What, Exactly, Is His Job?
Ross: What is Chandler Bing's job?
Rachel: Oh! Oh gosh, it has something to do with numbers.
Monica: And processing!
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 job 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 job allows more of us to sympathize with the character.
Compare One-Hour Work Week
and The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything
. Contrast the Omnidisciplinary Scientist
, who has a PhD in Everythingology and awesomeology.
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Anime & Manga
- Yotsuya from Maison Ikkoku has a job, but never reveals what it is.
- 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.
- Zoro from One Piece is an interesting case: He is the only one without an official role in the crew. Luffy is the captain, Nami is the navigator, Usopp is the sniper/cannoneer (previously repairman/gadgeteer), Sanji is the cook, Chopper is the doctor, Robin is the archeologist, Franky is the shipwright and Brook is the musician. Zoro is simply called "the swordsman," which is a fighting style, and not a job on a ship. However, while he is not officially one, he sometimes fills the role of first mate, and is assumed by many (in-universe) to be second in command. The Straw Hats lacks one of these, not having a direct command line besides Luffy being the captain, so it's pretty difficult to say.
- 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).
- In one of the stories of S.O.S. Bonheur, a man got a job in a firm, in which no employee knows the purpose of his daily job. They are analyzing numbers but have no idea what those numbers represent. It is later revealed that the so-called democratic government is a dictatorship, and this company is spying everybody so that the CEO of the firm, who is also the chief of the police, can detect the rebellious citizens.
- Pretty much the entire faculty of Unseen University in Discworld, which is quite a feat considering we only know them all by their job descriptions (it's hard enough to figure out what a Provost does in real life). Exceptions are Archchancellor Ridcully (who's in charge), the Bursar (who does the accounts...as long as he remembers to take his pills), the Librarian (who runs the library), and Ponder Stibbons (who does all the things that need doing, including distracting Ridcully from asking what, exactly, everyone else does). Rincewind is explicitly stated as having nineteen jobs, none of which involve doing any actual work. The real purpose of the faculty is that if the world's most powerful wizards are in pointless committee meetings and big dinners, they aren't blowing holes in reality.
- The HELP in Samuel Shem's medical novel The House of God are this. The interns are unsure whether the HELP are glorified porters, social workers, janitors or something else altogether. Even the HELP themselves are unsure, and nobody even knows what the acronym stands for.
- 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.
- Uncle Parker in Helen Cresswell's Bagthorpe Saga had an unspecified work-at-home job which involved a lot of time in the den doing crosswords.
Live Action TV
- Friends: As the quote above says, Chandler Bing. He works in an office, but no one else can name what he does, although it's clear he earns a lot of money from it. In the first season, he's promoted but refuses to take the new position and quits because he wants to find a job he loves. His new boss sees this as a sign he's playing hardball for more money and keeps offering more and more until Chandler gives up trying to explain he hates the job and accepts the amazing salary figure he had just been offered. In later seasons he does finally quit to get a job in advertising. It's only after he's quit that someone finally remembers what his job title used to be. Incidentally, it's Statistical Analysis and Data Reconfiguration. No, we're still not sure what that actually means. Some theorize that the job is intended to resemble the many, many real word positions with ambiguous names and descriptions.
- Lampshaded in his original character description:
"Works in front of a computer doing something tedious in a claustrophobic cubicle in a non-descript office building."
- This troper has a friend who works in something similar Statistical Analysis and Data Reconfiguration: Making statistical analyses based on massive quantities of data to make other analyses and then analyze how accurate those analyses are with more analyses. It is, like Chandler's job, a rather high-paying one. It is so esoteric that most people higher up on the corporate ladder have no idea how he and his team do what they do, half of them blindly trust his conclusions, and the other half ignore them. All in all, Truth in Television.
- This was asked of NewsRadio's Matthew from time to time. (He technically was a reporter, but it seemed the only thing he did was play computer solitaire.)
- Firefly: When asked what Jayne's job aboard the good ship Serenity actually is, Mal Reynolds replies, "Public relations." Which is true, for a very specific section of the "public" and equally specific definition of "relations."
- 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.
- Creed from The Office asks this of himself during an audit. It was established early on that his job was in Quality Assurance, but he had apparently forgotten due to how rarely his job is focused on.
Creed: What is wrong with this woman? She's asking about stuff that's nobody's business. 'What do I do?' What do I do here? I should have written it down. 'Qua' something. Quaaa. Quarr. Quab. Quall. Qwer. Quobbity! Quobbity ashrance! No, that's not right.... getting close though.
- Ryan was a temp, catapulted into a vice-president's position, went to jail, and was hired as a salesmen at Michael Scott Paper Company. Since that collapsed, his job has been fuzzy in the extreme, but he's played by the show's producer, so don't expect him to go anywhere.
- Cheers. One of Carla's issues with Diane comes from the fact she seldom seems to do any real work around the bar.
Janet Eldridge: (to Diane) Excuse me, miss. Do you work here?
Carla: How come no one ever seems to know that?
- Diane's replacement Rebecca would take this even further once she got fired from her original corporate job and Sam bought back the bar. Despite her position changing every so often (from waitress, to managing day to day operations to actual business partner), the fact that she doesn't do much of anything has become a Running Gag that was even mentioned in Frasier
- Ianto Jones of Torchwood. Jack introduces him to a new staff member as being the person who "cleans up after us and gets us everywhere on time...and he looks good in a suit."
- Ianto pretty much did everything that was not being taken care of by the more specialized members of the team. This made his job description extremely vague but it actually gave him a lot of power. He was the team's logistics officer, office administrator and maintenance officer. The other team members have more specialized areas of expertise but their job descriptions are also fairly vague.
- There actually are job titles for a role like that; 'adjutant', 'aide-de-camp', and 'administrative officer' are three of them.
- Fanon has made him the team's archivist, and canon would seem to support this, given how Ianto is the go to guy for all the Torchwood-specific information neither Owen or Tosh specialize in acquiring. He also keeps a written diary.
- Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother refuses to tell anyone what he does for a living, brushing off the question with a quick, "Heh, please," before changing the topic. It is stated, however, that the company destroys the environment, engages in a great deal of illegal activity, and does extensive business with North Korea.
- In later seasons, the company has a merger with Goliath National Bank, completely changing his company... while still keeping Barney's position equally vague.
- Jonathan Creek has an extremely vague job title (either "production consultant" or "creative assistant", depending who you ask), and is apparently a combination of director, stage manager and general designated person with some common sense. Whatever Adam is paying him, it isn't nearly enough.
- A major part of his job is designing Adam's illusions (that would be the "creative assistant" part).
- 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.
- In the period in between working for House and becoming Dean of Medicine, Foreman was the team's supervisor, which technically made him House's superior. However, he still earned less than House and almost always deferred to House's expertise when deciding on the patient's treatment. This is lampshaded a few times by House, as well as by Chase, who suggests that his superiority is reflected in nothing but his attitude.
- 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.
- On Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, resident Jerkass Preston A Lodge III asks "What exactly is your occupation, Sully?" as a means of taunting him.
- In the Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, cartoonist Bill Watterson says he wanted to avoid this, so he made Calvin's father a patent attorney. However, it only comes up in about two strips at most.
- During The Undertaker's biker gimmmick, some of his gear featured an insignia with the words "Deadman Inc." on it in bright red text. Whatever "Deadman Inc." was was never even really hinted at.
- "Robert Roode Inc.", the company Bobby Roode supposedly inherited from his late grandfather, has allowed him to employ buxom assistants and custom security teams as well as bully around Eric Young. Despite this, it was never exactly made clear what this company does before he struck a bond with James Storm and eventually formed a tag team. Despite being a partial inspiration for the Beer Money, Inc. name, the company was predictably largely phased out of his character after that.
- A cutscene from Tales of Symphonia invoked this trope when Lloyd asked Sheena and Zelos what a company president does. Regal lampshades it.
- A particularly extreme example in Ultima Underworld II. The Eloemosynator in Talorus, an alternate dimension, has a function so glorious and complex that we're not expected to understand it.
- 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 also 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.
- During the sixth season of The Guild, Codex gets a job at the Game's offices. Her exact job title was left unspecified, though at one point she was described as the "Creator's Left Hand", whose duties were never actually specified, but primarily seemed to consist of doing whatever her boss told her to do, staying out of everybody else's way, and keeping her boss from doing something stupid while he was having one of his frequent panic attacks.
- Guy's Entire Job Just Asking People If They Have Time For A Quick Chat