So it turns out we need to have an article about the First-Person Smartass, and now I have to tell you everything about the type of narrator who's a first-person narrator (because you obviously didn't get that from the name) and describes events in a consistently snarky or sardonic tone. He does this since he knows that, contrary to the popular misconception, narration isn't about letting the reader in on the plot; it's about sharing with them every remotely entertaining half-of-a-train of thought you have.
This guy sometimes shows up in the Private Eye Monologue sort of work, but Urban Fantasy is where you really can't turn a corner without bumping into a dozen of them. Seriously, just dare to cast a fireball in some otherwise normal city and before you're halfway done, some wannabe-protagonist will jump at you from behind a corner and start throwing pithy remarks at you about how you're being cliché and violating the laws of thermodynamics.
Well, fine, that's hyperbole, but you have to admit the guy is an awfully convenient proxy to have around if you're a clever author who wants to show the world how clever you are. Not to mention he can also function as an Audience Surrogate, incorporating and defusing a reader's skepticism with endless Lampshade Hanging of whatever bits of the story don't make sense. You can almost feel the enormous weight of the entire story's Willing Suspension of Disbelief on this poor guy's shoulders.
You can expect this guy to be intellectual and well-acquainted with pop culture (or at least works with which the author is familiar), so he can make all the right clever references at the right time. This won't prevent them from being described as uneducated, bad at school, or book dumb; these traits are apparently all the rage for Audience Surrogates nowadays as people can't identify with someone who might possibly be a better person than they are.
The Trope Namer was a review of Steven Brust's Dragaera series by The Library of Babel. And of course you're going to click that, because the "click hither and educate thyself" tone of that sentence just screams "fun."
Compare Lemony Narrator.
- Kyon, the viewpoint character of Suzumiya Haruhi; a variation of the character type, as even though he's very intelligent and literate, he's Book Dumb and rarely gets anything more than a B+.
- We can't determine it yet. In novels, there are some hints that he gets much better grades than he claims and may possibly be the top-grade student in the school, though he's already pointed out that he was jealous of Haruhi's intelligence on several occasions and he can't even keep up with Nagato and Koizumi's explanations of certain things. Although the way he talks and incorporates important historical and literary events into his narration suggests that he's fairly intelligent.
- Is quite probably that he borders the Brilliant but Lazy, according to his general attitude toward life.
- Lina Inverse from Slayers.
- Ichika Orimura from Infinite Stratos when it comes to his sister.
- Araragi from Bakemonogatari.
- Issei in High School DxD has shades of this, however it's Azazel who's a lot more of a smart ass narrator whenever he discusses things in his point of view.
- In recent years, this has been a fairly common practice in Spider-Man comic books.
- The protagonist of the mega-multi-cross fanfic Sleeping with the Girls, mainly as a device to keep the protagonist deliberately unnamed as an Affectionate Parody of the ISO Standard self-insert fic.
- The narrator from Marie D. Suesse And The Mystery New Pirate Age! occasionally takes breaks from narrating the story to make fun of common cliches found in fanfics and point out logical fallacies.
- When Stephen King characters tell their own stories, they have a tendency to be this way, but it's mostly light and situational cynicism on display, rather than the characters being chronic smartasses. Michael Noonan of Bag of Bones is probably the best example.
- The titular Percy Jackson of Percy Jackson and The Olympians. It's probably common amongst Half-Bloods, as a coping mechanism extension of their diagnosed-as-ADHD battle instincts. After all, if you find yourself standing before Hades, God of the Dead, who's cloaked in a robe sewn together from souls of the damned, then wondering what some poor saps must've done to get themselves assigned to being his boxer shorts has got to be better than having your mind lock up in fear.
- Archie Goodwin of the Nero Wolfe books might be the ur-example.
- Spenser is somewhat a Poor Man's Substitute of this trope and is often brought up as the direct inspiration for fantasy novels using this character-type.
- The protagonist of Frank Portman's "King Dork" mentally snarks his way through the book, but is usually less than stellar at speaking aloud. To wit: "By my count, I had said no more than twenty-one words to her, and that's only if you count 'um'. And my first bit of dialogue had been nothing less retarded than 'I'm cool"
- Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos in the Dragaera series who besides being an aristocrat of a sort reflects Brust's Author Appeal in being a gourmet cook. One of the first examples of this in fantasy, along with Corwin, and indirect Trope Namer.
- When Kiera the Thief is narrating in Orca, she's this way as well, albeit not quite as good at it as Vlad.
- Similarly Glen Cook's Garrett
- Sean Drummond, narrator of Brian Haig's novels, often speculates on things he'd like to say but shouldn't. Or things he did say, and shouldn't have.
- The No Name Given spy protagonist of The Ipcress File and sequels by Len Deighton.
- Harry Dresden of the Dresden Files is a private eye in an urban fantasy verse, so of course he indulges; though his rather bad sense of humor makes him more of a Sad Clown than a Deadpan Snarker.
- Also, Thomas Raith, the narrator and hero of the Dresdenverse story Backup. Much better at deadpan than Harry, too.
- If you're in for dry, deadpan, blink-and-you'll-miss-it humor, they're both actually pretty damn funny. But Harry's pretty out of touch, and most of his references are a decade old at least.
- Jim Butcher likes this trope. He also used it for his Spider-Man novel, "The Darkest Hours", casting Peter Parker as the narrator.
- Also, Thomas Raith, the narrator and hero of the Dresdenverse story Backup. Much better at deadpan than Harry, too.
- Marcus Didius Falco - a good cook, and married to an aristocrat. Also a deconstruction of this trope; as a citizen of 1st century Rome, he hasn't read any Chandler and doesn't know that private eyes are loners...
- Colt Regan does this quite a bit in between strange tangents on such subjects as the political leanings of baked goods.
- Also true of many other Urban Fantasy narrators such as Rachel Morgan (The Hollows), Anita Blake, Kelley Armstrong's heroines in the Women of the Otherworld books (some more smartass than others), Kitty from the Kitty Norville series, and Cal of Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros series.
- Corwin and Merlin from Roger Zelazny's The Chronicles of Amber possibly started the trend in Fantasy. Random gets in on the action for a chapter, too, when he's telling Corwin about one of his recent adventures.
- As a dark example, Dexter somewhat fits this type, being a surprisingly charming and cheerful Serial Killer.
- John Taylor from Simon R. Green's Nightside series is like a more pessimistic Harry Dresden.
- Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain Warhammer 40,000 novels are excerpts from his private memoirs. In them, Cain reveals that he is very much a Deadpan Snarker at heart, regardless of how well he hides it in public.
- Bartimaeus of The Bartimaeus Trilogy in the chapters he narrates, and even more so in the footnotes.
- In the last book of the trilogy, he even manages to snark chapters another character narrates because he and Nathaniel are sharing a body.
- Warren Ellis's Crooked Little Vein features a main character who tells the story from the first person and is most definitely a smartass, but subverts the rest of the trope by... well, being a typical Ellis protagonist, really.
"I don't have a secretary. Sometimes I flip on a phone voice-changer I got for five bucks on eBay and pretend to be my own secretary. It is very sad."
- Dennis St. Michel from The Luck of Dennis St. Michel, Viscount Stokington is one of these, usually insulting or mocking the other characters in his narration while being polite or deferential in his dialogue.
- Justified in Matthew Stover's Heroes Die, where the protagonist is having his experiences as a particularly violent sort of adventurer in a fantasy world recorded for the entertainment of the masses on a dystopian future Earth.
- Thomas Lang, protagonist of Hugh Laurie's "The Gunseller" is a less well read example of this.
- "Yes, he had one arm and he taught unarmed combat. Sometimes life is like that."
- Bob Howard in the "Laundry" novels by Charles Stross is Harry Palmer as a computer geek. Who has to deal with Cosmic Horror.
- Pick a Chuck Palahniuk book. Any Chuck Palahniuk book.
- Subverted by Betsy Taylor, the heroine and narrator of the Undead and Unwed series. She's got the tone right, but she takes the "smart" out of "smartass".
- Bella from Twilight
- Jacob, when he narrates part of Breaking Dawn.
- James "Slippery Jim" DiGriz of The Stainless Steel Rat series.
- Odd Thomas definitely counts, though he's usually more humble about his smartass remarks. Being a Dean Koontz character, though, he also often goes on philosophical tangents, which is pleasant.
- Anita Blake has shades of this.
- Arkady Makarovich Dolgoruky, eponymous (and well-described) narrator of Dostoevsky's The Adolescent.
- Felix Castor in Mike Carey's series is another urban fantasy example, like a much, much darker Harry Dresden.
- Caliban Leandros, oh so very much. His brother Niko has his moments as well, though he's much more restrained.
- Thomas Ligotti does this a lot, albeit rather subtly.
- Delia Marshall Turner's Nameless Magery is a mix of SF and fantasy, narrated by the rather self-deprecating and earthy character of Lisane, who is quite well-educated by the standards of her own planet. Some of the humor comes from Lisane's observations about the culture of the alien planet she has crash-landed on and comparisons to the culture of her homeworld. The sequel Of Swords And Spells is narrated by Malka, who is also a bit sarcastic and tends to give herself self-deprecating nicknames like "Malka the Mighty, victorious in defeating soup", though she is not quite as snarky as Lisane.
- Rivers of London, told from the ever so slightly sarcastic and opinionated POV of Detective Constable Peter Grant.
- Animorphs does this with all of the humans to some extent, but mostly Marco.
- Pagan Kidrouk from the The Pagan Chronicles bleeds this trope.
- "I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker called Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he’d done to the city’s name. Later I’d heard men who could pronounce their r’s give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor used to make richardsnary the thieves’ word for dictionary. A few years later, I went to Personville and learned better."
- In some of the stories from Stanislaw Lem's Tales of Pirx the Pilot, Pirx himself is narrating and shows off his snarky kind of humor.
- The titular character of the Maximum Ride series. Somewhat justified in that she tends to use sarcasm as a coping mechanism to deal with her screwed up life. And she's a teenager.
- Alcatraz Smedry is a First-Person Smartass narrator for the Alcatraz Series.
- Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum character is all over this.
- Gemma from A Great and Terrible Beauty does this. It frequently gets her in trouble, as what she's thinking is pretty damn funny, so she cracks a smile, usually at the worst time possible.
- Anything, and I mean anything written by Terry Pratchett
- R from Warm Bodies. Justified, as he has trouble actually making legible words with his mouth (he is a zombie, after all), so most of the snarky dialogue we get from him is simply his train of thought.
- While generally the opposite of this trope, PG Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster has his moments.
I don't know if you have ever tooled off to East Dulwich to offer a strange female a hundred smackers to release your Uncle George. In case you haven't, I may tell you that there are plenty of things that are lots better fun.
Live Action TV
- Veronica Mars.
- Dexter is just as much a smart-ass on TV as in the books, if not more so. There's even a subversion in one episode where Dex's internal monologue becomes external for a line; the only one who notices, of course, is Doakes.
- Burn Notice has Jeffrey Donovan's character Michael Westen consistently snarking about his situation and environment, though he walks the line between First-Person Smartass and Deadpan Snarker with stylish aplomb.
- Upon rigging a club with C4, Michael walks in on the club owner/drug distributor with a business proposal, drinks his alcohol and acts pretty much like he owns the place... while holding a dead man's switch. If he is injured and lets go, the place will explode. As this happens, he narrates:
"Sometimes the only way to win is to ensure that if you lose, everyone loses. It works for nuclear weapons, and it works for me."
- The main character of Discworld Noir.
- Phoenix Wright of the Ace Attorney series fits the description as well.
- Any playable character in any of the Ace Attorney games is this trope, because it's probably the best way of handling their Only Sane Man status.
- Garret from the Thief series is at least an FPS smart ass.
- Kyle Hyde from Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a quite a smartass - and it even seeps into his dialogue with other characters, but he's also arguably the Only Sane Man in the titular Hotel.
- Touch Detective's heroine, Mackenzie.
- Shirou of Fate/stay night. He's more famous for not dying when he is killed in the anime adaptation, but in the game, his narration is remarkably sarcastic. This is made more obvious when you realize that despite the narrative shift from Rin in the prologue to Shirou in the actual game, the actual observations don't change at all. The only major change is the motivations of the narrator. Rin actually likes him because she senses this side of him, which is why she spends so much time making fun of him. Archer is what Shirou would be like if he stopped being polite.
- Squall Leonhart of Final Fantasy VIII acts like this a few times. He's fairly mild about it, though. Ramped up in Dissidia, where he prefers to let his gunblade do the talking, but don't you go and get the impression that he doesn't think less of you. He does. Oh my, he does.
- Your character in Kingdom of Loathing often acts this way, as part of the game's general style and sense of humor.
- Even Mario's bro Luigi gets in on this when you examine objects with the Game Boy Horror.
- Hisao Nakai of Katawa Shoujo is quite snarky in his narration.
- Twilight Sparkle is this in My Little Investigations as per Ace Attorney standards.
- Zombie, the narrator and Supporting Protagonist of Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name pulls this off pretty well.
- Homestuck straddles this and Lemony Narrator—it's told in second person and usually clearly from a certain character's point of view, but sometimes comes across more of an omniscient narrator, particularly when it Breaks The Fourth Wall. And either way, it is inevitably very sarcastic.
- Most of the narrators in the Metro City Chronicles.
- Phase, in the webfiction Whateley Universe. Phase is a superpowered mutant rather than a PI, but in the stories in which she is the narrator, she is a snarky commentator, very intellectual, well read, even for a teenager who has been to all the 'right' private schools, far too knowledgeable about food (even if she's spent her life as the heir to billions eating the finest food anywhere), and still associates with the other rich kids at the Super-Hero School Whateley Academy.
- Oh, and she reads TV Tropes. "Xanatos Gambit?" "Xanatos Gambit." And has an intelligence network that the CIA would envy.
- Gaven Morren of The Tale of the Exile is this, being partially based on Garret from the Thief series mentioned above.
- Freeman's Mind turns the Silent Protagonist of Half Life into a snarky, sarcastic sociopath.
And now you're expecting something funny here, aren't you?