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What, Exactly, Is His Job?
Often, especially in media with a large ensemble cast, there is one character whose function (in terms of his internal purpose within the cast) is a bit fuzzy. The details of this role are left purposefully ambiguous. Sometimes, the general nature of the character's role is quite evident; for example, the character might be big, intimidating, and good in a fight... but this naturally raises the question of just why the group needs someone who is big, intimidating, and good in a fight.

This is often lampshaded by someone unfamiliar with the group and their adventures pointedly asking "What exactly is his job, anyway?" When the question is Played for Laughs, the answer the newcomer gets is almost always something absurd. This can typically be paired with The Main Characters Do Everything since there are usually recurring characters whose purpose is ambiguous and the main characters can easily function without them. It's also common for an everyman, because the lack of specific role allows more of us to sympathize with the character.

Remember, this Trope is about a person's undefined or unsuitable role among the main team; not about how a person earns his keep between episodes.

Compare the Omnidisciplinary Scientist, who has a PhD in Everythingology and awesomeology, rather than merely having to be everything and awesome, and The Chick, who is very skilled in caring and diplomacy in a world where Violence is the Only Option.

This is being confused for several other Tropes:


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Jinpei in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Yes, he drives a Swiss Army knife of a vehicle, and he's no slouch in a fight, but he otherwise has no unique skills to display.
  • Jersey Club from Rinne no Lagrange does exactly this trope. Be it at being an extra participant in any activity or saving the Earth, Jersey Club does it.
  • Saikawa from Gakuen Babysitters. Is he the secretary? Is he the butler? Is he the chef? Ryuuichi can't tell, and Saikawa remains ambiguous about it by allowing the others to refer to him as they wish.
  • Misty and Iris from Pokémon have this problem, given that they are Gym apprentices on journey and don't have any goals that do not overlap with Ash's goal. Iris partially makes up for this with her nature skills but Misty is entirely limited to girly stuff and water battles.

    Comic Books 
  • A running gag in the comic book Groo The Wanderer is what, exactly does Mark Evanier do (besides answer the letters page). Even his job description on the masthead changed every month to something silly or bizarre (in reality, he is essentially co-plotter and dialogue writer/editor).

    Film 
  • Living in Oblivion is an independent film, with an ensemble cast, about making an independent film. When the director (Steve Buscemi) goes berserk on his crew after one disaster too many on a shoot, he calls each one out by name and reels off their failures in their jobs. When he gets to a production assistant, wide-eyed with panic, he hesitates and squints at her, "Who are you? What do you fucking do around here, anyway?"
  • Wag The Dog - Robert De Niro.
    "What exactly is it that you do for the President?"

    Literature 
  • In Catch-22, no one seems to know what Major —— de Coverly's official function is, and no one is game enough to ask him.

    Live Action TV 
  • For most of the first season of 3rd Rock from the Sun, nobody knew why Harry was on the mission. They then revealed that he was the radio link with their home planet. He eventually gets sad about this fact, since he's essentially equipment. It was frequently implied that his main function was Team Pet.
  • In the HBO mini-series John Adams, the title character laments that the office of Vice President of the United States seems an awful lot like this, which is Truth in Television, as the only official job responsibilities of the Vice President are to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate and to take over if the President dies in office. Some Presidents have averted this by finding other duties for their VP to perform, and others played it straight by essentially ignoring them once the election's over.
  • On Necessary Roughness Niko does not seem to have an official position in the Hawks football organization but is involved in most of the big decisions. He is a close friend of the team's owner Marshall Pittman and acts as a general "fixer" for any problems that require extreme discretion and cannot be handled through official channels.

    Video Games 
  • Tomb Raider Legend gives us Alister Fletcher, a man Lara is paying to talk to her over headset in order to...moan about the video quality, argue with his colleague, and generally stand around asking questions about things he should know already. The butler knows more than him. He supposedly does library research and runs errands.
  • In Shizune's route of Katawa Shoujo, Hisao and Misha have no official positions on the student council. Because of this, and the size of the student council, Shizune's father Jigoro has no respect for it.
  • This topic comes up in an early dialogue within Dragon Age II when Aveline asks Varric if he actually does anything except "watch and talk." He answers that "coins flow when I talk and when I shut up. Like if you got paid to guard or unguard." When Aveline says he isn't making any sense, Varric simply replies "Good." If you're wondering what he actually does, he publishes short stories and ends up in charge of his family's businesses (though he avoids Merchant's Guild meetings if at all possible). Oh, and he may or may not have a spy network at his disposal.
  • Final Fantasy X-2 has Brother: while he's officially the leader of the Gullwings and pilots the ship, Yuna is unofficially The Face of the crew (due to her fame) and is usually the one to make the big decisions, and as Rikku points out, the ship flies better on auto-pilot. She then lampshades the trope by wondering what Brother actually DOES for the crew.
  • Pac-Man in Namco High mainly seems to butt in on private moments and tell everyone concerned to be true to themselves. Even Principal Dig Dug has absolutely no idea what he's actually doing at their school besides the fact that everyone seems to like him.

    Western Animation 
  • Initially, Bender from Futurama. It's addressed in an early episode, and he's given the position of ship's cook. Even though he can't actually cook. However in later episodes he has been able to make edible meals.
    Hermes: I've been going through our records and it seems that we've been paying you to do nothing but loaf about on the couch.
    Bender: You call that a couch? I DEMAND A PILLOW!

    Real Life 
  • Some restaurants have someone, called a "roundsman" among other names, who floats from station to station during peak hours helping out where needed. At slower times their presence can resemble this trope.
    • At Thomas Keller's restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se, they added a secondary sous chef who would work the pass or float around as needed during busy periods, and otherwise just stand around. The cooks began calling it the 'SAS,' for Standing Around Station, but when Keller asked what it meant he was told Second Assistant Sous, liked the acronym, and made it official. So, to this day, somebody is always scheduled to the Standing Around Station, which can be very much this trope.
  • There is a job called a "Gofer", as in "I need something, so I'm sending you to go fer it. This person has no one single defined job, but does anything that needs to be done. Depending on the person they report to and what the project is that they're working on, this person can serve as a personal assistant, sound board operator, even an unofficial second-in-command.
  • This is generally the lot of a circus roustabout. Circus contracts usually include the passage "Employee will make himself useful as needed", which amounts to "If the boss comes up with a job, you do it". Circus workers refer to getting forced into random, meaningless labor as "working Chinese" (after the exploited Chinese laborers on the transcontinental railroad).
  • The job title of "Project Coordinator" can be vague even for those who have it. Alternatively, "Project Administrator", "Project Developmental Specialist"...really, anything with "Project" in the title, as they are, by design working on special projects that can vary from week to week, day to day, and hour to hour.
  • Chet Faliszek's job description:
    We are all still trying to figure out exactly what it is that Chet does at Valve, but at the very least he occupies office space on the 11th floor as self-proclaimed Mr. Awesome.


"What Do They Fear?" EpisodeCharacterization TropesWhat Is This Feeling?
Unconfessed UnemploymentI Need an Index by MondayWhy Do You Keep Changing Jobs?

alternative title(s): What Exactly Is Her Job
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