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Ross: What is Chandler Bing's job?

Rachel: Oh! Oh gosh, it has something to do with numbers.

Monica: And processing!

Rachel: Oh, oh, oh, he's a transpons... transponster!

Monica: That's not even a word!
Friends, "The One with the Embryos"

Often, especially in media with a large ensemble cast, there is one character whose function (in terms of his internal purpose within the cast) is a bit fuzzy. The details of this role are left purposefully ambiguous. Sometimes, the general nature of the character's job is quite evident; for example, the character might be big, intimidating, and good in a fight... but this naturally raises the question of just why the group needs someone who is big, intimidating, and good in a fight.

This is often lampshaded by someone unfamiliar with the group and their adventures pointedly asking "What exactly is his job, anyway?" When the question is Played for Laughs, the answer the newcomer gets is almost always something absurd. This can typically be paired with The Main Characters Do Everything since there are usually recurring characters whose purpose is ambiguous and the Main Characters can easily function without them.

Compare One-Hour Work Week and The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything. Contrast the Omnidisciplinary Scientist, who has a PHD in Everythingology and awesomeology.


Examples of What Exactly Is His Job? include:


Anime & Manga

  • Yotsuya from Maison Ikkoku has a job, but never reveals what it is.
  • Jinpei in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Yes, he drives a Swiss Army knife of a vehicle, and he's no slouch in a fight, but he otherwise has no unique skills to display.
  • Zoro from One Piece. Every other crew member has a designated position (i.e. Captain, Shipwright, Navigator) except him, unless "Swordsman" counts. It's assumed (even by characters outside the main cast) but never outright stated that he's First Mate.
    • The main characters technically are pirates. Even if you let that slide, they travel in very dangerous areas, meaning that having a dedicated fighter is in no way unreasonable.
    • It's assumed that he's the "champion" of the crew: Basically, Luffy thought it'd be cool for the next Pirate King to have someone aspiring to be the "world's strongest swordsman" in his crew, so he recruited him.
  • According to his description in the english version of volume 61, he's the 'Fighter'.
  • Jersey Club from Rinne no Lagrange does exactly this trope. Be at being an extra participant in any activity or saving the Earth, Jersey Club does it.


Comic Books

  • A running gag in the comic book Groo the Wanderer is what, exactly does Mark Evanier do (besides answer the letters page). Even his job description on the masthead changed every month to something silly or bizarre (in reality, he is essentially co-plotter and dialogue writer/editor).


Film

  • Meeting Iceman's parents in the second X-Men movie: "What exactly are you a professor of, Professor Logan?" "Art."
  • Living In Oblivion is an independent film, with an ensemble cast, about making an independent film. When the director (Steve Buscemi) goes berserk on his crew after one disaster too many on a shoot, he calls each one out by name and reels off their failures in their jobs. When he gets to a production assistant, wide-eyed with panic, he hesitates and squints at her, "And you! What is it you do around here, anyway?"
  • Wag the Dog - Robert De Niro. "What exactly is it that you do for the President?"
  • Office Space. "What exactly would you say you do here?"


Literature

  • Pretty much the entire faculty of Unseen University in Discworld which is quite a feat considering we only know them all by their job descriptions (it's hard enough to figure out what a Provost does in real life). Exceptions are Archchancellor Ridcully (who's in charge), the Bursar (who does the accounts...as long as he remembers to take his pills) and Ponder Stibbons (who does all the things that need doing, including distracting Ridcully from asking what, exactly, everyone else does). The real purpose of the faculty is that if the world's most powerful wizards are in pointless commitee meetings and having big dinners, they aren't blowing holes in reality.
  • 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.


Live Action TV

  • As the quote above says, Chandler Bing in Friends. No one else can name what he does, although it's clear he earns a lot of money from it (he replaced all the furniture in his and Joey's apartment). The only time his job title is mentioned is when he quits in later seasons. Then he gets more money to come back. Incidentally, it's Statistical Analysis and Data Reconfiguration.
  • This was asked of News Radio's Matthew from time to time. (He technically was a reporter, but it seemed the only thing he did was play computer solitaire.)
  • Firefly: When asked what Jayne's job aboard the good ship Serenity actually is, Mal Reynolds replied, "Public relations."
  • For most of the first season of 3rd Rock from the Sun, nobody knew why Harry was on the mission. They then revealed that he was the radio link with their home planet. He eventually gets sad about this fact, since he's essentially equipment.
  • Creed from The Office asks this of himself during an audit. We don't find out until a later episode.

 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 salesmen at Michael Scott Paper Company. Since that collapsed, his job has been fuzzy in the extreme, but he's played by the show's producer, so don't expect him to go anywhere.
  • Cheers. One of Carla's issues with Diane comes from the fact she seldom seems to do any real work around the bar.

 Janet Eldridge: (to Diane) Excuse me, miss. Do you work here?

Carla: How come no one ever seems to know that?

    • Diane's replacement Rebecca would take this even further once she got fired from her original corporate job and Sam bought back the bar. Despite her position changing every so often (from waitress, to managing day to day operations to actual business partner), the fact that she doesn't do much of anything has become a Running Gag that was even mentioned in Frasier
  • Ianto Jones of Torchwood. Jack introduces him to a new staff member as being the person who "cleans up after us and gets us everywhere on time...and he looks good in a suit."
    • Ianto pretty much did everything that was not being taken care of by the more specialized members of the team. This made his job description extremely vague but it actually gave him a lot of power. He was the team's logistics officer, office administrator and maintenance officer. The other team members have more specialized areas of expertise but their job descriptions are also fairly vague.
      • There actually are job titles for a role like that; 'adjutant', 'aide-de-camp', and 'administrative officer' are three of them.
    • Fanon has made him the team's archivist, and canon would seem to support this, given how Ianto is the go to guy for all the Torchwood-specific information neither Owen or Tosh specialize in acquiring. He also keeps a written diary.
  • Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother refuses to tell anyone what he does for a living, brushing off the question with a quick, "Heh, please," before changing the topic. 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, giving Barney (and later Marshall) a named employer. However, the trope remains in full force.
  • Jonathan Creek has an extremely vague job title (either "production consultant" or "creative assistant", depending who you ask), and is apparently a combination of director, stage manager and general designated person with some common sense. Whatever Adam is paying him, it isn't nearly enough.


Video Games

  • A cutscene from Tales of Symphonia invoked this trope when Lloyd asked Sheena and Zelos what a president does. Regal lampshades it.
  • 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.
  • Tomb Raider: Legend gives us Alister Fletcher, a man Lara is paying to talk to her over headset in order to...moan about the video quality, argue with his colleague, and generally stand around asking questions about things he should know already. The butler knows more than him.
    • He also does library research and runs errands.
  • In Shizune's route of Katawa Shoujo, Hisao and Misha have no official positions on the student council. Because of this, and the size of the student council, Shizune's father Jigoro has no respect for it.


Western Animation

  • The Simpsons. Homer's job at the power plant was Chief Safety Inspector, but as the years dragged on, Homer never seemed to go to work anymore, which became Lampshaded a few times lately.
  • Initially, Bender from Futurama. It's addressed in an early episode, and he's given the position of ship's cook. Even though he can't actually cook.

 Hermes: I've been going through our records and it seems that we've been paying you to do nothing but loaf about on the couch.

Bender: You call that a couch? I DEMAND A PILLOW!

  • 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.
  • One of the biggest mysteries in King of the Hill throughout its run was "What is Jeff Boomhauer's job?" It wasn't until the last minutes of the last episode does it reveal he is a Texas Ranger.
  • In Family Guy Glenn Quagmire started out this way until it was made clear that he's an airline pilot who is quite good at his work.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic has Pinkie Pie, who works and lives in a bakery, but we rarely see her doing anything but holding parties and breaking the fourth wall. Most likely, Pinkies job at the bakery is just that, a job, and unlike most of her friends, her job is not a major part of who she is.
    • Similarly, Rainbow Dash is the towns weatherpony, however this is easily forgotten, as she spends most of her 'professional energies' on practicing her flying, to the point that it's easy to forget that she has a day job.
  • On The Ren and 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.


Real Life

  • Some restaurants have someone, called a "roundsman" among other names, who floats from station to station during peak hours helping out where needed. At slower times their presence can resemble this trope.
    • At Thomas Keller's restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se, they added a secondary sous chef who would work the pass or float around as needed during busy periods, and otherwise just stand around. The cooks began calling it the 'SAS,' for Standing Around Station, but when Keller asked what it meant he was told Second Assistant Sous, liked the acronym, and made it official. So, to this day, somebody is always scheduled to the Standing Around Station, which can be very much this trope.
  • There is job "Gofer". This person has no one single defined job, but does anything that needs to be done. Depending on the person they report to and what the project is that they're working on, this person can serve as a personal assistant, sound board operator, even an unofficial second-in-command.
  • There are lots of jobs like this in many universities.
  • Lots of people have at least one person like this in their extended family.
  • Chet Faliszek's job description:

  We are all still trying to figure out exactly what it is that Chet does at Valve, but at the very least he occupies office space on the 11th floor as self-proclaimed Mr. Awesome.

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