Many character roles have stereotypically defined behavior, e.g. macho soldiers or helpless princesses. Sometimes authors intentionally defy those stereotypes for humor, and to call attention to readers' usual assumptions.

What is the name of this literary device, where an author flouts a stereotype for humor?

I can't think of an appropriate word (or even short phrase) for the life of me. Any thoughts appreciated.

For example, a comic depicts Shaolin monks, but instead of following their stereotype of being silent and serious, there is corny humor and a spit-take.

Other examples:





  • I don't know if this is enough for an answer, but tvtropes.org calls it inverting a trope and it can apply to tropes other than stereotypes as well. Commented May 6, 2011 at 8:01
  • @Joachim That is definitely a good starting candidate, I'd be happy to upvote that if you add it as an answer. Will still wait just a little bit longer to see if anybody has any other words/phrases for it.
    – elliot42
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 8:04
  • If you were referring to an actor rather than a character, I'd say you'd want to say they were cast "against type." Alas, it's not really applicable when it's stereotypes of a kind of character that's being played against, rather than the "typecast" of an actor.
    – Blckknght
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 5:27

2 Answers 2


tvtropes.org might not be the guardians of the English language, but they certainly have plenty of know-how regarding to tropes (such as stereotypes) and have defined or documented much terminology in this area.

They call this inverting a trope, or more precisely a stereotype flip. Stereotypes can be considered a sub-set of tropes (or the other way around).

  • 1
    This page is pretty brilliant: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PlayingWithATrope
    – elliot42
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 8:20
  • 2
    Sorry to everyone who didn't know tvtropes yet and gets caught in this wiki only to emerge to daylight a few days later. Commented May 6, 2011 at 8:40
  • Thanks - as if this site wasn't enough of a time sink on it's own, you have to lure me there!
    – mgb
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 15:30

There is the word counterstereotype.

The Wikipedia has this page for the word, where it is defined as:

A counter-stereotype, reverse stereotype, or anti-stereotype is the reverse of a stereotype. Although counter-stereotypes arise in opposition to stereotypes, they may eventually become stereotypes themselves if they are too popular.

EDIT: note that counterstereotypes are not necessarily used for humor. They can be used, for example, as a protest against the stereotypes. The Wikipedia page that is linked above has some interesting examples.

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