Follow TV Tropes

Following

Vile Villain, Laughable Lackey

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/77326ccde58ad438f64b444e712e37d1_disney_halloween_happy_halloween.jpg
These cookies aren't evil enough! Add more children's screams to it!
Advertisement:

In a great deal of media aimed at children or families, there will be more than one villain working together against the hero, and one or more of these villains will be in charge over the other(s). However, the lower-ranked of these villains is meant to be taken far less seriously than the higher-ranked, whether due to being more cowardly, more comical, less powerful, less competent, or even simply less motivated than their dark superior.

This can have a lot of benefits to the writers, such as averting Villain Decay: no matter how many times the heroes triumph over the lesser villain(s), the fact that a more serious villain (or group of more serious villains) is still part of the same organization means there's still a credible threat that the heroes still need to deal with. Also, for works aimed at especially young children, this also allows the writers to make the lesser villain goofy and funny, thus keeping a work lighter and softer and generally less frightening for the kiddies.

Advertisement:

A common, but by no means the only, way to show that the higher-ranked villain is serious is to display the lower-ranked villains afraid of him/her, or show that the higher-ranked villain is a Bad Boss who will Shoot the Messenger when brought bad news, or who punishes his minions for failure or for otherwise ceasing to be useful. It's not really necessary for the higher-ranked villain to be cruel to his or her underlings for the trope to apply, though; it's only really needed for the higher-ranked villain to be played noticeably more seriously than his or her underling(s).

The laughable lackey can be an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, but it's not necessary for the lackey to be sympathetic at all for this trope to apply, nor is it necessary for the laughable lackey to be ineffectual or a Harmless Villain: they can even win at times, as long as they're noticably less serious than their superiors. Those Two Bad Guys, a Quirky Miniboss Squad, or a Goldfish Poop Gang can also fill in the loser villain slot as well as a single villain can. It's also common for the laughable lackey to have an unpleasant, demeaning, or dumb-sounding name.

Advertisement:

The Laughable Lackey can also be The Igor, The Renfield, The Imp, a Minion with an F in Evil, a Sycophantic Servant, and/or a Punch-Clock Villain who only Pokes the Poodle, or possibly The Dragon, depending on his/her/their specific role in the evil organization. The Laughable Lackey is often the Butt-Monkey or The Chew Toy, as well, and can also be a Bumbling Sidekick to the serious villain, though there are more ways of being laughable than just clumsiness.

They often form a Red Oni, Blue Oni duo. If the villain is also Laughably Evil, he will usually be the red to the lackey's blue. If the villain is played completely seriously, he will usually be the blue to the lackey's red.

Compare Abusive Parents, Big Bad Wannabe, Brains and Brawn, Evil Duo, Eviler Than Thou, A Lighter Shade of Black, The Man Behind the Man, My Master, Right or Wrong, Sliding Scale of Villain Effectiveness, Sorting Algorithm of Evil, The Starscream, What Measure Is a Mook? A Terrible Trio can have this dynamic if one of them is in charge and meant to be taken more seriously than the other two, though the three of them together can act as the laughable lackey if they have a more serious boss, or they can even together act as the serious villain if they're not Played for Laughs have have one or more underlings who are. Sometimes overlaps with Vile Villain, Saccharine Show and Perky Female Minion. Contrast Hypercompetent Sidekick.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Digimon Adventure:
    • Demidevimon fills this role for Myotismon. While he keeps the Chosen Children/Digidestined separated while Tai is away, as soon as he comes back, Demidevimon begins comically failing and getting punished by Myotismon for his failings.
    • The two Hagurumon working for Machinedramon fit this bill too; Machinedramon has incredible firepower and is willing to devastate his own city to get to the heroes. His gear-like minions cower before that plan, even though they aren't even the targets!
  • The title heroine of Excel Saga is her boss Il Palazzo's biggest obstacle on the path to Take Over the World, by the "virtue" of being a worthless (if fiercely devoted and energetic) underling. When Il Palazzo finally drops his Orcus on His Throne act towards the end of the series and fires Excel, he immediately proves himself a scarily efficient villain on his own (with a little help from Hyatt, who also proves a much more competent minion as soon as Excel is out of the picture).
  • Mon Colle Knights has Ruthe, a smart-alecky, whiny-voiced imp, to the fallen angel Zaha, and later to his superior Reda.
  • Pokémon: While Team Rocket members aren't always competent, only the Terrible Trio, and later Butch and Cassidy due to characterization changes, are actually goofy. Most members are some level of dangerous. Their boss Giovanni has a case of Adaptational Villainy as he is more violent than in the games.
    • Inverted in the Sun & Moon season where Jessie captures a Mimikyu who is always portrayed as a fairly competent opponent to Pikachu. Instead of capturing Pikachu, Mimikyu wants to kill him, making it a case of the Vile lackey to Team Rocket Trio Laughable villain
  • Team Galactic's boss Cyrus in Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Adventure! is a Knight Templar Omnicidal Maniac. The Galactic executives — Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars — are intimidating but this ability does not extend to grunts. B-2 is a near literal Butt-Monkey who is constantly getting attacked on the butt and isn't a real threat. Subverted with some other Galactic grunts though when they try to bomb a tournament.
  • Sailor Moon: Sailor Iron Mouse wasn't a very serious villain, but when she failed, she was (rightly) terrified of how her boss would react.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animation 
  • In A Bug's Life, Hopper is a cruel, sadistic and dead-serious grasshopper, but his brother Molt is a bumbling and amicable Minion with an F in Evil. Molt pulls a Heel–Face Turn at the end of the film.
  • Carface is the main villain of Don Bluth's All Dogs Go to Heaven, and he operates a crooked canine casino. When Carface discovers that his former partner has escaped the dog pound and survived an assassination attempt, Carface almost disposes of his neurotic henchman, Killer (even though Killer was not responsible for the attempts). A myopic, neurotic, weakling of a dog, Killer gets one last chance to avoid the Shark Pool: by killing Charlie Barkin with a Flash Gordon thermo-atomic ray gun.
    • Carface himself becomes the laughable lackey to other villains in the sequel media, like Red in All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 and Belladonna in the animated series. Neither character is devoid of comedy, but they are unambiguously wicked and threatening in comparison to the incompetent buffoon Carface has become.
  • The villains of the An American Tail films have these to varying degrees. Warren in the first film has the bumbling accountant Digit. In the case of Cat R. Waul's lackey Chula in the second film, he only really becomes laughable in the TV series, being Axe-Crazy in the film.
  • In Chicken Run, the main villain is Mrs. Tweedy, a dead serious, totally merciless farmer who abuses her chickens (the protagonists) just because she can. Her Henpecked Husband, Mr. Tweedy, is a Butt-Monkey who provides some of the funniest lines in the movie.
  • Despicable Me: The cute and hilarious minions are this for the Villain Protagonist, Gru. While Gru isn't devoid of comedy, he's very competent, unlike the minions who are mostly silly and childish.
  • Disney loves this trope:
  • My Little Pony: The Movie (2017): Grubber is a comical, cowardly, un-threatening hedgehog. But he works for the dead-serious Tempest Shadow and her threatening-but-not-quite-so-serious Storm King boss. Tempest's utter humorlessness, when contrasted with the Storm King's more comedic nature, could be considered an inversion.
  • The Prince of Egypt: The egyptian priests Hotep and Huy, being voiced by Steve Martin and Martin Short respectively, have their funny moments. Neither of the two Pharaohs that they work for do.
  • Don Bluth's Rock-A-Doodle has the Grand Duke as the main villain, whose weather machine clouds out the sun and floods the valley, making the small farm animals easy pickings for himself and his owl mooks. His diminutive but eager nephew Hunch is tasked with intercepting the party of heroes seeking to retrieve Chanticleer, Hunch is woefully outclassed, as even Patou narrates: "He's more a hoot than horrible ..." and he's voiced by the late Charles Nelson Reilly.
  • Max, from Yellow Submarine, is usually at the end of a bitch slap from his boss, the Chief Blue Meanie, especially when Max says "yes" instead of "no".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Beethoven:
    • In the first movie, the veterinarian's goons' bumbling and cowardice were Played for Laughs, but the veterinarian himself was not.
    • In the second movie, Floyd's stupidity was Played for Laughs, but his greedy girlfriend Regina was much more cruel and intentional than he was.
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: The Master of Laketown is uncaring about his people, enriching himself while the people starve and become poorer. He has a more comical lackey, Alfrid, who is cowardly enough to use a Paper-Thin Disguise, pretending to be a woman to avoid going into battle.
  • In Krampus, the eponymous villain is a terrifying and satanic figure, the Evil Counterpart of Santa Claus. His minions, on the other hand, are evil spoofs of things traditionally associated with Christmas, up to and including crazy killer gingerbread men. Justified since it is a horror/comedy movie.
  • Ready Player One (2018): I-R0k qualifies, and is a downplayed example in that, despite being a Hypercompetent Sidekick for all things in-game in the OASIS, I-R0k's neck issues and occasional immaturity are Played for Laughs, but his ruthless Corrupt Corporate Executive boss Sorrento is never funny.
  • Mowgli: The Big Bad Shere Khan is an enormous tiger who is genuinely threatening despite his crippled foreleg, and is a sadist who breaks the Jungle Law just for his own pleasure. His minion Tabaqui is a snivelling, cowardly hyena who always stays in Khan's shadow and runs at the first sign of danger.
  • Tricky People: Reginald Charming is a ruthless, manipulative pedophile who uses pictures of his victims to blackmail them into silence. His sidekick Wendell is the cheerful, clumsy Plucky Comic Relief who exists mostly to provide slapstick. Given the film's deadly serious treatment of Charming and his victims, Wendell's presence seems downright bizarre.
  • Moonraker: Although widely viewed as the campiest film of the James Bond franchise, its Big Bad Hugo Drax is possibly the most chilling villain in Bond's rogues gallery. As a cold, snobbish, understated executive, Drax wishes to exterminate the human race, except for those he considers "superior beings". He hires Jaws, The Dragon from the previous film to be his own. However, this time, Jaws is much less menacing, almost going into Wile E. Coyote levels of ineptitude, and even performs a Heel–Face Turn towards the end.

    Literature  
  • In Peter Pan, Captain Hook is a calculating and menacing foe. His sidekick, Smee, while desiring to be evil, is so genial that the captive children are said to not have the heart to tell Smee that they find him lovable instead of frightening.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship", the Space Pirate Solomon is one of the more sinister villains the Doctor has encountered, while his two robots are bungling, squabbling dimwits, whom the Doctor describes as "tantrum machines". And they're voiced by Mitchell and Webb.
  • Kingdom Adventure: It seems like each villain who is under the last villain is one of these in comparison to his superior:
    • Magistrate Pitts has two dimwitted Dumb Muscle guards, and compared to them, Pitts is greedy, intentional, and cruel.
    • Pitts himself answers to a demonic warlock named Zordock, and compared to him, Pitts is cowardly, weak, stupid, and clumsy.
    • Dagger's squeaky voice, clumsiness, cowardice, and the fact that he never shuts up (even when he really should) make him laughable next to Zordock, as well.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Squat and Baboo are bumbling villains compared to Rita and Zedd.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy V has Exdeath and Gilgamesh, the Big Bad and The Dragon respectively. While Exdeath is an amalgamation of evil spirits and is a serious enough villain to kill one of the main characters, Gilgamesh is presented as a comical villain who brags about his abilities only to embarrass himself in front of the heroes.
  • Freedom Planet has Serpentine, a barely competent cyborg snake, to Lord Arktivus Brevon, a cruel badass whose first act onscreen is to slay the king of Shuigang, and who demonstrates his power rather effortlessly when Lilac confronts him for the first time before torturing her.
  • Heart of Darkness: The Master is a terrifying figure, but his most direct underling is a pink trunk-nosed servant, who looks and sounds comical, cowers in fear before the Big Bad or the hero, and ends up helping Andy defeats his boss.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Maleficent again. She's just as dangerous as in her original film, and significantly more ambitious. Her sidekick? The bumbling Pete. To a lesser extent, the Gullwings also count but they quickly switch sides.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The Yiga Clan and their leader Master Kohga are shown to be fairly goofy due to their obsession with bananas, their silly dialogue even when ambushing Link, and Kohga's Fat Bastard design. They all serve Calamity Ganon, an Animalistic Abomination trying to break its seal so it can destroy Hyrule.
  • Grunts to villain teams in Pokémon games are almost always rather low-leveled and tend to have humorous dialogue.
  • Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal: An interesting variation where the villain is truly evil and a threat, but is nevertheless the target of the jokes from his lackey: Dr. Nefarious wants to exterminate all organic life, but he has a henchman named Lawrence who isn't afraid to snark at him.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
  • Team Fortress 2: Downplayed with The Administrator and Miss Pauling. The Administrator is an Iron Lady who is controlling everything the RED and BLU teams are doing, whereas Miss Pauling, while not exactly laughable, and is in fact very competent, is much more of a Punch-Clock Villain.
  • World of Warcraft: a few boss encounters have this dynamic:
    • The dialog after the Krick is defeated in Pit of Saron shows Krick as a coward, ready to give out information on his dead-serious Lich King superior.
    • Koramar, the captain of the ship at the Iron Docks, is confident in his army, even as they players slaughter them while working their way through the instance. His first mate Zoggosh is much savvier than his captain and is thus afraid of the players. As justified as his fears are, Zoggosh's cowardice is Played for Laughs, giving the two of them this dynamic.

    Western Animation 
  • The Bluffers: Clandestino is a greedy, polluting executive, and has a guard dog named Glum who is a Minion with an F in Evil and is frequently mistreated.
  • In Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, the alliance between NOS-4-A2 and XL in the episode "Revenge of the Monsters" plays out like this. XL is a comical villain who usually gets the most laughs in any episode he's in, while NOS-4-A2 is one of the most dangerous and seriously taken villains in the show, along with Evil Universe Buzz. They insist to each other they're actually partners throughout the episode, but it's clear who is calling the shots and who is probably going to be betrayed. In the end, the fear of being turned on causes XL to have a Heel–Face Turn and join Star Command.
    • Also Zurg, while having comedic traits, is quite evil and sinister compared to his Brain Pod and Grub henchmen, who, while having moments of competence, are almost purely comical.
  • In Captain N, Mother Brain may not be as dangerous as her Metroid counterpart, but she is treated as a genuine threat by the characters. Her minions, Eggplant Wizard and King Hippo however, are total failures whose antics provide most of the show's slapstick humour. Mother Brain both verbally and physically abuses the pair constantly.
  • Care Bears (1980s): Beastly and Shreeky function as Laughable Lackeys who bicker with each other and consistently lose to the Care Bears, but Shreeky's uncle Lord No Heart remains a credible threat.
  • Clumsy and fearful Toad was often at the receiving end of abuse from his Diabolical Mastermind boss, Dr. Dred, in Drak Pack.
  • The Dreamstone: The Urpneys are comical. The Big Bad they work for, Zordrak, looks like an Evil Sorceror T-Rex, and is played deadly seriously.
  • Get Ed: Crouch is a robot minion that often fails against Ed and his friends, and who is easily frightened into launching toast out of his head. Bedlam, his employer, is a more serious villain who has admitted that he mainly keeps him around because he likes the toast.
  • With minions like Dr. Claw's who consistently lose to the hapless Inspector Gadget (or his niece), who needs enemies?
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Throughout the five seasons, the Dark Hand Enforcers serve as easily beatable Comic Relief henchmen for the Arc Villains.
  • The Copycats are the typical cartoonish slapstick villain (like the Coyote) in Kidd Video and serve this role for the much menacing Master Blaster.
  • Kim Possible: Inverted. Drakken is the apparent Big Bad, but given his immaturity and tendency to go off on tangents, he's not a very serious villain. His dragon Shego, however, is an intelligent, competent combatant and is either a supervillainess in her own right or wields powerful fist weapons. Either way, she gives Kim Possible a real fight. (They maintain their respective roles by mutual preference: Shego lacks vision and ambition, and would rather be a well-paid dragon who can snark at her boss than have to pay somebody else to do the planning for her - as well as that worked the one time she tried it.)
  • Lady Lovely Locks: Hairball is the Laughable Lackey to Duchess Ravenwaves. While not incompetent, his voice, cough-like laugh, and appearance make him less of a threat than she is.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ganon was a competent, cruel villain, exasperated by his idiotic, bumbling moblin minions. It even got to the point where, when they invaded Link's bedroom in Hyrule Castle, Link didn't even need to get up from his bed: they managed to off each other with their clumsiness!
  • Lilo & Stitch: The Series: Experiment 625, AKA Reuben, works for the series' main villain Gantu. While Reuben has all of Stitch's abilities, he has zero motivation and isn't serious at all.
  • Mad Jack the Pirate: Jack is a Villain Protagonist, and is generally more threatening than his dense Funny Animal first mate, Snuk.
  • The Magician: Downplayed with Spade and Diamond. They're armed, dangerous, and generally competent, but their back-and-forth with each other is occasionally Played for Laughs, whereas Black Jack is never funny.
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends had a kind of a rogues gallery of villains, a few of which had a lackey with this dynamic:
    • The witch Hydia is a recurring antagonist, and she has two daughters with no motivation for villainy who have this dynamic with her.
    • The catwoman sorceress, Catrina, is a vicious, violent slave driver whose overall behavior reeks of drug addiction and domestic abuse, but her lackey, Rep, is a Nice Guy who loses a fight to a filly.
    • Squirk is an immortal squid monster who wants to flood Dream Valley, who is assisted by the much smaller and less effective Crank, a miniature shark.
    • Arabus is a greedy and corrupt cloud wizard who likes to eat pony shadows, thereby removing the happiness from the pony in question. However, he is aided by a stupid and lazy zebra named Zeb.
    • The very dangerous and competent Grogar, ruler of the evil kingdom of Tambelon, has a less threatening donkey named Bray as his underling.
  • The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: episodes with villains were few and far between, but one had a giant monster made of goo named "Crud", who had a hyper, overenthusiastic, comical lackey named Smudge.
  • Smee, as in all other representations, to Captain Hook in Peter Pan & the Pirates.
  • Pinky and the Brain: While neither one is very threatening physically (what with being lab mice and all), the Brain, with his serious demeanor and great intellect, is far more of a threat than the spastic, dimwitted Pinky, who isn't even aware that he's a villain.
  • The incompetent pig henchmen of the determined Corrupt Corporate Executive Cyril Sneer in The Raccoons fill the trope entirely.
  • Rainbow Brite: It's often hard to take Murky Dismal seriously, even if he is Rainbow Brite's nemesis through the series. In the premiere, he was working for an evil sorceror only known as "The Evil One," and while this setup lasted, Murky and The Evil One had this dynamic. After The Evil One's death and Murky's promotion to Big Bad status, Murky's idiotic assistant Lurky is even harder to take seriously than Murky, so he ends up creating this dynamic with him.
  • ReBoot: Megabyte could be a dangerous villain when he wanted to be, but his bumbling robotic henchmen Hack and Slash provided some of the show's best comedy.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: Boris Badinov and Natasha Fatale often fail against Rocky and Bullwinkle, but their Potsylvanian superiors stay more believable as a threat.
  • Rose Petal Place: Horace is the laughable lackey to Nastina's vile villain. While not incompetent, his voice and mannerisms make him much less of a threat than she is.
  • Silverhawks has Mon*Star, his gang consisting of hardened, monstrous badasses with lethal machinery, all dangerous. Except for Mon*Star's Yes-Man (actually named Yes-Man), a timid, snake-like humanoid whose sole purposes seems to be operating the machine that exposes the Moon Star of Limbo's energy conveniently to Mon*Star's throne, and agreeing with everything Mon*Star says.
  • Scruple, a snarky, delinquent wizard-school dropout, is this to the vengeful Gargamel in The Smurfs. Gargamel himself is not without his comical moments, and acts as a laughable lackey to his abusive godfather Balthazar in every episode the latter is in.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: Scratch and Grounder have this dynamic with Dr. Robotnik. The pair are cartoonishly gormless goons, unlike Robotnik who, while comedically conceited and blundering, can be very a dangerous and worthy foe for a superhero like Sonic.
    • Sonic Sat AM: Snively was comical compared to his ruthless and evil uncle, Dr. Robotnik. However, Snively was known for insulting Robotnik behind his back and did have plans to overthrow him.
    • Sonic Underground: Dingo was childish Dumb Muscle, and far less intelligent than his clever, backstabbing partner mercenary Sleet.
  • The cowardly Blub Blubs are this to the always-hungry warlord Momo in Star Street: The Adventures of the Star Kids
  • TaleSpin: Ivanod Spigot and Dunder, the two bumbling Thembrian air force men, they are very comedic. Spigot is much more cruel than Dunder, but they both contrast with the much more threatening High Marshal.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) has Shredder and his henchmen, Bebop and Rocksteady. Shredder is usually portrayed as competent, though he can provide comic relief, while his henchmen, a menacing anthropomorphic boar and rhino, are actually clumsy and cowardly.
  • Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?: A one-off villain from the past named Maelstrom had a lackey with a typically Unfortunate Name: Bilge. Downplayed, in that Bilge's only comical aspects were his name and the fact that he is afraid of a giant squid kept in the ship's hold who attacks the heroes at one point.
  • Winx Club:
    • In Season 1, the Trix act as the Serious Villain, with their ogre Knut a more comical villain who eventually underwent a Heel–Face Turn.
    • In Season 2, the Trix were Demoted to Dragon and the status stuck, but they weren't laughable until Season 3, when they repeatedly lost battles immediately upon engaging the Winx and began some minor infighting.
    • In Season 7, Brafilius is a comical, bumbling villain who acts as a lackey for his more serious sister, Kalshara. He eventually ends up having this dynamic with the Trix, who are once again serious.

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report