7 Characters You Meet In Workplace Comedies
Since most jobs already make us crazy, television comedies set in the workplace just make sense. One common location -- a paper office, a Parks and Recreation department, a sports bar, or a superstore -- provides an economical stage for gathering a bunch of oddball characters in a single setting. Besides, who can’t relate to the insufferably uptight co-worker, the office crush, the incompetent boss, and all of the other eccentrics we have to put up with at work every dang day?
Over the decades, sitcom writers have developed a template for creating the perfect workplace comedy, complete with character archetypes that are specific to the genre. Let’s take a visit to the Workplace Sitcom HR department and see who’s always getting hired at the comedy office.
The Voice of Reason
Also known as: The Everyman/Everywoman, Calm at the Eye of the Storm, Captain Rational
Voices of Reason: Pam Beesly, The Office; Alex Reiger, Taxi, Liz Lemon, 30 Rock, Amy Sosa, Superstore, Henry Pollard, Party Down
Typical dialogue: "I want to roll my eyes right now, but the doctor says that if I keep doing it, my ocular muscles might spasm and eject my eyeballs." - Liz Lemon
Everyone can’t be crazy. The Voice of Reason is us, essentially, the only sane person in the room while everything devolves into madness. The VoR reacts the same way we would -- with an eye roll or gasp of horror as a coworker bans women from using the bathroom or schedules all of Ron Swanson’s appointments for a single day.
The Voice of Reason may not get the funniest lines, but always gets laughs from their reactions to the office insanity.
The Voice of Reason isn’t necessarily devoid of neurosis. They can be insecure, world-weary, or frustrated. If you had co-workers like these, you’d be frazzled too.
You’d think the Voice of Reason would be the lead of most workplace sitcoms and in the past, you’d mostly be right. But recently, we’re seeing a different archetype increasingly take the center spotlight …
Also known as: Arrested Development, Oh Grow Up, Juvenile Delinquent
AdultChildren: Michael Scott, The Office; Jake Peralta, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Sam Malone, Cheers; Ron Donald, Party Down; Tracy Jordan, 30 Rock; Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation
Typical dialogue: “Aw, man. All the orange soda spilled out of my cereal.” - Jake Peralta
Looks like someone has some growing up to do.
Michael Scott has the social skills of a man raised by apes. Sam Malone can’t be in a real relationship until he grows out of his womanizing ways. Jake Peralta treats detective work like a kid’s game. Even Leslie Knope is held back by her childlike enthusiasm, convinced that good intentions and pluck can solve all of the world’s problems.
A big dopey kid might seem like an odd choice to build a workplace comedy around, but it can be pretty satisfying to watch our favorites grow up before our eyes.
Also known as: Sarcastic Biter, Wiseacre, Pokey McPokington
Snarks: April Ludgate, Parks and Recreation; Garrett McNeill, Superstore; Jim Halpert, The Office; Norm Peterson, Cheers; Gina Linetti, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Typical dialogue: “I’ve taken four breaks today, so I guess we both got stuff to brag about.” -- Garrett NcNeill
Sometimes, it seems like the Snark has no other function in the workplace than to poke coworkers with comic putdowns. I mean, what exactly does April Ludgate get done in an eight-hour workday?
Some Snarks are nastier than others -- Jim Halpert and Norm Peterson are generally good-natured with their sarcastic asides, while April and Gina Linetti can be absolutely devastating.
You’ll often find that Voices of Reason have a little Snark in them as well -- you can’t be the normal one without taking a comic jab now and then. After all, what is sarcasm if not a verbalization of Pam’s incredulous look to camera?
Also known as: You’re Not From Around Here, The Eccentric, Goofball, Wackadoodle
Oddballs: Latka Gravas and Rev. Jim Ignatowski on Taxi; Creed Braxton on The Office; Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation; Cheyenne, Superstore
Typical dialogue: “Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here, and it says you could have network connectivity problems.” - Andy Dwyer
Oddballs are weird. Like, you can’t seriously be that dumb weird. Or, you’re from another planet weird. They’re best when they show up for brief moments of insanity, then make a hasty retreat back to their own solar system.
Taxi did Oddballs best with characters that seemed to teleport in from other planes of existence, whether it was Latka (from some mysterious place called “the old country”) or Reverend Jim (from some mysterious place called “the 1960s.”)
It would be difficult to build an entire workplace comedy around an Oddball -- they’re so disconnected from reality that we don’t believe they can hold the job. Chris Elliott tried it in Get a Life -- the show has its fans but an Oddball lead is likely the reason the show didn’t work. Oddballs work better as comedy condiments -- add a little funky spice, but don’t make them the main dish.
Also known as: Smarty Pants, Alleged Expert, Insufferable
Know-It-Alls: Dwight K. Shrute, The Office; Roman DeBeers, Party Down; Diane Chambers, Cheers; Les Nesman, WKRP in Cincinnati
Typical dialogue: “The arrival of yet another thickheaded jock epic. There must be confetti all over the Library of Congress.” - Diane Chambers
As you’ve probably guessed, the Know-It-All does not always know it all. Even though they actually possess an above-average amount of knowledge, their stunted social skills negate any advantage that knowledge may give them.
A close cousin of the Know-It-All is the Know-Nothing, who claims to know it all but is wrong about nearly everything. Though not exactly a workplace comedy, Pierce Hawthorne from Community would fit the bill here.
Cheers went all in on this character type. In addition to the Bennington College-educated Diane, there was Know-Nothing master of inane trivia Cliff Clavin and blowhard psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane. (When Frasier got his own sitcom, he shifted archetypes to Voice of Reason while his brother Niles took over as the show’s resident Know-It-All.)
Also known as: Crankypants, Sourpuss, Old Man Grumpus
Gruffs: Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation; Lou Grant, The Mary Tyler Moore Show; Dina Fox, Superstore; Det. Rosa Diaz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Louie DePalma, Taxi; Carla Tortelli, Cheers
Typical dialogue: “If I don’t like you, I’ll fire you. If you don’t like me, I’ll fire you.” - Lou Grant
Nearly every comedy workplace has a curmudgeonly Gruff and often, the grouch is in charge. Known for their surly demeanor and aversion to fun (or at least, your kind of fun), Gruffs have a snarl for any co-worker who dares get in their way.
But hold on to your pants, you’re not going to believe this -- underneath that cranky exterior, the Gruff often is hiding a heart of gold! Unless the Gruff is on It’s Always Sunny, in which case they’re actually an a-hole.
Gruff trivia: Danny (Louie DePalma) DeVito and Rhea (Carla Tortelli) Perlman were married for more than 30 years before splitting in 2017. Give ‘em credit for having a Gruff marriage last as long as it did.
Also known as: Dumb Bunny
Innocents: Erin Hannon, The Office; Kenneth Parcell, 30 Rock; Coach and later, Woody Boyd, Cheers; Kyle Bradway, Party Down
Typical dialogue: “My last job was at a Taco Bell Express. But then it became a full Taco Bell and, I don’t know, I couldn’t keep up.” -- Erin Hannon
It’s not that Innocents are dumb, not exactly, though they can sometimes come off that way. Instead, the Innocent is a funny combo platter of naive and inexperienced, with a startling lack of real-world knowledge masquerading as stupidity.
Innocents are often endearing because they tend to be sunny and optimistic. Are the writers trying to tell us something? That the more we know about how the world works, the more miserable we’ll be?
Just as the Gruffs are often kinder than they appear, Innocents can fool us into thinking they’re actually idiots. Instead, their lack of experience often shows up as another kind of intelligence -- since they’re not indoctrinated by the way things are “supposed to be,” they can often find a better way.
But Wait, There’s More
And there you have it, the seven characters you’ll most often find toiling in workplace comedies. As you probably have surmised, the archetypes can overlap -- one character can embody several types, including some of these bonus archetypes below. Here are additional comedy characters likely to make you laugh on the job:
The Yoda - Looking for a mentor to teach you the ways of your occupation’s Force? Try characters like Dr. Perry Cox on Scrubs, Glenn Sturgis on Superstore, Captain Raymond Holt on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock.
The Dork - Pretty much says it all. We’re talking Ben Wyatt on Parks and Recreation, Jonah Simms on Superstore, and Holly Flax on The Office.
The Rule Follower - Every workplace has one of these, damn it. Try not to break the rules around Angela Kinsey on The Office, Mateo Liwanag on Superstore, or Amy Santiago on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Finally, we have the Butt of the Joke. These nice guys don’t deserve the lack of respect they get from their coworkers, but they’re on the wrong side of it nonetheless. Would it hurt you guys to be nice to Toby Flenderson in The Office’s HR annex, Det. Charles Boyle over at the Nine-Nine, or poor Jerry Gergich on Parks and Rec? Or is it Garry?
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Top image: NBCUniversal Television