How Character Archetypes are Used in Comedy

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Photo Source: Photo Source: Courtesy Warner Bros. Television

Here is an abridged overview of the top 10 character types of comedy I utilize at Actors Comedy Studio to introduce students to the concept of archetypes and help them understand where they, as actors, fit into the breakdowns.

What is an archetype?

The simplest definition is, “a typical example of a certain type of thing.” That’s not bad, though actors often think it is. When creating a product (television show or film) for wide distribution, it helps considerably for the audience to have built-in reliability and accessibility to the characters they are watching.

10 comedy character archetypes

1. The Anchor

The anchor is intelligent and grounded. This character is often the pillar of their group and uses sarcasm as a comedic weapon.

  • They think they are: teachers to those around them who don’t know better.
  • They actually are: codependent busybodies who make themselves feel better by surrounding themselves with those who are less intelligent.

Think Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth on “Arrested Development.”

2. The Dreamer

The dreamer is an eternal optimist with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. While all characters have desires, this character is defined by desire.

  • They think they are: capable and ambitious individuals who are victimized by unfortunate life circumstances.
  • They actually are: charming and hopeful jokesters with a Peter Pan complex.

Think Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo on “I Love Lucy.”

3. The Neurotic

The neurotic is defined by insecurity, filtered through intelligence. This character has a big brain that can process all possible outcomes at once, which can be quite overwhelming!

  • They think they are: the rightful boss of you because they’ve thought about it and they know better.
  • They actually are: prickly know-it-alls whom everyone loves but knows to avoid when they’re stressed.

Think David Hyde Pierce as Niles Crane on “Frasier.”

4. The Rebel

The rebel has a God complex. Their disdain for life’s rules drives them to danger and deceit. They think they can do anything they want and get away with it.

  • They think they are: untouchable masterminds who give away nothing and are aware of everything.
  • They actually are: social terrorists who incite fear in those around them.

Think Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton on “Nurse Jackie.”

5. The Innocent

Sweet and lovable, the innocent is made of love. Pure as the driven snow, they have no inherent negative qualities. They can be naive, but you can trust them with your life.

  • They think they are: nice.
  • They actually are: special.

Think Betty White as Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.”

6. The Eccentric

The eccentric is unique, which by definition means rare. Far from spacey, this character is hyper-connected to the world, invested, and curious.

  • They think they are: adventurers in a dull world.
  • They actually are: quirky friends that you love but don’t trust with much responsibility.

Think Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay on “Friends.”

7. The Buffoon

Dimwitted is my favorite word to summarize this character. They’re not dumb—no character is. To call any character that is judgmental and generally inaccurate. Buffoons are socially inept with often iffy intentions.

  • They think they are: smart enough to take the lazy way out and still win.
  • They actually are: constant losers who are just shy of being self-aware.

Think Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy on “Modern Family.”

8. The Cynic

The Cynic is a world-weary defeatist. While often negative, they are simultaneously wonderful friends, strong allies, and invested in life. The mistake actors make with this character is playing like they don’t care about anything. Untrue.

  • They think they are: cautious and smart enough to know the other shoe is always about to drop.
  • They actually are: downers who consistently spoil the mood.

Think Rhea Pearlman as Carla Lebec/Carla Tortelli on “Cheers.”

9. The Narcissist

They love themselves and things in exactly that order. Entitled is a very particular quality, which this character exhibits to an inordinate degree.

  • They think they are: super beings who deserve what they desire with little effort.
  • They actually are: spoiled brats whom everyone wants to see fail.

Think Julia Louis Dreyfus as Selina Meyer on “Veep.”

10. The Player

This character lives in pursuit of just one thing: sex with no strings attached. They’re fun, bold, and sexually charged, but generally lack substance, even more so than the narcissist.

  • They think they are: the life of the party 24/7.
  • They actually are: lonely because they don’t know how to form lasting relationships.

Think Kim Cattrall as Samantha Jones on “Sex and the City.”

Which ones of these are you like? Reflect on that and you will have a much easier time marketing yourself within the industry!

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.


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Gunnar Todd Rohrbacher
Gunnar Todd Rohrbacher is one of Hollywood’s best known acting coaches. He is also a highly regarded writer, director, producer and actor within Hollywood’s comedy scene, earning rave reviews for 25 years.
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