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Demoted to Comic Relief

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Season One: The galaxy's greatest supervillain.
Season Two: Angrily playing a game of Capture the Flag and losing.
Because stories often only have a limited amount of time to develop their characters, as well as a need to introduce new characters to keep things fresh, certain major characters tend to get pushed to the back burner in favor of others. However, the writer isn't exactly keen on simply getting rid of these characters, but they still would rather focus on others. So what do they do with them? How about turning them into comic relief instead?

And so the character that used to tag along with the main cast has faded into the background and is only brought back into the spotlight to be treated as a Butt-Monkey. Alternatively, they might be an antagonist who was a threat when they were introduced, but return as comedic failures because the heroes have outgrown them or because they just can't keep up with the main antagonists.

Often, this trope is a result of the story having a large cast, and depending on who it happens to, can result in characters losing previously established traits in favor of others. If a villain undergoes this, it's often a side effect of Villain Decay.

You can expect the fandom to be divided on this. Sometimes it's generally seen as the character being re-written to justify stripping them of their dignity, other times it seems to make the character much more charming and likeable. The latter is more likely if it's treated as a natural progression of their personality, or if the character was already seen as flat or disliked by a large majority.

This is a Sub-Trope of Demoted to Extra and Comedic Relief Characters. May overlap with Badass Decay. Compare to Demoted to Satellite Love Interest and Adaptational Comic Relief. Compare Shoo Out the Clowns where the already comic relief character gets pushed out for more dramatic moments/storylines.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk:
    • Puck originally started out as Guts' Morality Chain, while also providing some much-needed levity for the story. However, as the story progresses and Guts gains more and more True Companions, his status as the moral compass has been given to other characters while his comedic traits have taken the forefront.
    • During the Conviction arc, Azan acted as a somewhat hammy but overall serious Hero Antagonist and the Straight Man of the Holy Iron Chain Knights. When he makes his return during the Fantasia arc and joins Guts' companions, the rest of the companions receive much more focus and Character Development while Azan's more serious traits are put on the back-burner while he instead becomes the target of some slapstick comedy alongside Isidro.
  • Hatsukoi Zombie: The Election arc introduces Haran Koigaura as Ibusuki's running opponent, with his story focusing on how he reluctantly falls for her despite both being a serial dater and not knowing the truth about her male disguise. His few appearances after that are mostly for Dramatic Irony jokes, while his personality is punched-up to Armored Closet Gay to keep up.
  • Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch Pure pulls this on Karen, Coco, and Noel. In season 1, Karen had a major arc trying to find her sister Noel while she and Coco were captured by Gaito. Pure doesn't really give them a major role and in the episodes where they appear (outside their focus episodes, which Noel didn't get, by the way), they're usually just there for either comedy, matchmaking, or both.
  • Kawachi from Yakitate!! Japan is introduced as a friend and rival to Azuma, and serves as both the Mr. Exposition and The Watson to the latter's eccentric naivete. He does have some Butt-Monkey tendencies due to his overreactions to Azuma's quirks, but he is still treated as a legitimate baker, and his motive of wanting to continue his late father's dream while making a living for his poor siblings gives him a more dramatic Character Arc than Azuma's simple To Be a Master goal. Until the end of the Pantasia Rookie Tournament Arc, that is, after which he is completely flanderized into The Load whose only purpose is to make a fool of himself by his ignorance and incompetence, and generally be the butt of Cringe Comedy jokes, to the point that his teammates and even his family (you know, his motivation for becoming a baker, and initially a source of drama in his character arc) see him more as an embarrassment than anything else.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Ryuji Otogi/Duke Devlin starts as an antagonist, but after his Heel–Face Turn, he becomes dead weight, tossed into the comic relief category along with Tristan. The fact that he's a rich business owner rarely comes up except when having a car turns out to be handy.

    Comic Books 
  • In Runaways, Chase was one of the main characters, to the point that in the second series, his fears of losing his girlfriend Gert (and grief when she dies unexpectedly) fuel much of the drama, and his attempts to confront his parents' abuse and avoid becoming like his father drives the final arc of the third series. In Runaways (Rainbow Rowell), he is turned into a Sad Clown who's so dumb that he replaces his own hand with a cannon, with the Lemony Narrator calling him the lamest Runaway ever.

    Films — Animation 
  • Ice Age: While they were always comedic characters, Crash and Eddie, first introduced in Ice Age: The Meltdown, had some common sense and their relationship with Ellie was important to the plot. In the three sequels, they are Demoted to Extra and are only there to make a few jokes from time to time.
  • Steven Universe: The Movie: In the original series, Yellow, Blue, and White Diamond were tyrannical dictators who spread their reign of terror across the galaxy. Come this movie, after they have started to redeem themselves, their roles are now reduced to wacky elderly relatives who all adore and want to greatly spoil Steven, much to his chagrin.
  • Toy Story: In Toy Story 4, Buzz Lightyear is not the Deuteragonist as he was in the first three movies (Bo Peep takes the role instead) and mainly acts as comic relief, with several jokes about him being hapless to the point of relying on his randomly-generated voice box phrases to accomplish anything of note.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Roman Pierce from The Fast and the Furious was introduced in 2 Fast 2 Furious as a main character alongside Brian, and is an overall rather competent character who spouted the occasional wisecrack. When he's reintroduced in Fast Five, his wackiness was turned up a bit and his contributions to the story become a lot more minor. Now we see him trading quips with Tej, panicking at being dropped from a plane (in a car), and complaining that he didn't make the FBI's ten most wanted list with the rest of the crew.
  • Harry Potter: Both the Dursleys and Argus Filch are portrayed as somewhat sinister in the first few films, but become more and more Played for Laughs over time.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Drax the Destroyer. While he did have a few comedic moments in Guardians of the Galaxy, he was still played mostly seriously, and his goal of getting revenge for his family's death is a major plot line. By the time of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, he's pretty much the go-to comic relief character, with most of his scenes having him doing something stupid or rattling off a funny line. He does still have the occasional moment of drama in this film (Mantis feeling the depths of his sorrow over losing his family) and those that follow, but they are fewer and fewer as time goes by.
    • Ever since Thor: Ragnarok took a Lighter and Softer tone, Thor became some kind of hybrid of Star-Lord and Drax.
  • In The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia, many characters from the series, notably the Rock Biter and Falcor, become bumbling doofuses.
  • Pintel and Ragetti in Pirates of the Caribbean. In the first film, while they do provide comedy, they are still evil henchmen of the Big Bad who can be dangerous and even creepy at times (they kidnap Elisabeth, kill some of her servants, and threaten to rape her). In the two sequels, they're pretty much only there to serve as comic relief.
  • Star Wars: When introduced in The Force Awakens, Hux was an intimidating Badass Normal who was roughly equal to Kylo Ren in the First Order hierarchy — his most notable scene has him give an angry speech before a Nuremberg-esque assembly as Starkiller Base's superlaser is activated. In The Last Jedi, however, he is largely reduced to being a Butt-Monkey at the hands of Snoke and Ren, with his nervousness and submissiveness as he is hurt by their Force powers reinforcing the comedy of the situation. This ends up being deconstructed in The Rise of Skywalker; Hux is so tired of getting tossed about and mistreated that he defects to the Resistance just so he can get back at Ren — and gets executed for it.
  • In the Indiana Jones trilogy, Marcus Brody goes from being Indy's serious superior who was implied to have gone on many adventures in the past with him and on his own in the first film to a complete buffoon in the third film who is out of his depth in fieldwork.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Deke Shaw. In the first half of Season 5, he is a smart and resourceful Lovable Rogue who knows the futuristic world very well and is often helpful to the protagonists. In the second half, he becomes a goofy manchild who frequently comes across as an idiot because of his lack of knowledge of the modern world and serves little purpose in the plot aside from providing comic relief.
  • Arrowverse: Mick Rory/Heatwave starts off as Leonard Snart's Hot-Blooded partner-in-crime and while quite a Large Ham is still treated as quite a serious threat. Then came his transplant over to Legends of Tomorrow, where in Season 1 he's the Token Evil Teammate and has an arc of going through the Heel–Face Revolving Door. While he still has his own side-arc in Season 2, Season 3 sees him being relegated to the primary comic relief character, becoming a Lovable Rogue and The Big Guy with his Book Dumb tendencies being far more pronounced, with no real contributions to the story other than comedy.
  • Played for VERY dark laughs in Boardwalk Empire: Nelson Van Alden is a dedicated Prohibition agent who makes it his goal to dismantle Nucky Thompson's bootlegging operation. The first season sets him up as the Big Bad... until he kills his partner and goes on the run. For the entire rest of the series his life is a Black Comedy, as he gets humiliated at various jobs (and usually loses them by snapping and injuring/killing someone), dabbles in bootlegging himself, and ends up a low-level mook for Al Capone.
  • Britta Perry in Community. In the first season, she is essentially the second lead of the show after Jeff and is involved in a Love Triangle with him and Professor Slater. She's also relatively sane compared to the rest of the cast and is more or less the Straight Man of the ensemble, with very few quirks of her own. As the show goes on, Britta loses her role as Jeff's nominal love interest and primary Foil to Annie, her goofiness and Butt-Monkey status are increasingly mined for comedy, and her flaws and storylines (while not without providing some Character Development) are usually Played for Laughs. By the final season, she's one of the show's go-to comic relief characters next to the Dean and Chang.
  • Inverted in Homicide: Life on the Street. Lewis started off as one of Those Two Guys alongside Crosetti, and tended to be the more Out of Focus of the two, with his main purpose being to serve as comic relief. After Crosetti dies early in the third season, Lewis gradually became a bigger part of the Ensemble Cast and was portrayed more as a Sad Clown with plenty of Hidden Depths.
  • House of Anubis: Patricia is a major character in season 1, with her Joy subplot being a major focal point and her character being played seriously, despite her Deadpan Snarker tendencies being relatively funny. Come season 2, the Joy plot has been resolved and she shifts from the show's deuteragonist to a comedic secondary character. Though still involved in the mystery, her flaws and scenes were mostly Played for Laughs, her major subplot is centered around her Belligerent Sexual Tension with Eddie, and she has less involvement in the Sibuna plot this time around. Season 3 balances it a bit; while some of her comedic traits remain, she's more important to the plot than in season 2 and is treated more seriously.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • When Yasushi Tsujimoto started his career in Toryumon Japan, his original gimmick was that of a Rastafarian culture enthusiast who also happened to be a skilled amateur wrestler and a skilled llavenote  grappler as well. At the time of his debut, he was considered a serious upper-midcarder. The Rastfarian gimmick flanderized as he first became Stevie "brother" Tsujimoto, then brother YASSINI, and finally brother YASSHI. During his days as YASSINI he was part of a tag team with Shuji Kondo. The comic relief demotion started when Dragon Gate split from Toryumon, and YASSHI was changed from Kondo's slightly weaker but essentially equal tag partner to Kondo's loud-mouthed little buddy who talked mad trash but needed Kondo to back it up for him. Around this same time, comedy-based Groin Attacks became a staple of his offense. By the time Kondo and YASSHI left Dragon Gate for New Japan, YASSHI hadn't gotten a direct pinfall victory in over a year. He's flanderized even further in New Japan, becoming a guy who only existed to do comedy spots and get pinned in multi-man tag matches.

    Video Games 
  • If you are a pre-existing SNK protagonist and you end up becoming playable in The King of Fighters, then expect to get sidelined in the plot and eventually have most of your team endings be a joke. For instance:
    • Nakoruru; her ending in Samurai Shodown II has her slay Mizuki and then sacrifice her mortal form to reverse the damage that Mizuki had caused, whereas her ending in The King of Fighters XV ends with her dragging Mizuki along to participate in a modern-day shopping spree.
    • The cast of Art of Fighting. The story of their original games weren't all that jokey as sometimes, they dip into serious issues, such as Robert's quest to help a friend (and the first game was a rather serious Rescue Arc). When they're in The King of Fighters... well, even before Nakoruru entered, the Art of Fighting team endings have been largely comical most of the time.
    • The Fatal Fury team. While Terry Bogard generally is still respected as the veteran fighter who is just never relevant with the ongoing story arcs (his feud with Geese Howard is still treated with the proper animosity between each other), Andy Bogard generally often is saddled with how he has to deal with Mai who's getting even more tenacious in trying to score with him, to hilarious effects (which even Terry sometimes capitalizing). Furthermore, Joe Higashi often finds himself in a much more hilarious shenanigans (trying to score with Lilly Kane with Billy successfully preventing him roughly, or being chased with a Camp Gay admirer) instead of showcasing why he's the feared God of Muay Thai of the setting.
    • K' and Kula Diamond, the duo at the heart of the NESTS Chronicles story arc, have also fallen into the comic relief territory. The former's debut in The King of Fighters '99 had him on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge while simultaneously coming to terms with his Clone Angst, while the latter's Defusing the Tyke-Bomb storyline running through both The King of Fighters 2000 and The King of Fighters 2001, culminating in her witnessing the attempted murder of her mother figure at the hands of her own allies, was also treated rather seriously. Once the NESTS Chronicles ended and they made way for future main characters, both K' and Kula have been treated far more comedically, with their arc in XV being a Feud Episode stemming from the latter wanting to spend time at an amusement park and the former's refusal to do so, that is mostly Played for Laughs.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
  • Callie in Splatoon is definitely a bit of a Cloudcuckoolander, and a Genki Girl who often does things without thinking. But in Splatoon 2, she not only is reduced to a brainwashed Damsel in Distress, she also takes quite a few levels in dumbass — most notably putting on a Hypno Trinket that she knows is a Hypno Trinket because "it looks good on her". In response to fan complaints, the 3.0 update took steps to reverse this by letting Callie appear in Octo Canyon after clearing Hero Mode, giving her new dialogue much more in line with her old personality. It's fully undone by Splatoon 3, which gives Callie as many competent moments as silly ones.
  • Tekken:
    • Paul Phoenix was once considered The Rival to Kazuya Mishima, the only one to ruin his perfect victory streak with a draw. While he had some humorous, unfortunate events for his endings, it's generally accepted that he's still a gruff and serious force to be reckoned with. The 4th game, being considered Darker and Edgier, saw Paul to have been a bit enlightened with his experience and matured up... but by the 5th game, which tried to lighten the mood again, it was considered non-canon and Paul ended up receiving a Flanderization into a boisterous idiot obsessed with trying to be the toughest of the universe while never missing to participate in goofy events, and his rivalry with Kazuya is never mentioned again. Even in any cases they interact (including spin-offs), Kazuya just noted that he's disappointed at what Paul has become and treats him like a non-factor on his overall plan.
    • On the same boat, Paul's best friend, Marshall Law, has a similar demotion. In his earlier appearances, he was treated with genuine respect as a martial artist and his distress of bankruptcy in the 4th game is played seriously. However, by the 5th game, the storywriters decided that Law worked better if he's in a Perpetual Poverty, and so he's reduced into humorously trying to claw himself out of poverty and failing, while usually bringing Paul along.
    • Asuka Kazama was introduced rather seriously, with her being Jun Kazama's niece, being shown to have anti-Devil Gene powers, and her arc involving her hunting down Feng Wei for hospitalizing her father. As soon as her Sitcom Arch-Nemesis Lili de Rochefort was introduced though, Asuka's relevancy and seriousness quickly evaporated, and the vast majority of her appearances since then have been limited to rather comical interactions with Lili heavily playing both of them up as Ambiguously Gay.

    Western Animation 
  • Zig-zagged with Peridot in Steven Universe. When she first appears in season one, she's a cold, mysterious Gem whose technology poses a threat to the Crystal Gems. Later appearances gave her more exaggerated expressions, but also gave her some Character Development and had her reluctantly join the Crystal Gems and help save Earth from the Gem cluster. Once that arc wrapped up, however, she becomes a much sillier character, with most of her scenes revolving around discovering Earth culture, annoying the other Gems, and getting into slapstick. There were still episodes fleshing her out, such as "Too Far" and "Too Short to Ride", but by the last season she is mostly relegated to hanging out in the barn with Lapis Lazuli and only showing up to crack more jokes... before getting another small arc where Lapis leaves her and she falls into depression. The only episode to give her any serious focus after that is "In Dreams" from Steven Universe: Future.
  • In the first two seasons of The Transformers, the Dinobots, while relatively dim-witted, are powerful warriors feared by the Decepticons and capable of turning the tide of battle with their presence. Season 3note  plays up their stupidity and plays down their strength, especially in the case of their leader Grimlock, who also takes a dip in maturity, turning him into a humungous Manchild.
  • Hunk from Voltron: Legendary Defender spent a large amount of season 1 showing his Hidden Depths and going through Character Development, learning to become a serious fighter as a member of Team Voltron. During season 2, he is pushed to the side while other members of the team take the forefront, with him seemingly only existing to act as a walking food joke. Luckily, season 3 has him gaining prominence again and his more serious traits once again being highlighted.

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