If I ever get my PhD, my thesis will elucidate the Jester to Jerk phenomenon in pop culture: the inversion of harmless, unassuming goofballs into cruel, embittered assholes, as demonstrated by comedic actors who play both sides of the coin.
- In Freaks and Geeks, Martin Starr plays sweet, kindhearted, mentally challenged Bill Haverchuck. In Party Down, he plays caustic, cynical & cranky Roman. The former is a guileless geek who feels no shame that others label him inferior, the latter a nasty nerd who looks down his nose at everyone---everyone, that is, who would look down their nose at him. Whereas Bill seldom explodes at the unfairness of life, Roman is ever-seething at iniquity.
- On BBC's Jeeves and Wooser, Hugh Laurie is Bertie Wooser, the dumb, wide-eyed protagonist, perpetually exploited, yet always willing to be used for the greater good, the status quo or the love of his friends. On House, M.D., he is the titular epitome of rudeness, crassness & genius. Their mental & physical* appearance could not be more dissimilar. Bertie trips over himself as he dashes to help others; House lurches off in the opposite direction or pushes obstacles in their path.
- In The Lady Eve, Henry Fonda is a scatterbrained but chivalrous heir obsessed with newts. In Once Upon A Time in the West, he is a sadistic, calculating gunslinger who kills men, women & children.
- In Caddyshack, people avoid Bill Murray because he is a moron. In Groundhog Day, people avoid him because he is a jerk. Both are self-absorbed, but the latter actively pushes people away.
The difference between Jester & Jerk is razor-thin. You only need a little push to go over the edge.
*Played by the same actor, I know, but I'm talking about facial hair & dress.