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:


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    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).
  • Astérix: Obelix is a sculptor of menhirs, but we never see him actually delivering these stones to anyone. Though at least he HAS somewhat of a well defined job. Asterix, for instance, is always seen around the village, but we never find out what he does for a living, let alone his village community. Presumably he might be one of the town's hunters.
    • The whole village is shown having a poor grasp of monetary economy and paid work, especially in Asterix and the Cauldron. Those who have a trade, like Unhygienix the fish seller, are incompetent at it. It is safe to assume that Asterix hunts what he needs to eat and gets the other things from the villagers as rewards for constantly saving the village itself.
  • Piet Pienter en Bert Bibber: Piet and Bert share the same house, but their jobs are never addressed.
  • Spirou And Fantasio: Spirou is a bellhop, but hasn't been near a hotel in decades. Fantasio doesn't seem to have a job either.
  • Gaston Lagaffe: Gaston is usually seen sleeping, clowning around or unwillingly creating accidents at his office. He is frequently criticized for not doing his job, but, then again, it is never made clear what he is exactly supposed to do.
    • It was in fact the character's defining element for a long time: Before he got his own proper comics, Gaston was actually a character who sometimes appeared in the margin of the magazine "Spirou", with no explanation whatsoever of who he was or why he was there. It took some time before the two main characters of "Spirou et Fantasio" began to wonder what exactly was the purpose of his presence, and when they finally asked him, the only thing learned was that he supposedly had been hired by "some guy" to work here. Who was that guy, and what was the job that Gaston was supposed to be hired for remained a mystery, even for Gaston himself, hence why Gaston ended up being dubbed the "Hero-without-employment"

    Comic Strips 
  • De Kiekeboes: Marcel Kiekeboe works at an office, but that's all we ever hear about his job.
  • Nero: Nero seems to be without a job, because his wife always nags him with the question: "When are you finally going to get a job?" Though he describes his job as a "newspaper appearance", referencing the fact that "Nero" was a popular newspaper comic strip.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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?"
  • Tom Smykowski, in Office Space has a job whose duties seem so light and so nebulous that even he can barely describe his job in terms that make it sound like he does any actual work. He isn't in sales, he isn't a programmer, and he doesn't even really interact with clientele, prompting the Bobs to repeatedly ask "What would you say you do here?"
  • Wag The Dog: Robert De Niro's character.
    "What exactly is it that you do for the President?"

  • 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.
  • Ground Floor: No one knows what Tori does in the office. She only comes in to sleep after spending the night clubbing and is only seen awake when she's goofing off with the rest of the maintenance staff.
    Jenny: "Threepeat, you know who's fluent in Mandarin is Tori."
    Threepeat: "Are you serious? Can you spare her for a day so she can teach me?"
    Jenny: "Spare her? We don't even know what she does!"
  • Star Trek franchise:
    • In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Worf and Geordi's duties apart from "all-purpose junior officer" are pretty vague. They can sometimes be seen at the conn or tactical stations or as part of away missions. They're given more defined roles after being promoted to chief of Security and Engineering respectively.
    • Once Worf moves to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine his job duties become unclear once again. His title is "Strategic Operations Officer" and the duties are described as "coordinating all Starfleet activity within the sector", which sounds like a job for an administrator that would take up a lot of time. However, we never see him performing this duty. Instead, we see him performing almost any other job, such as small arms recalibration, communications duties, security related issues, and, most often, acting as XO aboard the Defiant (even being referred to as "first officer" of the Defiant in one episode). It was fairly obvious to viewers that Worf's "job" was little more than an excuse to have him join the show.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Most of the people on Coulson's team have clearly-defined roles (May is a pilot, Skye is a hacker, Fitz is an engineer, etc.) but Triplett doesn't seem to have any specific purpose other than general badassery. It's mentioned at one point that he has medical training, but he never really uses it onscreen and the team's Medic is usually Simmons. Even as a fighter he's pretty redundant, since the show's go-to badasses are May, Ward, and Lance Hunter, they're usually the ones sent off to fight the bad guys while Triplett just stays behind at the base. One episode of season 2 has him subbing for May as the plane's pilot, apparently just to give him something to do.
  • Jayne in Firefly is this in-universe. When Simon asks Mal what he pays Jayne for in the first episode, Mal flippantly replies "public relations."
    • You could call him the security chief, I guess, since his skills mainly involve shooting and/or beating up people.
    • He's the Enforcer, or the muscle. This is a team of mercenaries (read: pirates) after all.
  • Jonathan Creek, at least in the sense that he seems to wear an awful lot of hats in his day-job as designated sane person and the guy who makes most of the tricks work for the Adam Klaus Magic Show. Is he the stage manager, set designer, senior special effects technician or all three? It doesn't help that he's been referred to by at least two different job descriptions in two different episodes, both of them rather vague.

    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 (in Dragon Age: Inquisition, he confirms that he does have a spy network, but leaves it to Liliana because she's a much better spymaster than he is).
  • 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!
  • In an episode of Ren and Stimpy, Stimpy resolves to make a cartoon and Ren asks to join in, but laments that he has no talent. Stimpy tells him that this makes him perfect for the job of Producer, the person who "tells the artist what to do, and then when the cartoon's done, he gets all the credit!"

    Real Life 
  • Everybody on Earth knows who Walt Disney is. But what his actual profession was is far more difficult to describe. Many see him as a cartoonist and an animator, yet Disney drew his last drawing in 1926. Others claim he is a film director, but he only directed a minor few of his movies himself. He is often credited as a wonderful creator and storyteller, but most of the character designs, ideas and technical innovations were thought up and done by other people. The best description may be 'film producer', seeing that Walt invested millions of money in his cartoons and used the profits back for new projects. He could also combine the talents of many people and make them enthusiastic for each new project. And of course he was also a voice actor for his own studio, providing Mickey Mouse's vocals until his voice became hoarse from years of smoking
  • 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.
  • The position of 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.
  • The question certainly arises in the case of many socialites, who just seem to appear at parties, festivities, TV panel shows, award shows and other public appearances and nothing else.

Alternative Title(s):

What Exactly Is Her Job