Reanalyzing the Comic Relief Character

Welcome back, TWNers! Recently, I was reading a book with a comic relief character, and this character was driving me more crazy the longer I kept reading. This got me thinking about the comic relief character type, and as I started ranting about everything that is done wrong this this type to my sister, the more I realized I wanted to do a post about this. So, here we are. 

So what is the comic relief character? Wikipedia describes comic relief as, “the inclusion of a humorous character, scene, or witty dialogue in an otherwise serious or dramatic work, often to relieve tension.” For a comic relief character, this is the person in the story whose main purpose is to bring the humor that breaks the story’s tension. This isn’t just a character that is funny, but a character who is created with this one intention in mind. Classic examples of this is are often seen in Disney’s animated movies. Think of Genie in Aladdin, Mushu in Mulan, or Olaf in Frozen. If you’re laughing during the movie, usually it’s because of something one of these characters says or does. For an animated film, we really don’t need anything more than this. No one walks into Aladdin, expecting every moment to be grounded in logic or reality or to have some deep and profound, emotional message. (Not that there aren’t deep lessons that can be found in these movies, just that they are designed to engage children which is why you can expected many humorous moments.) But when we turn to literature, especially books targeted for teen and adult readers, the comic relief character doesn’t always transitions as well. So does that mean we should forego this character all together? No doubt you can list only a few examples of characters like these in books.

Short answer is no. There is still a role for these types of characters in stories, they just can’t always be presented in the same way as they are in Disney animated films. I actually love comic relief characters as I usually see myself there more as someone who tends to always be cracking a joke no matter the situation. In fact, I would love to read more stories with them, just not written in the same way as the character in the book I was reading several weeks ago was. So how does one write this character type? Well, today I am reanalyzing the comic relief character and will give you four tips for writing them.

#1 They need a reason to be in the story

Tip: If you have a comic relief character in your book, ask yourself this question: if this character was removed, would it change anything? If the answer is no, maybe you need to reconsider how well this character has been developed. There has to be a reason why every character is in your story. Even the nameless characters like the innkeeper who owns the inn where the main character sleeps during his long travel to whatever the story’s destination is has a purpose. He is there to help meet the protagonists need. In a book, characters are there to either impact the plot or the protagonist. The love interest or the mentor may help the protagonist in his arc. Or the nerdy friend is there to help the main character in his quest. Consider Heist Society by Ally Carter. Kat has a large crew she gathers to help her rob the Henley, but each character plays a crucial role to the plot. If one was removed, it would hurt the story. Kat is the ringleader who usually comes up with and leads the plans. Hale is the billionaire son who helps to financially support the mission. Simon is the geek who’s able to hack into security systems and Gabrielle comes in handy when they need distractions. Then there’s the Bangshaw Brothers who always blow stuff up. Each person has their own unique skill that is needed to fulfill the mission.

A comic relief character may have the purpose to provide the jokes, but that cannot be all they are there for. How do they help change the protagonist or the plot? This can be an easy fix. Just look into your story and see if there is a way where they are able to solve a problem or inspire the protagonist. Joking is their personality rather than their sole purpose.

Remember, every character deserves his/her chance to shine, not just the protagonist. So give them each a moment to be useful!

#2. Give comic relief characters more than just one emotion

As I mentioned earlier, I tend to relate to these characters because I am someone who has a teasing personality. If I’m in a serious or tense situation with others, my first instinct is to crack a joke and lighten the mood. And while I may appear to people as always be happy and jolly all the time, this is far from the truth. The same goes for most people with teasing personalities. And I will argue that this means the same should be true for our characters. Remember the comic relief character from a book I was reading that I said was driving me crazy? This was the reason why. He was 2D, with only one emotion. Being goofy and silly all. the. time. 

These characters should also have times of being serious, at least be able to show that they can be serious at times when it is needed. That they don’t have just one emotion they can feel. Don’t they have their own hopes, dreams, fears, and goals, as well? I would love to see some stories that takes a spin on the comic relief character. One can show that perhaps the reason they are always joking and being silly is to hide their own pain, hurt, and fears. Maybe this is how they cope in hard times or it is how they conceal their own emotions for fear of being hurt. Is there a reason why these characters are making jokes at certain times? Maybe not, but it’s something to consider. 

#3 Give them a character arc

This one is more of a suggestion rather than something that should be done all the time. There are moments where a character arc is not necessary, but there are also times when it can greatly impact this character’s role in the story. Besides, your protagonist is not always the only character who needs to change.

Going back to my earlier mention of Mushu, I was recently watching Mulan again with my sisters. This has always been one of my favorite movies, but as I was rewatching it, I noticed something about Mushu I had never given thought to before. Even though the story is focused on Mulan and Mushu is there mostly to offer some comic relief, he has his own character arc in the story, too. He starts out in the movie helping Mulan only because he wants to be a family guardian again, but throughout the story, we see that he realizes he was out for only selfish gain and what mattered was helping Mulan save China. This adds a deeper level of character development to Mushu and makes him seem as more than just the character there to crack a joke or two. If you are feeling that your comic relief character is falling flat and is not enjoyable when he is on the page, maybe all he needs is his own mini arc. Give him a goal and a flaw, and let him realize where he needs to change as Mushu did. 

#4 Don’t force the jokes

Have you ever read those books with a comic relief character and every time he opens his mouth, you inwardly groan because they turn out more cringe than funny?

Don’t place a joke in a scene because you think it has to be there. Most of the time these comic relief characters aren’t even funny because it feels like the author is trying so hard to add some humor in the book that it’s not working. I can’t exactly give any tips on how to be funny because I don’t usually think about it in my own books. Most of the time, I let the characters have free reign to be themselves on the page and if I have a character with a sense of humor, the jokes just create themselves. I never force it. They will either come or they won’t, and don’t worry if you find they aren’t coming. You can also give the scenes with comic relief characters to a trust beta reader and see if they find it funny or not. But if you aren’t forcing it and just use your own sense of humor, most likely you will find readers who share in that sense of humor as well. 

So there’s my tips for rethinking the comic relief characters. 

Do you write comic relief characters? What’s the best example of one you’ve seen or read? Do you find it easy to come up with jokes for your story or difficult? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below!

Issabelle Perry is a proud Jesus follower, an extroverted writer, and a homeschool graduate. When she's not writing, you can find her reading, jamming to Skillet, studying history, hunting for Narnia in wardrobes, or envisioning herself wielding a magnificent sword (but due to her clumsiness, let’s hope that never happens). This self-proclaimed exclamation mark enthusiast can be found hanging out at Teen Writers’ Nook, a community of teen authors Issabelle co-founded in 2020. She is the author of Don't Let Me Go (Sky's the Limit Press 2024), May We Make Them Proud (2023), and a co-editor for two anthologies. What she’s probably doing right now is fangirling about her favorite books to random people or scanning the pantries for chocolate.


  • Gemma

    Absolutely LOVED this post!!!! The best comic relief character that I have ever seen is Keefe from Keeper of the Lost Cities. Also I loved the “American in Austen” gif. 🤣 That movie was awesome! Generally I do the same as you when I’m writing. If my character if funny naturally, then they’re funny and they have free reign. Thanks for the awesome post!

    • Issabelle Perry

      Ah thank you SO much, Gemma!!!! Aaah Keefe is a GREAT comic relief character! I’ve only read the first two books of the series, but I remember that he’s one of the few characters out there who crack me up! Haha, thanks. That was such a great movie! Yes! I love giving my characters free reign to just be themselves and do what they want. I think it helps the humor feel more natural than forced. Aw, thank you so much! Thank YOU for reading!

  • Diamond

    These are great tips! I don’t think I’ve ever really written a comic relief character (unless you count Mischief on BABF), but I think these tips would definitely be useful if I ever did!

  • ☁️ Breanna ☁️

    YES. This is so helpful, Issabelle; thank you for writing it! My protagonist’s best friend turned out to be a comic relief-type one of his own volition, and I’m satisfied with his upcoming character arc. Ahem. There’s also a slight chance he’s heading toward heroic self-sacrifice, which somehow only worked out when a friend threatened me if I did anything to him, but I’ve said too much. 👀Another lovely post as usual! ❤️

    • Issabelle Perry

      Aw, Breanna, I am SO thrilled to hear it’s helpful! Thank YOU for reading! Ooo that is awesome! I love that you’re giving your comic relief character his own arc. Hehehe, I shall promise not to share. 😉 But I have to confess that I love stories with heroic self-sacrifices in them even if they DO always bring me to tears! I better stock up on tissues for your story then. 😉 Thank you so much!!

  • Ceryna

    I may have one, I never noticed he was a comic relief character (I truly didn’t ever actually know what a ‘comic relief’ character was. Anytime someone mentioned them I just nodded and smiled and said ‘Uh huh.) I really liked Davy from Anne of Avonlea. He wasn’t always joking, in fact, some of the funniest things he says he’s trying to be serious but it cracked me up. Jake (My comic relief character) pretty much wrote himself.

    • Issabelle Perry

      Ya know what they say, you learn something new everyday! Hehe, well I’m glad to have been able to give you the comic relief character definition, though I have totally been there with nodding and smiling and hoping the other person doesn’t realize I have no clue what he’s talking about. XD Ooo Davy sounds like a fun character! I love it when characters are just naturally funny even when they’re not trying to be. And Jake sounds like many characters I’ve written who just create themselves. 😉

    • Issabelle Perry

      Yeah, I can see how comic relief characters is not something everyone can write. (In fact, half of the time I see them come up in fiction, I wish the writer HADN’T tried to write it because it comes off cringy at best). I hope he’s not too disappointed in losing screen time, lol.

  • Adalynn

    This is great, Issabelle!! I totally agree with how terrible all of the comic relief character stereotypes are XD. You made some awesome points here! Thanks so much for writing this post!! 😀

    • Issabelle Perry

      Thank you SO much, Adalynn!!! YES! I wish more writers would see how the comic relief character stereotypes need help. Aw, thank you so much again! You’re so sweet. 😊 Thank YOU for reading!

  • Iona

    Ooh, I missed this one!! Such spot-on tips that I’m looking forward to using.
    Comic relief characters done well are just so crazy delightful.
    Jessica Glasner’s Seabirds trilogy is chock-full of hilarious excapades andlaugh out loud moments. I’m thinking of Harry in book two, beacuse he also gets more serious moments and is a seasoned spy, bu tlikes seeing Lorelie get flustered (in a swwet way) and letting jokes play out in real life. Super balanced comic relief characters in that series, a great study for natural balancing of ups and downs in everybody.
    I need to broaden my horizons in the more traditonal kind for sure!
    I personally love writing funny situations and characters in wild and/or humble scenes all over the place, it’s one of my favourite things to write!! XD
    Thanks for starting the discussion with this lovely post!

    • Issabelle Perry

      Oops! Well, I’m glad you found it now!! Aw, thank you SO much!!!!!
      Yes, that’s sooo true! Who doesn’t love a bit of great humor from a fun character!!!
      Wow, Harry sounds like an amazing character with a good arc!! Just the type of characters I like reading about!!! I am definitely going to look into the Seabirds trilogy now!!
      Yes, same here!!!
      Yessss me too!!!!! Especially because I’m a person who is always making jokes or teasing people, I’ve noticed it’s so natural for me to have characters cracking jokes on page. (Even in like really not funny moments. XD I have a weird sense of humor *shrugs*)
      Aw, of course! Thank YOU for reading and joining in the discussion!!!

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