This is the fifth article in our fifteen-part masterclass on archetypes. Learn more about archetypes in our first article.

The Jester archetype is a surprisingly versatile and complex character archetype.

For many of us, the word “jester” brings to mind a character like Shakespeare’s fool. This is the servant who’s drunk on the job, drunk on puns, and turning everyone else’s suffering into a joke. At their flattest, the Jester is a tool for social commentary and comic relief.

But this one-dimensional version does not even begin to cover the full potential of the Jester archetype. An artfully designed Jester can give depth to your theme, spur your hero into action, and even inspire self-examination in your readers. It’s just a matter of moving beyond the cliché and discovering the possibilities. We’re about to cover:

  • What the Jester archetype is
  • The ways a Jester can further your story
  • The defining characteristics of a Jester
  • Where you’ve seen this character before

Let’s get into it.  

A smiling monkey holding a banana.

What is the Jester Archetype?

Other terms for the Jester archetype include clown, comedian, fool, and trickster. As you’ve probably gathered, the defining trait of a jester is humor. This is not the only archetype that can be funny, but it is the only one defined by comedy. Some Jesters are funny by accident, but most actively choose humor as a tool to communicate, entertain themselves, or cope.

We don’t often learn a lot about a Jester’s inner life or backstory. While the other characters involve themselves in the central conflict, the Jester stands on the edges, cracking jokes. Some stories do show us a glimpse of a jester’s sincerity or vulnerability, but this moment is hard-earned and rare.

The Jester most commonly appears as a side character with no personal character arc. But a Jester can be a protagonist.

An image of the quote "You know, I bet if you told her you'd leave Nick for a million dollars, she will write that check. They do that around here." –Peik Lin Goh, Crazy Rich Asians

Jesters are cynical truth-tellers.[/caption]

What Do Jester Archetypes Do?

A well-crafted Jester can have a surprising impact on the momentum and depth of a story. Here are some ways you can use the Jester archetype to write a novel that flows and resonates with your reader.

Reveal the Truth

The Jester always knows what’s up. This character sees the protagonist’s flaws and fears. They know who the phony people are. They know the real reason why the antagonist did what they did, and they’re shockingly philosophical.

A Jester’s wise insight can help you expand on a theme or it can inspire the protagonist to take action. You see this a lot in comedy and romance. The Jester BFF may seem like a hot mess for the first two thirds of the story, but in the end, they’ve got the hot take on the issues standing between the protag and true love.

Motivate the Protagonist

On that note, not all Jesters are full-time snark-monsters. Some take a pause from their cynicism and pranks to rally behind the protagonist. One great example is the sincere support and cheerleading Harry Potter gets from the mischievous Weasley twins. Or the occasional show of earnest affection from Parks and Recreation’s dark and brooding Jester, April Ludgate.

Create or Ease Tension

Comedy itself is a game of building and releasing tension. A joke can spotlight conflict and insecurities. It can force the truth on people who are not ready to hear it. Or it can offer the relief of a much-needed guffaw. In this way, your Jester has the power to be an emotional puppet master, whether or not it's their intention to play the role.

Image of the quote "Here's where I'm at: feelings are stupid." –Eleanor, The Good Place

What are Typical Jester Archetype Characteristics?

Carpet from Aladdin is a Jester. So is Harley Quinn. Clearly, the actual characters who fit into the Jester archetype can vary widely in terms of personality and genre.

But there are a few common traits you’re likely to see in most of the jokers out there.

Charismatic

The Jester is fun. They’re entertaining, magnetic, and outgoing. People usually like having a Jester around … at least when things are going well.

Mischievous

Most Jesters are drawn to trouble, provided the trouble looks fun. They’re curious, they don’t think much about consequences, and they love making authority figures look like idiots.

Clever

It’s not unusual for the Jester to be the smartest person in the room. Even if they don’t seem exceptionally sharp in the traditional sense, they are uniquely insightful and observant.

The Jester loves a good paradox, loves playing devil’s advocate, and loves using humor to outwit hypocrites and those in power.

Impulsive

This character tends to be restless and impulsive. Sometimes they chase what thrills them without considering the consequences to themselves or others. In darker portrayals, you might see a Jester struggling with addiction and other impulse control issues.

Carefree

The Jester lives in the moment. They don’t think much about the future, and while they’re often content to tag along with the protagonist (or antagonist) on their journey, they don’t care much about the outcome. A lot of Jesters preach about accepting the world for the mess that it is.

Whether this carefree exterior is a full representation of how the Jester feels or just a mask they wear to protect themselves… well, that’s up to you and your story. That brings us to the final trait:

Emotionally Guarded

The Jester doesn’t do vulnerability. They have a difficult time talking about emotions—theirs or anyone else’s—without making a joke.

This is where you have an opportunity to give your Joker some depth and explore their true motivations. For some Jesters, their carefree nature is what motivates them to seek the joke in all situations. For others, humor is a shield—a way to acknowledge suffering without actually sitting with the pain.

An image of the quote "Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man." –Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet
Seconds away from death and still going for the joke.

Jester Archetype Examples

Hopefully, you’re already starting to recognize a few Jesters from your favorite books and movies in these descriptions. But just to help you conceptualize this archetype further, here are some classic Jester archetype examples.

Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet

Smart, playful, and cynical, Mercutio almost always goes for the joke. Though he’s Romeo’s bestie, he doesn’t play sides with his critical commentary, picking on Romeo’s hyper-romantic tendencies from act one. If anyone in fair Verona can say they saw it coming, it’s this guy.

Peik Lin, Crazy Rich Asians

Peik Lin knows where the scene is… and when she gets to the scene, you can bet she’ll steal it. She’s funny, forthright, and delighted by riches without being deferential to the rich. She’s loyal to the underdog, Rachel.

Statler and Waldorf, The Muppet Show

You remember these guys—the old guys who sit up in the balcony and heckle the rest of the Muppets while they just try to put on a good show. These dudes are snarky, take nothing seriously, and expect disappointment. Total Jesters.

Eleanor Shellstrop, The Good Place

Want an example of a Jester as a protagonist? Here it is! Eleanor Shellstrop is cynical, observant, scoffs at authority figures, and constantly uses humor to hide from feelings and personal responsibility.

And because she starts from this place of full-on Jester, it's an absolute delight to see her evolve into a character who sees the goodness in the world around her.

A wooden drawing model painted, decorated, and posed as a playful jester archetype.

Build Your Own Jester

Obnoxious or endearing? Goofy or brooding? Purely comical or a little bit tragic?

There is a lot of room to play within the Jester archetype. This character exists to illuminate the truth and create some laughs. Beyond that, who they are is in your hands.

Want a handy way to keep track of your ideas while crafting all your compelling characters? Dabble’s Story Notes feature helps you stay organized while you build worlds and communities on the page. To try all Dabble’s premium features free for 14 days, click here!

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.