"It is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak."The constructive troll, a common feature at the Standard Royal Court. Much like his historical counterpart, the Jester's foolish appearance and demeanor means he's generally laughed at or not taken seriously. The upside to this is being able to pretty much speak his mind in the most blunt way possible without fear of reprisal. It's worth noting that real jesters were the Trope Codifiers for most Clown Tropes. For example the reason modern clowns wear ruffs is because they were popular back when jesters were around, so the jesters started wearing them too, and they have since remained a part of clown costumes. The Jester, or his antagonist counterpart, occurs once other characters stop being genuinely offended by him. The Jester gets to give the alternate point of view in the most potentially rude way possible, which sometimes helps his cause, because the audience members who disagree with him can write it off as being a jerk, while those who agree with him can snicker in their sleeves. If they become (or pantomime) The Protagonist, they typically play The Fool. Many writers have noted that it's a great cover. No one would guess that the harmless jester is really a bodyguard, assassin, or spymaster. Many examples of this trope overlap with Magical Clown, due to Real Life jesters in The Middle Ages using magic tricks as part of their acts. Not to be confused with a Villainous Harlequin, a villain who really is as foolish as she appears (although a Villainous Harlequin may have the appearance of one), or The Joker. Often dressed in the Happy Harlequin Hat.
—Morpheus, The Sandman "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
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- In Irresponsible Captain Tylor, when Tylor is captured by the Raalgon and made into Empress Azalyn's pet, he takes it upon himself to fulfill this role during Court, calling out the Treacherous Advisor Wang on exactly how he's trying to manipulate the empress as well as loudly and publicly speculating over his motives.
- The Comedian from Watchmen.
Ozymandias: "[He] opened my eyes. Only the very best comedians can do that".
- Though Deadpool doesn't realize it, this is why Cable likes him.
- The Joker is this for the DC Universe as a whole. He certainly views himself as this in the Death of the Family storyline.
- In one of the Disney Adventures comics, Kuzco had a Jester act as a Body Double for a visiting nation regarding a Golden Hand. This, predictably, proves to be a very big mistake on Kuzco's part.
- Randal Graves from Clerks
- Hubert Hawkins's (Danny Kaye's) impersonation of Giacomo in The Court Jester is perhaps the definitive "Jester as cover."
- And Giacomo (John Carradine) himself was a disguised assassin for Ravenshurst.
- Kyoami in Ran fits this trope to a T, at least as first.
- Griffin in Hotel Transylvania.
- The Stormlight Archive: The Alethi king has a position known as "the King's Wit" who insults people in the king's stead so that the king doesn't have to sully himself. His primary role is to humiliate and humble the various "lighteyed" lords and ladies by mocking them, which he does with relish and gusto. He does hide his genuine criticisms in a lot of straightforward insults, but they are there. It's technically legal for a slighted lord to kill the Wit, if he is willing to revoke all his lands and titles.
- Thersites in the Iliad
- Discworld: In Wyrd Sisters, the Fool is a classic jester who spends most of the book reluctantly advising the usurping Duke. He later becomes king himself, and is shown to be a kind Reasonable Authority Figure, and optimistic by Disc standards.
- In one of the diaries, it's revealed that all court jesters are actually spies for their guild. They send everything they overhear back to the chief clown, who profits enormously.
- A more benevolent version of this occurs in Alan Gordon's Fools Guild mystery novels, in which the eponymous Guild are essentially a continent-spanning spy ring who try to manipulate their patrons into averting war, or running damage-limitation if that doesn't work. The main character, Theophilos, is stated to be Feste from Twelfth Night, and is heavily implied to be the Fool in King Lear. Oh, and he's Laertes from Hamlet, as well. Sort of. Look, just go read the books, they need the love.. Some of Shakespeare's other jesters, such as Yorick and Lavache, pop up too, if only in flashbacks.
- Orr from Catch-22 is comically absurd, and nobody takes him seriously. Eventually the protagonist realizes that his erratic behavior was part of a plan to defect from the Air Force, and that Orr was hinting he should come.
- In Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire, the court jester of Kalgan joins the protagonists. It turns out that he was the Mule, king of Kalgan.
- In Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana: The court jester is magically bound to the King, acting out his subconscious urges, but there's a twist.
- Beldin from David Edding's The Belgariad and The Malloreon series; as a twisted, hideous hunchback, he can say and do just about anything he wants because everyone's staring at the hump on his spine. He's also an impossibly powerful sorcerer, however, and at one point magically disguises himself as a "standard" jester, nailing home the resemblance.
- Onimi from the New Jedi Order series is the slave jester to Supreme Overlord Shimrra of the Yuuzhan Vong. His position as Shimrra's 'pet' allows him to mock the Elite mercilessly in a way no one else can, and he seems to take great pleasure in being as offensive as possible. He's also the true power behind the Yuuzhan Vong throne, using Mind Control to speak his wishes through the practically brainless Shimrra's mouth.
- The Fool, of course, in Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy. As noted above, being a court jester means you can speak your mind more freely than others ... but it should also be noted that this only works while your king protects you.
- The Reynard Cycle: Duke Nobel's fool, Pierrot. He's an odd man, and speaks entirely in the form of Aesops.
- Bluebell in Watership Down, which is full of archetypal characters. A surprisingly rare example of this trope who doubles as Plucky Comic Relief in-universe; Captain Holly credits Bluebell with keeping him from going "tharn" after Fiver was proved right.
- Christopher Moore's Fool stars a King Lear's jester, and his ability to speak truth to the powers that be is one of the biggest themes in the book.
- In the Chivalric Romances Gowther and Robert The Devil, the title characters work as jesters for kings, in a position of penance for their many crimes; they appear three times as knights to save the kingdom but remain the jester inbetween.
- Ivanhoe has Wamba, Jester to Cedric the Saxon.
- Gideon Gleeman from the RuneScape novels Return to Canifis and Legacy of Blood. Though he looks like a harmless fool, he's actually a very powerful mage tasked with protecting King Roald.
- Subverted with Sebastian Darke. Although he works as a jester, he isn't very funny. Things go from bad to worse for him when he performs drunk and unwittingly reveals the king's embarrassing secret (the secret is that he's bald), which, predictably, the king is none too happy about.
- "Sir" Dagonet (he was knighted as a joke), jester to King Arthur. In Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, he mocks Tristam's affair with Isolt and says that only Arthur and himself really understand what the Round Table is about. Tristam tries swapping barbs with him, but comes off worse, and realises that arguing with a fool just makes him look foolish.
- Towser, the jester to King Prester John in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, who was the king's confidante and takes to drink after his master's death and succession by The Evil Prince.
- A Song of Ice and Fire plays with this in all the usual ways George R R Martin plays with things (horrifically).
- Jesters or "Fools" aren't generally held in high regard in Westeros, being stuck somewhere between street performers/ mummers and the gladsome minstrels or bards nobody trusts. Yet, on the plus side, a badly judged shtick is unlikely to mean a fate as horrible as a too-clever Wandering Minstrel can (and, in this series, often does) earn for themselves. Also, many seem to find work as double-dipping spies; Moon Boy, Butterbumps, Dontos, Mushroom and others are pretty much taking coin from and notes for others as they crack jokes and caper about. Though, others like Jinglebell and Patchface? Probably not: they are what are called "lackwits" and are there basically to be the designated Chew Toy of the powerful.
- Stannis Baratheon has a jester who was brought from Essos because of his reputation as an incredibly talented tumbler and wit; until the ship bringing him to Stannis's court foundered, leaving the boy severely brain-damaged. Now, well... Patchface is stuck playing nursemaid, thanks to creeping most adults out to some degree with his nonsensical, inane "rhymes" few can take seriously and sloppy clumsiness.
- Joffrey's jester is an old man who used to be a knight until he got incredibly drunk and spoiled a tourney. Now he spends all his time riding a wooden horse, wearing mock tin armor, and drinking; he tries to use his position to good effect, but usually fails (see above re: drunkenness). Poor Ser Dontos Hollard.
- Historically, Mushroom survived the insanity that was Court during the Dance of the Dragons and went on to pen the most scandalously lurid Targaryen chronicle which not even popular kings like Baelor the Beloved could suppress. Turns out being easily ignored as a background Fool gives you plenty of dirt to rake if most of the people you take the piss out of wind up too dead to try dragon-burning you alive.
- Finally, we have Tyrion Lannister, a highly intelligent dwarf who fits most of the tropes of the Jester and would have been a jester if he hadn't been born to one of the most powerful houses of Westeros. He uses the "privilege" generations have won to speak blunt truths to powerful people. But, he doesn't always escape unscathed.
Live Action TV
- Subverted on Babylon 5: The jester is mocking Emperor Cartagia behind his back during a monologue. The Emperor turns around in time to see this, and after giving the jester a moment to dwell on this, laughs it off. One scene later, we learn that Cartagia had the jester killed.
- Jayne Cobb of Firefly tends to play this role in the crew. His goal is usually just to voice his grievances and he generally does intend to insult other people. However, Jerkass Has a Point is a common reaction to his barbs: what he says is horrible, but it's usually acknowledged to be the pragmatic (if heartless) decision.
- Pointedly mentioned in Serenity
Simon: We'll get off the ship. River and I will get off at Haven. It'll be for the best.
Kaylee: Nobody's sayin' that.
Wash: Nobody besides Jayne is sayin' that.
- Pointedly mentioned in Serenity
- Similarly Cordelia, Spike, and Anya depending on the episode of Buffy or Angel.
- Vila in Blake's 7 plays this role too.
- In one second season episode , Vila actually has to perform as a jester. He also sees the old guy, who was locked up.
- Game of Thrones: Ser Dontos ends up as Joffrey's fool. Joffrey would have just drowned him in wine if Sansa didn't suggest this.
- Sommers from The Six Wives of Henry VIII, based on a historical person. He was the only one in the court who could speak frankly to Henry without fear of reprisal (and that's something Henry wouldn't even allow his own wives to do.)
- The same character also appears for an episode in The Tudors, where after Jane Seymour's death he is the only man Henry will speak to at all in his grief. At the end of he episode, Sommers is shown sitting on Henry's throne, wearing his crown, and chuckling to himself... but he doesn't appear again in the series.
- He also appears on Horrible Histories, where courtiers rely on him to tell Henry Bad News in a Good Way.
- "The yellow jester does not play but gently pulls the strings..." Court of the Crimson King. This Jester is also a Chess Master is would seem.
- Sum41 has a song that uses the trope name. It seems to speak of a jester who has his own plans.
- Script For A Jester's Tear, the first hit from Marillion. The cover artwork of all of their CDs involves a jester or a jester's suit in it somewhere.
- Taliessin, the court jester, musician and poet in Golden Logres, who assigns quests to the Knights of the Round Table.
- Long time All Pro Wrestling competitor Jeckles The Jester, also seen in Supreme Pro and Pro Wrestling Revolution. Has threatened to eat the hearts of his opponents but is surprisingly good with kids, thus often a fan favorite.
- One of the baby face Keystone State Wrestling Alliance Five Star Champions was simply known The Jester. A laughing face painted, wig wearing prankster with exotico tendencies.
- William Shakespeare had such characters as Touchstone from As You Like It, Feste from Twelfth Night, and the Fool from King Lear.
- The Jester in Once Upon A Mattress.
- Jack Point in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard is a Deconstruction. No-one listens to him, he doesn't know anything anyway, and he ends the opera unconscious from heartbreak.
- The All There in the Manual backstory of emcee Fleur in Alegrķa reveals he was this to the now-lost ruler of the kingdom. As the only person the foolish, corrupt nobles could think to turn to, this brought out his true Monster Clown nature as he became their leader.
- Godspell is based around this concept; although Jesus and his disciples are commonly mistaken for "hippies" by audiences because of their crazy way of dressing, they were originally intended to be "clowns" and are referred to in the script as such. Jesus is chief clown and teachers his disciples (who don clown makeup to signify that they are following him) about the world through jesting and slapstick, which they also adopt.
- Harlequin from Shadowrun.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the Laughing God was this to the Eldar pantheon. This is also the reason he is one of the only Eldar gods left. His mocking nature distanced him from the decadence that birthed Slaanesh and doomed most of the other Eldar gods.
- One of the 2nd edition Dungeons & Dragons expansion books had a Jester playable class. This was mainly for "theatrical" players — it could taunt and distract enemies with insults, but lacked the combat abilities to survive the consequences. There's also a homebrew 3.5 edition version that is quite a bit more capable, as well as a Dragon magazine version that physically damages people with cutting insults.
- Harley from Chrono Cross.
- Quaver in the Overlord games.
- Kefka Palazzo in Final Fantasy VI is of the monstrous variety and probably one of the most beloved (read: feared) villains in the Final Fantasy series.
- Ouma Kokichi from New Danganronpa V 3 fulfills this role. He might be an unpleasant little guy and wears a straight jacket, of all things, but his trolling tendencies and his antagonistic attitude make the other characters start to think, and his provocations end up making the others realize things they needed to know about their fellow students.
- Dimentio in Super Paper Mario, another villain. Much like Kefka above, he turns out to be an omnicidal monster, much worse than the game's main villain Count Bleck.
- Death Jester from Seiken Densetsu 3, and Gourmand from Sword of Mana.
- Cicero from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Despite his cheerful-insane demeanor, he is secretly a member of the Dark Brotherhood, and is not to be trifled with.
- The Devil May Cry series has Jester, another monstrous, demonic clown.
- Persona 4 Golden introduces the Jester Social Link that corresponds with Adachi (each Social Link stands for a different Tarot card). The arcana serves as an alternative look at The Fool card (which symbolizes the protagonist). Both the Fool and the Jester arcanas symbolize ignorance and freedom, but the Jester stands for suppressed stupidity along with freedom misused for trouble-making and finding the easy way out of situations. All of this foreshadows that Adachi is the serial killer the heroes are hunting down.
- NiGHTS from Ni GHTS Into Dreams and its sequel, NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams.
- Feste from Dragon's Dogma.
- Umlaut from CarnEvil.
- Town of Salem features a Jester class, whose objective is to get the town to assassinate him. Many players achieve this by acting buffoonish and deliberately obnoxious.
- A variation occurs with Lord Shojo from The Order of the Stick where he is the actual ruler, but is surrounded by a Deadly Decadent Court who all see him as their Puppet King as he pretends to be senile to make them believe they are in charge, while he issues the decrees he sees as necessary without the court trying to kill him.
Lord Shojo: When I rule in their favor they assume that they controlled me, when I rule against them, they assume that one of their rival nobles controlled me.
- A large part of why Mike of Shortpacked! gets away with Jerkass behaviour is because he gives constructive, helpful advice in the bluntest, most painful manner possible. He isn't giving advice here, but it illustrates the point well.
- Marco is the Royal Fool, Valona's equivalent of a Court Jester, in Fooled
- Eric Cartman from South Park often represents the most abhorrent viewpoint.
- Heloise in Jimmy Two-Shoes. She doesn't really act like a fool or a clown, but she is the only one who dares to mock and criticize Lucius openly.
- In Happy Ness: The Secret of the Loch, one of the Nessies, Silly Ness, is dressed in jester attire. He even lives up to his name.
- Truth in Television: Stanczyk, the court jester of Poland, became a Polish national hero two centuries after his death, during the period when Poland was no longer an actual nation, for his ability to speak the truth in couched terms.
- By one account, King Phillip VI's jester was the only person in court who dared to inform him when 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!" This is featured in Horrible Histories, providing the page image.
- The Motley Fool, a financial advising company best known for its newspaper column, plays to this trope. Unusual for the industry and befitting the moniker, their advice tends to be of the "invest in solid companies and funds and hold onto them for a long time" variety rather than promising easy money if you buy loads and loads of particular "sure thing" stocks.
- Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. When people complain about their status as sources of actual news, they're ignoring a few key factors. No, satire has never had a meaningful impact on history. Thomas Nast was a figment of your imagination.
- King Matthias of Hungary had a legendary court jester who appears in several folktales and novels (though it's unclear whether they were all the same person). More notable deeds include proving that doctors are the most common profession by pretending to be sick, prompting the entire staff in the palace to try and cure him, impersonating the king and negotiating a highly disadvantageous treaty with the Turks, but including a clause that makes it inapplicable, and wrestling the jester of an enemy king, in a failed attempt at Combat by Champion.
- Archibald Armstrong, the court jester of James VI, who relentlessly castigated other members of the court; at one point, the duke of Buckingham threatened to have him hanged, to which he replied "dukes had often been hanged for insolence but never fools for talking."
- William Sommers, court jester of Henry VIII, who frequently used his jests to call attention to extravagance and waste within the royal household.
- The Japanese equivalent of a jester, the Taikomochi, doubled as an entertainer and a military strategist and was expected to fight alongside their lord in battle, making them a literal Lethal Joke Character. The overlap in roles makes more sense when you realize that both require similar skillsets: Quick wit and the ability (and close relationship with their lord) necessary to speak truth to power.