Although Ron Swanson once described his employee, Jerry Gergich, as “both the schlemiel and the schlimazel,” this statement is not entirely true. Jerry certainly suffers from a lethal combination of poor coordination and bad luck, but so much of Parks & Recreation’s humor is built around failure, both physical and karmic, that singling Jerry out seems nitpicky. Other than possessing a name which sounds like a piece of food getting stuck in your throat, Jerry Gergich is not an obvious candidate for office whipping boy: he is hard-working, loyal, and empathetic. He’s also a skilled painter and pianist who has three beautiful daughters, a loving wife, “a time-share in Muncie,” and, most surprisingly, a giant penis. Nevertheless, every major character on Parks & Recreation dislikes Jerry.
The humor of the office’s Jerry-bashing lies, as Charlotte Howell has argued, in its stubborn persistence. This collective affect is positioned as something that was always already there (much like Pawnee’s worship of L’il Sebastian), transcending the diegesis. Initially at least, it is the baselessness of this scorn that forms the crux of the running gag’s humor -- the less Jerry deserves his coworker’s contempt, the funnier the scene. But beyond the inherent humor of unfounded cruelty, Jerry’s schlemiel/schlimazel character serves another function in the Parks & Recreation universe: generating camaraderie. A recent study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that shared dislike for the same person helps people bond. For example, in the featured clip, Chris, a character known for his kindness and sensitivity, cannot help but join his co-workers in laughing at Jerry. Contempt can be contagious; it makes us feel like part of the group.
A shared dislike of Jerry also creates a bond between the viewer and the show. After four seasons of devoted viewership I'm not simply laughing at Jerry; I'm laughing with the show’s characters (at Jerry). This acquired contempt is an earned privilege for a Parks & Recreation fan like myself, drawing me closer to the text and allowing me to “fully consume the fiction” (Jenkins 62). As Henry Jenkins writes, “the difference between watching a series and becoming a fan lies in the intensity of [the viewer’s] emotional and intellectual involvement” (56). My ideological complicity with Parks & Recreation's other characters -- my ability to truly find Jerry annoying -- makes the world of the show feel more real.