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The Imp

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The Imp is tons of vices rolled into one, with the baggage that something about him totally destroys him as a threat: sheer laziness, apathy or just being very tiny. The Imp looks like he's trying too hard, intentionally or because of the designers. So whether or not they have delusions of grandeur, Imps just end up behaving very practically, wanting mostly to have fun and to wallow in their vices.

While commonly in a sidekick role to a stronger character, you often see the Imp with heroic characters as much as with villainous ones. Aside from heroes being less likely to beat on them, the Imp can function as the hero's "Bad Angel". But in this case, it mainly ends up showing off how decent and good-hearted the hero is, because he doesn't take the Imp's advice seriously.

They are the Weasel Mascot, Chaotic Neutral version. They can occasionally cause a great deal of havoc on their own, making them a Not-So-Harmless Villain, but usually whatever holds them back stops them from doing too much damage in the end. Frequently overlaps with the Snarky Nonhuman Sidekick. They are sometimes prone to Dark Is Not Evil. Contrast The Jester.

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Examples

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comics 
  • In DC Comics, there's a race of Reality Warpers from the Fifth Dimension who are called "imps" and typically fill this trope's role in-story, overlapping with the Great Gazoo.
    • Mr. Mxyzpltk from Superman comic books — especially the late 1950s though the 1960s.
    • Batman's imp Bat-Mite. Although in Batman: RIP, Bat-Mite is portrayed as the opposite of an imp He's the tiny bit of sanity and morality the Batman of Zurr-En-Ah has.
    • And Quisp from Aquaman.
  • Flip from Little Nemo in Slumberland, actually referred to as "that imp" in one strip. (However, the character known as "the Imp" is not this trope.)
  • After being caught by Empowered with the help of power-draining alien bondage gear, the Caged Demonwolf counts.
  • Varkias from Thieves & Kings.

    Fan Works 
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    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Skylar St. Clair in Gives Light. Interestingly, he is also compassionate, patient, and sensitive. And the main character. And mute.
  • Tyrion in A Song of Ice and Fire plays like a subversion. Though he is called "The Imp," loves his creature comforts, delights in debauchery, and constantly jibes others (and himself) with his acerbic wit, he is largely held back by the prejudice of those around him by virtue of his being a dwarf instead of holding himself back. Also, Tyrion proves himself perhaps the most dangerous of all the Lannister family, which is really saying something.
  • In his appearance in Galaxy of Fear Yoda is actually called The Imp by the Children, and around most of the characters he follows this trope, seeming weird, cowardly, and harmless. For Tash and Zak, and later Hoole, he's more the Jedi Master.
  • Harry Dresden has Bob, a spirit of intellect trapped in a skull. Now, it's been repeatedly noted that spirits of intellect can be very terrifying at the wrong times, but as far as Bob's concerned, in Harry's hands, he's pretty much just the helpful - if incredibly snarky - sidekick who also happens to have a thing for sex.
  • Averted on the Discworld, where imps are tiny and are used to power Magitek devices like cameras (they have no imagination, so they paint what they see) and watches. The Nac Mac Feegle are slightly closer to the trope, though they refer to themselves as pictsies.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Tyrion from Game of Thrones is even nicknamed "the Imp," and fits this trope to a tee.
    • Subverted: in the second season he is shown to be anything but ineffectual.
    • It's clear from the beginning that he's the only Lannister with any real moral decency, though Jaime seems to be slowly coming around after getting his hand chopped off. That's why he indulges in his vices, rather than being evil... although it's also clear his intelligence and the façade he exposes to the world make him someone unexpectedly efficient.
  • Once Upon a Time: Rumplestiltskin is often called this, either by Regina or another character who has befallen one of his 'deals'.
  • Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He's an all-powerful Reality Warper from another dimension who constantly antagonizes and tests the Enterprise crew and the Federation as a whole, but only to teach them a lesson (as he feels they have gone complacent) and never goes too far when he knows his work is done for now.
  • Crowley from Good Omens (2019) is fairly tall, being played by David Tennant, and a main character rather than a sidekick, but he has this kind of personality. He is, in theory, a skilled demonic tempter of mortals - he was the original Serpent in the Garden of Eden - but several factors ensure that he's not nearly the threatening force of evil he could be. He understands modern human society much better than his demonic peers, but uses this knowledge to troll people on a mass scale by messing with infrastructure rather than corrupting individual souls one at a time - and his schemes of this nature, while successful at their original aim, often backfire and inconvenience him as much as the humans. Despite being a demon, he's more mischievous than sadistic and is depressed by actual atrocities. And he's more interested in enjoying life on Earth than in promoting the cosmic triumph of Hell, which eventually leads him to try to cancel the apocalypse. And he can be very snarky.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Imps, of course, are just one example of how the creatures of myth and legend were sometimes written off as nuisances rather than genuine threats. Their main shortcoming besides their height is that they have zero impulse control, and so play pranks because of an obsessive compulsion. They're also traditionally said to exercise just enough restraint to play pranks that cause no real harm, although that can change very quickly if an imp happens to be put into a bad mood.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has a few variants.
    • Imps, quasits, and pseudodragons are all potential results when a wizard casts about for a familiar. Pseudodragons are annoying but well-intentioned; the other two take on jobs as familiars in the hope of carrying their master's soul off to the Lower Planes. Until then, they supply aid as a lab assistant, gopher, and irritant.
    • Mephits are elemental creatures, not outsiders, but still maintain the "leering gargoyle" aesthetic. Not only is a mephit Mr. Vice Guy (with the specific vice varying by elemental type), they're also none too bright and suffer massive delusions of grandeur. In Planescape, mephits are most often summoned to be sent as gifts to people that the sender really doesn't like, with each type conveying a subtly different kind of insult.
    • In a more metaphorical sense, the entire race of kender. They're a lot like rats: they get into everything, eat your food, and steal whatever's not nailed down. Except kender can also talk, keeping up a constant patter of obliviously optimistic drivel — except when they start hurling insults at enemies the party can't handle. Neither the creator nor the kender themselves understand how anyone could find this aggravating.

    Video Games 
  • The "Evil Conscience" in Black & White looks the part and encourages naughty behavior. Usually seen squabbling with his angelic counterpart.
  • Murray from The Curse of Monkey Island has delusions of evil grandeur, which is somewhat undermined by the fact that he's only a skull.
  • Pete, from Kingdom Hearts II. The contrast between him and Maleficent is as sharp as an edge between chessboard squares.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The recurring character Skull Kid is frequently described as an imp. Skull Kid himself doesn't appear to actually be evil, but he is very mischievous and enjoys playing pranks on people... pranks that range from annoying them with music to getting them lost in the forest for all eternity. Overall, he's portrayed as innocent and childlike for the most part, except in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, where his pranks are far more mean-spirited, to the point of being downright apocalyptic. This is eventually revealed to be because he was possessed by the power of Majora's Mask. After the Mask is destroyed, Skull Kid reverts to his more playful, mischievous personality.
    • Midna from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a heroic example; a snarky little imp (but only cursed into that form, she's a Statuesque Stunner when returned to normal) with knowledge of the Twilight that is threatening to blanket Hyrule. She forces Link to accomplish her goals (despite the fact that she clearly has some powerful magic of her own), takes every opportunity to tease him and keeps saying that she's only helping him because she needs him. She later drops this characterization once Zelda gives her life force to save Midna from death.
  • Overlord Zetta, the most powerful badass in the cosmos, from Makai Kingdom. All that power and cunning means little when he's a book who can't even defend himself.
  • Gnarl in Overlord is a Card-Carrying Villain who often talks of praising evil and such, but since he's too old to go out on the field he's delegated to being the Evil Chancellor.
  • In the main plotline of Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, Gig spends most of the game as this because he's stuck in the main character's head and needs permission to actually use any of his various powers. Alternate endings and plotlines let Gig shed this trope through Grand Theft Protagonist.
  • The first demon-type that warlocks can summon in World of Warcraft are Imps. They small, fragile, and whiny little things that can only cast fire balls and make snarky jokes. They are replaced with other more powerful demons as the Warlock levels up. They are are however fairly effective for certain purposes (they are the only demon with a ranged attack) and continue to be used right up to the Endgame.
  • Blizzard Entertainment builds off of the World of Warcraft imps in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. They are once again stuck with relatively low health and damage, however now you have a total of four different kinds available. Options include imps that hurt your character and glorious minion of evil seriously named "Worthless Imp."
  • Despite being technically a squirrel (of DOOM!), Ratatosk from Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok acts very much like The Imp.
  • While a full blooded human, Johnny Cage from Mortal Kombat can come off as this. Incredible martial arts skill, his own magical aura, and, yes, he's even been able to be the hero on more than one occasion, but he's far more preoccupied with fame and making movies than actually saving Earthrealm. Plenty of Kombatants, both villainous and heroic, make it a point to call him out on his childishness and inability to take things seriously. Apparently he does mature with age and tragedy though.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, we have the appropriately-named Imp, who - despite being a notorious and spectacular art thief and general nuisance to the heroic side, is relatively harmless, just wants to have fun and enjoy good art, and is only a supervillain because her mutation gave her a devilish-looking appearance.
  • In contrast, the Imp of Worm is very much a subversion. Her ability is to be unseen, and forgotten, by anyone she's not interacting directly with — which renders her one of the more terrifying members of the Undersiders, even next to Skitter. She does have that childish streak and a desire for fun, though.

    Western Animation 
  • Uncle Iroh plays this role during the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender. While Zuko is hell bent on catching Aang by any means necessary, Iroh's sole goal is to tag along and make sure his nephew doesn't get in too much trouble. Although he's reportedly a legendary general, nowadays he's remarkably lazy and disinterested in conflict, doing nothing more than eat, drink tea and play board games. However, he subverts this completely in later seasons. When he needs to be, he's not only a competent fighter, he's one of the most powerful Firebenders in the world. Also, he's firmly in the side of good, and he seeks to undo the wrongs his family (including him in his youth) perpetrated against the world.
  • Reuben (Experiment 625) from the Lilo & Stitch franchise (primarily Lilo & Stitch: The Series and the Stitch! anime), who was supposedly as powerful as Stitch, but was so lazy he instead spent all of his time as sidekick to one of the villains, doing little more than making wisecracks (and sandwiches) and eating.
  • Any WWII era-cartoon will likely play an Italian as this against a more serious and intimidating German foil.
  • Puck, in Disney's Gargoyles, serves as this to no less than three villains (Demona, Oberon, and Xanatos in guise of Owen Burnette.. All three are credible threats and Puck chose to ally himself with the third villain only because the other two were too serious and all he really wanted was to have fun. And he's an imp to boot.
    • However, when he does cut loose on Oberon he actually manages to kick his ass for a short time, so he's a Not-So-Harmless Villain.
  • Imp from She-Ra: Princess of Power, despite having both the power and (multiple) opportunity(ies) to simply sneak in and assassinate the heroes, seems more content to simply eavesdrop and cause mischief, causing everyone but his "boss" nothing but grief. Despite this, he has proven to be a credible threat by framing Kowl for being a Horde spy. The fact that he has an overly inflated, yet still somewhat justifiable, ego when it comes to his accomplishments tends to add to the humor of his character.
    • Interestingly enough, in most Fanfiction wherein Hordak performs a Heel–Face Turn, Imp follows closely behind but, whereas Hordak is suddenly portrayed as an Anti-Hero, Imp tends to retain all of his evil (or at the very least undesirable) characteristics.
  • Imp from the animated series Imp. His "accomplishments" include coming up with the world's most evil ringtone.
  • From Wakfu, Grufon the minor Shushu qualifies as the harmless kind as long as he's sealed in a map... and the Not-So-Harmless Villain kind when he gets free and possesses an arachne in episode 13.
  • Iago from Disney's Aladdin is a villainous example in the initial movie, and a heroic example after his Heel–Face Turn in the sequel and subsequent TV series. (For his appearances in House of Mouse he tended to switch between being a good guy and a bad guy, depending on the episode, but he remained this trope throughout.)
  • Wuya from Xiaolin Showdown. She's easily one of the most powerful (and evil) villains on the show, but since she's an intangible ghost for most of the first season and much of the second, she can't affect the physical world, rendering her completely harmless and dependent on her human partners until she is restored to a mortal form.
  • A few characters called imps made their appearances in The Smurfs.
    • One was a treasure hunter who used a pair of golden shoes to capture Smurfette in "Smurfette's Dancing Shoes".
    • One was a Snake Oil Salesman from "The Miracle Smurfer".
    • One was a humanoid being who was cursed to be in the form of an imp in "Smurf A Mile In My Shoes".
    • One was a constant admirer of Vanity Smurf in "Vanity's Closest Friend".
  • Ever since his Heel–Face Turn and subsequent reestablishment of his personality, Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has become this type of character, just being taller than the standard. He's still the same Reality Warper as before and still quite mischievous, he keeps to his newfound sense of honor brought upon by his friendship with Fluttershy.
  • Strange Magic: The Imp. He steals the love potion at the worst time possible and then runs around love potioning everything in the forest for seemingly no other reason than because it amuses him.
  • Imps have a major role in The Real Ghostbusters's episode "Janine's Day Off", especially when merged together creating a full size demon.

    Other 
  • Baby Tasmanian devils are sometimes called "imps", though most people refer to them as joeys.

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