometimes full-stop yelling at him. The fact that she does get away with it is partly due to his understanding that she's completely loyal to him and only has his best interests at heart, and partly due to Ship Tease.
Tomoe from Kamisama Kiss is sarcastic in the extreme. He continues to be sarcastic to his master Nanami even after he develops a Bodyguard Crush on her.
Watase of Poor Poor Lips, Ren's maid who has a sarcastic remark ready for all of her mistress' antics. We later meet more of the maid staff in Ren's household, whereupon we get to see that this is a trait shared by all of them.
In Durarara!!, towards Izaya, it's Namie of all people. Sure, she'll take any opportunity to insult him, but that doesn't mean she doesn't do everything she's told with style, and it doesn't mean Izaya can't returnthe favor, either.
Leo from Pandora Hearts is like this to his master and best friend Elliot mercilessly, although his intentions are honest (to keep Elliot from acting like a spoiled Blue Blood, essentially).
Elliot: Who's side are you on, Leo?! Isn't a servant supposed to help his master?!
Alfred from Batman was considered as a candidate for the Trope Namer. It takes an extraordinary man to snark at someone who regularly makes others wet their pants in fear. He's also somewhat unique among examples of this trope in that his snarkiness, at heart, comes out of love for the man he snarks against. It's made abundantly clear that, despite his support, he really would rather Bruce Wayne not be Batman, and he's not shy about taking advantage of the fact that he's one of the only people who can dress Batman down and actually be listened to.
The incarnation of Jarvis, Tony Stark's butler found in Ultimate Marvel is very sarcastic towards his master, unlike the traditional Earth 616 Jarvis. He's also drawn to resemble Michael Gough, the Alfred of the Burton/Schumacher movies.
Wong, faithful manservant and friend to Doctor Strange, is normally a straitlaced and serious character, but in the issues of The New Avengers when he's had to serve the title characters he gets very... snippy with them.
Wong: (entering the mansion, loaded down with luggage) When I dedicated my life in service to you as Sorcerer Supreme, I remember I closed my eyes and prayed that one day I would grow up to be a second-rate Jarvis for a second-rate pile of Avengers.
Eve Sisulu, the Black maid in the South-African strip Madam & Eve.
The eponymous maid from Ted Key's Hazel. Later adapted as a TV sitcom starring Shirley Booth.
Films — Live-Action
Killick in Master and Commander, in SPADES. He regularly snarks the Captain "Lucky Jack" when things don't go his way. The Captain is no pushover, but seems to have a secret reserve of tolerance for Killick.
Arthur: I think I'll take a bath. Hobson: I'll alert the media. Arthur: Do you want to run my bath for me? Hobson: It's what I live for. (waits for Arthur to leave) Perhaps you would like me to come in there and wash your dick for you, you little shit.
Some of the same guys from the Comics section get bonus points for their movie versions. For instance, we have the A.I. version of Jarvis:
Tony: (seeing the rendering of the Mk III armor) ... A little ostentatious, don't you think? Jarvis: What was I thinking? You're usually so discreet. Tony: Tell you what. Throw a little hot rod red in there. Jarvis: Yes, that should help you keep a low profile.
Interestingly, in what is either Fridge Logic or Fridge Brilliance depending on how you look at it, since Jarvis is an A.I. invented by Tony, Tony must have designed him that way. The Fridge Brilliance occurs if the behavior originated as confirmation responses and error checking for Jarvis' voice recognition, as most of Jarvis' snark occurs when agreeing with Tony. Tony probably added the sarcastic tone to make Jarvis sound less like an insincere yes man, then liked it so much he threw it in.
The butler from The Ruling Class, who makes sarcastic (though not particularly witty) and derogatory comments behind his employers' backs.
Vincenzo from the Olsen Twins film, It Takes Two. However, due to his relationship with the Calloways, he does it all in good humor. Everyone knows this, and seems to be willing to verbally spar with him in good fun. However, he very subtly voices his displeasure for Clarice.
Annie, the family maid in Its A Wonderful Life isn't afraid to speak her mind — after George has a heart-to-heart talk with his dad and tells him how great he is:
George: (toward kitchen door) ... did ya hear that, Annie? Annie: (behind door) I heard it; it's about time one'a you lunkheads said it!
Alfons Hatler from the German crime parody Der Wixxer, though he's certainly not subtle. Has a habit of saying "Arschloch" the minute whoever he was attending to turns their back.
Not to mention Albert, Death's manservant, sometimes does this as well. "I'm laughing like all hell deep down, sir."
Willikins, Sam Vimes' butler and gentleman's gentleman. He does this a lot, especially in Snuff.
P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves of Jeeves and Wooster. He does enjoy working for Bertie and genuinely cares about him, but will make it known when he does not care for his master's taste in clothes or music.
Many of the servants in Wodehouse, in fact. Beach from the Blandings Castle series is another good example.
Lewis's valet George from Darkness Visible is genuinely fond of his employer, but that doesn't stop him putting in the odd dig:
George: Would sir like his customary black, or would he perhaps like to be adventurous and try something in a dark grey?
George: Mr Marsh is not to be foolish without your supervision. I understand, sir.
Lynn Belvedere, in Gwen Davenport's Belvedere. Later portrayed by Clifton Webb in a series of films, and by Christopher Hewett in the TV sitcom Mr. Belvedere.
Loiosh, the jhereg familiar of assassin Vlad Taltos in Steven Brust's Dragaera books. Loiosh obeys Vlad's orders and always calls him "boss", but also keeps up a constant stream of wisecracks through their telepathic link. Having raised Loiosh from a hatchling, Vlad's own Deadpan Snarker personality is largely to blame for Loiosh's attitude.
Dean from Glen Cook's Garrett P.I. books. All of the above traits combined with a matchmaker (trying to make sure that Garrett marries one of Dean's ugly nieces, or at least tie the knot with his girlfriend). All that in a fantasy universe whose inhabitants are divided between either one of the various snarky tropes, or pure snark targets (sometimes both at the same time).
In John Zakour's series Zachary Nixon Johnson, the last freelance P.I. on Earth, HARV the super A.I. assistant is made of this trope.
Sebastian from Heidi, specially in regards to Mrs. Rottenmeier.
This character has been a staple of Gothic Literature since its inception, whose purpose is to provide a comic relief breather in the midst of all the darkness, angst, and tragedy in the rest of the plot:
Baddeley: (to Fanny, whose suitor has come to discuss things with her and her uncle) Sir Thomas wishes to speak with you, ma'am, in his own room. Mrs. Norris: Stay, stay, Fanny! What are you about? Where are you going? Don't be in such a hurry. Depend upon it, it is not you who are wanted; depend upon it, it is me, but you are so very eager to put yourself forward. What should Sir Thomas want you for? It is me, Baddeley, you mean; I am coming this moment. You mean me, Baddeley, I am sure; Sir Thomas wants me, not Miss Price. Baddeley: No, ma'am, it is Miss Price; I am certain of it's being Miss Price. (and there was a half-smile with the words, which meant: "I do not think you would answer the purpose at all.")
Bazzard from The Mystery of Edwin Drood is incredibly snarky and rude at all times. His employer is such a nice guy that he lets him get away with it, since he feels that Bazzard's going through a lot of trouble just working for him.
Kaliko, Chief Steward to the Nome King in the Oz books, is quite willing to let his monarch know when he's being an idiot. The Nome King, despite being a Bad Boss and quite willing to kill off his generals when they annoyed him, kept him alive — probably because Kaliko was also a Hypercompetent Sidekick and the King didn't want to have to replace him. (Kaliko ends up departing this trope to become the new Nome King, to the great relief of his subjects.)
Jellia Jamb, head of the Palace maids in the Emerald City, also displays traces of this from time to time, having a mischievous sense of humor that occasionally raises its head — most notably in the famous "translation scene" from The Marvelous Land of Oz.
In Death: Summerset, who regularly trades insults with Eve.
Higgins in the Bloody Jack series sometimes resorts to sarcasm to show what he thinks of Jacky and her ways.
Deconstructed by Sancho Panza: What happens in Real Life to the employee that cannot say anything about his master without being sarcastic? Why, Sancho is beaten by Don Quixote at chapters XX and XXX of Part I, and gives him a hurricane of insults at chapter XLVI:
Don Quixote, when he heard such blasphemies uttered against his lady Dulcinea, could not endure it, and lifting his pike, without saying anything to Sancho or uttering a word, he gave him two such thwacks that he brought him to the ground; and had it not been that Dorothea cried out to him to spare him he would have no doubt taken his life on the spot. "Do you think," he said to him after a pause, "you scurvy clown, that you are to be always interfering with me, and that you are to be always offending and I always pardoning? Don't fancy it, impious scoundrel,...
Bertie: Jeeves, I'm sure that nothing is further from your mind, but d'you know you have a way of saying, "Indeed, sir," which gives the impression that it's only a feudal sense of what is fitting which prevents you from substituting the words, "Says you!"
Benson from Soap. When he got a spinoff show of his own he started out as one of these before climbing his way up to the lieutenant governor position (while still maintaining his snarkiness).
Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister is the Permanent Undersecretary of the Department of Administrative Affairs, and later Cabinet Secretary, and never misses an opportunity to subtly mock his political masters while insisting he is only there to serve them. As such a senior civil servant, he can get away with this level of snark even when it is caught.
Humphrey: I am merely a humble civil servant. It's my job to carry out government policy. Hacker: Even if you think it's wrong? Humphrey: Well, practically all government policy is wrong. But frightfully well carried out.
Hacker: Humphrey! Do you see it as part of your job to help ministers make fools of themselves? Humphrey: Well, I've never met one who needed any help.
Jack: It's just a mind probe. Ianto: Remember what happened last time you used it? Jack: That was different. And that species has extremely high blood pressure. Ianto: Oh, right, their heads must explode all the time.
Mila, Enabran Tain's aide. At one point, she is secretly hiding the rebelling leader of Cardassia, one of the most dangerous spymasters in the Alpha Quadrant and one of the best Bajoran terrorist-turned-colonels. It doesn't stop her from putting them all in their place when they need it and if they need a snarky kick up the rear end, she's there to provide one.
Charlie Young, personal aide to the President, on The West Wing. Actually... make that the entire West Wing staff. But especially Donna, who snarks it up practically every moment she has onscreen (which, thanks to Janel Maloney's rather lovely chemistry with Bradley Whitford, is quite a few).
Lieutenant, later Captain, Miklo Braca sometimes functions as this for Scorpius and Grayza. Of course, with Grayza in particular it's wise to be heavier on the servile than the snark, but he lets it out full-strength in one wonderful speech at the end of the "We're So Screwed" trilogy...
Also, Pilot. It's the only way the poor guy stays sane.
Since this is a show where deference to authority is paramount, practically all the characters are prone to this at some point towards a superior.
Several junior characters get this in on their superiors on Babylon 5, to varying degrees of subtlety:
Ivanova would snark often at Sheridan, usually with just enough subtlety to be on her way out the door before Sheridan could retort. In this case, the two officers had a healthy rapport from years of working together previously on Mars.
The Roman Playwright Plautus created the Ur-Example with the title character in Pseudolus, though he is somewhat different in that he actually chooses the life of a slave, feeling that it (paradoxically) gives him more freedom.
Almost all the servants in Molière's comedies are like this, heavily snarky and sassy to their rich and stupid or naive employers. Which makes it a sad thing when one modern translation of Don Juan adds a line not found in the original text, the inclusion of which makes it impossible to play the servant Sganarelle as anything but a buffoon.
Nicola from George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man, although very fawning around his master, has no small amount of wit and sarcasm to fling around otherwise.
The original Zanni (especially Colombina who was usaully the only sensible person on stage) from Commedia dell'Arte, who made a regular habit of popping their masters' egos with panache.
Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte seemed to like this archetype, Leporello in Don Giovanni and Despina in Cosi Fan Tutte are the standard supporting-role variety, while Figaro and Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro are rare examples of Servile Snarker protagonists.
Skyrim: Lydia the Housecarl is sworn to carry your burdens...though technically at first, that was the only snark she would deliver to you in the original game (granted, being said from opening her inventory that players are bound to do a bunch with followers made it certain players would her that a lot). The Dragonborn DLC upped the ante for snark degree among her lines.
Whim; she is often punished for the remarks, though.
Raze and Yun share the same traits, but are smart enough to keep it to themselves.
The butler in Discworld Noir. Although his snark is directed at Lewton, not his employer. (He doesn't actually have any scenes with his employer.) He's a lot less polite about it as a result. He'd raise obstruction to an art form if not for the fact that you have business with both his bosses, neither of whom appreciate being kept waiting.
Alfred, of course. For example, this little gem from the Batman Begins video game:
Batman: Alfred, I need a way inside the asylum. Alfred: Might I suggest donning a pair of tights and pretending you're a bat, sir? Batman:Cute.
Aschen of Endless Frontier is Haken's android servant, and seems to consider it her duty to act as The Foil to his Lovable Sex Maniac personality. She sometimes fuels his jokes, sometimes insults them, but it's always with a Deadpan Snarker attitude. Of course, he considers her more like a sidekick than a servant, and has no problem with calling her "sister".
And another with Hobson, who is certainly a Shout-Out to John Gielgud's character from Arthur.
In Sonic'srecentendeavors, Dr. Eggman got himself Orbot. In his first appearance, Orbot snarked at Eggman to no end, but recently, he still snarked at him, but it was toned down a bit.
Joker in Mass Effect, especially in Mass Effect 2. Every time you finish an important mission (recruitment or loyalty), he will comment on it.
Joker: Good work reforming those geth, Commander. That will never come back to bite us in the ass.
Joker: Glad we figured out Jack is crazy. Because that was really up in the air, just hanging there.
Joker: Thane seems like the strong, sensitive, murdering type. You know those are always great to have around. A real cuddler.
In Disgaea 4, while Fenrich may be obsessively loyal to his master Valvatorez, he isn't afraid to admit that he can at times be a total moron, and usually expresses these opinions through underhanded compliments.
To a lesser extent, Chrys' "protector twin", Shinae, as seen here.
Erwin in Irregular Webcomic! serves in the German Army under Nazi Colonel Haken, yet often makes snarky comments about Nazi policies.
Ardsley Wooster, Gil's manservant in Girl Genius, isn't above a well-timed eye roll or directing the girl his master's trying to impress to one of master's "favorite novels" in the library. Slight subversion, as Wooster isn't really a manservant but a spy, and Gil, unbeknownst to him, is fully aware of this.
Norm the Genie from The Fairly OddParents. After Crocker spazzed while holding his chocolate shake, he said:
Norm: That's how I like my shakes. Spazzed, not stirred.
Evangelyne from Wakfu is technically Princess Amalia's follower and bodyguard, but in truth they've grown together and are very much like a pair of sisters. As such, the older Eva rarely has qualms against putting down the little spoiled princess.
Amalia: Pay for this? Just ask the chamberlain. Evangelyne: You mean, the chamberlain of the kingdom that's some ten thousand leagues from here? No problem. I'll go, I'll explain how you ran away, and I'm back in two months with the royal guard.
Alfred is just as snarky in animation as he is in the comics.
Total Drama Pahkitew Island: After declaring her his "sidekick", Scarlett becomes this to Max. Justified in that she's clearly far more intelligent and competent than he is.
Jourdon Anderson, a former slave, dictated this letter to his former master. Although arguably that was a subversion — the letter was to show his master that the two men were equals. Presumably he didn't talk like that to his master when he was a slave.
This was (believed to be, anyway) one of the roles of the infamous court jester. True, they would come out, prance around, maybe do some juggling or tell a joke to keep the nobility entertained during meals and such, but they were often about the only people in the kingdom/fiefdom/whateverdom that could get away with lambasting the one sitting on the throne. In a court full of yes-men, the one in the garish costume cracking jokes about the state of the economy, political matters, and well-known-secret scandals could safely be the Only Sane Man because, well, he was a fool, so long as he knew where to draw the line. And the ones he was joking about had a better sense of humor than temper.
By one account, King Phillip VI's jester was the only person who dared to tell him that the French had lost the naval battle of Sluys in 1340. He exclaimed "Oh, the cowardly English, the cowardly English!" and when asked why he replied "They did not jump overboard like our brave Frenchmen!"
Napoleon's elite personal bodyguards were nicknamed "Les Grognards" (the "Whiners" or "Grunters") because they were the only men who could freely complain and argue over the state of affairs within earshot of the Emperor of the French.