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Obliquely Obfuscated Occupation

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"Yes, your job, which we'll never explain or see you do, makes much less than his job, which we'll never explain or see him do."

A classic sitcom trope where a character (or an entire company, in some examples) has an occupation but no details are ever revealed to the audience, or occasionally to any other characters. Usually played for laughs as their job can contain as many Noodle Incident events as possible, or the character will expect all others to know what he does and be disappointed when nobody can name it. For the character example, this trope is not to be confused with Pointy-Haired Boss; this character is generally competent, just nobody knows what their position is or what it actually entails. This trope still applies if said occupation changes every episode if said lack of knowledge is expressed each time.

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Someone with this kind of occupation may be employed by a Business of Generic Importance. Not to be confused with What, Exactly, Is His Job?, that's about a character with a rotating or undefined role on the cast itself. Contrast The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, where a character is established to have a specific job, but is never seen doing it.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Matt from Death Note. He's obviously employed somehow, unless Mello is supporting both of them, or his parents left him a big inheritance that he took with him when leaving Wammy's House. He has an apartment and food (even if most of it is junk food), and he has electricity and Wi-Fi, plus enough for luxuries like a Cyberpunk sofa, fairly nice clothes, cigarettes by the pack, and a Cool Car. But when we first see him, he's just sitting there playing video games, and in all his later appearances he's doing recon work for Mello (voluntarily, not as an employee). We don't see what he was or might have been doing prior to that, though since he is shown to be an accomplished computer hacker, he is thought to have done some professional computer-hacking (either legally or not-so-legally.)
  • Ash's goal of becoming a "Pokémon Master" is this in Pokémon. It's never specified what this entails and almost no one besides being Ash mentions it as a goal. He never seems too concerned about winning the League and no Champion is described as a Pokémon Master, so it's unlikely to be related to the Pokémon League. It doesn't seem to involve catching a lot of Pokémon either. Ash is asked what being a Pokémon Master means in the I Choose You manga adaptation, but all he says it that it's "way above" being the best trainer in the world. This vaguely defined goal allows Ash to keep traveling around without ever achieving his goal.
  • Dragon Ball: Gohan is stated to be a "scholar" after the Buu Saga, and that this is considered very prestigious, but what exactly this constitutes and what he's getting paid for is never really elaborated on. What field he studies, what he studies for, and how he applies his knowledge mostly happens offscreen, since he's never seen doing the usual things you'd expect a "scholar" to make money off of, like teaching, writing articles, doing studies or peer-review, or anything along those lines. As far as the audience can tell, his job seems to consist of reading a lot of books. Some All There in the Manual material claims he would eventually write a book, but we never see him doing so. Dragon Ball Super downplays this as he is seen going for business lunches, is heard attending important conferences and at one point is seen leaving what looks like a university, meaning he could be a university professor at that point of time.

    Comic Books 
  • Johnny Turbo is a "computer expert". Never you mind what that entails.
  • 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 on everybody so that the CEO of the firm, who is also the chief of the police, can detect the rebellious citizens.
  • Played with in Runaways, where we know how the Wilder, Minoru, and Yorkes families actually became wealthy - a combination of crime, time-travelling for fun and profit, and dark magic - but it's never said what their cover jobs are.
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    Comic Strips 
  • Lampshaded in My Cage, where Norm does some kind of work for a company called MacGuffin Inc, whose purpose is unknown.
  • Dilbert. The title character is an engineer (along with most of the rest of the cast), and there are references to creating software, but that's about as much details as you're going to get. It generally falls under Negative Continuity, and the company does whatever is required to make the current joke work.
  • Calvin and Hobbes
  • In the comic strip Luann, Brad's friend TJ has actually had lots of jobs, but most of them have some motive in mind other than making money (such as finding evidence of Ann Eiffel abusing employees). He seems to have a lot of money that he gets from an unknown source, which he won't divulge. It has caused suspicion both in-universe and out.

    Film — Animated 
  • Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame is some sort of important guy, but it's not really clear what his main job in the community is. He's referred to as a count, a judge, and a minister (religious? political?) at various times by different characters, but he's never shown doing anything related to any of these professions.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • I'm Thinking of Ending Things: Played for Drama. The young woman continuously alludes to work that has to be done, but what exactly she does keeps changing — she's either a student studying neurobiology/quantum physics/gerontology, an artist who writes poems/paints, or a waitress. This is a sign that she likely isn't real.
  • Lifeology: Setgel is a scientist researching...something...and apparently trying to make...something. Other than whatever he's doing involving a lot of colored liquids and being an explosive hazard (he blows up his lab!), no hint is given as to what he actually does. This is lampshaded when he and Chimegtoshio are out on a date. She asks just what he's a scientist of, and he says "What a great question! Let's drink to that!"
  • When the CEO comes to visit the office in the final act of 9 to 5, several of the panicked workers can be heard trying to figure out exactly what it is that Consolidated Companies actually does.
  • Johnny of The Room is vaguely defined as working in a bank, and he apparently makes mad amounts of money from it, despite only being shown going to work once. Lisa is in "the computer business", whatever that means, and is never shown working. There is a single line of dialogue where she says she's expecting a client, but it's possible she just said that to get rid of her mother.
  • Charlie MacKenzie of So I Married an Axe Murderer can somehow afford a very nice San Francisco apartment and a snazzy sports coupe, despite only ever being shown occasionally performing beat poetry at a particular coffeehouse, which is something you'd have a hard time getting paid for at all. Some dialogue early in the movie implies he may own the coffeehouse, but it's never explicitly stated (and if he does, then he's not exactly a hands-on owner).

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • Played for Drama in The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, where Bruno's father hides his occupation from his son, since he take orders directly from "The Fury". It's pretty obvious to the audience what Dad does, though.
  • The faculty of Unseen University in Discworld all have grandiose academic titles, but since none of them have any contact with students if they can avoid it, it's not clear what these titles require them to do (some of those titles apparently have no responsibilities beyond filling a position that because of long-standing tradition or the requirements of some bequest, they have to have, even if it's totally pointless). This gets a Lampshade Hanging in the short story "A Collegiate Casting-Out of Devilish Devices":
    Ridcully: Interesting idea, though. What do you do, Senior Wrangler?
    Senior Wrangler: Well, er. The post of Senior Wrangler at Unseen University is, most unusually...
    Ridcully: Yes, but what do you do? And have you been doing more of it in the past six months than in the previous six?
    Dean: Well, if we're asking that kind of question, Archchancellor, what do you do?
    Ridcully: I administer, Dean.
    Dean: Then we must be doing something, otherwise you'd have nothing to administrate.
    Ridcully: That comment strikes at the heart of the bureaucratic principle, Dean, and I shall ignore it.
  • In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens never specifies exactly what Scrooge's business is. He's referred to as being hard on his debtors, so many adaptations make him some sort of moneylender. On the other hand, it's mentioned that he's well known on "'Change," that is, the merchandise/stock exchange in London. And he did his apprenticeship with Fezziwig, who was apparently a wholesaler of unspecified goods.
  • Uncle Parker in Helen Cresswell's The Bagthorpe Saga has an unspecified job which somehow involves doing the London Times crossword every afternoon.
  • The title character of the Robert A. Heinlein novella "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" hires a private detective, because he has no idea what he does for a living. It turns out that our entire Universe is the creation of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who create realities as an art form. Hoag was basically an art critic who was studying this work, and had his memories wiped to experience it more fully.
  • In the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, it's never made quite clear just what Mr. Heffley does for a living; it seems to be some sort of office job and that it involved international clients, but we never get more info than that.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Ozzie's job involved hanging around the house a lot, although he was nominally a bandleader, as he was in real life.
  • Black Books lampshades and inverts it when Fran gets a new job, rises spectacularly through the ranks, and loses it in the space of a week or so, all without ever knowing what she was meant to be doing.
  • A Running Gag on Conan is Conan antagonizing his associate producer Jordan Schlansky about his job. Whenever Conan asks Jordan what his job entails, Jordan gives vague non-answers in a completely deadpan voice, making Conan hate him more.
  • Chandler's job was one of the enigmas of Friends. It is an office job in a company, but the actual role is a mystery - which leaves Monica and Rachel dumbfounded when their bet with Chandler and Joey hinges on knowing what's his job. One early episode referred to him as a processing supervisor, though it was never specified what type of processing he was supervising. Then, on Season 9, Monica points out what's his job - after he has resigned, which he, of course, lampshadesnote .
    Rachel: He's a... he's a transpondster!
    Monica: That's not even a WORD!
  • How I Met Your Mother has Barney, who answers every question about his job with a dismissive laugh and a "please." 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. The final season reveals that his job title is actually P.L.E.A.S.E. - "Provide Legal Exculpation And Sign Everything". He's the designated legal fall guy for his company's various criminal activities but, being Barney, he's actually two steps ahead of them, and has already made a whistle-blower deal with the federal government that gets him off the hook while getting his personal revenge on the guy who stole his First Love from him.
  • The IT Crowd is, as the title suggests, fairly clear about what their lead characters do for a living—they run tech support for Reynholm Industries. What it is Reynholm Industries does is another matter entirely, and has never been elaborated on.
    Jen: BHDR Industries, they're the top makers of that product that has something to do with our company!
    • This might also be a nod to Truth in Television, as in-house I.T. tends to be very similar in organizations with a comparably-sized white-collar component, regardless of actual industry. Which is not actually surprising - the workstations will be the same, 95% of the software will be off the shelf, and things like server capacity and network layouts tend to scale the same way.
  • A sketch in I Think You Should Leave has a driver's ed teacher showing his students a corny educational video about safe driving, but the students are immediately distracted by the woman in the video, who has a job which apparently includes folding tables and horror icons like Herman Munster. The teacher angrily insists that her job is "tables" and refuses to elaborate. The end of the sketch subverts the trope by revealing that she apparently works as a booking agent for science fiction conventions, thus explaining why she needs to know about tables.
  • Downplayed in Jonathan Creek: Jonathan's responsibilities in his job with The Adam Klaus Magic Show are well-established (design and construct the props Adam uses on stage and bail Adam out of whatever idiotic predicament he's got himself in this week), but the show is forever quite vague about his job title: Is he the Stage Manager, senior visual effects technician or something entirely different?
  • In the family sitcom Leave It to Beaver, head-of-the-family Ward Cleaver’s job was never specifically stated, other then that it was some sort of office job.
  • A running joke on Martin with Tommy, to the extent that multiple episodes were dedicated to trying to find out what his job was. Many fans have theorized that he was a drug dealer, but it's been revealed that he was actually a youth counselor.
  • The Office:
    • Creed 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 salesman at Michael Scott Paper Company. Since that collapsed, his job has been fuzzy in the extreme.
  • This trope is parodied on an episode of Roseanne which reimagined the show as a classic 1950's sitcom, complete with In-Universe Values Dissonance, such as the adults happily giving the kids cigarettes to smoke or "Wacky Jackie" cheerfully describing her husband's rage against her. Dan, as a Standard '50s Father, works for a vague company and apparently has to deal with something called "the Anderson account," but it's never specified exactly what he (or the business overall) does.
  • Kramer on Seinfeld appears by all accounts to be unemployed, but is never hurting for money. When Jerry asks him what it is he actually does, he simply answers "Oh, I get by." In the Festivus episode, Kramer reveals that he used to work at a bagel shop before the employees went on strike demanding higher pay. When the strike is called off (because the minimum wage has now risen high enough that it meets their original demands), he goes back to work... until he's fired at the end of the episode.
    • Kramer is just one of those uniquely blessed individuals who somehow (as George put it) repeatedly "falls ass-backwards into money" through schemes, accidents, happenstance, and the undeserved good karma that often seems to fall on fools. He has likely never held a "real" job for very long at any point in his life.
  • The Smoking Room. Justified: the series lasts two seasons where the camera never leaves the smoking room, and the characters have all agreed to never talk shop in there, so the audience never finds out what the company does. Also, mainish character Robin also spends the entire show in the smoking room, so while all the other characters have specific roles, his is never touched on.
  • An early episode of That '70s Show involved the gang going with their parents for Career Day; Kelso's dad attempts to explain his job, but it becomes increasingly apparent even he isn't quite sure what he does (from evidence he may be some sort of statistician for a consulting firm); Kelso gives up and simply decides to tell everyone else his dad is a farmer.
  • WandaVision: As part of living in a pseudo-50s /60s sitcom, Vision has a job at Computational Services, Inc., doing... something. In fact, in his first scene at work, Vision stops to ask a colleague what exactly they do, and his co-worker can't properly answer. But whatever they do, they sure do a lot of it! It's justified by the fact that the Hex is one giant false sitcom reality created by Wanda. She has no idea what people do at an American company beyond what sitcoms told her.
    Vision: Would you be so good as to tell me what it is we do here, exactly? Do we make something?
    Norm: No.
    Vision: Right. Do we buy or sell something?
    Norm: No and no.
    Vision: Then what is the purpose of this company?
    Norm: All I know is, since you've gotten here, productivity has gone up 300%.
    Vision: Yes, but what is it we're producing?
    Norm: Computational forms. And no one can process the data quite like you do, pal. You're like a walking computer!
    Vision: What? I most certainly am not! I'm a regular carbon-based employee made entirely of organic matter, much like yourself, Norm.
    • Mr. Hart's explanation only makes things more confusing.
      Mr. Hart: ...So I say if we orient the forms horizontally, rather than vertically, we can use twice the paper. We can bill twice the cost.
      Vision: [laughs] You truly are a pioneer. But the...the larger purpose of the forms is?
      Mr. Hart: Well it's to analyze our input and our output.
      Vision: Huh.
      Mr. Hart: You're awfully dense, aren't you, Vision?
  • In the Fred Savage sitcom Working (1997), it was never mentioned what the corporation did.
  • One episode of The Wonder Years revolves around Kevin (also played by Fred Savage) realizing that he doesn't know what his father does for a living. He asks his older brother, who replies with a shrug "He works for Norcom." But when Kevin asks what he actually does, his brother realizes that he doesn't know either. Kevin then asks his mother, who says the same thing. When he asks for specifics, she convinces her husband to take him to work for a day so that he can see exactly what his father does. Kevin (and the audience) do learn what Jack's job entails, but the actual product the company makes remains a mystery.
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    Professional Wrestling 
  • During The Undertaker's biker gimmick, 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.
  • While she dressed like a (sexy) businesswoman, Ms. Hancock's exact job description was never explained. This is due to the weird transitional period that was early 2000 WCW, with Kevin Sullivan having been brought back to sort out Vince Russo's mess.

    Video Games 
  • Akane the Kunoichi: So Akane is a kunoichi, Goro is her master and a samurai, and Hiromi... was not given a job title. All that we know is that she has ninjas, dogs, and the first four game bosses that work for, and has a manor. This seems to imply she is has some leadership position, but what is uncertain.
  • Octodad: While we know that Scarlet works as a reporter, we never get to know what the titular character does. In a flashback we see that when he first pretended to be a human and met Scarlet, he posed as a ship captain, but afterwards nothing is said. A comic in the official blog has him go to Tommy's school for Career Day. Due to him being Intelligible Unintelligible we don't get to hear what he does but judging by the teacher's reactions, it's something most people didn't know was a job and apparently it pays a lot. Which probably makes sense considering all the property damage Octodad does in his daily life.
  • 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.
  • In Tales of Vesperia, despite being stated as the largest and most powerful guild in the union, it's not clear exactly what Altosk's purpose as a guild is. The other four Master Guilds all have clearly defined jobs -Fortune's Market are merchants, Ruins' Gate are archeologists, the Soul Smiths are blacksmiths, and the Blood Alliance are mercenaries- but Altosk doesn't seem to have any particular focus other than being in charge of stuff.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: The Poopsmith is employed by the King of Town, but nobody seems to be entirely sure what his job is, except maybe the King himself, who won't say. His job appears to involve shoveling large piles of poop, usually just taking a shovelful of one pile and making a new pile somewhere else. Where all that poop comes from and why the King needs someone to move it around is anyone's guess. It doesn't help that the Poopsmith occasionally takes on other jobs and has taken a vow of silence which prevents him from explaining anything.

    Web Originals 
  • Played for Drama in Brian David Gilbert's horror short "Earn $20K EVERY MONTH by being your own boss". The main character's entire job consists of moving strange symbols from one spreadsheet to another for the mysterious Dorian Smiles, for which he receives a ridiculously huge amount of money...from a bank account with his own name on it. He can't explain what it's for or even who Dorian Smiles really is; he simply repeats how he's making $20K every month by being his own boss and how great it is. He gets tired of not knowing and attempts to find out. This goes poorly for him.
  • A Running Gag in Jake and Amir is that Amir's precise job at CollegeHumor is unclear to everyone, including him. He rarely if ever does any actual work, and it's variously implied that he never moved up from intern-level tasks and that he fills a hard-to-replace role and makes more money than Jake. On the other hand, he's occasionally said to be a writer for the site as his real-life counterpart was at the time.
  • Critical Role: Wildemount: Essek Thelyss works directly with the Empress of the Kryn Dynasty in court, has free access to high-security prisoners, and is a magical prodigy, but his official title of Shadowhand is never explained in-game. Word of God is that it's awarded to a distinguished "specialist in the dangerous unknown".

    Webcomics 
  • Dad in Homestuck. His son John is Comically Missing the Point when he thinks his dad is a street performer. Instead, Dad is a businessman with an office job. No details of his work appear: Dad's job seems to be "business." He uses an app to communicate with other businessmen, ostensibly his colleagues, who only seem interested in smart grooming and professional menswear — in other words, a parody of white-collar office work.
  • Pete in Darths & Droids has a job that, apparently, is white collar. It's complicated by a lot of the clues being seemingly contradictory; for instance, he casually writes new phone apps on the spot and doesn't understand why people think it's hard but also complains that he's stuck in meetings with silver-tongued backstabbers all day. It's eventually revealed that he used to work in IT and most of the other players assumed that's what he did, but he is now a trial lawyer.
  • No one really knows what IDs from Least I Could Do does.
  • El Goonish Shive : Ellen has no clue what her dad's job is.

    Western Animation 
  • Early in Aqua Teen Hunger Force Carl states that he "works out of the home." What he actually does is unclear, but he seems to live relatively comfortably. It helps that aside from his car and a couple other luxury items, he seems to prefer to live modestly.
    • He states in another episode he's apparently an elevator repairman.
  • It may come as a surprise that Donald Duck is apparently not a sailor, but describes himself as "an actor" in The New Spirit. Even his pen is in doubt as he puts a question mark behind this profession. DuckTales (1987) actually portrayed him as a sailor in the US Navy, explaining his absence and why his nephews are living with Uncle Scrooge. Conversely, Donald in DuckTales (2017) is specifically unemployed and looking for work (having gotten a degree in accounting during his time in the Navy).
  • On The Flintstones, Barney's occupation - aside from occasional single episode jobs he and Fred get together - is never clarified. It became a running joke, such that in one episode, when Wilma and Betty are trying to impress someone by lying about how prosperous their families are, Wilma claims Fred is "in the construction business" while Betty claims Barney is in "top secret work."
    • He does occasionally work at the quarry, when it's helpful to the plot. And one episode has Fred being responsible for Barney being fired from the quarry and helping him get a job as a repo agent.
    • Though in the live-action movies, Barney is Fred's co-worker.
  • King of the Hill: Boomhauer's job/source of income on the show was given multiple explanations: one was that he was a former electric lineman on worker's comp, another was that he doesn't work because he lives off the money he won in a lottery, and a third explanation was that Boomhauer came from a moderately wealthy family and lived off a trust fund set up for him. The last episode "To Sirloin With Love" reveals that Boomhauer actually does have a job: he's a member of the Texas Rangers.
  • For the majority of Moral Orel, Orel's dad Clay Puppington complains about his "lousy dead-end job". It isn't until the second to last episode that we find out he's the Mayor. Even his son is surprised.
  • On The Ren & Stimpy Show, Ren would occasionally be shown going to work wearing a hat and tie and carrying a briefcase, but what job he had was never specified. Of course, since there is no continuity between any of the shorts, he could very well be in a different job in every one of those episodes. If Ren doing a job is plot-relevant, it will be shown. Otherwise, it's just an excuse for him to leave the house so something can happen there while he's out. Sometimes Stimpy is shown doing this too, in one episode he appears to be a pilot or a mailman judging by his uniform.
  • On Phineas and Ferb, it's never said what Charlene Doofenshmirtz's job is. Whatever it is, it apparently pays very well, as a lot of Dr. D's schemes are funded by her huge alimony checks.
  • While most of the characters in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic have reasonably defined ways of supporting themselves, Fluttershy's job still remains extremely vague. Is she a vet? An ecologist? An animal trainer? A farmer? She's been seen doing a bit of all of them, but if she actually gets paid for it is anyone's guess.
  • For the first two-and-a-quarter seasons of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, we're given absolutely no hint as to what Jimmy's dad Hugh does for a living. Even when it finally becomes a plot point (season 3, episode 5, "Fundemonium"), we're not told exactly what he does, just that he works at a car company called Mallard Motors. And they lampshade it:
    Hugh: Howdy boys! Hey Jimbo, better start packin', we gotta move at the end of the week if I want to keep my job.
    Jimmy: We're moving?!
    Carl: You're moving?!
    Sheen: Your dad has a job?!

 
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What is Chandler Bing's job?

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