Vile Villain, Laughable Lackey

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In a great deal of media aimed at children or families, there will be more than one villain working together against the hero, and one or more of these villains will be in charge over the other(s). However, the lower-ranked of these villains is meant to be taken far less seriously than the higher-ranked, whether due to being more cowardly, more comical, less powerful, less competent, or even simply less motivated than their dark superior.

This can have a lot of benefits to the writers, such as averting Villain Decay: no matter how many times the heroes triumph over the lesser villain(s), the fact that a more serious villain (or group of more serious villains) is still part of the same organization means there's still a credible threat that the heroes still need to deal with. Also, for works aimed at especially young children, this also allows the writers to make the lesser villain goofy and funny, thus keeping a work lighter and softer and generally less frightening for the kiddies.

A common, but by no means the only, way to show that the higher-ranked villain is serious is to display the lower-ranked villains afraid of him/her, or show that the higher-ranked villain is a Bad Boss who will Shoot the Messenger when brought bad news, or who punishes his minions for failure or for otherwise ceasing to be useful. It's not really necessary for the higher-ranked villain to be cruel to his or her underlings for the trope to apply, though; it's only really needed for the higher-ranked villain to be played noticeably more seriously than his or her underling(s).

The laughable lackey can be an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, but it's not necessary for the lackey to be sympathetic at all for this trope to apply, nor is it necessary for the laughable lackey to be ineffectual or a Harmless Villain: they can even win at times, as long as they're noticably less serious than their superiors. Those Two Bad Guys, a Quirky Miniboss Squad, or a Goldfish Poop Gang can also fill in the loser villain slot as well as a single villain can. It's also common for the laughable lackey to have an unpleasant, demeaning, or dumb-sounding name.

The Laughable Lackey can also be The Igor, The Renfield, The Imp, a Minion with an F in Evil, and/or a Punch-Clock Villain who only Pokes the Poodle, or possibly The Dragon, depending on his/her/their specific role in the evil organization. The Laughable Lackey is often the Butt-Monkey or The Chew Toy, as well, and can also be a Bumbling Sidekick to the serious villain, though there are more ways of being laughable than just clumsiness.

Compare Abusive Parents, Big Bad Wannabe, Brains and Brawn, Evil Duo, Eviler Than Thou, A Lighter Shade of Black, The Man Behind the Man, My Master, Right or Wrong, Sliding Scale of Villain Effectiveness, Sorting Algorithm of Evil, The Starscream, What Measure Is a Mook?. A Terrible Trio can have this dynamic if one of them is in charge and meant to be taken more seriously than the other two, though the three of them together can act as the laughable lackey if they have a more serious boss, or they can even together act as the serious villain if they're not Played for Laughs have have one or more underlings who are. Sometimes overlaps with Vile Villain, Saccharine Show and Perky Female Minion. Contrast Hypercompetent Sidekick.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Digimon Adventure:
    • Demidevimon fills this role for Myotismon. While he keeps the Chosen Children/Digidestined separated while Tai is away, as soon as he comes back, Demidevimon begins comically failing and getting punished by Myotismon for his failings.
    • The two Hagurumon working for Machinedramon fit this bill too.
  • The title heroine of Excel Saga is her boss Il Palazzo's biggest obstacle on the path to World Domination, by the "virtue" of being a worthless (if fiercely devoted and energetic) underling. When Il Palazzo finally drops his Orcus on His Throne act towards the end of the series and fires Excel, he immediately proves himself a scarily efficient villain on his own (with a little help from Hyatt, who also proves a much more competent minion as soon as Excel is out of the picture).
  • Pokémon: While Team Rocket members aren't always competent, only the Terrible Trio, and later Butch and Cassidy due to characterization changes, are actually goofy. Most members are some level of dangerous. Their boss Giovanni has a case of Adaptational Villainy as he is more violent than in the games.
    • Inverted in the Sun & Moon season where Jessie captures a Mimikyu who is always portrayed as a fairly competent opponent to Pikachu and instead from just capturing Pikachu, Mimikyu wants to kill him, making it a case of the Vile lackey to Team Rocket Trio Laughable villain
  • Team Plasma's boss Cyrus in Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Adventure! is a Knight Templar Omnicidal Maniac. The Galactic executives — Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars — are intimidating but this ability does not extend to grunts. B-2 is a near literal Butt-Monkey who is constantly getting attacked on the butt and isn't a real threat. Subverted with some other Galactic grunts though when they try to bomb a tournament.
  • Sailor Moon: Sailor Iron Mouse wasn't a very serious villain, but when she failed, she was (rightly) terrified of how her boss would react.

    Films — Animation 
  • Carface is the main villain of Don Bluth's All Dogs Go to Heaven, and he operates a crooked canine casino. When Carface discovers that his former partner has escaped the dog pound and survived an assassination attempt, Carface almost disposes of his neurotic henchman, Killer. A myopic, neurotic, weakling of a dog, Killer gets one last chance to avoid the Shark Pool: by killing The Hero with a Flash Gordon thermo-atomic ray gun.
    • Carface himself is this to other villains in the sequel media, like Red in All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 and Belladonna in the animated series. Neither character is devoid of comedy, but they are unambiguously wicked and threatening in comparison to the incompetent buffoon Carface has become.
  • Despicable Me: The cute and hilarious minions are this for the Villain Protagonist, Gru.
  • Disney loves this trope:
    • Aladdin: Jafar is a serious Evil Sorceror, but his sidekick Iago is a comical character. It must be added though that Iago is one of the most intelligent and competent sidekicks to a villain and is also as conniving as Jafar. He contrasts Jafar's cold brooding with his hilarious snarking, loud and obnoxious attitude (being voiced by Gilbert Gottfried helps in that regard), and being regular victim of physical comedy.
    • Beauty and the Beast: Lefou and Gaston have this dynamic toward the end of the film, when Gaston ceases to be Played for Laughs and Lefou remains a Butt-Monkey.
    • The Black Cauldron: Creeper is comically drawn (by comparison) and cowardly, but he routinely suffers the abuse of the terrifying Horned King.
    • Cinderella: Lady Tremaine is never Played for Laughs, but her awkward daughters are.
    • The Great Mouse Detective: The film has a strong, savvy villain in Ratigan, but his bat lackey Fidget with a crippled wing and peg leg (while far from incapable of real villainy) isn't near as threatening by comparison.
    • Hercules: Pain and Panic are comical, slow-witted twerps and very afraid of their boss, the death god Hades, very downplayed in that, while much more competent, Hades isn't any less comical.
    • The Lion King: The cunning, manipulative Scar has three stupid and constantly bickering hyena minions. Very much downplayed, as the hyenas, despite their stupidity, can pose a real threat to the protagonists and in the end they turn against their master and kill him.
    • In The Princess and the Frog, Dr. Facilier, the wicked and manipulative Witch Doctor, is assisted by the portly, bumbling, cowardly Lawrence (who was initially Prince Naveen's valet but did a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal).
    • Peter Pan: Captain Hook and Smee have this dynamic. Downplayed since Hook (at least in the Disney movie) is just as laughable and ridiculous as his Bumbling Sidekick Smee.
    • Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty is considered one of the most (if not the most) dangerous villains in all of Disney Animated Canon. Her lackeys however don't even understand that babies grow up — even after sixteen years they are looking for a baby.
  • Don Bluth's Rock-A-Doodle has the Grand Duke as the main villain, whose weather machine clouds out the sun and floods the valley, making the small farm animals easy pickings for himself and his owl mooks. His diminutive but eager nephew Hunch is tasked with intercepting the party of heroes seeking to retrieve Chanticleer, Hunch is woefully outclassed, as even Patou narrates: "He's more a hoot than horrible ..." and he's voiced by the late Charles Nelson Reilly.
  • The villains of the An American Tail films have these to varying degrees. Warren in the first film has the bumbling accountant Digit. In the case of Cat R. Waul's lackey Chula in the second film, he only really becomes laughable in the TV series, being Axe-Crazy in the film.
  • Max, from Yellow Submarine, is usually at the end of a bitch slap from his boss, the Chief Blue Meanie, especially when Max says "yes" instead of "no."
  • My Little Pony: The Movie (2017): Grubber is a comical, cowardly, un-threatening hedgehog. But he works for the dead-serious Tempest Shadow and her threatening-but-not-quite-so-serious Storm King boss.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Beethoven:
    • In the first movie, the veterinarian's goons' bumbling and cowardice were Played for Laughs, but the veterinarian himself was not.
    • In the second movie, Floyd's stupidity was Played for Laughs, but his greedy girlfriend was much more cruel and intentional than he was.
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: The Master of Laketown is uncaring about his people, enriching himself while the people starve and become poorer. He has a more comical lackey, Alfrid, who is cowardly enough to use a Paper-Thin Disguise, pretending to be a woman to avoid going into battle.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga has the duo of Cackletta and Fawful. Despite her name, Cackletta was one of the nastiest and most dangerous foes the Mario brothers had ever fought, while her Dragon Fawful was always played for laughs thanks to his unusual speech patterns. However, being goofy didn't make him any less of a threat than his boss; Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story gives him a shot as Big Bad, and without losing any of the silliness, he's just as dangerous as Cackletta was, if not more so.
  • Grunts to villain teams in Pokémon games are almost always rather low-leveled and tend to have humorous dialogue.
  • Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal: An interesting variation where the villain is truly evil and a threat, but is nevertheless the target of the jokes from his lackey: Dr. Nefarious wants to exterminate all organic life, but he has a henchman named Lawrence who isn't afraid to snark at him.
  • Super Mario RPG: in Nimbus Land, Valentina was a scheming, seductive usurper, but she had a lazy, fat, bumbling lackey in Dodo whose size and temper were Played for Laughs.
  • World of Warcraft: a few boss encounters have this dynamic:
    • The dialog after the Krick is defeated in Pit of Saron shows Krick as a coward, ready to give out information on his dead-serious Lich King superior.
    • Koramar, the captain of the ship at the Iron Docks, is confident in his army, even as they players slaughter them while working their way through the instance. His first mate Zoggosh is much savvier than his captain and is thus afraid of the players. As justified as his fears are, Zoggosh's cowardice is Played for Laughs, giving the two of them this dynamic.
  • Final Fantasy V has Exdeath and Gilgamesh, the Big Bad and The Dragon respectively. While Exdeath is an amalgamation of evil spirits and is a serious enough villain to kill one of the main characters, Gilgamesh is presented as a comical villain who brags about his abilities only to embarrass himself in front of the heroes.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Maleficent again. She's just as dangerous as in her original film, and significantly more ambitious. Her sidekick? The bumbling Pete.

    Western Animation 
  • Care Bears (1980s): Beastly and Shreeky function as Laughable Lackeys who bicker with each other and consistently lose to the Care Bears, but Shreeky's uncle Lord No Heart remains a credible threat.
  • Clumsy and fearful Toad for Dr. Dreed in Drak Pack.
  • The Dreamstone: The Urpneys are comical. The Big Bad they work for, Zordrak, looks like an Evil Sorceror T-Rex, and is played deadly seriously.
  • Get Ed: Crouch is a robot minion that often fails against Ed and his friends, and who is easily frightened into launching toast out of his head. Bedlam, his employer, is a more serious villain who has admitted that he mainly keeps him around because he likes the toast.
  • With minions like Dr. Claw's who consistently lose to the hapless Inspector Gadget (or his niece), who needs enemies?
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Throughout the five seasons, the Dark Hand Enforcers serve as easily beatable Comic Relief henchmen for the Arc Villains.
  • The Copycats are the typical cartoonish slapstick villain (like the Coyote) in Kidd Video and serve this role for the much menacing Master Blaster.
  • Kim Possible: Inverted. Drakken is the apparent Big Bad, but given his immaturity and tendency to go off on tangents, he's not a very serious villain. His dragon Shego, however, is an intelligent, competent combatant and is either a supervillainess in her own right or wields powerful fist weapons. Either way, she gives Kim Possible a real fight.
  • Lady Lovely Locks: Hairball is the Laughable Lackey to Duchess Ravenwaves.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ganon was a competent, cruel villain, exasperated by his idiotic, bumbling moblin minions. It even got to the point where, when they invaded Link's bedroom in Hyrule Castle, Link didn't even need to get up from his bed: they managed to off each other with their clumsiness!
  • Lilo & Stitch: The Series: Experiment 625, AKA Reuben, works for the series' main villain Gantu. While Reuben has all of Stitch's abilities, he has zero motivation and isn't serious at all.
  • Mad Jack the Pirate: Jack is a Villain Protagonist, and is generally more threatening than his dense Funny Animal first mate, Snuk.
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends had a kind of a rogues gallery of villains, a few of which had a lackey with this dynamic:
    • The witch Hydia is a recurring antagonist, and she has two daughters with no motivation for villainy who have this dynamic with her.
    • The catwoman sorceress, Catrina, is a vicious, violent slave driver whose overall behavior reeks of drug addiction and domestic abuse, but her lackey, Rep, is a Nice Guy who loses a fight to a filly.
    • Squirk is an immortal squid monster who wants to flood Dream Valley, who is assisted by the much smaller and less effective Crank, a miniature shark.
  • The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: episodes with villains were few and far between, but one had a giant monster made of goo named "Crud", who had a hyper, overenthusiastic, comical lackey named Smudge.
  • Smee, as in all other representations, to Captain Hook in Peter Pan & the Pirates.
  • Pinky and the Brain: While neither one is very threatening physically (what with being lab mice and all), the Brain, with his serious demeanor and great intellect, is far more of a threat than the spastic, dimwitted Pinky, who isn't even aware that he's a villain.
  • The pig henchmen of Cyril Sneer in The Raccoons fill the trope entirely.
  • Rainbow Brite: It's often hard to take Murky Dismal seriously, even if he is Rainbow Brite's nemesis through the series. In the premiere, he was working for an evil sorceror only known as "The Evil One", and while this setup lasted, Murky and The Evil One had this dynamic. After The Evil One's death and Murky's promotion to Big Bad status, Murky's idiotic assistant Lurky is even harder to take seriously than Murky, so he ends up creating this dynamic with him.
  • ReBoot: Megabyte could be a dangerous villain when he wanted to be, but his bumbling robotic henchmen Hack and Slash provided some of the show's best comedy.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: Boris Badinov and Natasha Fatale often fail against Rocky and Bullwinkle, but their Potsylvanian superiors stay more believable as a threat.
  • Silverhawks had Mon*Star, his gang consisting of hardened, monstrous badasses with lethal machinery and himself no exception; no, that exception would be his Yes-Man (actually named Yes-Man), a timid, slug-like creature who's sole purposes seems to be operating the machine that exposes the Moon Star of Limbo's energy conveniently to Mon*Star's throne, and agreeing with everything Mon*Star says.
  • Scruples is this to Gargamel in The Smurfs, and Gargamel is to Balthazar in every episode the latter is.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
  • The Blub Blubs are this to Momo in Star Street: The Adventures of the Star Kids
  • TaleSpin: Ivanod Spigot and Dunder, the two bumbling Thembrian air force men, they are very comedic, albeit Spigot is much more cruel, they both contrast with the much treatening High Marshal.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) has Shredder and his henchmen, Bebop and Rocksteady who, while look like a menacing anthropomorphic boar and rhino, are actually clumsy and cowardly.
  • Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?: A one-off villain from the past named Maelstrom had a lackey with a typically Unfortunate Name: Bilge. Downplayed, in that Bilge's only comical aspects were his name and the fact that he is afraid of a giant squid kept in the ship's hold who attacks the heroes at one point.
  • Winx Club:
    • In Season 1, the Trix act as the Serious Villain, with their ogre Knut a more comical villain who eventually underwent a Heel–Face Turn.
    • In Season 2, the Trix were Demoted to Dragon and the status stuck, but they weren't laughable until Season 3, when they repeatedly lost battles immediately upon engaging the Winx and began some minor infighting.
    • In Season 7, Brafilius is a comical, bumbling villain who acts as a lackey for his more serious sister, Kalshara. He eventually ends up having this dynamic with the Trix, who are once again serious.

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