In just a few short hours, Parks and Recreation will return to NBC with its fourth season premiere, which means, to borrow a phrase from Leslie Knope, “Yay! Making fun of Jerry is back!” Indeed, one of the many reasons to love this underdog local-government comedy lies in the portrayal of Jerry Gergich (played to resigned perfection by Jim O’Heir*), a human punching bag who has a true talent for botching words (“murinal”), bumbling into trouble (coffee, meet face), and just being the wrong person at the wrong time.
Perhaps it’s little surprise to learn that the Parks department employee who once bent over during a presentation to find his misplaced glasses, only to wind up splitting his pants and farting, serves as prime humor fodder for the show’s writers. “Jim is a very likable actor, so it’s endlessly fun to take a completely inoffensive person and turn them into an object of complete and utter ridicule,” shares executive producer Mike Schur. “More than any other kind of joke, we’ve had to take ‘Jerry is a moron’ jokes out of our scripts because it’s just too easy to write them. If we had allowed every Jerry joke we’ve ever written to be in the script, the show would be called Screw You, Jerry.”
But let us note that Jerry-rigged humor is not one-dimensional — he’s a versatile victim, a nice guy who always finds new ways to finish last. Even when he occasionally shows himself to possess admirable skills — take his magic egg trick, his piano performance, his Centaur painting — a host of forces somehow conspire against him to rob him of any redemption. Equally as impressive, the show manages to make all of its crapping-on-Jerry comedy not seem too mean-spirited. “The original design of the character — which didn’t really come out until we started having people make fun of him — was that he didn’t care about anything except putting his head down and doing his job and getting to the point where he can collect his pension,” says Schur. “He’ll put up with a lot at work because he has this lovely retirement and future laid out in front of him that he’s just crossing off the days on the calendar waiting to get to. He’s married and has a very loving family. His home life is far happier and more fulfilling than anyone else on the show’s — which on some deep psychological level may be why they attack him all the time. “
Truth is, O’Heir doesn’t like playing the willing fall guy — he adores it. “The other day we shot a Jerry scene, and it was one of the tougher ones on Jerry,” says O’Heir. “Amy comes up to me and she goes, ‘Are you okay with that?’ She’s such a mother to us. And I said, ‘Amy, you can’t do enough to Jerry!’… I love all of it!” As do fans. “You should hear the people on the street: ‘Oh my God, what they put you through? We feel so bad, but we can’t help but laugh!’” recounts O’Heir. “I’m like, ‘Laugh away! Absolutely laugh!’ I hear ‘Damn it, Jerry!’ every day somewhere, because Tom is constantly saying that. One guy said his baby’s first swear word was ‘Dammit, Jerry!’ I thought, ‘Wow! If I can get babies cussing up a storm, I’ll take it!’”
Untold misfortunes surely await Jerry this season, and here is the only tease that O’Heir offers for tonight: “There is a big Jerry reveal.” Before you tune in to the episode, titled “I’m Leslie Knope,” do yourself a favor and take a walk down Sadsack Street. Schur and his Parks team were kind enough to provide EW with a detailed list of Jerry jokes — every time he was yelled at, blamed for something, or otherwise embarrassed.
Here’s to you, Jerry. May you never Photoshop your life with better decisions!
(*O’Heir’s three tips for playing Jerry: 1. “Begin everything with, “Oh, geez guys… I’m sorry.” 2. “Give a big smile, and then when the slam comes, a sad frown face.” 3. “Sweater vest.”)