I'm reading an interesting book at the moment, Pierrot in Petrograd by J Douglas Clayton, which is about the influence of commedia dell'arte on Russian drama. Commedia dell'arte began in Italy, as can be guessed by the name (the art of the name, incidentally, means art in the sense 'professionalism of an artisan'; this was a genre performed by professional actors. The Russian for commedia dell'arte is 'comedy of masks'). Commedia dell'arte plays included stock characters whose masks and ways of speaking meant that audiences knew what they represented. There were always servants, or in Italian zanni - Harlequin was one - and the servants usually spoke with a Bergamo accent. Zanni is the Bergamo pronunciation of the name Gianni, and was how one might address a young male servant. The servants are usually complex characters - devious, clever, getting the better of their masters, but also ignorant and silly at times. The silliness in their character meant that zany entered the English language as a noun in the 16th century to mean clown or comic performer. It is pretty much always used as an adjective these days to mean madcap or crazy in a ridiculous way.