THE ZANNI you will die

Placement: The Obscure Arcana

Description: Zanni is an umbrella term for the masked comical servants in Commedia dell’arte theatre, first popularized in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries of the Common Era. Our word “zany” originates here. There are many types of Zanni with various degrees of incompetence, sneakiness and general buffoonery. The Zanni card usually depicts two or more such stock characters. The card in the image above features Arlecchino/Harlequin the tumbling trickster with a literal slapstick, in front of Pedrolino/Pierrot* the luckless innocent. Different versions of The Zanni card will include other such characters, and the number of characters on the card changes depending on how much time the illustrator wants to devote to the task when she or he or they or zir could spend it adding mythological creatures to the Wheel of Fortune** card. There are never enough mythological creatures from competing cultures on the Wheel of Fortune card. Ever.


Right side up:

Grossly unprofessional help.

Most interpretation of The Zanni card upright warn of tomfoolery and impending hijinks. Unlike The Fool card, The Zanni refers to a group dynamic. A motley crew, literally or otherwise. Think on the antics of the Marx Brothers, The Little Rascals, Blackadder, Ferris Bueller and his class-skipping comrades, any number of heist pulling partnerships, and every rag-tag team of underdogs in the workplace, schoolyard, summer camp, prison camp, star ship, pirate radio station or sports field/court/rink/track/bobsled-course/LAN-party.

Your intentions may be well-meaning, but together you may find yourselves on a trajectory towards death by way of mistaken identities, sham medicines, forgotten instructions, stolen props, wrong turns, insulting the wrong people and getting your nose into other people’s nose choppers.*** Laughing all the way to the autopsy table.


Upside down:

The machinations of conspirators will lead you (or an important person in your life) to ruin. You are the scapegoat, the fall guy, the patsy, the eddy and the human shield. You, my friend, have fallen into the wrong crowd. They may appear amiable, with an appealing Devil****-may-care attitude, but these are turncoats, or someone else’s naughty henchmen. A spoonful of sugar helps the poison go down.


*Pedrolino and Pierrot may or may not be the same fundamental character depending of which historian you wish to enrage into a frothing wreck.

**See: Wheel of Fortune… eventually

***This is the real reason why Zanni wear masks. A papier-mâché nose is easily repaired on the salary of a streetside character actor, unlike the kind made of skin and cartilage.****

****See: The Devil

*****Gaston Leroux’s original backstory for The Phantom Of The Opera held that the titular character once forgot this rule and, fittingly, had to wear a mask afterwards for the rest of his life.


Classic The Zanni deaths:

  • Taking a tumble
  • Taking one for the team
  • “Me? I thought YOU brought the life jackets!”
  • The best laid plans of mice
  • Faulty trapdoor
  • Overstimulation
  • A fatally madcap game of Yes, And
  • Peer pressure as portrayed in Afterschool Specials from 1972 to ‘97
  • An incurable case of the acting bug
  • “I do all my own stunts.”